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Citation for The Role of Wisdom Today

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Bergant, Dianne . "Proverbs." In The Catholic Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. May 4, 2016. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195282801/obso-9780195282801-div1-66>.


Bergant, Dianne . "Proverbs." In The Catholic Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online, http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195282801/obso-9780195282801-div1-66 (accessed May 4, 2016).

The Role of Wisdom Today

There are several reasons why Proverbs may not be popular reading. It seems to describe a world that does not exist, a world where life has a proper order and events follow a cause‐and‐effect sequence. We know to the contrary that life is very unpredictable. We may be able to discern some of the order in nature, but the events of life itself cannot be charted or foreseen. Consequently, Proverbs appears to be very naive and somewhat static.

Furthermore, the world of Proverbs seems to be the world of the comfortable, not the world of those who struggle. Even directions about justice are given from the point of view of those who are in charge, and the advice does not question the way things are. Since people supported by the status quo seldom challenge it, Proverbs might well be perceived as a guide to “Win Friends, Influence People, and Get Ahead in the World as It Is.” Advocates of justice and peace usually turn to the prophets for inspiration, not to the proverbs.

Such an evaluation of the wisdom tradition misses a few very important points. First, proverbs do not claim to describe everything, but they do depict a bit of the world. Each proverb reflects a snippet of life. Together they offer a collage, not a blueprint. Second, the process that produces proverbs may be more significant than the content of the proverbs themselves. It teaches us the importance of serious reflection on experience and the need to adjust both our understanding and our behavior as circumstances change. The wise person is the one who can adequately assess the demands of a situation and who is experienced and flexible enough to behave in a way that is appropriate to that particular situation. If we read proverbs as directions that we must follow rather than as examples from which we can learn, we will misunderstand the force of their teaching. However, if we read them rightly, we will discover that the way of wisdom is neither naive nor static.

Although people do not turn to the proverbs for prophetic inspiration, the wisdom method of reflection on life experience found there has gained prominence in recent years. Frequently, experience is the starting point from which contemporary theologians develop their insights. This approach has spread from the base Christian communities to Bible discussion groups around the world. People are beginning again to realize that they encounter God through human experience, not despite it.

The charge that Proverbs is a book of upper‐class ethics can be debated. It is true that several proverbs seem suited to the court or to some other diplomatic setting. However, most of them could easily have been used in the normal everyday training of youth. They do presume an underlying order that is stable and reliable, but that is common in most initial training programs. Proverbs is the kind of teaching that socializes members into the group. It does not question the credibility of the group and so it lacks a prophetic edge. However, Proverbs does offer an appreciation of life and an encouragement to live it to the fullest.

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