Wisdom vs. Intelligence

Q. What is the difference between wisdom and intelligence?

A. To have wisdom is to understand from God’s perspective, with eternity in view. To be intelligent is to be smart in solving problems, but primarily from a human angle. Wisdom has to do with the heart, following God’s ways and is a moral quality. Intelligence has to do with the mind, which may or may not follow God. It is an intellectual quality and may be moral or immoral.

One way to distinguish between the two is to know where wisdom comes from:

  • Job 28:28 “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.’”
  • Ps 111:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.
  • Prov 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
  • Prov 4:7 “The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding.
  • Prov 9:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
  • Prov 15:33 The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.

The Bible stresses consistently that wisdom comes from “fearing” the Lord –

honoring and respecting Him. Notice also that those who despise wisdom are labeled as “fools”. And who are fools in the Bible?

  • Ps 14:1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. Also Ps 53:1.

Fools are those who refuse to acknowledge God, and as a result, become corrupt. They are not necessarily stupid, but immoral.

A second way to know the difference is from passages that contrast the two qualities. I will cite two examples. The first is the parable of the rich fool:

  • Lk 12:16-20 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. 17 And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you, and now who will own what you have prepared?’

From a human economic perspective, to build bigger barns to store the surplus grains is a reasonable, smart choice, assuming the rich man did not want a “fire sale” to dispose of the abundant harvest at a low price. However, he did not factor God in his considerations and is a fool. The second is the parable of the unrighteous steward (Lk 16:1-9):

  • Lk 16:8 And the lord commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. (KJV)

The words “wisely” and “wiser” in KJV translate the Greek adverb phronimōs and the adjective phronimos. This is technically correct from a lexicon point of view but could lead to a misinterpretation. Contemporary versions have chosen to translate this verse as follows:

  • ESV: The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.
  • NASB: And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.
  • NIV: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

The unrighteous manager is a “son of this world or age”, not a “son of light”, so the “wisely” is changed to “shrewdly” to avoid possible confusion, as “wise” requires a moral foundation while “shrewd or astute” does not.

Hope this clarifies the difference.

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