As followers of Jesus, how can we know we are making the “right” choice in situations the Bible doesn’t address? How can we know the difference between what’s good and bad? In this episode, Tim, Jon, and Carissa talk about the Bible’s purpose as wisdom literature designed to reveal God’s wisdom to humanity—even for complex circumstances it doesn’t explicitly address.
There are these distillations that we get throughout the story, like in the ten commandments or in the Sermon on the Mount. At points, it’s very clear: “Don’t murder.” “Honor your ma and pa.” “Do to others what you want them to do to you.” But if you really think about it, you don’t want a list. You might want a list for a certain season that will train your moral compass. Then, when you confront really complex situations, like Joshua or Moses, and it’s not clear, and there’s no list, you’ve been shaped to be the kind of person who knows how to figure out the right way forward. Lists will not help you do that. Wisdom will help you do that.
In part one (0-13:20), Tim, Jon, and Carissa conduct an overview of our series so far. We’ve been exploring the paradigm through which we read and interpret the Bible—the idea that the Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus.
This paradigm encompasses multiple characteristics of the Bible’s identity, several of which we’ve already covered in previous episodes.
The Bible was designed to be understood over the course of a lifetime of re-reading. As we read it over and over again, we will not only be transformed by it but we will see new elements each time we read.
In part two (13:20-19:45), Tim, Jon, and Carissa discuss the potential discouragement we face as we become more aware of the Bible’s complexity.
Tim suggests that in Western cultures, we have grown so accustomed to things being simple and on-demand that we expect a similar instant gratification from the Bible. We think we should be able to just sit down and “get it” right away.
However, mastering any field of human knowledge takes time and effort, even subjects like mathematics. We begin studying math from our earliest school years, and we have to keep studying new rules and methods as we get older to continue to gain expertise. In this way, the Bible is no different from any other field of study.
In part three (19:45-31:00), the team explores the next pillar of the paradigm: the Bible is wisdom literature.
The term “wisdom literature” often refers to a collection of books within the Bible (Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Songs). However, when we call the Bible itself wisdom literature, what we mean is that all of the diverse literary styles in the Bible reveal God’s wisdom and invite us into a journey of character transformation.
The Bible should shape how we live in and interact with the world—that might seem obvious. What is perhaps less obvious is that the Bible doesn’t provide us with wisdom in the way a reference book or dictionary does. Instead of giving us a spiritual manual, God gave humanity his word in the form of literature, art, and story. Because of this, the Bible provides us with wisdom as we ponder and pore over it.
Even the foundation of the Bible’s plot conflict is the human quest for wisdom. Adam and Eve must choose whether they will learn wisdom from God or by their own means.
The Hebrew word for wisdom is hokmah, and the Greek word is sofia. In the Bible, wisdom has to do with practical know-how, especially in terms of craftsmanship, leadership and decision-making for communities, and moral discernment.
In part four (31:00-43:15), Tim, Jon, and Carissa focus on the role of wisdom within communities and in moral decisions.
For instance, Israel is meant to be a “people of wisdom” in the eyes of the surrounding nations by keeping the laws of the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:5-6). One of the most famous stories in the Bible involving wisdom is King Solomon’s request in 1 Kings 3:7-12. In this instance, Solomon does the opposite of what Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3—Solomon asks God himself to give him wisdom, the ability to discern between good and bad. And God is pleased that Solomon would seek out wisdom in this way.
Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3 was not their desire for wisdom. In fact, humans need wisdom. Their sin was that they sought wisdom apart from God. In the Bible, every human is an Adam/Eve facing their own moral decisions at their own trees of testing, and the question is about how to find eternal life and avoid the folly that leads to death.
In part five (43:15-55:20), Jon observes that while it’s simple to see poetry, proverbs, and even narrative as wisdom literature, Bible passages about laws and the New Testament letters seem so straightforward it can be difficult to view them the same way. However, Tim suggests that we often read the laws and the letters as wisdom literature without realizing it.
For example, most church communities don’t collect an offering in the same exact way that the Corinthians would have. But Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about generosity hold immense wisdom for how followers of Jesus should conduct themselves in the world today. All the Bible’s commands are contextual––written for an ancient audience in an ancient context––and meant for our wisdom in our own contexts.
In part six (55:20-1:01:50), the team concludes with a caveat: contextual or not, certain portions of Scripture are very black and white, no matter how long we meditate upon them. Murder, for instance, will always be prohibited. And honoring fathers and mothers will always be imperative.
However, the Bible is not a dictionary—it is a gift. It’s designed to make us wise people who have the discernment to navigate complex situations in which there is no black-and-white answer.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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