Jesus and Nicodemus might as well be speaking different languages. Jesus speaks of birth from above; Nicodemus is befuddled. Jesus speaks of the spirit as wind blowing where it will; Nicodemus wonders how this can be. They are like a creationist and a paleontologist comparing notes on fossils--they simply can't fathom each other. Their organizing assumptions are too different. Here's when we sense that Nicodemus begins to understand what Jesus is saying: when Jesus reinterprets the story of Israel in the wilderness, drawing from the language that has oriented Nicodemus's life and thought. It doesn't seem likely, after all, that the series of puzzling metaphors Jesus begins with would push Nicodemus to understanding. But something clearly does.
Paul has a way with a sneer. Nineteen times in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul mentions wisdom, and each time we hear a growing sneer in his voice, until he nominates Christ as the wisdom of God. The word "wisdom" is distasteful to him because it is wooing the Corinthians to pursue a dead wisdom when they might turn to a wisdom he calls the "source of life"--and come alive. When Paul writes that Christ is the wisdom of God, he's tapping into an ancient way of speaking about God. He's drilling down into proverbs, where wisdom plays the part of the creative spirit of God. Wisdom is begotten of God, the firstborn of all creation, the very spirit alive in Creation, a feminine expression of God. This isn't just some hocus pocus stuff from the Old Testament, either. The New Testament writers are so influenced by this thinking that they pay homage to Lady Wisdom everywhere.
From theological reflections to breaking religion news to the latest books, the Christian Century's newsletters have you covered.