Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? (Part 14) The Biblical Support for Eternal Generation: The Christological Use of the Personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 8
It is well-known that the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 played a significant role in the development of the early church’s Christology. In fact, this use of Proverbs 8:22 became problematic because of the mistranslation the Hebrew verb in that verse. The LXX translated the verse: The Lord created me as a beginning of His way for His works. So common was the use of this passage to teach Christology that the Arians often quoted Proverbs 8:22 against the orthodox.
I will not argue in this blog post that the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 is a direct reference to Christ or the Son of God. I will argue that its language is so frequently and pervasively applied to Christ in the New Testament that its statements about the origin of wisdom are significant in the biblical argument for eternal generation.
The first step in this argument is the plain fact that the New Testament repeatedly describes the Son of God as the Wisdom of God.
There is a Lucan theology of the wisdom of God which comes to its highest expression in Luke 11:49-51:49 “For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.” Here the words of Jesus are said to be uttered by the wisdom of God.
There is a theology of the wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians in which Jesus is several times identified as the wisdom of God. For example 1:24 affirms: “but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Don’t overlook as well 1 Corinthians 2:7-8: “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory…”
Paul’s letter to the Colossians is widely thought to utilize concepts from Proverbs 8 in its high Christology. It is not surprising, then, that it also contains the following sentiments:
Colossians 1:28 – 2:3 “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ…attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Such passages suffice to show that there is clearly a wisdom Christology in the New Testament. It is not surprising, therefore, that there is a remarkable series of similarities between the statements of Proverbs 8:22-31 about wisdom and statements the NT makes about eternal Son of God.
(1) Both wisdom and the Son of God exist in the beginning—from eternity—before God brought about creation. Cf. Proverbs 8:22-26 with John 1:1-2.
(2) Both wisdom and the Son of God are active with God in the creation of the world. Cf. Proverbs 27-30 with John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2.
(3) Both wisdom and the Son of God exist in a warm personal relationship with God the Father. Cf. Proverbs 8:30-31 with John 1:1: “and the Word was with (toward; has friendly personal relations with) (the) God.”
(4) Both wisdom and the Son of God also have a special interest and delight in the world. Proverbs 8:31 states of wisdom that he rejoices “in the world, His earth, And having my delight in the sons of men.” The New Testament teaches that just as all things were created through the Son of God, so all things were created for Him—as His inheritance (Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).
It seems high-handed insensitivity to the Scriptures to dismiss as coincidence (1) the obvious identification of Christ as God’s Wisdom in the NT and (2) the obvious parallels between the Wisdom of God in Proverbs 8:22-31 and the NT. But if this is the case, then we must not fail to notice a further parallel and one emphasized in Proverbs 8:22-31. The simple fact is that Proverbs 8 teaches that the Wisdom of God is eternally generated! And it does this using a great richness of language. Three verbs are used to describe the origin of wisdom.
In Proverbs 8:24-25 the verb meaning to bring forth by means of childbirth is used. Literally, the verb means to writhe in the agony of child birth: “When there were no depths I was brought forth, When there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills I was brought forth.”
Proverbs 8:23 uses a word that simply means to set up or establish. Wisdom eternally established by God: “From everlasting I was established, From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.”
Proverbs 8:22 contains the troublesome verb that was translated created by the LXX. This verb means literally to acquire, get, or purchase. Its first use in the OT is with reference to childbirth in Genesis 4:1 where Eve says that she has “gotten” or “produced” a man for the Lord. This is likely how it should be translated in Proverbs 8:22: “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old.”
There are here then three clear references to what we can only call the eternal generation of wisdom. It is difficult to resist the feeling that behind, for instance, the phrase the only begotten from the Father in John 1:14 is the concept of the eternally generated wisdom of Proverbs 8.