St. Paul and Wisdom of Solomon


3.4) St. Paul and the Wisdom of Solomon:

      On Adam, Eve, the Serpent, and the arrival of Death


It remains for us to see how Paul regarded the story of Adam and Eve, to which he alludes only three times.

To review what we have seen in pre-Pauline writings:

1)  Apart from the account in Genesis 2-5, there is no reference at all to Adam and Eve in any of the books that became part of the Hebrew Scriptures.

2)  The story is treated briefly in the highly regarded Book of Enoch and Book of Jubilees, but not much importance is attached to it.

3)  It does not show up in any of the newly discovered works of the Qumran library (the Dead Sea Scrolls).

We must therefore be cautious about considering it to be a popular episode of Scripture, or thinking it to be highly significant to the authors of the New Testament books, without proof.

The first of St. Paul’s three mentions of the story of the first parents is in 1 Corinthians, when he says that, “As all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor. 15.22).  But since this is a preview of his treatment of Adam in Romans (his third allusion to the story), let’s put off analyzing this verse until later.

His second mention of the story comes in 2 Corinthians, in the 11th chapter, when he tells the Christians of Corinth that he feels a Divine jealousy for them, because, after promising them in marriage to one husband, presenting them as a chaste virgin to Christ, he fears that they are being led astray, just as Eve was led astray.  His words are:

I am afraid that, as the Serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  (2 Cor. 11.3)

This statement comes at the beginning of his warning against the false missionaries whom he will characterize as Super-Apostles and compare to Satan disguising himself as an Angel of Light.



So, here’s the picture.  Paul first compares the Super-Apostles to the Serpent that deceived Eve, and then, a couple of sentences later, compares them to Satan.  Why on earth should we believe that Paul thinks that Satan is in the habit not only of disguising himself as an Angel of Light, but also, occasionally, of disguising himself as a serpent, and that he did so in the garden of Eden to deceive Eve?

To put it another way:  Paul first mentions the Serpent who deceived Eve, and then he mentions Satan who deceives by posing as an Angel of Light.  Why should Paul’s readers think that Satan also posed as the Serpent?  Or, if Paul wanted them to think this, why wouldn’t he say so?

Well, one reason might be that this identification was already in the air, that people were already either identifying the Serpent with Satan or thinking that Satan had “possessed” the Serpent or persuaded that animal, characterized as the “cleverest beast of the field,” to participate in the big test that he was planning for humankind.  It is absolutely certain that such an interpretation would soon be suggested and would eventually take hold and become the universal explanation.  But where is the evidence that it was already common?  So common that Paul could intend it without saying so?  What evidence is there that anyone had already linked Satan to the Serpent?

There is in fact one piece of evidence that is commonly cited.  It is the passage from the Book of Wisdom that we alluded to above (chap. 1.4), about Death entering the World “through the envy of a devil” (Wis. 2.24).

The Book of Wisdom is celebrated as “the last book of the Old Testament.” According to some scholars, it was written as late as AD 50:  in other words, at the same time Paul wrote his earliest extant letter, the First Epistle to the Thessalonians!  But even if the Book of Wisdom were written fifty or a hundred years earlier (most authorities put it around 50 BC), it would still be the last book of the Old Testament.  Actually, make that the last book of the Catholic and Orthodox Old Testament, since Protestants, ever since Martin Luther,



consider it (like the Book of Sirach, discussed above) to be part of the Apocrypha:  a good book, but not the inspired word of God.  However, it was accepted by Christians as Holy Scripture very early on.

It was written in Greek by a Hellenistic Jew, perhaps in Alexandria.  It is a pseudepigraph, for the author speaks in the voice of Solomon.  It was taken to be by Solomon, and its title in Greek is,  “Wisdom of Solomon.”  The writer personifies Lady Wisdom as “a philanthropic spirit,” that is, a spirit who loves humankind (Wis. 1.6); She is closely related to or identified with “the Spirit of the Lord” (1.7).

Another feminine personification is “Justice the Accuser,” or “Justice the Punisher,” or “Justice the Corrector” (Elenchousa he Dike).  She deals with the unrighteous after they have been investigated and their words reported to the Lord, for “a zealous Ear hears all things” (Wis. 1.8-10).  In other words, Justice fulfills the function of Devil in the Book of Job, who, as we noted, seems to have been based on the Persian “Eye” or “Ear ” of the King.

In Greek tradition, Justice is a daughter of Zeus who reports human wickedness to him, according to Hesiod; according to Plato and the tragic playwrights, she is the avenger.  But later on in Wisdom the same verb that characterizes Justice is used of God Himself, and it clearly has the mildest of the three senses suggested above for Justice (accusing, punishing, correcting):  “O Lord, you correct (elencheis) little by little those who trespass” (Wis. 12.2).

Back in chapter 1, we are next introduced to two masculine personifications, namely, Death and his side-kick Hades.  We are exhorted not to “court” Death by bad living.  God did not create Death, for He wished all His creatures to live:  they have health in them and no poison, and Hades has no power over the earth (Wis. 1.12-14).  But the ungodly summon Death as their friend and make a pact with him, agreeing to belong to him (Wis. 1.16).  There is an unspoken dualism here:  godless people choose to be with Death, unlike the faithful of Israel, who belong to God.

In the next chapter, the author gives a long choral monologue spoken by the wicked.  They say, in effect, “Let’s enjoy ourselves, for



life is short and ends when we die, and let’s ambush the so-called righteous man who criticizes us and calls God his Father.  Let’s test him with insult and torture and death, to see if God will help him” (Wis. 2.1-20).  The author says that their evil (kakia) misleads them and makes them blind.  They do not know that God rewards the good (2.21-22).  He completes his lesson thus:

God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of His own nature.  However, through envy of an adversary, Death entered the World, and those who belong to him make trial of him.  (Wis. 2.23-24)

The last clause could also mean:  “and those who are like that envious adversary make trial of the just man” or “inflict Death as a test” or “test the World (with Death).”

The cause of Death’s entry into the World is here stated to be phthonos diabolou, “envy of a devil,” which is invariably translated nowadays as “envy of the devil” (or, as I would say, “envy of Devil”), as if the text had a definite article, phthonos tou diabolou.  This is in fact a possibly correct translation, since a proper name might be “anarthrous” (without article) in the genitive case.  A case in point is the thorn in the flesh given to St. Paul:  it is an angelos Satana, not angelos tou Satana (2 Cor. 12.7).

The author of Wisdom would be familiar with both common and proper uses of diabolos, since, as we have seen, the Septuagint rendered the common noun ha-satan in Job and Zechariah as a proper noun, ho Diabolos, but applied the common noun to various human adversaries, and interpreted the potentially proper satan of Chronicles as a common noun.

If we were to take the diabolos of Wisdom 2.24 to be a proper name, referring to the “Son of God” (namely, Devil) who tested Job and who prosecuted Jesus the High Priest in Zechariah, it would be the first time that Devil is associated with the creation of Humankind.  But for such an unprecedented interpretation of Genesis, it is stated much too casually.  Moreover, ho Diabolos does not appear elsewhere in



the Book of Wisdom as an “Adversary-with-a-capital-A,” whether as tempter, accuser, or punisher.  Nor is Devil characterized anywhere—in Job, Zechariah, or elsewhere–as being motivated by envy.  In the Book of Wisdom itself, we have seen that Justice is singled out as accuser and avenger, and Death is characterized as a punisher.

As for testing, that is a function performed by the godless humans who set up peirasmoi for the just man, as we have just heard (see especially Wisdom 2.17-19), and they continue their testing in the alternative interpretations of 2.24b mentioned above:  they inflict a peirasmos on the just man, or inflict Death as a peirasmos.  If we follow the first-suggested translation, it would mean that the encounter of the godless with their partisan Death is designated as a peirasmos, a bad experience.

But it turns out in the verses immediately following, in chapter 3, that God Himself is in charge of handling the peirasmoi of the good:  “God tested them and found them worthy of Himself, and He tried them like gold in the furnace” (3.5-6).  Later on in the Book of Wisdom it is the mighty Word (Logos) of God who, with sword in hand, inflicts the peirasmos of Death even upon the just, the Israelites in the desert, until one man (Aaron) by his own logos satisfied God’s Logos, now designated as Avenger and Destroyer.  The reason He was satisfied is that the peirasmos of God’s wrath was sufficient (Wis. 18.15-25).

Therefore, since it seems that we must reject the interpretation of the adversary of Wisdom 2.24 as Devil, and take the term diabolos as a common noun, we must ask, just who is this maliciously envious or jealous enemy who introduced Death into the World shortly after Creation?

Let us consider the available suspects in the Genesis account.  The first possibility is God Himself.  He is clearly ultimately responsible for imposing death upon humankind.  He sets up the test in the first place:  the prohibition against eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, upon penalty of death.  And He carries through with His threat when Adam and Eve fail the test.  But though He is



concerned that they might somehow circumvent the penalty by making their way back into the Garden to the Tree of Life, we can hardly say that He is jealous.  Of course, the Serpent implies that God is jealous.  He tells Eve that eating the forbidden fruit would make her and Adam “be like God,” and that that is the reason that God does not want them to eat it.  “You will not die the death,” he tells her.  “For God knows that in the day that you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like Gods and know good and bad” (LXX Gen. 3.5-6).

Speaking of the Serpent, he is our next suspect.  I am making him a “he,” because the word for serpent is masculine in both Hebrew and Greek.  (By the way, the assumption of scholars is that the author of the Book of Wisdom did not know how to read Hebrew, but would rely entirely on the Septuagint translation.)  The Serpent of Genesis is not said to be malicious, but he clearly is, given the fact that he calls God a liar:  he tells Eve that it is not true what God told them, that they would die if they ate the forbidden fruit.  God’s punishment of the Serpent confirms the serpent’s malice.   But is his malice of the envious sort?

Not obviously, but this was the conclusion reached by the Jewish historian Josephus, who was writing around the same time as St. Paul.  He says:

But while all the living creatures had one language, at that time the Serpent, who then lived together with Adam and his wife, showed an envious disposition at the thought that they would live happily and in obedience to the commands of God.  And, imagining that when they disobeyed these commands they would fall into calamities, he persuaded the woman, out of a malicious intention, to taste of the Tree of Knowledge.2

Note that Josephus in no way considers the Serpent to be anything other than one of the created animals, who, like the other animals,



had the power of speech.  We can definitely say that, if Josephus read the Wisdom of Solomon, he would have designated the Serpent as the prime suspect for the envious diabolos who introduced Death into the World.

But Eve should not be overlooked as another possibility.  Perhaps she could be construed as being envious of God’s condition and aspiring to be like Him.  Jesus ben Sira, at least, blamed the fact that the human race was subject to death entirely on her.  He says,  “From a woman Sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die” (Sirach 25.24).  Ben Sira knows about Satan, for a few chapters earlier he says:  “When the godless man curses Satan (ho Satanas), he is cursing himself” (Sirach 21.27).  This probably means that he identifies Satan with a person’s own bad impulses, and when one blames an external tempter or adversary, one is really condemning oneself.  But whatever it means, it is significant that ben Sira does not blame Sin and Death upon Satan but upon Eve.

Sirach was translated into Greek about a century before Wisdom was written, and the author of Wisdom could well have had this passage in mind when he wrote of the envious diabolos.  The word diabolos could be feminine in spite of its masculine form, just as angelos was used for both a male and a female messenger (“angel”), theos for both god and goddess, and diakonos for both deacon and deaconess.  We will see that in one of the Deutero-Pauline Pastoral Epistles, gossipy women are called devils, diaboloi, specifically, “slanderers” (1 Timothy 3.11).

The final suspect is Adam, and, as we have seen, he is the one whom St. Paul associated with universal death in 1 Corinthians:  we all die, or “are dying,” in Adam (1 Cor. 15.22).  Paul expands upon this idea in his third and final allusion to the story of the fall of man.  He is writing to the Romans:

Just as Sin came into the World through one human being, and Death came through Sin, and so Death spread to all because all have sinned—Sin was indeed in the World before the Law, but



Sin is not reckoned when there is no Law–yet Death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the One who is to come.  (Romans 5.12-14)

It is interesting that Paul here presents Adam as acting alone, and interacting with two personifications:  the feminine Sin (he Hamartia) and the masculine Death (ho Thanatos).  Adam gave admittance to Sin, and Sin in turn ushered in Death.

Many scholars think it likely that Paul was familiar with the Book of Wisdom and was influenced by its literary style.  Wisdom talks about the same kind of false worship that Paul denounced in Galatians:  “They supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of Heaven were the Gods that rule the World” (Wis. 13.2).  The author also speaks of the Israelites in the desert being afflicted by serpents (Wis. 16.5-12) and put to death by the Destroyer (18.20).

In the last passage (Wis. 18.20), Wisdom uses the same rare word for Destroyer as Paul does in 1 Corinthians.  But Paul says there that the people were punished for testing God and complaining (1 Cor. 10.9-10), whereas the Wisdom author, as we indicated above, saw it as God’s testing of the just.  The serpentine infestation was a reminder of the Law, and it was soon healed by God’s Word; and, though God’s Word later acted as the Destroyer, it was still just a test.

If Paul did know the Book of Wisdom, could he have had Wisdom 2.24 in mind when he spoke of the entry of Death into the World?  If he did, would the envious adversary be Adam himself–envious of God, or dissatisfied with his state?  Or would it be Sin, in the form of envy and rebellion?  Paul refers to Satan only as ho Satanas, never as ho Diabolos, so he would likely have no qualms about applying the common noun diabolos to a personification.

We are fortunate to have in our possession an early document that interprets this very passage of Wisdom, written by a man who may



well have been among the original Romans evangelized by St. Paul—namely, St. Clement, the head of the church in Rome.  At the very least, he would have been familiar with writings of Paul, including 2 Corinthians and Romans.  He wrote his own letter to the Corinthians in the name of the Roman church around AD 96.3

Who then does Clement say was the envious devil who first introduced sin Sorld?  The Serpent?  Eve?  Adam?  Satan?

Answer:  None of the above.

What Clement did was something that few modern readers have done, namely, to keep on reading, both in Wisdom and in Genesis, until he came upon a character who was characterized both as an envious adversary and as responsible for the first death.  That person is none other than Cain, who killed his brother Abel in a fit of resentment.

Clement rebukes the Corinthians for their emulation and envy, which has caused Justice and Peace to depart from them.  He continues:

Everyone walks after his own wicked lusts, resuming the practice of an unrighteous and ungodly envy, “by which Death himself entered into the World” [Wis. 2.24]; for thus it is written: “And it came to pass after certain days, that Cain brought of the fruits of the earth a sacrifice unto God; and Abel also brought of the firstlings of his sheep, and of the fat thereof.  And God had respect to Abel and to his offerings, but Cain and his sacrifices He did not regard. And Cain was deeply grieved, and his countenance fell.  And God said to Cain, ‘Why art thou grieved, and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou offerest rightly, but dost not divide rightly, hast thou not sinned? Be at peace: thine offering returns to thyself, and thou shalt again possess it.’ And Cain said to Abel his brother, ‘Let us go into the field.’ And it came to pass, while they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and



slew him”[ cf. Gen. 4.3-8].  You see, brethren, how envy and jealousy led to the murder of a brother.

(Clement,  [First] Epistle to the Corinthians 3-4)

It is in fact likely that Clement interpreted Wisdom correctly in identifying the diabolos of 2.24 as Cain and not as Adam or anyone connected with the sin of Adam.  For in his subsequent history of the World the Wisdom author does not take the sin of Adam very seriously.  Let’s listen:

[Concerning Adam:]  It was Wisdom who guarded the first-formed father of the World, created alone, and She delivered him from his transgression, and gave him the power to rule over all things.  (Wis. 10.1-2)

[Concerning Cain:]  But when a wicked man departed from Wisdom in his anger, he perished in his fratricidal anger.  Then, when the earth was flooded because of him, Wisdom once again saved it.  (Wis. 10.3-4)

It is quite clear that Adam is not blamed here for introducing Death, nor is any one connected with him (the Serpent or Eve) considered to be connected with Death, because Adam makes a recovery.  And even though Abel is killed, it is Cain who perishes, that is, suffers spiritual death.

Cain is also blamed for the Flood.  It is obvious that the Wisdom author does not believe in the fall of the Watchers and has perhaps never heard of them (not knowing the Hebrew or Aramaic Inter-Testamental writings).  It may be that he is following the interpretation that sees the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 as the descendants of Seth and the “daughters of men” as the wicked race of Cain.  This view of Genesis 6 vied with the Watcher explanation in later centuries.


To sum up, Clement of Rome, writing in the generation after Paul’s targeting of Adam as the introducer of death, glosses over the sin of Adam.  We will see that the Gospels in reporting the life and words of Jesus do not mention Adam’s fall at all.



Therefore, not only has Satan not yet been connected with the sin of Adam, but the sin of Adam will achieve prominence in none of the books of the New Testament except Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, with slighter allusions in 1 and 2 Corinthians.  It will be mentioned once more, as we will see, in the Deutero-Pauline First Epistle to Timothy, but in an almost trivial way, to justify a subordinate role for women.


3.4    2Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1.1.4.  See the LCL edition, with English translation, 9 vols. (1998).

                3For St. Clement of Rome’s Epistle, see the English translations in ANF vol. 1 and the LCL edition, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1 (2003).