Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Sidebar on 1 Corinthians

The first of today’s posts on DaGoodS’s (DGS) questions will come a bit later, as I wanted to examine a side issue that was raised. The discussion revolves around a specific interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1:20-21. DGS thinks it supports a rejection of all worldly wisdom. However, I believe that in its proper context, it is trying to argue something far different.

Isolating verses from their context is common practice for atheists using the Bible to argue against itself. In this case, DGS thinks that the verse says to reject all worldly wisdom. In fact, it is simply touting the superiority of God’s wisdom over that of man. Let’s follow along.

What Paul is trying to communicate in the broader argument (1 Cor 1:18-2:16) is that, even though members of the church may lack gifts prized by people in the world, they nonetheless are capable ministers of the Word because God uses people who seem less than adequate in the eyes of the world to accomplish his purpose.

The Bible abounds with examples; look how many excuses Moses tried to put forth to get God to change his mind about using him, or the lengths that Elijah or Jonah went to trying to avoid the will of God.

Why? God does this to shame the wisdom of the world. The lowly among the world are chosen to bring the gospel message so that no one can boast before God that they were saved by a mighty and powerful human (1 Cor 1:28-31; 2:3-5).

Paul goes on to explain (1 Cor 2:1-16) that the lowly are also chosen so that faith will be placed with the strength of God rather than the weakness of men. A modern example of this might be the pedophile priest scandal within Roman Catholicism. Why continue to follow that religion? Because it has been touched by God, anointed by him for a specific purpose. We have to follow God, not the people purporting to speak for him. Those speakers only point to a higher reality and a greater truth beyond what they can articulate from a pulpit. They are not the ground and giver of our faith–God is.

I remember when I was a young Catholic that I looked up to the priests as mysterious, as unquestionable authority figures. Heck, when I was ill with Hodgkins’ disease my mom went ballistic and cleaned the house extra-white-glove-nice because a priest was coming over to see me. My mom flipped out when anyone came over, but that was an extra-special flip out (enough to make me remember it among all of the other “The house isn’t clean enough” flip outs). This particular priest visited me, and talked with me about my illness, and about God and his plan for my life, but nearly left without saying a prayer (my mom had to remind him–he was pretty embarrassed).

The priest is as human as the rest of us, and the “infallible” Magisterium is composed of fallible humans. A position in the Roman Curia is “personal confessor,” a priest that the Pope visits daily to confess his sins. Even the Roman Catholic Church, which Catholic apologists claim is the Church founded by Jesus Christ himself (I see that claim once a month or so from Ross Earl Hoffman on Facebook) is a human institution at the end of the day.

Now that severe crimes against humanity perpetrated by renegade priests and covered up by apathetic bishops has come to light, God is shaming his church and reminding us that our faith is properly directed at him, not a human institution. God will not fail, but humans (and the institutions that we devise) will always fail.

Incidentally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the pedophile priest scandal seems to be a pedophile minister scandal, hitting Protestant churches as well. Usually perpetrated by youth workers/directors/pastors. My goal here isn’t to pick on Catholics. Pedophile ministers are an epidemic, and I believe God is using it to shame all churches. The whole institution, Catholic and Protestant, is becoming too haughty, each claiming that only its members are saved. That’s sad, because Paul argued forcefully against that in this same letter to the Corinthians:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor 1:10-17)

The point of this passage isn’t to argue against the idea that all worldly wisdom should be shunned, just that God’s wisdom is superior. I’ve argued elsewhere that the Bible isn’t the sole source of God’s wisdom, merely the sole infallible source of God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom may be found everywhere if we use the Bible as our source of truth and yardstick for wisdom.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on January 13, 2011, in Bible Thoughts, Religion, Roman Catholicism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. OP said: “The discussion revolves around a specific interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1:20-21. DGS thinks it supports a rejection of all worldly wisdom. However, I believe that in its proper context, it is trying to argue something far different.”

    What method should we use to determine whose interpretation is correct?

    • What method should you use to determine if I’m right, or if DaGoodS is right? Well, you could examine how we handled the text in question.

      On one hand, I’m following the argument from start to finish, trying to keep in mind who Paul was writing to and why he was writing it. I’m not isolating lonely verses and divorcing them from the full context of the letter. But, if you don’t believe that the fast food manager is qualified to offer his humble opinion on this matter, then consider: The Compact Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004) agrees with me that the specific focus of this passage is the Cross and salvation (p. 805). You can also look at commentaries of the past, from John Darby to Matthew Henry to John Wesley, and even Wesley’s evil archnemesis John Calvin:

      A solution of this question, I say, is opened up to view from the circumstance, that Paul does not expressly condemn either man’s natural perspicacity, or wisdom acquired from practice and experience, or cultivation of mind attained by learning; but declares that all this is of no avail for acquiring spiritual wisdom. And, certainly, it is madness for any one, confiding either in his own acuteness, or the assistance of learning, to attempt to fly up to heaven, or, in other words, to judge of the secret mysteries of the kingdom of God, or to break through (Exodus 19:21) to a discovery of them, for they are hid from human view. Let us, then, take notice, that we must restrict to the specialities of the case in hand what Paul here teaches respecting the vanity of the wisdom of this world — that it rests in the mere elements of the world, and does not reach to heaven. In other respects, too, it holds true, that without Christ sciences in every department are vain, and that the man who knows not God is vain, though he should be conversant with every branch of learning. Nay more, we may affirm this, too, with truth, that these choice gifts of God — expertness of mind, acuteness of judgment, liberal sciences, and acquaintance with languages, are in a manner profaned in every instance in which they fall to the lot of wicked men. (source)

      On the other hand, DaGoodS is pulling a single verse out of the full argument without reference to the surrounding context, or the overall message of Scripture.

      I don’t know. You decide. Which one of us is most probably right?

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