What Is Biblical Wisdom?

It may not be what many of us thought.

I was reviewing memorized Scripture and noticed parts of these two:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
James 1:5-8

What I would think is this is the type of thing where somebody asks you about something and you answer that you’ll pray about it and ask God for wisdom. Not that I believe that God whispers in our ear and tells us what to do, but he guides us and reminds us of Scripture that may help. Which he does…

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
James 3:17

This is a much different portrayal of wisdom than the scenario I wrote above. We often ask for wisdom and don’t get it. We’re sometimes asking for the wrong thing or expecting God to tell us what he doesn’t usually reveal to us. Biblical wisdom isn’t necessarily about making the right decisions or being able to answer people’s important life questions, although it could indirectly lead to that in some cases. Biblical wisdom is something that God promises to give to everyone. This is his will for believers.

I recently read Knowing Scripture and remembered a quote in there that really struck me as I was also pondering how James and other inspired writers portray wisdom. I’m now reading Communion With God and just read something about wisdom in that book. And I have a saved quote from a commentary on Job that I read a year or two ago (which is very good) that describe these things much better than I can.

Sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation (2 Tim 3:15). Paul refers to the Scripture’s ability to give wisdom. When the Bible speaks of wisdom, it refers to a special kind of wisdom. The term is not used to connote an ability to be “worldly wise” or to have the cleverness necessary to write a Poor Richard’s Almanack. In biblical terms, wisdom has to do with the practical matter of learning how to live a life that is pleasing to God. A cursory glance at the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament makes this emphasis abundantly clear. Proverbs, for example, tells us that wisdom begins with the “fear of the LORD” (Prov 1:7; 9:10). That fear is not a servile fear but a posture of awe and reverence, which is necessary for authentic godliness. The Old Testament distinguishes between wisdom and knowledge. We are commanded to acquire knowledge, but more to acquire wisdom. Knowledge is necessary if wisdom is to be gained, but it is not identical with wisdom. A person can have knowledge without having wisdom, but he or she cannot have wisdom without having knowledge. A person without knowledge is ignorant. A person without wisdom is deemed a fool. In biblical terms foolishness is a moral matter and receives the judgment of God. Wisdom in the highest sense is being wise with respect to salvation. Thus wisdom is a theological matter. Paul is saying that through the Scriptures we can acquire that kind of wisdom that concerns our ultimate fulfillment and destiny as human beings.

–R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture

The path of wisdom, godlikeness, and holiness would rely on Scripture for guidance without necessarily looking to specific texts to lay down hard and fast rules (though it occasionally might and we dare not neglect them when it does). Wisdom brings order to life and relationships, and the wise take God seriously. Wisdom derives from biblical values, but it is not necessarily bound to Israelite culture. Holiness recognizes that aspects of our behavior will sharply distinguish us from those around us. God’s holiness is embodied in his distinguishing attributes; we exhibit holiness by reflecting God’s communicable attributes (e.g., by exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit). We can build ideas about godlikeness around the biblical text’s portrayal of God.

–John Walton, Job (NIVAC)

What Biblical wisdom is:

The sum of all true wisdom and knowledge may be reduced to these three heads: (1) The knowledge of God, his nature and his properties. (2) The knowledge of ourselves in reference to the will of God concerning us. (3) Skill to walk in communion with God.

–John Owen, Communion With God

What Biblical wisdom is not:

There are two things that might seem to have some color in claiming a title and interest in this business: (1) civil wisdom and prudence, for the management of affairs; (2) ability of learning and literature—but God rejects both these, as of no use at all to the end and intent of true wisdom indeed. There is in the world that which is called “understand— ing,” but it comes to nothing. There is that which is called “wisdom,” but it is turned into folly, “God brings to nothing the understanding of the prudent, and makes foolish this wisdom of the world” (1 Cor. 1:19-20). And if there be neither wisdom nor knowledge (as doubt— less there is not) without the knowledge of God (Jet. 829), it is all shut up in the Lord Jesus Christ: “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him” (John 1:18).

–John Owen, Communion With God

These are things I love to learn about. It’s great to be corrected by God through his Word because he’s speaking to us. When God speaks, it’s always, always about simple, practical, spiritual things that matter the most.

I’ve often thought that when I’m old(er), I would like to be a wise man without knowing or thinking that I am. I’m now much farther away from that ideal than I thought. It’s a great subject to explore. I’m oftentimes embarrassed that I don’t realize many of these things that seem to be so plain sooner than I do. It shows that “the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6) And his timing can be peculiar.

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