this is part sixteen of the series “The Bible Is“
One of the greatest features of the Bible is that it is the literary equivalent of being self-aware. Taking things a step beyond the reality that the Bible was written with multiple perspectives contributing, it is also important and helpful to observe that the Bible’s various writings interact with one another. The Prophets quote the Law, the Gospels quote the Old Testament, the Epistles make reference to the Gospels and Acts, and so on. Sometimes these self-reflective moments in the Bible are simple matter of cut-and-paste quotations, simply reinforcing the message of the earlier writings. Sometimes new context and information is added, expanding the reader’s understanding of both texts. Sometimes a whole new line of interpretation is offered, such as Jesus’ revelation when, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The last two books to be considered, Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, are excellent examples of the self-reflective nature of the Bible.
The book known as The Wisdom of Solomon, or Wisdom for short, is a late work of Jewish Wisdom written in the name of King Solomon, to whom parts of the book of Proverbs is attributed. Its opening chapters contain memorable discourses on the virtue of righteousness from God and its apparent foolishness to the wicked, whose twisted way of thinking is vividly depicted and easily applied to the mindset of those who crucified Jesus. The fruit of righteousness and virtue, and the triumph of God’s people on the day of judgment, is also expounded, leading up to some discourses on the nature of wisdom, much like what is found in the opening chapters of the book of Proverbs. Also, again, Wisdom is personified as a woman, and most of the second half of this book is an exploration of the events and characters described in the books of Genesis and Exodus from the perspective of God’s Wisdom leading his people. Noting that the Old Testament Wisdom figure has been interpreted by the Church to be Jesus, this book proves quite an interesting resource for the Christian seeking to see Jesus, particularly in the story of the exodus.
The Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach, or Sirach for short, is also known as Ecclesiasticus, referring to its status as specifically a “church book” as it was not adopted into the formal Jewish canon. It is similar in style to Wisdom in its favoring of longer discourses over individual sayings, and to Proverbs in its lack of a clearly-defined thematic structure. This book focuses more on the practical things of living a godly life – the need for God’s Wisdom, how one should act toward parents, authority, the needy, and so forth. Starting in chapter 38, some noteworthy discourses about health, work, and labor can be found, offering extremely rare insight into a godly approach toward “secular professions”. Perhaps most famously, chapters 44-50 contain another tour of Old Testament history. Unlike Wisdom 10-19, however, these chapters focus on how the Wisdom of God led and inspired various people throughout Old Testament history, from Enoch (in Genesis) to Simon (in the books of the Maccabees). These chapters focus on the positive examples of these heroes, akin to the famous “hall of faith” in the 11th chapter of Hebrews. Ecclesiasticus ends with the author’s prayer for wisdom.
Together, these books give us not only an extension of the wisdom literature championed by the book of Proverbs, but also reveal the development of Jewish thought and biblical interpretation as the 1st century approached. We see how the community of faith reflected back upon the Hebrew Scriptures, and (to a large extent) anticipated the sort of interpretation that would be taken up by the Church under the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus. While there are some ideas here that would prove to be theological dead ends, overwritten by the New Testament’s teaching, the bulk of these books are extremely insightful, and fruitful for the Christian reader today, both in understanding the Old Testament better, and learning how to live a godly life.