The Wisdom of God: Jesus or a created thing?
Correspondent Suzanne H. wrote to Dr Carl Wieland (CMI-Australia’s Managing Director) to ask just a short question, but one which opens up many issues for consideration:
Dr Carl Wieland
I have a question for you and would like your answer.
Recently it has been stated by a Pastor that “Wisdom was the first thing that God created”. This has happened on more than one occasion and has greatly disturbed me and subsequently led me to a short study on wisdom. As a result I have written to the Pastor and am awaiting his reply.
I would however, value your answer to his statement.
Your sister in Christ
Dr Wieland replies:
Thanks for your query. I’m sorry if my answer seems a bit ‘roundabout’. In what follows, I refer more than once to the apologetics site www.tektonics.org—both my colleague Dr Sarfati and I find some very useful, God-honouring information on there, though it’s not appropriate for us as a non-denominational ministry to do a “blanket endorsement” of everything on any other site, of course. And I hasten to add that this is not an area of personal expertise for me.1
Your pastor has very understandable “face-value” reasons for making such an assertion. Take, for example, Proverbs 8:22–30:
“The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him … ”
But the use of the word “created” to refer to Wisdom causes difficulties. If we think of Wisdom in the normal understanding of the word, what does it mean to “create” Wisdom? When one thinks of creation of the universe, that really refers to material systems, i.e. systems of matter (mass/energy), plus time plus space. But wisdom, like information, is really a non-material entity.
And there is a bigger issue. Most people who have studied the matter carefully, comparing Scripture with Scripture, end up concluding that the “Wisdom” here in mind (and elsewhere in the so-called “wisdom literature” of the Bible, which I should state here is of a quite different type than the historical narrative of Genesis) is really the Logos, Jesus Christ Himself. (Similarly, John 1:1–18 seems to allude to another contemporary Jewish concept, the memra or “word”: the “memra of God” was considered in some way to be proceeding from God, but also to be divine itself—see Christmas and Genesis).
This issue of whether wisdom is to be equated with Christ is of course not a test of orthodoxy in itself. But if we were to add this time-honoured understanding of Wisdom to a statement that Wisdom was “created”, then that could be taken to mean that Christ Himself is a created being, which would be a serious matter indeed. (This is what the anti-trinitarian cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians claim in denying Christ’s Deity. They also point to Paul’s statement that Christ was the “firstborn”, covered below.) So a pastor might be making such a statement in innocence, but the audience could think that he was saying that Christ was a created being, when this may not be in his mind at all.
Of course, the idea of a created Christ is heresy, undermining as it does His deity, in addition to contradicting other parts of the Bible which make it clear that the Lord Jesus is eternal. But it is important to note that there is not necessarily contradiction between Christ’s deity/eternality and the idea that Wisdom (Christ) was “brought forth” from God the Father, as we shall see.
First, let’s look at the evidence that Jesus and Wisdom are one and the same.
In this section of the Tektonics site, you will find some interesting things to support the orthodox view that Jesus Himself is Wisdom, the “Logos” of God.
I have pasted below the information from this Tektonics link
But what is the import of all of this for the understanding of the term “firstborn”? It is simply this—that since, according to Nicene Trinitarian Christology [i.e. historic, orthodox, Christianity—CW], creation takes place in and through the Son, the Son must therefore in a sense be begotten outside of God so that the creation of that which is distinct from God may so occur. And note how easily this fits in with the Wisdom paradigm, as Von Balthasar pointed out above. According to Wisdom Christology, since the Father is the source of the entire Trinity and the Son proceeds from the Father, therefore any act of God will originate in the Father and be expressed in and through the Son—it couldn’t be any other way. Note also that the Colossians hymn above speaks of the Son being the ‘image’ of God (Ca) before it speaks of his being ‘firstborn’ (Cb). This significantly tilts the scales in favor of understanding Paul to be telling us that the Son existed within the Father prior to his becoming ‘firstborn’. Why? Because Paul is alluding to Wis. Sol. 7:26 (‘she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness’, cf. 7:25b).
Having said that, the site goes on to say that the ‘firstborn’ as applied to Christ is normally taken in another way altogether by commentators who are aware of the way in which Paul’s statements in other parts of the Bible make no sense unless Christ is truly God, not a created being. It says:
According to most commentators, of course, ‘firstborn’ is to be understood as referring to Christ’s primacy in relation to creation (with a similar line being taken regarding ‘the beginning’ in Rev. 3:14) over against the possibility of a temporal reference. William Barclay states that taking ‘firstborn’ in a temporal sense would ‘include Jesus Christ in creation rather than identify him as the Creator’, and that this would be a neglecting of ‘the rest of Paul’s thinking’. (Jesus As They Saw Him, 399) After examining several possible meanings, he concludes that there ‘is only one real solution to the problem. The word prototokos has quite commonly another meaning which has nothing to do with time at all. It means first in place, first in honour. (400)
Likewise, Witherington states that ‘the firstborn terminology is found in each stanza but in neither case should the reference to birth be taken literally. In the first stanza the Christ is said to be the author of all creation, so the term prototokos probably doesn’t refer to his being created but to his existence prior to all creation and his precedence and supremacy over it, just as he also precedes all others in the resurrection of the dead. Verse 16 in fact stresses that Christ created even the supernatural powers and principalities, which began as good creatures, as did the human race.’ (The Many Faces of the Christ, 82)
And so on. There is obviously a great deal more that could be said, and that has been written. In short, your pastor may be well-meaning and may for all I know be quite orthodox in his understanding of creation and Scripture, the Gospel, etc., and perhaps unaware of the potential theological consequences of the statement. And as indicated, in one sense, his comment (especially if just a throwaway line and not the basis for some other doctrine or teaching) is not without justification. If, for instance, he does not agree that the personified Wisdom is really Jesus Christ, God the Son, that would certainly not make him a heretic, though it leaves to my mind huge unanswered questions about what it could mean otherwise.
I can see how someone could use this as the “beginning point” of all sorts of quasi-mystical understandings of Scripture, including on creation. But in another sense in order to be able to comment properly one would need to know exactly how and what your pastor was saying, otherwise there is a risk of being quite unfair to him.
In short, my own personal view is that Wisdom is really Christ, and that Christ was not created but is coeternal with God the Father, but that in some way we don’t comprehend with our finite fallen minds, the Father is nonetheless the ‘source’ of the Son. One ancient analogy compares Father and Son to the sun and its light: the light’s source is the sun, but the sun’s very nature is to emit light (as per Gen. 1:14 ff. God made the sun precisely as a lightgiver to earth), so they are co-eternal. Similarly, God the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, while the Father’s nature is to beget the Son eternally. (For more information, see Trinity: analogies and countering critics.) This is reflected in the classic Nicene Creed of AD 325:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
So I can understand why you would be alarmed at the idea of Wisdom being created, and would not use that word myself. What is the first thing that God (i.e. God the Father) brought forth out of His own essence, before He created the universe? The answer (though always needing to be qualified as to its very specific and narrow sense) is most certainly Wisdom = the Logos (cf. John 1) = Christ. I.e. Christ pre-existed, within the Godhead, that act of “bringing forth”. Hence the creation of the universe is not mentioned until v. 3, after the Logos is stated as already existing with God (v. 1).
Even then, I would suggest that all else being equal, consider cutting your pastor the maximum slack, as they say. For one thing, even the use of such terms as “before” is problematic when we realize that even time was a part of what God created when He made the heavens and earth. So the language of Proverbs is really using terms that our finite, earth-bound and time-bound minds can understand about concepts that they probably can’t fully comprehend.
I hope that has been of some help.
Addendum: NT Bible scholar and CMI’s Information Officer, Lita Sanders, added the following comment after the response was sent (after expressing her general agreement with its thrust):
The idea that Christ is Wisdom in Proverbs is something that orthodox Christians can disagree on, and that people can fall into heresy on in both directions. For instance, the feminist Sophia Christology says that since Wisdom was personified by a woman, Christ must be, in some way, female. Because Wisdom is female in the Proverbs, I disagree that there is a one-to-one correspondence between Jesus and Wisdom; mostly because of the danger of Sophia Christology and the problem of the Second Person of the Trinity being depicted in female terms, which is totally contrary to all the rest of Scriptural references to God (see What’s in a pronoun? The divine gender controversy). I think Wisdom is the personification of a divine trait that the son being addressed in Proverbs is implored to follow rather than the adulteress who is the sort of anti-wisdom in Proverbs. So Wisdom would be uncreated, but a divine trait which all 3 of the Persons of the Godhead would share in. But the OT is outside my area of expertise, and my own view is subject to change pending further investigation, and it’s an issue which orthodox Christians can differ on. But I would totally disagree that Wisdom was created; it is a trait which the Godhead possessed in eternity past.
- Tektonics seems to us to be aligned very much with biblical protestant orthodoxy, while at the same time it looks closely at not just the type of language (e.g., Proverbs is clearly not historical narrative, as Genesis is) but also at the vital issues of what it meant in the cultural context of the times, etc. This is not the liberal “loophole-hunting”, but is something which tends to enrich our understanding and often clarifies important things. Note, too, that Protestant sites such as this may refer to extra-biblical sources, such as the Apocrypha—not as having divine authority, but to try to shed cultural contextual light on what the original hearers/readers would have understood. Return to text.