The words wisdom and knowledge have a wide variety of meanings in our English language, so from a cursory glance, it can be difficult to determine precisely what they mean in the spiritual realm. Let’s find out. :-)
Wisdom – Basic Definition
The Greek word used here for wisdom is sophia, meaning both skill and wisdom. This is contrasted against the only other word used for wise/wisdom in the New Testament, phronimos, which means a practical, shrewd, applicable-in-the-world wisdom. Sophia is sometimes (but not always) used in a spiritual sense:
And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?” (Matthew 13:54)
(Regarding Christians being put on trial for the gospel’s sake) … for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.(Luke 21:15)
But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of the task.(Acts 6:3)
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will [different word used for knowledge than is used in the context of spiritual gifts] in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…(Colossians 1:9)
So, from all of this, we can see that the spiritual gift of wisdom is a different kind of wisdom that comes directly from God and is applicable in spiritual matters…but that’s still not abundantly clear. Let’s go deeper.
Wisdom – More Specific Definition
God actually provides us a case study in wisdom in the person of King Solomon. Now, assuming that everything in the Old Testament and New Testament is identical is a dangerous assumption, especially considering that they were written in two different languages and thus inconsistent translation is totally unavoidable…however, in this case, we know that they are the same thing.
“The Queen of the South shall rise up with this generation at the judgment and shall condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom (sophia) of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”(Matthew 12:42; almost identical in Luke 11:31)
So, Solomon’s wisdom is indeed sophia. Now consider 1 Kings 4:29, “Now God gave Solomon wisdom (sophia in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore.” Therefore, we have pinned down that Solomon’s wisdom is the spiritual gift mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8.
Now, in order to obtain a definition, what did Solomon ask God for when he asked for wisdom?
7 Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.8 Your servant is in the midst of Your people which you have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted.
9 So give your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
10 It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing.
11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked for riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice,
12 behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you…”
(1 Kings 3:7-12)
Wisdom, related to the gift of discernment/distinguishing of spirits, means having a supernatural ability to know the right, godly course of action in given situations and communicate this effectively to others.
The Greek word for knowledge in our base verse is gnosis, meaning a knowing or knowledge. Compare this to the other words used for knowledge in the New Testament:Sunoida – to share the knowledge of
Oida – to have seen or perceived, hence to know
Epignosis – recognition, knowledge
Do you notice a pattern here? All the other words translated as knowledge involve in their very definitions learning the knowledge or arriving at it through observation – yet gnosis seems like you just…know.
This is affirmed in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
In this verse, knowledge is a very supernatural thing, lumped in with others supernatural elements.
I believe that the gift of knowledge can be manifested in two ways:
Firstly, we see that it means simply understanding deep spiritual issues that are confusing to a lot of people (1 Corinthians 13:2, 1 Corinthians 8:7, Colossians 2:2-3)
Secondly, based solely on personal experience, I’ve known believers who know things about people and situations that they simply had no way of knowing – and I believe it falls into this category, as well. (In Scriptural examples of this, it usually occurs simultaneously with prophecy … as I mentioned before, that’s one of the sort of catch-all gifts that we’ll discuss at a later time).
A Final Thought
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
Join the Discussion!
Do you or anyone you know have the gift of wisdom or knowledge? Can you think of more examples of these in Scripture?