Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: σοφος

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/s/s-o-ph-o-sfin.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The familiar adjective σοφος (sophos) means wise, and although that might strike many as a done deal, wisdom is surprisingly hard to define. Nowadays, wisdom is generally regarded as a virtue, but there's no consensus at all about what wisdom might actually be and what it is supposed to do. It's obviously a mental exercise (as opposed to, say, being able to crack walnuts with one's hands) but it's by no means certain whether it has to do with being learned or rather blissfully ignorant, being calm and composed or rather in tune with one's most volatile feelings and inner child and such.

Claiming to know what wisdom is all about is, of course, one the signature elements of the Dunning Kruger Effect. So at the risk of being found out, here at Abarim Publications we would propose that wisdom has to do with synchronicity with the laws of nature — which are the laws that make the universe tick, the unified whole of which the Bible calls Logos (Romans 1:20. Colossians 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:3). Synchronicity with Logos makes all things go smooth, and makes whatever is synchronous with the Word compatible with the Word (Revelation 19:7). Asynchronicity causes enormous energy losses, noise, smoke and the ultimate demise of whatever is asynchronous (Revelation 20:10).

The only real way to check whether one is wise is to measure effects (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:35). If things go up in smoke (crops get lost, wives run off, enemies take over): not wise. If things go smoothly (crops are abundant, wives are merry, enemies become friendly neighbors): there's wisdom at play.

Paul wrote that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1), with which he thus declares the purpose of the gospel: freedom (also see Luke 4:18). There are two kinds of freedom. The first kind is a lawless freedom: anarchy, which is the world in which animals live. The other kind of freedom is a lawful freedom, or a freedom governed by a confining and restricting law. When one has no sense of music, one has an anarchistic freedom of music. When one submits to the rules of music and studies them thoroughly and absorbs them into one's reflexes, one will eventually obtain the freedom to jazz away. The same goes for speech. If one doesn't know a single word and has no clue about language, one is like the animals and free of speech. But when one submits to the rules of language, and learns the words and the conventions, one is able to dialogue with whomever about whatever. Freedom of speech requires submission to the laws of speech.

That governed and lawful kind of freedom is the kind of freedom that the ancient Atheneans cherished as the democratic ideal. They called this lawful freedom ελευθερια (eleutheria) and that's the word Paul uses (twice) in Galatians 5:1. Between the anarchistic freedom of animals and the eleutherian freedom of a perfectly just society, there sits a period of figuring out and learning the rules. The better one gets at the rules, the more freedom one experiences. And the first rule one tends to learn is that whereas damnation is a personal and private affair, salvation is a collective one. That means that eleutherian freedom is a freedom enjoyed collectively (and when one finds oneself basking contently in the glow of one's own private freedom, one is experiencing one's animal hormones, not eleutheria).

Wisdom tends to drive towards convention and convention allows for diversity — i.e. the more precise a language is formalized, the more specific an expression can be, and thus the broader the expressive spectrum gets. All DNA carries life but some codes allow for greater cell-type diversity than others. That means that some DNA codes can be correctly followed in several widely varying interpretations: contracting muscle cells, conductive nerve cells, transparent eye cells and acid-producing stomach cells are all correct and non-cancerous interpretations of the very same genetic code that makes a complex animal.

In the Bible the formation of clouds is generally considered positive but the formation of smoke negative. That's because clouds form when water particles gather and collectively start bringing rain about. Smoke forms when some object falls apart and, well, goes up in smoke. A wisdom culture in which folks from all over gather together and swap notes and check each other's insights and revere each other's writings, is like a cloud which will yield rain because of which plants will grow and life will proliferate. A culture that declares itself God's representative on earth and condemns all others and doesn't want to grow or adapt, is like a shiny chrome-rimmed Studebaker that's parked in the corner of the lot where it waits beneath a smudgy tarp for Uncle Vito to return. Neither the former nor the latter will remain, but the former will be remembered while the latter won't.

Of course, us here at Abarim Publications might be wholly wrong, and wisdom might in fact lie in strict adherence to unprovable dictums, clinging to traditions or pledging allegiance to popes and emperors. Maybe. But time will tell and while we wait, us here at Abarim Publications like to additionally note that our word σοφος (sophos) appears to be part of a cluster of so-words that all have to do with wholeness and soundness: σωμα (soma), meaning the [whole] body, σωζω (sozo) meaning to save or keep whole.

From roughly the 4th century BC, people began to live in great cities, and the knowledge of natural law became less and less imperative to a safe and successful life. This lead to a shift away from what the Hebrews called חכמה (hokma), that is: the unified set of useful skills and practical knowledge of observable reality, and toward the speculative metaphysical nonsense the Greeks became so famous for. As we note in our article on Zenas: The glory days of classical academia burned out in a shift away from Aristotelian empiricism and towards Platonic metaphysical speculation, which, together with Roman totalitarianism, plunged the world into 1,500 years of darkness.

Despite the misconceptions of many, classical Roman Catholicism was an extension of the Roman Empire, and certainly not of the gospel of Christ, with its reverence for knowledge and central message of eleutherian freedom and thus utter responsibility. A similar shift was seen in modern times, when Protestantism's genuine call for science and global prosperity spawned the eye-watering intellectual laziness of the modern Evangelical and Pentecostal movement, which was an extension of good old capitalism rather than due to any congress with or from the Logos.

Our adjective σοφος (sophos) meaning wise is used 22 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • Together with the particle of negation α (a): the adjective ασοφοσ (asophos), meaning unwise, that is: not in synch with the laws of nature, which precisely reflect the Creator. Unwise people dissipate a lot of energy but will end up nowhere. This word occurs only once, namely in Ephesians 5:15.
  • The noun σοφια (sophia), meaning wisdom, that is: useful practical skills and knowledge of observable reality. Since in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3), and the Logos sums up everything that can be known about creation because everything in existence comes down to a bit of information, which adds up to the Logos (see Matthew 4:4, John 1:1, 21:25), wisdom and the creative act go hand in hand (Proverbs 8:10). Still, the essential quality of both the Logos and wisdom is that both are an indivisible whole; there's no such thing as half the Logos or a half wisdom, as both reflect the Creator who is One (Deuteronomy 6:4). Wisdom, like faith, can be as small as a mustard seed and still function properly, because as long as the seed is the whole and complete thing, it has anything that might come from it wholly within it. Science calls it the Grand Unified Theory, which is pretty smart except that science doesn't realize that the Logos is as much expressed in the zero-entropy of the singularity as the transfinite entropy of the universe's hyper-social other extreme. Or in other words: Logos is not only one, but also alive, conscious, intelligent, personal and social. Our noun occurs 51 times; see full concordance, and from it in turn derives:
    • Together with the adjective φιλος (philos), meaning friend or lover: the adjective φιλοσοφος (philosophos), meaning philosopher (Acts 17:18 only).
  • The verb σοφιζω (sophizo), meaning to make wise (2 Timothy 3:15 and 2 Peter 1:16 only). The offer to make wise is of course mighty generous, but the prospective student should remember that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil also "desired to make wise" (Genesis 3:6) and that was before the fall. In other words: wisdom is a great gift but misapplied it can lead to death without eligibility for parole. Caution is prudent. From this verb comes:
    • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down: the verb κατασοφιζομαι (katasophizomai), meaning to outwit, to bring someone down by feeding them wrong information or by having them misapply right information (Acts 7:19 only).