In the third and early fourth century Arius (ca. 250 – ca. 336 A.D.), a presbyter in one of churches in Alexandria Egypt, affirmed that Christ Jesus existed before taking on flesh. He argued that though Logos existed before embodiment, He was not of the same essence as the Father because He, unlike the Father, had a beginning.
Arian formula, as described by Athanasius of Alexandria(ca. 296–373) in Four Discourses against the Arians, records that Arius taught that Logos is,
a creature but not as one of the creatures; but each creature is unlike all other creatures; and no creature can create. The Word then differs from all creatures in that in which they, though otherwise differing, all agree together, as creatures; viz. in being an efficient cause; in being the one medium or instrumental agent in creation; moreover in being the revealer of the Father; and in being the object of worship. (Athanasius 1892: 357)
According to Arius there was a time when God was alone. He was not yet a Father because the Son did not exist. All things, but God, came into existence. Logos of God also came into existence. He also begun to exist. He was created as “the beginning of the Lord’s works” (Prov. 8:22).
Following Arian’s tradition, Watchtower Society’s Translation Committee translated Proverbs 8:22 “Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way, the earliest of his achievements of long ago. (NWT) and reassert Arius’ argument viz. Logos “was created by God before all other things. (Colossians 1:15)”. Jehovah’s Witnesses are then taught that,
For countless billions of years, before even the physical universe was created, Jesus lived as a spirit person in heave and enjoyed intimate fellowship with his Father, Jehovah God, the Grand Creator. – Proverbs 8:22, 27-31 (Watchtower 1991: 11)
Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes unconvincingly response to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ understanding of Proverbs 8:22 by denying that “wisdom” is not Jesus but “ a personification of the virtue or character of wisdom for the purpose of emphasis and impact”(Geisler & Rhodes 1997: 72) Geisler and Rhodes noted that no New Testament author applied Proverbs 8:22 to Jesus, and that “wisdom is portrayed as a woman who cries out in the streets (1:20-21)” Michael Licona echoes Geisler and Rhodes counter argument and concluded, “Wisdom, therefore, is not referring to Jesus.”(Licona 1998: 32-33)
I believe Jehovah’s Witnesses could point to Revelation 3:14b, contra Geisler and Rhodes, to argued that in The Book of Revelations, John probably quoted Proverbs 8:22 when he wrote that Christ Jesus is “the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation”(Rev. 3:14b ESV) while Paul possibly had Proverbs 8:22 in mind, in 1 Corinthians 1:24, when he called Jesus the wisdom of God.
It is Possibly True That Logos is Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22
According to Second Temple Jews, wisdom was at the beginning of God’s creation (Proverbs 8:22-27) Living and teaching in Jerusalem, Yeshua Ben Sira explained that Wisdom, the beloved who was magnified, dwelt with God in heaven. God “εκτησαμην (‘I got possession’)”(Sirach 24:5-12 Charles 2004)
In Wisdom of Solomon, “wisdom is “the fashioner of all things” (Wis 7:22) and “an associate in all his [God’s] works” (Wis 8:4) who was present in the creation of the world (Wis 9:9).”(Hawthorne & Martin & Reid 1993: 744).
Early church fathers also applied Proverbs 8:22 to Christ Jesus. Pseudo-Ignatius of Antioch’s epistle to the Tarsians and the North African Carthaginian Tertullian(ca. 160 – ca 240 A.D) quoted and applied Proverbs 8:22-25 and 27-30 to Logos. Example Tertullian contended,
He[God] first put forth the Word Himself, having within Him His own inseparable Reason and Wisdom, in order that all things might be made through Him through whom they had been planned and disposed, yea, and already made, so far forth as (they were) in the mind and intelligence of God.(Tertullian 1885: 601)
Athanasius, who dedicated his entire ministerial life to refute Arianism, also believed that Logos is Wisdom of Proverbs 8:22. He “read “constituted me as the head of creation.”(Ross 1991: 946)
A Possibly Better Response To Proverbs 8:22
Allen P. Ross showed that “[t]he verb qānāh can mean either “possess” or “create.”” Possess makes much more sense “otherwise it[if we chose “created”] might sound as if God lacked wisdom and so created it before the world began.”(Ross 1991: 946)
If Jehovah’s Witnesses maintains that “created” is a more plausible reading of Proverbs 8:22, then I believe they undress Jehovah God wisdom prior to creation of wisdom . Using a similar style Athanasius’ argument, I would argues that:
- If God created wisdom, then there was a time God lacked wisdom.
- According to Jehovah’s Witnesses God created wisdom
- Therefore, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses there was a time God lacked wisdom(1&2)
- It is not the case that there was a time God lacked wisdom
- Therefore it is not the case that God created wisdom(1&4)
Premise (1) argues that if God created wisdom, then there was a time in which God did not have wisdom. Watchtower teaches its followers that God created wisdom (2), thus it follows from (1&2) that there was a time in which God did not have wisdom (3).
It is absurd to think of a time where God(referring to only the Father according to Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses) was without wisdom and that He was without wisdom when He created wisdom. Jehovah’s Witnesses, I hope, believe that Jehovah God has eternally possessed wisdom. It follows, if granted that Jesus is wisdom, Jehovah God had eternally possessed Logos. Thus Logos, if Wisdom of Proverbs 8:22, was not created but eternally existed with God.
Consequently, borrowing Athanasius wording to so conclude that, in Proverbs 8:22 also Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses “may be proved to have got no further than a fantasy”(ibid 358 ) in their attempt to show that Logos, preexisted Jesus, had a beginning.
Question To Jehovah’s Witnesses: If Wisdom was created, was there a time which God lacked wisdom?
Athanasius of Alexandria. (1892). Four Discourses against the Arians J. H. Newman & A. T. Robertson, Trans.). In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume IV: St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) New York: Christian Literature Company.
Charles, R. H. Ed.(2004) Apocrypha of the Old Testament (apparatuses) (Sir 24:5–12). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Geisler, N. L., & Rhodes, R. (1997). When cultists ask: A popular handbook on cultic misinterpretations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (1993). Dictionary of Paul and his letters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Licona, Michael (1998) Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock: What to say to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses when they knock on your door. TruthQuest Publishers. Alharetta
Ross, A. P. (1991). Proverbs. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Tertullian. (1885). Against Praxeas P. Holmes, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
Watchtower (1991) The Greatest Man Who Ever Leaved. Watch Tower Bible And Tract Society of Pennsylvania.
Photo credit: Athanasius: The man who stood against the world. Christina History Project
 Pseudo-Ignatius of Antioch. (1885). The Epistle of Ignatius to the Tarsians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (108). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.