1 Corinthians 1:19-25: A Contrast of Wisdom
19 γέγραπται γάρ·
ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν
καὶ τὴν σύνεσιν τῶν συνετῶν ἀθετήσω.
20 ποῦ σοφός; ποῦ γραμματεύς; ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου; οὐχὶ ἐμώρανεν ὁ θεὸς τὴν σοφίαν τοῦ κόσμου; 21 ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω ὁ κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν, εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας· 22 ἐπειδὴ καὶ Ἰουδαῖοι σημεῖα αἰτοῦσιν καὶ Ἕλληνες σοφίαν ζητοῦσιν, 23 ἡμεῖς δὲ κηρύσσομεν Χριστὸν ἐσταυρωμένον, Ἰουδαίοις μὲν σκάνδαλον, ἔθνεσιν δὲ μωρίαν, 24 αὐτοῖς δὲ τοῖς κλητοῖς, Ἰουδαίοις τε καὶ Ἕλλησιν, Χριστὸν θεοῦ δύναμιν καὶ θεοῦ σοφίαν· 25 ὅτι τὸ μωρὸν τοῦ θεοῦ σοφώτερον τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐστὶν καὶ τὸ ἀσθενὲς τοῦ θεοῦ ἰσχυρότερον τῶν ἀνθρώπων.
19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the intelligence of the intelligent I will invalidate.”
20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God shown the wisdom of this world to be foolish? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world by it’s own wisdom did not know God, God was delighted to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. 22 For Jews demand a sign and Greek seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a cause for offense, but for the Gentiles foolishness, 24 but for those who are called, both to the Jews and also to the Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolish act of God is far greater than the wisdom of people, and the weakness of is far greater than the strength of people.
I find the structure of 1:21-25 neat. The main clause of this section is 1:21b: εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας. The surrounding verses, 1:21a and 1:22-25 are all subordinate to the main clause of 1:21b: “God was delighted to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached.”
Paul’s Uses of Isa 29:14 in 1 Cor 1:19:
In support of his theme (1:18) Paul quotes Isa 29:14, but with a notable change. The LXX (and the MT) have the verb “to hide” (κρύπτω, סתר) in place what the text of 1:19 reads. The question to ask is, Why did Paul feel it necessary to switch the final verb in the quotation from Isa 29? The Old Testament backdrop of Isa 29 is one of judgment, and for Paul that eschatological judgment has been ushered in by means of the cross of Christ. As Fee notes, “Paul sees this Isaiah passage as now having eschatological fulfillment.”1
But why alter the final verb? Some have suggested that the change from “hide” to “invalidate (ἀθετήσω)” is to set up a parallel with “destroy (ἀπολῶ)”, forming a chiasm:
B τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν
B’ καὶ τὴν σύνεσιν τῶν συνετῶν
This is a possible reason for Paul’s switch. Barrett suggests that Paul’s change is due to the influence of Ps 33:10 in Paul’s thought.2 While these are all logical arguments for Paul’s use of Isa 29:14, it is not easy to say with certainty why Paul switch verbs.
Commentary and Reflection:
What is clear are the theological reasons for Paul’s use of Isa 29:14 in his argument. Paul is utilizing a passage which speaks of God’s judgment upon the wise, a judgment that had been rendered in Paul’s day. Isaiah speaks of God dealing once again with the people in a marvelous way. For Paul, that marvelous way is contained in the message of the cross, which is foolishness to the wise of this world. As Paul stated in 1:18, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (οῖς…ἀπολλυμένοις). The reason they see this as so is because God has destroyed their wisdom (ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν) to see the beauty of the cross and the salvation it brings.
The kerugma–the message of the Gospel from the birth of Christ to his death, resurrection, and ascension to glory–is utter foolishness to this world. For the religious person it is a cause for stumbling. They cannot comprehend a God who would send his son to earth to live and die for humanity so that they may be reconciled to him solely on the basis of faith in Christ. And for the so-called “wise”, the whole idea of a God is preposterous to begin with. But the beauty of it all is that God used what the world reckoned as foolish as the catalyst for humanities salvation. The shame that the Messiah experienced from his crucifixion on our behalf has become for us the power and wisdom of God. It is the cross that brings life! It is at the cross where we find true wisdom and power. O the beauty of the cross!
Much more can be said on this profound section. But I will end here. I know that I have not crossed all the contextual “t’s” or dotted all the theological “i’s”, but I will have to save that for commentators who have devoted their lives to answering those questions for us. Please do consult not only those commentaries I have listed in my works cited, but also read widely in all areas of 1 Corinthians research.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1 Gordon D. Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978:70.
2 C. K. Barrett. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. MA: Hendrickson, 1968: 52.