Creation By God … According to Wisdom (RJS)

One of The Seven Pillars of Creation discussed by William P. Brown is found in the book of Proverbs. Brown looks specifically at ch. 8:22-31, which we’ll get to below, and also at ch.  3:19-20. I’ve expanded the selection below to include 3:13, 18 (NIV), followed by 19-20 (Brown’s Translation):

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.

YHWH founded the earth by wisdom;
by understanding he established the heavens;
by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
and the clouds drop down dew.

Here we have a description of creation with a clear parallel to Genesis. Wisdom is described as a tree of life. Those who find her find life (8:35).  Death follows for those who do not seek wisdom. Pete Enns, in his book The Evolution of Adam, refers to Proverbs, and to this passage in Proverbs along with others, when he discusses the possibility that Genesis 3 is also Wisdom literature. Wisdom leads to life. Life can only be gained through wisdom, and wisdom is rooted in the fear of God – which in the garden story means obeying God’s command. (p. 90 E of A)

Brown makes a similar point about wisdom and the fear of God:

Wisdom’s beginning point is “the fear of YHWH” (1:7, 29; 2:5). “Fear” does not involve terror, the kind of fear that either paralyzes or provokes conflict. Rather wise “fear” leads to healing and wholeness. Godly “fear” does not debilitate but empowers. (p. 163 SP of C)

YHWH founded the earth by wisdom. Not only is wisdom a tree of life, but creation by God is by wisdom and wisdom begins in the fear of THE LORD, of YHWH.

What do we learn of creation from the way it is described in Proverbs?

In Proverbs 8 we find a slightly different take on creation. Here wisdom is speaking and we have a first person account of creation according to Wisdom. The following is Brown’s translation:

YHWH had me as the beginning of his way,
the earliest of his works of yore.
Of old I was woven, from the very beginning,
even before the earth itself.
When the deeps were not existent, I was birthed.
When the wellsprings were not yet laden with water,
when the mountains were not yet anchored,
before the hills themselves, I was brought forth.
Before [YHWH] made the earth abroad
and the first clods of soil,
when he established the heavens, I was there.
When he circumscribed the surfaces of the deep,
when he secured the skies,
and stabilized the springs of the deep,
when he assigned the sea its limit
(lest the waters transgress his decree)
when he inscribed the foundations of the earth,

I was beside him growing up.
I was his delight day by day,
playing with him every moment,
playing with his inhabited world
delighting in the offspring of ‘ādām.

There are several key ideas here. First, creation is entirely by God – there is no other agency at work. God is the father of Wisdom. God birthed wisdom as the beginning of his ways. This was followed by creation of the heavens and the earth. The Earth is an inhabited world, carefully designed. It is an inhabited world in which wisdom plays, delighting in the offspring of ‘ādām translated as mankind in the NIV, sons of man in the ESV, and mankind in the NASB. Wisdom delights in the human inhabitants of creation and creation is hers to enjoy.  Brown emphasizes the playful nature of creation and the image of creation that this conveys.

In creation according to Wisdom there is no despair, brokenness, and corruption. There is playful delight in the offspring of ‘ādām. Brown draws connections with several areas of science, including quantum entanglement. This is not a concordist approach, seeing modern science in the ancient text, but a modern application of sorts. Brown brings an ancient text into the modern understanding of the world and reflects on the text in this context. I must admit, I find these reflections somewhat fanciful, but Brown makes some interesting connections.

Brown sees in this passage an ancient Near Eastern cosmology used to convey the image of creation. But this is not a prosaic recital of facts and chronologies. Wisdom has two partners in play in creation – God and the offspring of ‘ādām. This is a relational view of creation, and play, delight, and growing up are relational activities.

To live in Wisdom’s world, the sages claim, is to walk the path she forges as a child. Wisdom’s path is the journey of discernment in which what is discovered and what is revealed come together. As Wisdom’s growth begins in joy, may the wide-eyed delight of children never be lost on the wise. For in Wisdom’s eyes there really are no grown-ups. The quest for wisdom is ever ongoing, and progress on the path will always be marked with baby steps. (p. 176 SP of C)

As mentioned above, Enns suggests in The Evolution of Adam that the garden story in Genesis 3 may be a wisdom story. That is, what we read as a somewhat prosaic account of an historic event, perhaps with figurative language, perhaps without, may actually be a narrative version of the failure to follow the path of Proverb’s Wisdom. Enns suggests specifically that it may be Israel’s failure to follow the path of wisdom, as the text was written first for an ancient Israelite audience.

Whom will you follow, wisdom (God) or folly (your own path)? The Adam story speaks to each and every Israelite – and to others through the centuries – that they too have a choice to make every day, whether to follow and trust or to go astray and doubt. Will you live in harmony with the Creator, whose path is wisdom? Or will you choose the path of foolishness and come to ruin. (p. 91 E of A)

As a narrative wisdom story, Genesis 3 does not describe the entrance of sin, but rather the response of man, and Israel, to the temptation of sin and the failure to follow the path of wisdom.

The connection of the path of Wisdom in Proverbs to the Garden story in Genesis 3 is intriguing. But whether you agree, disagree, or merely think that it requires more thought and a stronger case, the creation story in Proverbs is rooted in wisdom. And this story should form part of our understanding of the nature of God’s good creation.

What does the wisdom literature, especially Proverbs, have to teach us about the nature of creation?

What does it mean to have creation by wisdom and Wisdom as the beginning of his ways?

Should this influence our understanding of other passages, including Genesis 1-3?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

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  • CGC

    Hi RJS,
    I have really enjoyed your presentation of Brown’s book. Brown gives a kind of canonical account of the creation storie/s in the Bible and tries to help that give more focus and definition to the creation story in Genesis.

    Since wisdom is playful and delights, here is my playful thoughts this morning. I resonate with Brown’s words about wisdom being like playful “wide-eyed delight of children.” I have a picture hanging on my wall that a good friend gave to me. It shows two children running and flying kites and enjoying creation. This is a powerful image of how Christians are to enter in and live together in God’s world. Rather, it seems to me that when it comes to creation and Genesis, it looks like a very different portrait altogether. This picture looks like two school boys rolling in the mud and fighting behind a school house. If the world is God’s sandbox, may God teach us how to play in His sandbox.

  • Bev Mitchell

    RJS,
    This is definitely one way to go. Perhaps we should try to insist on talking about all of the passages in the Bible that deal with creation of the ‘world’ whenever discussions of Genesis come up. It really does have a way of putting things in better perspective. I particularly like to insist on John 1 before Genesis 1. In addition, we could expand the perspective to the many other creative acts of God – incarnation, resurrection, we are new creatures etc. 

    When we say we believe in ‘creation’, it would be very good if this vast array of God’s great work were part of the definition. ‘Creationism’ as a word has been hijacked. Maybe we should not let it go so easily.

  • Andrew

    This passage serves as an interesting counterpoint to Genesis 1-3. If I were trying to harmonize all of Scripture from a certain Pauline perspective, I might be tempted to redact “sons of Adam” to “Adam” in this passage, saying, in effect, “Hey Wisdom, you might have delighted in Adam himself, but don’t you know Adam in later life and then all his offspring were tainted by sin and death? How could you delight in them?” After all, if we’re talking about literal *sons* of Adam, the Genesis account has them killing each other — hardly anything wisdom would delight in. What I’m saying is that the idea of wisdom frolicking with Adam’s children in a freshly created world doesn’t mesh nicely with a strictly historical approach to the fall.

    I like Enns’ approach. I really do owe it to myself to read his work.

  • RJS

    Thanks CGC,

    I think parts of Brown’s canonical look at scripture is really interesting. The point in my posts isn’t that we’ve been reading scripture wrong for 2000 years, and if we correct the error we’ll see that evolution or whatever is true and biblical.

    Rather, we have based our theology on a selective part of scripture. If we want to have a “biblical” view of creation we have to look at Gen 1-3, Romans 5, 8 and Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, John … and more. Not only this – but how can we claim to have a biblical view of new creation, new heavens and new earth without considering Isaiah 65-66? And this does relate to our understanding of the old creation and Genesis 3.

  • Jon G

    Thank you for this series, RJS. I find the theme of Wisdom in the Bible to be an untapped resource in my theological upbringing and it opens up a whole slew of other questions for me…which I love!

    Could it be, perhaps, that Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make man in our image…”) is portraying God talking to Wisdom instead of a Triune conversation? something to think about…:-)

  • Jon G

    doh! I meant :-) !

  • CGC

    Hi RJS,
    I like this wholistic approach you lay out. I am wondering about the new heaven and new earth in Is.65-66. I have been influenced by Wright and a paper Richard Middleton sent me on this topic. But after saying that, I’ve heard Norman argue in the past that if we approach Genesis more symbolically or spiritually, then why not the millenium or second coming or new heaven and new earth? He contends at least that you (and me and others) seem to have a different hermeneutic for taking some of the later things more literally while we take the book of Genesis less literally. I’m still thinking about that one but I am curious how you would respond to that?

  • Dana Ames

    N.T. Wright talks about wisdom in his first 2 “big books”. Very interesting

    Throughout the 40 days of Lent, leading up to the Passion of Christ (cross + resurrection)/the Great Exodus/Freedom event, the Orthodox lectionary readings lead one through Genesis, Proverbs and Isaiah, a section of each every day except Sunday. The things that have stood out to me, when I have followed the readings, have been the “primordial history” not only of creation and humanity, but God’s rescue work starting “way back when”; the typology of Christ in the story of Joseph; the stress on wisdom, which in EO is seen as an icon of Christ; the drive of Isaiah to eschatology/the renewing of all things, with all the pictures of the sense of idolatry and despair, the greatness of God, the Suffering Servant, the praise of God, the invitation to everyone who thirsts. Along with the emphasis of the liturgical hymnody on God “calling Adam/humanity back”, it’s quite a journey.

    The way Orthodox Tradition juxtaposes different scripture passages is fascinating to me.

    Dana

  • Mark Edward

    #7 CGC,

    The issue is, of course, interpreting based on context, which includes time, genre, style, culture, etc. Genesis 1-3 was written centuries (if not a full thousand years or more) before the Revelation, so while both are ‘Jewish’ writings, that massive time difference means the culture of the writers had changed extensively.

    Genesis 1-3 has much in common with ancient near eastern creation texts and temple texts (showing that the broader scope of the ANE, including Israel, thought about creation in a certain way), and Genesis 2-3 has some similarities to wisdom texts as well.

    The Revelation, though, has much in common with apocalyptic literature common to the first centuries BC and AD, which in turn are based primarily upon the prophetic literature. Both apocalyptic and prophetic contain allusions and references to the creation story, but the distinction of genre and style is evident. The Revelation also contains many allusions to Roman culture (the ‘millennium’ included). Bring this all together with the opening sentence of the book, which says that the Revelation was ‘signified’ (i.e. conveyed through signs/symbols).

    Because of all this, it simply does not make sense to try to interpret Genesis 1-3 in the same way we interpret the Revelation, so the ‘slippery slope’ argument doesn’t work.

    (Also: Christians have been interpreting the millennium symbolically since at least the second century AD. The second coming, not so much, since it is rooted in the gospels and the epistles, which must be interpreted according to their own genres and styles.)

    Grace and peace.

  • CGC

    Hi Mark,
    I really don’t have much time to interact but I did want to say thanks for a very comprehensive answer. I will say the question I raised from Norman was one looking for ‘consistency’ in our hermeneutic and so I don’t believe it was a slippery slope argument.

    Although I agree that there are some genre differences, there is some overlap as well. I believe I have a similar eschatology as RJS but I would rather hear how others would respond to this first.

  • Bev Mitchell

    CGC,

    This latest flurry on this thread reminded me that I had intended to put in my 2c worth on the question of why here (Genesis) and not there (Revelation etc). It seems to be somewhat apples and oranges when we are comparing things past and things yet to come. There is clear evidence from extra-biblical sources that drives the re-evaluation of our interpretation of Genesis, Exodus etc. Of course, we have no evidence whatsoever re what the things God does in the future will actually look like – he has already done some things we would never have thought of, probably will in the future too.

    A related issue that has come up tangentially a couple of times and is a bit of a bug with me – what God did/does vs how God did it. In my current opinion, we often use the word “how” when we should only say “what”, and this is particularly problematic when it comes to our attempts to understand God. For example, when biologists finally come to rest firmly on the conclusion that all eucaryote cells (real nucleus – or seed) have energy dynamos inside called mitochondria that are derived from a very ancient symbiotic relationship between a larger cell and a bacterium, an evolutionary creationist might loosely say, “ah! this is how God has done it.” Instead, right down to the most simple intermolecular interaction and beyond we should say instead, this is what God has done. How is probably beyond us forever.

    A view like this may help, in a foundational way, with questions like those raised by Norman. We really do want to know how, but replacing “what” with “how” just won’t cut it.

    Does this make sense, or is it splitting hairs?

  • CGC

    Hi Bev,
    Two things:
    1. I believe the book of Revelation is about the past, present, and future. So I am not so sure one can simply suggest there is a difference between the book of Genesis which is past and the book of Revelation which is future.

    2. It seems like the “how” question is often coming from the scientific front and the God did it from the Christian community. I’m not sure this is splitting hairs but I am not sure how this really helps on this issue either?

  • http://www.beyondcreationscience.com/ Norman

    Bev and RJS,

    There is a three part series on Biologos currently that delves into some interesting concepts regarding humans having the Image of God. The commenters at Biologos tend toward the overly concortist science types and this discussion might have gotten more theological traction here on Jesus Creed.

    The authors approach is interesting and might have bearing on this discussion.

    “Chosen by God, Part 1,2, & 3: Election, Evolution and the Imago Dei”

    Here is the intro to the author:

    Joshua M. Moritz. Joshua M. Moritz, PhD, is Lecturer of Philosophical Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Francisco, and Managing Editor of the journal Theology and Science. He has studied at the Graduate Theological Union, Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, and Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan. Dr. Moritz holds degrees in theology, philosophy, history, the classical languages, and evolutionary biology.