How Jesus Identifies: As Wisdom

God identifies the Three-In-One ThemSelf to us in many ways. God does this that we might read the analogies to get a glimpse of what is otherwise opaque to us—the true glory of the Invisible Incomprehensible Divine.


The gospel writer, Matthew, clearly captures one of the ways Jesus identified Himself to His Jewish audience, by drawing on a well-known character from the book of Proverbs: Woman Wisdom (Pro 1-9, 31).


A Pre-existent Partner

When we call Christ the wisdom of God (as Paul does, e.g., 1Co 1:21-24), we do not refer to the divine attribute of wisdom, which all the Persons of the Trinity—not just Christ—share equally. Instead we are speaking about how Christ’s work in creation and mission in coming, living, dying, rising and ascending to His throne, shows the Almighty’s wisdom. We see how wise God is in the plan enacted by Christ in history to save us.



Similarly, when the author of Proverbs presents Wisdom as a Woman, the Firstborn and sole Associate, participating with the Father in creation, She is not a mere attribute of God, but a begotten Partner (Pro 8:22-24). She pre-exists with Him in His glory, before anything else was around (Pro 8:24-29). We can note how very similar Her description is to the Logos described in John 1:1-18. And God delighted in Her then (Pro 8:30). Other Jewish non-canonical wisdom books take up Woman Wisdom as Someone “Who can do all things,” a holy “image of His goodness,” an Associate in His works, renewing all things for Him, Whom the Lord of all loves and by Whom men are saved (Wisdom of Solomon 7:25-9:18). This Associate of the Almighty became part of Jewish culture.


Proverbs’ picture of the participation of a pre-existent One, the Father’s Joy, in the work of creation is not lost on Jesus and, according to Matthew, the Messiah claims it describes Himself.


A Yoke that Gives REst

Commentators such as R.T. France (The Gospel of Matthew, 441) and Celia Deutsch (Lady Wisdom, Jesus and the Sages: Metaphor and Social Context in Matthew’s Gospel, 54-60) point out how Mat 11:28-30 clearly alludes to Woman Wisdom:


25 At that time Jesus declared… 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus takes the role of one calling out in the crossroads, just like Woman Wisdom (Pro 1:20, 4:5-11, 8:1, 8:2), and as He does also in Joh 7:37. Woman Wisdom appears this way in other works with which Christ’s audience would be quite familiar. In these popular works, She calls to come, offering men an easier yoke. The extra-canonical book of Sirach, for example, develops this picture (also in Sirach 24:19-22, as well as Odes Sol 33:6-13):


6:23 Listen, my son, and accept my judgment; do not reject my counsel. 24 Put your feet into her fetters, and your neck into her collar. 25 Put your shoulder under her and carry her, and do not fret under her bonds. 26 Come to her with all your soul, and keep her ways with all your might. 27 Search out and seek, and she will become known to you; and when you get hold of her, do not let her go. 28 For at last you will find the rest she gives, and she will be changed into joy for you. 29 Then her fetters will become for you a strong protection, and her collar a glorious robe. 30 Her yoke is a golden ornament, and her bonds are a cord of blue…

51:19 My soul grappled with wisdom, and in my conduct I was strict; I spread out my hands to the heavens, and lamented my ignorance of her… 25 I opened my mouth and said, Get these things for yourselves without money. 26 Put your neck under the yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by. 27 See with your eyes that I have labored little and found myself much rest.


These works do not have the same authority as Scripture but the images would be part of Jesus’ audience’s world. If someone started talking about taking on a yoke that led to rest, they would think about Woman Wisdom. So Jesus claims Wisdom’s yoke from this tradition as His own (Mat 11:30).


Justified by her deeds

Right before the above passage in Matthew, we find Jesus being even more explicit (vv16-19):

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”


In that last sentence (v19), Jesus is saying more than that the results of His and John the Baptist’s ministry speak for themselves, something like: “The deeds show that we are wise.” No, the chapter is introduced with how John is hearing about the “deeds of the Christ” (Mat 11:2). John, as “the greatest prophet” (v11), pointed to Christ. “Her deeds” in v19 are Jesus Christ’s deeds. Christ is not offering Wisdom’s yoke, as a messenger of Wisdom. He is claiming the role of divine Wisdom. Jesus is inviting His listeners to hear, in other words, “I am Woman Wisdom!”


A Loving Knowledge Like no other

In between these two Wisdom passages (Mat 11:16-19 and Mat 11:28-30), we hear the most important point of all about this Person:


27 …No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son…


Only these Two can really know each other.

As ancient Job orates when he takes up the subject of wisdom (Job 28:12-27), only God knows Wisdom.  Again, this is echoed in non-canonical literature of the time, such as Sirach (1:5-6): “5 The root of wisdom — to whom has it been revealed? Her clever devices — who knows them? 6 There is One who is wise, greatly to be feared, sitting upon his throne.” And in book of Baruch (3:31-32): “31 No one knows the way to her, or is concerned about the path to her. 32 But he who knows all things knows her…”


Only God knows Wisdom. And Wisdom of Solomon follows that in saying that only Wisdom knows God (Wis 8:4, 9:9-18). The idea of exclusive, mutual knowing would be familiar to the hearers from the wisdom literature. Christ’s saying in v27 echoes this tradition, affirming that only These Two know each Other. They are by Themself in coinhering knowledge.


How can this be except they are One, equally Divine? The glimpse we get of God by this analogy He condescends to give us speaks of this Beloved One, in Whom the Promiser delights, pre-existent with Him before all worlds, in some way feminine to Him, in some way His glory, in some way showing His wisdom, in some way that through human experience we can partially understand.


Let us marvel at how Jesus Christ identifies Himself. As Herman Bavinck put it, knowledge of God that is inadequate, finite, and limited is at the same time true, pure, and sufficient.




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