Page 1 of 1

Words of wisdom and words of knowledge.

Posted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 11:09 am
by Ben C. Smith
In his first epistle to Corinth the apostle Paul gives a list of manifestations of the spirit, and the first two on the list are the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge:

1 Corinthians 12.4-11: 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith in the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healings by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishings of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

1 Corinthians 13.1-2, 8-10: 1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. .... 8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecies, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. [Possibly related.]

What is a word of wisdom? What is a word of knowledge? And what is the difference, if any, between the two?

It is evident that Paul is describing phenomena actually happening in meetings; therefore, his taxonomy may not be exact. So perhaps he is simply writing off the cuff, not deliberately trying to distinguish one gift from another. After all, other Pauline lists do not mention these two manifestations as separate gifts or whatnot:

1 Corinthians 12.27-31b: 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31b But earnestly desire the greater gifts.

Romans 12.6-9: 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who presides, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. 9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.

Perhaps words of wisdom and words of knowledge are basically synonyms or subcategories of prophecy. Knowledge and wisdom very frequently go together in Jewish texts:

Isaiah 11.2: 2 The Spirit of Yahweh will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh.

This is just one of literally dozens of passages in which it is hard to imagine someone having wisdom without knowledge or knowledge without wisdom; they usually go together.

Or perhaps Paul has something in mind along the lines of what a lot of modern Pentecostal or charismatic Christians think of when they read these verses. To many such modern Christians, a word of wisdom is a general statement about the life of a person (or of an entire congregation), while a word of knowledge is a specific statement about the life of a person (or of an entire congregation). Someone "speaking in the spirit" with generic advice on how best to handle a situation would be uttering a word of wisdom, while someone claiming specific and divinely granted knowledge of that same situation (stating, for example, that someone involved is living in sin, and then actually naming that sin) would be uttering a word of knowledge. Words of knowledge may strike the outsider as a more directly miraculous claim ("how did s/he know that?"), but to an insider both gifts are supposed to be miraculous: God would have granted the one with words of wisdom the gift of applying divine wisdom to diverse situations in advance.

But I have a rather different pair of suggestions about the possible distinction between a word of wisdom and a word of knowledge. It is important to recognize that Paul does seem to be making a distinction between them ("to one is given... and to another").

The Word of Wisdom

My suggestion regarding the word of wisdom is that such a word is one spoken in the name of Lady Wisdom herself. Christianity is quite familiar with the personified figure of Wisdom:

Matthew 11.19b: 19b "Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."

Luke 7.35: 35 "Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children."

And there are examples of persons speaking in the name of Wisdom:

Luke 11.49-51: 49 "For this reason also the wisdom of God said, 'I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.'"

Matthew 23.34-36: 34 "Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation."

1 Clement 57.3-7: 57:3 For thus says the most excellent Wisdom, "Behold, I will send upon you the language of my Spirit; I will teach you my word. 4 Since I called and you did not hearken, and prolonged my words, and you attended not, but made my counsels of none effect, and were not obedient to my reproofs, therefore I will laugh at your destruction, I will exult when desolation cometh upon you; when perturbation has suddenly come upon you, and ruin is at hand like a whirlwind, when tribulation and oppression come upon you. 5 For the time shall come when you shall call upon me, and I shall not hearken unto you; the wicked shall seek me, and shall not find me. They hated wisdom and chose not the fear of the Lord; they were not willing to attend to my counsels; they mocked at my rebukes. 6 Wherefore they shall eat the fruits of their own way; they shall be filled with their own unrighteousness. 7 For because they wronged the innocent they shall be slain, and judgment shall destroy the unrighteous; but he who hearkens unto me shall abide trusting in hope, and shall rest securely from all evil."

It is interesting that Matthew places on Jesus' own lips what Luke attributes to Wisdom. At any rate, I suggest that early Christian prophets sometimes spoke in Wisdom's very name, as if channeling the Lady herself, and that these sayings could be called, quite accurately, words of wisdom.

The Word of Knowledge

My suggestion regarding the word of knowledge is inspired by an earlier passage in the same Pauline epistle:

1 Corinthians 8.1-13: 1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. 4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

In this passage the knowledge in question is that of the relationship of humans to God, and of God to Jesus Christ, and of all of these entities to idols. This kind of knowledge is similar to how the gnostics possess(ed) gnosis/"knowledge" of the relationship of God to the Demiurge and to humans and to the various archons. This kind of knowledge pertains to the spiritual structures and hierarchies of the cosmos. It may also apply to knowledge of angelic entities:

Wisdom of Solomon 10.10: 10 When a righteous man fled from his brother's wrath, she guided him on straight paths; she showed him the kingdom of God, and gave him knowledge of angels; she prospered him in his labors, and increased the fruit of his toil.

It may have been a word of knowledge which informed Paul about why women ought to wear head coverings in the meetings:

1 Corinthians 11.10: 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. [Refer to verse 3: "I want you to understand...."]

Knowledge of the Christ/Messiah, and of his place in the overall cosmological scheme of things, would certainly fall into this overall category, as well:

2 Corinthians 2.14: 14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.

Words of knowledge, then, would be insights into the divine cosmology or bits of information about how the various entities (God, the Demiurge, angels, Satan, demons, humans) who populate the cosmos interact with each other. Visions of the Son of God ascending or descending through the various layers of heaven may qualify here, as may any insight having to do with the nature or mission of the Christ.

I will not pretend that these twin suggestions approach anything resembling absolute certainty. But together they would account for the divergence of wisdom and knowledge in 1 Corinthians 12.8, whereas Jewish literature more commonly equates wisdom and knowledge. And they both fit in pretty well with known examples of early Christian (and Jewish) modes of speaking or writing.


ETA: Another passage in which knowledge (gnosis) is associated with the way the world works, including the entities who dwell therein (humans, animals, spirits, and so on):

Wisdom of Solomon 7.15-22: 15 May God grant that I speak with judgment and have thoughts worthy of what I have received, for he is the guide even of wisdom and the corrector of the wise. 16 For both we and our words are in his hand, as are all understanding and skill in crafts. 17 For it is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements; 18 the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons, 19 the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, 20 the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts, the powers of spirits and the reasonings of men, the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots; 21 I learned both what is secret and what is manifest, 22 for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me.

Re: Words of wisdom and words of knowledge.

Posted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 3:13 am
by neilgodfrey
Some readers interested in this topic might find Horsley's discussion of the meaning of wisdom and of wisdom as a divine gift (per Philo and others) of use:

Horsley, Richard A. 1977. “Wisdom of Word and Words of Wisdom in Corinth.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 39 (2): 224–39.

Re: Words of wisdom and words of knowledge.

Posted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 6:28 am
by perseusomega9
Goulder in St. Paul versus St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions while arguing for competing Pauline and Petrine missions in Corinth identifies such uses of wisdom in the Corinthian letters as jewish 'Petrine' christianity.

Re: Words of wisdom and words of knowledge.

Posted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 7:24 am
by Ben C. Smith
perseusomega9 wrote:
Fri Oct 11, 2019 6:28 am
Goulder in St. Paul versus St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions while arguing for competing Pauline and Petrine missions in Corinth identifies such uses of wisdom in the Corinthian letters as jewish 'Petrine' christianity.
How does Goulder square this idea with what Paul says in chapter 1?

1 Corinthians 1.22-24: 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

(Sincere question, not rhetorical.)

Re: Words of wisdom and words of knowledge.

Posted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 7:46 am
by perseusomega9
I don't remember if he disambiguates his concepts here from this passage, but part of his thesis is the emphasis on signs is part of the Petrine mission.

but here's his definition from page 46: "...One of these gifts was words of wisdom (1.17;2.1;5,13;12.8): that is the skill of inferring rules of practical living from passages in the Bible, which I have discussed in chs 4 and 5. ... om&f=false

Re: Words of wisdom and words of knowledge.

Posted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 8:35 am
by Ben C. Smith
Okay, thanks. His idea of "words of wisdom" looks fairly close to the modern charismatic/Pentecostal idea I discussed in the OP.

Re: Words of wisdom and words of knowledge.

Posted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 1:42 pm
by neilgodfrey
Michael Goulder on the confluence of wisdom and knowledge in 1 Cor. 12:8
It is at first sight surprising that, in the middle of a discussion of wis­dom, we should find two references to knowing (εγνωκεν, εγνωσαυ). But we did have a reference to the two topics in the thanksgiving (1.5), and they come together again in 12.8, so perhaps the combination is natural; the Petrines might have appealed to both wisdom and knowledge. This time, for all its obscurity, we begin to see what the vaunted knowledge is.
To follow up Goulder's explanation from that concluding sentence, see
  • Goulder, Michael D. 1998. Paul and the Competing Mission in Corinth. Place of publication not identified: Baker Academic. p. 94