1 Corinthians 1:21
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) For.—This is an explanation and evidence of Low God made the wisdom of the world to be only “folly.”

After that (better, inasmuch as) is not here a note of time, but of causal relation.

In the wisdom of God.—These words can scarcely be taken as an expression of a kind of approval of God’s wisdom in so arranging the method of revelation, but rather as referring to God’s wisdom evidenced in nature, and in the teachings of lawgivers and prophets. The world by its wisdom did not attain to a knowledge of God in His wisdom displayed in creation (Acts 17:26; Romans 1:19).

It pleased God.—The world having thus failed to gain a true knowledge of God in His wisdom, He gave them that knowledge through that very proclamation of “the cross” which those “that perish” call foolishness. The contrast so strikingly put here is between (1) the failure of the world by means of its wisdom to know God, in His wisdom displayed to all in His mighty works, and to the Jews in His great teachers; and (2) the success of this “folly” of the gospel, as they called it, in saving all who believed it (Romans 1:16).

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 after that - ἐπειδὴ epeidē. Since, or seeing that it is true that the world by wisdom knew not God. After all the experience of the world it was ascertained that human beings would never by their own wisdom come to the true knowledge of God, and it pleased him to devise another plan for salvation.

In the wisdom of God - This phrase is susceptible of two interpretations:

(1) The first makes it refer to "the wisdom of God" evinced in the works of creation - the demonstration of his existence and attributes found there, and, according to that, the apostle means to say, that the world by a survey of the works of God did not know him; or were, notwithstanding those works, in deep darkness. This interpretation is adopted by most commentators - by Lightfoot, Rosenmuller, Grotius, Calvin, etc. According to this interpretation, the word ἐν en (in) is to be translated "by" or "through."

(2) a second interpretation makes it refer to the wise arrangement or government of God, by which this was permitted. "For when, by the wise arrangement or government of God; after a full and fair trial of the native, unaided powers of man, it was ascertained that the true knowledge of God would not be arrived at by man, it pleased him," etc. This appears to be the correct interpretation, because it is the most obvious one, and because it suits the connection best. It is, according to this, a reason why God introduced a new method of saving people. This may be said to have been accomplished by a plan of God, which was wise, because:

(1) It was desirable that the powers of man should be fully tried before the new plan was introduced, in order to show that it was not dependent on human wisdom, that it was not originated by man, and that there was really need of such an interposition.

(2) because sufficient time had been furnished to make the experiment. An opportunity had been given for four thousand years, and still it had failed.

(3) because the experiment had been made in the most favorable circumstances. The human faculties had had time to ripen and expand; one generation had had an opportunity of profiting by the observation of its predecessor; and the most mighty minds had been brought to boar on the subject. If the sages of the east, and the profound philosophers of the west, had not been able to come to the true knowledge of God, it was in vain to hope that more profound minds could be brought to bear on it, or that more careful investigation would be bestowed on it. The experiment had been fairly made, and the result was before the world; see the notes at Romans 1.

The world - The people of the world; particularly the philosophers of the world.

By wisdom - By their own wisdom, or by the united investigations of the works of nature.

Knew not God - Obtained not a true knowledge of him. Some denied his existence; some represented him under the false and abominable forms of idol worship; some ascribed to him horrid attributes; all showed that they had no true acquaintance with a God of purity, with a God who could pardon sin, or whose worship conduced to holiness of life; see the notes at Romans 1.

It pleased God - God was disposed, or well pleased. The plan of salvation originated in his good pleasure, and was such as his wisdom approved. God chose this plan, so unlike all the plans of human beings.

By the foolishness of preaching - Not "by foolish preaching," but by the preaching of the cross, which was regarded as foolish and absurd by the people of the world. The plan is wise, but it has been esteemed by the mass of people, and was particularly so esteemed by the Greek philosophers, to be egregiously foolish and ridiculous; see the note at 1 Corinthians 1:18.

To save them that believe - That believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; see the note at Mark 16:16. This was the speciality and essence of the plan of God, and this has appeared to the mass of people to be a plan devoid of wisdom and unworthy of God. The preaching of the cross which is thus esteemed foolishness, is made the means of saving them, because it sets forth God's only plan of mercy, and states the way in which lost sinners may become reconciled to God.

21. after that—rather, "whereas."

in the wisdom of God—in the wise arrangement of God.

world by wisdom—rather, "by its wisdom," or "its philosophy" (Joh 1:10; Ro 1:28).

knew not God—whatever other knowledge it attained (Ac 17:23, 27). The deistic theory that man can by the light of nature discover his duty to God, is disproved by the fact that man has never discovered it without revelation. All the stars and moon cannot make it day; that is the prerogative of the sun. Nor can nature's highest gifts make the moral day arise; that is the office of Christ. Even the Jew missed this knowledge, in so far as he followed after mere carnal world wisdom.

it pleased God—Paul refers to Jesus' words (Lu 10:21).

by the foolishness of preaching—by that preaching which the world (unbelieving Jews and Gentiles alike) deem foolishness.

save them that believe—(Ro 1:16).

For after that in the wisdom of God: some here, by the wisdom of God, understand Jesus Christ, and make the sense thus: When he who is the Wisdom of God came and preached to the world. Others understand the gospel, which is so called, 1 Corinthians 1:24, and 1 Corinthians 2:7. But I take the wisdom of God in this text to signify the wise administrations of Divine Providence in the government of the world to his wise ends.

The world by wisdom knew not God; the unregenerate part of the world would not come to a knowledge of and an acquaintance with God, in that way whereby he chose to reveal himself in and through Jesus Christ, as to which they were hindered by their own reasonings and knowledge, and apprehended skill in things, and capacity to comprehend them.

It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe; it pleased God to institute the great ordinance of preaching the gospel, which they count foolishness, as the sacred means by which he would bring all those that give credit to the revelation of it, and receive Christ held forth in it, to eternal life and salvation. For after that in the wisdom of God,.... These words contain a reason proving the infatuation of men, with respect to "the wisdom of God"; by which may be meant either Christ, who is the wisdom of God, was in the world, and yet the world of the Jews, and their chief Rabbins among them, with all their wisdom, neither knew him, nor God his Father; or the Gospel, which is also so called, and though this was come, both into the Jewish and Gentile world, yet neither of them, by their natural wisdom, knew the God of grace, so manifestly revealed in it; or rather the works of creation, in which there is such a visible display of the wisdom of God: yet "the world by wisdom knew not God"; the author of them: the Gentiles knew him not in any spiritual and saving manner, as in Christ, or the God of all grace; yea, they knew him not as the God of nature to be the one, only, true God; they knew him not so as to glorify him as God, or to worship him in a right way and manner: wherefore,

it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe; it was his purpose and decree within himself; it was his sovereign good will and pleasure; it was what he, without any motion from, or merit in the creature, resolved of himself from all eternity that he would "save", not the wise man, the Scribe, the disputer of this world, the rationalist, the talker, nor the worker, but "them that believe" in his Son; that look unto him, venture on him, and commit the care and keeping of their souls to him, however weak, mean, and despicable they may otherwise be; or whether they believe with a weak, or a strong faith, so be it, it is but true: the Ethiopic version reads, "that believe in this foolish doctrine"; and this he determined to do, and did, "by the foolishness of preaching"; or by that sort of preaching, which both for the matter of it, Christ, that itself, and the manner of it, the world reckons foolishness; and which are the things of the Father's grace in election, of the Son's grace in redemption, and the Spirit's in regeneration: so the wise men of the world, with all their wisdom, are left ignorant of God, and perish in their sins, whilst the Gospel they despise is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe in Christ; this, through efficacious grace, becomes the means of regenerating and quickening men, showing them their need of salvation, and where it is, and of working faith in them to look to Christ for it.

{23} For after that in the {q} wisdom of God the {r} world by wisdom knew not God, {24} it pleased God by the {s} foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

(23) He shows that the pride of men was worthily punished by God, because they could not behold God, as they properly should have, in the most clear mirror of the wisdom of the world, and this wisdom is the workmanship of the world.

(q) By the world he means all men who are not born again, but remain as they were, when they were first born.

(r) In the workmanship of this world, which has the marvellous wisdom of God engraved on it, so that every man may behold it.

(24) The goodness of God is wonderful, for while he goes about to punish the pride of this world, he is very provident and careful for the salvation of it, and teaches men to become fools, so that they may be wise to God.

(s) So he calls the preaching of the Gospel, as the enemies supposed it to be: but in the mean time he taunts those very sharply who had rather charge God with folly than acknowledge their own, and crave pardon for it.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Corinthians 1:21. More detailed explanation as to this ἐμώρανεν ὁ Θεὸς κ.τ.λ[236], specifying the why in the protasis and the how in the apodosis: since (see Hartung, Partikell. II. p. 259), that is to say, in the wisdom of God the world knew not God through wisdom, it pleased God to save believers through the foolishness of preaching. The wisdom of God was set before the eyes of the world, even of the heathen part of it, in the works of creation (Romans 1:19 f.; comp also Acts 17:26 f., 1 Corinthians 16:15 ff.); to the Jews it was presented, besides, in the revelation of the O. T. In this His manifested wisdom Go might and should have been known by men; but they did not know Him therein (ἘΝ Τῇ ΣΟΦ. Τ. ΘΕΟῦ ΟὐΚ ἜΓΝΩ Ὁ ΚΌΣΜ. Τ. ΘΕΌΝ),—did not attain by the means which they employed, by their wisdom, namely (ΔΙᾺ Τῆς ΣΟΦΊΑς), to this knowledge; whereupon God adopted the plan of saving (in the Messianic sense) believe through the opposite of wisdom, namely, through the foolishness of the gospel.

ἘΝ Τῇ ΣΟΦΊᾼ Τ. ΘΕΟῦ] is put first emphatically. because the whole stress of the antithesis in both protasis and apodosis is meant to fall on the notions of wisdom and folly. By ἐν Paul marks out the sphere, in which the negative fact of the οὐκ ἔγνω (“in media luce,” Calvin) took place; ΤΟῦ ΘΕΟῦ again is genitive subjecti, denoting, however, not the wisdom shown by God in Christ (Zachariae, Heydenreich, and Maier), nor Christ Himself even (Schrader and older expositors adduced by Estius), both of which would be quite unsuitable to the apodosis, but the wisdom of God manifested before Christianity in nature and Scripture.[238] Rückert is wrong in holding that ἐν τ. σοφ. τ. Θεοῦ is: “in virtue of the wisdom of God, i.e. under its guidance and arrangement, the world knew not God through its own wisdom.” Certainly Paul would not be made by this interpretation to say anything which would in itself be at variance with his view of the divine relationship to the matter; for with him the two factors of human action, the divine causality and the human self-determination, are so associated, that he may bring now the one and now the other into the foreground (comp on Romans 9); but against it may be urged, partly the position of the words ἐνΘεοῦ, which on Rückert’s view would lose their weight and convey a thought here unessential, and partly the significant relation between the protasis and apodosis, according to which the measure taken by God (εὐδόκησεν κ.τ.λ[240]) appears as called forth by men’s lack of knowledge, and hence the οὐκ ἔγνω would in such a passage be most unsuitably referred to the appointment of God, so as to excuse what is declared in Romans 1:20 to be inexcusable.

οὐκ ἔγνω] Seeing that the Jews also are included, and that anything which would contradict Romans 1:19-21 is out of the question, this must apply to the true knowledge of God, which was not attained, and which, if the κόσμος had reached it, would have caused the preaching of the cross to appear other than foolishness; comp 1 Corinthians 2:14.

ΔΙᾺ Τῆς ΣΟΦ.] applies to the heathen world-wisdom and the Jewish school-wisdom, since it is the means of knowledge employed without result (observe that by the οὐκ the whole from ἔγνω to ΘΕΌΝ inclusive is negatived) by the κόσμος for the knowing God. The prepositional relation cannot differ from that of the correlative διὰ τ. μωρίας which follows. Hence Theophylact interprets wrongly: ΔΙᾺ Τῆς ἘΝ ΕὐΓΛΩΤΤΊᾼ ΘΕΩΡΟΥΜΈΝΗς ΣΟΦΊΑς ἘΜΠΟΔΙΖΌΜΕΝΟΙ. So, too, Billroth: “their own wisdom was the cause of their not knowing.”

ἐυδόκησεν ὁ Θ.] placuit Deo, He pleased, it was His will, as Romans 15:26; Galatians 1:15; Colossians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 2:8. See Fritzsche, a[242] Rom. II. p. 370.

ΔΙᾺ Τῆς ΜΩΡΊΑς ΤΟῦ ΚΗΡΎΓΜ., i.e. by means of the foolishness which formed the substance of the preaching (of the gospel). That is the doctrine of the cross, 1 Corinthians 1:18, which, as compared with the wisdom employed by the κόσμος as a means of knowledge, is a foolish doctrine, but in the counsel and work of God the means of salvation, namely, for the πιστεύοντας, which word, as solving the riddle of the divinely applied ΜΩΡΊΑ, stands emphatically at the end. For to the conscious experience of believers that resultless wisdom of the world is now foolishness, and the foolishness of the κήρυγμα the divine saving wisdom.

Notice, in conclusion, how the whole verse is a compact and stately co-ordination and dovetailing of correlative clauses. Remark, in particular, the repetition of σοφία and ΘΕΌς, “quasi aliquod telum saepius perveniat in eandem partem corporis,” Auct. a[243] Herenn. iv. 28.

[236] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[238] Not simply in the natural revelation (Chrysostom, Calvin, Grotius, Estius, and many others, including Hofmann). For ver. 22 proves that the Jews, too, are included with the rest in the notion of the κόσμος.

[240] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[242] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[243] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.1 Corinthians 1:21-25. The ἐπειδὴ of 1 Corinthians 1:21 and that of 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 are parl[218], the second restating and expanding the first (cf. the double ὅταν in 1 Corinthians 15:24, and in 1 Corinthians 15:27 f.: see notes), rather than proving it; together they justify the assertion implied in 1 Corinthians 1:20 b, which virtually repeats 1 Corinthians 1:18.

[218] parallel.21. For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God] We have here a contrast drawn between God’s wisdom and that of man. Man’s wisdom could but inquire and argue. God’s wisdom had decreed that by such means man should only learn his weakness.

it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching] Rather, with the Rhemish version, by the foolishness of the preachings, i.e. of the gospel. The word translated preaching should rather be rendered what is preached. It is called foolishness (1) because ‘those who were perishing’ thought it so; (2) because it required no high intellectual gift, but simple faith in a crucified and risen Lord. This abnegation by man of his natural powers was the first step in the road to salvation. But we are not to suppose that after man had thus surrendered those powers to God in a spirit of childlike faith, he was not to receive them back regenerated and transfigured.1 Corinthians 1:21. Ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ, in the wisdom) since [‘because’] the wisdom of God is so great, 1 Corinthians 1:25.—οὐκ ἔγνω, knew not) Before the preaching of the cross, although the creature proclaimed the Creator, although the most eloquent prophets had come, still the world knew not God. Those, who heard the prophets, despised them; those, who did not hear them, were of such a spirit, that they would have despised them.—διὰ τῆς σοφίας, by wisdom) viz., by the wisdom of preaching,[8] as is evident from the antithesis, by the foolishness of preaching.—εὐδόκησεν Θεὸς) it pleased God, in mercy and grace to us. Paul seems evidently to have imitated the words of the Lord, Luke 10:21.—διὰ τῆς μωρίας, by the foolishness) God deals with perverse man by contraries, so that man may deny himself, and render glory to God, through belief in the cross.—κηρύγματος, of preaching) inasmuch as it is concerning the cross.

[8] Not, “the world by its wisdom:” but, notwithstanding the preaching of true wisdom by creation and by prophets of God, the world knew not God.—ED.Verse 21. - In the wisdom of God; that is, as a part of his Divine economy. The world through its wisdom knew not God. These words might be written as an epitaph on the tomb of ancient philosophy, and of modern philosophy and science so far as it assumes an anti-Christian form (Luke 10:21). Human wisdom, when it relies solely on itself, may "feel after God," but hardly find him (Acts 17:26, 27). Through the foolishness of the preaching. This is a mis-translation. It would require keruxeos, not kerugmatos. It should be by the foolishness (as men esteemed it) of the thing preached. After that (ἐπειδὴ)

Rev., correctly, seeing that.

By wisdom (διὰ τῆς σοφίας)

Better, as Rev., giving the force of the article, "through its wisdom."

Preaching (κηρύγματος)

Not the act, but the substance of preaching. Compare 1 Corinthians 1:23.

To save (σῶσαι)

The word was technically used in the Old Testament of deliverance at the Messiah's coming; of salvation from the penalties of the messianic judgment, or from the evils which obstruct the messianic deliverance. See Joel 2:32; Matthew 1:21; compare Acts 2:40. Paul uses it in the ethical sense, to make one a partaker of the salvation which is through Christ. Edwards calls attention to the foregleam of this christian conception of the word in the closing paragraph of Plato's "Republic:" "And thus, Glaucon, the tale has been saved, and has not perished, and will save (σώσειεν) us if we are obedient to the word spoken, and we shall pass safely over the river of forgetfulness and our soul will not be defiled."

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