But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. James 3:17 NASB
From above – First let’s straighten out John 3:3. James uses the same word here (anothen) that we find in John 3:3. But the Christian evangelical world chooses to translate anothen as “again” (‘is born again”) in the passage in John whereas in every other use of the word the translation is “from above.” James has it right. We have it wrong.
With that in mind, shouldn’t we notice that James alludes to the One who comes down from above in his comment on the nature of wisdom. In fact, James may also be alluding to the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 8, a personification that the sages considered equivalent to God Himself. If you were writing to the Messianic community in the first century, wouldn’t you try to tie your halachah to the Master? Doesn’t it make sense to suggest that the One who comes down in the prophecy of Moses is the same One who is called Wisdom in Proverbs and the same One who leads the community today? And, by the way, the same One who speaks of new conception from above as the hallmark of being in God’s image?
Proverbs suggests that wisdom begins with YHWH. He is the source and authority. Any man who refuses to acknowledge this ultimate source is a fool. All expertise begins with God. In fact, according to the sages, Wisdom was there in the beginning with God when the heavens and the earth were formed. As an expression of the Torah, Wisdom is eternal just as God is eternal. Wisdom can only come down from above. No man of the earth can ascend to find it. It must be delivered to us by way of divine revelation.
You might take a moment to consider how radically different this idea of wisdom is from the usual view of our culture. James tells us that this wisdom originates with God, is delivered by God, is understood through God and transforms us in relation to God. And thisis wisdom. Wisdom is not the collection of information, its application to the world, its manipulation of the world or its relation to power over the world. Wisdom is thoroughly spiritual. And for this reason, James is able to articulate the character of wisdom in biblical/spiritual terms.
Now that we have the correct approach in mind, we can investigate the words James uses to elaborate divine wisdom. But even here it is more than a collection. It is an order – a process by which wisdom becomes manifest. Wisdom comes according to a certain sequence – and James is about to tell us what that sequence is.
Topical Index: wisdom, sophia, James 3:17, from above, anothen, John 3:3
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