In the Footsteps of the Sages: Interpreting Wisdom for Preaching -- By: Kent Sparks

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 13:1 (Fall 1995)
Article: In the Footsteps of the Sages: Interpreting Wisdom for Preaching
Author: Kent Sparks

In the Footsteps of the Sages: Interpreting Wisdom for Preaching

Kent Sparks

Scholar in Residence
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC 27612


Here we must concern ourselves with both hermeneutics and homiletics, i.e., the interpretation of the biblical text and the process by which it is communicated to the body of Christ in our preaching. The term “homiletics” has been used as a quite inclusive enterprise that subsumes everything from the problem of “application” to the question of “illustration,” to the mechanics of the sermon outline itself, and these three represent only a part of the many varied elements involved in the preaching event. Despite this wide spectrum of homiletical possibility, in this article I will limit my attention to those aspects of the homiletical process which I view as the most neglected. How all of this relates to the specific issue of wisdom literature will become clear in a moment.

The Form-critical Context of Wisdom Literature

There is perhaps no genre of Old Testament literature which is more vaguely defined than that nebulous corpus of material known as “wisdom literature.” While all agree that Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and a number of Psalms1 stand within this wisdom tradition, scholars are often hard pressed to explain in a precise way the reasons for this consensus. Furthermore, it is here that the consensus breaks down, since scholars have continually debated the wisdom status of Ruth, Song of Songs, and Esther, and very few of the Old Testament’s remaining works have remained outside of the debate’s purview.2 By way of definition, it is very common to associate wisdom with certain theological problems (such as theodicy or the problem of evil) or to speak of wisdom in terms of certain literary forms (such as proverbs, and riddles). However, I believe that wisdom literature is best understood as the product of a particular Sitz im Leben that is reflected in Jer. 18:18: “The law (תזרה) shall not perish from the priest (כהז), nor counsel (עצה) from the wise (חכס), nor the word (דבר) from the prophet (נביא).”

This text portrays the religious class of Israel in three ranks, each with a particular function, social setting and corpus of tradition.3 The You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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