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.
If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.