20 “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”
Human wisdom is not permanent. It ebbs and flows for its theories go back and forth like a pendulum, first a view then a countervailing view. This is the problem of finite wisdom. This verse alludes to Isaiah 33:18.
Paul asks four rhetorical questions to make emphatic the puny nature of man’s finite perspective on reality.
Where is the wise?
This is a reference to the Greek philosopher. Stoicism and Epicureanism (antithetical schools of thought) were dominating philosophies of the Corinthian time.
Where is the scribe?
The scribe here may be the scribe that the Assyrians send with their army to record the battles and booty (Is 33:18). Alternatively, the “scribe” could refer to the Jewish scribe who interpreted of the law.
Where is the disputer of this age?
The Greeks loved to argue. Paul asks where are all your clever arguments of philosophy in the light of God’s eternal truth. Finite philosophers bring us finite truth. The disputer of this age is the dialectic approach that debates all the incompatible viewpoints of the day. That gets nowhere.
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
The infinite wisdom of God puts human wisdom into finite irrelevance. The strong negative in the Greek shows the foolishness of finite wisdom of this age. God proves man’s wisdom foolish. Man by man’s wisdom and effort can never provide a better world. Man is not autonomous from God so it is ridiculous from God’s viewpoint to think otherwise.
The many gods of the Greco Roman culture made that culture pluralistic because they were polytheistic. Zeus governed the gods and chased women on the side. Mercury carried messages. Aphrodite was the goddess of love. Each played a role without a unifying truth. Polytheism was pluralistic so that is why they have antithetical and competing viewpoints.
Some believers at Corinth turned from the viewpoint of God’s Word to seek solutions in human wisdom. This was the cause of the Corinthian problem. They turned from God’s plan to man’s plan. They wanted to accommodate their culture, time, and philosophies. They preferred a more flexible viewpoint. They did not fancy a system of absolutes.
Note each of the three questions is answered in the following passages: Paul deals with the philosopher in verses 21-29, with the scribe in 1:30-31, and with the debater in 2:1-16.
Christianity stands in mutual exclusive counter-distinction to pluralism and relativism.
Christianity stands in mutual exclusive counter-distinction to relativistic pluralism. A strength of Christianity is its certainty, its truth. It is strong because there is conviction and not a flexible system that neutralizes conviction. Believers with strong conviction do not fall sucker to plurality and relativism. The “wisdom of this world” is the satanic system, worldliness.
Since human wisdom is finite, it does not get to the root of issues for philosophy can find no ultimate answers. God views finite wisdom as transient in nature. This wisdom is a short-lived show. God not only disregards the wisdom of the word, He designates it foolish. God rejects human wisdom as scornful.
The Bible presents the gospel as absolute. God does not permit equivocation on the truth of the gospel. The debater does not tolerate the believer who comes to a final view of truth. Absolute truth flies in the face of the predominate bias of today’s thinking who are people without conviction. Their greatest desire is to hear themselves talk. Almost everyone wishes the role of the pundit. The desire is to offer varying viewpoints without conclusion. However, God is absolute and anything that comes from God is absolute. God’s Word is absolute. Our understanding of God’s Word is not absolute yet God’s Word is not eclectic but definitive.
God’s perspective on the universe is entirely different from the viewpoint of finite man. God proves man’s viewpoint foolish. It is impossible for a perfect, absolute person to devise an imperfect plan. This galls pluralistic, relativistic thinking of our day.
Christianity is not primarily a system of ethics or a philosophy. Christianity is not a culture but a relationship with God. It is a system of provisions from God, a system of grace. Manner of life flows from this. Overt behavior and activity spring from this. Ethics come from a relationship with God and never precede it. The difference lies in relationship with God rather than a system of human righteousness.