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For most Christians today, the book of Proverbs is a lot like a Christian Dear Abby column. “What do I do in this situation, or with this emotion?” This isn’t wrong. Scripture is profitable for training in righteousness, after all (2 Tim. 3:16).
While Proverbs certainly gives us wisdom about day to day life, the early church read it primarily as a book about Wisdom himself—the Lord Jesus. This was especially true of Proverbs 8:22–31, one of the most important texts for the early church’s understanding of Jesus.
So let’s see if we can see what the early church saw in this passage. Because knowing Jesus, the True Wisdom, helps us walk in wisdom daily.
God’s Son Is God’s Wisdom
In these verses, Lady Wisdom describes herself as one whom the LORD “possessed . . . at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old” (v. 22), who “ages ago . . . was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” She was “brought forth” when “there were no depths” (v. 24) and “before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills” (v. 25), “before [the LORD] had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world” (v. 26).
Knowing Jesus, the True Wisdom, helps us walk in wisdom daily.
While there are plenty of exegetical arguments about these verses in the early church, almost everyone agreed that Lady Wisdom is a figurative depiction of God the Son. This is because other biblical texts identify Jesus as God’s Wisdom, most importantly 1 Corinthians 1:24, where Paul calls Jesus, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (cf. Rev. 3:14; Prov. 8:22, 25). To put it simply, if Jesus is God’s Wisdom, then Proverbs 8 must be a reference to Jesus since it refers to God’s wisdom.
Jesus in Proverbs 8
So what does it mean that Jesus is the Wisdom of God in Proverbs 8? We can see three things in this text to help us understand Jesus as God’s Wisdom.
1. God’s Wisdom Is from God the Father
God’s Wisdom—God the Son—is from God the Father. More specifically, it means that God the Son is brought forth by God the Father (Prov. 8:25)—or, to use the technical terminology of the Nicene Creed, God the Son is eternally begotten of God the Father. Of course this doesn’t mean (and early theologians like Athanasius and Basil of Caesarea were clear) the Son was created in time.
Divine Wisdom reveals the Father, because Divine Wisdom is the Son, the image and only begotten of the Father.
Instead, it means the way we distinguish between the person of the Father and the person of the Son is in their eternal relations of origin. The Father is eternally unbegotten, while the Son is eternally begotten of the Father. When we say eternally, we mean it never starts or stops. Crucially, in Proverbs 8, “brought forth” occurs in eternity past (i.e. “before the hills,” v. 25). When we say the Son was begotten, we mean the Son’s divine essence is exactly like the Father’s, and also communicated from the Father.
Another way to put this is that the Son is the image of the Father, the exact representation of his being (Heb. 1:1–3). And if this is true of the Son, then it’s also true of the Son as Wisdom. Divine Wisdom reveals the Father, because Divine Wisdom is the Son, the image and only begotten of the Father.
2. God’s Wisdom Is the Pattern of Creation
In Proverbs 8, Wisdom is present with God in the act of creation; she was “beside him, like a master workman, and [she] was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man” (Prov. 8:30–31). The term translated “master workman” (v. 30) means something like “architect.” In his eternal divinity, God the Son (i.e. Wisdom) is the “master workman” at the Father’s side, the architect of creation.
God the Son (i.e. Wisdom) is the ‘master workman’ at the Father’s side, the architect of creation.
And in his incarnation, the Son is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15; cf. Heb. 1:1–3). Image bearing is humanity’s, and therefore creation’s, highest goal. Creation points to its head, humanity, and humanity’s pattern as the imago Dei is Jesus, the image of God.
To put it simply: Jesus, the incarnation of Wisdom, is the pattern of creation because creation is ordered toward the image of God, who is Jesus.
3. God’s Wisdom Is the Pattern of Redemption
Remember that in 1 Corinthians 1:24, when Paul declares that Jesus is “Christ the power and wisdom of God,” he’s doing so in the middle of a section that declares the wisdom of the world folly and the folly of the world God’s wisdom.
He takes on flesh and dies a criminal’s death. Who in the world would think that this is Wisdom?
Specifically, it’s folly to think you could accomplish anything through the crucifixion of a Messiah figure, and yet that’s exactly what God does. He takes on flesh in the person of his Son and dies a criminal’s death as a substitute for those who had rejected him. Who in the world would think that this is Wisdom? No one. And yet, Paul says, what appears to be folly is actually the wisdom of God.
Jesus, God’s Wisdom, isn’t only the pattern of creation but also of redemption.
Following Wisdom’s Call
What does Proverbs 8 tell us about Jesus? It tells us God the Son is the Wisdom of the Father. It tells us God the Son incarnate is the pattern and end goal of creation, because he’s the image of God, the pinnacle of creation. And it points us beyond itself to 1 Corinthians 1:24, where we see that this same divine Wisdom, who’s also the pattern and goal of creation in his incarnation, is the pattern, goal, and architect of redemption in his penal substitutionary death. Jesus—God the Son in the flesh—truly is Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
So, when we read Proverbs, it’s more than a Christian version of Dear Abby. It’s a book that shows us what Wisdom looks like and asks us to follow her voice. Because Jesus is Wisdom, then, it’s a book that asks us to see Jesus and follow Jesus. To follow Jesus is to fear the LORD, which is the beginning and end of wisdom.