Wisdom Literature

(Job, Book of Psalms, Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon)

To better understand the role wisdom plays in the Bible, we will consider how wisdom relates to creation, the fall, the law, and Christ.


The biblical concept of wisdom relates to creation in at least two ways. First, God used wisdom to create the world (e.g. Proverbs 8:22-31). That is, God applied wisdom in creation. Because of this, wisdom is woven into the very fabric of reality. Thus, living wisely is living well in light of reality. Second, wisdom is often tied to creativity. A skilled craftsman who can skillfully create something is said to possess wisdom. In this sense, human beings display a significantly miniaturized version of God's wisdom when we skillfully design and create.

Taken together, both of the previous points mean that wisdom is the ability to act skillfully and effectively in relationship to the real world (the way things actually are).

The Fall

The fall has profound effects on the way human beings interact with wisdom. In this introduction, we're going to look at two of them. First, every single human being naturally rejects God's wisdom and pursues other sources of wisdom of our own invention. This is proved by Genesis 3:6. In this passage, Eve tries to find wisdom apart from God (you can find a longer discussion of this passage here). She looked at the fruit, saw that it was "desirable to make one wise", and decided that she wanted the wisdom it could provide in addition to the wisdom God had given them and wisdom God could provide. This action is programmatic for all human existence. We reject the wisdom that God provides in favor of a different wisdom that is not tied to God. This is a helpful backdrop for understanding 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. We should not be surprised when Paul points out that the Gospel is "foolishness" to those who have rejected God's wisdom.

The second effect that the fall had on the way human beings interact with wisdom is that it 'tears', as it were, the fabric of wisdom which is woven into the universe. Because of sin, the universe does not always operate as God designed it. Injustice and evil are prevalent and create situations in which wisdom does not work as it should. These themes are dealt with in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. In their lives on earth, the righteous often suffer heart-wrenching tragedies and the wicked often prosper as they march peacefully to their graves. As human beings, we have an innate sense of justice which tells us that instances of injustice are not right. Something is broken in the way the world works and all of this is because of the fall.

The previous points can be summarized by saying that because of the fall, every human being seeks to establish his/her own wisdom apart from God which ends up 'breaking' the way the world works because of our sin.

The Law

The law was a way for Israel to live wisely (Deuteronomy 4:5-6, Romans 2:20). It sets the standards for justice, social interactions, and how to live life well. The law was designed to restore Israel's dependence on God's wisdom with the goal that Israel would live so distinctly and winsomely that the surrounding nations would see God's wisdom and humbly submit to God's rule (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). When the Queen of Sheba comes to visit Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13), we get a glimpse of what this should look like. Unfortunately, Solomon was an exception, and Israel rarely followed the law faithfully enough to be a testimony to the nations (Romans 2:24).

To summarize, the law defined what is meant for Israel to live wisely both in relationship with God and each other. It was designed to testify to God's wisdom, but because of Israel's sinfulness, it ended up primarily testifying to man's depravity.


According to Colossians 2:3, in Christ are "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge". This was written to a Colossian church that was tempted to look for 'hidden wisdom' apart from Christ. Paul reminds them that the wisdom of God is not hidden, but revealed in Christ. What does this mean? Christ is the expression of God's skillful work in time and space reality. Notice how Christ Himself interacts with all of the previous points (creation, the fall, and the law). Christ was involved in creation (John 1:1-3), He did not fall like Eve (Matthew 4:1-11), and He kept the law perfectly (which means He always demonstrated perfect wisdom in His life) (Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22). But not only does He himself interact with each of these points, but He also changes the way we interact with each of them. Jesus Christ also changes our hearts which allows us to fulfill the law (which is to say live wisely) (Romans 2:29), overcomes our fallen natures to allow us to submit to God's wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:21), and promises to make a new creation (Revelation 21).


To summarize, there are two critical concepts to understand when thinking about wisdom in the Bible. First, it is practical. Biblical wisdom is closely related to reality (i.e. the way things work). Because of this the application of wisdom is very practical. In our culture, we tend to view wisdom as abstract and disparate from reality, but this is not the idea the Bible has in mind when it deals with wisdom. Second, God is the source of wisdom. One of the mistakes every human being has been making since Genesis 3 is to reject God's wisdom in favor of our own. This is a deadly decision which ultimately leaves us without guidance and without a proper understanding of how things actually work. God possesses all wisdom and it is wise for us to fear Him (Job 28:23-28). As you read and study the wisdom literature books, keep these principles in mind.

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