Search the Scriptures;
for in them ye think ye have eternal life:
and they are they which testify of Me.
And beginning at Moses and all the prophets,
He expounded unto them in all the scriptures
the things concerning Himself.
But we preach Christ crucified,
unto the Jews a stumblingblock,
and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God,
and the wisdom of God.
I Corinthians 1:23-24
Jesus said, in the first Scripture above, that the Scriptures (He was talking about the Old Testament, since the New Testament hadn’t been written yet) testify of Him. If Proverbs is Scripture, and it is, then Proverbs testifies of Christ.
In Luke 24, as Jesus walked on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, He explained to two disciples “in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” That includes Proverbs. So we can safely conclude there are things in Proverbs concerning Christ. Where are they?
The question came up on my last post on Proverbs:
On a little different note, a book on Christian parenting that I am reading encourages readers to look for Christ in the Proverbs. I have heard it said that He is the wisdom, personified; but this author goes on to say He is the wise son. Do you think this is accurate?
To answer the specific question, I would hesitate to make this assertion. I’ll give just a few reasons.
In Proverbs 1, the wise son needs a warning against consenting when sinners entice him.
In Proverbs 2, he needs to be warned against an immoral woman.
In Proverbs 3, he is told to accept the chastening and correction of the Lord.
In Proverbs 4, he is told to accept the teachings of his grandfather which are being passed down to him by his father.
In Proverbs 5, he is told to enjoy marital intimacy with his wife as a protection against the temptation to immorality.
I think if we look at the things the wise son is taught in Proverbs, we would find it hard to closely identify the wise son with Christ. We would see a spiritual connection, in that Christ is a wise and obedient son, and Proverbs teaches wisdom and obedience, but to explicitly identify Christ as the wise son of Proverbs opens up so many cans of worms that we’ll be fishing for the rest of our lives without ever running out of bait. I don’t think we want to go there.
OK, so where is Christ found in Proverbs? Lots of people a lot smarter (should we say “wiser”? :)) than me have addressed this topic, and come up with differing answers, which would tell us this isn’t exactly straightforward. I posted in July on Proverbs 30:4, and stated that I believe it is the most explicitly Christological of the Proverbs. Yet, as I conceded in that post, even that passage would not be recognised as obviously about Christ if it were not that John 3 clearly connects it to Him.
Michael Barrett, in Beginning at Moses, argues that the portrayal of wisdom as a person in Proverbs 1, 8, and 9 is not personification, but rather a Messianic description of Christ. Certainly he is not alone in that belief, and while there is a grammatical problem with the fact that wisdom is feminine, as he says in the book (and I remember him saying it in class :)), “Grammar and reality have little to do with each other.” But while he is not alone in that belief, neither am I alone in being unpersuaded, and I could never say, “Thus saith the Lord…” on the question. These depictions of wisdom as a person could be intended to portray Christ, but how can we really be sure? This is poetic literature, after all, where we would expect literary devices like personification. There is nothing in the New Testament which clearly supports the idea, and a few aspects of the passages don’t seem to fit well. The best I can say about this is, “Possible, but not proven” — even if it is someone like Dr. Barrett who says it.
Others have said, “Of course Christ is wisdom in Proverbs. Look at I Corinthians 1:24, where it says Christ is the wisdom of God!” I believe this is not a good and right treatment of the passage. It also says “Christ is the power of God,” but we don’t say, every time we see the power of God mentioned in the Old Testament, that it is Christological. Was it explicitly Christological when the axe head floated (II Kings 6:1-7)? Why then, when we see wisdom mentioned in the Old Testament, should we assume that is explicitly referring to Christ? It is a mistake to say “power=Christ” or “Christ=power”. Christ is much more than power, and not every manifestation of God’s power is explicitly Christological. Similarly, it is a mistake to say “wisdom=Christ” or “Christ=wisdom”, and thus assume that everything said about wisdom is intended to have direct and explicit application to Christ.
Furthermore, I believe this interpretation of I Corinthians 1:24 doesn’t fit the context. If we look at the passage, it says that the preaching of Christ crucified is not a stumbling block or foolishness to those who believe, but (again, to those who believe) the power and wisdom of God. A parallel would be Romans 1:16, which says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
This verse is talking about the impact of the Gospel (the preaching of Christ crucified) on those who believe. The power and wisdom of God is revealed to them and manifested in their lives. The context bears out this reading — “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30). This is not saying that wisdom = Christ, it is saying that through Christ we are given wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. That is very clear in verse 30, and it is the best understanding of verses 23 and 24 as well. The preaching of Christ is what makes us “wise unto salvation” (see also II Timothy 3:15).
So as we go looking for Christ in Proverbs (which is certainly correct given the two verses with which I started this post), I think there are three things we should avoid.
Explicit identification of Christ with the wise son mentioned in Proverbs is problematic.
The Messianic intent of the “wisdom as a person” passages is unproven, and I would be hesitant to assume that is the most important way Christ is found in Proverbs.
A “wisdom equals Christ” or “Christ equals wisdom” view, based on I Corinthians 24, is flawed.
Lord willing, I’ll post tomorrow on ways that we can say with confidence that Proverbs points to Christ. We don’t need to rely on disputed interpretations — some things are very clear.
Update: Followup post on Finding Christ in Proverbs.