What Is Wisdom?

John_Steinbeck_1962“His ear heard more than what was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.”
John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

The answer is simple really but it’s hard for us to embrace. Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  We wince at the idea of “fearing the Lord” because we don’t want to be afraid of God. We could talk around it, but we must start with the obvious: God is God and we are not.

God said “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).  For Paul, the cross of Christ is the ultimate example of humanity’s inability to comprehend and accept God’s ways. God’s gift of salvation appears to some people as foolishness in light of their “knowledge” or offensive in light of their enlightened sensitivities.

Even we who are believers must remember that we do not naturally comprehend God’s wisdom or ways. Like the Greeks, we will continue to consider God’s ways to be foolish at times; like the Jews, we will occasionally be offended by God’s plans.

It’s easy to be arrogant, but it’s a grave mistake. Our job isn’t to figure God out. Our job is to glorify Him. That’s wisdom.


1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

and the intelligence of the intelligent I will confound.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. 22 For indeed, Jews ask for sign miracles and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a cause for stumbling, but to the Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Digging Deeper: Wisdom

Our usual understanding of “wisdom” is intellectual insight, with no necessary connection to ethics. In contrast, biblical wisdom embraces ethics. The Old Testament background to the concept of wisdom focuses on the word root hòkm, from which the word hòokmah (“wisdom”) is derived, and is commonly translated “sophia” in Greek.

In the Bible the height of human wisdom is proper awareness of and obedience to God, and no person who was rebellious toward God could be considered truly wise.

Paul emphasizes the revealed nature of God’s wisdom. People cannot approach God through human wisdom (“… the world did not know God through wisdom …”), but must accept “the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21). In contrast to insight revealed by human wisdom, God’s truth must be revealed.  Without His revelation of truth, we are simply guessing.