The verse Romans 1:22 states “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” This verse comes in the midst of Paul’s explanation of God’s wrath against mankind’s unrighteousness and ungodliness. In the preceding verses, Paul argues that although God has made himself known to all people through creation, people have suppressed the truth about God, exchanged the glory of God for images of created things, and did not honor God or give thanks to him. As a result, their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:21).
Professing to be wise while acting foolishly shows that human wisdom apart from God is fundamentally flawed. Though people may consider themselves enlightened apart from God, their thinking is actually distorted and erroneous. Several aspects of this verse’s meaning are significant:
1. The irony of claiming wisdom yet demonstrating folly
The people Paul describes considered themselves advanced in learning and understanding. Yet their denial of God and lack of gratitude displayed their actual foolishness. There is a tragic irony that those who thought they had attained the height of wisdom showed themselves to be fools in God’s eyes. This remains true today as well. Many view faith in God as backwards and foolish, and human reason as the path to knowledge. Yet God says that wisdom begins with reverence for him (Proverbs 1:7, Psalm 111:10). Knowledge apart from God is always incomplete and distorted.
2. Rejection of God’s wisdom leads to futility
By rejecting the wisdom that comes from God, these people’s thinking became worthless and pointless. They likely prided themselves on their philosophical insights and moral reasoning. Yet apart from God’s truth, their ponderings were empty speculation and their ethics had no firm foundation. When people ignore God’s wisdom, their own reasonings, no matter how brilliant, end up futile. Only by starting with faith in God can people arrive at truth and meaning.
3. Foolishness as moral failure, not just intellectual lack
Describing these people as fools does not just mean they were unintelligent. Biblically, foolishness refers especially to moral failing, not just intellectual lack. These people’s denial of God and lack of thankfulness displayed serious ethical and spiritual defects. Their rejection of God led to darkened hearts and disordered lives. Foolishness here mainly describes twisted values, not simply reasoning errors. They lived godless, selfish lives showing they were morally and spiritually “fools,” whatever their intellectual capabilities.
4. Foolishness as more than just ignorance
Paul is clear these people did have knowledge of God from creation, but they suppressed that truth (Romans 1:18-21). Their foolishness sprang not from simple ignorance, but from willful rejection of what they knew to be true. They culpably exchanged truth for falsehood (Romans 1:25). This makes their foolishness far more inexcusable and blameworthy. It is one thing to reason poorly from lack of information. It is far worse to deliberately trade truth for lies due to unrighteousness. These people’s moral failure produced intellectual failure.
5. Foolishness resulting in idolatry
The pinnacle of folly Paul describes is worshiping created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). If there could be any doubt these people’s supposed wisdom was really folly, their descent into idolatry removed it. To worship animals, trees, or even other humans as divine is the essence of foolishness and intellectual confusion. Since they did not glorify God, their thinking became nonsense (Romans 1:21). Idolatry graphically displayed their folly.
6. Foolishness causing further descent into ungodliness
Not only did their foolishness result in idolatry, it led to further ungodliness as God “gave them up” to the consequences of their sinful choices (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). Rejecting God’s wisdom produced greater ethical confusion, relational damage, and societal harm. Neither true knowledge nor virtue can be attained apart from God. The frightening verdict is that claiming wisdom minus God yields deepening folly.
In summary, Romans 1:22 teaches that denying God’s existence and supremacy always demonstrates foolishness, no matter how educated or brilliant someone may seem. Intellectual pride blinds people to their own lack of understanding. But starting with humility and reverence before God is the beginning of true wisdom and knowledge. The essence of folly is replacing the Creator with created things. Salvation comes by acknowledging God once again through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
7. Foolishness Today
The same folly described in Romans 1 is widespread in today’s world. Many highly educated people dismiss faith in God as unscientific and irrational. They scoff at belief in creation, miracles, Jesus’ resurrection, and the Bible as the word of God. They deny clear biblical teachings about morality, human nature, and judgment to come. They worship human achievements, material possessions, social progress, and their own autonomy. Tragically, in professing themselves wise, they demonstrate God-ignoring foolishness. Intellectual pride blinds them to their own ignorance.
As in Paul’s day, God makes himself known through creation, conscience, and Christ. Therefore, rejection of God springs not from lack of evidence but from sinful rebellion. Though cultures esteem such “wise” thinking, God says it is always fundamentally foolish and futile. True wisdom begins with fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10). Anyone, no matter how brilliant, who rejects God proves themselves a fool. No lasting truth or virtue can be found apart from God.
Christians should not be intimidated by worldly wisdom opposed to God but should cling to faith. We must point out that denial of God demonstrates foolishness, not wisdom. And we must remember that the only true knowledge and morality flow from reverencing Christ as Savior and Lord. God promises that those who cling to him will be counted wise in the end, however foolish they may seem to the world (1 Corinthians 3:18-20).
8. The Wisdom of Jesus Christ
Romans 1:22 indicts the philosophical wisdom of Greeks and others ignorant of God’s special revelation. But amazingly, Jesus Christ is himself the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). As God the Son incarnate, Jesus supremely displayed God’s wisdom. Though crucified by those claiming intellectual enlightenment, Jesus was infinitely wiser than any human philosopher. Only in Christ are the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden (Colossians 2:3). True understanding comes only through knowing Jesus personally by faith and learning to think biblically.
The way to escape human foolishness is to humbly receive God’s wisdom by trusting Christ as Savior. As 1 Corinthians 1:30 promises, Christ Jesus “became for us wisdom from God.” Faith in Christ brings true wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption. Believers gain wisdom from God as we renew our minds in Christ and gain the mind of Christ through the Spirit and the word (Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 2:16). By God’s grace, sinners saved by Christ become truly wise. We transition from foolishness to wisdom by clinging to Jesus.
9. Hope for the Foolish
Though Romans 1:22 diagnoses the human condition as tragically foolish, the solution is Jesus Christ. This verse indicts all people as fools deserving wrath (Romans 3:23). But amazingly Christ came to save us from our foolishness. His death redeems foolish sinners who trust in him. Believers are counted wise in Christ, despite previous folly. Salvation rescues humanity from the ultimate folly of rejecting their Creator. There is hope for the fool who repents and believes.
Romans 1:22 warns that the one who considers himself wise apart from God proves himself a fool. But in Christ alone there is healing for this foolishness. By his Spirit he enlightens darkened minds and changes sinful hearts to make us truly wise. Thanks be to God that Christ Jesus came to save fools and transform us by his wisdom.