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Sophia sermon (Proverbs 8)

August 22, 2005

Here are the lyrics to the song by Matt Maher
Sophia (a love song for Wisdom)
She’s so, you know, makes me want to be like Jesus. I am your hands, tell me what your plan for this is. In your sacred heart, I burn for you. Could I burn with her in a flame of truth where all my burdens float like angel feather?

Sophia, you know me. Sophia, see through me. Sophia, dance with me, help me make it through the night.

Dark night, so bright, now I see the way of passion. Let go my soul, now it only longs for your affection. In your sacred heart, I dwell with you. Could I dwell with her like the angels do, where all my burdens float like angel feather?

The essence I gathered from the commentaries and from the way the church has traditionally interpreted Psalm 8 and the personification of Sophia—is that Sophia is not another person, but the personification of a noun that describes an attribute of God that is revealed in Jesus. The apostles understood that Wisdom was not female in a literal sense. How else could they have asserted that Jesus was in fact Wisdom? Paul explicitly states that Jesus is the “wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

Here is something else that I didn’t really bring out this morning that is a part of this discussion. God is not a biological entity and so he has no body or gender. The same goes for Wisdom. It is true that the Bible uses masculine language for God, but that does not mean that God has a masculine body. The Bible uses female language for Wisdom because that is the way Hebrew works. There is no statement being made that God is male or female, or that he has a wife. After all, humanity was created as God’s own image as male and female.

So I understand the song by Matt Maher to be a song directed to the Wisdom of God—present with the Father at creation, revealed visibly in the Son—Jesus Christ. The lyrics of the song point to Jesus—Sophia makes me want to be like Jesus.

Here is more commentary on the way the Church deals with Arianism–the heresy that believes that Jesus was created. What does Proverbs 8 say? The key verses are 22-25:

The LORD created me at the beginning of His way
As the first of His works of old.
In the distant past I was fashioned,
From the first, before the beginning of earth.
There was no deep when I was brought forth,
No springs rich in water;
Before the mountains were planted,
Before the hills I was brought forth.

What’s the difference between the words “begotten” and “created”? We understand that Jesus was not created, but the creeds speak of him as begotten. What’s the difference?

Here is some pertanent commentary from the Divine Council Forum:

Basically, “creation” implies that whatever is created did not exist before it was created. “Begotten” on the other hand, refers to something being produced or brought out, implying that whatever was begotten had been around before it was produced. Although it’s not a perfect analogy, think of the difference between the conception of a baby and the baby’s birth. Conception would be the point in time when the baby was created. The actual birth of the baby is when it was “begotten” or “produced.” Unless you’ve got a pretty inadequate view of the personhood of a fetus, you should catch the difference. Prior to conception, the baby did not exist. When the baby is born, we know that isn’t the beginning of its existence. The analogy breaks down with Jesus, or Wisdom, since the baby was indeed created prior to its begetting–but that brings us to the main point: does Proverbs 8 speak of the creation or the “begetting” of Wisdom? And if it refers to the latter, where are the Scripture texts that speak of some such prior creation of Wisdom?

The answer to these questions is that the Hebrew vocabulary of Proverbs 8:22-25 speaks of begetting, not creating, and there are no verses in either testament that speak to any earlier creation of Wisdom (and, by extension, Jesus). There are, on the other hand, several verses that clearly have Jesus the uncreated son of God.

But what about Proverbs 8:22? Doesn’t it clearly say that Wisdom was created? No, actually it doesn’t. The word is actually be translated “begat” or “acquired” or “brought forth” in many other translations., in part becasue the Hebrew word conveys those meanings in other passages, but also because of the logic of the passage.

In verse 23, Wisdom is said to have been “fashioned” in the Jewish Publication Society’s translation. The Hebrew verb used here actually has a pretty limited range of use, and overwhelmingly means “to pour out.” “Pouring out” need not imply “point of beginning.” In verses 24-25, the same Hebrew word is used in both places the JPS translation has “brought forth.” Verses 24-25 speak of Wisdom being “brought forth,” which need not necessarily speak of a time of origin. Given that Wisdom is “brought forth” and “poured out,” a translation of “begat” is quite defensible, and even expected.

The question now becomes whether the author of Proverbs 8 imagined Wisdom being “conceived” prior to being “begotten.” There simply are no texts in the Old Testament that suggest this for either Wisdom. Unlike the rest of the ancient world, we don’t have sexual language used of Wisdom’s conception or of God’s consorting with a goddess to produce other gods. That idea is foreign to Old Testament theology. On the other hand, there are texts that refer to this “second deity” as essentially having Yahweh in them or being Yahweh.

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