1 Corinthians


3. Maintaining unity in the church, 1:11-4:21

iii] The unifying power of a genuine Christian ministry, 3:1-4:5

c) True wisdom


In this passage Paul virtually sums up the argument so far by addressing the two central issues he has raised with the Corinthian congregation, namely i] their over reliance on an "eloquent [human] wisdom (knowledge)", promoted by prominent personalities / teachers, a wisdom which, in the life of the congregation, is supplanting the "wisdom of God", the gospel of "Christ crucified", cf. 1:18-25, v18-20; and ii] the quarreling and party-spirit which has developed as a consequence, cf. 1:10-17, v21-23.


i] Context: See 3:1-9.


ii] Background: See 1:11-17.


iii] Structure: Paul, at this point, draws together the threads of his argument with two imperatives, exapatatw, "let [no one] deceive [himself", and kaucasqw, "let [no one] boast":

Let no one be deceived by a wisdom that is no wisdom at all, v18-20;

Let no one boast in their teachers etc., for Christ is the ground of all boasting, v21-23.


iv] Interpretation:

In a general address to the leaders of the different parties in the Corinthian fellowship, Paul calls on them to reassess their world-views. Some obviously think they are very smart, as well as spiritual, and so Paul uses their words to push them toward the foolishness of the cross. This age is destined for destruction, so they need to become "fools" for Christ. For this reason, Christian ministry must always focus on the foolishness of the cross. The foolishness of God will always outshine the wisdom of humanity. From a human perspective, the cross of Christ does seem stupid, 1:18-25. Yet, now Paul gives us God's perspective, namely that it is human reasoning that is stupid. Only God's gracious providence holds the whole of life together. Paul quotes from Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 serve to make his point. The wise think they can outsmart God, but this only leads to their damnation. God knows well the thoughts of those who think they can outwit him, v18-20.

The Corinthians should abandon their self-sufficient boasting in worldly-wise leaders, for they are not part of a single party, but part of eternity. Those who say "I am of Apollos" are simply relying on a mere men. Not only is this stupid, but it is opposed to the substantial truth that we are all one in Christ. God's intention is "to bring all things in heaven and earth under one head, even Christ", Eph.1:10. So in reality, Paul, Apollos, Peter, etc., "all are yours". Christian teachers are in the service of the congregation, not the other way around. If a believer belongs to anything, it is not to some party or individual, but rather to Christ. By being one with Christ we possess everything. Paul adds that Christ "is God's". Although this statement expresses subordination, it is really only a functional one, of Christ serving the Father - God is one, undivided, v21-23.


For divine wisdom, as opposed to human wisdom, see "Interpretation" 1:26-31.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 3:18

True wisdom, v18-23: i] Christ is the source of all wisdom, v18-20. "Don't be deceived"; rather than rely on the wisdom of pseudophilosophy a believer should rely on God's wisdom - the foolishness of the cross.

mhdeiV ... exapatatw (exapataw) pres. imp. "do not deceive" - let [no one] deceive [himself]. The present tense is durative, expressing the ongoing action of self-deception. The prefix ex serves to intensify the action. Paul may, at this point, be addressing the congregation rather than just the party leaders / teachers. "Don't allow anyone to mislead you", Barclay.

ei "if" - Introducing a conditional clause, 1st. class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, .... then [let him become foolish ...]."

tiV "any one" - a certain someone. Again Paul refers in a general way to the party leaders / teachers in Corinth; "another".

en "of [you]" - in [you]. Locative, "among you".

ei\nai (eimi) pres. inf. "is" - to be. The infinitive of the verb to-be here forms an object clause / dependent statement of perception, expressing what the "other" may "assume / suppose / imagine / think", namely "that he is wise with this world's wisdom", Moffatt; "one of the world's clever ones", Phillips.

en + dat. "-" - among [you]. Locative; expressing space / sphere.

en + dat."by the standards of this age" - in this age. Possibly temporal, "in this age", but better adverbial, expressing a standard, "as the world reckons wisdom", as NIV. The wise and knowledgeable teachers in Corinth who have followed up on Paul's ministry have adopted secular world-views which, in the final analysis, are not very wise; "by the values and standards of this age", "in the terms of this world order", Thiselton. None-the-less, it is possible, although unlikely, that this phrase goes with what follows giving the sense "let him become a fool in this age in order that he may become wise."

genesqw (ginomai) aor. imp. "he should become [a fool]" - let him become [foolish]. That is, adopt the "wisdom of God", "what is foolish in the world", namely "the message of the cross", the gospel of "Christ crucified".

iJna + subj. "the [he may become]" - Forming a purpose clause, "in order that he may become wise", ie. knowledgeable in the wisdom of God.


"The spirit of glorying in party is a species of self-conceit and inconsistent with glorying in the Lord", Findlay.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why a person needs to become a fool before becoming wise, "because ...."

tou kosmou (oV) gen. "of [this] world" - world, mankind. The genitive is adjectival, possibly possessive, but better attributive, limiting "wisdom", "worldly wisdom"; referring to the world of human habitation, so "human cleverness." An ablative sense is possible, expressing source / origin.

para + dat. "[is foolishness] in [God's sight]" - [is foolishness] beside, in the sight of, with [God]. The preposition here may be classified as expressing sphere, so "in the sight of God" = "with God / as far as God is concerned", cf., BDAG, 757.2. The cleverness of humanity "is nonsense as God sees it", Barclay.

gegraptai (grafw) perf. pas. "[as] it is written" - it has been written. Usual introduction for a quote, here Job.5:13. The high-minded are little more than crafty bit-players whose plans are easily overturned by God.

oJ drassomenoV (drassomai) pres. part. "he catches" - the one catching, trapping. The participle serves as a substantive. A verb to-be is assumed; "he is the one catching" = "he is the one who catches".

en + dat. "in [their craftiness]" - Possibly local, expressing sphere, "in their own cleverness", Barclay, but better instrumental, expressing means, "he catches the wise by means of their own cunning."


Citation formula introducing Psalm 94:11.

kai palin "and again" - When it comes to the wisdom of the wise "the Lord knows their reasonings and they are futile", Fee.

touV dialogismouV (oV) "the thoughts" - opinions. Accusative object of the verb "to know", but also serving as the subject of the verb to-be eisin, ie., it functions as a left-dislocation accusative. Probably better "reasonings", Fee.

twn sofwn adj. "of the wise" - The LXX has "of men." The adjective serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, possessive / verbal, subjective; it is their reasonings which are futile.

oJti "-" - that [they are futile, empty, vain]. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what the Lord knows, namely that the rationalizations of the wise are "useless", CEV.


ii] Christ is the ground for all boasting, v21-23. Addressing the congregation, Paul encourages the Corinthian believers to step away from the cult of personality and party-spirit, with its consequent quarreling ("party-conflict", Barrett). "All followers of Christ, therefore, must know that they who have set their lives apart unto Him can make no place for strife or wrangling", Caudill.

w{ste "so then" - thus, therefore. When used at the beginning of a new sentence, as here, inferential, drawing a logical conclusion; "therefore ....."

kaucasqw (kaucaomai) pres. imp. "[no more] boasting" - let [no one] boast, glory. Imperative. Rhetorical intent has prompted the use of a 2nd. person, rather than 3rd. person verb.

en + dat. "about [men] / about human leaders" - in [mankind]. Adverbial, reference and respect / object, cf., Harris, "en of object", "take pride in [mere] men", Zerwick, ie. "man" is the object of the verbal action of "pride"; "glorifying human leaders", Barrett.

gar "-" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why there is no need to rely on a gifted church leader, "because ....""So let there be no one making a boast of men. For everything is yours", Cassirer.

panta "all things" - all things [are yours]. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. Possibly "everything belongs to you", Barnett, but if taken to mean "belong" we end up with "we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God". So, we end up with "Christological subordination", Conzelmann, a rather dubious theological concept. As opposed to the idea that we are to serve a particular teacher/leader in the Christian fellowship, the truth is that the minister actually serves the Christian congregation - "the church is not the property of the apostles", Garland. In fact "the whole gamut of human experience under the hand of God" (Barnett) serves the people of God. Rather than expressing "the expectation of world sovereignty for believers", Conzelmann, it is more likely that Paul goes on to make the point that Christians share "in the Lordship of Christ whereby creation and the church are restored into cooperative agencies for the well-being of humankind and for the glory of God-in-Christ", Thiselton.

uJmwn gen. pro. "[are] yours" - Predicate genitive. Possessive in sense, but not actually limiting a substantive so not functioning adjectivally.


As in 1:12 Paul "deliberately makes his readers' heritage in Christ as comprehensive as possible", Bruce.

eite .... eite "whether" - either .... or. A comparative construction. The panta, "everything", is spelled out. Note the "Christ" party is not mentioned, although Barrett notes that just because Paul doesn't mention it here proves nothing with regard its existence, or otherwise.

mellonta (mellw) pres. part. "the present" - things being present. As with the participle, "things being future", both participles serve as substantives. The list added to the party represents additional powers that can have sway over a believer, cf. Rom.8:32. Paul's point is that a believer need not attend these powers since everything is already ours in Christ. "Anything that is here and now, or anything that is yet to come", Junkins.

uJmwn gen. pro. "[all things are] yours" - As in v21.


Bruce takes Paul's words as if expressing subordination, believers to Christ, Christ to God (the Father). Byrne in Ministry and Maturity in 1 Corinthians 3, 1987, argues that "belonging to Christ" = "living for the Lord", Rom.14:8, 2 Cor.5:15. So "Christ of God" = "Christ lives to God." See below.

de "and" - but, and. Here Transitional connective.

Cristou (oV) "[you are] of Christ" - The genitive "of Christ" is often taken as possessive, so "belong to Christ", but probably not in the sense of submission, but rather part of, in union with; "you are privileged to be in union with Christ", Peterson. The sense, "one of Christ's team can easily be extended to mean "you are in the service of Christ."

qeou (oV) "[Christ is] of God" - of God. As noted above, if this is a christological statement then we have Christ subordinated to God, obviously God the Father - "God is head of Christ." If there is subordination in the godhead it is mutual subordination between all three members. As above, possibly "in union with God", Peterson, with the sense "allegiance", "companionship". None-the-less, we are best to follow Fee who argues that Paul's statement here is soteriological, it "has to do with his [Christ's] function as savior." "Our Lord is presented as the obedient servant of his Father with respect to salvation of the church", Naylor. "Christ is in the Father's service."


1 Corinthians Introduction



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