Author: Andrew Harrison
In Part 1 we established that Jesus is the Son of God, not only from the time of His incarnation, but from eternity – past, present and future.
Jesus is the ‘firstborn of allcreation'(Colossians 1:15). By Him and in Him all things were created. All things in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible were created by Him and in Him and through Him. And all things were made for Him (see Col. 1:15-16 ESV).
Here we see Jesus (one Person of the Godhead), the Creator of all things, the firstborn Son. He is begotten and yet is truly God the Creator.
Jesus’ Sonship did not start 2000 years ago or end at His death on the cross – Scripture makes that clear. The Father did not suddenly make a ‘Son’ for the job on earth for 30 years or so, 2000 years ago. My previous article shows how clearly God connects eternal Sonship with the Godhead.
When we are told in John 3:16 that God so loved the world that He sent His Only-Begotten Son into the world, He was hardly doing that if He was creating a Sonship from scratch at conception in Mary. The act of conception mentioned in Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:31, 35 is the miraculous act of God (the Holy Spirit) making the Word flesh (John 1:14). It is emphasised here that He is the Son of God as everyone had to realise that He was not the physical son of Joseph (also see the parable in Matthew 21:33-41).
Jesus is indeed the ‘Firstborn of all creation’ (Colossians 1:15), the prototokos, both by rank as the first above all and heir of all things and as the first to ever be born. He is the only-begotten – monogenes – in the sense that He is the only one begotten/born within the Godhead, and the only One to be truly born from God at all. Jesus is God’s Son in the truest sense possible, unlike Adam the son of God (Luke 3:38) or the angels (sons of God – Job 1:6). 2000 years ago He was born from Mary’s womb. In eternity, Jesus was begotten by God Himself. He is eternally begotten of the Father, both Persons being ‘part’ of the Godhead and both being (with the Holy Spirit) the Creator.
This Sonship is not inferior within the Godhead but is only a particular function or position. There are three Persons within the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). For God to always have been perfect Love (in the truest possible sense of the word – see 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 3:19) He would have had to act upon it. This perfect ‘agape‘ love is possible as there are these three Persons within the Trinity to interact. Another thing to point out from all this is that God understands family and is the Family of families in this Parent-Child relationship.
Colossians 1:15-17 makes it absolutely clear that this Sonship is in no way inferior in this Godhood. In verse 17 we are told that Jesus is ‘before all things, and in Him all things hold together’ (ESV).
We have established in other the articles in this Reading Room that Jesus and the Father are equally Jehovah/ Yahweh/the Great I AM and therefore both Persons are eternal. This is not in question in this article.
Putting all this together, namely, that Jesus is the eternal Son (begotten not created) past, present and future, and that He has always existed as perfect God; we can come to no other conclusion than to see Jesus as eternally begotten. Only this can honestly convey what the Scripture says and anything else would contradict it. There is only one verse that can appear to be at variance with the concept of Jesus as the eternally-begotten Son, and that is verse 22 from the passage in Proverbs 8:22-31.
In this passage we have the Hebrew word qanah which some translations have translated ‘to create’ as though wisdom was ‘created’. The Hebrew word in isolation can mean ‘to create’ but it can mean a lot of other things such as ‘begetting’ (Deuteronomy 32:6), ‘buying’ (Genesis 25:10) and ‘owning’ (Isaiah 1:3). See Ellicott Vol. IV on Proverbs 8:22; Hebrew Bible; Metzger p.80).
I am going to approach this passage head-on and talk about the difficulties of interpretation we can come across. I am also going to approach it on the assumption that it is referring both to wisdom as a virtue and to Jesus as the ‘wisdom of God’/Word/Son of God. It could however be interpreted to refer to some kind of angelic being – this may seem to be a necessary alternative if it was believed that ‘to create’ is the operative translation. However, I think it is unlikely in view of the similarities between the passage and aspects, functions and position of Jesus from other Scriptures.
More acceptable as an alternative to this (if it was insisted that ‘to create’ was the most accurate translation) would be to say it did not refer to the Son of God, but only to the attribute of wisdom as expressed in the Book of Proverbs as a whole. In this case it would be incumbent upon us to not to be so analytical in how we understand the passage. This book is not a book that would be heavily used for doctrinal issues since it is a book of proverbs. If you are in any doubt that this is the case and that the title ‘Proverbs’ was simply added later, just read the first verse in Chapter 1 verse 1: “The Proverbs of Solomon…”.
The Psalms present us with a similar difficulty as it is a book of songs in its basic form. However, there are no inaccurate statements in the Psalms or Proverbs, although it can be difficult to separate out prophesies of the coming Messiah for example. If we were faced with the Psalms without any knowledge of what the New Testament writers have said about the prophecies taken from the Psalms and applied to Jesus, we would find it very difficult to do that ourselves.
So, if we are not to read too much into this passage (Proverbs 8:22-31) as a basis of doctrine, all we can really say is that all things were created with wisdom – which is absolutely true. We can always fall back on this interpretation and we are justified in doing so. Since this is a book of proverbs it is also justified in personifying wisdom as though she were a virtue with a personality. This is expressive language and is very effective. Often we have the two concepts of Wisdom and Folly pitched against one another as two personalities calling us to follow their ways – we have to choose (see Proverbs 9:1-6 for Wisdom and Proverbs 9:13-18 for Folly). We could say Jesus is the personification of wisdom here and the Devil is the personification of folly, but it is not necessary.
The Hebrew word for wisdom is a feminine noun, but that does not mean wisdom is a feminine being (except in the proverbial language) any more than the French word for table (la table) signifies it is a woman with four legs just because the word has a feminine form. However, it is interesting to note that the word ‘wisdom’ is not actually used in the passage in question (Proverbs 8:22-31). This could be an indication that we are now not looking at a proverbial picture of a wise woman but a personal being expressed through a prophetic forth-telling. There is still the grammatical tension though, as it were, since we have the feminine form ‘rejoicing’ in verse 30 and the masculine noun ‘master-workman’ in the same verse 6. 8. 14.
Having said this, if taken analytically, the context of the passage implies that it is still speaking about wisdom as an actual being, although the word ‘wisdom’ is not actually present in these few verses.
I will explain why I believe the passage may well be speaking of wisdom as Jesus the ‘wisdom of God’. The absence of the word ‘wisdom’ in the passage removes the feminine personification aspect and is perhaps deliberately replaced by the noun ‘master-workman’ in verse 30. The Hebrew for ‘master-workman’ is an interesting word and, just as an aside, it is used as a proper name – Amon – too. It means ‘foster-child’ or ‘artificer’. (See Davidson; Green.)
Original Hebrew (and the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament) was made up of consonants with no vowels, and the word used here – Amon – has the same Hebrew consonants as our word ‘Amen’. In fact the Greek word ‘amen’ is the equivalent of the Hebrew one. It is the same word that we use at the end of our prayers. It is the very last word of the Bible (Revelation 22:21). It is the same word that Jesus frequently uses translated, ‘Truly, truly’, or ‘Verily, verily’ – literally, ‘Amen, Amen’ (e.g. John 5:24). (See Davidson; NT Greek; Nestle; Abbott.)
So, in a nutshell, the word used for Jesus in Proverbs 8:30 – ‘master workman’ has the same root as the word Amen. Together their root meanings are; to stay, support, nurse, bring up, firm, established, sure, true, faithful, etc. This is all very interesting as we know that Jesus is actually called ‘Amen’ in Revelation 3:14.
So far we have established that the passage in Proverbs 8 has several possible interpretations as it does not state specifically that it is about Jesus or the Son of God or an angel or a virtue or the I AM, etc. This, in one way, restricts interpretation – for example, for it to refer to Jesus, verse 22 has to be translated in a certain way; if it refers to wisdom as a virtue it has to be translated in a certain way too because surely God always had wisdom or else how can He be God? God could not create wisdom for Himself without wisdom! If we are not to read too deeply, and simply see it as referring to wisdom being present at creation, then everything is quite simple. But it ignores the fact that the word ‘wisdom’ is absent from verses 22-31 in Proverbs chapter 8, implying we are in another realm of interpretation here. If it is simply referring to an angelic being, then how can a created angelic being be the ‘wisdom of God’? So, as I say, its vagueness can restrict interpretation in isolation from other clearer passages, but if handled correctly and used in the light of the whole Bible it actually enhances interpretation. If we can spend the time to study it in depth we can see the glorious beauty of its full significance. This is something I hope to have achieved by the time I’ve finished this series of articles.
We will look at Jesus’ identity as the ‘wisdom of God’ in a moment but firstly let us consider whether this passage has other hallmarks of it being a prophetic as opposed to a proverbial passage.
Origin of Wisdom
On the face of it Proverbs 8:22-31 appears to speak of the origins of wisdom whether or not it is referring to the pre-existence of Jesus. The language is different to the chapter in which it falls and indeed the book as a whole – e.g. there are no proverbial words of advice. It is very difficult to know though where the divisions of interpretation fall. This is common in prophesy. For example, the prophecies regarding Jesus coming to earth as a baby in peace was confused with His taking over as a political leader before the incarnation took place. We can understand this when we read Isaiah 9:6-7. The latter phrase in the passage is more relevant to Jesus’ second coming (yet to happen) but Isaiah does not make a distinction between the two phrases.
The prophecy in Isaiah regarding the Fall of Babylon breaks off into a prophecy about Satan in Isaiah 14:4, 12-15. And to confirm the connection with Satan we have allusions to this passage in Revelation 12:9 and Luke 10:18. But where the cut-off point between the human king and the Devil himself comes is difficult to determine. Isaiah 14 and Proverbs 8 are not doctrinally clear statements on their own, but they can be used as far as they confirm what is stated more precisely elsewhere in scripture.
Just as Isaiah 14 is alluded to in Revelation 12:9 and Luke 10:18, so we can say that Proverbs 8 is being alluded to in 1 Corinthians 1:24 & 30.
Jesus is the Wisdom of God
1 Corinthians 1:24 tells us that Jesus is the ‘Power of God’ and the ‘Wisdom of God’. I don’t see how any being other than God Himself can be the Power of God or the Wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:30 tells us that God is the source of our life in Jesus,
“…whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (ESV)
This may well be a key to understanding Proverbs 8:22-31. First of all, how can any being other than God Himself be Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption? But it says God made Him our wisdom and our righteousness etc. What does this mean? Well again we have an indication of the Father-Son relationship. In 1 Corinthians 15:24 we are told that at the time of the end, Jesus will deliver the kingdom to God, but until then He will reign. 1 Corinthians 15:27 says God has put all things in subjection under Jesus’ feet. 1 Corinthians 15:28 says the Son will at the end be, “subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (ESV).
God the Father clearly put all things under subjection to the Son (only the perfect Son of God could handle this). In the same way, God has made Jesus our Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption. It is not that God created Jesus as Wisdom, Righteousness etc. 1 Corinthians 15:28 says that the Son will be subject to God (by implication the Father) so that ‘God may be all in all’. The act of Jesus subjecting Himself to His Father enables God to be ‘all in all’. In other words this is what the Godhead is, something with the Father-Son relationship – this relationship is part of what makes God completely God. So we come back again to Jesus being made our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30). Literally translated it says:
“who (Jesus) became wisdom to us from God…”
The NKJV has, “who became for us wisdom from God…”
The NRSV has the same, “who became for us wisdom from God…”
The NIV has, “who has become for us wisdom from God…”
And as we have already seen, the ESV has, “whom God made our wisdom…”
The word translated ‘became’, ‘made’ is the Greek word ginomai. The word is not used in the sense of ‘created’ here, but more accurately ‘became’ or ‘established as’ (Moulton). Ginomai can also mean, ‘born, produced, appointed, happened’ etc.
As the passage says literally, Jesus became wisdom for us from God. The word apo literally means ‘away from’ or ‘proceeding from’ (Abbott). Coupling this with the root meaning of ginomai being ‘to be born’ we have Jesus who has been born to us wisdom proceeding from God. This creates a beautiful parallel with Proverbs 8:22-25 where we will see that the Father brought wisdom forth from eternity.
Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24) and wisdom is something we can obtain as a gift from God to enable us to live correctly. James 1:5 tells us we can lack wisdom, therefore if as Christians we do lack it we can ask God for it. The passage is talking about the availability of the attribute of wisdom, not Jesus as a Person. The verse also says that we should ask God for wisdom. We know that Jesus is the Wisdom of God, the very essence of Wisdom. All things were made by Him and all things hold together in Jesus (Colossians 1:15-17). Asking God for wisdom is the same as asking Jesus for wisdom who IS wisdom. This connection is so obvious and clear that I do believe Proverb 8:22-31 is speaking of both Jesus as the wisdom of God and the attribute/virtue wisdom.
If Jesus is the wisdom of God then the Father cannot be wholly God without Jesus – the two are inseparable. For God to be ‘all in all’ there needs to be the Father-Son relationship. Only God Himself can be the wisdom of God and we know God is eternal.
So far we have only touched briefly on Proverbs 8:22-31. In the next article (Part 3) we will analyse the text and show clearly why the passage can be taken as a prophetic forth-telling of the eternal begotten-Ness of Jesus.
NRSV – New Revised Standard Version (1989) Oxford University Press
NIV – New International Version (1979) Hodder and Stoughton
NKJV – New King James Version (1982) Thomas Nelson Publishers
ESV – English Standard Version (2002) Collins
Metzger, B.M., The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ, from: Theology Today 1953, The Theological Book Agency, Princeton, NJ.
Davidson, B., Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, Bagster and Sons.
Ellicott, C.J. [Ed.], Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible Vol. IV. (1959), Zondervan Publishing House.
Hebrew Bible, Snaith, N.H., The British and Foreign Bible Society.
The New Testament (Greek Text), Trinitarian Bible Society
Nestle – Alan. Novum Testamentum Graece, (1981), Deutsche Bibelstittung Stuttgart.
Abbot/Smith. Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, (third ed. 1986) T and T Clark.
The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (AV). Bagster; The Nestle Greek Text with a literal English translation by Rev. Dr. Alfred Marshall (1958)
Moulton, H.K., The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, (1978), Regency Reference Library, Zondervan Publishing House.
Green, J.P., The Interlinear Bible – Hebrew – Greek – English (second ed. 1986). Baker Book House.