Early Adventism and the Apocrypha, Part 2: The Wisdom of Solomon

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Early Adventism and the Apocrypha, Part 2: The Wisdom of Solomon

In this article, the second of our Early Adventism and the Apocrypha series, a series exploring various books contained in early Adventist Bibles (and still retained in most Bibles around the world), we will discuss and discover the book known as the Wisdom of Solomon (sometimes called the Book of Wisdom). This work will be introduced, explored, and reflected on with regard to the role that it had within early Adventism. While certain apocryphal works such as 2 Esdras/4 Ezra (to be explored in a future article) carried the most weight spiritually in certain Adventist communities, other works such as The Wisdom of Solomon were also studied, commented on, and even preached about by early Adventist pioneers. Their contributions to Adventism, while smaller than others, are no less important and certainly deserve attention, as such a need has been perceived to produce a closer study of some of these works and the role that they both held in early Adventism, as well as the role that they can potentially still have for modern Adventists who wish to read these ancient works as Mrs. White once admonished that the church should do.

 

Related Article: How God Preserves His Word    

 

 

The Book of Wisdom was written sometime during the Second Temple period of Judaism, written “after… 30 B.C.E.”[1] This means that the work was written relatively close to the time of Jesus’ birth. It was originally written in Greek, like the New Testament. The book’s title is ambiguous, possibly pseudepigraphic (claiming to be written by Solomon) or honorary (attributing the wisdom within it to derive from Solomon). It is also possible that the title is unrelated to the original author, much like the title of the so-called “Gospel of Philip” is secondary to the original sermon that formed the composition. The work itself consists of the most elaborate and extensive exploration of the theme of Wisdom produced in Judaism, taking the themes of Proverbs and expanding them well beyond their initial forms. In particular, the figure of Lady Wisdom is enhanced to the point of becoming synonymous with God himself, a development that would prove important for early Christians such as Paul who linked Proverbs’ descriptions of Lady Wisdom with Jesus.

 

 

Related Article: The Church and Scripture    

 

 

The book was somewhat popular in Judaism. Having been written late, close to the turn of the era, the work is not cited much. However, for a work so young, what evidence does survive is impressive. It was included in many editions of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, indicating that the work received a canonical-esque status by many Jews soon after its completion. Around the turn of the second century C.E., Melito of Sardis appears to note that the Jewish people in Palestine believed the work to be canonical, even after the temple had fallen. The Wisdom of Solomon was also incredibly popular among early Christians, for whom the work appeared to have genuine prophetic quality. The Muratorian Fragment, one of the earliest records of Early Christian canons (c. 170-200 C.E.), even appears to include it as part of the New Testament rather than the Old, perhaps for the same reason. The second chapter was often seen by early Christians as an explicit prediction of Jesus’ death, and when read in its entirely, it’s not hard to see why.

 

“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a son of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”(Wisdom 2:12-20, NRSV)[2]

 

The belief that this passage was predicting Jesus’ death may stretch back to the earliest Christian communities, for it appears that Matthew’s gospel has the passage in mind when he describes the death of Christ (Matt. 27:39-43; see also James 5:6). Long before the gospels, however, the apostle Paul was an avid reader of the work. In the opening to his letter to the Romans he appears to draw extensively from it (cf. Rom. 1:18-31 and Wis. 13:1-10; 14:22-31). See also his references in 1 and 2 Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1 and Wis. 19:7; 1 Cor. 15:32 and Wis. 2:5-6; 1 Cor. 6:2 and Wis. 3:8; cf. 2 Cor. 5:1,4 and Wis. 9:15), 1 Thessalonians (cf. 1 Thess. 5:8 and Wis. 5:18; 1 Thess. 4:13 and Wis. 3:18), and also the Pauline tradition of Ephesians (cf. Eph. 1:17 and Wis. 7:7; Eph. 6:13-17 and Wis. 5:17-20). The author of 2 Timothy also draws on the work (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8 and Wis. 5:16), as does Hebrews (cf. Heb. 4:12 and Wis. 18:15-16) and James (cf. Js. 5:6 and Wis. 2:10-20). The author of 2 Peter quotes the work (cf. 2 Pt. 2:7 and Wis. 10:6), likewise there are allusions to it in the Gospel of John (cf. John 15:9-10 and Wis. 3:9; John 14:15 and Wis. 6:18; John 3:12 and Wis. 9:16; John 17:3 and Wis. 15:3), the book of Acts (cf. Acts 17:27 and Wis. 13:6), and the book of Revelation echoes it as well (cf. Rev. 2:12 and Wis. 18:16). Most important, Paul’s description of Jesus as the incarnation of Lady Wisdom is only possible due to the Wisdom of Solomon’s elaborate description of Lady Wisdom as identical with God (cf. 1 Cor. 1:24, 30). The book of Hebrews also draws upon this in its description of Jesus (cf. Heb. 1:2-3; 4:12 and Wis. 7:22-30).

The book never took hold in Judaism however as a piece of Scripture except perhaps with those Greek-speaking Jews who helped to compose the Septuagint. The debate over this work remained even at the time of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is often, quite incorrectly, remembered or imagined for having rejected the Apocrypha due to his decision to move the works to their own section within his German translation of the Bible. The truth, however, is that he accepted several of the works as already or potentially canonical. Luther writes in his works that he believed that 1 Maccabees was canonical but struggled with the Wisdom of Solomon because of its name and possible attribution to Solomon.[3] His decision to move such books to their own section was driven by his hope that Protestants would come to decide the merits of each book eventually, something that ultimately never came to pass.

 

Related Article: How to Faithfully Interpret the Bible Literally    

 

 

For Early Adventism, the Wisdom of Solomon held a unique and highly esteemed status. It was one of only three apocryphal works that received the unanimous endorsement of the Review and Herald’s editors, which included James White and Uriah Smith. In 1858, they publicly endorsed the Apocrypha as “containing much light and instruction,” and furthermore listed the Wisdom of Solomon as the second most recommended work to be read by Adventists. Perhaps more curious, they asked their Adventist audience to consider the fact that “the Third Council of Carthage, held in the year 397, pronounced it to be a canonical book under the name of ‘The Fourth Book of Solomon,’ and the famous Council of Trent confirmed this decision.”[4] They concluded their editorial by remarking that at the time they were not prepared to either uphold or deny the inspiration of the book.

In 1853, J. N. Andrews quoted from the book in a way that implied it was authentically written by Solomon himself.[5] Two years later, “Sister” Peckham wrote that “His Word is a lamp to my feet,” and directed Adventist readers to discover the “full definition” of a matter she cited by referring to the Wisdom of Solomon.[6] In 1858, the Review published excerpts from the Wisdom of Solomon, along with other quotes, to demonstrate the Jewish belief in the mortality of the soul.[7] In 1863, the Review published a “Lessons for Bible Students” focused on the question of the Sanctuary. In two issues, mixed with other canonical questions, it asked Adventist readers to discover and answer questions relating to a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon and affirmed Solomon as the author.[8] In 1865, Wm. C. Gage reprinted an excerpt from an outside publication that asserted that the book of Wisdom was indeed authentically authored by King Solomon.[9]

In 1869, J. N. Andrews affirmed that the book was inspired and prophetic, quoting it alongside other scriptures and referring Adventists to read it’s fifth chapter to discover “some most expressive words of lamentation” which the wicked would utter at the judgment.[10] Soon after, he drew upon the work again with reference to the heavenly temple, defending its use by stating that “The testimony of the Apocrypha is certainly very explicit, and, as it exactly corroborates the words of Paul, it is worthy of our attention.”[11] Still later that year, he quoted from the work in a list of scriptural quotations regarding the judgment of the wicked.[12] He would continue to do the same in subsequent years.[13] That same year, D. M. Canright wrote an article on the same topic, examining the Wisdom of Solomon’s views on the immortality of the soul. He noted, more reserved than Andrews, that “Although the books of the Apocrypha are not commonly regarded as being inspired, yet their testimony is important as showing the belief of the Jews at the time they were written.”[14]

By 1880, an individual writing by the acronym R. F. C.[15] wrote within the Review and Herald that the book of Wisdom was “evidence that the… testimony of the Apocrypha is true.”[16] J. N. Loughborough cites the work in an article a year later.[17] The Bible-Reading Gazette of 1884 listed a verse from the book as the answer to the question of where Solomon received his wisdom from.[18] In 1886, a Mrs. Heald cited the book, prefacing the quote by noting: “Let us consult the Wisdom of Solomon also.”[19] That same year, A. S. Hutchins quoted the work to provide details about the serpents biting the Israelites in the wilderness, noting that “there is a good comment” there.[20] In 1905, the Bible Training School (BTS) listed a verse from it amongst a series of canonical quotations regarding Solomon’s building of the temple.[21] Much later, in 1917, the book is quoted from again within BTS by Loughborough, but this time with the designation “apocryphal.”[22]

On occasion, sermons or exegetical expositions were given on the book, just as had been done with the book of Tobit (covered in the previous article). In 1881, the Wisdom of Solomon’s second chapter, describing the righteous man, was cited in a homiletic exhortation.[23] R. F. Cottrell was one such individual who when confronted with a quotation from the book, rather than argue over its inspiration, gave it the benefit of the doubt and argued about its exegesis. An excerpt from his full discussion is given below:

 

“For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. Nevertheless through envy of the Devil came death into the world; and they that do hold of his side do find it.” Wisdom of Solomon, ii, 23, 24.

 

A certain minister was making a special effort to disprove the position of S. D. Adventists, and to support the doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul; and the above text, or at least the first part of it, was used as proof. We thought it a bad selection for his purpose. The text does not affirm that God created man immortal, but he created him to be immortal; as though a probation or trial of some kind were wanting to complete and carry out the purpose. It may be argued that the purpose of God in creating man to be immortal is sure to be carried out. But the disjunctive clause which follows clearly shows that the envy of the Devil introduce death into the world to thwart this purpose of the Creator: and that one class of men, those that hold to the Devil’s side, find death instead of immortality, their portion. Whether the text is given by inspiration of God or not, one thing is evident, that is, that the writer took death to be the opposite of immortality. This, in a writing of such antiquity, ought to have considerable weight.[24]

 

Uriah Smith likewise published a sermon/exhortation on the work, an excerpt of which is given below for example.

 

In the Apocrypha, Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 5, the contrast between the lot of the righteous and that of the wicked is drawn in very vivid colors, and the worthlessness of the world’s hope and the vanity of human pride are set forth so impressively that the reader, we are sure, will be pleased with the quotation of a few verses… [text of Wis. 5:1-16 given]… What more forcible figures could be used to show how utterly the hopes that are built upon the things of this world will quickly and completely pass away, than are here made use of… If they would permit God’s word to remove the veil from their eyes, they would see, even now, the glory and eternity of the Christian’s reward.[25]

 

Smith’s remark about “God’s word” is intriguing given the large excerpt from an apocryphal book. Does he mean to equate the two? It is possible, especially since Ellen White had already much earlier done so. Surprisingly, very little if no criticism was ever directed toward the book by Adventists, even by those who wrote against the Apocrypha. While general rejection of the Apocrypha as a whole would be cited, almost no direct criticism was ever pointed in the direction of this specific book.

 

Related Article: An Antidote to Bad Bible Usage    

 

The Wisdom of Solomon was one of a few apocryphal works that Ellen White is known to have quoted and drawn from during her lifetime. In her first vision published in the Day-Star publication, she alludes to Wis. 5:1-5, the same passage that J. N. Andrews and some others would cite. With the publication of her vision in the pamphlet Word to the Little Flock, “scripture” citations were provided under the visions to show their biblical support. Amongst these scriptures was a specific note that Mrs. White had drawn from the book of Wisdom. She also appears to draw upon the work in a number of other places throughout her writings. One of the most prominent is Mrs. White’s use of the phrase “shameful death” to refer to Jesus (almost 115 times).[26] This phrase is found in the famous passage that many Christians took as a prophecy about Jesus’ death in Wis. 2:20 and Mrs. White’s use of it demonstrates her familiarity with the interpretation. In 1886, she directly quotes Wis. 3:4, which describing the righteous, notes that “though they be punished in the sight of men, yet their hope is full of immortality.” Mrs. White turns the statement into a question, asking her struggling Adventist readers rhetorically: “We want to know if you have a hope full of immortality?”[27] While there are many other examples that can be given, her early endorsements of the entire apocryphal collection stand as an implicit affirmation of the need for Adventists to read and study the work.

 

Related Article: Words of Poetry and Truth    

 

 

Likewise, James White felt that it was vitally important that all Adventists have available to them the entire collection of the Apocrypha, including the Wisdom of Solomon. He compared the need for having an Adventist printing of the Apocrypha to the same importance as publishing a second edition of one of Mrs. White’s writings.[28] He had also earlier referred to the Wisdom of Solomon as scripture in Word to the Little Flock. Regardless of whether Adventists today are willing to share James White’s enthusiasm or affirm Mrs. White’s younger affirmation that the Apocrypha, and the Wisdom of Solomon, is part of the Word of God, as she repeatedly claimed in her 1849 vision, surely many Adventists can begin today to once again agree with her that these works are worth our time and study for both historical and spiritual edification.

In conclusion, the Book of Wisdom was treated in several ways by early Adventists:

 

  1. It was treated by some as Scripture.
  2. It was treated by some as inspired.
  3. It was quoted by Ellen White in the same way she quoted other biblical verses.
  4. It was preached or cited on occasion by major leaders of Adventism.
  5. Some considered it potentially James White thought it worthy for Adventists to reflect on the fact that the book was canonized by early church councils and that this fact might be important in discussions regarding the book’s inspiration.
  6. It was never attacked. No specific reason was ever given for rejecting it by those who were against the Apocrypha as a collection.

 

To summarize what this all comes together to reveal: the Apocrypha, and specifically the Wisdom of Solomon, are truly part of our Adventist background in multiple ways that have until now, not largely been acknowledged. Given Ellen White’s admonition for Adventists to study these works, perhaps it’s time we started to.

Click here to read the rest of this series on early Adventism and the Apocrypha

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Notes.

[1] David Winston, “Solomon, Wisdom of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 120.

[2] Where NRSV has “child,” I have restored it to “son.”

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, vols. 1-55 (Philadelphia, PA; Saint

Louis, MI: Fortress Press and Concordia Publishing House, 1955-1986): 35:353.

[4] Editors, “To Correspondents: Old Style and New,” Review and Herald 12:12 (1858): 96.

[5] J. N. Andrews, “The Sanctuary. Continued.,” Review and Herald 3:17 (1853): 133. With regard to some controversy over the topic of the issue later that year, Andrews re-quoted Wisdom with a prefixed note: “As the language of the Apocrypha, in repeating this sentiment, is quite remarkable, we quote it.” J. N. Andrews, “The Antitypical Tabernacle,” Review and Herald 4:4 (1853): 26.

[6] S. Peckham, “Communications. From Sister Peckham.,” Review and Herald 7:12 (1855): 94.

[7] Editors, “Is the Soul Immortal? Bible Testimony,” Review and Herald 11:24 (1858): 186.

[8] Editors, “Lessons for Bible Students. Lesson XXVIII. The Sanctuary—Continued.,” Review and Herald 22:22 (1863): 172; Idem, “Lessons for Bible Students. Lesson XXX. The Sanctuary—Continued.,” Review and Herald 22:24 (1863): 188.

[9] Wm. C. Gage, “Gleanings,” Review and Herald 26:25 (1865): 197.

[10] J. N. Andrews, “Outer Darkness,” Review and Herald 33:13 (1869): 101.

[11] J. N. Andrews, “The Opening of the Temple in Heaven,” Review and Herald 33:15 (1869): 114.

[12] J. N. Andrews, “The Gehenna of Fire, the New Earth, and the Sabbath,” Review and Herald 33:25 (1869): 194; Idem, “The Gehenna of Fire, the New Earth, and the Sabbath,” Review and Herald 33:26 (1869): 202.

[13] J. N. Andrews, “The Order of Events in the Judgment. Number Nine.,” Review and Herald 35:2 (1870): 12; Idem, “The Order of Events in the Judgment. Number Twelve.,” Review and Herald 35:5 (1870): 36. These were later reprinted in the Signs of the Times in 1878. See J. N. Andrews, “The Order of Events in the Judgment. Number Nine.,” Signs of the Times 4:19 (1878): 149; Idem, “The Order of Events in the Judgment. Number Twelve.,” Signs of the Times 4:24 (1878): 188.

[14] D. M. Canright, “The Nature of Man and Punishment of the Wicked, As Taught in the Apocrypha,” Review and Herald 34:5 (1869): 33.

[15] Probably R.F. Cottrell.

[16] R. F. C., “Nature and Destiny of Man. – No. 2,” Review and Herald 56:23 (1880): 361.

[17] J. N. Loughborough, “Is Sin Eternal? – No. 13,” Signs of the Times 7:31 (1881): 362.

[18] Editors, “The Sanctuary,” Bible-Reading Gazette 1:1 (1884): 3.

[19] A. W. Heald, “In the Darkness,” Review and Herald 63:14 (1886): 212.

[20] A. S. Hutchins, “The Brazen Serpent,” Review and Herald 63:26 (1886): 402.

[21] Editors, “For Bible Students,” Bible Training School 4:1 (1905): 13.

[22] J. N. Loughborough, “Poor Yet Rich,” Bible Training School 16:5 (1917): 148. Later reprinted Idem, “Poor Yet Rich,” Columbia Union Visitor 23:41 (1918): 5.

[23] Dr. Coke, “Feeling Hurried,” Review and Herald 58:20 (1881): 311.

[24] R. F. Cottrell, “Proof of Natural Immortality,” Review and Herald 74:25 (1866): 392.

[25] Uriah Smith, “The Present Veil,” Review and Herald 28:2 (1897): 12.

[26] See, among the many examples, White, Spiritual Gifts, 3:176: “His enemies would not be satisfied until he was given into their hands, that they might put him to a shameful death.”

[27] Ellen White, “Sermon/The Privilege of Being a Christian,” Manuscript 16, 1886.

[28] James White, Review and Herald 33:6 (1869): 48.

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About the author

Matthew Korpman

Matthew J. Korpman is a student at Yale Divinity School, pursuing his Master of Arts in Religion. He is a graduate of La Sierra University, where he worked at the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School as a Teaching Assistant. He is the upcoming author of the book “Saying No to God,” due to be released in December 2019.