on 1-corinthians 1 :20
Where is the wise - the scribe - the disputer of this world? - These words most manifestly refer to the Jews; as the places (Isaiah 29:14; Isaiah 33:18; Isaiah 44:25) to which he refers cannot be understood of any but the Jews.
The wise man σοφος, of the apostle, is the חכם chakam of the prophet; whose office it was to teach others.
The scribe, γραμματευς, of the apostle, is the ספר sopher of the prophet; this signifies any man of learning, as distinguished from the common people, especially any master of the traditions.
The disputer, συζητητης, answers to the דרש derosh, or דרשן darshan, the propounder of questions; the seeker of allegorical, mystical, and cabalistical senses from the Holy Scriptures. Now as all these are characters well known among the Jews, and as the words αιωνος τουτου, of this world are a simple translation of עולם הזה olam hazzeh, which is repeatedly used to designate the Jewish republic, there is no doubt that the apostle has the Jews immediately in view. This wisdom of theirs induced them to seek out of the sacred oracles any sense but the true one; and they made the word of God of none effect by their traditions. After them, and precisely on their model, the schoolmen arose; and they rendered the doctrine of the Gospel of no effect by their hypercritical questions, and endless distinctions without differences. By the preaching of Christ crucified God made foolish the wisdom of the Jewish wise men; and, after that the pure religion of Christ had been corrupted by a Church that was of this world, God rendered the wisdom and disputing of the schoolmen foolishness, by the revival of pure Christianity at the Reformation. The Jews themselves allow that nothing is wise, nothing strong, nothing rich, without God.
"Our rabbins teach that there were two wise men in this world; one was an Israelite, Achitophel, the other was a Gentile, Balaam; but both were miserable in this world."
"There were also two strong men in the world; one an Israelite, Samson, the other a Gentile, Goliah; but they were both miserable in this world."
"There were two rich men in the world; one an Israelite, Korah, the other a Gentile, Haman; but both these were miserable in this world. And why? Because their gifts came not from God." See Schoettgen.
In truth the world has derived very little, if any, moral good, either from the Jewish rabbins or the Gentile philosophers.
on 1-corinthians 1 :20
Where is the wise? - Language similar to this occurs in Isaiah 33:18, "Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?" Without designing to quote these words as having an original reference to the subject now under consideration, Paul uses them as any man does language where he finds words with which he or his readers are familiar, that will convey his meaning. A man familiar with the Bible, will naturally often make use of Scripture expressions in conveying his ideas. In Isaiah, the passage refers to the deliverance of the people from the threatened invasion of Sennacherib. The 18th verse represents the people as meditating on the threatened terror of the invasion; and then in the language of exultation and thanksgiving at their deliverance, saying, "where is the wise man that laid the plan of destroying the nation? Where the Inspector General (see my note on the passage in Isaiah), employed in arranging the forces? Where the receiver (margin the "weigher"), the paymaster of the forces? Where the man that counted the towers of Jerusalem, and calculated on their speedy overthrow? All baffled and defeated; and their schemes have all come to nothing." So the apostle uses the same language in regard to the boasted wisdom, of the world in reference to salvation. It is all baffled, and is all shown to be of no value.
The wise - σοφός sophos. The sage. At first the Greek men of learning were called "wise men" σοφοί sophoi, like the magicians of the East. They afterward assumed a more modest appellation, and called themselves the "lovers of wisdom" φιλοσοφοι philosophoi, or "philosophers." This was the name by which they were commonly known in Greece in the time of Paul.
Where is the scribe? - γραμματεὺς grammateus. The scribe among the Jews was a learned man originally employed in transcribing the law, but subsequently the term came to denote a learned man in general. Among the Greeks the word was used to denote a public notary or a transcriber of the laws; or a secretary. It was a term, therefore nearly synonymous with a man of learning; and the apostle evidently uses it in this sense in this place. Some have supposed that he referred to the Jewish men of learning here; but he probably had reference to the Greeks.
Where is the disputer of this world? - The acute and subtle sophist of this age. The word "disputer" συζητητὴς suzētētēs, properly denotes one who "inquires" carefully into the causes and relations of things; one who is a subtle and abstruse investigator. It was applied to the ancient sophists and disputants in the Greek academics; and the apostle refers, doubtless, to them. The meaning is, that in all their professed investigations, in all their subtle and abstruse inquiries, they had failed of ascertaining the way in which man could be saved; and that God had devised a plan which had baffled all their wisdom, and in which their philosophy was disregarded. The term "world," here αἰῶνος aiōnos, refers, probably, not to the world as a physical structure - though Grotius supposes that it does - but to that "age" - the disputer of that age, or generation - an age eminently wise and learned.
Hath not God made foolish ... - That is, has he not by the originality and superior efficacy of his plan of salvation, poured contempt on all the schemes of philosophers, and evinced their folly? Not only without the aid of those schemes of human beings, but in opposition to them, he has devised a plan for human salvation that evinces its efficacy and its wisdom in the conversion of sinners, and in destroying the power of wickedness. Paul here, possibly, had reference to the language in Isaiah 44:25. God "turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish."
on 1-corinthians 1 :20
1:20 Where is the wise? and c. - The deliverance of Judea from Sennacherib is what Isaiah refers to in these words; in a bold and beautiful allusion to which, the apostle in the clause that follows triumphs over all the opposition of human wisdom to the victorious gospel of Christ. What could the wise men of the gentiles do against this? or the Jewish scribes? or the disputers of this world? - Those among both, who, proud of their acuteness, were fond of controversy, and thought they could confute all opponents. Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world - That is, shown it to be very foolishness. Isaiah 33:18