Word Study: Wisdom

It is possible to have too much love (doormat), too much grace (licentious or antinomian) or too much law (legalism), but it is not possible to have too much wisdom.

The Bible was written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Let’s look at these two languages and the word wisdom.

Old Testament

The feminine noun is ḥokma (pronounced khok-mah), and it is used 153 times. It pertains to both physical skill and intellectual wisdom. Possible translations: “wisdom,” “aptitude,” “experience,” “good sense,” and “skill.” The NIV Study Bible says it is “comprehensive knowledge that is put into practice.”

We can see three aspects to wisdom in the Old Testament.

First, the Assyrians boasted of the military skill (Is. 10:13), and the women exhibited skill and aptitude when they made furnishings for the tabernacle (Exod. 35:26) and the priestly vestments (Exod. 28:3). It can also mean political shrewdness, when a woman of Tekoa assisted in quelling a revolt against King David, led by Sheba (2 Sam. 20:22). A leader should have administrative skill (Deut. 34:9).

Second, the majority of times where ḥokma appears is intellectual or mental wisdom, particularly when it is coupled with understand (Prov. 10:23) and knowledge (Prov. 2:10). Wisdom is sourced in God and our fearing him—reverential awe when we contemplate him and his ways. Job asks where wisdom comes from (Job 28:20), and the answer says God understand the path to it and knows its place (28:23). The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10). Wisdom call out into the streets to come into her place and acquire wisdom (Prov. 1:20). It can enter and settle in the human heart, implying that wisdom was not there or only there minimally, but the human heart and / or soul has the capacity to get wisdom (Ps. 90:12; Prov. 2:10; 14:33). It is not the same as accumulating knowledge—little tidbits of facts. Rather, wisdom consists in life skills. Wisdom is found in those who take advice (Prov. 13:10).

Third, in Prov. 8, wisdom is personified as Lady Wisdom, which was there at creation. In fact, some see wisdom as paralleling Christ in his preincarnate existence–even being him before he became man. She was the craftsperson at the Creator’s side (v. 30). These speculations as wisdom personified penetrates apocryphal Jewish writing between the two testaments, like the Books of the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach.

New Testament

BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it translates the noun sophia (pronounced soh-fee-ah and used 51 times) as “the capacity to understand and function accordingly—wisdom.”

So biblical wisdom is very practical. It is not like the wisdom of the Greek philosophers, which was very abstract. But let’s not make too much of the differences. In the classical Greek lexicon, sophia can also mean: “skill in handcraft and art … knowledge of, acquaintance with a thing … sound judgment, intelligence, practical wisdom.” In a bad sense it can mean “cunning, shrewdness, craft” (Liddell and Scott).

The adjective is sophos (pronounced soh-fohss and used 20 times). According to BDAG it means (1) “pertaining to knowing how to do something in a skillful manner, clever, skillful, experienced”; (2) “pertaining to understanding that results in wise attitudes and conduct, wise.”

The Greek language could change a stem into a verb by adding the –izō suffix (and we can too: modern can become modernize). So the verb sophizō (pronounced soh-fee-zoh and used two times) means “to cause a person to develop understanding to a relative sophisticated degree, make wise, teach, instruct” (2 Tim. 3:15); and “to be skilled in formulating or creating something in an artful manner … reason out, concoct ingenuously, devise craftily” (2 Pet. 1:16).

Wisdom is one of the attributes of God (Rom. 16:27). He can impart or communicate this attribute to us (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:31; Acts 6:10; 2 Pet. 3:15). We can ask God for it, and he will give it to us generously (Jas. 1:5).

It can be practical wisdom which the Christian must have in the face of human and divine demands (Acts 6:3; Col. 4:5; Jas. 1:5; 3:13). We can have wisdom and be wise. We can use it to overcome life’s obstacles and challenges. We now have the capacity to figure things out by reasoning. But when our reasoning reaches its end, we can seek God who will gladly give it, as noted (Jas. 1:5).

I.. Human Wisdom

A.. Human wisdom and its source.

It is received as a gift from God (1 Kings 3:11-12; Prov. 2:6; Eccl. 2:26; Dan. 2:21; Jas. 1:5).

It is received as a gift of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:8; Eph. 1:17).

It gets its start by fearing God (Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10).

It comes by listening to the wise (Prov. 1:2; 4:1-11; 13:20.

It comes from research and education (Eccl. 1:13, 17; 7:25).

It comes discipline (Prov. 29:15).

It comes from admonishing one another (Col. 3:16).

B.. Now let’s look at how wisdom expresses itself practically.

It serves craftsmen (Exod. 28:3).

It expresses itself best by following God’s law (Deut. 4:6; Hos. 14:9; Matt. 7:24-26).

It can serve to write proverbs and songs (1 Kings 4:29, 32).

It can enable us to study God’s creation (1 Kings 4:29, 33).

It can enable us to administer justice (1 Kings 3:16-28; 10:8-9).

By it we can avoid evil (Prov. 5:1-6).

It takes advice (Prov. 13:10)

It gives advice (Dan. 1:20)

It interprets dreams and visions (Dan. 2:23, 30).

We can prepare for the future by it (Matt. 25:1-13).

By it we can exercise patience (Prov. 19:11).

By it we can live the Christian life (Prov. 2:20-21; Jas. 3:17).

By it we can defend the gospel (Acts 6:3, 10).

C.. What are the benefits of wisdom?

It makes us blessed (Prov. 3:13).

It leads us to a long life ((Prov. 3:16).

It preserves our lives (Eccl. 7:12).

It protects us (Prov. 4:6.

It can exalt us (Prov. 4:8-9).

It brings us joy (Prov. 29:3; 27:11).

It gives us strength (Eccl. 7:19).

It brings us healing (Prov. 12:18).

It saves us from evil ways (Prov. 2:12-19).

II.. Divine Wisdom

A.. True wisdom centers on God

God has wisdom (Job 12:13; 28:20-24; Dan. 2:20).

Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30; Col. 2:3).

The Spirit is of wisdom (Is. 11:2; Eph. 1:17).

B.. What is God’s wisdom like?

It is profound (Job 9:4).

It is precious or very valuable (Prov. 8:18-19).

It is deep and rich (Rom. 11:33).

It is magnificent (Is. 28:29).

It is multifaceted (Eph. 3:10).

It is unsurpassable (Jer. 10:7).

C.. How is God’s wisdom active?

It operates in creation (Ps. 104:24; Prov. 3:19; 8:22-31; Jer. 10:12).

It is sovereign over nature (Job 26:12; 39:26).

It is sovereign over history (Is. 10:12-13).

It can counsel rulers (Prov. 8:14-16).

So how does this post help me grow in Christ?

James 1:5-8 promises straightforwardly:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 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. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (Jas. 1:5-8, NIV).

God is eager to give you wisdom, when you lack it. But how do you ask in total faith, without doubting? I find it best to live the surrendered life. Each day, just decide that you are going to trust God to see you through. The life of trust and surrender are related. When you throw your entire being on God (surrender), you have faith and trust in him (faith). Then, at that moment, you can ask for wisdom. And you can be sure he’ll answer you at the right time.


Do I Really Know God? He Is Wise

1. Gifts of Spirit: Word of Wisdom


Works Cited

At that link, look for the NIV Study Bible, Mounce, and BDAG.

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