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In 1 Corinthians 1-4 (and other places like Phil 3:8), Paul strongly condemns his own, personal religious tutelage, which was exemplary (Acts 22:3), in his efforts to preach the gospel to them. In fact, he outright says after speaking about his own "wisdom", "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (2:1-2) He also more broadly condemns any "human wisdom" over "spiritual wisdom" throughout the four chapters.

Therefore, it seems that any secular "training" (e.g. degrees in "religious studies" or "theology") would at the very least be unnecessary for anyone to understand the Bible. In fact, while Paul is not saying that his own training was "sinful", it does seem reasonable to even go so far as to say that such secular training would be opposed to or would be an obstacle to better understanding of God's Word.

Is this not accurate or is it failed logic?

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3 Answers 3

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Not so fast. The OP appears to conflate two distinct matters. In Paul's day, σοφία (sophia = "wisdom") had very strong overtones of Greek "wisdom" or "philosophy" (= "the love of wisdom"). Paul consistently contrasts the "wisdom of this world", ie Greek philosophy, with the divine wisdom of God that created the world!!

[To be more specific, "worldly wisdom" in Paul's time invariably meant the classical philosophy of such "greats" as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and their respective schools, whose influence still overshadows and undergirds almost all modern thinking.]

Such a stance has nothing to do with theological training whatsoever. Indeed, Paul was rather proud (and even boasted) of his formal theological training as per Acts 22:3 -

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but raised in this city. I was educated at the feet of Gamaliel in strict conformity to the law of our fathers. I am just as zealous for God as any of you here today.

Note the consistent contrast Paul makes between the worldly Greek philosophy ("wisdom") of his day and that which comes from the enlightenment of God:

  • 1 Cor 1:20, 21 - Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
  • 1 Cor 1:22-24 - Jews demand signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
  • 1 Cor 1:25 - For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
  • 1 Cor 2:6, 7 - Among the mature, however, we speak a message of wisdom—but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of the mysterious and hidden wisdom of God, which He destined for our glory before time began.
  • 1 Cor 2:13 - And this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
  • 1 Cor 3:19 - For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness.”

Again, Paul is contrasting Greek philosophy = "wisdom" with the enlightenment from God. This does not belittle formal theological training at all.

I also note that Phil 3:8 says nothing about either worldly wisdom or theological training, and thus, is not germane.

APPENDIX - Greek Influence

One of the many measures that suggest the considerable influence of ancient Greek philosophy on modern society and thinking, is the number of English words created from the Greek word "sophia", or "sophos". These include:

sophic, sophical, sophiology, sophism, sophist, sophistry, sophisicate, sophisticated, unsophisticated, sophomore, sophoclean, philosophy, philosophical, philosophism, etc, etc.

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  • For now, I'll just comment on the Acts reference. The context in which Paul "boasted" of his training in Acts 22:3 was only done for the expediency given the dire situation in which he found himself (much like when he "boasted" of being a Roman citizen later in the chapter). It had absolutely nothing to do with his secular training as it relates to his preaching and understanding God's word, just like his Roman citizenship had zero correlation or influence in his being a citizen of God's kingdom.
    – C D B
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 18:59
  • Coming back to add to the Acts mischaracterization, this answer does exactly what Paul condemned in 1 Cor 1-4. Or, said another way, the logic by which the answer is built is exactly what Paul rejects and what he says he DIDN'T rely on in his own preaching. First, we are led toward an answer by the grounding of the Greek meaning of wisdom. (Exactly what Paul says is useless - 1:22-25) Second, we are boxed in with a restricted, finite meaning of "wisdom of this world" --something Paul never confined to "Greek philosophy".
    – C D B
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 13:37
  • @CDB - Thanks for your comments. I think you have quite misunderstood my answer.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 20:16
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Context is needed for proper understanding

We need to look at what Paul had in mind in the 3 passages you mentioned, and ask this question: "What exact pairs were Paul contrasting, and what was the reason?" We will find that it's not Biblical exegesis / theological training per se, but whether those training will prevent us from coming to faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior:

  • In Phil 3:1-11 the contrast is between Judaizers who required circumcision (v. 2, which is a work we do) and true faith which requires God's grace (v. 1, which is what Christ did, v. 7). Verse 8 you mentioned is comparing Paul's meticulous obedience to the law (v. 7), which he claimed was superior to a typical untrained Jew, which then became a source of pride to some Pharisees like him. But here, Paul was not faulting his training, but faulting his pride and reliance on observing the law which made him blinded of the necessity of God's free gift in Jesus.
  • In Acts 22:1-23, Paul again was contrasting his zealous observance of Jewish laws and custom (v. 3) as well as his commendation from the highest authorities (v. 5) with the power of baptism of Jesus and the power of faith which washes sins away (v. 16). Paul was also contrasting his old mission to persecute Christians (v. 4) with his new mission to spread Christianity to the Gentiles (v. 21), commissioned directly by Jesus himself, which made him persecuted and imprisoned at least 3 times. The reason for the contrast, again, is the same as in Phil 3:1-11.
  • In 1 Cor 2:1-16, the contrast is between "lofty words and impressive wisdom" which Paul deliberately did not use (although he could have done so, such as in writing Romans) and the "plain message and preaching" (v. 4) of the gospel. Paul did this to let the Holy Spirit receives the glory when his audience converted (v. 4b-5). The second contrast is when Paul was discipling mature believers (v. 6): between the "wisdom that belongs to this world" (v. 6b) and "wisdom of the mystery of God" (v. 7) given to the apostles (v. 13). Again, Paul here is not faulting his training, but condemning those who, despite hearing the wisdom coming from God, refused the Holy Spirit who could have explained that mystery to them so they became Christians (v. 11-12, 14-16).

Proper modern day use of scholarship and modern religious degrees

From these 3 passages it is clear that Paul was condemning the learned teachers of religious laws, the scribes, the rabbis (Pharisees) and the rulers (Sadducees) who (because of their training and their hardness of heart) rejected the gospel, crucified Jesus, and persecuted Christians afterwards, including Paul himself (prior to his conversion)! Remember that not all learned scholars in Jesus's day rejected Him; Nicodemus being a prime example (since he wouldn't be eligible to be member of the Sanhedrin if not for his training in Jewish law). The modern counterpart of the ones condemned by Paul include non-Christian New Testament scholars such as ex-Episcopal Bart Ehrman, liberal Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan, Orthodox Jew Amy-Jill Levine, former Catholic nun Karen Armstrong, etc.

But after conversion, Paul used his theological and exegetical training to defend orthodox (i.e. apostolic) Christianity which he contrasted with the false teaching of the Judaizer, mischaracterizing freedom under God's grace by continual sinning, overly charismatic believers who did not love, proto-gnostic beliefs, over-realized eschatology, etc. Many scholars consider the book of Romans to be the first systematic theology; a book that could only be written by someone with Paul's training in the Hebrew Bible, someone who could link proper OT interpretation with Jesus's teaching. Thus Paul's interpretation of the OT and the gospels has for almost 2,000 years become the benchmark, along with interpretations by key church fathers such as Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, and Augustine.

Conclusion

Exegetical and theological training (via modern day religious degrees such as Master of Divinity) is critical to prevent the faithful from inadvertently being led astray by bad doctrines (such as prosperity gospel, syncretism, modern day Gnosticism, non-Trinitarian Christianities, etc.). One common way today is to require pastors to graduate from accredited seminaries so:

  • their sermons are more grounded in proper exegesis
  • by surveying various theologies they know where their church stands in contrast with other denominations and understand the relative importance of doctrines (Trinity being the highest)
  • they can shepherd their members against subtly wrong theology or wrong application of theology to life
  • they learn pastoral theology that help them develop discipleship programs
  • they learn administrative and organization skills in shepherding a local church
  • etc.

Please note that evangelism and acceptance of the gospel does NOT require scholarship (cf 1 Cor 2:4) but simply require intelligent reading of the Bible with an open heart and with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Devotional reading to cultivate one's relationship with God also doesn't require scholarship.

But when Christians become divided over different interpretations concerning live issues that affect their spiritual lives such as the need for praying in tongue, credo vs. pedobaptism, abuse of tithing, claims of prophecies, etc. scholarship can be a good resource for civil discussion in Christ to promote common understanding while being honest about remaining differences. One recent result was a 2019 book by Brett Salkeld Transubstantiation: Theology, History, and Christian Unity which shows that Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin were not that much different in their understanding of the real presence in the Lord's supper, which effectively bring Catholics and Reformed Protestants closer together.

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  • Agree that "context" is absolutely needed for proper understanding. But the assertion in OP (and I would argue, 1 Cor 1-4) is that the needed "context" does not extend past the pages of God's revealed Word. You conclude that "evangelism and acceptance" of gospel don't require scholarship (also agree). Then why would remaining true to the gospel ("that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." 1 Jn 1:3) extend beyond that context?
    – C D B
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 19:46
  • @CDB I don't understand how 1 John 1:3 related to the main issue (which I also found in your website). The need for training is 100% practical: bad interpretation leads to bad teaching. How would you combat a bad interpretation especially when different churches can teach different doctrines? Scholarship can unite as well as divide, but at least it provides some measure of objectivity to help people decide which church to trust and to prevent runaway subjectivity potentially leading to pastor personality cult. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 20:06
  • LOL, thanks for visiting, @gratefuldisciple. I raised 1 Jn 1 b/c you drew a conclusion that deliniated acceptance of the gospel with a continuance in the gospel. 1 Jn draws no delineation, rather links them. The need for training may be "100% practical", but is it authorized (posited in OP)? "Bad interp leads to bad teaching" - AGREED. But you go on to rationalize your/man's/secular reasoning to remedy it, when Bible at best never authorizes it, and at worst, condemns it (e.g. the OP). Is the secular really avoiding "pastor personality cult", or actually creating it (back to 1 Cor 1)?
    – C D B
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 21:02
  • @CDB To stay within the site policy, let's continue discussion in a chatroom I created. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 21:15
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Did Paul cut off the branch on which he was sitting?

You are twisting his words out of context, just as the mainstream Christian sects has done since the beginning; the first century antinomian lawless heretics mentioned in all the pastoral epistles e.g. 2 Peter 3:16-17, to Marcion and the medieval Martin Luther.

[Phil 3:6-9 ESV] as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Paul is writing countering the circumcision heresy (Judaizers who deny Acts 10, that the compulsion of law has been made invalid) by saying that unlike those Judaizers, Paul is an authentic Jew who had lived the legalistic corrupt way of life against Christ. He is not condemning the traditional religious teachings, but particularly the legalistic tradition of Pharisee sect. There were a number of sects among the Jews, and the Pharisees were the most legalistic boastful in their religion and tradition. You should see the contrast of the worldly knowledge and reputation with the spiritual status. In this contrast Paul states that whatever power and knowledge of the religion he had, he considers rubbish in comparison to God's truth.

You also need to define the worldly wisdom or education in context. Knowledge of the world or flesh is whatever that opposes the spiritual truth and wisdom. Paul cannot condemn all the theological training, as he continues to train the Church members with sound doctrines. So, Paul condemns the fleshly corrupt theology, the tradition of flesh, or man which is in enmity with God. Jesus instructed his followers that you can do and learn every religious training the Pharisee school provides, but forbade them to be like them (Matt 23:2-4). This means it is acceptable to obtain religious training and degrees from the corrupt mainstream schools whether it is traditional-religious or more open minded secular, if you wish to do so.

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