Old Testament 102: Goldsworthy on the place and space of Old Testament Wisdom

Wisdom literature gives some advice on guidance and decision making. Goldsworthy argues that wisdom literature can be related to Israel’s covenant faith. And that it points to the coming of Christ. Goldsworthy advocates a presuppositional approach to wisdom about the world. To be truly wise, first one must presuppose God. And because we presume God, we assume the Bible is the basis for true wisdom, then we also need to realise that the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in Jesus, so any consideration of the function of an Old Testament book must begin Christologically.

Wisdom is not intelligence, it belongs to all who believe the gospel. It’s not so much an intellectual approach to life, as it is a way of living life. It differs us from the animals.

We must begin [studying wisdom in the Bible] with Christ because it is through him that we become Christians and are motivated to study the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

He suggests the question to ask of the Old Testament Wisdom is how it comes to help us understand Christ. And then we need to ask how the Wisdom Literature is fulfilled in Christ.

In Luke 11:31 Jesus makes an explicit comparison between himself and Solomon:

31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here.”

Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 is another point of contrast – the Old Testament wisdom was very similar to the wisdom of the world, the gospel of Christ crucifed on the other hand, is folly to the wisdom of the world.

Worldly wisdom has a place. We use it every day.  When we approach questions of how to live our lives, we often turn to worldly wisdom without a thought about where it fits with God’s wisdom (appropriately) – we don’t ask if the correct approach to repairing a computer comes from God (nor should we take actions in those areas that contradict Godly wisdom – but you get the point).

“If Christians showed as much talent and shrewdness in the pursuit of the world for Christ as unbelievers show in the pursuit of riches, who could gauge what effect that would have?”

“Every culture collects the wisdom of its people, much of which will be found in the form of concise proverbial sayings.”

The wisdom literature from Babylon and Egypt has close similarities to the Biblical works.”

“At this point we can at least recognise that there is some common ground shared by the wisdom of pagans and that of God’s people”…

Stephen (Acts 7:22) suggests Moses was educated in Egypt’s wisdom.

By the time Moses went to school in Egypt there was already a long history of wisdom.

On Ma’at

“Ma’at represented an order that was to be seen particularly in the stability of the Egyptian state… There is no real parallel in Hebrew wisdom to Ma’at other than similarities to the idea of order. These similarities between Hebrew and Egyptian wisdom suggest that the common factor is the quest for the understanding of the order of the universe. Hebrew wisdom was distinct in that it was shaped by the Israelite experience of covenant and redemption.”

Goldsworthy suggests Biblical accounts of Solomon, and the non-Israelite bits in Proverbs suggest a connection between Israelite and ANE wisdom.

“The evidence available to us of the intellectual achievements of the people in the old civilizations of the Middle East shows us that wisdom was sought after and written down very early in recorded history. There is little doubt that wisdom sayings of some kind would have been part of the emerging culture of Israel’s ancestors.”

“Wisdom’s apparent lack  of concern for Israel’s history, covenant and law is one of its distinctive features. Perhaps we can work back from the wisdom books to look for clues to the origins of wisdom in Israel. The wisdom literature itself is lacking in the kind of historical references which would give such clues. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes contain only the briefest indications of the traditional patronage of Solomon.1

Four kinds of evidence which contribute to our understanding of wisdom in Israel:

First – the scattered wisdom sayings found in various parts of the narrative literature of the Old Testament (some of these are clues to a pre-literary stage which probably existed before there were any schools of wisdom or written wisdom) – for example sayings about mighty hunters (Genesis 10), and “it became a saying” in 1 Samuel 10. In this case the word “saying” is the Hebrew word later used for Proverb.

Second – the wisdom books themselves.

Third – knowledge of the wisdom literature form the ANE – “the forms and functions of this wisdom suggest parallels to Israelite wisdom, but the differences are more obvious.”

Fourth – the possible wisdom influences on other books of the Old Testament, the idea that other books were compiled by wisdom schools, written by wise men, or influenced by wisdom thoughts.

“If we could be sure of the identification of wisdom influences [on the Old Testament], they would provide some valuable evidence of the place of wisdom in the main stream of Israelite thought. We would see how the wisdom ideas, which in the main wisdom books appear in almost complete isolation from expressions of the covenant faith, have been brought into organic relationship with that covenant faith.”

1 We’ll get to Solomon later, and Goldsworthy’s view (also, see the previous post).

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.