Eternal Treasures of Wisdom in the New Testament – Part 1

Written on: July 7, 2021

Article by: Paul Birston

Theme Edition Introduction

Jesus’ neighbours in Nazareth recognized His great wisdom and wondered where He got it, “And He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, with the result that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man acquire this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’” (Matthew 13:54).

Jesus’ wisdom appeared to His neighbours in the midst of their everyday trials. In Jesus and in His neighbours’ astonishment and question we see that wisdom is a fundamental attribute of God, that His eternal wisdom comes to us in Jesus and His teaching, and that His wisdom works in the pressures of everyday life.

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We also note that Jesus’ neighbours in the first-century world, Jews and Greeks, had some general knowledge of what wisdom is and its importance. From His first sermon onward they were aware enough to recognize that Jesus’ wisdom was extraordinary (Matthew 7:28–29). Jesus’ wisdom is extra-ordinary because it is eternal. It works in the practical realities of life because God is the Creator of life and He Himself is the essence of wisdom.

The wisdom trajectory through all Scripture is firmly established in the Old Testament. Even so, the continuity of God’s eternal wisdom through both Old and New Testaments is under appreciated and under applied, perhaps because of our stress on the New Covenant emphases of justification and living by faith which are certainly of paramount importance.

The goal of this theme edition is to enhance our appreciation and application of the wisdom which God gives us in the New Testament and by which He wants us to live as we walk with Him by faith. Faith and reason are intrinsically related by virtue of the fact that Jesus embodied both logic and reason as the Logos. Therefore faith and wisdom are intrinsically related in spiritual practical living. They work together. God wants us to live by both. We need faith to apply His wisdom and He also doesn’t want us claiming to do things by faith that we know are unwise and presumptuous in His eyes. Both need to be in harmony with Him.

The Eternal Presence of God’s Wisdom

We noted Jesus’ first-century neighbours were aware of wisdom in their culture. Jesus’ Jewish kinsmen were blessed with the wisdom of the First Covenant Scriptures including what we know as the wisdom books or “Wisdom Literature,” Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

God’s wisdom for living permeates all of the First Covenant Scriptures. It appears in various forms in the songs/psalms, proverbs and parables found in the historical and prophetic books as well as the “writings” (together the Hebrew Tanakh: Torah, Nabi’im and Ketuvim). Jesus knew this canon of scripture and referred to it in Luke 24:44.

God powerfully affirms in His Word that His wisdom is eternal, existing with Him before His Creation of the universe:

The Lord created me at the beginning of His way,

Before His works of old.

From eternity I was established,

From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. (Proverbs 8:22–23)

God’s eternal wisdom is evident all around us in His Creation:

Lord, how many are Your works!

In wisdom You have made them all;

The earth is full of Your possessions. (Psalm 104:24, see also Psalm 19, Romans 1:20)

God’s eternal wisdom is for all His people for all times,

And He will be the stability of your times,

A wealth of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;

The fear of the Lord is his treasure. (Isaiah 33:6)

God’s wisdom is a gift He gives willingly:

For the LORD gives wisdom,

From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6)

Throughout history God has given His wisdom and His Spirit for practical and beautiful purposes:

See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship.” (Exodus 31:3)

Wisdom appears with two companions in scripture to form the trio of wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

What Is Wisdom?

The Hebrew word for wisdom is hokmah (חָכְמָה). It embodies “skill.” Wisdom gives skills for living. Wisdom guides its possessor in thinking, speaking, acting and making the most godly appropriate decisions for the best outcomes in real-life situations.

While factual information can build knowledge, the combination of knowledge with understanding based on years of experience guided by God’s Word leads to wise behaviour with the most positive long-term results. The wisdom proverb, which parallels the New Testament parables, is “a short saying based on long experience.” In five verses, Proverbs 1:2–6 articulates at least 15 functions of this wisdom book, including “to know wisdom” (1:2).

In the New Covenant Scriptures, sophia, Greek for wisdom, is 1) for Christians, “the wisdom which God imparts to those who are close to Him,” God’s wisdom in Christ, vs. 2) “the natural wisdom that belongs to this world” (see 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 for Paul’s penetrating distinction between the two).

Scripture often personifies wisdom to teach and emphasize its importance. Jesus makes the strong connection between wisdom personified and wise action and results,

“…wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. (Matthew 11:19b)

And yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children. (Luke 7:35)

The Continuous Trajectory of Wisdom through both Testaments

As we have seen, wisdom is a fundamental eternal attribute of God. His wisdom is manifest in His creation of the universe. His wisdom is also evident in His people from ancient times, in the magnanimity of Abraham and in His words to and through Job, Moses and the wisdom of Torah, instructions on worship and living, through the early days of Solomon and finally the Prophets. God’s wisdom shows up in all three sections of the Hebrew Scriptures: Torah, Prophets and Writings.

This eternal trajectory of God’s wisdom blossoms further in the New Covenant notably in Jesus “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). The proverbial forms of wisdom are fully evident in Jesus’ parables and His clear delineation of the two ways of wisdom vs. folly in, for example, his teaching of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24–27).

The writings of Paul, James and Peter contain many classic features of wisdom. Finally, John’s Revelation ascribes wisdom in praise to God and its application by wise readers. John’s apocalypse draws our attention to the eternal horizon of God’s glory and how God means it to guide us in wise and holy living today in preparation to be with Him eternally.

God’s Wisdom in Jesus’ Cross and Gospel

God’s love and justice meet at the cross. In 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 Paul gives us a brilliant understanding of how the cross is also the ultimate manifestation of God’s wisdom and power: “we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23–24).

Getting Wisdom

Wisdom is a gift from God. It is more valuable and precious than silver and gold (Proverbs 16:16). God gives wisdom to those who have a reverent fear of Him and who walk in His ways (Psalm 128:1),

And to mankind He said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;

And to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:28)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;

All those who follow His commandments have a good understanding;

His praise endures forever. (Psalm 111:10, see also Isaiah 11:2).

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

(Proverbs 1:7, see also Proverbs 9:10; 15:33).

In one of the best examples of wisdom writing in the New Testament, James also says God gives wisdom generously to those who ask Him in faith:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

The Importance of Living by Faith and Wisdom

We’ve all “learned things the hard way.” We try something and it doesn’t work. We keep trying until we find something that works well. We don’t have time to make all the mistakes and some of them are deadly.

God knows more than anyone what works in life. He invented it. So God gives us wisdom from His eternal perspective and the long experience of His inspired writers in His Word. He wants us to learn wisdom from Him and His Word to equip us to make the most of our limited time on earth as we prepare to live with Him. forever.

From the beginning of time God has always wanted us to live believing what He says and doing it, that is by faith, and by the wisdom through which He created us. God’s ultimate manifestation of wisdom comes to us through Jesus and the eternal treasures of His New Covenant.

We are very grateful to our authors who have contributed articles on God’s wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ parables, Luke, 7:31–35, 1 Corinthians and Ephesians, James and Revelation. We pray you will be encouraged, edified and equipped by these reflections on God’s eternal treasures of wisdom in the New Testament. The articles from James and Revelation will appear in your August edition of the Gospel Herald. 

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