18 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.
19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
20 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?
21 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 (v.18) — Verse 18 is tied directly to verse 17. Paul did not come to baptize but to preach the cross.
message (v.18) = word — set in contrast to “wisdom of words” (v.17).
foolishness (v.18) = stupid, silly, worthless
us (v.18) — emphatic
it is written (v.19) — from Isaiah 29:14 and Psalm 33:10.
The reference in Isaiah is to the invasion of Sennacherib. The rulers of Judah sought to rely upon Egypt for assistance. That was a piece of political wisdom from the natural point of view; in God’s sight it was an act of rebellion; hence God brought the policy to nought, reducing Judah to a condition of helplessness, that they might depend upon God alone. The whole of this, point for point, is here applied to the Gospel. Man has to learn that all his schemes and efforts to accomplish his own salvation are utterly futile. When he learns that that the folly lies with his own wisdom and finds his sole resource in God’s conditions, he then experiences the power of God to save. — Vine, page 11.
prudent (v.19) = quick to apprehend
This [v.20] seems to be a free quotation from Isaiah 33:18; the Assyrian conqueror came both with armies and with clerks and inventory-takers to register the spoils. The entire destruction of the host was both a vindication of the power of God and a refutation of the worldly-wise counsels of the Jewish rulers. Here the challenge is transferred to the refutation of all who would substitute anything for, or add anything to, God’s way of salvation. — Vine, page 11.
wise (v.20) — probably a reference to Gentile philosophers
scribes (v.20) — probably a reference to Jewish interpreters
disputers (v.20) — any who would argue with the Gospel message
knew not (v.21) — tense indicates a process that cannot even begin
it pleased God (v.21) — God is pleased to save any who come to Him through the cross. It is impossible to come to Him in any other way.
No one hearing that message can go away the same. Either he will consider it foolishness, rebel against it, and be hardened, or he will be convicted by it, believe it, and be saved. Ultimately that message will either condemn or save him for all eternity, depending upon his rejection or acceptance of it.
Mark well: it is “the preaching of the cross” that produces these results. The Law of Moses never did. “Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the foregiveness of sins, and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39; cf. Romans 8:3-4). — Stam, page 46.