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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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PROVERBS 8

"This chapter forms at once the nucleus and the climax of this section of Proverbs. It includes a profound presentation of Wisdom as the moving principle of the ways of God."F1

The great problem in the chapter is the interpretation of Prov. 8:22-31. Are they to be understood as speaking of Christ; or, are they merely a personification of Wisdom in the literary and poetic sense alone?

That the passage most certainly carries the most significant overtones of Jesus Christ himself is undeniable, although it falls short of being a prophecy. It is primarily a personification of Wisdom; and that pinpoints the stupidity of the Arian heresy that tried to challenge the Divinity and Eternal Existence of Christ upon the basis of a personification, a personification that does not pretend to say even one word about Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, Christ is most certainly in it; and there is nothing here that, in any sense, contradicts the New Testament revelation concerning either our Lord Jesus Christ or the acceptance for generations of the teachings of Christian theologians who have applied many of the things written here to Christ.

"Solomon, the wisest of men, had in himself personally become (almost) a personification of a dark and vicious life. Being himself so wise, how could he have failed to know that someday there would indeed be an Incarnate Wisdom, a glorious and eternal contrast with the Incarnate Vice (whom he had just described in the previous chapter, and to which he himself bore a striking resemblance)? In his marvelous description of Wisdom personified, and in tracing out her sweet and high-souled utterances the teacher (Solomon), unconsciously to himself, becomes a prophet, and presents, as we shall see, a faint and wavering image of Him who of God was to be made the Wisdom of God unto men and who would exhibit the perfect life embodying in their fullness all of the attributes of Wisdom."F2

"The Christological interpretation of this chapter has existed from the earliest Christian centuries. Such New Testament passages as 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15-18; Heb. 1:3; and Rev. 3:14, written by the apostles Paul and John, clearly teach that the terminology used in this chapter regarding Wisdom has its full and complete meaning only in, `Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God' (1 Corinthians 1:24)."F3

Deane's outline of the chapter is:

"I. Wisdom calls all to listen (Proverbs 8:1-5), and gives reasons for trusting her (Proverbs 8:6-11).

II. Displays her excellence (Proverbs 8:12-21).

III. She discourses regarding her eternity (Proverbs 8:22-31).

IV. She again warns against disobeying her commandments."F4

Prov. 8:1-5

WISDOM CALLS ALL TO HEAR HER WORDS

Doth not wisdom cry,

And understanding put forth her voice?

On the top of high places by the way,

Where the paths meet, she standeth;

Beside the gates, at the entrance of the city,

At the coming in of the doors, she crieth aloud:

Unto you, O men, I call;

And my voice is unto the sons of men.

O ye simple, understand prudence;

And ye fools, be of an understanding heart."

What a contrast there is between the woman Wisdom, as depicted here, and the woman Vice as revealed in the previous chapter! "Wisdom does not speak in whispered seductive tones under the cover of twilight and darkness";F5 she thunders the truth from the gates of the city, shouts it in the public streets, and demands that all men of every class and condition heed her admonitions.


 
Verses 1-5
Doth not wisdom cry, And understanding put forth her voice? On the top of high places by the way, Where the paths meet, she standeth; Beside the gates, at the entry of the city, At the coming in at the doors, she crieth aloud: Unto you, O men, I call; And my voice is to the sons of men. O ye simple, understand prudence; And, ye fools, be of an understanding heart.
(Proverbs 8:5). The `simple' here are not the mentally handicapped, but sinners. The word `fools' is what we call the moral vocabulary of Proverbs. The word is used 49 times in Proverbs, eighteen times in Ecclesiastes, and three times elsewhere.F6

REASONS WHY MEN SHOULD HEED HER ADMONITIONS

Hear, for I will speak excellent things;

And the opening of my lips shall be right things.

For my mouth shall utter truth;

And wickedness is an abomination to my lips.

All the words of my mouth are in righteousness;

There is nothing crooked or perverse in them.

They are all plain to him that understandeth,

And right to them that find knowledge.

Receive my instruction, and not silver;

And knowledge rather than choice gold.

For wisdom is better than rubies;

And all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to her."

"Prov. 8:6-9 here form a group of aphorisms, all saying substantially the same thing, with variations of phraseology."F7 Men should heed the words of Wisdom because they are true, righteous, valuable, more desirable than gold, just, holy and absolutely devoid of anything crooked or corrupt.


 
Verses 6-11
Hear, for I will speak excellent things; And the opening of my lips shall be right things. For my mouth shall utter truth; And wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; There is nothing crooked or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, And right to them that find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver; And knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; And all the things that may be desired are not to be compared unto it.
(Proverbs 8:9). There's something special about this verse. We have the assumption here that people know in their hearts that God's moral procedure is right, and a direct recognition of the insight of the conscience. The world is divided into two classes, the wise and the fools, and it depends upon the man's will to which of these he shall belong.F8

MORE REASONS FOR HEEDING THE WORDS OF WISDOM

I wisdom have made prudence my dwelling,

And find out knowledge and discretion.

The fear of Jehovah is to hate evil:

Pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way,

And the perverse mouth do I hate.

Counsel is mine, and sound knowledge:

I am understanding; I have might.

By me kings reign,

And princes decree justice.

By me princes rule,

And nobles, even all the judges of the earth.

I love them that love me;

And those that seek me diligently shall find me.

Riches and honor are with me;

Yea, durable wealth and righteousness.

My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold;

And my revenue than choice silver.

I walk in the way of righteousness,

In the midst of the paths of justice;

That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance,

And that I may fill their treasuries."


 
Verses 12-21
I wisdom have made prudence my dwelling, And find out knowledge [and] discretion. The fear of Jehovah is to hate evil: Pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, And the perverse mouth, do I hate. Counsel is mine, and sound knowledge: I am understanding; I have might. By me kings reign, And princes decree justice. By me princes rule, And nobles, [even] all the judges of the earth. I love them that love me; And those that seek me diligently shall find me. Riches and honor are with me; [Yea], durable wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; And my revenue than choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice; That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance, And that I may fill their treasuries.
(Proverbs 8:12). Anchor Bible's rendition of this is, I am Wisdom. My neighbor is intelligence. I am found in company with knowledge and thought.F9

Counsel is mine. I have might
(Proverbs 8:14). The things mentioned in this verse are attributes of God Himself.F10

By me kings reign
(Proverbs 8:15). Not only in the common lives of common men, but also in the exercise of the very highest sovereignties, men must have this Wisdom in order to succeed.F11 Prov. 8:17-21 teach men how to make life a success, in the worldly sense.F12 However, it is in the application of the principles of the true Wisdom in the moral and spiritual phases of one's life that by far the greatest rewards of Wisdom are to be received.

REVELATION OF ETERNAL WISDOM'S PART IN CREATION

Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way,

Before his works of old.

I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning,

Before the earth was.

When there were no depths, I was brought forth,

When there were no fountains abounding with water.

Before the mountains were settled,

Before the hills was I brought forth;

While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields,

Nor the beginning of the dust of the world.

When he established the heavens, I was there:

When he set a circle upon the face of the deep,

When he made firm the skies above,

When the fountains of the deep became strong,

When he gave to the sea its bound,

That the waters should not transgress his commandment,

When he marked out the foundations of the earth;

Then I was by him as a master workman;

And I was daily his delight,

Rejoicing always before him,

Rejoicing in his habitable earth;

And my delight was with the sons of men."

These verses are among the most discussed passages in all the Bible. Here was a prominent battle ground of the great Arian controversy, which was led by Arius and his followers during the fourth century of this era. They denied the oneness of Jesus Christ with the Father, basing their arguments largely upon Prov. 8:22 in this passage. We have already noted the stupidity of that argument, on the grounds that the passage does not even mention Christ. That many of the things here stated with regard to Wisdom are also most certainly true of Christ is no proof whatever that everything here said of Wisdom is also true of Christ. Therefore, even if Wisdom was created by God, how could that prove that Christ was a created being? This, of course, is totally apart from the fact that the Septuagint (LXX) mistranslation of Prov. 8:22, upon which the Arians based their heresy, was simply that, a mistranslation.


 
Verses 22-31
Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, Before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, Before the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth, When there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills was I brought forth; While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, Nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there: When he set a circle upon the face of the deep, When he made firm the skies above, When the fountains of the deep became strong, When he gave to the sea its bound, That the waters should not transgress his commandment, When he marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was by him, [as] a master workman; And I was daily [his] delight, Rejoicing always before him, Rejoicing in his habitable earth; And my delight was with the sons of men.
(Proverbs 8:22). This is the line which the Septuagint (LXX) translated, The Lord made me the beginning of his ways.F13 The Arians, of course, read this, The Lord created me, etc. The current tragedy is that the RSV has erroneously translated this verse as, The Lord created me at the beginning of his work. It is absolutely impossible that the RSV is correct in this rendition. F. C. Cook, writing in Barnes' Notes, declared that, There is no ground for the thought of creation either in the meaning of the root or in the general usage of the word.F14 Even the Anchor Bible rejected the stupid error of the RSV in this verse, rendering it, The Lord possessed me, the first principle of his sovereignty.F15 Kidner identifies the source of the false rendition in the RSV, pointing out that, Ugaritic literature (and the paganism that dominates it) has recently swung opinion toward `created' as in the RSV.F16

The false notion that, "Wisdom was the first of God's works,"F17 overlooks the axiomatic truth that nothing could have been created, not even wisdom, without the Creator's prior possession of it. Any other postulation on this appears to this writer as the height of the ridiculous.

Ordinary human intelligence dramatically refutes such a corrupt rendition. How, in the name of all that is reasonable, could God have created that Wisdom by which the worlds were made, if he did not indeed already possess it? Let the scholars who authored this ridiculous translation answer that! "To say that God at first lacked Wisdom by which he would create all things, and that He had first either to create it or learn it is absurd."F18 The true translation of this Prov. 8:22 is that in the KJV, which is also followed in the ASV.

"Great controversy for ages has raged over the word from which the various words, made, possessed, and created have been translated."F19 But the truth is apparent even to the unlearned that God did not need to create wisdom, he possessed it! And if God had not already possessed it, He would never, in a billion years, have been able to create it! In this connection, it must be remembered that the wisdom mentioned here was that knowledge by which heaven and earth were created.

Many scholars have devoted countless pages to the discussion of the problem reviewed here; but we shall not further bother with an old controversy that was actually decided more than a thousand years ago. It is all resolved in the one incontrovertible truth that God did indeed "possess" (that's the key word) all Wisdom, all Knowledge, all Intelligence, Omnipotence, Ubiquitousness, and Omniscience from the eternal past.

Furthermore, even the Septuagint (LXX) statement that, "The Lord made me (Wisdom) the beginning of his ways," in no way suggests that God needed to create wisdom. The passage merely says that God made it the beginning (or foundation) of all his works; and God could not possibly have done THAT unless he did indeed already possess Wisdom.

So the Arian heresy died because (1) It was founded upon a passage that did not say what they alleged that it said, and (2) because if it indeed had said such a thing, it would not have applied to Christ, because the whole passage is a literary personification in which Christ is not even mentioned.

I was set up from everlasting
(Proverbs 8:23). It is impossible that this could have been said of any created thing. The eternity of wisdom as a possession of God is here clearly stated. This verse says that, Wisdom is eternal.F20 The RSV translators, seeing that this contradicted their false rendition of Prov. 8:22, made it read, Ages ago; but unless we are willing to allow modern unbelievers to re-write the holy Bible to please themselves, we should reject their changes out of hand.

Before the earth was. when there were no depths ... fountains ... mountains ...hills ... nor fields ... I was there
(Proverbs 8:23-27). These several expressions all say that Wisdom is eternal.F21

When he made firm the skies above
(Proverbs 8:28). The basic truth of this statement is totally lost on some evil writers. The skies above us ARE INDEED FIRM. The atmosphere itself is a divine coat of armor that protects the planet earth (1) from the ultra-violet radiation that would destroy all life without that firm atmosphere which includes the protective layer of ozone, and (2) also from the myriads of wandering meteorites, which long ago would have pock-mocked our earth in a manner similar to that which is seen on the moon if it had not been for those firm skies. Every time one sees what is called a falling star, he is really witnessing our firm skies burning up and destroying another meteorite.

The destructive critics writing in the International Critical Commentary have perverted this passage by identifying it with Babylonian mythology, affirming that the Bible here teaches that, "The sky was a solid dome supported on pillars, that there were two oceans, one beneath the earth and another above that solid dome, and that the rain came down when God opened the windows of heaven (Genesis 7:11). All of this is an imaginary construction of modern (unbelieving) authors who take literally the figurative and poetic expressions of Biblical passages and, putting them together, build a crude cosmology which the Bible does not teach."F22

Unbelieving critics love to literalize Biblical passages for the purpose of denying the truth. A New Testament example is in the statement of Christ regarding the deceased daughter of Jairus, "The child is not dead, but sleepeth" (Mark 5:39).

Toy's writing with regard to the "windows" of heaven was cited by Harris as another example of this same evil device.F23 Ancient windows could not open and close as do ours. The Bible also noted that, "The windows of heaven" could let down barley and flour, and other blessings (2 Kings 7:2; Mal. 3:10); and even a grammar school student should be able to recognize such language as figurative.

This wicked habit of unbelieving writers may properly be called "the fundamentalism of critics." Quite inconsistently, they deny many plain and literal statements of God's Word, making light of Christians who believe them; and then, they themselves will deliberately literalize any figurative passage that may serve their purpose.

I was by him. a master workman ... daily his delight ... rejoicing always before him ... and my delight was with the sons of men
(Proverbs 8:30-31). All of these expressions find their full explanation in the New Testament; and that is why Christian theologians for centuries have seen Jesus Christ as the Wisdom of God who is mentioned in this remarkable passage. Christ was in the beginning with God, and was God, and without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:1-5). Yes, John used the word Logos here (a word identified with the philosopher Philo); but, Philo's [@logos] was impersonal ... So when John speaks of the Word (the [@Logos]), he teaches the true Hebrew idea of a personal, creating God, thus using Philo's word to reject and contradict Philo's thought.F24

THE EPILOGUE

Now therefore, my sons, hearken unto me;

For blessed are they that keep my ways.

Hear instruction, and be wise,

And refuse it not.

Blessed is the man that heareth me,

Watching daily at my gates,

Waiting at the posts of my doors.

For whoso findeth me findeth life,

And shall obtain favor of Jehovah.

But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul:

And they that hate me love death."

"This conclusion states the happiness of those who obey her (Wisdom), and the evil fate of those who reject her."F25 Of course, the paramount application of these verses relates them either to the obedience or the rejection of Jesus Christ.


Footnotes for Proverbs 8
1: Arthur S. Peake, A Commentary on the Bible (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 401.
2: The Expositor's Bible, Vol. 18, p. 106.
3: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 357.
4: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 160
5: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), Vol. 5, p. 30
6: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 564.
7: International Critical Commentary, Vol. 17, p. 162.
8: Ibid., p. 161.
9: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982), Vol. 18, p. 67.
10: Ibid., p. 72.
11: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 Edition), Proverbs, p. 30.
12: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 168.
13: This quotation is from the Zondervan Edition of the LXX. 1970.
14: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), op. cit., p. 31.
15: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982), p. 68,
16: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 15, p. 79.
17: Arthur S. Peake, A Commentary on the Bible (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 401
18: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 15, p. 80.
19: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 165.
20: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 565.
21: Ibid.
22: R. Laird Harris in Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 365
23: C. H. Toy in International Critical Commentary, p. 176.
24: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 711.
25: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 159.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 8". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=pr&chapter=008>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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