Few recent controversies have been as explosive as the one raging around the invocation of Sophia in worship, especially at the ecumenical Re-Imagining conference held last year in Minneapolis. Before that conference caused such a stir, few Christians realized the Christian heritage of that word: sophia is the Greek word for wisdom. The New Testament uses it when speaking, for instance, of the wisdom of God (Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 1:24; Eph. 3:10). However, other religious systems around that time had a goddess named Sophia, so the word can also express pagan notions.
Nevertheless, it also plays an important role in Scripture. In the Old Testament, Wisdom (chokma in Hebrew, sophia in the Greek Old Testament) is often celebrated, and most lavishly in Proverbs 1-9. Wisdom is there personified in female form. She is praised in exalted terms: "all the things you may desire cannot compare with her" (3:15), for "she is a tree of life" (3:18), and her "fruit is better than gold" (8:19). Wisdom cries out in the streets, especially encouraging the "simple" and "scoffers" to gain deeper understanding (1:20-23; 8:1-6). Nonetheless, most people reject her (1:24-27).
Wisdom also has a cosmic role: "I have been established from everlasting," she sings, "from the beginning, before there was ever an earth" (8:23). When God created, "I was beside him as a master craftsman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him" (8:30). Yet despite these lofty functions, Wisdom in Proverbs does not seem to be an actual divine being, but rather a personification of one of Yahweh's attributes.
This Wisdom imagery expands in later Hebrew literature, most of it now ...1
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