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Now you may be wondering about the title, or thinking “who the heck is Sophia??” — well, bear with me, and all will be revealed. It’s not as sinister or weird as it may first appear.

I saw a post on my Instagram feed the other day that just got me a little riled up. I’ll admit it, I can be a little short-tempered at times, especially around the subject of Jesus and seeing him/the Christian faith misrepresented to such a degree that it could mislead others down the wrong path. I don’t normally write responses to things like this, but I felt this one deserved it, mainly just to add some clarity to a somewhat confusing topic, and so there’s a place I (or you, if you fancy sharing my posts!) can point people to if this type of ideology is going to spread.

Here’s the Instagram post in question, but it’s the caption below it that got to me. I’ll quote the caption below, too, in case the embedded post doesn't work (here’s a direct link too).

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A post shared by Adam Ericksen (@adamericksen)

 

Jesus had two moms.

Their names are

Mary and Sophia.

You’ve heard about Mary, but do you know about Sophia?

Sophia is the Greek word for God’s Wisdom.

And God’s Wisdom is a Woman. Her name is Sophia.

Sophia was there at the beginning of creation. She birthed the world into existence.

Deuteronomy 32 says that God gave birth to the people. That was Sophia.

Christians began to associate Sophia with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is Sophia. She is the divine feminine who is the Third Person of the Trinity.

Sophia is our divine Mother.

God is She who loves you.

❤️❤️❤️ — via @adamericksen

A lot of the comments under that post seemed to find it quite affirming in some ways, others were confused as they’d never heard this before (and rightly so) but were keen to look into it. There were also a lot of references to a single author, and book, called, She Who Is, by Elizabeth A. Johnson, where this idea seemed to have originated in some form. In fact, the majority of the comments were wanting to explore this idea in more depth. So, I think maybe there’s something to be said there for the lack of female representation in the Church if it garnered this type of response, but I also thought if people are this taken by the idea, I wanted to write something to offer some Biblical and historical views on this “Sophia”, as she isn’t a new concept at all. The caption under the Instagram post sounds nice, but it’s ever so slightly off-kilter that it misrepresents everything.

Let’s look at the claims line by line:

Jesus had two moms.
Their names are
Mary and Sophia.
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Well, not much to say here yet, but… nope.

You’ve heard about Mary, but do you know about Sophia?

Well, yes, I do. Maybe you, dear reader, know as well. But I began to question whether the author of the caption did.

Sophia is the Greek word for God’s Wisdom.

OK, finally. Getting to some facts and less conjecture. Although I would clarify that “sophia” (σοφία) is simply the Greek word for “wisdom”, not specifically “God’s wisdom” (or a name), per se. It’s a minor point though, I’m just nit-picking now.

Sophia was there at the beginning of creation. She birthed the world into existence.

Right, so here’s where it gets a little “squiffy”. It’s true that Wisdom, or “Sophia”, was there at the very beginning before anything was created, and that she stood beside God during creation. We can see all of this in the book of Proverbs, and it’s all very interesting. I’m sure you’ll notice parallels with John 1. But was this Sophia a separate entity from who we normally think of as being there in the beginning? Who created everything — the Word or the Holy Spirit?

Proverbs 8:22–31
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth — 
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
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If you have the books in your canon, there are similar things spoken of Wisdom in Sirach 24:1–22 and in Wisdom 7:21–27. They say things like “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High” (like a Word, maybe? See Psalm 33:6!), and, “…wisdom, the fashioner of all things…”. Do you see the picture coming together yet? You can read the other two references on Biblegateway.com to get a better grasp of the texts.

Deuteronomy 32 says that God gave birth to the people. That was Sophia.

This is a reference to Deut 32:18, which says, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”. Personally, it seems a bit of a stretch to say so confidently this was “Sophia” when there’s no reference to Wisdom at all in the passage. The surrounding context appears to be speaking more about God in general, or YHWH specifically. But with a proper understanding of who Sophia truly is, this could be an accurate statement, just not within the context of the rest of the Instagram post.

Christians began to associate Sophia with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is Sophia. She is the divine feminine who is the Third Person of the Trinity.

Here the ‘Insta-theology’ comes to a head, and triumphantly announces Sophia’s true identity, the Holy Spirit! But is this accurate, though? Are Sophia and the Holy Spirit one and the same? Did Christians associate the two? Well… yes. Sort of. But only two in antiquity that I could find, and, interestingly, they both wrote around the same time period of AD 180: Theophilus and Irenaeus. Maybe more modern Christians relate Sophia with the Holy Spirit, but that would be a drastic break from the historical understanding, and would make for a complicated Christology when examining the “Wisdom” Scriptures closer.

Other than those two previously mentioned, the interpretation and understanding was pretty unanimous for the first few centuries: “Sophia” is Jesus.

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I’ll give a few examples from the Early Church Fathers below, ranging in date between AD 150 to around 250-ish, so you can see how this conclusion was drawn, though you can read many more quotes from them here.

I shall give you another testimony, my friends,” said I, “from the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos … 
– Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 61
But if, in your surpassing intelligence, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by the Son, I will state briefly that He is the first product of the Father, not as having been brought into existence [i.e. not ex níhilo, out of nothing] for from the beginning, God, who is the eternal mind [νοῦς], had the Logos in Himself, being from eternity instinct with Logos [λογικός] … The prophetic Spirit also agrees with our statements. “The Lord,” it says, “made me, the beginning of His ways to His works.” [Prov 8:22]
– Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians, 10.3
For “the Lord who created the earth by His power,” as Jeremiah says, “has raised up the world by His wisdom;” [Jeremiah 10:12] for wisdom, which is His word, raises us up to the truth, who have fallen prostrate before idols, and is itself the first resurrection from our fall.
– Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, ch. 8
For He is termed Wisdom, according to the expression of Solomon … He is also styled First-born, as the apostle has declared: “ who is the first-born of every creature.” The first-born, however, is not by nature a different person from the Wisdom, but one and the same.
– Origen, De Principiis, 1.2.1
And Solomon, David’s son and successor, presenting the same thought by a different name, instead of the ‘Word’ called Him Wisdom, making the following statement as in her person…
– Eusebius of Caesarea, Preparation of the Gospel — Part 2
But if this same Wisdom is the Word of God, in the capacity of Wisdom, and (as being He) without whom nothing was made, just as also (nothing) was set in order without Wisdom, how can it be that anything, except the Father, should be older, and on this account indeed nobler, than the Son of God, the only-begotten and first-begotten Word?
– Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, ch. 18
That Christ is the First-born, and that He is the Wisdom of God, by whom all things were made.
– Cyprian, The Treatises of Cyprian

But we don’t even have to look that far in history to see this link, as Paul says it explicitly in 1 Corinthians 1:24: “…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”.

This “Sophia”/Wisdom, as seen in the Old Testament Scriptures, was well established in Jewish thought by the time of Christ, so obviously the earliest followers of Jesus made the connection, which also followed through into the Early Church exegesis and teaching about Christ as the Wisdom of God, as we have just seen.

John’s Gospel is the one that most closely makes the link between the contemporary thought of Wisdom and the Word of God in the opening words of his Gospel:

John 1:1–3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
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Cast your mind back to Proverbs 8 and you’ll see the similarities and what John was subtly alluding to here. The subtext of these few sentences was saying a whole lot to the Jewish believers of his day. In Sophia and the Johannine Jesus, James Scott says, “The Logos of the Prologue, found to be influenced at almost every turn by Sophia speculation, proves to be a useful cover employed by the Fourth Evangelist to effect the switch of gender from Sophia to Jesus … John has intentionally presented us with Jesus as Jesus Sophia Incarnate.”.

I hope you can see now that this isn’t a novel idea, nor a modern feminist conception (though it has undoubtedly been picked up by feminists in more recent times). The idea that Jesus, the Word of God, is Sophia the Wisdom of God, is ancient. The connections are throughout the New Testament if we are looking carefully.

Jesus speaks of Wisdom in relation to the Son of Man in Matthew 11:19; Paul, again, combines the “wisdom of God” and Jesus together as one and the same in 1 Corinthians 1:30. 1 Corinthians is filled with veiled references, which take on new meaning when viewed through this new “Sophia” lens. Such as, contrasting faith and human wisdom with the “power of God”, which as we saw earlier in the same letter, is also Christ: “so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 2:5). We know our faith rests in Jesus, and that Jesus is the Wisdom of God, so the subtle contrast here with “human wisdom” is quite clever by Paul.

Ephesians 1:17 and 3:10 also speak of the “spirit of wisdom” and the “wisdom of God” in relation to how we know God, and in terms of facing off against the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”, another thing we know from Scripture that Jesus did through the cross (Colossians 2:15). I won’t list everything out, but I would recommend having a search for yourselves.

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Maybe now whenever you read of “wisdom” in the Bible, you’ll picture it differently if you have Jesus in mind from now on, and peel back another layer of the Scriptures, finding a deeper level than before. “The Bible is shallow enough for a child not to drown, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim.”, as Augustine apparently said.

There’s plenty more that could be said on this topic, but I’ll end here as this has become a lot longer than I anticipated! Let’s finish as we began, examining the final part of the claims from the pastor in the Instagram post:

Sophia is our divine Mother.

God is She who loves you.

For the final two lines of the caption, I’m going to quote from Matthew J. Ramage’s book, Dark Passages of the Bible: Engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI & Thomas Aquinas, as he deals with, and concludes, what I find to be the best way to respond to whether we should address God as “mother” or “she”, or anything primarily feminine:

In the Old Testament, see Dt 32:18 ( “the God who gave you birth”); Ps 22:10 (which appears to compare God to a midwife); Ps 131:2 (“like a child quieted at its mother’s breast”); Is 42:14 (where God cries out as a woman in labor); 46:3; 49:15 (“Can a mother forget her infant?”); 66:13 (“As a mother comforts her son . . .”); Nm 11:10–12; Hos 13:8 (“like a bear robbed of her cubs”); Gn 1:2 (where the Spirit hovers over creation as over a brood); Ps 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 91:1,4; Is 31:5 (shelter in the shadow of God’s wings); Jb 38:29 (which contains the image of a divine “womb”). For the New Testament, see Mt 23:37; Lk 13:34 (Jesus sighs, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a ‘hen’”); Acts 17:28 (states that “in him we live, move, have our being”); 1 Cor 3:1–3; 1 Pt 2:2 (calls us “babes in Christ” and speaks of “spiritual milk”); Jn 1:13 (speaks of Christians being “born of God”; 3:5 (“born of water and the Spirit”). Moreover, on three occasions in his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, 139, 197, 207, Pope Benedict observes that the New Testament’s depiction of Jesus’s “compassion” (cf. Lk 7:13, for example) is intimately bound up with the feminine imagery, particularly the Hebrew notion of a mother’s womb (rahamim).

Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, 139–40. After treating the issue of whether or not the Old Testament presents us with a God who is not only our Father but also our “mother,” the pope concludes that “we cannot provide any absolutely compelling arguments” for not praying to God as mother; however, he observes that “while there are fine images of maternal love, ‘mother’ is not used as a form of address for God.” The sobriety of Benedict’s conclusion is a testimony to his great humility as an exegete and pastor: he teaches the fullness of Christian truth while willingly acknowledging the presence of myriad difficulties and challenges to it.

– Matthew J. Ramage, Dark Passages of the Bible: Engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI & Thomas Aquinas; (The Catholic University of America Press 2013), p. 30 [Footnotes 14 and 15]

I hope you found this enlightening and as insightful as I have in researching the topic! Leave your thoughts in the comments, and don’t forget to share the article if you enjoyed it.


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