Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice

Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice

Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice

Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice


Too long restricted to children's storybooks and cinematic extravaganzas, the Torah -- comprising the first five books of the Bible -- is an underappreciated mother lode of divine instruction, vitally important for Christians and the church. Convinced that both those who take the Torah too literally and those who neglect it are guilty of a naïve simplicity, Johanna van Wijk-Bos presents guidelines to help ordinary Christians recover this treasure in their faith and practice.

Having lived in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation, van Wijk-Bos recognizes that after the attempted annihilation of the Jews from Christian Europe, it cannot be business as usual for Christianity. In light of the Holocaust, Christians must commit themselves to the restoration of just relations between Christians and Jews. This commitment to address all that fractures human relations undergirds van Wijk-Bos's call for Christians to reengage the Torah.

Making Wise the Simple points out how God's care for and engagement with the whole world in the Torah set the tone for the entire biblical story. The book pays special attention to how our treatment of strangers lies at the heart of the Torah's teaching. Without attempting a purely Jewish reading of the Torah, van Wijk-Bos reclaims the Torah as a vibrant word for the Christian community in covenant with God.

Written in a personal style conversant with current scholarship but sprinkled with anecdotes, this book is for everyone who has a hunger and enthusiasm for what the biblical text may convey, the courage to ask disturbing questions of the text, and an openness to old words that may bring forth new things, perhaps even making one wise.


Making wise the simple.

The word “simple,” used mostly in Psalms and Proverbs, refers essentially to a naïve person, one who lacks experience and understanding; it carries the connotation of innocence and ignorance. The claim of Psalm 19:7, from which the title of this book is taken, is that the Torah (from a Hebrew word often translated “law” or, more properly, “instruction”) clears up this type of simplicity. Innocence may have positive associations, but it can also be understood as an ambiguous word, which in its negative sense can be a quality that keeps intact a status quo of undesirable ignorance and injustice. Ignorance, a more obvious negative condition, may also be seen as ambiguous with both a negative and a positive side.

In the negative sense, simplicity and ignorance manifest themselves in a variety of stances and attitudes toward the Bible. At one extreme end of Christianity is the posture that holds the biblical text to be free of error and literally true, with everything in it of equal authority. According to this perspective, the conviction that all of Scripture is equally authoritative as the word of God overshadows recognition and consideration of the historical circumstances of the text. The fact is that the distance between our world and

1. The title of this book is in part a quote from Psalm 19:7 (v. 8 in the Hebrew versions).

2. Allan Boesak defined innocence as a destructive quality that can “block off all awareness and therefore the sense of responsibility necessary to confront the other as a human being”; Farewell to Innocence: A Socio-Ethical Study on Black Theology and Power (New York: Orbis, 1977), 4. See also Rita Nakashima Brock’s discussion of innocence in a context of Asian American women’s need to recognize and overcome conditions of oppression and domination; “Dusting the Bible on the Floor: A Hermeneutics of Wisdom,” in Searching the Scriptures: 1: A Feminist Introduction, ed. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (New York: Crossroad, 1993), 66.

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