Wisdom is the architect of all things, the builder of the world, the one who formed creation. That’s how the passage from the Wisdom of Solomon describes this cosmic person, this divine personality, all-powerful and full of benevolence. She pervades and penetrates all things, it says, she is God’s power, the breath of God.
In Greek, which is the language of this passage, the word for wisdom is Sophia. This person, this personality, this cosmic architect, this builder of the world, this outpouring of God’s power, is called Sophia. And, from the beginning centuries of the church, people identified Jesus as this Sophia. They read this passage from the Wisdom of Solomon as talking about Jesus. Jesus as the Sophia of God, Jesus as Sophia in a human body.
I should probably slow down because I’m guessing that some of us are still wondering what’s going on with us reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, this book that’s missing from some of your Bibles. So here’s a very brief explanation, way too brief, considering all the interesting twists and turns of history. But here’s a summary.
The Wisdom of Solomon, also called the Book of Wisdom, is a Jewish text written sometime in the century before Jesus was born, probably written in Egypt not too long after the book of Daniel was composed, just to give you a comparison with other books of what is called the Old Testament.
The early church included it in their Bibles. Preachers used it in sermons, and theologians referenced it in their reflections about God. Augustine of Hippo, one of the towering theologians of the fourth century, included the Book of Solomon as Scripture in his writings. Various councils of the church listed the book as part of the Bible.
However, in the fourth century Jerome translated the Christian Bible into Latin, which was the common language of the Roman Empire, what’s called the lingua franca of the West. Basically it’s the language that everyone was expected to know. So Jerome translated the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible into Latin. And here’s why that matters for our discussion. Jerome thought the Old Testament should only include books that were originally written in Hebrew, and the Wisdom of Solomon was written in Greek, so he dropped it from his version of the Old Testament.
In the sixteenth-century, Martin Luther followed Jerome’s lead, in terms of what books to include in the Bible he translated into German. So that meant he didn’t include the Wisdom of Solomon, among other books. Luther also tried to exclude books from the New Testament, like Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. He didn’t like those parts of the Bible.
During the European Reformation, early Anabaptists and Mennonites kept on using Wisdom of Solomon as part of their Scriptures. We’ve always had a hard time fitting in as Protestants, and as Catholics, for that matter. For example, Menno Simons, the pastor and theologian who our tradition is named after, he quoted from the book as part of his Bible.
In terms of today, for the most part, Protestant publishers make Bibles that follow Jerome and Luther—and those books don’t have the Wisdom of Solomon in them. Roman Catholics include the Wisdom of Solomon in theirs, as do the Eastern Orthodox Church. That’s my rough sketch, which was probably too long.
Now back to Jesus as Sophia. In the early centuries of the Church, as Christians were sorting through their understanding of Jesus—I mean, what do say about someone was raised from the dead?—as they scrambled to figure out what all of this meant, the people turned to their Scriptures, and they saw Jesus in this figure of Sophia this person who shows up in the Wisdom literature of their Biblical texts: in Proverbs 8, in Wisdom of Solomon 7, and in Wisdom of Sirach 24. Jesus the Word of God, they said, Jesus the Logos made flesh was the Sophia of God.
The Nicene Creed, a foundational statement about Jesus from the fourth century, includes imagery from this passage: Jesus is “Light from Light, true God from true God,” the council of Nicene said. And, as we just heard from Wisdom of Solomon, Sophia is “a reflection of eternal light,” “an emanation of the glory of the Almighty” (7:25-26). Light from light.
From these sources, different traditions within the church have developed what’s called a Sophia-Christology, to talk about Jesus’ identity as Sophia, as this Woman Wisdom of the Scriptures. In Turkey, for example, in Istanbul, the Eastern Orthodox built a cathedral in the sixth century in honor of Christ Sophia, dedicated in her honor, in his honor. It’s called the Hagia Sophia, in recognition of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, who they call Hagia Sophia, the Holy Sophia, the wisdom of God in the flesh: Christ as Sophia incarnate.
I’m not sure what all of this means for us, what it means for you. At the very least, I think these Scriptures and this history of interpretation are an invitation to loose our imaginations from the hold of sexist theologies we’ve inherited. I should speak for myself here.
I remember, as a kid, gazing with terrified fascination at the picture of Jesus in my grandparent’s house. In the living room, on the wall beside the TV, there was the face of Jesus, framed in wood, and his eyes would follow me across the room—always looking at me, always staring, always watching. He was a manly man, for sure, his masculinity as an image of what God was like, this image of the invisible God—a picture that would follow me for all of these years.
Idolatry happens when we create an image of God and we believe that that image nails down God’s identity, that that picture on the wall or the picture in our heads somehow captures who God is in some kind of complete sense. That, with our image, we’ve got God figured out—her identity, his identity, their identity all sorted out, with a picture we carry around in our minds.
I want to be careful here to say that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with coming up with pictures of God. That’s a natural function of our minds, it’s natural for our faith. There’s a long history of iconography in the church, the contemplative practice of depicting God. That’s good. And I think we should have more of it.
I have a folder somewhere with pictures that our CHMF children have given me over the years, their wildly creative crayon drawings of God, sketched in response to a Sunday School lesson or a sermon.
Holy images—some playful and others serious, some carefully drawn and others quite whimsical, but none of them as more of claim to be a representation of God than any other, all of them as evidence of a person getting to know God, a person growing into God’s wonders.
That’s what we’re offered when we pay attention to the history of the church. We are invited into a people who have always been getting to know God, always growing in wonder, always trying out ways to relate to God, to pray to God, to draw close to God. We can take up insights from the past that expose the idolatries of the present, images that startle us into an awareness of the God who we’ve ignored, an aspect of God we’ve lost.
All of this is about representation, the power of representation, the authority of representatives—about who can represent God and how. Men have put themselves, we have put ourselves, at the center of that power in the church over the ages, men as uniquely endowed with a gender that matches the identity of Jesus, the body of Jesus. That view is obviously wrong, and so we keep on struggling to correct it, to say with our lives, with all of our lives, with our way of doing church life, that men and women represent God, that together we display the body of Christ, where there is no longer male nor female, as the apostle Paul puts it.
What I think we are offered in this image of Christ as Sophia is something like a transgender existence—the way that a person’s gender isn’t fully displayed in the sex assigned to their body at birth, that their gender can’t be captured by who their body says that they have to be.
Christ is Sophia—that’s what voices from the early church said. Jesus is Woman Wisdom—a Scriptural theology that has everything to do with how trans people represent Christ in ways that cisgendered men and women do not. God is awash in identities, creating people in their image, and inviting us to know the mysteries of God as we come to know each other, here, in the body of Christ, a genderful body.
There is room in God for all of us.
We don’t know how to imagine God. But God knows
how to imagine us, each of us as living out the wonders of God’s imagination, each
of us inspired from the depths of God’s love.
 Origen, On First Principles 1.2.2 (italics added); quoted in Ayres, Nicaea and Its Legacy, 22, n. 32. “Let him who assigns a beginning to the word of God or the wisdom of God beware lest he utters impiety against the unbegotten Father himself, in denying that he was always a Father.” For an account of Origen’s trinitarian exegesis, see Rowan Williams, Arius, 131-148.