22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
1901 ASV Translation:
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.
There are no variations in these two verses between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26.
I. Paul immediately contrasts "their" opinion of themselves with the reality.
A. There is, in the self-profession of wisdom, a clear statement of how important it is to man for him to be "wise" in his own eyes.
1. The issues of "wisdom" are given in contrast to "foolishness" as follows...
a. Matthew 5:22 -- declares that to call a person a "fool" is an insult of sufficient gravity as to qualify the one who does so for "the Hell of fire". This suggests that to say a person is "wise" is a very high level compliment.
b. Matthew 7:26 -- characterizes a "fool" as someone who does not take critical issues into account before he/she acts. This suggests that "wisdom" is the ability to not only take them into account, but also to know what they are, which may be the bigger problem. [Note also Matthew 25:1-8 which speaks of those who did not think ahead.]
c. Matthew 23:17-19 -- says it is "foolish" to confuse the relative value of things. This addresses the major question of "wisdom": what are the critical issues?
d. 1 Corinthians 1:25 -- this text is only "theoretical" in that it posits "foolishness" on God's part (for purposes of contrast); but it is instructive in that "wisdom" is seen to really only become man's trait as he shares in what God has revealed.
e. 1 Corinthians 3:18 -- here it is a requirement that a person become a "fool" before he can really ever take on the characteristic of "wisdom". This means that "wisdom" is characterized by "having no confidence in one's own abilities to know what is important or to know how to take it into account before one acts".
f. 1 Corinthians 4:10 -- this text is enlightening in that it mocks those who think "wisdom" leads to a reputation for wisdom, strength, and honor in this world.
g. 2 Timothy 2:23 and Titus 3:9 -- these texts call that "foolish" which attracts men's minds but has no foundations in the Revelation of God to man. Where there are no definitive answers, the questions are "foolish". This implies that "wisdom" is willing to be limited to what God has said; it does not concern itself with what He has not said.
2. That man professes to be "wise" is an indication of just how "foolish" he is.
3. One of the greater problems for man's own "self-perception" is that there is enough "slop in the gears" of God's creation for self-deluded people to find enough evidence for their delusions so that they remain in them. If "foolishness" was so strongly confronted in creation that it could not be seen as anything but foolishness even by the foolish, man could not retain his delusions...but it is not so confronted. Instead, there are only subtle suggestions along the way that sound alarms that are not blaring so that only those who care to hear do so.
4. However, the very fact that man "professed himself to be wise" is a powerful declaration of just how critical it is to man to "be someone" in his own estimation, if not also in the eyes of others.
a. Where did this notion of self-importance come from and why is it so critical to man?
1) It is clear in Genesis 3 that "to be as Elohim" is important to man now that he has fallen.
2) It is not quite as clear as to why that is so important.
a) There is this suggestion: since "God is not telling you the truth, He is not as good as you have given Him credit for being" there is an inherent "danger" in permitting this 'not so good God' to have absolute sovereignty over you and your experience.
b) Thus, if man's quality of experience is at stake in his own eyes because he cannot trust in the goodness of the "Other" Who has the say over his experience, it suddenly becomes very crucial to man to have the final say over what he will, or will not, do as it has to do with the way his experience is going to play out.
c) Thus, it appears that man's "need" to be "wise" is a fear-driven thing that smacks of a total "lovelessness". He cannot trust in the "love" of One Who has ulterior and 'not good' motives, nor can he "love" such a One and trust Him for his future. Thus, he 'needs' to be 'wise' in order to be able to set his future up for his own experience of 'good'.
b. The problem is that the very idea that man could be "wise" enough to fend off the plans of his Creator is ludicrous from the beginning.
1) In the first place, just on a purely rational basis, man can not possibly rise above his Creator for the simple reason that Creators cannot exceed their own abilities. Thus, man will always be "less than" the Creator by virtue of this fact. Being "less" automatically means he cannot "rise above". We have, in the physical creation, an overt declaration of this fact in that no one has ever been able to create a perpetual motion machine. The reason is explained in the laws of physics as resulting from the fact that there is always some level of loss in the transfer of power (i.e. not only can you not 'win' in the creation of power-transferrals, you cannot even 'break even'). This only illustrates the logic that Creators cannot create creations that can rise above Them.
2) Thus, even if it could be proven beyond doubt that the Creator was a positive threat to man, there is nothing man can do about it. He can only live in terror of the "not good" things that are coming. This is the beginning of wisdom: that man should fear God as "the God" and not attempt to assimilate to himself the title and character of "god".
B. However, it is crucial for believers to understand just how far man's rebellion took him into an utter lack of "wisdom".
II. He then declares the magnitude of the foolishness to which "they" have descended.
A. The ultimate example of the ludicrousness of man is the manufacture of "idols": man, the creature, "creates" the "god" and sets it up on a pedestal and then bows down to it. Man "worships" the work of his own hands that, following the precept that creators cannot exceed their own abilities, cannot even hear or think, let alone "deliver". How can man expect a "god" to deliver him when he was the one who created the "god" and he cannot deliver himself? If he could deliver himself, he would not "need" the god; but since he is the manufacturer of the "god", it cannot even do as much as man -- thus, there is no deliverance.
B. That man hopes for deliverance from his own "gods" is Paul's point: man has descended into a kind of foolishness that destroys according to the Proverb, "For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them" (1:32).
C. Man's foolish activity was directed at the "incorruptibility" of God.
1. Incorruptibility is the doctrine of immutability ("Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever"). God is eternal and suffers no diminishing of any aspect of His being. Even if He expends sufficient power to create ten thousands of universes such as we have surrounding us, He is not diminished by the expenditure.
2. Man turned from this "logical necessity" and replaced it with confidence in the "glory" of items with which he is familiar and "knows" are diminished daily unto the final ignominy of maggot food. Even the materials from which he forms his "gods" are corruptible so that his creations cannot last indefinitely. Is it any wonder that "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh"?
D. The question American Christianity faces is this: since many of us do not actually make, or buy, "images of the corruptible", how does this text stand in the face of a "sophistication" that has pretty much eliminated "idols"? Paul tells us: "covetousness is idolatry". In other words, it is not the overt "image" that makes a person a "foolish idolater"; it is the internal "dependence" upon "the corruptible" that makes a man a "foolish idolater". When Peter says that the fact that this world and all its works shall be destroyed with intense heat ought to have a major impact on the manner of lives we live, he is simply pointing out the "foolishness" of living on the basis of anything that will be destroyed with fervent heat...whether it be the opinions of the wicked; the provisions of money; or the manipulations of "science".