There is no wise man

“For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate’. Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher 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 know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”. 1 Corinthians 1:19-21

In this passage of Scripture, the apostle Paul talks about the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. He states: “For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent’. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. The quotation in this Scripture is drawn from Isaiah 29:14. The apostle Paul shows that in spiritual matters, God opposes the wisdom of man. He will destroy the wisdom of the wise, not bow down before it. By asking: “Where is the wise?” Paul says in light of what God says in Isaiah 29:14, now where is your ‘wise’ man? Where is your scribe? Where is your disputer of this age? God has made them all foolish through His wisdom. He has destroyed the wisdom of the wise, just as He said He would. The disputer of this age was the man who wanted to dispute every issue and solve it by human reason.

The point is plain that there is no wise man, no scribe, and no debater who can do what Jesus Christ has done. The world through wisdom did not know God. Beloved, there is a constant tendency to think that the smartest and wisest humans will know the most about God. But God cannot be found through human wisdom, but only through the message of the cross. The pursuit of human wisdom may bring an earthly contentment or happiness (though this is rare), but in itself, it can never bring the true knowledge of the true God.

It is significant that often the most educated people have the least regard for God. This is not always the case; some of the most brilliant men of history have been Christians (such as Isaac Newton). But largely, the “smarter” one sees himself, the less regard he has for God. Human “wisdom” is constantly rejecting God and opposing Him, and ultimately showing itself foolish and perishing in doing so.

Through the foolishness of the message is a significant statement because the Corinthians wanted to believe that the gospel itself was a sublime form of wisdom, as the Greeks considered wisdom “sophia”. Paul replies, ‘how foolish can you get? What is there ‘wise’ in the Greek sense of wisdom, about a crucified Messiah?

The phrases foolishness of the message and foolishness of God do not mean Paul actually considered the message and God foolish. He is describing them as they appear to the perishing man, the “wise” man of this age. God’s wisdom is not man’s wisdom multiplied to the highest degree. It is wisdom of a different order altogether. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Paul is not condemning all learning or education. He merely says that by themselves they are useless for obtaining spiritual wisdom. It is certain that a blind man is no judge of colours, a deaf man is no judge of sound, and a man who has never been quickened into spiritual life can have no judgment as to spiritual things. Beloved, God takes pleasure in accomplishing our salvation in a way no one would have expected. He is happy to do it in this way, which offends the height of human wisdom.

Verse 19 says: “For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Beloved, verses 19-25 give three reasons for why we cannot trust man’s wisdom:

In this passage of Scripture, verses 19-20 see an account of the finiteness of reason. For it is written:

Paul appeals to Scripture by quoting Isaiah to prove that man’s wisdom or reason cannot be trusted (Isaiah 29:14). At the time Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, threatened Judah with an invasion, Isaiah declared that deliverance would come by God, not alliance with pagan Egypt. Assyria had already conquered the northern kingdom and Syria. Judah was tottering and about to fall to the Assyrians. The reasoning of the politicians of Isaiah’s day was to form an alliance with Egypt rather than trust God.

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” signifies that God will overthrow human-centred wisdom. God does not depend on human ingenuity. Political brain trusts are not adequate to do God’s work. “And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent”. Beloved, wisdom” is a more general term for applying knowledge to experience. “Prudent” is a special application of wisdom or adjustment to particular cases. “Prudent” means to bring together and denotes the ability to bring the parts to a whole, hence, comprehension or insight. God does not need man’s finite comprehension.

The words “bring to nothing” mean to set aside, reject. God brings to nothing those who trust in human ingenuity or political schemes. God sets aside the prudent or the brilliant. Rulers of Israel sought the help of Egypt. This was a rebellion against God’s policy of mutual exclusive truth. We depend on God alone. God delivered Judah without Egypt’s help (Isa 37: 2 Kg 17). The Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem. Hezekiah prayed about the situation, and God answered by destroying 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (Isaiah 37:36). The principle here is that personal ingenuity without trust in God is autonomy from God.

All of us are tempted to operate on ingenuity with God. If we disregard God’s Word in seeking solutions to our issues, we have a fundamental spiritual problem. We need nothing beyond what we can see or touch. The sagacity of sagacious men is not enough in God’s kingdom economy. Proverbs 14:12 says: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death, but its end is the way of death”.

James 3:15-17 says: “This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy”. Beloved, God saves souls by special revelation of His Word and the person of Christ. He does not join other worldviews in doing so. God does not operate on relative truth or pluralism. He does not ask counsel from human wisdom. Beloved, Paul often quoted from the Scriptures of his era: what we call the Old Testament. He did this to support his claim that these are the words and message of God. In the previous verse Paul wrote that the cross of Christ is foolishness to those perishing, and the power of God to those being saved. Here he quotes from Isaiah 29:14, referencing a time when Israel followed supposedly wise human advice. They formed an alliance with Egypt seeking to strengthen their position against Assyrian invaders. What was really needed was trust in the power of God to save them (2 Kings 18:17 to 2 Kings 19:37).

Paul cites Isaiah, quoting God as saying He will destroy the wisdom of those considered wise according to human understanding. God declares He will thwart, He will “trip up”, those thought to be discerning apart from Him. In other words, God is committed to revealing as foolishness what those opposed to Him see as wisdom and vice versa.

It was Isaiah who first prophesied: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent, when he denounced the ‘clever’ men of the court, who were encouraging the king of Judah to make an alliance with Egypt against Assyria, rather than trusting the Lord their God for protection.

The same warning had to be reiterated by Paul to the carnal Christians at Corinth, who although having been saved by grace through faith in Christ, they had not grown in their Christian life. Unfortunately, they had remained in spiritual infancy, due to their internal squabbling, gross misconduct and the petty disagreements over their own spirituality and their own ‘importance’ in the eyes of God. Now as the mingling of worldly ‘wisdom’ with the inerrant Word of God, or the interlacing of ones own ‘intelligent’ conclusions with God’s revealed truth, is futile.

Verse 20 says: “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Beloved, we should know that human wisdom is not permanent. It ebbs and flows for its theories go back and forth like a pendulum, first a view, then a countervailing view. This is the problem of finite wisdom. This verse alludes to Isaiah 33:18. Paul asks four rhetorical questions to make emphatic the puny nature of man’s finite perspective on reality.

Where is the wise? This is a reference to the Greek philosophers. Stoicism and Epicureanism were (anti-thetical schools of thought) and they were dominating philosophies of the Corinthian time.

Where is the scribe? The scribe may be the scribe that the Assyrians sent with their army to record the battles and booty (Isaiah 33:18). Alternatively, the “scribe” could refer to the Jewish scribe who interpreted the law. Where is the disputer of this age?

The Greeks loved to argue. Paul asks where are all your clever arguments of philosophy in the light of God’s eternal truth. Finite philosophers bring us finite truth. The disputer of this age is the dialectic approach that debates all the incompatible viewpoints of the day. That gets nowhere. Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? The infinite wisdom of God puts human wisdom into finite irrelevance. The strong negative in Greek shows the foolishness of finite wisdom of this age. God proves man’s wisdom foolish. Man by man’s wisdom and effort can never provide a better world. Man is not autonomous from God, so it is ridiculous from God’s viewpoint to think otherwise.

The many gods of the Greco-Roman culture made that culture pluralistic because they were polytheistic. Zeus governed the gods and chased women on the side. Mercury carried messages. Aphrodite was the goddess of love. Each played a role without a unifying truth. Polytheism was pluralistic, so that is why they have anti-theatrical and competing viewpoints.

Some believers at Corinth turned from the viewpoint of God’s Word to seek solutions in human wisdom. This was the cause of the Corinthian problem. They turned from God’s plan to man’s plan. They wanted to accommodate their culture, time, and philosophies. They preferred a more flexible viewpoint. They did not fancy a system of absolutes. Note each of the three questions is answered in the following passages: Paul deals with the philosopher in verses 21-29, with the scribe in 1:30-31, and with the debater in 2:1-16. The principle here is that Christianity stands in mutual exclusive counter-distinction to pluralism and relativism.

A strength of Christianity is its certainty, its truth. It is strong because there is conviction and not a flexible system that neutralizes belief. Believers with strong convictions do not fall sucker to plurality and relativism. The “wisdom of this world” is the satanic system, and it’s spirit of worldliness.

Since human wisdom is finite, it does not get to the root of issues, for philosophy can find no ultimate answers. God views finite wisdom as transient in nature. This wisdom is a short-lived show. God not only disregards the wisdom of the word, but He also designates it as foolish. God rejects human wisdom as scornful. The Corinthian Christians lived in a culture which placed enormous value on human wisdom, philosophy, and expertise. The Jewish culture, as well, under the law of Moses, elevated study and scholarship to a place of high status.

Paul now makes the point that despite high-powered human knowledge and wisdom, these self-appointed gurus had all missed the simple power of Christ, the Son of God, crucified to pay for human sinfulness. Poetically, and somewhat sarcastically, Paul asks where the wise man is. Where is the Jewish scribe, with all his study? Where is the great debater or philosopher of this era, the ones viewed with such great respect? Why, with all their skill and hard work, have they decided that the cross of Christ is foolishness? Why didn’t their study and carefully worded arguments bring them to the truth? The message of the Cross is foolishness to those that are perishing, in a world that is estranged from the one who created them, and so we discover a worldly wisdom which is rooted in man-made, egotistical philosophies, which carefully circumvents everything to do with the death of Christ and His glorious resurrection. Yet Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation upon which our Christian faith is established.

The worldly-wise Corinthian church were squabbling over who was the best teacher, instead of focusing on spiritual matters, but their foolish arguments were rooted in a much more sinister foundation, that is, the wisdom of worldly arguments. It was Isaiah who prophesied: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent”. As such, when Christ is rejected, ignored, dismissed, ridiculed or replaced, the wisdom of this world is brought to nothing since Christ is the power of God and Christ is the wisdom of God.

Verse 21 says: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”. Beloved, all human philosophy operates in the realm of the finite soul, not in the realm of an infinitely wise God who is an omniscient God. Both philosophy and science rest on man’s capacity to understand with his finite brain. God’s wisdom is omniscient, encompassing both time and eternity, both space and beyond space, that is the realm of the transcendent. God’s wisdom demands that man depends on God for knowing eternity and everything transcendent that is, beyond time and space. This is humbling for man. Most men do not want to submit to the wisdom of God.

The apostle Paul says that the world through wisdom did not know God. In the realm of wisdom, the world, by employing human understanding, did not know God. The only way anyone can know God is by supernatural means. God reveals Himself ( 1 Corinthians 1:18-2) Human wisdom breaks down in its attempt to know God. It is utterly futile for finiteness to find infiniteness. The principle here is that if man is going to know God, he can only know God by God’s revelation.

No one can become a Christian solely from Adam’s apple up. Neither can anyone become a Christian without information. It is the nature of the information whereby a person becomes a Christian, God’s revelation of the gospel in the Bible.

No one would know God if God did not reveal Himself. Since God is infinite, no one can know Him by finite means. God reveals Himself by nature, the person of Christ, and the Word of God.

All human philosophy and ethics revolve around the finiteness of man. Man’s ethics demand that he complies with the human standard, but there is no universal norm to determine what that standard is. That is why man is trapped in a plurality of ideas with no universal truth to help them reach universal conclusions. They are, therefore, locked into relativism. Everyone has their philosophy and opinion, but no one has an answer. Christianity depends on God to reveal Himself. It is a system of faith based on unadulterated grace from God to show Himself in Jesus Christ, in nature, and in the Word. There is no merit in operation bootstraps. The apostle Paul is declaring a powerful truth that the reason so many fail to believe in Christ’s death on the cross as the way to be forgiven from their own sin is not because the idea is too hard to understand. Rather it is because it is too easy. It is foolishness for simpletons, as an unbeliever sees it.

Humanity at large has failed to come to know God through human wisdom. The language Paul uses suggests that God, in His wisdom, did not allow human wisdom to bring them to Him. Instead, it pleased Him to save those who believe through the folly of what Paul and the other apostles preach.

In other words, Paul understands that his message, the gospel, looks and sounds foolish to most of the world. People trusting their own wisdom or the wisdom of others will miss it. The gospel is not something that can be worked out by logic and philosophy. Evidence can lead us towards the truth (Romans 1:18-20; Psalm 19:1; Matthew 7:7-8), but that truth ultimately has to be accepted as revelation from God.

Does this mean Paul discourages the use of the mind or logical arguments? Based on his writings in Scripture, he clearly does not. He was an intelligent, well-educated man who routinely used powerful arguments in his ministry (Philippians 3:4-8; Acts 17:17). His point is that human wisdom, knowledge, and logic cannot bring someone to faith in the Christ who died for their sin on the cross. The world at large prides itself on its vast knowledge, extensive understanding and great wisdom and yet the accumulated expertise and vast intelligence of fallen man has pronounced war against the Almighty, and proclaimed that there is no God, or that: “God is dead’, or that: “I am god!’

But God in His infinite wisdom has taken the prideful proclamations of fallen man and rendered them fools in His own eyes, for the fool has said in his heart there is no God, and in his pride the wicked man does not seek after the Lord.. for in all his thoughts there is no room for the one true God, who is Creator of all and who sustains all things by the might of His magnificent power.

It is through mans’ own perceived wisdom, investigative research and scientific experimentation that God has been labeled a delusion and relegated to the position of mythological idiocy, but the world does not come to a knowledge of God through their own defective wisdom, and so God was pleased to save all those who believe in Christ, through the foolishness of the gospel message preached.

Prof. Eric Aseka,
Senior Pastor,
Divine Grace Ecclesia,
King’eero, Lower Kabete.


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