What Happens When God Can be Mother Too?

Wisdom as Woman, God as Mother

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if Wisdom, in Proverbs chapter 8 (also chs. 1 and 9), is the Holy Spirit. The word for Spirit in Hebrew and Aramaic, Ruah, is feminine. In the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word wisdom is Sophia, a word with a feminine ending. In the Hebrew language, wisdom, Chokhmah, also has a feminine ending. And Wisdom is clearly a woman in Proverbs.

So it’s a good question, and motivated me to do some investigating.

The passage about personified Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is controversial. Just who is this Wisdom who was with God at the beginning?

“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was given birth…” (Prov. 8:22-25, TNIV).

Many have been reminded of Christ by the passage, due to certain descriptions of Jesus in the New Testament. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
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Paul, in Col. 1:15, writes, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”
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The writer of Hebrews says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
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Jesus himself mentions wisdom in feminine terms, in Matt. 11:19: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (TNIV). Perhaps Jesus was thinking of himself, but we know that the idea of wisdom as feminine lingered into New Testament times and that Jesus was comfortable with it.
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My Zondervan TNIV Study Bible says wisdom is God in the Matthew 11:19 passage. Go figure, as they don’t see Wisdom as God in Proverbs.
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I agree with them on that point, as Jesus differs from Wisdom in that Jesus is God, as well as with God, in these New Testament passages, but Wisdom is something that is needed and esteemed, but not God, in Proverbs 8 and throughout the book. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6).
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Interestingly though, if “given birth” is the chosen meaning for the Hebrew word there, as it is in the TNIV, God has a mother relationship to Wisdom.
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However, it is likely that Wisdom is Wisdom, not specifically a member of the Trinity. Personification is a literary technique. The writer of Proverbs took an abstract quality that he is praising, and turned it into a person because it worked for his prose.
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But Wisdom is personified as a female person, not a male one. Why is Wisdom a woman, especially in a patriarchal culture, and in a book that is often deliberately from a male point of view?
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Wisdom is also portrayed as a woman in Ecclesiasticus 24 and in Wisdom of Solomon 6-8. (Note that Luther published the apocrypha as an “intertestamental section” in his Bible in 1534. And Lutheran and Anglican lectionaries include readings from the apocrypha.) The apocryphal literature is evidence that Wisdom was likely commonly seen as a woman.
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Egyptians saw wisdom as a woman, too. The ancient Hebrews were influenced by the cultures around them, including Egyptian culture, out of which they emerged in the exodus from Egypt. Perhaps they were just borrowing an idea.
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The predominant view among scholars, now, is that Woman Wisdom in Proverbs is a stand-in for The Queen of Heaven, mentioned in Jeremiah 7:18 and Jeremiah 44:15-26. Kind of a remnant from the old goddess religion of the Asherah pole.
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Ah, so here there may be a viable clue about Wisdom as Woman. As a holdover from the worship of a goddess, which was a frequent temptation over the worship of an invisible God, we can speculate that Wisdom fulfilled the need to access the feminine in the ancient Israelites’ image of God, which had more of a masculine bent at that time, at least from what we know from the Biblical writers.
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We can find this need fulfilled in Catholicism. Protestants complain about “Mary-worship,” but most Catholics will disagree that they worship Mary. Rather they “call her blessed” as is Biblical (Luke 1:46-55). They see her as having a special status in relationship to Jesus. And sometimes that does veer off into such veneration that it seems, from a Protestant point-of-view, to be worship.
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Catholics generally do not call God Mother, just like most Protestants. But that’s my argument: the need to relate to the feminine in God and God’s image in the feminine is going to emerge, eventually. There are several books on Sophia as a kind of goddess, by writers who intuit the forgotten feminine within God, but do not feel they have permission to call God “Mother” within traditional Christianity.
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For the ancient Israelites, the need for the feminine in the nature of God emerged as Woman Wisdom in Proverbs and apocryphal literature, as they turned their backs on the goddess religions of their neighbors.
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What do you think? Who is Woman Wisdom in Proverbs, and why is she there?

3 comments

  1. Reading proverbs 8 slowly thinking in depth, it’s definitely the Mother speaking. End of chapter she refers to those who reject Her. I’ve been digging in this one for years. Shes making herself known. Apocolypse means ancient truths revealed not end of world.

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