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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Wisdom of Christ

WISDOM OF CHRIST.1. Christ, being God and man, possessed naturally two distinct kinds of wisdom—Divine wisdom and human wisdom. The former, as part of the totality of the Divine attributes (τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεόητος), He necessarily possessed from eternity, and, according to Pauline teaching, He continued to possess it, in spite of His κένωσις, or self-emptying (Philippians 2:7), even after His Incarnation (Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9; cf. Colossians 2:3). The continued possession by the Incarnate Logos of the fulness of the Divine wisdom is no isolated doctrine, but is necessarily involved in the Logos-Christology of St. Paul and St. John, according to which the Father does not create and sustain the world directly, but mediately through the Logos, who is the Creator (John 1:3; John 1:10, Ephesians 3:9, Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2), the Life (John 1:4), and the Light (John 1:9) of the world, the cause of its rational order, and the principle of its coherence and subsistence (Colossians 1:17). Cosmical functions of such a kind as this, assigned to the Logos in accordance with His essential nature and position in the Godhead, cannot be supposed to have been laid aside at the Incarnation, and therefore the limitations of Christ’s knowledge, which the Synoptic Gospels recognize, either must be attributed to His manhood, or else it must he supposed that in the historical Christ were two centres of Divine consciousness—an unlimited one, in which He knew all things, and a limited one, in which He condescended to be ignorant of certain things. The latter view, which is based on an ultra-literal interpretation of Mark 13:32, postulates three different kinds of wisdom in Christ—an unlimited Divine wisdom, a limited Divine wisdom, and a human wisdom. This scheme appears to us unnecessarily complicated. The ‘ignorance’ of Mark 13:32, although ascribed to the Son, can quite naturally, on the principle of communicatio idiomatum, be attributed to Christ’s human nature (οὐκ ἀγνοῶν ὁ Αὁγος, ᾗ Αὁγος ἐστίν, ἔλεγεν, Οὐκ οἶδα, οἶδε γάρ, ἀλλὰ τὸ ἀνθρώπινον δεικνὐς, ὅτι τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἵδιόν ἐστι τὸ ἀγνοεῖν, Athan. c. [Note: circa, about.] Arian. iii. 45); and consequently there is no need to recognize in Christ more than two wisdoms, a human and a Divine (see, further, Kenosis).

(1) In virtue of His Divine wisdom, Christ is omniscient, i.e. He knows all actual and possible things, present, past and future, including the future contingent actions of beings possessed of free-will. The nature of this last kind of knowledge (sometimes called scientia media) is altogether inscrutable to us; but it is expressly ascribed to God in many passages of both Testaments (1 Samuel 23:1-13, Isaiah 41:22-23, Jeremiah 38:15 ff., Hebrews 4:13 etc.), and is frequently claimed by Jesus (Matthew 11:20-23; Matthew 26:21, John 6:70 etc.), who is represented as able to read the heart of man (John 1:47-51; John 2:24-25 etc.).

(2) With regard to Christ’s human wisdom, believers in a real Incarnation (ἐνανθρώπησις), as distinguished from a mere assumption of a body (ἐνσάρκωσις, ἐνσωμάτωσις), are bound to recognize both its finite character and its gradual development. The gradual development of Christ’s wisdom is twice noticed by St. Luke (Luke 2:40 πληρούμενον σοφίᾳ [σοφίας], Luke 2:52 προέκοπτε σοφίᾳ καὶ ἡλικίᾳ), and once by the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 5:8 καίπερ ὤν νἰός, ἔμαθεν ἀφʼ ὦν ἔπαθε τὴν ὑπακοήν, καὶ τελειωθεὶς ἐγένετο, etc.) To understand the growth in wisdom here spoken of as merely exhibitive—Christ being; supposed, as He grew in age, to manifest more and more of the hidden wisdom which He possessed entire from the first (so John of Damascus and most of the later Fathers; also Aquinas and the Scholastics)—is not only bad exegesis, but is virtual Apollinarism. Apollinaris denied to Christ a real human soul; but Aquinas virtually does the same when he asserts that the soul of Christ was created mature, in the full enjoyment of free-will and of the Beatific Vision, and possessed of wisdom and knowledge practically coextensive with the Divine.* [Note: The Scholastic doctrine is that from the moment of conception Christ’s soul knew all actual events and things, past, present, and future. Only abstract possibilities, which were never to be realized, were hidden from Him.]

Far different is the representation of the Gospels. In them Christ undergoes not simply a bodily, but a normal psychical development. He is true infant, true boy, true youth, in mind as well as in body. As Irenaeus beautifully says: ‘He came to save all by means of Himself—all, I say, who through Him are born again to God—infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord’ (Against Heresies, ii. 22–24). The Incarnation of Christ thus restored the norm of human development. In the growth of the child Jesus, God saw for the first time human nature expanding and perfecting itself according to its original ideal and plan, unhindered and undistorted by sin; and upon the gracious spectacle God and man looked with approval (Luke 2:40; Luke 2:52).

(3) By the human wisdom (σοφία) of Christ is meant His quick understanding in the things of God (cf. James 1:5); His knowledge of the Scriptures, and His power of interpreting them (cf. Acts 6:3; Acts 6:10); His deep moral insight, gained by actual experience of temptation and suffering (Hebrews 5:8); His capacity for learning His lessons at the synagogue school (cf. Acts 7:22); His skill as a carpenter (cf. Exodus 31:2 f.); the power of asking and answering hard questions (cf. Revelation 13:18; Revelation 17:9) which He displayed even as a boy (Luke 4:6), and which stood Him in good stead on so many occasions during His ministry. (Matthew 22:15; Matthew 22:23; Matthew 22:34 etc.); His skill in constructing parables, allegories, and sententious sayings, like those of the wise men of old (cf. Matthew 12:4); His persuasiveness as a teacher and eloquence as a preacher (see Matthew 13:54, cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:4); His common sense and practical ability (cf. Colossians 4:5); probably also His power of working miracles (Mark 6:2, cf. Acts 7:10), and His prophetic gift (2 Peter 3:15), which were in Him, partly at any rate, human endowments, as in other prophets (see Mark 13:32).

(4) It is implied in Scripture that Christ’s human knowledge received a great extension at His Resurrection and Ascension. At the Resurrection He received all authority (πᾶσα ἐξουσία) in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), and this authority He exercises as man, and not simply as God (Philippians 2:10, Revelation 5:6-14 etc.). His human knowledge, therefore, must now be coextensive with His human authority; that is, it must embrace all cosmical facts—past, present, and future. It is an error, however, to suppose that His human knowledge is even now infinite. Human nature is essentially finite, and therefore the human soul of Christ, though glorified, can never completely know the Infinite Essence of God. See, further, Consciousness.

2. On Christ as the Wisdom of God, see preceding article.

Literature.—Dorner, Person of Christ; Baldensperger, Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu; Liddon, BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] ; Gifford, The Incarnation; Gore, Dissertations; Bruce, Humiliation of Christ; Hall, Kenotic Theory; Mason, Conditions of our Lord’s Life on Earth; Powell, Principle of the Incarnation; Expositor, iv. iv. [1891] p. 1 ff.

C. Harris.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Wisdom of Christ'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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