Religion as the Source of Eternal Wisdom: Union of "the Wise" and "the Sacred"

  June 03, 2021   Read time 1 min
Religion as the Source of Eternal Wisdom: Union of "the Wise" and "the Sacred"
Wisdom sayings arise from experience and draw conclusions from this experience. Very often they entail giving advice on how to lead one’s life. James contains numerous examples of such wisdom sayings. For example: “For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas 2:13).

Israelite wisdom traditions give evidence of a twofold area of concern, namely, the presentation of ethical admonitions and advice as well as an attempt to reflect upon the nature of wisdom. This wisdom tradition shows that Israel is a daughter of the Middle East, for it binds her to her neighbors in the use of forms, structure, and even content. This tradition continues in the period between the two Testaments and accounts for many of the writings preserved from this period. A twofold development can be observed within Israelite wisdom thinking. The first stage revolved around the notion that the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom. The path to acquiring wisdom is through the acceptance of God and adherence to the covenant faith. The second stage engages the question of how knowledge, derived from the realm of human wisdom, can be given the quality of truth. To bridge the gap between the divine and the human, the wise postulated the personified figure of wisdom. This heavenly figure dwells in their midst and is responsible for enlightening the minds of the wise. These two aspects of wisdom form the focus of attention throughout the wisdom thinking of the Hebrew writings, namely the ethical way of life demanded by wisdom (fear of the Lord) and the personification of wisdom itself. The Letter of James is to be viewed against this two-stage development of wisdom. Attention will be given to both dimensions mentioned above, namely, the relationship of wisdom and ethics, and the nature of wisdom.

Some wisdom literature, in particular the books of Proverbs, Qoheleth, and Sirach, aim at providing instruction for the art of living, or the mastery of life itself. The ethical teaching of the wisdom writings has as its goal the leading of a happy existence under God’s sovereignty. This provides the context for James’s ethical teaching, and its character as a wisdom writing can only be fully appreciated and understood against this background. In James the ethical is expressed by means of specific forms that owe their origin to the Hebrew tradition.

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