A Commentary by John Stott
For eleven chapters Paul has been giving his comprehensive account of the gospel. Step by step he has shown how God has revealed his way of putting sinners right with himself, how Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification, how we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, how the Christian life is lived not under the law but in the Spirit, and how God plans to incorporate the fulness of Israel and of the Gentiles into his new community. Paul’s horizons are vast. He takes in time and eternity, history and eschatology, justification, sanctification and glorification. Now he stops, out of breath. Analysis and argument must give way to adoration. ‘Like a traveller who has reached the summit of an Alpine ascent,’ wrote F.L.Godet of Neuchatel, Switzerland, ‘the apostle turns and contemplates. Depths are at his feet; but waves of light illumine them, and there spreads all round an immense horizon which the eye commands.’ Before Paul goes on to outline the practical implications of the gospel, he falls down before God and worships (33-36).
Paul’s praise is informed by Scripture, and is full of Old Testament phraseology. Yet it is his own expression of humble wonder and dependence.
He begins with *an astonished exclamation: Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!* (33). There are two possible ways of interpreting the opening sentence. The first is to understand Paul to be referring to one truth, namely God’s wisdom and knowledge, whose profound riches he celebrates (NIV, ‘the depth of the riches *of* the wisdom and knowledge of God’). The second is to understand him to be referring to two truths, namely God’s riches on the one hand and God’s wisdom and knowledge on the other, and to be celebrating the depth of both (RSV, ‘the depth of the riches *and* wisdom and knowledge of God’). That this second interpretation is correct (namely that God’s wealth and wisdom are both being magnified) is suggested by the parallel in the next exclamation, in which Paul alludes both to God’s unsearchable *judgments* (what he thinks and decides) and to his untraceable *paths* (what he does and where he goes). In fact, this distinction continues throughout the doxology – his wealth and his wisdom (33a), his judgments and his paths (33b), his revelation (34) and his gifts (35).
Paul has already written if God’s wealth: ‘the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience’ (2:4), the riches of his glory’ (9:23) and the riches which the Lord Jesus bestows indiscriminately on all who call upon him (10:12). Elsewhere he describes God as ‘rich in mercy’ (Eph.2:4; cf.1:7) and refers to Christ’s inexhaustible riches (Ep.3:8; 3:16 cf. also 2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 4:19). The dominant thought is that salvation is a gift from God’s riches and that it immensely enriches those to whom it is given.
Then there is God’s wisdom, which is hidden in Christ (Col.2:2f.), was displayed on the cross (though it appears to human beings to be folly) (1 Cor.1:18ff.), and is unfolded in his saving purpose (Eph.1:8; 3:10). Thus if the wisdom of God planned salvation, the wealth of God bestows it. Moreover, God’s wealth and wisdom are not only deep; they are actually unfathomable (33b). His decisions are unsearchable, and his ways inscrutable. This is the New Testament equivalent of Isaiah 55:8f. where God declares his thoughts to be higher than our thoughts, and his ways than our ways. But of course! How could finite and fallen creatures like us ever imagine that we could penetrate into the infinite mind of God? His mind (what he thinks) and his activity (what he does) are together beyond us (For the unfathomable nature of God’s mind and mysteries see e.g. Jb.5:9; 11:7; Ps.139:6; Is. 40:28).