The Wisdom that Seems Foolish
Submitted by Debbie’s Dad
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
–Corinthians 1:18-19 (NIV)
In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, he opened with a salutation and expression of deep appreciation for the believers in the church (vv. 1-9) and a powerful appeal for unity in Christ (vv. 10-17). In verse 17, he reminded them he came teaching the Gospel in a straightforward manner—not in worldly wisdom (impressive intellectual explanation) or in eloquence of delivery. It was the simple message of the Gospel—redemption from our sin by belief and trust in Jesus Christ who suffered the cross and rose again to purchase for us eternal life.
In verse 18, he asserts that the message of the cross (the Gospel message, true wisdom) is perceived by the lost (the perishing) as foolishness. Paul was referring to the “wisdom” of those who opposed the message of the Cross at that time. This included two significant groups:
- The Greek philosophers who relied on human reason and logic, a natural view of the world. It was this wisdom that Paul confronted on Mars Hill as he spoke in Acts 17, explaining to those present Who was the “unknown god” that they included in their worship.
- The Jewish scribes, the intellectuals of Jewish theology who rejected Jesus’ claims of being the Messiah, and the very notion of a humble-suffering Messiah.
Paul supports this concept of the very wisdom (power) of God being rejected as foolishness by citing Isaiah, as he referred to the destruction of the intellectual wisdom of the Assyrians (v. 19, all cited from the Septuagint Translation of Isaiah):
[God declared] “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (NIV)
In the following verses, Paul lays out a simple theology of God’s wisdom:
- The wisdom of the world has been made foolish by God (v.20) as demonstrated by the scribes who missed the Messiah, and the philosophers who missed the Creator.
- The worldly wise (Jewish scribes, Greek intellectuals) did not now recognize or know God in Christ
- God is pleased by those who believe the simple redemption message of the cross (v.21)
- But the simple redemption message: (v.23)Is a stumbling block to Jews who sought a sign
- Is foolishness to the Gentiles – superstition, ignorance, idiocy.
- But to believing Jews and Greeks alike, Christ is the power and wisdom of God. (v.24)
Paul concludes that, in comparison, … “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (v.25). And indeed it is! It is the greatest story ever told, the most powerful message ever shared, the only hope of eternal life, and the greatest wisdom we can walk through. The young child can receive this message as I did, or by the aged man as my father did – a simple message that the heart can accept in faith.