Author: Andrew Harrison
In this final article on the Eternal Begotten-Ness of Jesus we will be looking at the passage in Proverbs chapter 8 (verses 22-31) more analytically and see even more of God’seternalFather-Son relationship expressed in the original text.
As Jesus says in John 17:24:
“Father…you loved me before the creation/foundation of the world.” (See NIV, NRSV, NKJV, ESV).
In this particular verse we have the preposition pro meaning ‘before’. Jesus speaks to His Father and we know Jesus existed prior to the creation/foundation of the world. Clearly even then the Father was the Father and loved the Son, even before God created anything. That Parent-Child relationship has always been there. One could argue that Ephesians 1:4 has a similar phrase, with the same preposition pro, and so if we are saying that the Father and Son existed as Father and Son then, Ephesians 1:4 must mean that we have also existed ourselves and then to have been chosen by God. But Ephesians 1:4 is not only talking about us being chosen before the foundation of the world, but about predestination as we see clearly from the following verse (Eph.1:5). Predestination is certainly not the emphasis in John 17:24. The Father-Son relationship existed at the beginning as we will further confirm from Proverbs 8:22-31.
My second article introduced Proverbs 8:22-31. We are now in a position to look at the passage in more depth. I think we are already in a good position to tackle the translation difficulty in verse 22.
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.” (ESV)
The Hebrew word qanah is translated ‘possessed’ and it can also be translated ‘created’. The context of the verse is time prior to the creation of the universe – before anything was made. The Lord (Yahweh) already possessed wisdom at the beginning. He possessed both the attribute of wisdom and His Son, the ‘wisdom of God’. You can ‘possess’ the Son as Matthew 3:17 shows:
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (ESV).
Proverbs 8:22 is reminiscent of:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (ESV John 1:1-3).
The Word (Logos) is not just a spoken word, but the very reasoning and thought processes of God. So Yahweh possessed wisdom and He possessed reason/thought at the beginning – before He created anything. Shortly, I will show that it is speaking not only of a finite time prior to any act of creation, but prior to (in a manner of speaking) God ever doing anything, i.e., from eternity-past.
The ESV has an alternative translation for ‘possessed’ in a footnote – ‘fathered’. This fits well too, as we already know that Jesus Christ is eternally begotten of the Father. Also in the footnote it says that the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament [LXX]) has ‘created’. But the Greek O.T. is not the superior text for translating; the Hebrew is. Even so, Brenton does translate this Greek word ektise (from ktidzo) as ‘made’ rather than ‘created’. We have:
“The Lord made me the beginning of his ways for his works.” (Proverbs 8:22. Brenton).
We already know that the Hebrew qanah can be translated ‘he created’ and we are in the same situation here with ktidzo, although it is not essential to translate it ‘create’ or ‘made’. Liddell and Scott tells us that ktidzo means:
“… to found, plant, build, institute, establish, produce, create, etc.”
Also important in the Greek translation is the fact that the Greek does not have the preposition ‘at’. Brenton translates it, “He made me the beginning of…” rather than “He made me at the beginning of…”. The Hebrew tends to be translated, “He possessed me at the beginning of”‘. In other words, even the Greek does not say God created wisdom at the beginning, but rather that He simply made Him to be the beginning of the Father’s way – i.e., it was through Jesus that all things began. In fact even the Hebrew does not have a preposition here – it is supplied as, ‘in’, ‘as’, ‘at’, etc. So, wisdom was not created at the beginning of His way, but rather made to be the beginning of His way. This is reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 1:30 where we read that God made Jesus (to be) our wisdom (see Part 2).
Ellicott even says, relating to Proverbs 8:22, that the Hebrew word qanah being translated ‘formed’ or ‘begotten’ not only agrees with verses 23 and 24, but also agrees with the Greek word ktidzo in the Septuagint Greek O.T. (LXX). The translation ‘created’ is not necessary or, in my opinion, even appropriate in Proverbs 8:22. (See Ellicott).
This verse is sometimes used to support the translation, ‘he created’ in Proverbs 8:22.
Here we read that Jesus is:
“the beginning of God’s creation.” (ESV)
“the ruler of God’s creation.” (NIV)
“the beginning of the creation of God.” (NKJV)
“the origin of God’s creation.” (NRSV)
Jesus is not the first to be created; He is the first to be born as the Firstborn; Jesus is not the first creature to be made, He is the one from which all things were created; Jesus is not simply the beginning or start of all these things, He is their origin. (See also Colossians 1:18; Revelation 21:6; 22:13). The Greek word from which we get the translations, beginning, origin and ruler is arche. Abbott-Smith gives various definitions:
An extremity, corner
Sovereignty, principality, rule
In line with Colossians 1:15-17, Jesus is the originator of the creation of God/God’s creation. Metzger points out that “the creation by God” would require the preposition hupo. So we cannot have “Jesus the beginning of the creation by God” which might imply Jesus was created. Rather, we have Jesus as the original source of God’s creation (Metzger).
Actually the Greek Old Testament has the same word for ‘beginning’, arche, in Proverbs 8:22, and so we can be justified in translating it: “The Lord made me the origin of his ways for his works.” (LXX Proverbs 8:22).
The Hebrew for ‘beginning’ in Proverbs 8:22 can also have the meaning of ‘first’ or ‘chief’ in the sense of rank. In square brackets in Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon, it is stated that it is in the sense of, “head of creation, not spoken of as a creature”. (Gesenius).
As mentioned, the preposition is absent in the Greek as it is in the Hebrew, and this possible translation confirms 1 Corinthians 1:30 where we see that God made Jesus to be our wisdom (see ESV).
For the Hebrew, Ellicott suggests supplying the word “as”. He says:
“It is probable that this verse [Proverbs 8:22] should be translated, “He [The Lord] brought me forth as the beginning of His way…” (Ellicott [square brackets added])
In Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament on qanah we have the following note:
“There does not appear to be any sufficient ground for ascribing the sense of ‘to create’ to this verb; in all the passages cited for that sense, ‘to possess’ appears to be the true meaning.” (Gesenius)
Even if we decide it was God creating His own architectural skills for the task at hand, ‘brought forth’ would be the more appropriate translation. It is more like God positioning wisdom in readiness for creation – as a function of Himself – namely, the Son as one Person of the Godhead (Trinity). After all, how can God create wisdom without perfect wisdom already there?
I have already presented many possible translations of this passage without feeling we ever need to translate qanah as “He created”.
Here are a few of the many possibilities already mentioned:
“The Lord made me (to be) the beginning of his way…”
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his way…” (NKJV)
“The Lord brought me forth as the beginning of his way…” (Ellicott).
I have chosen several translations respected as faithful to the literal text of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament to look at in this article. Are these translations of Proverbs 8:22 correct? I am hesitant in saying any translation of the Bible is incorrect, but let’s look at some examples.
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his way, before his works of old.” (NKJV)
The Lord possessed the attribute of wisdom and actually was ‘wisdom’ if we see Jesus as the true ‘personification’ of wisdom. He possessed wisdom at the beginning. The beginning of what? Wisdom has always been there and always been involved from before anything was created. This passage in Proverbs takes us on a journey almost, from before creation, until the time after mankind was created and ‘wisdom’ delighted in it (Proverbs 8:31).
If we take ‘beginning’ as temporal it has to refer to the beginning of anything! Before anything even started – from eternity.
This translation is literal: ‘beginning of His way’ (Hebrew derek). The word means literally ‘way’ as opposed to ‘work’. Yes, the Lord possessed wisdom ‘before His works of old’ but also before God acted in any way, shape or form – at the beginning of His way! Now, was there ever a time when God did not have a ‘way’ – thought, action intention, etc.? No. The ‘beginning’ has to be from eternity because God has been God ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ (Psalm 90:2 – NRSV).
So wisdom as an attribute and wisdom as the Person Jesus, has always been part of God from eternity. This translation (NKJV) confirms it and so does the original Hebrew. So, relying on the literal translation ‘way’, it seems to me impossible to justify saying that wisdom was created before God created anything else. If God did not do anything at all before He possessed wisdom then who created wisdom? Well, we know who brought forth wisdom – the Lord Himself! Wisdom therefore was certainly not created! The only way I can accept ‘created’, while accepting the passage as doctrinally significant (rather than simply proverbial language), is as ‘creating from infinity-past (eternity)’, if we can accept such a concept.
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old.” (NIV)
The NIV is basically the same here but is less literal and translates ‘way’ as ‘work’. This still fits. God did possess wisdom at the beginning of His work – creative work or any activity. The NIV places ‘way’ or ‘dominion’ in a footnote. Again God has always possessed wisdom so did so at the beginning of any activity.
“The Lord brought me forth…” (NIV footnote)
In line with accurate translation of the Hebrew, the fathering aspect of the word ‘possessed’ is noted as an alternative. This also fits in with the eternal begotten-Ness of God.
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.” (ESV)
Again, the ESV has translated the word for ‘way’ as ‘work’. This is due to the translators identifying that wisdom was part and parcel of the process of creation from the very beginning. However, reading from the original Hebrew, both nuances are clear. You need to see several English translations to get a similar picture. Again, ‘way’ is noted in the footnote and admits that the Hebrew (our primary biblical authority for the Old Testament) says ‘way’ literally.
“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.” (NRSV)
Again, we have the word ‘work’ instead of ‘way’, which is placed as a footnote, identifying that ‘way’ is the literal Hebrew translation. In this version (NRSV) the Hebrew words behind ‘work’ and ‘acts’ are taken as synonyms as though both refer to the creative acts of God, but it is admittedly not as literal as it could be (the preface of the NRSV confirms that the translators accept that the Hebrew was the primary authoritative text for the translation). It is unfortunate that they have not only chosen to see ‘way’ and ‘works’ as synonymous, but have also combined this with the word ‘created’.
The idea that God created wisdom at a finite time is a nonsense, whether you believe this refers to wisdom as Jesus or simply the attribute. Wisdom could not be created from ‘nothing’ like the universe was (Romans 4:17).
The Hebrew in Genesis chapter 1:1 and its Greek translation (LXX) use different words for ‘created’. Proverbs 8:22 has qanah (Hebrew) and ktidzo (Greek) whereas Genesis 1:1 has bara (Hebrew) and poieo (Greek). This may well be another hint that ‘created’ is not an appropriate translation in Proverbs 8:22 since the English word has the wrong connotations.
There was never a time when God was without wisdom as the Perfect Eternal God. God was able to send He who was already His Son into the world as God Incarnate. Similarly, God sent forth His Sonship/Wisdom/Word from eternity for the purpose of creating the universe. Proverbs 8:23
This verse goes into more detail about when God possessed wisdom.
“I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth.” – (NKJV)
“I was appointed (Footnote: fashioned) from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.” -( NIV)
“Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” – (ESV)
“Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” – (NRSV)
The ESV and NRSV take it at least as far back as before the creation of the earth, which it was – from eternity past, in fact.
The NIV is right to use ‘from eternity’ since this is the significance of the Hebrew word, olam. Its meaning is: “a time hidden, indefinite or unlimited” (Davidson). And especially in this verse, where we have no fewer than three synonymous Hebrew words, ‘eternity’, ‘beginning’ and ‘ancient times’ (see Green), there is a clear emphasis not only on the fact that wisdom was ‘set up’ long ago, but an emphasis on the time – from eternity.
As it says in Proverbs 8:24 and 25: ‘I was brought forth/ given birth’ (see NIV, NRSV, ESV, NKJV), which confirms everything I have shown so far.
So we can see that wisdom, whether referring to Jesus Christ or not, had to be ‘brought forth’ in eternity, and since wisdom has always been part of God’s nature, He possessed wisdom before all things.
This is a beautiful passage with wisdom identified as Jesus because it shows a wonderful relationship between Father and Son.
Unfortunately, these things can be lost in translation and this is where a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew helps. Translators cannot know everything about every doctrine and every nuance of meaning and I think the translation ‘he created’ in the NRSV is an honest translation by a committee trying to be accurate. Unfortunately, in translation you cannot sometimes help ‘fixing down’ one nuance of the meaning of the original words. This is sometimes inevitable and as a result the meaning is not left as broad as it should be.
I want to end by giving glory to Jesus our salvation:
“in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col.2:3).
New Revised Standard Version (1989) Oxford University Press
New International Version (1979) Hodder and Stoughton
New King James Version (1982) Thomas Nelson Publishers
English Standard Version (2002) Collins
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Snaith, N.H. The Hebrew Bible. The British and Foreign Bible Society
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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.
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