On the joke page of the June 2013 issue of the American Legion’s magazine, there was this item:
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is fruit.
Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Often, I have heard people exclaim when someone has done something that is out of character or stupid, “He is so smart, how could do that?” My response has been, “There is a difference between intelligence and wisdom.” When I worked among Navajo teenagers, I found they had a difficult time learning academics but I also knew that among them was great wisdom—a wisdom to deal successfully with a harsh environment, to maintain a sense of personal emotional security while away from home in a boarding school, and a wisdom to teach me what truly works in life and what does not.
The Hebrew Scriptures, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament, describes wisdom in lively and substantial terms. We read of wisdom mostly in the Book of Proverbs and in the apocryphal books of the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Sirach Ben Jesus (or as it called in Latin terminology, Ecclesiasticus). The Psalmist writes of wisdom often. The most instructive of his words are:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.
The early Christians held on to the Hebrew ideas of wisdom. They continued to read the Book of Proverbs and the other wisdom literature.
Wisdom in the Hebrew context is given a female pronoun. Wisdom is referred to as she and her. For example, in opening verses of the Eighth Chapter of Proverbs we read:
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand…
To me the idea that wisdom has a female attribute is very interesting. Or, is it the other way around; possibly wisdom is a female characteristic preeminent.
Several years ago I wrote a poem about wisdom. It is based on the first six verses of the Ninth Chapter of Proverbs:
Wisdom has built her a House.
To King Solomon, mentioned
in the Bible,
Wisdom was his love.
He was true to her and he fought,
struggled, and strove
To let her be his guide, but alas
it came to naught.
“How’s that?” You say.
“Wasn’t Solomon the wisest
of the ancient kings?”
Yes, with wisdom he would often lay
to soak in her beauty and her
In a futile hope to be like her and fly
wings of ecstasy.
How could he have gone wrong?
He knew that wisdom had built
her house of seven pillars
and she then called everyone:
The thieves, the merchants,
and the millers
to come to drink
her wine and
feast among the seven pillars.
She called the simple and the stupid
to her party. But, alas,
they were not to his liking,
the king did not wish to be
Those with whom he did not mingle,
He thought he was so very
clever, and his
cleverness made him tingle.
Yes, Solomon was clever, but he
was neither wise nor
He kept three hundred women
In his palace; some were wives,
many were concubines
there only for his pleasure.
Others were there to be a palatial
All together they were so much wiser
than he could ever be.
Numbers alone were not what
He faltered because he failed to
for the fact that
In their number they
became a giant WE
and that Wisdom, after all, is a
The female characteristic of Wisdom has been carried over into Christian thought by title Holy Wisdom and in Latin Santa Sophia. The word Sophia is carryover from Greek and the female names such as Sophie and Sophia come from the Greek and Latin terminology.
All of this gives substance to wisdom. However, in the Eighth Chapter of Proverbs we read that Wisdom is the first creation of God. Thus, we can say that Wisdom is the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel according to John wisdom is “the spirit of truth” and changes gender. Additionally, Jesus refers to the Spirit of God as the Advocate. For example, also in the Gospel according to John, Jesus tells his followers,
The Spirit of God is the Wisdom of God. Whether the Hebrew Scriptures refers to Wisdom in the female or Jesus refers to the Spirit of God in the male context makes no difference. The ultimate reality is that we find wisdom only when, as the psalmist wrote, in the “fear” of God or better yet in the “awe” of God.
Wisdom does not drop out of the sky or hit us like a bolt of lightning. Wisdom is the result of prayerful meditation, thoughtful contemplation, and a willingness to hear God speak as we encounter the world.
In prayerful meditation tell God your thoughts, listen to the words that come from your brain and out of your mouth, do they work in the ultimate view of God’s saving embrace—that is, do the words you generate in prayer reflect the truth that “God is love.”
Wisdom is more than knowing. We can know the Scriptures by heart but if we have not absorbed the words in such a way as to generate in us a feeling that we cannot know everything without profound study, we have gained wisdom.
Finally, recognize that the Holy Spirit, the Holy Wisdom, of God comes to instruct. So many Christians want the Holy Spirit of God to levitate them, give them a secret language, and the ability to speak for God. However, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will bring wisdom based in knowledge. In that wisdom we build character. In that wisdom Christians endure prejudice, intolerance, persecution, and mockery. As the Apostle Paul observed in his letter to the Romans,
…endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
A principal Christian virtue is hope. We hope in wisdom, as our creedal statements remind us, to live in the hope of the resurrection with Christ Jesus.
Despite doubt, despair, and fear, Wisdom sustains us. Wisdom then, is hope and because wisdom has been poured into our hearts, hope based firmly in wisdom and love never fails.
If you have a Bible with the apocryphal writings, you have a complete Bible. If not, you are missing an opportunity to read some truly and inspiring ancient literature.
William Frank Bellais,180th Meridian and Other Reflections, 2012, The Owl Press.
 1 Corinthians 13.