For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (1 Corinthians 1:17 ESV).
One of the most important things needed to understand the Scriptures (especially the didactic texts) is to understand what the first hearers of the text thought it meant. And this would be very vital to our ability to appreciate the theological lessons of the Book of 1st Corinthians.
This is one verse that has been badly mutilated by ignorant and devious people alike. They import a 1st century quotation into a 20th century context and then conclude that this text dissuades Christians from any thorough research and in depth study when it comes to bible study or matters doctrinal.
But, what did Paul mean by “words of ‘eloquent wisdom‘?”
In biblical times, speakers (also known as rhetoricians) were in pretty high demand, and the greater one’s eloquence and ability to string fanciful (mostly meaningless) words together the greater one’s audience (naturally!) and so taken by the Greeks (and Romans) by this art of Rhetorics that they referred to those verse in the art as wise men.
Rhetoricians were also itinerant (meaning they travelled from place to place) and stayed wherever their services were required. Obviously, their power to command a good buck had a lot to do with their confidence, stage presence and their eloquence (contrast that with Paul’s trembling and “foolish message” of a crucified Savior Christ).
If you are able to see the contrast between those who became rhetoricians and those who were sent by God to preach the gospel, you would marvel at why anyone would believe the gospel to begin with especially in a culture that adored rhetorics. As the Apostle Paul said, “God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise”(1Corinthians 1:27).