The Knowledge of God
The Wisdom of God
1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, “The Wisdom of the Wise”
From The Princess Bride:
Vizzini: Let me put it this way: have you ever heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates?
From Romans 1, we learned that post-lapsarian1 man’s mind became darkened and futile in thought. As a result, man took his intimate knowledge of the truth of God and exchanged it for a lie. These lies took the form of false worldviews, and as punishment, God gave them over to their own imaginations which led to degrading worship and self-destructive lifestyles.
In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul discusses the wisdom of the post-lapsarian man vs. the eschatological wisdom of God. This is an extremely important text for the Christian doctrine of epistemology as it discusses why sinful man rejects the truth of Christianity and finds it to be ‘foolish’. This is the last section on epistemology which will finally allow us to move on to the application of our worldview in apologetics and evangelism.
1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, “The Wisdom of the Wise”
Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthian church to correct a few disturbing conditions there. There were factions splitting the church; there was gross immorality; Corinthian believers were suing each other; there was abuse of the Lord’s Supper; and there was false teaching concerning the resurrection, just to name a few. There was also the fact that Corinth was a center of Greek cultural and philosophical thought, called Hellenism. As such, this worldview might have been influencing the Corinthian believers to rely on autonomous philosophical reasoning2 to acquire truth rather than starting with the truths of Scripture. This prompted Paul to discuss what the unbelieving world considers ‘wisdom’ vs. the wisdom of God in the gospel (v.17). It was this issue that Paul was dealing with in chapters 1 and 2.
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Paul gives a summary of the topic he is about to discuss. To those “who are perishing” (i.e., unbelievers) the gospel message sounds silly, irrational, absolutely incredible, and mythic. It was that way back then, and it is that way now. Unbelievers find the gospel story to be absolutely incredible and deem it to be ‘myth’. In contrast, those who have had their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit know that the salvation given by God is true and have fixed their hope on a later day.
“For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:19-21)
The quoted Old Testament text is from Isaiah where the ‘wise’ men of Judah where advising the king to make an alliance with Egypt when threatened with an invasion by the Assyrians. They had no faith that God would deliver them from such a threat. In the end, Egypt was of no use, and God miraculously delivered Judah from the hand of the Assyrian army after all of Jerusalem repented (Isaiah 37:14-38). The ‘wisdom’ of the wisest men of Judah was folly.
Here, Paul was likely using this verse in reference to all unbelievers who call themselves ‘wise’ in general and Greek philosophers in specific. In fact, the words in the Greek used for ‘wisdom’ and ‘wise’ are the words referring to philosophic wisdom and philosophers. Thus, the verse could be made to say, “I will destroy the philosophy of the philosopher…”3
“What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.’” (Romans 3:3-4)
“To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:8-10)
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:1-3)
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)
As we saw in Romans 1, because of their sinful nature, unbelieving man invented philosophies and religions that suppressed the intimate knowledge of God which he possessed. Because of this enslavement of the mind, the smartest unbelieving man, through the use of all of his intellectual faculties, never came up with God as the answer.4
Though man’s mind was once darkened and came up with worldviews contrary to Scripture, God, by His providential plan, has overturned their worldviews by raising Christ from the dead:
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
“For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)
The Jewish opposition to Jesus wanted Christ to show them a sign from heaven to confirm that He was the Christ. However, they should have known that He was the Messiah by seeing that he fulfilled the prophetic witness:
“The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. But He replied to them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.” (Matthew 16:1-4)
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:39-47)
Of course, Christ never gave them a sign since He knew that man’s darkened mind would dismiss such evidence:
“But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:30-31)
“Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: ‘BEHOLD, YOU SCOFFERS, AND MARVEL, AND PERISH; FOR I AM ACCOMPLISHING A WORK IN YOUR DAYS, A WORK WHICH YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE, THOUGH SOMEONE SHOULD DESCRIBE IT TO YOU.’ ” (Acts 13:40-41)
The Jews dismissed Christ because He didn’t fit their view of what the Messiah should have been, and the Greeks dismissed Christ because a bodily resurrection from the dead was ‘irrational’ to them. However, God’s wisdom in the gospel is eschatological: its unveiling awaits the end times. Though there are many intelligent unbelievers who dismiss the Christian faith as foolish, God will show their ‘wisdom’ to be idiocy on the Last Day.
“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
For the most part, it was the meek and lowly that accepted Christ, not the powerful and wealthy. It was the simple that believed, not the wise:
“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’” (Matthew 11:25-30)
“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, ‘He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS’; and again, ‘THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.’” (1 Corinthians 3:18-20)
“Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5)
This was so that no one could claim that they accepted Christ because they thought that the gospel was ‘rational’ according to their own autonomous ‘wisdom’. The Christian’s salvation shall come from God alone.
1 i.e. After the fall of man into sin.
2 i.e. An epistemology that starts with man and what he considers ‘rational’, ‘reasonable’, and ‘logical’. It makes human categories ultimate rather than revealed categories given by God.
3 I should note, here, that I and, more importantly, the Scriptures do not condemn intellectual study or philosophy. In fact, I study philosophy quite a bit. However, what Scripture does condemn is autonomous philosophy, a philosophy which begins with man as the starting point of predication instead of Scripture.
4 This places obvious limits on the usefulness of natural theology, the attempt to use general revelation to come up with the existence, attributes, and laws of God apart from special revelation.