Trinity Sunday – Notes on Proverbs 8:22

A friend struggled with this as part of this week’s lectionary reading. Here are some notes from a little digging.  Many people have questions about this passage.  If this post helps or prompts further questions, why don’t you go ahead and let me know by commenting below?

1. This passage from Proverbs is probably used on Trinity Sunday because it was important in the Arian controversy that produced the Nicene Creed (and determined that Arianism is heresy). Much of North Africa remained Arian and ultimately became Muslim.

The whole Arian controversy started over Arius’s interpretation of this very verse. He said: “Before [Christ] was begotten or created or ordained or established, he did not exist.”

By reading Christ into this particular verse, the Arians created a problem that isn’t necessarily there at all.

2. Remember that the book of Proverbs was written to the Old Testament people of God, before the revelation of Wisdom in the eternal Logos — Christ Jesus. So we should be careful not to demand a level of specificity from the text that wouldn’t be possible for the original hearers. But subsequent revelation can be relevant to how we interpret a text (see below).

3. Remember one of the summaries of the key dogma that came out of the Arian controversy regarding Christ – the Church anathemized: “those who say or think or preach that the Son of God is a creature or has come into being or has been made and is not truly begotten, or that there was a then when he did not exist.”

4. Though the Hebrew is difficult, in Proverbs 8:22 the sense of the relevant word is really both created and possessed — that is created without a time element, a sense of brought forth, revealed, made manifest, but preexisting as a part of the character of God. Hebrew has two different roots for created, one that generally has a time element (used in Genesis 1:1) and one that generally does not have a time element (used in Prov. 8:22). Wisdom brings forth and reveals the creative efficiency of God in creation of a good physical universe.

5. A hard but key passage from a commentary (have any guesses?) on Proverbs:

Wisdom is not God, but is God’s; she has personal existence in the Logos of the N.T., but is not herself the Logos; she is the world-idea, which, once projected, is objective to God, not as a dead form, but as a living spiritual image; she is the archetype of the world, which, originating from God, stands before God, the world of the idea which forms the medium between the Godhead and the world of actual existence, the communicated spiritual power in the origination and the completion of the world as God designed it to be. This wisdom the poet here personifies; he does not speak of the person as Logos, but the further progress of the revelation points to her actual personification in the Logos.

The basic sense I get from the commentary passage is that wisdom is here portrayed as being brought forth by God as an innate part and consequence of His (1) character and (2) creative impulse. It is the expression of His character that before creation was the medium through which He created a physical universe that is good. It is also an expression of His character that is revealed perfectly in Christ. See the Colossian hymn (Col 1:15-20) and Heb 1:3, for example.

Bible Versions and Notes:





Proverbs 8:22 יְֽהוָ֗ה קָ֭נָנִי רֵאשִׁ֣ית דַּרְכּ֑וֹ קֶ֖דֶם מִפְעָלָ֣יו מֵאָֽז׃



Proverbs 8:22 ku,rioj e;ktise,n me avrch.n o`dw/n auvtou/ eivj e;rga auvtou/

ESV Proverbs 8:22 “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.

NAB Proverbs 8:22 “The LORD begot me, the first-born of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;

NAU Proverbs 8:22 “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old.

NET Proverbs 8:22 The LORD created me as the beginning of his works, before his deeds of long ago.

NIV Proverbs 8:22 “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old;

NJB Proverbs 8:22 ‘Yahweh created me, first-fruits of his fashioning, before the oldest of his works.

NKJ Proverbs 8:22 ” The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old.

NRS Proverbs 8:22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.

Selected Notes:

New American Bible – <1> [22-31] Wisdom is of divine origin. It is here represented as a being which existed before all things (Prov 8:22-26) and concurred with God when he planned and executed the creation of the universe, adorned it with beauty and variety, and established its wonderful order (Prov 8:27-30). Here that plurality of divine Persons is foreshadowed which was afterward to be fully revealed when Wisdom in the Person of Jesus Christ became incarnate.

NET Bible – There are two roots קָנָה (qanah) in Hebrew, one meaning “to possess,” and the other meaning “to create.” The earlier English versions did not know of the second root, but suspected in certain places that a meaning like that was necessary (e.g., Gen 4:1; 14:19; Deut 32:6). Ugaritic confirmed that it was indeed another root. The older versions have the translation “possess” because otherwise it sounds like God lacked wisdom and therefore created it at the beginning. They wanted to avoid saying that wisdom was not eternal. Arius liked the idea of Christ as the wisdom of God and so chose the translation “create.” Athanasius translated it, “constituted me as the head of creation.” The verb occurs twelve times in Proverbs with the meaning of “to acquire”; but the Greek and the Syriac versions have the meaning “create.” Although the idea is that wisdom existed before creation, the parallel ideas in these verses (“appointed,” “given birth”) argue for the translation of “create” or “establish” (R. N. Whybray, “Proverbs 8:22-31 and Its Supposed Prototypes,” VT 15 [1965]: 504-14; and W. A. Irwin, “Where Will Wisdom Be Found?” JBL 80 [1961]: 133-42).

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