Wisdom of Solomon, by connecting wisdom and salvation, presents a new theology in which the righteous are saved by wisdom, thus gaining eternal life (Perdue 300). Other books in the wisdom corpus, such as Proverbs, connect wisdom and salvation; however, the theology of wisdom and salvation of Proverbs is much different than that of Wisdom of Solomon. According to Proverbs, righteous individuals whose lives are in step with wisdom will experience salvation and reward in their present context, not in the afterlife. In fact, the theology of Proverbs does not include an afterlife, but rather Sheol, which is a state of nonexistence after death that is neither reward nor punishment. This represents the more conventional view of wisdom literature. However, Wisdom of Solomon puts forth a new theological understanding of wisdom and salvation.
First, Wisdom of Solomon presents wisdom not only as present in creation, but as an living, acting, salvific force in both creation and the history of Israel. In Wisdom of Solomon 10.15, wisdom is described as delivering God’s people from Egypt. Since the exodus served as the primary metaphor for salvation in Hebrew thought, this connection between wisdom and the exodus served as a concrete connection between wisdom and salvation for the Jewish people. In addition to connecting wisdom to present salvation, Wisdom of Solomon is the first wisdom book to connect wisdom to eternal salvation or immortality. In this new theology of salvation, “it is righteousness, embodied in the behavior of human beings, that becomes the means by which they may become immortal” (Perdue 300). Because wisdom— as the emanation of God— is immortal, those who embody wisdom and her way of righteousness also follow in her way of immortality.
Also important to note is the context in which Wisdom of Solomon was written. Written in first-century Alexandria, both the author and his audience were living in an increasingly anti-Jewish culture, struggling to live in the midst of persecution and eventually an attempted extermination (Perdue 273). In this context, Wisdom of Solomon’s theology of wisdom and salvation would have likely resonated with the author and his audience. The traditional theology of salvation, emphasizing God’s justice done in the present through a system of reward and punishment, would not have reflected the reality of the suffering righteous during this time period. On the other hand, Wisdom of Solomon’s theology of salvation, which promised eternal life after the persecution and struggles of this world, would have appealed to the situation of the Jewish people in Alexandria.
Overall, it fascinates me that this theology of salvation as eternal life was a new concept in the time of Wisdom of Solomon. It seems that today, salvation as the promise of immortality in the afterlife is the dominant theology of salvation! While my faith tradition does not emphasize salvation nearly as heavily as many Christian traditions, it is still assumed that faith in Christ comes with the promise of eternal life. Personally, my theology of salvation takes into consideration God’s saving power both in eternity and in the present. In my experience, too strong an emphasis on salvation in the afterlife can lead to complacency in the present. However, forgetting the promise of eternal life would be forgetting the sacrificial love of Christ. As a Christian, this is central to my faith, but I do believe there is a balance to be found between present and eternal salvation. For me, this balance is found by trusting in the promise of eternal life and living into the present, saving realities of God’s Kingdom by following the teachings of Christ.