“It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err” Mohandas K. Gandhi: 1865-1948 (Chang 750).
The Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines Wisdom as: “An accumulated philosophic or scientific learning: knowledge b: ability to discern inner qualities and relationships: insight c: good sense: judgment” The concept of wisdom is a significant one, in particular to our modern technological society, because we place a strong emphasis on knowledge.
A cursory look at the Bible shows that wisdom is a very significant concept in the Old and New Testaments because it concerns how we live or lives. The Bible is clear that only when our life is oriented to God and when we apply God’s standards to our day to day lives are we truly wise.
The wisdom that the Bible speaks of is “spiritual or divine wisdom”, as it comes from God, this is the wisdom to follow His precepts as revealed to us through Christ Jesus (Richards “Wisdom”).
Apostle Paul’s use of wisdom in 1st Corinthians 1-3 defines spiritual or divine wisdom from God more specifically, in relation to his own rabbinical idea of what wisdom is and also in contrast with the common Greek philosophical view. Since the term “spiritual or divine wisdom” is a term utilized by many esoteric practices, philosophies, and religions, we must be clear in what the Apostle was communicating. Apostle Paul is clear in demonstrating this “wisdom” as wisdom which comes from God, by His Spirit, the Holy Ghost (1st Corinthians 2.12).
Of course, this is not a matter of supplanting scholarship or study; and it is more than a matter of supplement, it is a tool that can be utilized for greater spiritual growth within the faith. This is also not to suggest secret revelation to the believer or extra-biblical revelation; spiritual or divine wisdom that comes from God is a tool to demonstrate God’s Kingdom more effectively by showing Christ in the day to day walk. In Apostle Paul’s 1st Epistle to the Church at Corinth, this topic is addressed in a detail that can be readily applied to the church of it’s time as well as our own. In order to better understand how Paul contrasted spiritual or divine wisdom from his own rabbinical ideas, we must take a look at the most likely source of his rabbinical understanding of “wisdom”.
Before Paul was an Apostle, according to Acts 22.3, he studied in Jerusalem under the Rabbi Gamaliel. We are not told either the nature or the extent of the influence which Gamaliel exercised upon Paul of the Gentiles, however; it is known that Gamaliel did occupy a leading position in the great council of Jerusalem, and as his grandfather Hillel, received the nickname "Ha-Zaḳen” (The “Elder”) (“Gamaliel” Brittanica 434).
Gamaliel taught in the school of Hillel; Hillel’s teachings were known and authoritative 50 years before Jesus was born. These rabbinical interpretations of the Hebrew scriptures were accepted gradually permitting the adaptation of inherited laws rather than literal interpretation, which began to dominate pre and post 70 AD Judaism (Von Deshen & Harris 87).
The Mishnah at this time however; had not yet developed any contrary view regarding “wisdom” from the Old Testament, therefore we may presuppose that the rabbinical view at that time in Hillel’s school was more Tanakh based (specifically based on the books of Wisdom). In the Old Testament, the basic word group expressing the concept of wisdom includes hakam (Strong’s #2449, Hebrew) and its cognates hokmah (Strong’s #2451, Hebrew) and hakam (Strong’s #2450, Hebrew). Together these words occur over three hundred times in the Old Testament and the closest words in meaning to this group of words are cognates of bin, or buna which mean "understanding." (Strong’s, #8394, Hebrew “Buna”).
The Hebrew view is very practical in its focus, as wisdom is expressed in godly living (Pr 2.6, 9-10, 12). Wisdom literature in the Old Testament includes Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and many psalms, this type of literature does don’t express itself in a legalistic form, not even in clarification of the Mosaic Law, wisdom literature deals with lifestyle, contrasting the wisdom and foolishness in the choices that people make (Scott et al “1st Corinthians”). In addition to the Rabbinical view, Paul may have become familiar with concepts of wisdom from other parts of Jewish scholarship of that time, particularly the teachings of Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE - 50 CE) on regard to the logos.
Philo’s method of interpretation was partially influenced by the Mishnah, yet he in turn influenced the Mishnah as well; for many of his ideas were adopted by Palestinian scholars, and are still found scattered throughout the Talmud and the Midrashim yet that influence had not yet manifested during Paul’s time under Gamaliel in Hillel’s school (Runia 215). Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE - 50 CE), a Hellenized Jew, followed the Platonic distinction between imperfect matter and perfect idea. The logos was necessary, he taught, because God cannot come into contact with matter. Philo sometimes identified logos as “divine wisdom”.
Philo connected his doctrine of the Logos with the Hebrew Scriptures, partially predicated on Genesis 1.27. He translates the passage as follows: "He made man after the image of God,"; he posited that this image of God was the type for all other things (the "Archetypal Idea" of Plato). The “Logos” in his philosophical view is a shadow cast by God, having the outlines but not the blinding light of the Divine Being (New Jewish Encyclopedia, Philo Judaeus).
It must be specified, that though Philo was a Jew, and that perhaps Paul was familiar with his philosophy, Philo's conception of the matter out of which the world was created is not Biblical; he is here at one with Plato and the Stoics. Following the Stoics, he designates God as "the efficient cause," and matter as "the affected cause." (New Jewish Encyclopedia, Philo Judaeus) yet he also refers to this concept from the Bible (Genesis 1.2), as the Spirit of God hovered above the waters during creation, so Philo was staunchly in the Greek view, but still related to the Hebrew viewpoint. In contrast to Apostle Paul’s influences, the congregation at Corinth’s being from the mostly Roman and Greek population had their influence primarily from Greco-Roman philosophical thought and Hellenistic mystery religious thought, which were prominent amongst the Corinthian congregation (Witherington 177).
The Corinthian church was said to have the distinction of being “the most confused congregation, or group of congregations, that Paul addressed”. The main problem was that the Corinthian congregation was being torn apart by quarreling (1st Cor 1.11). Paul’s opponents at Corinth were Jews, proto-Gnostics, libertines, ascetics, ecstatics, realized eschatologists, anti-resurrectionists, etc. (1 Corinthians 1.10-17). In addressing this problem of division, Paul implies that their division may be the result of heeding human wisdom rather than divine wisdom (1 Cor 1.18-31) (Elwell & Yarbrough 288-289).
In Greco-Roman culture, "wisdom" represented an unusual attribute or ability, philosophic or speculative knowledge. These types of words in this group are used rarely in the Gospels, however when used, they are utilized in the OT sense. The greatest number of uses of "wise" and "wisdom" are in 1st Cor 1-3. It can be assumed that the educated in the Corinthian congregation had a Platonic view of “wisdom” or “sophia”.
Prior to Plato, the Greek word “Sophia” had the same wide connotation as the Hebrew hakma. Wisdom in a practical sense, learning. Whereas, Plato saw “philosophia” as a transcendent form of wisdom, an "aspiration to a Sophia”. Basicaly, Plato thought that true wisdom could not be attained but that it could be aspired to. Contrary to this, Paul taught that wisdom to understand that which transcends man, which is God, comes from God and is given to those who have received the Gospel of the Kingdom through Christ Jesus. Paul taught that this “wisdom” that he spoke of could be apprehended by believers. In 1 Corintians 1.18-31, Paul makes clears that the philosophers “philosophia” did not bring knowledge of God. Platonic worldview did not leave room to recognize Christ as the power and wisdom of God (1 Co 1.24), so Paul put the subject in proper context for them.
The Corinthians had a view that in many ways transcended simple earthly scholarship as wisdom, yet the were not yet seeing that wisdom that was beyond man was available to them. This is further clarified in 1 Corinthians 1.19: “It is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of those who are wise. I will do away with the cleverness of those who think they are so smart.” (NIV). Here the Apostle references one of the books of the Nevi’im (Isaiah 29.14) to illustrate that the wisdom he is speaking of is not intellect or human knowledge, or simply an unattainable transcendent wisdom, but a gift that is given of God. This would also speak to the Jews of the audience who may have been familiar with this scripture, and Philo of Alexandria’s philosophy, but not yet clear in having access to the Spirit of God in a more relationship style manner.
The rabbinical view did deal with that following God’s written precepts was ideal, however, it did not deal with the spiritual component of spiritual truth being revealed to the Christian, as Paul expanded upon. Apostle Paul continues in verses 20-21, specifically asking “Where is the educated person? Where are the great thinkers of this world? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish?”. This further referencing the power of the Christ the Wisdom of God (v24), clearly stating that God is wiser than men (v25). Connecting God’s greater wisdom to accessibility by the believer was part of what Paul was communicating and he did so by demonstration as well as words. Even though Paul was educated, Paul was clear in indicating that the “wisdom” he spoke of was beyond his scholarship or simply keeping what was written in the Tanakh and more importantly, that this wisdom was attainable because of the cross to those who believed.
1 Corinthians 2.1-5 addresses that topic, Apostle Paul specifies that when he came to the church of Corinth, he didn’t profess his own wisdom, but declared “The Testimony of God”. Not with enticing words but in demonstration of the Spirit. The scripture is emphasizing that our faith should not be in the “Wisdom of Men” but in the POWER of GOD.
Apostle Paul continues to put the subject of wisdom in its spiritual context in 1st Corinthians 2.12: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” As Jesus stated in John 14, the Spirit we have received (which is the Holy Ghost) is of God and that we can know the things that are freely given to us by God from the Spirit. In verses 13 and 14 Paul speaks about how spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Clearly stating that the natural mind does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, in fact they are foolishness to a natural minded person.
True wisdom, the wisdom which comes from God, can be known only by believers (2.6-10), and fully grasped only by mature believers (2.11-16). The unbeliever, because of his volition, is not at all able to grasp the wisdom of God (2.14). This foundation can be found in the Gospels as well, specifically in John 14.26. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”, further, in that same chapter Jesus makes clear that the Holy Ghost (Spirit of God) is for believers only. In 1st Corinthians 3.16, Paul reminds that Corinthians of the fact that the Holy Ghost is in them, therefore; they need to mature and be able to be led by Him, above their allegiances to individual leaders. However, the divisions among the Corinthians was evidence that they were still operating in worldly wisdom; and did not have a grasp on the actuality of what was their in Christ (3.1-4).
Apostle Paul has been able to bring light on what constituted true wisdom by showing that true wisdom comes by way of revelation, not reason. Since the Corinthians had put too much of an emphasis on the messengers of the Christian message as opposed to the Christian message itself, divisions were inevitable. In this manner also we find a problem that would plague Christian even until this day. Just as the Corinthian church dealt with their separations in following Paul or Apollos, so did we see the pattern continue as heresies and divisions formed during Christian history, as well we see this today. Paul posited that he and Apollos were merely farmers and builders, but that only God caused growth. What was to be grown and built was mature Christians, and Paul appeals to them to regard him and Apollos as mere servants of Christ (4.1-5).
Paul came humbly, showing them by example of what he was communicating with them. Paul answers there divisions and philosophies not with an apologetic argument, but with demonstration and proclamation in which he shows that the wisdom of men is of no avail in regard to spiritual truth. He expresses the lack of spiritual wisdom, the wisdom of God; which the lack of is the root of their problems. That they can never get to the root of their problems by trying to pursue the insights of their individual philosophies predicated on secular philosophers.
That is still true today; the Christian community will never solve its problems relying solely on scholarship and wisdom neither of today’s philosophies; nor by following specific Christian leaders or ideologies without focus being on what God gives us by His Spirit through Christ Jesus. Paul answers these schisms and factions and divisions by confronting them with the word of the cross -- the word that presents the cross the Christ as that instrument by which God cuts off all human wisdom, not as being worthless in its own narrow realm, but as being useless in solving the major problems of man. When we understand this, we realize that we will never begin to learn until we first learn that we do not know anything.
When we come to appreciate the word of the cross, we understand that in the cross of Jesus Christ, God took his own Son, now become man like us, identified with us in every way, and nailed him up to die as being useless as far as solving any of the problems of mankind is concerned. The wisdom of God looks so foolish to the natural man; because proceeds on a totally different principle than the wisdom of the world.
Paul posits that when we accept this, we can then discover that true, secret. Most importantly we understand ourselves, and then can apprehend the world around us. Paul’s answer is mighty, and resonates to this day in answer to the worship of the intellectualism that has constantly hounded the church, and attempts to undermine it, “a false intellectualism.” The word of God never attempts to disregard the pursuit of knowledge, God intends for people to learn things, however; for the Christian, knowledge and wisdom should be predicated upon a right beginning and we are called back to the principle set forth in the Old Testament, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9.10 RSV) (Stedham).
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