1 Corinthians 1:19
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
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(19) For it is written.—This is a further explanation of why the word of the gospel, and not the word of merely human wisdom, is “the power of God.” The quotation which follows consists of two passages in Isaiah, and is taken from the LXX., one word being altered. We have here “bring to nothing,” instead of “I will conceal.” “Words which originally applied to those who assumed to be the guides of the Jewish race (Isaiah 29:14), apply with greater force to those who would presume to be Christian leaders.

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.For it is written - This passage is quoted from Isaiah 29:14. The Hebrew of the passage, as rendered in the English version is, "the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid." The version of the Septuagint is, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the understanding of the prudent I will hide" κρύψω krupsō, corresponding substantially with the quotation by Paul. The sense in the Hebrew is not materially different. The meaning of the passage as used by Isaiah is, that such was the iniquity and stupidity of "Ariel" Isaiah 29:1, that is, Jerusalem, that God would so execute his judgments as to confound their wise men, and overwhelm those who boasted of their understanding. Those in whom they had confided, and on whom they relied, should appear to be bereft of their wisdom; and they should be made conscious of their own lack of counsel to meet and remove the impending calamities. The apostle does not affirm that this passage in Isaiah refers to the times of the gospel. The contrary is manifestly true. But it expresses a general principle of the divine administration - "that the coming forth of God is often such as to confound human prudence; in a manner which human wisdom would not have devised; and in such a way as to show that he is not dependent on the wisdom of man." As such, the sentiment is applicable to the gospel; and expresses just the idea which the apostle wished to convey - that the wisdom of the wise should be confounded by the plan of God; and the schemes of human devising be set at naught.

I will destroy - That is, I will abolish; or will not be dependent on it; or will show that my plans are not derived from the counsels of people.

The wisdom of the wise - The professed wisdom of philosophers.

And will bring to nothing - Will show it to be of no value in this matter.

The prudent - The people professing understanding; the sages of the world. We may remark:

(1) That the plan of salvation was not the contrivance of human wisdom.

(2) it is "unlike" what people have themselves devised as systems of religion. It did not occur to the ancient philosophers; nor has it occurred to the modern.

(3) it may be expected to excite the opposition, the contempt, and the scorn of the wise people of this world; and the gospel makes its way usually, not with their friendship, but in the face of their opposition.

(4) its success is such as to confound and perplex them. They despise it, and they see not its secret power; they witness its effects, but are unable to account for them. It has always been a question with philosophers why the gospel met with such success; and the various accounts which have been given of it by its enemies, show how much they have been embarrassed. The most elaborate part of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," is contained in his attempt to state the causes of the early propagation of Christianity, in 1 Corinthians 15:16; and the obvious failure of the account shows how much the mind of the philosophic sceptic was embarrassed by the fact of the spread of Christianity.

(5) the reception of the gospel demands an humble mind; Mark 10:15. People of good sense, of humble hearts, of childlike temper, embrace it; and they see its beauty, and are won by its loveliness, and controlled by its power. They give themselves to it; and find that it is suited to save their souls.

(6) in this, Christianity is like all science. The discoveries in science are such as to confound the wise in their own conceits, and overthrow the opinions of the prudent, just as much as the gospel does, and thus show that both are from the same God - the God who delights to pour such a flood of truth on the mind as to overwhelm it in admiration of himself, and with the conviction of its own littleness. The profoundest theories in science, and the most subtle speculations of people of genius, in regard to the causes of things, are often overthrown by a few simple discoveries - and discoveries which are at first despised as much as the gospel is. The invention of the telescope by Galileo was to the theories of philosophers and astronomers, what the revelation of the gospel was to the systems of ancient learning, and the deductions of human wisdom. The one confounded the world as much as the other; and both were at first equally the object of opposition or contempt.

19. I will destroy—slightly altered from the Septuagint, Isa 29:14. The Hebrew is, "The wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid." Paul by inspiration gives the sense of the Spirit, by making God the cause of their wisdom perishing, &c., "I will destroy," &c.

understanding of the prudent—literally, "of the understanding ones."

What Isaiah said of the wise men among the Jews in his time, is applicable to the wise men among the heathen, God will destroy their wisdom, and make their understanding appear to be no better than foolishness. So as it is not at all to be admired, if the philosophers of this world count the gospel, and the preaching of it, foolishness; the taking away the wisdom and understanding of men worldly wise, is but an ordinary dispensation of God’s providence, no more than God threatened to do in Isaiah’s time to the men of that generation.

As it is written,.... The passage referred to is in Isaiah 29:14 where it is read, "the wisdom of their wise men shall perish; and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid"; and is rendered by the Septuagint, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will hide the understanding of the prudent": which is much the same with the apostle's version of it: and the sense of the prophecy is, that in the times of the Messiah, under the Gospel dispensation, the mysteries of grace should be hid from the wise rabbins among the Jews, the Scribes and Pharisees, who, with all their sagacity, parts, and learning, would not be able to comprehend the doctrines of the Gospel; by these their wisdom and understanding would be nonplussed, so that they would reject them as foolishness, because their carnal reason could not reach them; which shows what an infatuation they were given up to: and if this should be the case, as it was with the wise and learned philosophers among the Gentiles, it need not be wondered at; it was what was foretold in prophecy concerning the Jews, who had the oracles of God, and the advantage of a divine revelation; and therefore it need not be stumbling to them that are saved, that the Gospel should meet with so much scorn and contempt among them that perish in the Gentile world. These words are very pertinently cited by the apostle, since they are acknowledged by the Jews themselves to signify the departure of wisdom from the wise men of Israel, in the times of the destruction of the temple, as Jarchi on the place observes. {22} For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

(22) The apostle proves that this should not seem strange, seeing that it was foretold so long before, and declares further that God often punishes the pride of the world in such a way, which so pleases itself in its own wisdom: and therefore that it is vain, indeed a thing of no value, and such as God rejects as unprofitable, which they so carefully laboured for, and considered to be so important.

1 Corinthians 1:19. Establishment from Scripture of the foregoing τοῖς δὲ σωζομ. κ.τ.λ[225]: for were the word of the cross not God’s power for the σωζόμενοι, God could not say of it in the Scriptures: “I will destroy,” etc.

In the passage, Isaiah 29:14 (a free quotation from the LXX., the difference between which and the original Hebrew is unessential), Paul, in accordance with the typical significance attendant on the historical sense,[226] recognises a prediction of the powerful working of the doctrine of the cross as that through which God would bring to nought and do away with the wisdom of man, i.e. empty it of its estimation. The justification of this way of viewing it lay in the Messianic character of O. T. prophecy in general, by virtue of which the historical sense does not exhaust the design of the utterances, but leaves open higher references to the further development of the theocratic relations, and especially to the Messianic era, which references are to manifest themselves historically by the corresponding facts of later date, and so be recognised from the standpoint of their historical fulfilment. See more in detail, on Matthew 1:22 f. Christ Himself confirms the Messianic reference of the prophetic utterance, Matthew 15:8.

Regarding the distinction between σοφία and σύνεσις (intelligence), see on Colossians 1:9.

[225] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[226] According to which the reference is not generally to the final catastrophe of the present state of things in Israel before the dawn of the Messianic period (Hofmann), but, as the context shows, to the penal judgments under Sennacherib, in which the wisdom of the rulers and false prophets of Israel was to be confounded and left helpless.

1 Corinthians 1:19. As concerns “the perishing,” the above sentence agrees with God’s ways of judgment as revealed in Scripture: γέγραπται γάρ κ.τ.λ. The quotation Ἀπολῶ κ.τ.λ. (suggested by τ. ἀπολλυμένοις) belongs to the cycle of Isaiah’s prophecies against the worldly-wise politicians of Jerus. in Assyrian times (1 Corinthians 1:28-31.), who despised the word of Jehovah, relying on their shallow and dishonest statecraft; their policy of alliance with Egypt will lead to a shameful overthrow, out of which God will find the means of vindicating His wisdom and saving His people and city. The O.T. and N.T. situations are analogous: Gentile and Jewish wisdom, united in rejection of the Gospel, are coming to a like breakdown; and P. draws a powerful warning from the sacred history.—ἀθετήσω (a reminiscence, perhaps, of Psalm 33:10) displaces the less pointed κρύψω: otherwise the LXX text of Isa. is followed; in the Heb. the vbs. are pass[204], “the wisdom … shall perish,” etc. Isaiah 29 is rich in matter for N.T. use: 1 Corinthians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 1:18 gave our Lord texts, in Matthew 15:8 f., 1 Corinthians 11:5 respectively; the Ap. quotes the chap. twice elsewhere, and ch. 28 thrice.

[204] passive voice.

19. For it is written] In Isaiah 29:14.

1 Corinthians 1:19. Ἀπολῶἀθετήσω) Isaiah 29:14, LXX. καὶ ἀπολῶκρύψω; the intermediate words of them (LXX.) and of Paul are the same.—ἀπολῶ, I will destroy) hence to bring to nought, 1 Corinthians 1:28, ch. 1 Corinthians 2:6.

Verse 19. - It is written. This formula (1 Corinthians 1:31; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Corinthians 10:7; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 8:15) is chiefly used in letters to Churches in which there were many Jews. This is a free citation from the LXX. of Isaiah 29:14 (the same thought is found in Job 5:12, 13; see too Matthew 11:25). The original passage refers to penal judgments from the Assyrians, which would test the false prophets of Israel. 1 Corinthians 1:19I will destroy, etc.

Cited literally from the Septuagint, Isaiah 29:14, except that the Septuagint has κρύψω I will conceal, instead of I will reject. The Hebrew reads: "The wisdom of its (Judah's) wise men shall perish, and the sagacity of its sagacious men shall hide itself."

Wisdom - prudence (σοφίαν - σύνεσιν)

The two words are often found together, as Exodus 31:3; Deuteronomy 4:6; Colossians 1:9. Compare σοφοὶ καὶ συνετοί wise and prudent, Matthew 11:25. For the distinction, see, as to σοφία wisdom, on Romans 11:33; as to σύνεσις prudence, on Mark 12:33; Luke 2:47. Wisdom is the more general; mental excellence in its highest and fullest sense. Prudence is the special application of wisdom; its critical adjustment to particular cases.

Will bring to nothing (ἀθετήσω)

See on Luke 7:30. Originally, to make disestablished (ἄθετον) something which is established or prescribed (θετόν) Hence to nullify, make void, frustrate, and, in a milder sense, to despise or reject, as Galatians 2:21. The stronger sense is better here, so that Rev., reject is not an improvement on the A.V. The American revisers render: And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought.

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