1 Corinthians


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

ii] Secularism and the gospel, 1:18-2:16

a) We preach Christ crucified


In the passage before us Paul develops a contrast touched on in 1:17. The contrast is between "words of human wisdom" and the gospel of the "cross of Christ." Paul argues that the gospel is not something that needs improving by the addition of human wisdom. In fact, the message concerning the cross of Christ is senseless, ie., far as human reasoning is concerned, the gospel is foolishness. So, beware of testing it by human wisdom.


i] Context: See 1:11-17. Secular reasoning and the gospel are mutually exclusive, 1:18-2:16. Oke in Paul's Method, Not a Demonstration, but an Exhibition of the Spirit says this of the gospel, as compared to secular wisdom: "The Divine and humbling non-contentious character of Christianity is shown ...... in three ways: by the gospel's obvious independence of human intelligence (1:18-25); by the lowly calibre of those called (1:26-31); and by the manner in which [Paul] consistently introduced the gospel at Corinth (2:1-5)". Thiselton exposes the gulf between human wisdom and the gospel in a simple question:

How can the gospel of Christ be a form of sofia, "wisdom":

• when the message concerns a crucified Christ, 1:18-25;

• its recipients are far from 'wise' or influential (with respect to the world at large), 1:26-31;

• and Paul's own preaching is not characterized by a cleverness designed to impress, 2:1-5?.

Paul concludes by explaining the hidden wisdom of God, 2:6-16.


ii] Background: See 1:10.


iii] Structure - We preach Christ crucified:

The wisdom of this world is foolishness, v18-21;

The foolishness of the cross is true wisdom, v22-25.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul now sets out to examine the difference between human wisdom and the wisdom from above, divine wisdom, the gospel, the message concerning the cross of Christ.

What is the "wisdom" pursued by some of the members of the Corinthian church? In these early chapters of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, Paul contrasts this "eloquent [human] wisdom" with the "wisdom of God". The content of the wisdom of God is the gospel, "Christ crucified". The content of human wisdom, or "knowledge", is not detailed. It is likely that there are a multiplicity of groups / parties operating within the Corinthian church, a multiplicity of parties possessing a multiplicity of theological views. It is impossible to identify exactly the teachings of each faction, but there seems to be a "touch not, taste not" nomism party, a Charismatic party promoting the victory life through the gifts of the Spirit, all the way through to an "all things are lawful" party promoting a spirituality that transcends mere matters of morality. These preacher/s of wisdom proclaim a "knowledge" which is not well grounded in the gospel. These factions believe they have arrived, they have reached a spiritual enhancement above that of the normal believer. Barnett suggests that in broad terms it is what we would call "a world view ... where man is at the center and God at the margin." Of course, they would not view themselves as worldly. So, in simple terms it is "cleverness" - the Corinthian church has, along with those committed to the apostolic teachings of Paul, factions which have their own clever view of the Christian life. As far as Paul is concerned, this "knowledge" is not founded on the gospel.

Yet, in arguing his case, Paul comes to the issue carefully. He first establishes that there is a worldly wisdom and a wisdom from above. The two are incompatible. There is the worldly wisdom of Jew and Greek, and there is the wisdom of the gospel. The factions will happily identify themselves with the wisdom from above, but as Paul's argument advances, he shows that their partisan glorying in their wisdom, their cleverness, aligns them, not with the foolishness of the cross, but with a worldly wisdom that leads them into factionalism, cf., 3:18-19. "Paul challenges them to proclaim [the] shameful experience of their master's crucifixion, a divine folly that overturns human wisdom", Stansbury, Corinthian Honor, Corinthian Conflict, 1990. Re Paul's rhetorical mode of argument, see Lampe, Theological Wisdom and the Word about the Cross, 1990.


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

Text - 1:18

True wisdom, v18-25: i] The wisdom of this world is foolishness, v18-21. Paul begins by contrasting the message of the gospel with human wisdom. Those who follow the wisdom of this world find the gospel foolishness, but then they are perishing, while believers are "being saved".

gar "for" - More reason than cause; introducing an explanation of v17b.

oJ logoV "the message" - the word. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. The word of the cross is content laden whereas the wisdom of words, v17, are just mere words which appear to be wise, cf., Barnett; "they are mutually exclusive", Fee.

tou staurou (oV) gen. "of the cross" - The genitive is usually classed as adjectival, verbal, objective, where the cross is "the object of the act of proclaiming", Thiselton, although adjectival, idiomatic / content, limiting "message", seems more likely, such that the content of the message is about the cross; "the message which is all about the cross" - "the cross" makes up the substance of the message. The cross is central to the gospel message in that it is the means by which we attain the gift of eternal life.

mwria abstract noun "[is] foolishness" - [to the ones perishing] is stupidity, nonsense. Predicate nominative. It is a nonsense that the wisdom of God can be found in the public crucifixion of an accused blasphemer.

toiV ... apollumenoiV (apollumi) dat. pres. part. "to those who are perishing" - to the ones ruined, lost, perishing. The participle serves as a substantive, dative of interest, "for those who are on the way to destruction", or reference / respect, "with respect to those on their way to destruction", or feeling / ethical, "as far as those who are perishing is concerned." Indicating future judgment.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point.

sw/zomenoiV (swzw) dat. pres. pas. part. "to [us] who are being saved" - to [us] being saved. Dative participle as above.

qeou (oV) "[the power] of God" - [it is power] of god. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, ie., "power" is an attribute of God, or idiomatic / producer, "the power which God exercises." The anarthrous phrase itself is descriptive of the process of "being saved." The preaching of the cross, the gospel, on one hand is foolishness, but on the other is "a power of God" operative for our salvation.


Isaiah 29:14 originally served to warn Israel against thinking they could outwit God. Paul uses the warning as a prophetic reminder to his readers.

gegraptai (grafw) perf. mid./pas. "[for] it is written" - [for] it has been written. Intensive perfect. Often used to introduce a quotation; "It stands written." The quote is from the LXX, Isaiah 29:14.

twn sofwn adj. "of the wise" - [i will destroy the wisdom] of the wise. The adjective serves as a substantive, with the genitive being adjectival, possibly verbal, subjective, or better possessive; the wisdom possessed by the wise is a way of thinking, a worldly reasoning.

aqethsw (aqetew) fut. "I will frustrate" - [and] i will set aside, disregard, repudiate [the understanding of the intelligent]. The LXX has "I will hide"; "bring to nothing", AV.


The rhetorical questions used in this verse follow on from v19. Christ's work on the cross has already, in a sense, destroyed the wisdom of the wise. Where do they stand now? The grace of God, exhibited in the cross, has bypassed any gains made by worldly wisdom, particularly as it relates to the human search for the divine.

pou adv. "where" - where [is the wise man]. Interrogative adverb with the verb to-be estin supplied. The wise of this age regard the gospel as foolishness, but in the revelation of the gospel, the wisdom of God, it will be the wisdom of this age that will be exposed as foolishness.

suzhththV (ou) "the philosopher" - [where is the] disputant, debater. Nominative subject of the implied verb to-be.

tou aiwnoV (wn onoV) gen. "of [this] age" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive or idiomatic / temporal. Used here of the age stretching out to the dawning of the new age, eternity - "the state of things now present" R&P. The word has a similar meaning to "this world" and the "world to come."

ouci "not" - [did] not [god]. A strong negation used in a question expecting the affirmative answer "yes".

emwranen (mwrainw) aor. "made foolish" - regard as a nonsense, render foolish, as dumb, make foolish. "God revealed the world's wisdom as folly", possibly made it a folly, but "revealed" is closer to the meaning of the text. God "has, as it were, befooled wisdom", Godet.

tou kosmou (oV) gen. "of the world" - [the wisdom] of the world? The genitive is ablative, source / origin; the wisdom that is sourced from this world; "has not God shown the wisdom of this world to be a foolish thing", Cassirer.


It is plain enough that worldly wisdom is limited. It has not even succeeded in perfecting the human race, let alone open the way to a knowledge of God. The pagan has ended up playing with idolatry, the Jew with legalism.... In the midst of this confusion, God has chosen to gather a people to himself and perfect them through the preaching of a message which rests on the crucifixion of Christ. By believing this message, a person can appropriate the benefits of Christ's work on the cross, namely salvation.

gar "for" - More reason than cause, introducing an explanation of God's action to make foolish the wisdom of the world, v20; "For this is what has happened", Cassirer.

epeidh "since" - because. Causal conjunction introducing a causal clause explaining why God eudokhsen, "was pleased" = chose, to reveal himself / his wisdom to those who believe through the preaching of the gospel rather than in the speculation of the wise - the wise in their speculation having proved unable to know him / understand true wisdom, so Fee, or God having chosen to hide from their speculation, so Barnett. The choice between these two options is unclear. What is clear is that because of human non-wisdom God has acted to reveal his own unique wisdom. Of this non-wisdom Calvin states "it is the blindness of the human mind, which, surrounded by light, sees nothing."

en "in" - in / by. Here either local, expressing sphere of influence. God's wisdom is seen in his creative works, but the world did not recognize it. On the other hand it may be instrumental, expressing means, "by", referring to God's plan of salvation. "For since, by God's wise plan, the world, exercising its own wisdom, did not know God, God chose to save those who had no wisdom, but faith, not by their own wisdom, but by the folly of the Christian preaching", Barrett. Other adverbial possibilities include: standard, "according to"; manner; cause, "because of"; time, "in the time of."

th/ sofia/ (a) "wisdom" - the wisdom [of god]. Here it is a good wisdom, God's wisdom, probably of his self-disclosure, revelation; "the possibility of knowing God does not belong essentially to man (as a property); it is bestowed on him by revelation", Conzelmann. Possibly the wisdom here is God's plan of salvation. God's wisdom focuses on the cross and is therefore regarded as foolishness by the standards of human reasoning. "As God has ordained in his wisdom", Cassirer.

ouk egnw (ginwskw) aor. "did not know" - [the world through the = its wisdom] did not know [god]. Although God's presence is clearly observable in creation, flawed human reasoning (a wisdom affected by the fall) devalues the evidence and therefore does not come to a knowledge of God. The knowledge of God comes by the folly of faith, not by human reasoning (wisdom). It is possible Paul is arguing against those who contend that they can know God through wisdom.

dia + gen. "-" - through, by means of. Instrumental, expressing means.

eudokhsen (eudokew) aor. "was pleased" - [god] was pleased. "Please", but also an act of the will like "choose" may better express Paul's intended sense; "God therefore decided to save those who believe by the folly of the message we preach", Barclay.

tou khrugmatoV (a atoV) "of what was preached" - [through the foolishness] of the proclamation, preaching. The genitive is adjectival, epexegetic / appositional, or attributed, "foolish proclamation." Paul is using this word of gospel communication, even the content of gospel communication, namely the cross, but not of preaching in church.

swsai (swzw) aor. inf. "to save" - The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what was God's good pleasure, namely, to save those who believe.

touV pisteuontaV (pisteuw) pres. part. "those who believe" - the ones believing. The participle serves as a substantive.


ii] The foolishness of the cross is true wisdom, v22-25. As Fee notes, Paul now develops the idea that "the message of the cross is foolishness", v18. He makes two points: a) Worldly wisdom and divine wisdom (found in the message of the cross) stand in absolute contradiction to one another, and b) The message of the cross, a seeming foolishness to the wise, is where God's redeeming power is active for humankind.

Jews demand miraculous signs to confirm the truth, but the only sign given is the sign of Jonah - the preaching of the gospel. Gentiles demand worldly wisdom to confirm the truth, but the only wisdom given is the foolishness of the cross of Christ.

epeidh conj. " -" - since, because. Causal conjunction. A repetition of the syntax found in v21, but it's causal strength must be limited otherwise v23 doesn't quite work. R&P suggest that it introduces a kind of conditional clause, v22 serving as the protasis and v23 and 24 as the apodosis; "since Jews and Gentiles alike demand something which suits their unsympathetic limitations, we, de on the other hand, preach ....."

kai .... kai .... " - .... and" - and .... and... A correlative construction doesn't quite work here, "both ..., and ...". The first kai may be emphatic, "indeed" and the second correlative.

aitousin (aitew) pres. "demand [miraculous signs]" - [jews] ask for [signs]. They are without faith and therefore ask for a visible evidence. The Pharisees looked for signs of their own invention ("a cow giving birth to a lamb in the temple", Barnett), but when faced with the true signs of the coming kingdom in Christ, they ignored them.

EllhneV "Greeks" - [and] greeks [seek wisdom]. Nominative subject of the verb "to seek." A qualitative use of the word; here the same as Gentiles, or maybe particularly those who seek to know God through worldly wisdom.

zhtousin (zhtew) pres. "look for" - seek. "Jews ask for miraculous proofs and the Greeks an intellectual panacea", Phillips.


God's revelation to humanity in Christ is a contradiction - a messiah under the curse of God (cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree, Deut.21:23). The Jews believed that the coming messiah would be a glorified figure of power and might. Therefore, "Christ crucified" is certainly a "stumbling block to Jews", and as for Gentiles, it is "foolishness".

de "but" - but/and. As noted above, de possibly serves here to introduce the apodosis of an unconventional conditional clause; "The Jews ...... but as for us, we preach ...."

khrussomen ( khrussw) pres. "preach" - we proclaim as heralds. The modern meaning is "communicate."

estaurwmenon (staurow) perf, pas. part. "crucified" - [christ] having been crucified. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "Christ", "who has been crucified." The content of the communication is "Christ crucified." Everyone brings their own bias to the exposition of this phrase. For example, the atonement is a popular focus. Yet, Paul is into comparing a worldly wisdom with a divine wisdom. The worldly person seeks to know the divine through reason (wisdom) - a reaching up to God. Yet, the gospel proclaims that God has graciously reached down to us through the cross such that knowing God is through faith rather than wisdom. To the child of human reasoning, such is a foolishness. So "Christ crucified" is probably best expounded in the terms of God's grace.

men .... de .... "-" - on the one hand [a stumbling block ... ] but on the other [foolishness .....]. Comparative adversative construction.

skandalon (on) "stumbling block" - an offense. Something that trips someone up, a cause of stumbling.

IoudaioiV dat. adj. "to Jews" - to jews [foolishness to gentiles]. As for "to Gentiles", a dative of feeling / ethical; "in the opinion of."


The called-out ones (invited seekers) hear the foolishness of the gospel and find in it the power and wisdom of God. They find that the gospel is able to move them into a right relationship with God. Thus, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The seeker also finds that the gospel is a message of majestic wisdom. So, the gospel is indeed wisdom for those who are being saved.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast which sits against the men ... de construction in v23, as NIV.

toiV dat. "[to those] whom God [has called]" - [to them] the [called ones]. The article serves as an adjectivizer turning the adjective "called" into an attributive modifier of the nominative subject "them", dative of interest, advantage, or reference / respect, "with respect to." The call of God is always a difficult concept, given that Paul never fully teases it out. It may simply mean "invitation", but then it may refer to an "effectual call". God's call of a people to himself is often described in "effectual" terms, although for the individual, it is often in terms of "invitation." Robertson and Plummer suggest that the phrase is parallel to v18, "us who are being saved" - "actual believers", ie. touV pisteuontaV, "those who believe", v21. So, we are probably dealing with "an appeal to personal experience" rather than an effectual call or invitation to salvation.

te kai "both [Jews] and [Greeks]". both [to jews] and [to greeks]. The conjunction te serves to intensify the connection implied by kai, "both Jews and Greeks." "Be they Jews or Greeks", Cassirer.

Criston (oV) "Christ" - Most likely alluding to "Christ crucified", v23, rather than referring to the person of the messiah, ie., the phrase "Christ is God's power and God's wisdom" stands in apposition to "Christ crucified."

dunamin (iV ewV) "power" - power [of god]. For those being saved, the message of the cross is not a scandal, a useless sign, but is rather the power of God unto salvation.

qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - Emphatic by position. The genitive is probably adjectival, possibly possessive, "God's power"; "Christ is God's power and God's wisdom" for the salvation of all who believe, Rom.1:16, but possibly ablative, source / origin. B&L opt for adjectival, idiomatic / origin, "wisdom rooted in God."

sofian (a) "wisdom" - wisdom [of god]. Here the wisdom of God is something more than his wise plan, it is his effectual plan realized through the message of the cross.


If the cross is foolishness, then it is God's foolishness, and God's foolishness is always wiser than human wisdom.

oJti "for" - that. Thiselton takes the conjunction as causal, as NIV, such that this verse serves to explain further the power and wisdom of God. Yet, the verse virtually summarizes the argument of v18-25, and this in the form of a maxim, such that oJti virtually has a recitative force; "And so it is, divine folly is wiser than any human wisdom, and divine weakness is stronger than any human strength", Cassirer (the paradox serves a rhetorical end and is not suggesting that God is foolish or weak). "Paul's theology of the cross climaxes in a triumphant expression of a glorious paradox", Pfitzner.

to mwron (oV) adj. neut. "the foolishness" - the foolish thing. The adjective serves as a substantive, subject of the verb to be. The cross of Christ is God's foolishness.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive, but often classified as verbal, subjective.

sofwteron comp. adj. "wiser" - [is] wiser. Comparative predicate adjective.

twn anqrwpwn (oV) "than man's wisdom" - of men. The genitive is ablative, comparative, as NIV.

to asqeneV (hV) adj. "the weakness" - [and] the weak thing [of god is stronger of = than men]. The adjective serves as a substantive, nominative subject of an implied verb to-be. God's weakness is stronger than human strength. As a maxim, the verse states, for argument sake, that if God had any weaknesses they would be far greater than any human strength.


1 Corinthians Introduction.


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