Why Natural Man Cannot Think Straight

by Spiros Zodhiates

 (Editor's note: Dr. Zodhiates continues his commentary on 1 Corinthians 19-21.)

"Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1 Cor. 1:20)

If you were to visit Athens, Greece, you would find on the newsstands a magazine called Suzetesis, "Discussion" or "Debate." Interestingly enough, this comes from the same root as the word suzetetes, "disputer," which Paul used in 1 Corinthians 1:20—the only instance in the New Testament where we find this word used to describe man. It comes from the conjunction sn, meaning "with" and the verb zetéo\ meaning "look for or search out."

As used by Paul, "disputer or arguer," refers to the person who searches with others to find truth or solutions to stated problems. The Greeks were and are great at that. In ancient times they sat under the market porch or portico and argued about everything under the sun. Today they sit in coffee houses and argue about how their own country and the world should be run. It is no wonder that before the military take-over in 1967 Greece had over 121 political parties!

Of the three classes of persons Paul mentions in this verse, few would claim to be in the class of the wise, and few are theologians, but anyone can be an arguer—be he college professor or bootblack. So Paul includes in the entire spectrum of human minds all those who, apart from God's revelation, seek to arrive at a solution of the human problem. They existed in Paul's day and they exist in ours.

"Has not God rendered foolish the wisdom of this world?" asks Paul. He refers to the wisdom of the world in every age. The wisdom of the world stands in contrast to the wisdom of God spoken of in verse 21. It is earthly wisdom in contrast to heavenly. It is wisdom that originates with man, not with God.

In what way has God proved such wisdom foolish? The first thing man may say in his foolish wisdom is that there is no God. Psalm 14:1 declares, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." Ironically, it is the educated who foolishly claim God doesn't exist. We think educated men should know better than the uneducated. However, Paul's statement in Romans 1:22 makes it clear that our ideas are often wrong. He states, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."

One of the great mysteries of our world is how an otherwise intelligent man can deny his Creator. It is curious how he can maintain that this complex universe has no Maker, when he readily admits that every artifact, every mechanism of civilization proclaims an intelligence behind it. What stupidity coexists with human wisdom!

The active verb emoranen, "made foolish," found in 1 Corinthians 1:20, implies that God delivered man up to a state of stupidity, of acting like a fool. When man refuses to retain God in his knowledge, God delivers him over to spiritual blindness.

In verse 18 Paul said that to those who perish—that is, to sinners who do not have the Spirit of God within them—the logic of the cross appears foolishness. Now in verse 20 he turns to the perishing ones, the wise men of this world, and says, "Do you know why you act like this, why you consider the cross of Christ, which is the only hope of your salvation, foolishness? It is because you are fools. God has rendered your wisdom foolish." He says the same thing in Romans 1:28, "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient."

In effect, Paul says, "Your mind is warped. You can't think straight. You, in Adam, have disobeyed God, and you have reaped the consequence set by God—a reprobate mind that looks at nature and says, There is no God.'"

Certainly those around us would consider us fools if we declared that not only did no one make the shirts we wear or the watches we carry, but also that these things gradually came into existence over eons of time to fill a need. They would say we belonged in a mental institution. However, when we declare that the universe evolved or made itself, many today would call us wise, educated, scientific, philosophers! How inconsistent is the judgment of unregenerate men! Paul was never more right than when he declared such wise men to be fools.

As Napoleon was blazing the trail to his throne, he sought to conquer Egypt. Along with him as assistants he had some of the most able engineers and scientists of France. Naturally, they talked about the land of the Nile and the part that religion had played in it. They agreed that religion had colored and carved the history of Egypt, but that religion after all was only legend and nonsense.

Indeed, they saw all religions in this way. It could not be otherwise, for in their sight even God was a myth. So they talked beneath the starry heavens, these atheist thinkers of France. Napoleon listened and contributed nothing to the conversation, but as he rose to leave, he lifted his hand and pointed to the silent stars that shone so brilliantly through the deep black sky. "Very ingenious, Messieurs," he said, "but who made all that?"

Were I to give an exegetical translation of Romans 1:28, I would put it this way: "And since they did not approve in their experience of having God's super-knowledge, God delivered them to a mind that has not been tested as to its ability to discern correctly and to do what they should" (a.t.). To have God is true super-knowledge (epgno\sis). When we take God into our experience—which is what the cross of Christ enables us to do—we recognize Him for who and what He is.

We cannot do it otherwise. We cannot prove the existence of God in a test tube. We are unable, in our natural sinful state, to prove God and His wisdom as worthy of acceptance rather than of challenge.

Paul says that the wise person who has been made a fool by God cannot do what he ought to. That is why seemingly intelligent leaders make immoral laws that will one day rob man of his last vestige of decency. A minister received a letter confessing to a disordered life which ended: "It just beats me. A doctor of philosophy and unable to solve my own troubles!" True wisdom lies far deeper than intellectual knowledge. It lies in being rightly related to the Source of true knowledge—God.

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