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Knowledge without Fear of God


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Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. —1 Corinthians 8:1

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Knowledge puffeth up. He shows, from the effects, how frivolous a thing it is to boast of knowledge, when love is wanting. “Of what avail is knowledge, that is of such a kind as puffs us up and elates us, while it is the part of love to edify?” This passage, which otherwise is somewhat obscure, in consequence of its brevity, may easily be understood in this way—“Whatever is devoid of love is of no account in the sight of God; nay more, it is displeasing to him, and much more so what is openly at variance with love Now that, knowledge of which you boast, O ye Corinthians, is altogether opposed to love, for it puffs up men with pride, and leads to contempt of the brethren, while love is concerned for the welfare of brethren, and exhorts us to edify them. Accursed, then, be that knowledge which makes men proud, and is not regulated by a desire of edifying.”

Paul, however, did not mean, that this is to be reckoned as a fault attributable to learning—that those who are learned are often self-complacent, and have admiration of themselves, accompanied with contempt of others. Nor did he understand this to be the natural tendency of learning—to produce arrogance, but simply meant to show what effect knowledge has in an individual, that has not the fear of God, and love of the brethren; for the wicked abuse all the gifts of God, so as to exalt themselves. Thus riches, honors, dignities, nobility, beauty, and other things of that nature, puff up; because men, elated through a mistaken confidence in these things, very frequently become insolent. Nor is it always so; for we see that many who are rich and beautiful, and abounding in honors, and distinguished for dignity and nobility, are, nevertheless, of a modest disposition, and not at all tainted with pride. And even when it does happen to be so, it is, nevertheless, not proper that we should put the blame upon what we know to be gifts of God; for in the first place that were unfair and unreasonable; and farther, by putting the blame upon things that are not blameworthy, we would exempt the persons themselves from blame, who alone are in fault. My meaning is this—“If riches naturally tend to make men proud, then a rich man, if proud, is free from blame, for the evil arises from riches.”

We must, therefore, lay it down as a settled principle, that knowledge is good in itself; but as piety is its only foundation, it becomes empty and useless in wicked men: as love is its true seasoning, where that is wanting it is tasteless. And truly, where there is not that thorough knowledge of God which humbles us, and teaches us to do good to the brethren, it is not so much knowledge, as an empty notion of it, even in those that are reckoned the most learned. At the same time, knowledge is not by any means to be blamed for this, any more than a sword, if it falls into the hands of a madman. Let this be considered as said with a view to certain fanatics, who furiously declaim against all the liberal arts and sciences, as if their only use were to puff men up, and were not of the greatest advantage as helps in common life. Now those very persons, who defame them in this style, are ready to burst with pride, to such an extent as to verify the old proverb—“Nothing is so arrogant as ignorance.”

Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:272–274.



Posted 2019·09·10 by David Kjos
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Posted in: 1 Corinthians · Calvin’s Commentaries: 1 Corinthians · John Calvin

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