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.”
1 Corinthians 1:18-19
In verse 17 Paul began to take a turn into a discussion of the contrast between human wisdom, and the wisdom of God. Keeping context in mind, this comes as Paul’s explanation for why the division is taking place in the Corinthian church community. In this subsection, Paul appears to be making the case that wisdom in this world brings about a great social divide between the wise and the unwise; the strong and the weak. This may seem like a rather strange line of reasoning for many of us today, but let’s pause a moment and consider…
In our time in the West for instance, we live in societies heavily influenced by Progressive thinking relating to public policy. That thinking says that we must have a society that is regulated by educated and highly trained professionals who will make important decision for the benefit of the masses. The masses of people, it is reasoned, are simply not up to the task of making their own decisions in key areas of life, areas that professionals would be likely to make much better decisions than regular people. So, this professional class begins to make laws, laws that regulate behaviors, that require this or forbit that.
The result of this is that the professionals seldom hang out with the laborers with whom they have little or nothing in common, and society itself begins to fragment. Where that happens in society, and parts of society find themselves together in the congregation, they tend not to mix together very well. In Paul’s day, there seem to have been groups in the Corinthian church who didn’t mix well together, and they sought to be identified with leaders, like those named in the previous section, and consequently, the church began to fragment. If you recall our introduction to 1 Corinthians, and the brief discussion of Corinth and its status as a Roman colony that was also a major port city, you shouldn’t have much difficulty seeing how that fragmentation could have taken place.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the verses:
Contrary to what many have claimed over the years, Paul is not setting Christianity up to be anti-intellectual. Think about it – Paul of all people is pretty much the most educated man in any room he walked into, and his great intellect is very much on display in every paragraph of this letter. No sir, he is not advocating anything anti-intellectual here. Instead, his message here is that Christ’s work on the cross renders any social distinction irrelevant. He is teaching the people that they should forget all of their divisions as see one another as God sees them, not as this human world does. After all, brotherhood in Christ lasts for all eternity; social distinction will all perish soon enough.
Paul isn’t quite finished with this commentary just yet, for it continues through verse 25…