From a visitor to GoedBericht.nl, I received an email with the following question:
I like to use this occasion, as well, to ask you a question. I have followed with great interest your recent weblogs that are about Jesus and, especially, as you call it, “the pre-existence of Christ”, and that Jesus, before his birth, existed only as the word of God. In what light are we to read Proverbs 8:23-31? Does this Bible passage refer to His pre-human existence or should we understand this differently?
This is a question that worthy of being looked into a bit more closely!
Proverbs 8 uses a figure of speech that is called personification. That is, things or abstract concepts are presented as being a person. This is not only a literary agent in poems (“do not rouse up love, until it delight” – Song of Solomon 2:7 – CLV), but also in common, everyday language:
- the soil yearns for rain
- danger is lurking
- fortune is well-disposed towards me
- Lady Justice judges
- Daddy State provides
- Mother Nature has arranged that
In all these examples, things or concepts are presented as being a person. But also in more formal speech do we personify, when we, e.g., say:
- this chapter discusses…;
- the government finds…;
- GoedBericht.nl proclaims…
Although less flowery, here also, to impersonal topics are attributed personal characteristics.
the wisdom in Proverbs 8
In Proverbs 8, “the wisdom” is presented as a person. So begins Chapter 8 with:
Is not wisdom calling and comprehension giving forth her voice?
“Wisdom” is introduced as being able to speak, and in verse 12, she says:
I, wisdom, I tabernacle with prudence, And I keep hold of knowledge and foresight.
From verse 22 to 31, “the wisdom” speaks about her origin:
22 Yahweh Himself acquired me as the beginning of His way; Preceeding His deeds of yore.
23 From the eon was I inaugurated, From the beginning, preceeding the earth;
24 When there were no abysses I was travailed, When there were no springs teeming with water.
25 Ere the mountains were sunk in place, Before the hills, I was travailed,
26 When He had not yet made the earth and its open places, Or the beginnings of soil for the habitance.
27 When He established the heavens I was there, When He delineated the horizon on the face of the abyss,
28 When He made the sky clouds firm above, When He set the springs of the abyss with strength,
29 When He established for the sea its statutory limit, So that the waters may not pass beyond His bidding, When He delineated the foundations of the earth.
30 Then I was beside Him as His foster child, And I was filled with bliss day by day, Gamboling before Him all the time,
31 Gamboling in the habitance of His earth, And my bliss was in the sons of humanity.
Here is where “wisdom” presents herself as “the beginning of God’s ways” and as God’s creation companion. Should we, literally think of a person, who accompanied and assisted God with the creation of heaven and earth? Would God need assistance of “wisdom”? Does Scripture not know only one Creator (Isa.44:24), “the only wise God” (Rom.16:26)?
It is evident that in Proverbs 8 we are encountering a figure of speech. And as the email rightly indicated, the echo thereof, we hear in the prologue of John 1. It is not difficult to recognize in the description of “the word” (logos), “the wisdom” of Proverbs 8.
In the beginning was the word….all came into being through it…in it was life, and the life was the light of men.
Since the word became flesh, Scripture speaks not only metaphorically, but also literally of someone, …”The only begotten of the Father…” (John 1:14). The part of speech, personification, in Proverbs 8 is very significant: it is an allusion to the word made flesh, or to Christ, “the wisdom of God” (1Cor.1:24).