Christ Impaled, “The Wisdom of God”
“Where is the wise man? Where the scribe? Where the debater of this system of things? Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish?”—1 Cor. 1:20.
1. (a) What religious state of the Jews was upset by Jesus? (b) What changes ensued as a result of the preaching of his followers?
THE Jewish nation had been under the Mosaic Law covenant for more than 15 centuries. Their scribes had developed a great mass of oral traditions interpreting this law and explaining its application to their everyday lives. One idea behind this was to keep the Jews separate from the Gentiles, and thereby preserve their religion uncontaminated by pagan doctrines. But by now the man Jesus had come and claimed to be the Messiah, had denounced the oral traditions of their wise men and scribes, had said he would end the Mosaic law by fulfilling it, and had finally been impaled as a blasphemer. Thereafter his followers, called Christians, preached his resurrection and spread his teaching throughout Palestine and the Roman world. Not only Jews but also Gentiles flocked into their ranks by the thousands, and Christian congregations sprang up everywhere. The Law covenant was ended. It had served its purpose as a tutor to lead persons to Christ and had been nailed to the torture stake of Christ. Now Jehovah’s worshipers were under a new covenant. Law was no longer written on stone tablets but on human hearts.—Gal. 3:10-25; Heb. 10:15-18.
2. What was difficult for Jews who became Christians, and with what arguments did Paul meet the threat?
2 These momentous events were earth shaking, religiously speaking. It was difficult for some of the Pharisees and other Jews who became Christians to accept the fact that Jesus had fulfilled the Mosaic law and thereby ended the need of following it. They tried to bring some of its requirements into the Christian congregations. (Acts 15:1-19) Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, argued strongly against these efforts: “For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery. See! I, Paul, am telling you that if you become circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Moreover, I bear witness again to every man getting circumcised that he is under obligation to perform the whole Law. You are parted from Christ, whoever you are that try to be declared righteous by means of law; you have fallen away from his undeserved kindness.” (Gal. 5:1-4; 3:10-14) Unconverted Jews were ‘making the torture stake of Christ useless’ by trusting in works of the Law, instead of discerning the need of “Christ impaled” as a ransom sacrifice. Some Jewish converts clung to parts of the Law, thus becoming subject to all of it, and in this way ‘made Christ impaled useless.’—1 Cor. 1:17.
PAUL AND THE GREEK PHILOSOPHERS
3. (a) What was Paul’s reaction to the Greek philosophers? (b) How did those philosophers react to Paul in Athens?
3 Paul also cautioned against any efforts to copy the ways of the Greek philosophers. Rome had replaced Greece as the world power, but it was Greek culture and philosophy that characterized that civilization. Both Jews and Greeks of that system of things had their wise men, their scribes or men of letters, and their debaters. Paul asked: “Where is the wise man? Where the scribe? Where the debater of this system of things? Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish?” The Greek philosophers as well as the Jewish rabbis were notorious as debaters, and Paul lumps both groups together: “Both the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ impaled, to the Jews a cause for stumbling but to the nations foolishness.” (1 Cor. 1:20, 22, 23) Paul had firsthand knowledge of the Greek philosophers and their love of debating, because of his experience with them in Athens. Acts 17:16-21 shows this:
“Now while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit within him came to be irritated at beholding that the city was full of idols. Consequently he began to reason in the synagogue with the Jews and the other people who worshiped God and every day in the marketplace with those who happened to be on hand. But certain ones of both the Epicurean and the Stoic philosophers took to conversing with him controversially, and some would say: ‘What is it this chatterer would like to tell?’ Others: ‘He seems to be a publisher of foreign deities.’ This was because he was declaring the good news of Jesus and the resurrection. So they laid hold of him and led him to the Areopagus, saying: ‘Can we get to know what this new teaching is which is spoken by you? For you are introducing some things that are strange to our ears. Therefore we desire to get to know what these things purport to be.’ In fact, all Athenians and the foreigners sojourning there would spend their leisure time at nothing but telling something or listening to something new.”
4. How did some of the philosophers view Paul, and what did Paul preach to them?
4 The philosophers referred derogatorily to Paul as a chatterer, a translation of the Greek word spermologos, meaning “seed picker.” It signified a crow or other bird that picked up seeds, and was applied to a man who frequented the streets and markets and picked up scraps that dropped off loads; hence, a hanger-on who lived at the expense of others. Figuratively, in Athenian slang, the expression referred to a man who picked up scraps of information and used them to impress others, but was actually an ignorant plagiarist. However, Paul was no idle babbler. He preached to them about “the God that made the world and all the things in it,” that “he himself gives to all persons life and breath” and that “he made out of one man every nation of men.” Concerning Jesus, Paul said that God “has resurrected him from the dead.” This caused some to mock, but others believed and joined themselves to Paul.—Acts 17:24-26, 31-34.
PHILOSOPHERS TAUGHT SOUL IMMORTAL
5. (a) What teachings of the philosophers made resurrection seem foolish? (b) What teachings of Orphic theology predate current religious teachings on hell and indulgences?
5 Why did the mention of resurrection cause some to mock? Did it clash with some of their philosophical wisdom, and thereby cause them to view a resurrection as foolishness? Scripturally, resurrection makes sense. If, as the Bible says, a person dies as a beast perishes, is unconscious, returns to dust, is a dead soul, then resurrection is his only hope to live again. (Ps. 146:4; Eccl. 3:18-20; 9:5, 10; Ezek. 18:4) But resurrection made no sense to those Greek philosophers! It was foolishness! Many of the Greek philosophers taught that man had an immortal soul, and therefore needed no resurrection. The Stoics in Paul’s audience believed that the soul lived on after the body died. Long before, the Greek philosopher Thales (seventh century B.C.E.) taught that there was an immortal soul in metals, plants, animals and men. The vital power, he said, changes form but never dies.* In the sixth century B.C.E. the famous mathematician Pythagoras said that after death the soul went to Hades to be purged, then returned to enter a new body, and it continued this chain of transmigration until it culminated in a completely virtuous life.* “The soul plainly appears to be immortal,” Plato quotes Socrates (fifth century B.C.E.) as saying.* Orpheus, the source of a mystic cult of the seventh century B.C.E., gave rise to the Orphic theology, which taught that after death the soul went to Hades to face judgment. The account by Will Durant, in Part II of The Story of Civilization, pages 190, 191, continues:
“If the verdict was guilty there would be severe punishment. One form of the doctrine conceived this punishment as eternal, and transmitted to later theology the notion of hell. Another form adopted the idea of transmigration: the soul was reborn again and again into lives happier or bitterer than before according to the purity or impurity of its former existence; and this wheel of rebirth would turn until complete purity was achieved, and the soul was admitted to the Islands of the Blest. Another variant offered hope that the punishment in Hades might be ended through penances performed in advance by the individual, or, after his death, by his friends. In this way a doctrine of purgatory and indulgences arose.”
EVOLUTION TAUGHT BY GREEK PHILOSOPHERS
6. Why did Paul’s preaching about Jehovah God as Creator of all life also make them view his talk as foolishness?
6 When speaking to the philosophers in Athens, Paul declared that Jehovah God was the Creator of the world and of everything in it, including plants, animals and humankind. In so doing, he was once again at odds with the Greek philosophers. The Epicurean philosophers in his audience believed that life began by spontaneous generation and developed upward by chance through natural selection and survival of the fittest. (Durant’s The Story of Civilization, Part II, p. 647) Stoics believed in no personal creator. The thought of a Creator bringing into existence all living creatures on earth was foolishness to them. For centuries Greek philosophers had taught that life spontaneously generated itself, then, by chance, over long periods of time, changed and evolved upward by means of natural selection and survival of the fittest. The Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 10, page 606, says:
“The Greeks, taken altogether, suggested more or less crudely the idea of the gradual development of organisms, the idea of the elimination of mistakes in production, and therefore the idea of the survival of the fittest, the idea of the adaptation of parts or the fitness of certain structures to certain ends, the idea of intelligent design constantly operating in nature, as also the idea of nature being controlled by the operation of natural causes due in the beginning to the laws of chance.”
7. That evolution is not a modern theory is shown by what teachings of (a) Anaximander? (b) Anaxagoras? (c) Empedocles? (d) Aristotle?
7 Becoming more specific, the Greek philosopher Anaximander, of the sixth century B.C.E., taught as follows:
“Living organisms arose by gradual stages from the original moisture; land animals were at first fishes, and only with the drying of the earth did they acquire their present shape. Man too was once a fish; he could not at his earliest appearance have been born as now, for he would have been too helpless to secure his food, and would have been destroyed.”*
Concerning Anaxagoras’ teaching (fifth century B.C.E.), we read:
“All organisms were originally generated out of earth, moisture, and heat, and thereafter from one another. Man has developed beyond other animals because his erect posture freed his hands for grasping things.”*
Of Empedocles, we read:
“Empedocles (493-435 B.C.), for example, who has been called ‘the father of the evolution idea,’ believed in spontaneous generation as the explanation of the origin of life, and he believed that different forms of life were not produced simultaneously. Plant life came first and animal life only after a long series of trials, but the origin of the organisms was a very gradual process. [Here note is made of the many monstrosities produced.] But the unnatural products soon became extinct because they were not capable of propagation. After the extinction of these monsters other forms arose which were able to support themselves and multiply. Thus, if one cares to, one may see in the ideas of Empedocles the germ of the theory of the survival of the fittest, or natural selection.”*
The famous philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) wrote:
“Nature proceeds little by little from things lifeless to animal life in such a way that it is impossible to determine the exact line of demarcation. . . . Thus, next after lifeless things in the upward scale comes the genus of plants . . . There is in plants a continuous scale of ascent towards the animal. . . . And so throughout the animal scale there is a graduated differentiation. . . . A nail is the analogue of a claw, a hand of a crab’s nipper, a feather of a fish’s scale.”*
BLINDED BY THEIR OWN WISDOM
8. What wisdom of the Jews and Greeks blinded them to God’s wisdom?
8 The wisdom of both the Jewish scribes and the Greek philosophers blinded them to the wisdom of God, Christ impaled. Paul wrote: “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not get to know God, God saw good through the foolishness of what is preached to save those believing.” This preaching was foolishness to the Jews. Their wisdom taught them that they would be saved by works of the Law, by giving alms, and by the merit of their ancestors, especially Abraham. Moreover, they wanted no weak Messiah allowing himself to be nailed to a stake! The preaching was foolishness also to the Greeks. They needed no Jew dying like a despised criminal to save them—they had immortal souls that were never going to die!—1 Cor. 1:21.
9. (a) What would Paul not do to make his preaching more acceptable? (b) What did both Paul and Peter foresee, and what did they do about it?
9 So Paul wrote his warning to the Christian congregation in Corinth. Human wisdom, whether that of the Jewish scribes with its legalistic intricacies of oral tradition, or that of the Greek philosophers with its eloquent disputations and sophistries, would make the torture stake of Christ useless to them if they were persuaded by such wisdom. Paul would not adulterate the word of God to make it more palatable to Jewish or Greek Christians who wanted to bring in their former beliefs. He would not water it down with such impurities to make it more acceptable to a world whose wisdom was foolishness to God. (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; 11:13) Both the apostles Paul and Peter foresaw the time coming when false teachings from both Jewish and Gentile sources would contaminate the truth of Christ impaled, and they sounded warnings:
Acts 20:29, 30: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.”
2 Tim. 4:3, 4: “There will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories.”
2 Pet. 2:1: “However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves.”
10. What proves that their warnings were not false alarms?
10 Subsequent history confirms that the warnings of the apostles were well founded. The Encyclopædia Britannica (1976 edition) states: “From the middle of the 2nd century AD, Christians who had some training in Greek philosophy began to feel the need to express their faith in its terms both for their own intellectual satisfaction and in order to convert educated pagans.” Also, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge points out: “Many of the early Christians, in turn, found peculiar attractions in the doctrines of Plato, and employed them as weapons for the defense and extension of Christianity, or cast the truths of Christianity in a Platonic mold.”
11. What facts show that the majority of Christendom’s churches today have ignored the warnings of Paul and Peter?
11 Little has changed down to our day. The vast majority of the churches of Christendom still teach such doctrines as immortal soul, Trinity and others, which filtered into apostate Christianity from the second century C.E. from Greek philosophy. The Greeks, in turn, acquired them from older cultures, for they go all the way back to Egyptian and Babylonian religions. Many religions today are also teaching that God created by means of evolution, thinking to modernize their doctrines, but in fact embracing the error of Greek philosophy. They set aside the Bible truth that Jehovah God created life on the earth, that life reproduces “after its kind,” that Jehovah is from everlasting and is all-powerful and that Christ Jesus is his Son having a beginning and being subject to him. And some, like the Jews of the first century, no longer view Jesus as a ransom by which obedient mankind can gain life everlasting.
12. How do millions of faithful Christians today respond to Paul’s message to the Corinthian congregation?
12 Happily, for millions on earth today, this religious and philosophical wisdom that views Christ impaled as foolish and weak is itself empty foolishness. They respond to Paul’s declaration to the Christian congregation in Corinth, namely: “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because a foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and a weak thing of God is stronger than men.” They raise this cry in all the earth for all who seek the wisdom that gives life: ‘CHRIST IMPALED, THE POWER OF GOD! CHRIST IMPALED, THE WISDOM OF GOD!’—1 Cor. 1:24, 25.
The Story of Civilization, Part II, p. 137.
Ibid., p. 165.
So stated many times in Plato’s Phaedo.
The Story of Civilization, Part II, p. 139.
Ibid., p. 340.
The Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 10, p. 606.
Aristotle’s History of Animals, viii, I; i, I.
[Picture on page 24]
When Paul spoke to Athenian philosophers concerning the resurrection, some mocked but others believed him