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Wisdom Versus Law—What’s the Difference?

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The wisdom of God given to us in Scripture may be found mainly in the Wisdom books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, although wisdom sayings and admonitions are sprinkled throughout the Bible (for some examples see Matt. 7:24; Luke 16:10, Eph. 5:15-17). Yet, unlike the law given at Sinai to Israel as the chosen people of God, the Wisdom books deal with common human experience and are useful to everyone in the skills of daily living.

It is lawful, but is it wise? Is God’s wisdom simply a form of law? What are the differences between law and wisdom in the Bible, and what is their relationship to each other?

These are some of the questions to ponder when reading Scripture. Consider, for example, Psalm 119:97-98, which identifies God’s law making the psalmist wiser than his enemies; or Psalm 111:10 (repeated in Proverbs 9:10) that teaches the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Besides the fact that wisdom and law are closely related to each other because God is their source, there are differences between them.

Wisdom sayings and admonitions are not law commands per se, although keeping God’s law is surely wise. Mostly, we prefer laws since they tell us what to do. Wisdom, on the other hand, takes more effort, so we tend to shy away from learning how the world works and the reasons, benefits, and purposes of living wisely. The similarities and differences between law and wisdom are important, so let us begin with God’s law.

1. God’s Law: Moral, Ceremonial, and Judicial

God reveals his law to us in Scripture, beginning with Adam. The commands to Adam in Genesis 2, “bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 19.1).

  • God then delivered his moral law on Mount Sinai in the Ten Commandments; they reveal our duty to God and to our fellow humans (Exod. 20: 1-17, Deut. 5:6-21).
  • God also gave to Israel ceremonial laws, but they have been abrogated under the new covenant (e.g., Col. 2:14-17, Heb. 9:10), since they pointed to Christ Jesus and were subsequently fulfilled by him.
  • Likewise, the judicial laws God gave to Israel expired with the Mosaic Covenant (e.g., Heb. 8:13), although the general purpose of justice that lay behind them remains.
  • The moral law of God, however, continues to bind all of us to obedience, but there is a difference in the use of the law between believers who are united to Christ Jesus by faith and unbelievers who reject Christ.

There are three uses of God’s moral law.

While God’s moral law is always in force, it has three specific uses for our benefit:

The first use of the moral law is to reveal human sin to all unregenerate persons by informing them of the holy will of God and convincing them of their inability to please him by keeping it (e.g., Rom. 3:20).

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