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1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 – Christ Crucified as the Wisdom and Power of God

Summary

Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world with the apparent foolishness of God's power shown in the cross and in God's choice of the Corinthians and Paul.

Analysis

In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul says that the message of the cross sounds like foolishness to some and power to others. "The cross of Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:17) is shorthand for the proclamation that Jesus, Israel's messiah, or anointed one (in Greek, christos means "anointed one"), suffered crucifixion at the hands of the Romans, that God raised him from the dead, and that his death and resurrection has begun the redemption of Israel and the Gentiles, as well as the whole creation, a redemption that continues to unfold. Such a message would have been near nonsense to many who heard it: crucifixion was a torturous death, a manner of execution we believe to have been reserved for convicted slaves and terrorists. Paul claims that God chose this way of being in the world precisely to subvert human wisdom and strength.

To support his argument that "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:25), Paul asks the Corinthians to consider how they themselves came to be numbered among those who are "in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:30). He reports that God's choice of them was not based on their status but rather on God's determination to choose the foolish and weak precisely to shame the wise and strong. He admits that his own proclamation to them, too, was halting: "I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3). From the rest of the letter, it is clear that at least some of the Corinthians were particularly conscious of status. They seem to have measured themselves and their leaders against one another in terms of spiritual giftedness, eloquence, knowledge, and other things. At the start of the letter, Paul calls this sort of scorekeeping into question.

In this chapter, also, Paul says that Jesus "became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30). Most of these words will appear again in 1 Corinthians 6 when Paul is speaking of the Corinthians having been transferred from one realm or way of life to another. The point here is that the new life the Corinthians enjoy is not the result of their worthiness but of the connection between God and Christ, and the choice God made to give them life in Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
   and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:* not many of you were wise by human standards,* not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one* might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in* the Lord.’

Proclaiming Christ Crucified

2When I came to you, brothers and sisters,* I did not come proclaiming the mystery* of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom,* but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

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v 2.2.7
10 February 2011

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