Contrasts of Wisdom
The Curse of False Wisdom
The Bible calls attention to several problems with false wisdom, which, in reality, is not wisdom at all.
Old Testament Era
After Babylon had manifested great pride in abusing the Israelites during their 70-year captivity there, God told the Babylonians,
Therefore hear this now, you who are given to pleasures, who dwell securely, who say in your heart, “I am, and there is no one else besides me; I shall not sit as a widow, nor shall I know the loss of children”; but these two things shall come to you in a moment, in one day: The loss of children, and widowhood. They shall come upon you in their fullness because of the multitude of your sorceries, for the great abundance of your enchantments.
For you have trusted in your wickedness; you have said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge have warped you; and you have said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one else besides me.” Therefore evil shall come upon you; you shall not know from where it arises. And trouble shall fall upon you; you will not be able to put it oﬀ. And desolation shall come upon you suddenly, which you shall not know.
Stand now with your enchantments and the multitude of your sorceries, in which you have labored from your youth—perhaps you will be able to profit, perhaps you will prevail. You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels; let now the astrologers, the stargazers, and the monthly prognosticators stand up and save you from what shall come upon you. Behold, they shall be as stubble, the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the ﬂame; it shall not be a coal to be warmed by, nor a fire to sit before! (Isa. 47:8–14).
During the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah, God told His people,
“My people do not know the judgment of the Lᴏʀᴅ.
“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lᴏʀᴅ is with us’? Look, the false pen of the scribe certainly works falsehood. The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken. Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ; so what wisdom do they have? Therefore I will give their wives to others, and their fields to those who will inherit them; because from the least even to the greatest everyone is given to covetousness; from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely.
“For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; in the time of their punishment they shall be cast down,” says the Lᴏʀᴅ.
“I will surely consume them,” says the Lᴏʀᴅ. “No grapes shall be on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things I have given them shall pass away from them” (Jer. 8:7–13).
Later in Jeremiah’s ministry God said,
Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight (9:23–24).
New Testament Era
The apostle Paul wrote to the church of Corinth:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no eﬀect.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the ﬂesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no ﬂesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lᴏʀᴅ.”
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing (1 Cor. 1:17—2:6).
Later Paul wrote the following message to the same church:
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; and again, “The Lᴏʀᴅ knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” Therefore let no one boast in men (3:18–21).
In a later letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he described the manner in which he and his ministry companions conducted themselves: “We conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with ﬂeshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you” (2 Cor. 1:12).
The word translated simplicity has the basic meaning “to divide,” in contrast with what is “common” or “ordinary.”1 Paul’s point was that the wisdom he and his companions presented to the Corinthians was diﬀerent from the common, ordinary wisdom of the world. The word translated sincerity means “unmixed,” “pure in moral sense.”2
The author of the Epistle of James wrote,
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there (3:13–16).
James 3:15 indicates that the origin of this type of wisdom is the earth, not God’s heaven. New Testament language scholar Hermann Sasse wrote, “In Jm. 3:15 earthly wisdom is distinguished from the wisdom which is from above.”3 He further wrote, “Only in trains of thought in which there is strong emphasis on the distinction of earth from heaven does epigeios come to mean what is earthly in the sense of what is completely opposed to the heavenly.”4
James 3:15 indicates that, in addition to being earthly in nature, this kind of wisdom is also “sensual” and “demonic.” The word translated sensual “describes that which is earthly and which is thus closed to the world of God.”5
In this passage the word translated demonic indicates that “the earth or lower sphere is governed by wicked demons and hence gives rise to strife, unrest, and conﬂict.”6 Demons are evil spirit beings, angels who followed Satan in his revolt against God (Mt. 25:41; 2 Cor.12:7; Rev. 12:7–9).
In contrast, the wisdom that is from above “avoids all self-seeking,”7 is “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (Jas. 3:17).
- Otto Procksch, “hagios,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (hereafter cited as TDNT), ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans./ed. Geoﬀrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:89.
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds./trans., “eilikrines,” A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1952: translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th ed.; Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 221.
- Hermann Sasse,”epigeios,” TDNT, 1:681.
- Ibid., 681.
- Eduard Schweiser, “psuxika,” TDNT, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans./ed. Geoﬀrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 9:663.
- Friedrich Hauck, “agnos,” TDNT, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans./ed. Geoﬀrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:122.