Word of the Week
May 8, 2021
Sophia: Choose Your Wisdom Wisely
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
I admire my friends with the technical expertise to overhaul a motorcycle engine or to construct a backyard deck. I am impressed with the artists who have the ability to paint a picture that looks as realistic as a photograph. I wish I had an executive’s ability to oversee a complex business enterprise.
If I were speaking Old Testament Hebrew, I would probably say that all these people display chokhmah, or “wisdom.” Old Testament “wisdom” can refer to the mastery of a skill. Wisdom is the theme of the book of Proverbs, which is a compilation of sayings that will enable us to master the skill of living.
Most people like the idea of being wise, but there are as many definitions of wisdom as leaves on a tree. This week we are going to look closely at sophia, the Greek word for wisdom.
We all feel the need for wisdom, so we resonate to James when he instructs us to ask God for the wisdom we lack (James 1:5). When the original readers of the New Testament heard the word sophia, they had several pictures of its meaning from which to choose.
To secular Greeks, sophia was the focus of their world view. Though the word could refer to technical expertise or to academic learning, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle used it to describe the carefully crafted system of truth that aimed to answer questions like, “What is real? What is good? How do we know?” The word philosophy itself comes from the Greek words for “love of wisdom.” For them, wisdom was a comprehensive explanation of reality.
A later group of Greek and Roman intellectuals were known as the Sophists. For them, sophia was the ability to argue skillfully to prove a point, regardless of whether it was true or not.
For the Jewish community, sophia was the focus of Proverbs and the other books of “wisdom literature.” It was skillful living, but not just the fruit of logical reasoning. True wisdom was inevitably linked with righteousness, the fear of the Lord, and obedience to His law.
What did Sophia mean in the New Testament?
- It could mean mastery of a skill or a body of intellectual knowledge. Acts 7:22 says that Moses was educated in all the sophia of the Egyptians. He graduated from the University of Egypt.
- It could mean human wisdom: the ability to understand a situation and act effectively on the basis of that knowledge. For example, the queen of Sheba came to hear the sophia of Solomon (Matthew 12:42). Even the unsaved world has access to this kind of wisdom, but human wisdom only goes so far. It does not extend to spiritual matters (1 Corinthians 1:18-30) and it can even be demonic (James 3:15).
- It is one of the attributes of God, who knows everything and acts perfectly in accord with that knowledge.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! (Romans 11:33).
In the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not come to know God (1 Corinthians 1:21).
In order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10).
The throng around the throne in heaven shouts, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (Revelation 5:12).
- Because God is the fount of all wisdom, we can only receive spiritual wisdom from Him.
Paul prays that God would give the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom (Ephesians 1:17).
Wisdom is one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8).
We are encouraged to ask for wisdom (James 1:5).
Would you like to be known as a wise person?
Education is useful and you can learn many life skills from your own experience and the advice of others. But the ultimate wisdom comes as a gift from the One who is All-Wise. We gain His wisdom by paying attention to what He says in His Word, and by asking Him for it.
Sophia occurs 51 times in the New Testament, along with the adjective sophos (wise) which occurs 20 times. Such an important word group is worth studying in much more depth.
Meditate on the parallels between wisdom in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, at least partially because fearing Him will motivate you to listen to what He says. When you do, you will gain in wisdom.
Q & A
Q – I used the Blue Letter Bible to look up some words in Luke 1:1 and noticed that it had code letters to describe the words. The word “narration” or “account” was listed as N-ASF. What does that mean, and is it important?
A – Many Bible software sites will include codes like this to identify the grammatical forms of the Greek words. In this case, N = noun, A = accusative case, S = singular, F = feminine. It simply shows that Luke wanted to present one account of Christ’s life.
This kind of information can be important, but it can also be complicated. If you try to study it, be sure you really know what you’re talking about before you go out on a limb.
You can explore grammar further on the Ezra Project Web site, where I have included several pages of information on nouns and verbs. You may refer to this at https://ezraproject.com/understanding-grammar/
It sometimes seems that the news consists of little but scandals. However, scandal originates with a Greek word. Next week, we will see that the first century version of scandal was quite different from ours.
©Ezra Project 2021