Q&A: Wisdom and Knowledge

Wisdom and Knowledge

Question

In Proverbs, are the words "wisdom" and "knowledge" used interchangably? How are they similar? How are they different? Can you have one without the other? Do we seek wisdom above knowledge? If you know of any other sources to look at, that would be great.

Answer

The best resource for you would be Bruce Waltke's commentary on Proverbs, but it isn't due to be released until later this year (2001). And the best answer I myself can give you isn't my answer at all, but a couple of extended quotes from Bruce Waltke's course handout from a class he taught on Proverbs. The following quotes are from his comments on Proverbs 1:2-6 (sans footnotes):


On Wisdom

"Wisdom means generally 'masterful understanding' and 'skill.' It is used of technical and artistic skills (Exod. 28:3; 31:6), of the arts of magic (Exod. 7:11; Isa. 3:3), government (Eccl. 4:13; Jer. 50:35), diplomacy (1 Kings 5:7) and war (Isa. 10:3). One also rules a nation by the ability to judge (1 Kings 3:28; Isa. 11:1-6) and to separate the guilty from the community (Prov. 20:26) and, through cleverness, to master people and situations (2 Sam. 14:2; Job 39:15,17). Solomon also ruled by his encyclopedic knowledge (1 Kings 4:29-34 [5:9-14]) and by his ability to answer difficult questions (1 Kings 10:2-3).

"The possession of wisdom enables one to achieve what would otherwise be impossible. Through it weak and vulnerable creatures, such as the ant and the rock badger, cope and survive against insuperable odds (Prov. 30:24-28). In this preamble 'wisdom' has its broadest sense as indicated by its many co-references. Here it denotes the mastery over experience through the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual state of knowing reality or truth, such as the deed-destiny nexus, as known and established by God, to the extent he has revealed it to his inspired sages. Moreover, it means to act upon it, thereby enabling its possessor to cope with enigma and adversity, to tear down strongholds, and so promote the life of an individual and/or a community (21:22; cf. 24:5; Eccl. 7:19; 9:13-16). It does not refer to the Greek conception of wisdom as philosophical theory or rhetorical sophistry (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-24).

"Wisdom in this summary statement entails all the other virtues listed in verses 2-5: knowledge (da'at), insight (bina), prudence (haskil), shrewdness ('orma), caginess (mezimma), learning (leqah) and guidance (tahbulot). To these 2:1-4 adds competence (tebuna) and resourcefulness (tusiya), and 8:14 planning ('esa) and heroic strength (gebura). Von Rad referred to the Old Testament proclivity for heaping up of terms for wisdom as a 'stereometric' way of thinking to achieve 'the desired extension of the conceptual range.' Moreover, as the preamble makes clear, in this book these capacities are exercised in the realms of righteous (sedeq), justice (mispat) and equity (mesarim), giving them a moral dimension. They also have a religious connotation, for wisdom in this book includes knowledge of the Holy One himself (see 9:10; 30:3). In sum, this book transforms the neutral term wisdom into virtue.

"Moreover, this wisdom is a divine gift (2:6; cf.. Exod. 31:3; 35:31; 1 Kings 3:4-14; Isa. 11:2) that is acquired by a single-minded decision to accept it in humility (2:1-4; 3:5-8) and to value it above everything else (3:13-18; 8:11-12). This kind of wisdom cannot be bought with money (17:16) or acquired merely by keen observation and cogent reflection upon the created order (i.e., based on experience), as Agur makes clear (30:1-6; cf. Eccl. 8:17; Isa. 19:11-12). Truth sometimes contradicts what depraved human beings think is right (Prov. 14:12; cf. Isa. 8:11-15; Judg. 17:6; 21:25). However, no sharp distinction should be made between general revelation through conscience and special revelation."


On Knowledge

"Knowledge (da'at). Wisdom and knowledge are inseparable, for mastery of life's experience demands knowledge of the divine moral order, the nexus between cause and consequence. Knowledge is a term co-relative with and inseparable from the sage's words (23:12) and instruction (1:7; 19:27), shrewdness (1:4; 8:12) and caginess (2:6,10) as well as wisdom (2:6,10ff.; 14:6) and insight (9:10). Like these co-references it too has a religious connotation (see 9:10; 22:12; 30:3). It is imperative that the gullible youth "seek" it (15:14; 18:15), find it (8:9) and acquire it (18:15). But first he must become the sort of person that lives in the fear of the Lord (1:7). The 'insightful' (see v. 5b) love it (12:1), seek it (15:14; 18:15) and find that it commends itself (8:9), comes easily (14:6), and is pleasing (2:10). This transmitted knowledge, which is now in the disciple's heart and on lips, will protect him in temptation (5:4), enable him to behave wisely and speak well (12:23; 15:2; 17:27), and increase in strength (24:25). By contrast fools hate it (1:22,29)."

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.