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