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Proverbs chapter 8 uses a personification of Wisdom. Some people take this personification as a description of God, or of the Messiah. Is there any textual justification for this?

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+1 great question. Are you referring especially to v22ff? You may find this thoughtful article interesting. –  Jack Douglas Aug 20 '12 at 19:41
    
Related question: Why is Wisdom personified as a woman? –  Davïd Mar 23 '14 at 16:28
    
A Spirit being who played as a child before the Eternal, who also was with the Eternal when He prepared the heavens, Proverbs 8:26-31. She is a Angel to the 7 Churches, 9:1. –  user9586 May 17 at 15:07

3 Answers 3

The key to understanding Wisdom's identity lies in both the genre of the book itself and the textual clues within the book.

Genre

The Book of Proverbs is classified as wisdom literature. This genre existed prior to the generation of the proverbs or the compiling of the book itself. The society into which these proverbs were written was already familiar with the concepts of "wisdom" and "proverbs," and they sought for wisdom and valued it dearly. No one wanted to be a fool. Everyone wanted to be wise and successful.

The Book of Proverbs presents the wisdom of God as the true wisdom. Essentially, its function is to point the wisdom-seeker back to God. Thus, the function of the Book of Proverbs in the canon of Scripture is (...no surprise here...) redemptive in nature. (And so we discover that the book is not so out of place in the canon as scholars have traditionally thought.)

Textual Clues

Throughout the book the term "wisdom" is used interchangeably with "righteousness", and likewise, the term "foolishness" is used interchangeably with "wickedness." For example, Proverbs 10:18-21:

He who conceals hatred has lying lips,
  And he who spreads slander is a fool.
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
  But he who restrains his lips is wise.
The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver,
  The heart of the wicked is worth little.
The lips of the righteous feed many,
  But fools die for lack of understanding.

(Notice that hatred, lying, and slander in the first verse would normally be characteristic of the "wicked," but here the wise man names the "fool." In the second verse, the man of transgression is contrasted not with the "righteous," but with the "wise." In the third verse we might expect the tongue of the "wise" to be as choice silver, but he instead names the "righteous." In the fourth verse, righteousness is explicitly contrasted -- not with "wickedness," but with "foolishness.")

This is why the wise woman of Proverbs 31 is characterized by the fear of the Lord, and why the wisdom of Proverbs so often points us in the exact same direction of the rest of Scripture: to humility, ministry, love, Godly character, compassion, etc.

Lower-Case "wisdom"

It isn't hard to see during a quick read through the book of Proverbs that true "wisdom" is to walk in God's ways.

Upper-Case "Wisdom"

Who would qualify as the "personification of God's ways"? Well, God, I suppose. It isn't hard to make the connection to Jesus, the perfect God-Man. The following verse comes to mind:

[Jesus:] "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” -Matthew 11:18-19

The question in my mind is whether Wisdom is Jesus or the Spirit, but I suppose I'm splitting hairs at this point.

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The bible in Isaiah 11 describes 7 spirits(the spirit of the Lord,wisdom,understanding, counsel,power,knowledge and the spirit of the fear of the Lord). So the fullness of the spirit refer to the completeness of these 7 spirits that characterize the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. so the personification of wisdom in the proverbs 8 refers to the Holy Spirit. We understand that in the days of the old testament, the Holy Spirit was not yet revealed to Men.

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Throughout much of the Book of Proverbs we see 'Wisdom' as a female personification. Since God has always been referred to by male terms, and since Jesus was a man, we must look elsewhere for an explanation of who Wisdom was.

She appears in Proverbs 1:20ff:

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity...

In some places, material about the personified Wisdom is intermixed with philosophical wisdom and in other places, either meaning could be construed. An ambiguous passage that nevertheless tells of Lady Wisdom is Proverbs 3:13-19:

Proverbs 3:13-19: Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her. The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.

Consistent with the above, we find in Proverbs chapter 8 that she was with God when he created the world:

Proverbs 8:27: When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:

1 Clement mentions Wisdom as a female personification in a late first-century Christian context, and she is also mentioned in Luke 7:35, in terms that seem to rule out any confusion with the Holy Spirit:

Luke 7:35: But Wisdom is justified of all her children.

Sophia (Wisdom) is found as a Gnostic Christian goddess, and we find a complex (and boring) book(s) of instruction now known as Pistis Sophia. The Catholic Church also adopted Wisdom and her daughters, Faith, Hope and Love as saints, but they are almost certainly mythical.

Proverbs was written in the form we know it around the time of the Babylonian Exile, some time after fertility figurines believed to represent Asherah ceased to be used. This could suggest that Wisdom represents an aniconic evolution of Asherah, or a replacement figure more acceptable to the theocracy. Mark S. Smith says in The Early History of God, page 13, that scholars such as G. Bostrom, H . Ringgren, W. F. Albright and others have compared the figure of Wisdom to the Canaanite goddess Asherah. If Wisdom was not the post-Exilic understanding of Asherah, she was certainly a female spirit/goddess who was revered in Judaism, and apparently in early Christianity, up until the end of the first century CE.

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I disagree with your premise that "gender" precludes an allegorical reference to "The Most High" or "Jesus". First, gender doesn't necessarily apply to "the Most High", (who is apparently "Spirit"), or "another Divine"--especially in Mystic Literature. Second, as seen in the Shepherd of Hermes, or The Consolation of Philosophy, (Boethius), gender is relevant to connote and portray, "The Mystic Romance"--and is irrelevant to identify who the portrayal is an allegory of. –  e.s. kohen yesterday
    
@e.s.kohen I agree that Hebrew grammar makes these things more ambiguous than would be the case in English. Perhaps I could add: i) Wisdom was with God at creation, therefore is not God; ii) When Luke intends to refer to the Holy Spirit, he does so (2:27;4:1,14,18;11:13) and there is no reasonable explanation of the Holy Spirit's "her children"; similarly when Luke speaks of Jesus, he of course says "Jesus" or "Christ." I understand you disagree, but I am satisfied that Wisdom is not a member of the Trinity. –  Dick Harfield yesterday
    
@e.s.kohen .../cont: Although this answer and comments are necessarily brief, the wider body of evidence and scholarly opinion points to Wisdom being the post-Exilic name for the now-banned Asherah, or a theologically acceptable replacement for her. –  Dick Harfield yesterday
    
Dick, (A.) I agree with your analysis that Wisdom is not the "Most High"; (B.) However, I do not think that Wisdom as allegorical for Christ should be so quickly dismissed, considering the parallel between Prov. 8:12-31, and John 1:3; and also 1 Cor 1:21; (C.) I also do not believe it is proper to inject the Presupposition that Proverbs was a book worshipping "Asherah"; (D.) If you could point out a connection between Asherah and this "Mystical, Personified Wisdom" in Scripture, or in Secular texts--I would accept that it is proper to inject this--but not before. –  e.s. kohen yesterday
    
@e.s.kohen I do not propose to change your views: each reader should take from my answer what he or she will; some agreeing with everything, some agreeing a little and some respectfully disagreeing. Asherah, seemingly the most prominent goddess in pre-Exilic Israel/Judah, disappears from the archaeological record at the time of the Exile; Wisdom becomes part of the literary record shortly afterwards, with no extant reference to her prior to the Exile. They may be the same, or perhaps Wisdom was a theologically acceptable replacement for Asherah. –  Dick Harfield yesterday

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