|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:17-25 Paul had been bred up in Jewish learning; but the plain preaching of a crucified Jesus, was more powerful than all the oratory and philosophy of the heathen world. This is the sum and substance of the gospel. Christ crucified is the foundation of all our hopes, the fountain of all our joys. And by his death we live. The preaching of salvation for lost sinners by the sufferings and death of the Son of God, if explained and faithfully applied, appears foolishness to those in the way to destruction. The sensual, the covetous, the proud, and ambitious, alike see that the gospel opposes their favourite pursuits. But those who receive the gospel, and are enlightened by the Spirit of God, see more of God's wisdom and power in the doctrine of Christ crucified, than in all his other works. God left a great part of the world to follow the dictates of man's boasted reason, and the event has shown that human wisdom is folly, and is unable to find or retain the knowledge of God as the Creator. It pleased him, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe. By the foolishness of preaching; not by what could justly be called foolish preaching. But the thing preached was foolishness to wordly-wise men. The gospel ever was, and ever will be, foolishness to all in the road to destruction. The message of Christ, plainly delivered, ever has been a sure touchstone by which men may learn what road they are travelling. But the despised doctrine of salvation by faith in a crucified Saviour, God in human nature, purchasing the church with his own blood, to save multitudes, even all that believe, from ignorance, delusion, and vice, has been blessed in every age. And the weakest instruments God uses, are stronger in their effects, than the strongest men can use. Not that there is foolishness or weakness in God, but what men consider as such, overcomes all their admired wisdom and strength.
Verse 20. - Where is the wise? etc. (Isaiah 33:18); rather, Where is a wise man? i.e. a scribe, etc., which is even more incisive. These questions are triumphant, like the "Where is the King of Hamath and of Arpad?" The same impassioned form of speech recurs in 1 Corinthians 15:55 and in Romans 3:27. The questions would come home to the Jews, who regarded their rabbis and the "pupils of the wise as exalted beings who could look down on all poor ignorant persons (amharatsim, or "people of the land"); and to the Greeks, who regarded none but the philosophers as "wise." The scribe. With the Jews of that day" the scribe" was" the theologian," the ideal of dignified learning and orthodoxy, though for the most part he mistook elaborate ignorance for profound knowledge. The disputer. The word would specially suit the disputatious Greeks, clever dialecticians. The verb from which this word is derived occurs in Mark 8:11, and the abstract substantive ("an eager discussion") in Acts 28:29. If St. Paul has Isaiah 33:18 in his mind, the word "disputer" corresponds to "the counter of the towers" (comp. Psalm 48:12). Even the rabbis say that when Messiah comes human wisdom is to become needless. Of the world; rather, of this age, or aeon. The old dispensation, then so rapidly waning to its close, was called "this age" (olam hazzeh); the next or Messianic age was called "the age to come" (olam habba). The Messianic age had dawned at the birth of Christ, but the old covenant was not finally annulled till his second coming at the fall of Jerusalem. Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? rather, Did not God (by the cross) stultify the wisdom, etc.? The oxymoron, or sharp contrast of terms - a figure of which St. Paul is fond (see 1 Timothy 5:6; Romans 1:20, etc.; and my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:628) - is here clearly marked in the Greek. The thought was as familiar to the old prophets (Isaiah 44:25) as to St. Paul (Romans 1:22); and even Horace saw that heathen philosophy was sometimes no better than insaniens sapientia (Horace, 'Od.,' 1:34, 2).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Where is the wise? where is the Scribe?.... These are the apostle's own words; though he may allude to Isaiah 33:18 where there are some phrases much like these, but the meaning is very different. Though they are interpreted by the Talmudists (g) in a sense pretty near the apostle's; for thus they remark upon them,
"where is the Scribe? he that counts all the letters which are in the law; "where is the receiver, or weigher?" who weighs all the light and heavy things in the law; "where is he that counted the towers?" he who counts, or teaches the three hundred traditions:
so that they understand these of their Scribes and Misnic doctors, and such that are curious searchers into the hidden senses of Scripture. The apostle also seems to allude to a distinction that obtained among the Jews, of 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; and their "Scribes", who interpreted the law in the literal and grammatical sense; and their "preachers, or disputers", who diligently searched into the hidden meaning of the Scriptures, and sought for and delivered out the mystical and allegorical sense of them, and who used to dispute about them in their schools. These three are sometimes to be met with together, and as distinct from each other. They say (h) that "God showed to the first man every generation, "and its expounders, or disputers"; and every generation, "and its wise men"; and every generation, "and its Scribes."
And the apostle's sense is, "where is the wise?" the man that boasts of his superior wisdom and knowledge in the things of nature, whether among the Jews or Gentiles; "where is the Scribe?" the letter learned man, who takes upon him to give the literal sense of the law,
where is the disputer of this world? the Jewish world, who pretends to the knowledge of the more abstruse and secret senses of Scripture; where are these men? they are not to be found among those that God employs in the ministration of the Gospel; he has laid them aside, and chosen others, where are they? what use have they been of to men? are men under their instructions the better, either in principle or practice? where are the thousands that have been turned to God by their wisdom, as can be shown by the faithful ministers of the Gospel? where are they? let them come and produce their cause, and bring forth their strong reasons against the Gospel they account foolishness, and try if these will stand before its superior power and wisdom; where are they? are they not fools, with all their wisdom and learning? The words may be rendered, "where is the searcher, or inquirer of this world?" and may design the same sort of persons whom the Jews call , "the wise men of search, or inquiry" (i), and sometimes , "the men of search, or inquiry" (k); by whom they seem to intend such who search into the nature of things, who study natural philosophy,
Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? by bringing in the Gospel scheme, which the men of the world, the greatest wits in it, are not able to understand; by laying their wisdom aside as useless in the business of salvation; by showing it to be vain and empty, and of no service in things spiritual and divine; by detecting, through the ministration of the Gospel, the sophisms of men, and showing that the schemes both Jews and Gentiles give into abound with folly, with stupid notions, and are full of gross errors and fatal mistakes,
(g) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 106. 2. & Chagiga, fol. 15. 2.((h) Bereshit Rabba Parash. 24. fol. 21. 1. Vid. T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 5. 1. & Sanhedrin, fol. 38. 2.((i) Kimchi in Sopher Shorashim, rad. & in Psal. cii. 26. (k) Aben Ezra in Psal. civ. 29.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
20. Where—nowhere; for God "brings them to naught" (1Co 1:19).
the scribe—Jewish [Alford].
the disputer—Greek [Alford]. Compare the Jew and Greek of this world contrasted with the godly wise, 1Co 1:22, 23. Vitringa thinks the reference is to the Jewish discourses in the synagogue, daraschoth, from a Hebrew root "to dispute." Compare "questions," Ac 26:3; Tit 3:9. If so, "wise" refers to Greek wisdom (compare 1Co 1:22). Paul applies Isa 33:18 here in a higher sense; there the primary reference was to temporal deliverance, here to external; 1Co 1:22, which is in threefold opposition to 1Co 1:18 there, sanctions this higher application; the Lord in the threefold character being the sole ground of glorying to His people.
of this world … of this world—rather, "dispensation (or age) … world"; the Greek words are distinct. The former is here this age or worldly order of things in a moral point of view, as opposed to the Christian dispensation or order of things. The latter is the world viewed externally and cosmically.
made foolish—shown the world's philosophy to be folly, because it lacks faith in Christ crucified [Chrysostom]. Has treated it as folly, and not used its help in converting and saving men (1Co 1:26, 27) [Estius].
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