Shallow Similarities, Deep Differences – by Annelise

Shallow Similarities, Deep Differences – by Annelise

In Proverbs 8 we hear a speech in the voice of Wisdom, who is portrayed as a desirable and life-bringing woman. Wisdom speaks here about how she was created before the universe; how creation was made through her, and the way she delights in its order and beauty. She is seen all through creation as the path of good things for those who choose her.

This character of Wisdom has frequent parallels in other ancient Jewish sources, besides Proverbs. These describe wisdom and, with a similar image, the ‘word of God’ as a tool through which He upholds and interacts with created beings. The people who developed this picture had a careful sense of respect for God, wanting their followers to know that although He holds creation close, and is known within it, He is not to be mistaken for a created thing. They portrayed His actions in the world as created things: a tool in His hand, a humble viceroy and delighting servant. In the Aramaic commentary translations, they even went so far as to describe God’s word as the tangible agent of His actions in the world, rather than saying directly that He did it. They didn’t want any blurring or confusion to enter people’s minds when it came to the relationship between visible creation and its invisible Creator, who can be known deeply by heart but not comprehended in the slightest by mind.

There is some conceptual link with the Greek philosophical idea of a logos, and it is clear that when the Christian scriptures (written in Greek) portray their messiah as the ‘logos of God’, they are drawing on these Jewish concepts of chochmah, wisdom (from the Hebrew wisdom writings) and memra, God’s word (from the Targums and rabbinic literature).

Christian missionaries to the Jewish community jump on this fact, saying that their concept of God’s ‘eternally begotten son’, the ‘image of the invisible God’ who is seen to be both ‘God’ and ‘with God’, is not foreign to Judaism at all but is a natural parallel to the chochmah and memra imagery. And yet the beliefs of those who portray multiple relationships ‘within God’ involve serious new developments on these themes.

We need only turn to a key moment in the establishment of Christian orthodoxy to illustrate the problem. One of the verses that the Church Fathers were pressed to interpret is Proverbs 8:22, where wisdom describes how she was created first. They particularly needed to address the Arian claim, which said that Jesus was not God but was still lord of the world as the first created being. To orthdox Christianity, this is a heresy as serious as idolatry. A number of Christian teachers taught in their commentaries on Proverbs 8:22 that Wisdom had always existed, eternally with God, but that this verse only described a kind of ‘second phase’: the ‘incarnation of Wisdom’ into the cosmos as the beginning of all things.

This interpretation is clearly a new addition to the earlier Jewish concept, and one not supported by the imagery that it was first taken from. The missionaries need to acknowledge that their claims of an authoritative Jewish parallel to Christian theology are simply empty and misrepresented. As well as hijacking an idea that seems at first to have deliberately avoided incarnational theology, especially in the Targums, these missionaries are actually speaking about something new; they reinvent traditional Jewish imagery to say something that the scriptures and the rabbis never said at all.

So often in their speech and prayers, Christians speak about God and then in the same breath they speak about Jesus as another reality. Is this the resonance of true scripture tugging at the seams of Christian theology?

We should let light shine from the lesson of the church commentators, who unconsciously acknowledged a good starting point. That is, every time we can relate to wisdom in any discrete, finite, or tangible sense, we are looking at the created servant described in Proverbs 8:22. Not someone to be worshiped, but a path for our hearts as we find God Himself. Never would a Torah-careful Jew pray to wisdom as its own entity; they would pray simply to God, who knows and holds our hearts along the path of His wisdom and His good ways.

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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8 Responses to Shallow Similarities, Deep Differences – by Annelise

  1. Dina says:

    Annelise, this is a great post. You wrote something that I have seen to be so true: “So often in their speech and prayers, Christians speak about God and then in the same breath they speak about Jesus as another reality.”

    I read an article once on a conservative website that purported to show how public schools trample on religious freedom (true enough). A teacher told a little girl that she was not allowed to pray during the lunch break. The mother told her little girl something like this: Keep praying to Jesus; he loves to hear from you. And also pray to God; He loves to hear from you too.

    When Christians read this, they don’t start jumping down this woman’s throat for portraying the two persons in the godhead as two separate entities. It’s natural for them to talk this way.

    • Annelise says:

      Mm, it is something that has been pointed out by a number of people in the Orthodox community- and not just countermissionaries.

      I think that a lot of Christians would have issues with the specific situation you described. Then, a lot wouldn’t, or at least wouldn’t think it was a serious mistake. And most will say things like “God sent Jesus” etc. and assume it’s clear how that fits into trinitarian theology, but still… I think it might show some disjoint.

      • Annelise says:

        Also I find it interesting how Christians prefer to say ‘persons’ rather than ‘people’ when it comes to the trinity… as if using a contemporary word for the same thing would make it sound odd.

  2. Why does Prov.8.22 use the word הנק rather than בָּרָא ? The AV translators consistently used the word ‘possess’ for this former term throughout their rendering of the Tenach.
    Why too is wisdom twice described as begotten, חוֹלָלְתִּי ?
    Can you conceive Deity without wisdom? Does not the creation of wisdom require wisdom?

    The Word is as eternal as the Speaker, the Father as the Son, though one be derived from the other. Though the begetting is perfect it may not be delineated in time. They are distinct but truly one, in real relation though not separate. He who prays to or loves one, necessarily prays to and loves both, for they are One.

    • Brother Charles, you are right.
      One thing i want to encourage you to see is how Yeshua taught us to pray.
      to whom? to God! to Heavenly Father! Yeshua never prayed to Yeshua. Yeshua never taught us to finish our prayer “In Jesus Name” He simply taught us to finish by saying “אמן”

  3. Charles
    Your rendition of Proverbs 8:22 is not rooted in the truth of Scriptural Hebrew – Psalm 51:7, Deuteronomy 32:18, Genesis 14:19, Deuteronomy 32:6 use these verbs – study the verses.
    Furthermore – your assertion that the prayer to one is prayer to another is refuted by 2000 years of Church history and by Jesus himself. If prayer to God is prayer to Jesus then why does anyone need to pray to Jesus? How could Jesus say that no one comes to the Father but through him? The math does not add up.

  4. Annelise, i like what you have written here. As you said, i was confused whether the wisdom was a created being or an agent of creation.
    So far, this is what i think, how about this?
    God IS holy, not CREATED holy,
    if He CREATED holy, He has not been holy?
    God HAD wisdom, not CREATED wisdom,
    if He CREATED wisdom, לפני כן (before that), God has not been wise or had wisdom?

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