Wisdom with Dr. Tremper Longman, Part One

This week on the podcast, Dr. Dan Allender is joined once again by his long-time best friend, Dr. Tremper Longman III, to kick off a three-part series unpacking the crucial, complex category of wisdom. Dan begins by asking Tremper, an Old Testament scholar, professor, and prolific author, to share how his early work in Bible commentaries and translations left him intrigued about what wisdom means and what it looks like to foster it in our lives.

Tremper: “The concept of wisdom permeates the Old Testament.”

When Dan puts him on the spot to offer a definition, Tremper outlines three major categories of wisdom: practical (skillful living), ethical (good living), and, most fundamentally, theological. To begin to explore the theology of wisdom, Tremper says, the conversation must begin with the fear of the Lord.

Tremper: “The central theme of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. […] Most fundamentally, to fear the Lord is to be a wise person.”

To begin exploring how “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” though, we first have to wonder about the meaning of that tricky little word, “fear.” Tremper shares how the word has a range of meaning that can go from respect to horror, neither of which feel quite right. This is not the kind of fear that makes us run from spiders or stay away from heights.

Dan: “It’s almost untranslatable. […] The fact is, at least in English, we don’t really have a singular word that tries to span the gap of so much complexity.”

Dan shares that the word “awe” feels appropriate to him, and Tremper emphasizes that it’s not the kind of awe that keeps us open-mouthed and silent. Instead, the fear of the Lord leads to action and obedience. “It’s the kind of fear where you don’t run away,” says Tremper.

Dan: “The idea of a fear that causes you to want to go toward is so paradoxical, it doesn’t fit any experience that I think most people have. […] In many ways, it’s fear of goodness. In the presence of something so very good, I’m personally exposed as not being as good as the other, while simultaneously drawn to the other because I know that in the presence of God I have the only life I’m ever going to find that’s that beautiful, compelling, true.”

Tremper: “The opposite of fearing the Lord is to be wise in your own eyes, as if you’re the center of the universe. The fear of the Lord is an emotion, a state of mind where one recognizes that there is a power greater than they are, someone that you should listen to and obey.”

Next week, Dan and Tremper will continue their conversation by sharing about their own experiences as they wonder, what does it look like to foster wisdom in our lives?