How Does God Destroy the Wisdom of the Wise?

 

By Rev. D. Earl Cripe, Ph.D.

 

I Cor 1:19  For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

 

Adam’s children are unwilling (as well as unable) to find God through the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  As both an objective and a subjective judgment, God has turned their newfound loyalty and preoccupation against them.

In the Garden of Eden, God warned Adam and Eve that if they chose the wisdom and power of man as a means of trying to maintain their relationship with God, it would fail.  More than that, it would kill them.  It would be like a thirsty man making the decision to drink poison to quench his thirst instead of drinking water because the poison had more flavor to it.  Beyond the cause-and-effect, sowing-and-reaping aspect of judgment, God’s anger was kindled against the children of Adam for the insults and the rejection that they paid to their Creator.  So far from allowing them to find truth in another way than the one which He had prescribed, God turned their efforts and their methods against them.  It is the wisdom and understanding of fallen man that has created all of the social, moral, and spiritual problems that humanity has ever experienced.

 

I Cor 1:20  Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

 

One would indeed be a fool not to be able to see what the wisdom and power of man — in philosophy, science, religion and experientialism — has brought upon the human race.  God allowed Adam and Eve to make that choice, and gave them an opportunity to try to make their system work if they could; but of course, they could not:

 

I Cor 1:21  For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

 

There came a time (identified in Jeremiah 31:31, as well as in other places) when it was evident to both God and man that this was not working out.  We could paraphrase verse 21 in this way: “When God, in His wisdom, saw that man, by man’s wisdom, was never going to be able to know Him, then God was pleased to turn to the one and only source of truth and real power in order to save those who would hear and believe.  This was utter foolishness in the eyes of the intellectuals, philosophers, rationalists and religionists of the world; but God knew that it was the only hope of humanity.”  It was not accepted then by the intellectuals and the religionists, and it is not accepted now:

 

I Cor 1:22  For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

 

The Jews represent the religious enterprises and endeavors of fallen man.  They seek for their power with God and man in sensationalism, emotionalism, ceremonialism, and other curious practices that are supposed to convey supernatural presence.  The Greeks, in this verse, are used as a representative of intellectualism.  To them, truth must be a truth of reason and philosophy.  They subscribe to the motto of Age of Reason theology: A reasonable God can be known by reason, as reasonable man observes a reasonable universe.  The problem with that approach is that it is false and unworkable.  It is false because the wisdom comes from the mind of man, and it is unworkable because it is weak through the flesh.

 

I Cor 1:23  But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

 

Even so, we continue to preach Christ and the Cross.  Religious men who take pride in their good works stumble over the Gospel of Grace.  The intellectuals and philosophers, who think that they are superior to others because they have attained some higher level of gnosis, reject the Gospel of Christ and His Cross as old wives tales, the tacky colloquialisms of backward people, and as part of the accumulation of superstitions and myths that uneducated man have always relied upon. 

 

I Cor 1:24  But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

 

The persecution, the browbeating, the mocking and the belittling notwithstanding, those who have been saved by Christ and His Cross, and have been called to the Mission of the Church, know that the power and the wisdom of Almighty God is unleashed through the preaching of the Gospel.  It is not the kind of power and wisdom that fallen men look for, or in which they put confidence.  There is no claptrap and folderol, throwing dust in the air, making a fair show in the flesh, and developing intellectual arguments that can stand toe-to-toe with pagan philosophers.  But it is the simple truth that justifies men and, once justified, that leads them to sanctified living and the immortalizing of their lives for eternity.

 

I Cor 1:25  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

 

This innocent little verse, which tells us so much that is vital and important, has been the subject of controversy and confusion.  Is St. Paul saying that there is any foolishness in God?  Is St. Paul saying that there is any weakness in God?  Granting for the moment that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men, does this not have to mean that there is both foolishness and weakness in God?  If not, what does it say?

As in every other case of taking the letter of truth instead of the spirit, and killing themselves with it, religious humanism has missed the point.  The truth is in the context.  If we go back to verse 21 and follow it through, we will see plainly what St. Paul is saying.  He is saying that the preaching of the Cross is foolish in the eyes of the intellectuals, the religionists, and the philosophers.  Even so, this thing that they consider foolish and weak is the great power and wisdom of God.

In verse 25, we could paraphrase in this manner: “That which the intellectual considers to be foolish is wiser than the wisest of men.  That which the religionist considers to be weak, because it relies on faith with no empirical structure to support it, is stronger than anything that any religious man or society has ever produced.”

But is there an indication of degrees here?  Could the Apostle be saying that the least wise thing that God has to say is wiser than the wisest thing that man has to say?  Is it possible that he is saying that the least powerful thing that God does is stronger than the most powerful thing that carnal men can do?

Historic Orthodox Christianity cannot — and does not — consent to the argument that there is any weakness or foolishness in God.  It is possible, however, to understand the verse in this manner: “The weakest and most insignificant of little people in God’s operation are more powerful than the greatest religious operation.  The most ignorant and unlearned of people in God’s harvest field have greater wisdom than the wisest intellectuals, rationalists, and philosophers the world has ever seen.

To underscore the point for those who are open to it, we might call up the words of Jesus concerning John the Baptist.  Jesus said that there was never a greater man born of woman than John the Baptist.  But then He added that nevertheless, he who is the smallest and the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist (Matt 11:11; Luke 7:28).  God Himself acknowledged that on the natural humanistic level there was never a wiser man to ever live than King Solomon, and never would be (I Kings 3:12).  Even so, the Prophet said that he who is born into the family of God, and is endowed with the Holy Ghost has more wisdom and more understanding than Solomon, or any other natural born man (Psalm 119:99).

We may safely conclude that that way of thinking is incorporated into this verse, and in fact, is the basis upon which St. Paul proceeds to make his points about true wisdom and how it is acquired.

 

I Cor 1:26  For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

 

The Christian has only to look around him and take note of those in the Church who have been mightily used of God.  Great men of the faith like Billy Sunday and D.L. Moody were unlearned and practically illiterate.  John Wesley was a man of modest education, and an ordinary intellect.  We will not digress here to speak of all of the simple men who have made a mark for the Lord in the work of the Kingdom through the years who were not great in the eyes of others.  The point is clear.  The Apostle has been telling us for several verses now that if we are in the work of the Lord, it is because God has called us.  Certainly, there is free moral agency and men must choose; but in this particular passage St. Paul is shining the light on the fact of God’s sovereign program, and how He has chosen to set it up.  Not many people who are wise in the eyes of the world, mighty in the eyes the world, of noble birth, and great wealth are called to service in the Kingdom of God.  Why is that?  The apostle proceeds to tell us:

 

I Cor 1:27  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

I Cor 1:28  And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

I Cor 1:29  That no flesh should glory in his presence.

 

God has done it this way in order to direct attention away from the greatness of men, and toward the power and the wisdom of God.  Working through these simple people, who are powerless in the worldly scheme of things, God has confounded their philosophy, their rationalistic schemes, and their great religious structures.  God has chosen things that no worldly organization, wanting to accomplish something great and mighty in the eyes of their peers, would use.  Through His church and the servants that He has called, God has smashed the clay feet of the great idol of this world.

Is that because great, powerful, intellectual, noble, wealthy men do not want to humble themselves and become involved in the work of God?  That is no doubt part of it, but there is another more basic and more important reason.  God has done it this way so that those who see and understand will give the glory to God and will marvel at his great power and ability to use humble and simple men to accomplish his lofty purposes.