Wisdom Literature in the Bible – Interview with Jeremy Painter – Part I

In this blog we interviewed Dr. Jeremy Painter about his book Handbook wisdom literature in the bible SEOon the Psalms and Wisdom Literature and to learn more about wisdom literature found in the Bible.

His books include: Handbook on the Psalms and Wisdom Literature; Handbook on the Epistles of Paul; Handbook on the General Epistles and Revelation; And It Was Good Small Group Kit 

Jeremy Painter (on writing): “I wanted to be able to do for others what [C. S.] Lewis had done for me.”

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? And can you tell us about your writing habits?

When I was 23 years old and read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, I found myself strangely moved by Lewis’s gift of expression. I was so struck that I felt compelled to analyze what made his writing so special. I ended up using sentence diagrams to track and label nearly every sentence in the book: e.g., what’s his default syntax structure? When does he begin with a subordinate clause? Does his subject or his verb typically govern the flow of information? What is the function and nature of a Lewis metaphor/simile? More than just about anything, I wanted to be able to do for others what Lewis

I’ve found it more helpful to work on a sentence (even sentences no one else will ever read).

had done for me. Since that time I’ve written extensively nearly every day, keeping a notebook, not merely to record thoughts but more importantly to sharpen my mode of expression. I’ve had more than one writing teacher recommend that I spend time just freewriting, just spilling my thoughts on the page in a stream of consciousness. But I’ve found this to be an unhealthy exercise. Instead, I’ve found it more helpful to work on a sentence (even sentences no one else will ever read) until I’ve met one of two goals: (1) The sentence is clear and economic and smooths the flow of information; (2)  the sentence takes the idea to a more penetrating level or in an unanticipated direction.

In the Preface of the book, you personify praise in such a beautiful way. You write about how Praise revealed Himself to you (and to your wife) throughout various seasons—in times of happiness, in times of grief. Touch on this. How might we apply this same concept in times of national and personal crisis?

Many have noted that the Bible was a book more than a millennium in the making. How many hands were involved in its composition? How many languages? Even the Hebrew in which the Old Testament was written evolved significantly. (How well does an English reader understand Anglo-Saxon—the English of 1,000 years ago?) How many social and political movements came and went? How many religious emphases rose and fell? In one generation, the temple is the people’s focus; in the next, the law and the memory of the tabernacle becomes the focus. Think of how radical the revolutions in American Christianity have been over the last century. If we were tasked with writing Scripture, how different would our focus today be from Christians of one hundred years ago?

By contrast, the Bible is remarkably consistent in its message, in spite of the fact that it was composed over the span of what essentially amounts to a geological era. Now, we account for that consistency in identifying the Holy Ghost as the true author of all Scripture. But let’s dwell on that for a moment.

The Spirit is at work in our world, but His work appears in many forms, sometimes even in the form of national trial.

What do we mean that the Spirit is the author? The biblical formula is more precise: Scripture itself teaches that Scripture is the product of the Spirit’s inspiration. There was a constant presence inspiring the holy writers through the years. Sometimes that inspiration came in the form of pain, sometimes praise, but there was only ever one source of inspiration: the Spirit. One inspiration, many manifestations, all working toward the glory of God. In my Preface, I wanted to identify this constant presence in my own life. The Spirit is at work in our world, but His work appears in many forms, sometimes even in the form of national trial. Life often feels fragmented, as if various powers were vying for the authorship of our lives. I was really attempting to suggest through allegory the hidden unity of the believer’s experience.

You write about embracing wisdom. Can you elaborate on what this might mean for us and what step we might take to begin the process?

Are you looking for a small-group resource? Check out “And It Was Good” by Jeremy Painter. The link is in the resource section.

In “embracing” wisdom, I meant to suggest something like accepting the pedagogy/tutelage (or paideia) of biblical wisdom. Most forms of human wisdom begin with enlightenment, revelation, and euphoria.  By contrast, biblical wisdom is rigorous and unflattering: it begins in fear and the minimalist knowledge that you are supremely and incurably ignorant. Lady Wisdom’s voice is shrill, especially at the outset (Proverbs 1:20–33). You might even call it insulting: after introducing herself, she refers to us as simpletons. (What a way to begin a relationship!)

To embrace Wisdom is to lay down one’s life--what one thought it was going to be. Click To Tweet

To embrace Wisdom is to lay down one’s life—what one thought it was going to be, even what one wanted it to be—and to take up another. It is to distrust oneself, every step of the way. Once we lay down these prerogatives, we have nothing left to cling to but Wisdom. It is to burn all other options, to sink every other life raft. You might almost say that if the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, the second step is the healthy fear of oneself—the fear of one’s own intuition and understanding. Our own understanding makes us vulnerable to the voice of flatterers. For this reason, the flatterer is very nearly the archnemesis in Proverbs. The ego is a condemned house, ready to fall at any moment and crush its inhabitant. The flatterers try to prop up our ego (for their own ends, of course); Lady Wisdom is trying to tear it down safely (and for this favor she is just as often shunned).

As far as steps go: Total humility is the starting point. Have a determination to go through life as a chronic student. Employ a willingness to esteem those around us as better than ourselves (Philippians 2). Lastly read, study, and apply wisdom scriptures every single day.

Part 2 of this interview will be posted Monday, August 24, 2020.

Bio: Jeremy Painter is a prolific writer and author. He lives in St. Charles, Missouri, with his wife and children. He attends the Winds of Pentecost. Vocationally, he is the Assistant Professor of Biblical and Practical Theology at UGST. His academic record includes a PhD in Theology from Radboud University (Nijmegen, Netherlands), a Doctor of Letters in English Literature from the University of Pretoria, and a Doctor of Ministry from Regent University.

Resources and Links

Handbook on the Psalms and Wisdom Literature (also available in Spanish)

Handbook on the Epistles of Paul (also available in Spanish)

Handbook on the General Epistles and Revelation (also available in Spanish)

And It Was Good Small Group Kit 


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