Human Wisdom Perishing

by Frank Jones


hen the Lord said, "Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed (Isaiah 29:23-24; quoted 1 Corinthians 19)

But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power (1 Corinthians 4:19-20).

Several features of Isaiah 29:14 and its surrounding verses suggest its attractiveness to Paul and its aptness in relation to his argument. Part of a woe oracle condemning various human practices (cf. 29:1, 3), the previous verse associates wisdom with “lip service,” “people drawing near [to God, only] with their mouths.” … A purely verbal show of piety, the very thing Paul faults the Corinthians for in chapters 1–4, recalls the superficial “lip service” of Isaiah 29:13. Most significantly, the “wonderful” and yet “shocking” things (29:13–14) the prophet foretells, with messianic overtones, are what Paul declares have now transpired through Christ crucified. Paul uses Isaiah 29:14 to announce that God’s eschatological judgment and salvation are taking place among the Corinthians. As Hays puts it, “God has already put the wise to shame through the foolishness of the cross, the apocalyptic event that has shattered the old order of human wisdom.” The Corinthians who still value “the wisdom of the wise” have failed to notice God’s apocalyptic judgment on such wisdom through the crucified Messiah, or the inherent contradiction between that version of wisdom and the one to which they owe their redemption in Christ. The fact that in 1:18 people are still in the process of being saved (or destroyed) indicates that the unfolding of the drama of salvation is not yet complete. (Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 93–94.)