Formations 04.19.2015: Seeking Wisdom

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Adolphe Borie, Girl Meditating, c. 1916

Adolphe Borie, Girl Meditating, c. 1916

Who are the wisest people you know? More important, how did they get that way?

Monika Ardelt, a sociology professor at the University of Florida, studies and writes on the topic of wisdom. In a recent Huffington Post article, she discusses with journalist Catherine Pearson the traits that wise people tend to have in common. In short, Ardelt finds that most wise people…

1. Have a lot of experiences.
2. Learn from these experiences.
3. See what’s right in front of them.
4. Meditate (understood as a kind of reflection or self-examination).
5. Grow from crises.
6. Have strong support networks.
7. Are tolerant and compassionate.

Wisdom is not strictly a function of age. It’s possible to be wise beyond one’s years—or to grow up to be an old fool. But what is wisdom, anyway? And how can we achieve it? Plenty of people make a claim to wisdom. Others may hail them for their great insight or learning, but their lives reveal that how wise they are is actually subject to debate.

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul underscores that God’s wisdom is not the same as the earthly wisdom of the present day. Rather, it is something that comes by the Spirit to those who are open to receiving it.

There’s nothing wrong with the sort of wisdom that Monika Ardelt studies. In fact, most of us could use more of it than we have! But Paul knows of an even deeper wisdom: the wisdom of God made known to us through Jesus Christ.

Catherine Pearson, “7 Secrets of Wise People (and How to Become One…Now),” Huffington Post, 8 Apr 2015


• What are the differences between divine and earthly wisdom?
• How do believers gain access to the wisdom of God?
• What attitudes of heart and mind put us in a place to hear what God intends to teach us?
• What does it mean to have the “mind of Christ” (v. 16)?

Reference Shelf

Christ the Wisdom of God

Wisdom in the NT is seen primarily in its relation to Jesus who embodies wisdom in his person and teaching. The prologue of John sets for the Word/Wisdom in a way similar to Prov 8 and passages in the Apocrypha (Sir 24; Bar 3–4; Wis 7–9). The Word is eternal wisdom personified in Jesus.

Paul exaltes Jesus as eternal wisdom personified in 1 Cor 1:24 as “the wisdom of God.” In Colossians Christ unites in himself the fullness of God in bodily form (Col 1:19). In Col 1:15-20 (cf. Eph 3:8-10), Christ is the creative wisdom of God: “for in him all things were created” and “in him all things hold together” (cf. John 1:3). He is the one “in whom are hid al the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3)….

Paul makes extensive use of both the term and concept of wisdom. He cries out, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom 11:33). In 1 Cor 1:18-30, he contrasts the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. Paul concludes that faith must rest, not in human wisdom “but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:5) and “in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom” (1 Cor 1:30)….

This wisdom is a gift to humanty (Rom 12:8). This gift enables the Christian to walk in wisdom as urged in Eph 5:15 and Col 4:5. Because wisdom is spiritual, “from above,” believers can have the “mind of Christ” of Phil 2:5.

Norm Yance, “Wisdom in the New Testament,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 960–61.

Wisdom for the Mature

The wisdom that Paul imparts to the mature is not of this age. It remains hidden and unfathomable to those controlled by the mind-set of this age, even those who seem to control this age. This wisdom precedes this present age and even the age to come: “God decreed [it] before the ages for our glorification” (2:7; NRSV). That this wisdom should not be seen as a secret body of teaching disconnected from God’s wisdom revealed in the cross becomes evident in God’s purpose: “for our glorification.” Through the cross, God is transforming the “things that are not” (1:28) into saints who will rule and judge the world (3:8; 6:2). The rulers of this age cannot understand this wisdom; otherwise they would not have crucified Christ. Why not? Either they would have known better than to have opposed the purposes of God revealed in Christ by crucifying him, or they would have known that the very act of crucifixion would launch the inauguration of the new age and the demise of that age in which they rule. Paul probably intended the latter here. The rulers unwittingly have contributed to their own end. So much then for worldly wisdom! If those at the top of the pyramid are clueless about what is really going on, then why trust in the wisdom of this world?

What remains incomprehensible to the powerful of this age has been revealed to the church through God’s Spirit (2:10). What has been revealed is the glorification God has prepared for the saints. In support of this Paul cites Scripture (“But as it is written”) in 2:9, but which Scripture is unclear. The nearest parallel is Isaiah 64:4 (LXX 64:3), but the wording there is different. Origen thought Paul quoted the Apocalypse of Elijah, which is no longer extant. Paul probably paraphrased Isaiah 64:4 to make his point that human wisdom cannot even glimpse what God is actually doing. An important emphasis in his paraphrase is that God has prepared something great for “those who love him.” One might expect Paul to have written “those who know him.” For Paul, knowledge of God is inseparable from love both for God and for others, as he will stress later in the letter.

The quotation leads into Paul’s description of the work of the Spirit. The Spirit “searches” everything, including the “depths” of God (2:10). This “searching” is not so much “investigating” or “inquiring into” the unknown so as to discover the truth, but rather it is a “looking for” or “hunting for” what is at the heart of God so as to disclose it. Only God’s Spirit can bring to light what lies in God’s depths, much as a only a person’s “spirit” can uncover that person’s true self. Incredibly, Paul asserts, we have received God’s own Spirit from God so that we might know those things given to us by God (2:12). What things? Paul does not refer here, nor in 2:14, to spiritual gifts (pneumatika), as he does later in 12:1 (as the NRSV incorrectly suggests). “The things of the Spirit” in 2:12 and 2:14 are the fuller consequences of the true wisdom of God. God’s work in the cross of Christ has been oriented toward our “glorification,” toward God’s transformation of ourselves, including our transition from the
competitive value-system of this age that divides
us and keeps us enslaved to the dictates of this
world’s wisdom. Thus, Paul contends, we communicate (laloumen) these “things of the Spirit”
in the “teachings of the Spirit” (didaktois pneumatos), not in the “teachings of human wisdom”
(didaktois anthropines sophias). If some of the
 Corinthians thought they had received higher
 insight beyond what Paul had preached, either 
through advanced teaching by “wiser” preachers 
or through their own inquiry, they were mistaken, Paul held. Rather it is by the teachings of the Spirit, not human wisdom, that the things of the Spirit are interpreted to persons of the Spirit (pneumatikoi; 2:13). Most likely, this interpreting consists of the Spirit’s opening up the person’s understanding to the meaning of the word of the cross for identity in relation to God and behavior in relation to others.

Robert Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009), 96-97.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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