Folly and Wisdom in the Bible
Prov 3:13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom and the man that geteth understanding.
Prov. 4:7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
Eccl. 1:18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
1 Cor.1:19: "For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent."

So: Wisdom, bad or good?

Well, actually, like anything complex, it is both, and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes at least are capturing a paradoxical truth. Indeed, we could throw in to connect them the phrase, "Ignorance is bliss." With wisdom you do gain understanding, but since you are also more aware of what goes on around you, you see more readily the wickedness that men do - which is one of the main points of Ecclesiastes, my favorite book of the OT.

Understanding and grief are not mutually exclusive options. They come hand in hand. Appropriately, these verses of course come under the rubric of "proverbial literature" and cannot be read absolutely.

The reader should read the entire first chapter of Ecclesiastes. Especially note verses 12-18. See for yourself that the Teacher's words concern earthly things. Read chapter 2 and see the same theme still played there. Note the climax of chapter 2, found in verse 26: "To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering up and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

Here, the author of Ecclesiastes is making the point that only in reverence and recognition of God can we find true fulfillment. Internally, the text of Ecclesiastes makes a contextual distinction between the earthly type of wisdom (1:18) and the true wisdom that is of God (2:26).

In terms of Proverbs 3:13, again, look at the context of the passage. The man who finds wisdom is described as "blessed" and "the man who gains understanding". Now Scripture uses the word "wisdom" in a strictly earthly sense with a negative connotation (See 1 Co 1:19-21), a spiritual sense with a positive connotation (1 Co 2:7), and sometimes it contrasts the two directly such as in 1 Co 2:6-10, 13-16, read Col 2 as well.

In the Scriptures (excluding consideration of Prov 3:13) the wisdom that is spiritual and of God is in fact a blessing and a tool for understanding. Read the passages listed in this paragraph and see for yourself. So, if in Prov 3:13 the terms "blessed" and "the man who gains understanding" describe the state of the man with said wisdom, I personally would consider it uncontextual to state that the wisdom in this verse is earthly.

Perhaps even more direct to the point is that the context here in Proverbs is clear. The concept of Wisdom in proverbs carries a spiritual component to it. Read the first three chapters of Proverbs. Now ask yourself if it is at all unreasonable to state that wisdom in the spiritual sense is mentioned here. For me, personally, it is clearly spiritual, and has always been, even long before this alleged discrepancy became an issue. For those who make the dogmatic claim that "wisdom" in Prov 3:13 has the exact same shading as the "wisdom" in Ecc 1:18, and hence that there is a contradiction, I can only state that I consider such a claim unreasonable.

It is a fact that words, especially words conveying abstract concepts like "wisdom" or, say, "love", can have a myriad of shadings and nuances. The reader who is truly trying to understand the text (believer or not) owes it to his intellectual honesty to ask himself or herself if he understands which shading of a word is intended. The onus is really on the errantist here who must prove that the word "wisdom" in the Proverbs passage carries exactly the same shading and meaning as "wisdom" in Ecc 1:18.

That leaves the 1 Corinthians verse, which is a paraphrase of Isaiah 29:14. Now look at Isaiah 29:13-14:

The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish."

Isaiah is referring not to true wisdom, but sarcastically to "pseudo-wisdom", held by people who think they know something but actually don't. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes refer not to psuedo-wisdom, but true wisdom. This fits in with Paul's message, for as we noted in our response to Earl Doherty, Paul is indeed referring to a sort of "pseudo-wisdom" - he is rebutting those who found preference in Apollos' more sophisticated teaching style.

-JPH and Eric Vestrup