Chapter 1

What Is Biblical Wisdom?

The most direct answer to that question is provided by three Old Testament books that speak about wisdom: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. In each, the central answer is identical: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (see for example proverbs 9:10; ecclesiastes 12:13–14; job 28:28). God is the source of all wisdom, and for humans to have access to that wisdom, we need to have a relationship with God characterized by “fear.”

These three books remind us, while including the skill of living (practical wisdom), biblical wisdom is much more profound than simply emotional intelligence.

In the Bible, wisdom and righteousness go together. The wise person is a good person; the fool (the opposite of the wise) is an evil person. One is not wise if they “succeed” in life (for instance have a high paying job), but hurt others in order to get what they want. The wise person cares about the community, not just themselves. Thus, wisdom not only has a practical level, it also has an ethical dimension. A person can’t be wise only by navigating life skillfully (getting a good job), they have to live a righteous life (can’t get that job by hurting other people).

Even more importantly, biblical wisdom is theological in that one must have a proper relationship with the true God in order to be wise. Indeed, the theological level is the most fundamental level as the statement: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge/wisdom” (proverbs 1:7; ecclesiastes 12:13; job 28:28) makes very clear. But what exactly does it mean to fear God?

The Fear of the Lord

Biblical wisdom is theological in that one must have a proper relationship with the true God in order to be wise.

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job each teach that wisdom starts with a relationship with God characterized by “fear.” But why fear? Why not another emotion like love?

We must first realize that this fear is not the type of fear that makes someone run away, but rather is something like the word “awe.” “Fear” of God demonstrates an awareness that the other person, in this case God, is immensely powerful and overwhelmingly wise. This type of fear leads to obedience and shows that the person who fears understands that God is the creator and they are part of his creation. This type of fear removes pride and leads to humility. Someone who fears God likely won’t be “wise in their own eyes” (see for example proverbs 3:5, 7; 6:17, and many other passages), but receive the teaching that God gives. We should fear God and love him with all our heart, mind, and strength (mark 12:30).

With this introduction into the nature of wisdom as practical, ethical, and theological, we next look at the three books that speak most about wisdom in the Bible. We will see that Proverbs gives the most positive presentation of wisdom and its benefits, while Ecclesiastes and Job cautions about the limits of human wisdom.