1 Corinthians


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

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

b) God chose the weak


Paul continues to argue that human wisdom and the gospel are mutually exclusive, 1:18-2:5. In this, his second point, 1:26-31, Paul explains that the recipients of the gospel at Corinth are far from "wise" or influential in the sense understood by the world at large. So, in this passage the conflict between human wisdom and the foolishness of the cross is illustrated in the origins and composition of the Corinthian congregation. "The act of God in Christ has brought about a reversal of human evaluations concerning status, achievement and success", Thiselton. This fact can be observed in the Corinthian fellowship.


i] Context: See 1:18-25. The contrast between the gospel and human wisdom is further developed in this second step in Paul's argument. The first step, namely, "the nature and transformative power of the proclamation of the cross of Christ", v18-25, is supported by a statement concerning "the nature and social status and composition of the church in Corinth", v26-31, followed by "Paul's own experience and presentation of the gospel when he first came to Corinth", 2:1-5, so Thiselton.


ii] Background: See Party Spirit in Corinth, 1:11-17.


iii] Structure: God's affirmative action toward the weak:

God's people evidence the foolishness of the cross, v26-28.

All wisdom is found in Christ, v29-31.


iv] Interpretation:

The splits in the church at Corinth over leadership, form and theology, relate to an over-dependence on human wisdom. For this reason, Paul sets out in 1:18-2:16 to expose the difference between divine and human wisdom. The wisdom of God may not involve the powerful logic and rhetoric of the Greek and Roman intellectual system, but it is wisdom none-the-less. The truth concerning the death and resurrection of Christ in the gospel, is not only a complete system of truth about mankind and God, simple though this may be, it is also the power of God for salvation. The gospel delivers humanity from bondage. This "foolishness" of God is "wiser" than the musings of the wise; this "weakness" of God is "stronger" than the strength of the strong. Verses 26-31 illustrate this paradox: God's seemingly weak and foolish ways are actually evident in the make-up of the Corinthian church.

Paul argues that the wisdom of God is completely opposite to human wisdom, which fact is evident in the gospel, a message which is foolishness to secular humanity, and yet a message which serves as a divine instrument for the gathering of a people united to God for eternity. The simple fact is that human wisdom is foolishness. This fact is an evident truth:

• Even the greatest thinkers have never been able to discover what God is like, v21;

• The preaching of the gospel is actually changing people's lives, v24;

• God, in his wisdom, chooses the foolish to confound the wise, v26-28.


In contrasting the wisdom of the world with the wisdom from above, Paul has explained that God's foolish wisdom is evidenced in the preaching of the cross, v18-25 and now he shows that it is evidenced in the makeup of the Corinthian congregation. "The act of God in Christ has brought about a reversal of human evaluations concerning status, achievement and success", Thiselton. Such is evident in the membership of the Corinthian church, which fact should nullify the cleverness presently promoting divisions in the church. "Since all of them were nothing before their conversion, how can any of them think that they have become more special than others when in Christ?", Garland.


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

Text - 1:26

God has chosen the weak to confound the wise, v26-31. So that "we can be proud only of what God himself has done for us" God has chosen those "who by human standards are powerless and insignificant", Thrall:

i] God's people evidence the foolishness of the cross, v26-28. The wisdom of this world is foolish, a fact evident in God's choice of a people who are powerless and insignificant. Are Paul's words here ironic, sarcastic, or factual? Factual seems likely. "Look at the make-up of your church" Paul exclaims, "a bit of a rag-tag group, isn't it?" Such proves Paul's point, "not only that God's standards and terms of reference (wisdom) are other than those accepted by the world, but also that God is now engaged in overthrowing the world's false standards", Barrett.

gar "-" - for [you see]. More reason than cause, here further explaining the issue of divine and human wisdom commenced in v18; "what I have just told you about this wisdom of God's foolishness and this strength in God's weakness you can actually see in your own selves. For look ......", Lenski.

adelfoi (oV) "brothers / brothers and sisters" - [the calling of you] brothers. The use of an unnecessary vocative. Note TNIV's inclusive language.

blepete (blepw) pres. "think of what you were" - you see. A metaphorical use of the verb expressing "giving ones attention to" so "think about".

thn klhsin (iV ewV) "when [you] were called" - the calling. Accusative direct object of the verb "to see", possibly serving as a verbal noun and therefore emphasizing function, the gospel function of calling the lost to salvation. Yet, better expressing the implicit idea "the circumstances of your call", Thiselton, ie. "your calling" in the sense of vocation. With this sense the genitive pronoun uJmwn is taken as possessive, but if the noun is treated as verbal, then the pronoun is objective, as NIV.

oJti "-" - that. Introducing an object clause / epexegetic / dependent statement of perception expressing what they should "think" / remember; "for you see ..... how that ...."

ou polloi adj. "not many" - Origin argued the phrase meant "not all", ie., most were, but this sense is unlikely.

kata + acc. "by [human standards]" - [were wise men] according to [the flesh]. Most often expressing reference / respect, but here possibly adverbial, modal, expressing manner, "after the manner of." The term "flesh" means "human", pertaining to normal human life. From a human perspective (a societal assessment of things) the believers in Corinth were not viewed as clever ("wise"), nor influential, nor of high status ("of noble birth"). "Humanly speaking", Zerwick.

dunatoi adj. "were influential" - [not many] powerful, strong. "Few of you held positions of authority and power."

eugeneiV adj. "were of noble birth" - [not many] of high or noble birth. "There are few of aristocratic birth", Barclay.


"God's calling excludes human boasting", Hayes. The weak and foolish nature of the gospel gathers weak and foolish people. Yet, God has a purpose in this. God's intention is to expose the lack of substance in the wisdom of the world.

alla "but" - Adversative / contrastive, as NIV.

exelexato (eklegomai) aor. "[God] chose" - Paul's use of the words "called" and "chose" can be very misleading. Those who take a Calvinist line see in Paul's words an effectual call, ie., God selecting particularly weak people for salvation. Such a "calling" exhibits "the energetic action whereby God has taken to Him from the midst of the world those individuals whom no one judged worthy of attention", Godet. Yet, it is unlikely that such a specific interpretation is intended. In his sovereign will, God determines to gather a people to himself through the family of Abraham, even though, as a family and later as a nation, weakness is its constant mark. Those who attach themselves to this "called" and "chosen" people share in the blessing of salvation, along with the mark of foolishness. In Christ, the one true obedient Israelite, child of Abraham, "called" and "chosen", the crucified one, the "man of sorrows", we are saved. In him we become the "called" and "chosen" ones, and like him we tend to be lacking of this world's glory.

ta mwra adj. "the foolish things" - the foolish. The use of the neuter plural is inclusive, of an entire category of persons and things. The adjective is used as a substantive. The descriptors "foolish things", "weak things" and "the insignificant and despised, things that are nothing" are nicely balanced with "the clever", "the powerful (those in positions of power)" and "the somethings (of this world, or at least those who think they are something)." The rhythm of the Greek actually translates well into English: "the foolish things of this world God chose in order to shame the clever, ........."

tou kosmou (oV) gen. "of the world" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive. God has chosen the foolish of a world made up of foolish and wise, the weak of a world made up of weak and strong. God's human family tends to be made up of men and women that the secular culture overlooks, exploits and abuses.

iJna + subj. "to" - that [he might shame the wise men, and god chose the weak things of the world that he might shame the strong things]. Introducing a purpose clause, "in order that ...", telling us why God chose; "in order to put to shame those who are wise" and "in order to put to shame the things that are strong." Of course, a consecutive sense is also possible, "with the result that ....."


Through the wisdom of the gospel, God gathers a people to himself, a people the world counts as "lowly things" (base) and "despised". Yet, the church validates God's wisdom and will one day become God's complete and glorified new creation.

kai "-" - and. Coordinative.

ta agenh adj. "lowly things" - the low-born, insignificant, base. The adjective serves as a substantive, and again the neuter plural is inclusive of an entire category of persons and things.

tou kosmou (oV) gen."of this world" - of the world. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

ta exouqenhmena (exouqenew) perf. pas./mid. part. "the despised things" - [and] the things having been despised, thought nothing of [god chose]. The participle serves as a substantive, the middle may be read; "God chose for himself that which is thought, from a worldly point of view, to be nothing."

ta mh onta (eimi) pres. part. "the things that are not" - the things not being. The participle serves as a substantive standing in apposition to "the low-born of the world and the ones having been despised". The First World War phrase "he aught to be shot and his cloths burnt", often said of someone (usually a ranking officers) who has done something stupid, carries the sense that such a person should not even be recognized as existing. For Paul, such people find hope in Christ.

iJna + subj. "to [nullify]" - that [he may make of no effect, nullify]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose; "in order that ....". God has called "nobodies to expose the hollow pretensions of the somebodies", Peterson.

ta onta (eimi) pres. part. "the things that are" - the things being. The participle serves as a substantive.


ii] All wisdom is found in Christ, v29-31. Let pride be placed where it belongs, not with human achievements, but with what God has done for us. This weak and despised creation (the church) is completely of God's making "that no one might boast before him" (glory in his presence), ie., that no one might claim that the church is the creation of factional human leader.

oJpwV mh + subj. "so that no" - so that not = lest. Introducing a negated purpose clause, possibly used instead of iJna to indicate God's eternal purpose in calling a people to himself, rather than the immediate purpose of the three preceding hina clauses, so Conzelmann. "He did this to ensure that no human being may have any cause for pride in the presence of God", Barclay.

kauchshtai (kaucaomai) aor. subj."[ one] may boast" - [any flesh] may boast. The pasa sarx, "any flesh", is a rather awkward way of speaking of humanity, but is influenced by the Semitic perspective on life, so "all flesh" = humanity. "No one / human / person has any ground for boasting in the presence of God."

enwpion + gen. "before [him]" - before, in front of [god]. Spacial, in a metaphorical sense.


As for the individual members of the church, each possesses an eternal relationship with God, not by their own actions, or the actions of gifted leaders in the church, but simply through their personal relationship with Christ. Being "in Christ" (identifying with Christ through faith) relates us to God. Paul goes on to list what Christ, as God's gift to humanity, means to the individual believer.

de "-" - but/and [of him (God) you are in christ jesus]. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast within v29-31: "No human has any ground for boasting in the presence of God, rather it is in his doing that you have life in Christ ............ so he who boasts let him boast in the Lord."

ex (ek) + gen. "it is because [of him]" - of him. The preposition + gen. may be read to convey the grounds of the Corinthians present advantage "in Christ", as in the NIV, or the source, as in the RSV/NRSV, "he is the source of your life in Christ."

en + dat. "in [Christ Jesus]" - Local, expressing space / sphere. This is always a difficult phrase to exegete since it can mean different things in different contexts. A locative sense (incorporation in / incorporative union) is to be preferred and that in relational terms. Because of our relationship in / with (in association with) Christ, we are saved. An instrumental sense is another possibility. In / by (by what Christ has done) we are saved. The point here, of course, is that God is the agent acting through Christ.

hJmin dat. pro. "for us" - [who became wisdom] to us. Dative of interest, advantage.

apo + gen. "from [God]" - from [god]. Expressing source / origin. The verse is often read as if God uses Christ to be a channel by which the believer becomes wise, righteous, holy and redeemed, but the text is not saying this. God has made Christ to possess wisdom on our behalf. He possesses the wisdom of God and in it is by means of our association with him that we are counted as possessing this wisdom - so also righteousness, holiness and redemption.

te kai "that is" - both and, and. The intensifying conjunction te indicates that the three nouns, "righteousness, holiness and redemption", stand in apposition to the noun "wisdom", describing different aspects of this "wisdom", as NIV. The conjunction kai serves to link the three nouns. It is possible though, that the conjunction te is only serving to add the three nouns to "wisdom" rather than exegete it, so Barclay, "God has made him our wisdom, our goodness, our way to holiness, our liberation."

dikaiosunh (h) "our righteousness" - righteousness. Possibly either "righteousness", in the sense of Christ's ethical adherence to the law of God, which obedience is ours "in Christ", by grace through faith, or "justification", in the sense of Christ's right standing / approval in the sight of God, which approval is ours "in Christ", by grace through faith. It is unlikely here to mean moral goodness or character.

aJgiasmoV (oV) "holiness" - [and] holiness, sanctification. Used in a religious sense; being set-apart for God leading to purity, sanctification.

apolutrwsiV (iV ewV) "redemption" - [and] redemption, release from captivity. Jesus is the redeemed / saved / released remnant of Israel, and through our association with him we share in this salvation.


If there is nothing that enables us to stand before God, other than the riches we possess in Christ, then let our "boast" (glory) be in the Lord. The quote comes from Jeremiah 9:24. The point is simple enough, no believer can boast of any achievement (human wisdom, oratory, abilities, congregational success) since all that we are comes from Christ and him alone. Let us therefore, glory in him.

iJna "therefore" - that. We are probably best to follow Lightfoot who argued that the hina clause is final (a purpose clause), "in order that", NRSV; "in order that, as it is written, let him who boasts boast in the Lord." None-the-less, it may introduce a consecutive clause expressing result, "with the result that." The sentence is possibly elliptical, with a subjunctive verb to-be missing, "in order that it might be, as it is written ..." What then might "be"? That all ground of boasting rest upon God's anointed. "So that, as it is written, 'let him who boasts boast of the Lord'", Moffatt.

kaqwV "as [it is written]" - as [it has been written]. Comparative used for a citation formula.

kaucasqw (kaucaomai) pres. imp. "let ..... boast" - [the one boasting] let him boast. Command: the one who boasts must boast in the Lord, Jer.9:24. Paul replaces "in this" with "in the Lord."

o kaucwmenoV (kaucaomai) pres. mid. part. "the one who boasts" - the one boasting. The participle serves as a substantive.

en "in" - in [the lord]. Local, expressing space / sphere,"if any man is proud, he must be proud in what the Lord has done", Barclay; instrumental, expressing means, "by the Lord"; reference / respect, "with respect to the Lord"; cause, "because of." The "Lord" may be either God or Christ such that our pride must rest in what God has done for us in Christ, or our pride must rest in what Christ has done for us. Christ is probably intended, but the point is the same either way.


1 Corinthians Introduction


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