Does the Bible teach that Sophia is the goddess of wisdom?
Question: "Does the Bible teach that Sophia is the goddess of wisdom?"
Answer: The Bible does not teach that Sophia is the goddess of wisdom. In fact, no one by the name of Sophia is even mentioned in the Bible. While relying heavily on the book of Proverbs and verses that evangelicals point to as evidence for the Incarnation, adherents to the Sophia goddess movement are gaining numbers by the thousands as conferences are held, books are published, and, most profane of all, worship services for Sophia in the name of Jesus Christ are held each year across the United States and around the world.
Although goddess worship can be traced back as far as the earliest civilizations (the Romans gave Sophia the title “god of wisdom”), the most recent uprising occurred after the social reforms of the 1960s and ‘70s in America. The most notable event occurred when one pastor in the mid-1970s did a survey of his female church population and found that most women were dissatisfied with the portrayal of masculine symbols depicting the God of the Bible. His solution was the introduction of the Greek word Sophia, or “wisdom,” into corporate worship. This allowed for a feminine goddess named Sophia to be worshipped freely. This traces its origins to the time of the Gnostics in the late first and early second centuries. Recall that Gnosticism in itself sought to discover the "secret wisdom" of God and did not embrace that Jesus was the true God-man. The goddess’s characteristics were likened to that of the Trinity, noting perhaps that she is a fourth member left out by the early patriarchal church fathers. Various trends continued through the next two decades until it climaxed in 1993 when the Re-Imagining Conference was held in Minnesota. There, participants worshipped Sophia freely, advocated praying to trees in nature, cast off the need for the atoning work of Jesus Christ, declared God the Father was an "abusive parent" in sending Jesus to die for the sins of humanity, and issued an ultimatum for the continued progress of Sophia worship in congregational gatherings. Most recently, Sophia goddess worship has been embraced by laypeople and clergy alike.
Just as Arius looked to the personification of wisdom in literature to support his false stance on Christ, Sophists garner the majority of their theological thrust from the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs. The focus of the argument says that towards the end of the Old Testament, specifically in Proverbs, the feminine noun for “wisdom” (chokmah in Hebrew) was personified. By definition, personification is "the attribution of a personal nature or character to inanimate objects or abstract notions, such as rhetorical figure."
Clearly, no reader of Scripture can say personification does not occur. Rather, the astute reader will exegete, or draw out from the text, in accordance with good Bible study methods. For instance, meaning should always be determined by its context. In this case, Proverbs 8:22-31 is often quoted to support Sophia goddess worship. Wisdom declares her supremacy in the gifts she is able to bestow from the creation of the world. History tells us that many of the earliest cultures used the personification of deity so the divine being could praise itself.
In other words, wisdom here is praising itself by making claims that only belong to God. God is the source of all true wisdom (Romans 11:33; James 1:5, 1:17-18, 3:13-17), and, consequently, any reference to wisdom in Scripture that includes divine language should be attributed to His character and nature. The Jews believed in only one God (Deuteronomy 4:35-36, 6:4; Isaiah 42:8, 44:6-8, 45:5-6; Jeremiah 10:10-11). Therefore, to suggest that wisdom is a separate god or goddess alongside God Himself is to blaspheme the name of God, which was punishable by death in the Old Testament. The Jews would have dismissed the writings of Proverbs just as they did the extra books of the Septuagint that depict late historical instances.
The Sophia-goddess controversy leads to some simple conclusions. First, the Bible must be read for what type of literature it is. A proper understanding of feminine personification in relation to this passage and many others is necessary to stay within the framework of biblical doctrine. There is one God who eternally exists in three persons—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18; Eph. 4:4-7; 1 Peter 1:2). Such a position excludes any mention of a goddess or secondary deity. Finally, one must acknowledge that poetry can contain elements that are clearly not to be taken literally. For example, the Bible is full of poetic language that speaks in personified metaphors rather than pure scientific rhetoric. Cain really did kill Abel, but then God said that "…the voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground" (Genesis 4:10). Literally, the blood did not cry from the ground, but the rhetorical device used here communicates another form of personification found in Scripture to emphasize the killing. As Proverbs 8:22-31 describes, poetry and personification do not invalidate Scripture. Instead, these essentials are necessary to demonstrate words, phrases, feelings, and meanings that cannot be understood easily any other way or that continue from a previous argument. In the latter case, the Lord created the heavens by His wisdom found in Proverbs 3:19, and 8:22-31 exists to continue that figurative speech (personification).
Historic Christianity is at a crossroads like never before. The goddess-worship thrust of Sophia and other similar deities shows the ever-changing landscape of the spiritual climate of the world. What may be politically or socially acceptable in the form of worship, however, is diametrically opposed to the Bible. One must learn to recognize the subjective difference between literal truth and metaphors in the Bible through constant practice (2 Timothy 2:15). Both areas of speech are the infallible, inerrant, and inspired Word of God, but demand a patient and Spirit-led eye for interpretation. Otherwise, one will be left to replay the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
"But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath. ‘Tell them this: “These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens”’" (Jeremiah 10:10-11).
Recommended Resource: Knowing God by J.I. Packer
Why is wisdom referred to as a she in Proverbs?
What does the Bible say about feminism? Should a Christian be a feminist?
Why are both wisdom and foolishness pictured as women in Proverbs?
What should we learn from the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31?
Is the idea of mother nature biblical?
Miscellaneous Bible Questions
Does the Bible teach that Sophia is the goddess of wisdom?