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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 20

Verse 20. Where is the wise? Language similar to this occurs in Isa 33:18, "Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?" Without designing to quote these words as having an original reference to the subject now under consideration, Paul uses them as any man does language where he finds words with which he or his readers are familiar, that will convey his meaning. A man familiar with the Bible will naturally often make use of Scripture expressions in conveying his ideas. In Isaiah the passage refers to the deliverance of the people from the threatened invasion of Sennacherib. The 18th verse represents the people as meditating on the threatened terror of the invasion; and then, in the language of exultation and thanksgiving at their deliverance, saying," Where is the wise man that laid the plan of destroying the nation? Where the inspector-general, (see my Note on the passage in Isaiah,) employed in arranging the forces? Where the receiver, (margin, the weigher,) the paymaster of the forces? Where the man that counted the towers Of Jerusalem, and calculated on their speedy overthrow? All baffled and defeated; and their schemes have all come to nought." So the apostle uses the same language in regard to the boasted wisdom of the world in reference to salvation. It is all baffled, and is all shown to be of no value.

The wise. sofov. The sage. At first the Greek men of learning were called wise men, sofoi like the magicians of the East. They afterwards assumed a more modest appellation, and called themselves the lovers of wisdom, filosofoi, or philosophers. This was the name by which they were commonly known in Greece, in the time of Paul.

Where is the scribe? grammateuv. The scribe among the Jews was a learned man, originally employed in transcribing the law; but subsequently the term came to denote a learned man in general. Among the Greeks the word was used to denote a public notary; or a transcriber of the laws; or a secretary. It was a term, therefore, nearly synonymous with a man of learning; and the apostle evidently uses it in this sense in this place. Some have supposed that he referred to the Jewish men of learning here; but he probably had reference to the Greeks.

Where is the disputer of this world? The acute and subtle sophist of this age. The word disputer, suzhththv, properly denotes one who inquires carefully into the causes and relations of things; one who is a subtle and abstruse investigator. It was applied to the ancient sophists and disputants in the Greek academies; and the apostle refers, doubtless, to them. The meaning is, that in all their professed investigations, in all their subtle and abstruse inquiries, they had failed of ascertaining the way in which man could be saved; and that God had devised a plan which had baffled all their wisdom, and in which their philosophy was disregarded. The term world here, aiwnov refers, probably, not to the world as a physical structure—though Grotius supposes that it does—but to that age; the disputer of that age, or generation; an age eminently wise and learned.

Hath not God made foolish, etc, That is, has he not by the originality and superior efficacy of his plan of salvation, poured contempt on all the schemes of philosophers, and evinced their folly? Not only without the aid of those schemes of men, but in opposition to them, he has devised a plan for human salvation that evinces its efficacy and its wisdom in the conversion of sinners, and in destroying the power of wickedness. Paul here, possibly, had reference to the language in Isa 44:25: God "turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish."

{d} "foolish" Isa 44:25

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