Jews and Greeks and Wisdom Part 3 of 7 (series: Lessons on 1st Co.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

In this one respect, Christianity is like all science: “The new discoveries of science are just as likely to bewilder the wise, and change their opinions as the gospel is, and consequently to show that both are from the same God; the God who delights to pour such a flood of truth on the mind, so that a person is in awe of Him and becomes convicted of his own littleness.” The most profound theories in science, and the most subtle speculations of brilliant men, in regard to the causes of things, are often overthrown by a few simple discoveries--and discoveries which are at first despised as much as the gospel is. The invention of the telescope by Galileo was, to the theories of philosophers and astronomers, what the revelation of the gospel was to the systems of ancient learning, and the deductions of human wisdom. The one confounded the world as much as the other; and both were at first equally the object of opposition or contempt.
Mark 10:15-16 (KJV) Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

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?

Where is the wise? where is the Scribe?
These are the apostle's own words; though he may allude to Isaiah 33:18 (see below), where there are some words similar to these, but the meaning is very different. There is no doubt that the apostle has the Jews immediately in view. Paul is saying, "In light of what God says in Isaiah 29:14 (see below), 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." In this quotation, 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. The deliverance of Judea from Sennacherib is what Isaiah refers to; in a bold and beautiful allusion to which, the apostle’s inspired words triumph over all the opposition of human wisdom to the victorious gospel of Christ. What could the wise men of the Gentiles do against this? or the Jewish scribes? or the disputers of this world?

The apostle seems to allude to a distinction that was prevalent among the Jews between wise men, Scribes, and mystical interpreters of the word. They had their "wise men", which was a general name for men of learning and knowledge; the Greek philosophers. In Greek, the term "philosopher" means a lover of wisdom. This wisdom of theirs induced them to search through the sacred oracles for any rationalization but the true one; and they made the word of God ineffectual by their traditions. They had their "Scribes", the Jewish learned class who interpreted the law in the literal and grammatical sense. They had their "preachers, or disputers", who diligently investigated the hidden implications of the Scriptures, debated about them, and taught them in their schools. These three are sometimes regarded as one group, and at other times they are treated as distinct from each other.

Centuries later, but modeled after the Jewish wise men, there arose a class called the schoolmen; and they rendered the doctrine of the Gospel of no effect by their hypercritical questions, and endless distinctions without differences. By the preaching of Christ crucified, God made the wisdom of the Jewish wise men simple foolishness; and, after the pure religion of Christ had been corrupted by a Church that was of this world, God rendered the wisdom and disputing of the schoolmen foolishness, by the revival of pure Christianity during the Reformation. The Jews themselves claim that nothing is wise, nothing strong, and nothing rich, without God.

Isaiah 33:18 (KJV) Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?
Isaiah 29:14 (KJV) Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.

where is the disputer of this world?
The disputer is a reference to the Jewish world, where there were men who pretended to possess knowledge of the more obscure principles, and of concepts that are difficult to understand; which some call mysteries; where are these men? They are not to be found among those that God uses to preach the Gospel; he has moved them out-of-the-way, and chosen others. Where are they? What use have they been to mankind? Are the men that follow their instructions better off, either in principle or practice? Where are the thousands that have been brought to Christ by their wisdom, like those who have been born again through the preaching of faithful ministers of the Gospel? Where are they? Let them come before the Judge and present their cause, and give their strong reasons against the Gospel they consider foolishness, and try to stand before its superior power and wisdom; where are they? They are fools, with all their wisdom and learning? The clause may be restated this way, "where is the searcher, or inquirer of this world?" They may be like those persons whom the Jews call, "the wise men of search, or inquiry", and sometimes, "the men of search, or inquiry"; they are those who investigate the nature of things, and who study natural philosophy. Probably the Greek teachers who "disputed daily" in the public places, were this type, as well as the Jews that gave daily dissertations in the synagogues.

The disputers that I have encountered are concerned with minor issues; and they ignore the essential issues that are the basis of the Christian faith; they ask, “Did Adam have a belly button? How many wise men were there? What came first; the chicken or the egg.” Their focus is on the gifts of the Spirit, healing, prophesy, speaking in tongues. These are legitimate topics for discussion, but don’t forget that Jesus gave us an assignment: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8 (KJV).Witnessing for Jesus should be the focus of every ministry and of every Christian.

Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
There is a certain pride on display when a man proclaims, “I am a man of the world.” By this he infers that he is worldly-wise, and sophisticated; but men of the world, the greatest minds in it, when presented with the Gospel, are not able to understand it. God will lay aside their wisdom because it is useless in the business of salvation. He shows that it is vain and empty, and of no use in things that are spiritual and divine. He can detect by their response to the Gospel, the hypocrisy and deceit of men, and show that the schemes of both Jews and Gentiles abound with foolishness, with stupid notions, and that they are full of gross errors and fatal mistakes. God has shown the world's philosophy to be foolish, because it lacks faith in Christ crucified; He has not used it in converting and saving men (see 1 Corinthians 1.21, 22).

of this world means "of this dispensation (or age),” as it is used in the previous clause, where it says where is the disputer of this world? It is a reference to the worldly order of things from a moral point of view, as opposed to the Christian dispensation or order of things; but here, in this clause, we have the world viewed externally as part of the universe. The Almighty hath…made foolish the wisdom of this world by the originality and superior effectiveness of his plan of salvation; He has poured contempt on all the schemes of philosophers. And without the aid of those schemes of men, but in opposition to them, he has devised a plan for human salvation that proves its effectiveness and its wisdom by the conversion of sinners, and by destroying the power of wickedness. When Paul wrote this, he may have had the language in Isaiah 44:25 in mind: That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish.

History is one long dramatic denial of the world's wisdom. The pyramids of Egypt, upon which generations of men worked for centuries, are merely colossal monuments to human stupidity. The textbooks of a generation ago are worthless today. No human government has ever been permanent. Every mystery ever solved unlocks a hundred others and raises infinitely more questions than are answered, leading to the conviction that the ultimate wisdom on the part of people can never be attained by new formulas and gadgets; that the infinite wisdom is a person, Almighty God, and that people may know him only through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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