1:1 From Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes, our brother, 1:2 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
1 Cor 1-3 centres upon the problem of worldly versus divine wisdom (with the cross as the centerpiece of divine wisdom).
‘According to the teachers of rhetoric, the introduction of a speech (exordium) should introduce the topic and make the audience favorably disposed. In the salutation in 1:1–3, Paul addresses the issues in this tense situation without alienating his audience.’ (Thompson, Feasting on the Word, Vol 1)
Called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God – ‘We sense Paul’s concern to stress his authority in verse 1, by the conjunction of the terms “called,” “apostle,” and “the will of God.” It would not be conventional to add all these descriptions of an author’s identity. But many of the Corinthians have rejected his authority (1:12), so immediately at the outset of his letter he begins to seek ways to reassert it.’ (Blomberg)
Paul does not stress his authority in all his letters (see, for example, 1 & 2 Thessalonians and Philippians). But here he does, anticipating what he will write later in 1 Cor 4:1–4, 14–21. Fee thinks that this emphasis on his apostolic authority is unlikely to have been missed by his readers.
Barrett refers to ‘Paul’s delicately balanced authority, which will be called in question, and much misunderstood, in the course of the epistles (e.g. 1 Cor 4; 9:1-23; 2 Cor 4:1-15; 10-13).’ Other commentators point out how Paul’s vivd sense of a divine call instil in him a combination of ‘genuine humility and supreme authority’ (Ciampa and Rosner).
Paul’s authority was certainly no self-seeking bossiness. The Corinthians are ‘the seal of [his] apostleship’, 1 Cor 9:1f; he admonishes them as their ‘father’, 1 Cor, 4:14-16; and it was from him that they heard the good news of salvation, 1 Cor 15:1f.
‘Above all else, this sense of call based on God’s will is what fills the apostle with such confidence in his ministry. It also leads to the apparent ambiguity that so many moderns find in him. On the one hand, he can be completely self-effacing in terms of his own person or personal role; on the other hand, he can be absolutely unyielding when it comes to his ministry as such. The latter issues from his confidence that his apostleship had come not by his own choosing but strictly “by the will of God.”’ (Fee)
By the will of God – Paul was not self-appointed as an apostle. Nor was he made an apostle ‘by popular election, nor by consecration by those who were apostles before him; but by immediate appointment from God.’ (Hodge) So it is with all Christian ministries: we must consult God’s will, take counsel from wise and senior brethren, and only then consult our own preferences and wishes. Acts 15:28 – “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”. Indeed, Paul will go on to insists that the Corinthians were what they were because of God’s call. There is no room for boastfulness: every good things that they have comes from God.
Sosthenes – It is possible this is the same person who had been ruler of a synagogue in Corinth but was converted under Paul’s ministry, Acts 18:17-18. If he was known to the Corinthians, this would explain why Paul refers to him as ‘the brother’ and why he is mentioned by name without (apparently) any further input into the letter.
Fee: ‘Although Paul frequently is joined by others in the writing of his letters (eight times in all), this is a rare phenomenon in antiquity, and one cannot be certain what to make of it. In the letters to Thessalonica Silas and Timothy are probably to be regarded as joining in the actual writing of the letter, since the verbs and pronouns throughout are in the first person plural (“we give thanks,” “be imitators of us” [cf. 1 Cor 4:16!], etc.). So also with 2 Corinthians. But this letter has little or none of that. Sosthenes is not further heard from as a companion or coworker of Paul, either in this letter or elsewhere.’
It is possible that Sosphenes was Paul’s amanuensis on this occasion.
To the church of God – Paul will go on, in 1 Cor 3:9, to refer to the Corinthian church as ‘the field of God, the building of God’.
Barrett notes that the same word is used for the universal church and for its local manifestations. Accordingly, Paul will urge support of other local churches (1 Cor 16:1-4) and draw attention to beliefs and practices that are common throughout the churches (1 Cor 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33-36).
Although divided into two or more factions (each one, perhaps, representing a house church, cf. Rom 16:5), the Corinthians need to be reminded that the church is ‘of God’, and therefore does not belong to any one leader or faction. ‘Paul does not talk of ‘my church’, but of the church of God. He was as responsible for the birth and life of that church in Corinth as it is possible for any human to be: but it was God’s church, not Paul’s. We often speak too loosely of ‘my church’ or ‘our church’. It is a healthy corrective to note Paul’s example. Many problems in a church in fact revolve around a selfish possessiveness, by pastor and congregation, towards its life and activities.’ (Prior)
With today’s factions and groupings in mind, imagine if Paul had addressed a letter to ‘the church of God in Norwich’! Surely, he would regard any lack of fellowship or visible unity as, at best, a temporary aberration.
‘Church (ekklēsia) is a term which in ordinary Greek could apply to any secular assembly (it is used of the rioting Ephesians in Acts 19:32, 41; cf. v. 39). The Christians by-passed the regular words for religious brotherhoods, and made this their usual self-designation. They were probably influenced by the fact that it is used in LXX of the people of Israel. The usage reflects their deep conviction that the church is not merely one religious group among many. It is unique. Ordinary religious words will not do. And it is not any ‘assembly’: it is the ekklēsia of God.’ (Morris)
In Corinth – As Stott observes, it was remarkable that there can have been a church at all in such a place, teeming as it was with sexual immorality, overseen by the cult of Aphrodite. That church was like a flower growing in a rubbish dump. If a church could be planted in Corinth, a church can be planted anywhere.
Sanctified in Christ Jesus – This expression is virtually synonymous with ‘the church of God’. In other words, ‘the church of God’ comprises those who are ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’. God’s enrolment of them as members of his church antecedes any application that they might have made for membership.
We tend to think of ‘sanctification’ as that ongoing process of purification that occurs (or should occur) throughout a Christian’s life. Although the word can have this meaning in Paul’s letters, it frequently, as here, refers to the initial setting apart by God of believers. The Corinthian church was, after all, rather ‘unholy’ in the first sense, and Paul’s subsequent appeal to them to amend their ways is based on the fact that God has set them apart in order to be holy. Cf. 1 Thess 4:3; 5:23. See the brief discussion in Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, p45.
Ciampa & Rosna: ‘It is ironic that the Corinthian Christians are thus described since in so many ways they are behaving no differently from other people in Corinth. They act as though they belong to the world rather than to God. They use secular courts, mimic the styles of secular leaders, and dine in pagan temples; to act “like mere human beings” (1 Cor 3:3) is to deny their sanctification.’
Although Paul will repeatedly touch on ethical issues throughout this epistle, here he ‘encourages them here in a pastoral way by reminding them that by God’s grace they have already made a definitive break with sin and now serve the Lord Jesus Christ (6:11). The goal of progressive holiness is realistic because God has already changed their hearts (Rom. 6:1–14; Gal. 5:24, 25).’ (Reformation Study Bible)
‘Sanctified’ means ‘set apart’, and it includes both ‘set apart from’ and ‘set apart for’. Wiersbe relates the story of a couple who were married, and as they headed towards the limousine take them both away, the bride ran towards another car and jumped in. The driver was a former boy-friend who had boasted (correctly, as it turned out) that he could ‘have her whenever he wanted her’. In marriage, a man and a woman pledge themselves to each other, to the exclusion of all others. So it is with the believer and Christ: we are set apart for him and for him alone.
For a Trinitarian aspect, cf. Jude 1:1; 1 Pet 1:2.
Called to be holy – ‘“Holy” is a relational word that speaks positively about belonging to God. Only as a logical consequence of this does it speak negatively about separation. By way of illustration we may say that when a man gets married, he belongs to his wife. It follows, logically, that this separates him from intimate relationships with other women. Still, the primary function of marriage is to define relational belonging. In similar fashion, Corinthians are “called to be his holy people,” to prove they belong exclusively to God. Such focus leads to a separation from other gods.’ (Vang)
‘Called to be saints’ would be an alternative translation, but rather misleading for modern readers. After all, as Wiersbe states: ‘A saint is not a dead person who has been honored by men because of his or her holy life. No, Paul wrote to living saints, people who, through faith in Jesus Christ, had been set apart for God’s special enjoyment and use.’
‘Sainthood in Paul’s letters is not some elevated status reserved for a few extraordinary individuals, as regrettably in much modern usage. It refers to the sanctity of all true believers who are saints by virtue of God’s call to salvation and are expected to bring him glory.’ (Ciampa & Rosna)
‘This passage teaches also, as Calvin remarks, the useful lesson that a body may be very corrupt both as to doctrine and practice, as such corruptions undoubtedly prevailed even in Corinth, and yet it may be properly recognized as a church of God.’ (Hodge)
Wilson remarks: ‘Unless “sainthood” were first bestowed, it could never be acquired. But the ethical demand for holy living is inseparable from what is freely given in the gospel, and so it is the vocation of those who have been made saints by God to become in daily obedience what they are “in Christ Jesus” (1 Pet 1:15). Therefore, to remind them of their calling is also to rebuke them for their sin.’
‘It is significant that Paul identifies the church as a singular body (the church of God) and then twice as a composite of individuals (to those sanctified and called)…As Paul will go on to say in 1 Cor 12:27, “you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”’ (Ciampa & Rosna)
Those…who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – another designation of Christians; cf. Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16; 2 Tim 2:22. As Ciampa and Rosna remark, believers ‘call on the name of the Lord’ when they first believe and are saved (Rom 10:12-14), and do so as they offer prayer and worship to him.
In Corinth…in Christ Jesus – Preachers often, and rightly, point out from such Pauline passages that as Christians we have ‘two addresses’. As residents at the first address, they share too much in the vices of their neighbourhood. But as residents at the second address, they have a God-given dignity which Paul here celebrates fulsomely.
‘Augustine begins The City of God, “The glorious city of God is my theme in this work.” As revealed and given in Christian faith, God calls us to enter into a city, a society, that begins within our earthly society but is distinct from and transcends the human city. As Augustine goes on to say, the city of God is moved by the love of God and neighbor while the human city is moved by self-interest. Paul has much to say about our motivation, but what must be said first is that God’s call to us in Christ is to be a people, an alternative society, that reveals new life, a new way of being and living together.’ (Feasting on the Word, Vol 1)
Together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-their Lord and ours – ‘Everywhere’ is translated by Barrett as ‘every meeting-place’, referring to the various house-churches in which the believers gathered (cf. 1 Cor 16:19). But it may be better to regard this as an expression of the unity of believers in a particular locality with believers everywhere. ‘Paul gives them a gentle reminder that the holy people who belong to God extend far beyond their local congregation.’ (Ciampa & Rosna)
Ciampa & Rosna further point out that in OT times worship was centred on a particular place – especially Jerusalem. But now the ‘place’ of worship is anywhere and everywhere that people call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. the prediction of Mal 1:11).
‘To enter into faith, to be in union with Christ—in other words, to be sanctified, to be saints—is to be set aside together as a new people or new society made up of those in every place who call Jesus Lord. What is striking rhetorically and theologically is that the church as God’s chosen people, God’s new covenant, is defined not by Jewish ancestry but by discipleship.’ (Feasting on the Word, Vol 1)
To ‘call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ is to make him our object of worship. This, then, is ‘an eminent place to prove the Divine nature of Christ; he is not only called our Lord, our common Lord, but he is made the object of invocation and Divine worship.’ (Matthew Poole)
This expression might broaden Paul’s salutation to include churches in any and every place. But, as Morris remarks, there is no other indication that this letter is a circular intended for a wider readership. In fact, the indications are quite the opposite: ‘It sticks stubbornly to local issues (Morris). Therefore, we should regard it as connected with ‘sanctified’: ‘the Corinthians are called to be holy, not as an isolated unit, but along with other people’ (Morris).
‘The Corinthians must also recognize that they are not the center of their religious universe but merely one cog in a large wheel of “those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord.” The same Lord is Lord over all, which should inspire Christians in all times and places to seek unity and not factionalism.’ (Blomberg)
‘Their Lord and ours’ carries ‘a covert allusion to the divisions in the Corinthian Church, and am implied exhortation to unity.’ (Lightfoot). Cf. Eph 4:3,5.
- It belongs to God
- It is the family of believers
- Its members are sanctified in Christ Jesus
- It comprises all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Prime)
1:3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace and peace to you – ‘Grace is one of the great Christian words. It resembles the usual Greek salutation, but there is the world of difference between ‘greeting’ (‘chairein‘) and ‘grace’ (‘charis‘). Grace reminds us of God’s free gift to men, and more especially of his free gift in Christ. ‘Peace’ is the usual Hebrew greeting. But the Heb., ‘shalom’, means more than does ‘peace’ in English. It is not simply the absence of strife, but the presence of positive blessings. It is the prosperity of the whole man, especially his spiritual prosperity.’ (Leon Morris)
‘When one Christian wishes grace and peace to another he prays that he may apprehend more fully the grace of God in which he already stands, and the peace he already enjoys.’ (Barrett)
‘The two words sum up beautifully Paul’s gospel, drawing attention to God’s beneficence and bounty, grace, the cause of salvation, and the well-being and welfare of those who are saved, peace, the outcome of salvation.’ (Ciampa & Rosna)
1:4 I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus.
‘Paul follows the opening greeting by telling them what he thanks God for when he thinks of them—using the opportunity, in the process, to hint at some of the things he’s going to be talking about later on.’ (Wright)
Following O’Brien and Ciampa & Rosner, we may observe that Paul’s thanksgiving here has a fourfold function:-
- A teaching function. Paul reminds his readers of his previous teaching about spiritual gifts, the day of the Lord, and so on.
- A hortatory function. For example, he implicitly encourages the Corinthians to be ready for the Lord’s return.
- A pastoral function. Although there is much to criticise in the Corinthian church, Paul begins by demonstrating his loving concern for them
- An epistolary function. Major themes of the epistle are here introduced.
Ciampa & Rosner also point out what Paul does not say to the Corinthians in this introduction: ‘The achievements of God, not those of the Corinthians, are rehearsed. There is no talk of their faith, hope, and love (cf. 1 Cor 13:13) as in Paul’s other thanksgivings, nor of their work (cf. 1 Cor 15:58).’
Furthermore, ‘In contrast to Corinthian boasting in their leaders and about themselves, Paul opens the letter by boasting about what God has done through Christ Jesus (cf. 1:31). The frequent passive verbs, all of which have God as the implied subject, stress this further: grace was given to them by God (v. 4); they had been made rich by God (v. 5); the testimony about Christ was confirmed among them by God (v. 6); they were called into fellowship with Jesus Christ by God (v. 9). In this way 1:4–9 looks forward to 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive?”’ (Ciampa & Rosner)
‘If “call” binds the greeting together, “gift” and “grace” unify the thanksgiving.’ (Gregory, Feasting on the Word, Vol 1)
Paul provides, in this introduction, a rich and varied description of what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is someone
- who has been given God’s grace (v4),
- who has been enriched with spiritual endowments (vv5–7),
- who eagerly awaits the Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed (v7),
- who will stand shameless on that day (v8),
- and who is in fellowship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
As Ciampa & Roswell (from whom the above list is taken, with formatting added) remark: ‘a more impressive list of benefits would be difficult to compose.’
‘The one fact most people have at their fingertips concerning the Corinthian church is that it was a mess—full of problems, sins, division, heresy. It was, in this sense, no different from any modern church. The church is a fellowship of sinners before it is a fellowship of saints. Even those churches which have glowing reputations are known all too well by their members and pastors to be full of weaknesses and sins. The sad thing is that dissatisfied church members will often naively think that another church in the area will somehow be better than the one they now attend. From this restlessness comes the common habit of church-swapping. Perhaps one of the best antidotes for this kind of malaise is to look again at what Paul says in 1:4–9 about the notoriously messy church at Corinth.’ (Prior)
I always thank God for you – In view of Paul’s later criticisms, some think that this is ironic. But it is perfectly sincere. For theirs is ‘not nominal Christianity—profession without reality. Neither is it lifeless orthodoxy. The Spirit is active amid the Corinthians, even if they are employing their gifts in a somewhat chaotic way.’ (Blomberg)
But what the apostle does not do is commend them for their faithfulness, courage, and so on, but thanks God for what his grace has accomplished in them.
‘To delight in God for his working in the lives of others, even in the lives of those with whom we feel compelled to disagree, is sure evidence of our own awareness of being the recipients of God’s mercies.’ (Fee)
‘It is not that Paul had done nothing toward their salvation. Quite the contrary (see 9:1–2; 15:1–2, 10: “I worked harder than all [the apostles]”)! Rather, out of humility he gives the credit entirely to God.’ (Ciampa & Rosner)
‘Thanksgiving must go before criticism. One may always give thanks for a fellow Christian. No matter how deep the division or how acrimonious the argument, other Christians never pass beyond thanksgiving: thanks that God has called them, thanks that their true lives are from grace to grace.’ (Gregory, Feasting on the Word, Vol 1)
Nevertheless, ‘not one assertion in this encomium will be left unchallenged; not one parcel of it is without its direct antithesis in the “theology” or “ethics” of someone at Corinth, an antithesis sufficient to draw Paul’s fire. “What have you that you did not receive?” (4:7)—grace had somehow come a cropper. “The kingdom of God does not consist in p 32 talk but in power” (4:20); “has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1:20)—so much for being made rich in speech and knowledge. “I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not able to take it” (3:2)—so much for confirmation of the “testimony.” “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (13:1)—and so much for spirituality or piety. And as for waiting for the revelation, “if the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’.… Come to your right mind, and sin no more” (1 Cor 15:32, 34).’ (Harrisville)
Because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus – ‘While Paul is sincerely thankful for the grace the Corinthians have received, much of this letter will focus on helping the Corinthians learn the lessons that grace would teach them (especially that of saying “No” to immorality and idolatry and “Yes” to purity in life and worship).’ (Ciampa & Rosner)
1:5 For you were made rich in every way in him, in all your speech and in every kind of knowledge—1:6 just as the testimony about Christ has been confirmed among you—1:7 so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Wright paraphrases: ‘They had become a community of learners, growing eagerly in knowledge about God and his new life, able to teach one another, and so strengthening and confirming the original royal proclamation, “the messianic message”, that had been made to them.’
In him you have been enriched in every way – Gregory observes: ‘Throughout this opening, Paul establishes the “eccentricity” of Christian life. Grace, strength, blamelessness, fellowship with Christ: all come from outside. The source of life is from without. The Corinthians are what they have received, and they have received much.’ (Feasting on the Word, Vol 1)
As with many other items in this thanksgiving, Paul may be anticipating his later discussion of various problems in the Corinthian church. They considered themselves ‘rich’, 1 Cor 4:8; cf. 2 Cor 4:7; but Paul stresses that every good thing that they have if a gift from God in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 8:9).
‘Paul can no more refrain from rejoicing in these lavish endowments of God’s grace than avoid the just censure of the Corinthians for their sinful abuse of them (1 Cor 1:17; 4:6-10; 8:1-3).’ (Wilson)
Speaking and…knowledge – ‘The two words here are logos and gnōsis, both bundles of dynamite in the early church’ (Prior)
They had not only the gift of fluency, but what they spoke about had truth and substance. They understood the truth, and could communicate it. Paul pinpoints two of the very things which the Corinthians found most attractive.
All your speaking = every kind of speaking; all of the word gifts, extraordinary (prophecy, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues) as well as ordinary (teaching, preaching, evangelism).
All your knowledge = discernment of the truth, along with wisdom, discernment, and ability to apply the truth.
‘There is…, without doubt, an early reference here to the pervasive teachings of Gnosticism; the second-century heretical hotchpotch (already discernible in the middle of the first century), about which it is still difficult to be precise, but which created a spiritual élite who claimed alone to possess true knowledge, alone to be able to put it into words and alone to have proper authority to guide and control the life of the church.’ (Prior)
It is notable that divisive speech and proud claims to knowledge were among the chief faults of the Corinthians. But Paul does not deny their God-given abilities, or seek to suppress them, but rather longs to see them channelled in more loving and fruitful ways. Indeed, the very reason he picks them out for special mention here is to emphasise that their origin is in God, and not in themselves: therefore, there is no room for boastfulness or selfish use of the gifts. Being from God, they should be used for God. As Barrett writes: ‘Paul never questions that they were genuine gifts (e.g. 1 Cor 12:8,10; 14:1f), but he knows a more excellent way (1 Cor 12:31).
Our testimony about Christ – lit. ‘the testimony of Christ’. This could mean either (a) the testimony which Christ bears, or, (b) the testimony concerning Christ. The latter is more probably, according to Barrett, Ciampa & Rosner, and others. The expression, therefore is virtually synonymous with ‘the gospel’.
Confirmed in you – The objectively true proclamation was confirmed in the subjective experience of the hearers. ‘Pentecostal and Charismatic interpreters, among others, tend to have the meaning of this verse supplemented by the reference to (spiritual) gifts in 1:7, 1-10 so that Paul is interpreted as teaching that the spiritual gifts, as presented most clearly in 12-14, are the source of enrichment and confirmation of the message of Christ. Other scholars infer a non-charismatic reading of 1:7 by looking more at the evidence regarding the confirmation of the testimony about Christ in: (1) the conversion stories from Corinth in Acts 18, (2) Pauline use of Scripture as confirmation, (3) Christian proclamation, and, (4) Paul’s references to the Spirit of sonship as providing confirming testimony.’ (College Press)
‘In other words, inasmuch as the Corinthians were enriched God confirmed Paul’s testimony about Christ in their midst. This validation of Paul’s preaching by God functions rhetorically to strengthen Paul’s status in the eyes of the Corinthians.’ (Ciampa & Rosner)
‘When Paul preached about Christ to the Corinthians, God guaranteed his testimony by enriching them with spiritual p 65 graces and gifts. It is significant that Paul puts so much emphasis on their conversion, which comes to the fore again in 2:1–4 and 15:1–3. They received gifts when God confirmed the gospel among them, not at some later point in their experience.’ (Ciampa & Rosner)
You do not lack any spiritual gift – Gk. charisma. Morris says that this word is sometimes used (a) of the gospel (Rom 5:15); (b) of God’s good gifts generally (Rom 11:29); and (c) of those special endowments such as those discussed in chapters 12-14. Morris favours (c) here. If the reference is to the charismatic gifts, the eschatological context of this phrase (‘as you eagerly await…’) suggests that God intends no cessation of the charismata until Christ’s return.
Barrett thinks that the translation represented in the NIV is inaccurate: ‘you come short in no gift of grace’ is his rendering of the text. Either way, ‘the troubles in Corinth were due not to a deficiency of gifts but to lack of proportion and balance in estimating and using them.’
Some commentators, including Calvin and Fee (himself a Pentecostalist) suggest that it may have more to do with salvation than divine enablement. The same word is used in 1 Cor 7:7 in a context that apparently has nothing to do with ‘spiritual gifts’ as defined by Pentecostalists and charismatics. Lightfoot thinks that the expression includes ‘all spiritual graces and endowments’.
However, given Paul’s tendency here to mention in a positive way things that he will return to more critically, it is reasonable to assume that he has in his mind the charismata of chapters 12-14.
Prior remarks that Paul continues here to see the church as a corporate entity. No individual Christian could claim to ‘lack no spiritual gift’ (cf. 1 Cor 12-14): it the church which is so described. Prior adds: ‘In giving us his Son Jesus, God has given us all he has; he can give us no more; we have everything in him. If we are gradually to make these gifts a reality in our life together, we shall need to enter more fully into the richness of his grace.’
‘If all the gifts are for the entire Christian age, serious questions must be asked of contemporary congregations that are closed to certain of the so-called sign gifts. It seems likely that they run the serious risk of missing out on blessings the Spirit would want to bring them…Fellowships that err on the side of overexercise and misuse of their gifts and talents are less displeasing to God than those that err on the side of underuse.’ (Blomberg)
As you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed – This event is ‘the manifestation of Christ when he comes from heaven at the winding up of history, the moment in hope of which the whole creation, including Christians, groans and travails, Rom 8:22f (Barrett). It is, in fact, the day of judgement, cf. 1 Cor 3:13; 4:3.
Barrett notes that ‘it was a characteristic Corinthian error (cf. 1 Cor 4:8; not the already) to concentrate on the present with its religious excitement, and to overlook the cost at which the present was purchased (e.g. in 1 Cor 6:20), and the fact that the present is still incomplete.’
‘The second advent of Christ, so clearly predicted by himself and by his apostles, connected as it is with the promise of the resurrection of his people and the consummation of his kingdom, was the object of longing expectation to all the early Christians. So great is the glory connected with that event that Paul, in Rom 8:18-23, not only represents all present affliction as trifling in comparison, but describes the whole creation as looking forward to it with earnest expectation. Cf. Php 3:20; Tit 2:13. So general was this expectation that Christians were characterised as those “who love his appearing,” 2 Tim 4:8, and as those “who wait for him,” Heb 9:28.’ (Charles Hodge)
‘Paul can hardly be faulted for not knowing that the church of God at Corinth would itself cease to exist (along with its gifts) long before the return of Christ.’ (College Press)
‘At his revelation, heaven’s opinion of Jesus (cf. Revelation 4–5) will be shared by those on earth.’ (Ciampa & Rosner)
‘With reference to the return of Jesus the revelation of our Lord will be associated with both judgment and vindication, arousing fear for some and joy for others. On “the day of God’s wrath, his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5; cf. 1 Cor. 3:13), when “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Thess. 1:7). Paul is also convinced that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). A double purpose of wrath and glory is taught throughout the New Testament with respect to the coming of Christ.’ (Ciampa & Rosner)
‘Describing the church in Corinth as those who are eagerly waiting is generous on Paul’s part, in view of the fact that some clearly did not fit this description (see on 4:8 and 15:12). Clearly Paul must deal with the subject at length (3:13; 4:3; 5:5; 7:29; 11:26; and ch. 15, esp. 15:23, 47, 52), and his mention of it here intended to affirm this fundamental orientation for all believers.’ (Ciampa & Rosner)
‘The connection of thought may be that the present foretaste of the Spirit turns our thoughts to the fuller experience of the last great day (cf. Rom 8:23; Eph 1:13f).’ (Morris)
‘Just as a runner sprinting along the track leans forward to go faster and to get to the finishing line quicker, so the Christian must always be leaning forwards towards God’s finishing line.’ (Wright)
‘Paul’s trinitarian understanding of the church is clear—he thanks God for the grace given through Jesus, which is evidenced through the gifts of the Spirit.’ (Vang)
Past, present, future. ‘[Paul] moves from what happened to them in the past, through the sort of people they are in the present, to the hope they have for the future, with Jesus at the centre at every stage…’ (Wright)
1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you strong – Lit. ‘He will confirm you; make you secure’ – same verb as in v6. According to Ciampa & Rosner, Paul is continuing a legal metaphor that was begun in v6. They will be pronounced ‘not guilty’ at the end; blameless on the day of judgement.
Whatever the problems in Corinth, Paul has the utmost confidence in its future.
If it is God who thus strengthens them (see also 1 Cor 1:4), there is no room for self-congratulation, cf. 1 Cor 1:31; 5:2.
So that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ – Cf. Col 1:22; Eph 5:27; 1 Thess 5:23.
As Prior remarks, Paul looks beyond God’s faithfulness to us during the span of our earthly lives, and focusses on the more distant horizon of the day of judgement and beyond.
‘That the Corinthians would be blameless at the Great Assize suggests that they would not be found guilty of having major faults such as sexual immorality, greed, or idolatry, the errors that Paul is intent on correcting throughout the letter. Paul stresses that the day of the Lord Jesus will be a day of reckoning, a theme he develops in 1 Cor 3:13–15 and 1 Cor 4:5. “The Day will bring [all things] to light” (1 Cor 3:13).’ (Ciampa & Rosner)
‘Blameless’ signifies ‘unimpeachable’; no charge can be laid against those whom Christ guarantees’. (Morris)
‘God will ensure that absolutely no charge or accusation is laid against his people, whether by human beings or by Satan, the great “accuser of the brethren”.’ (Prior)
Barrett comments: ‘In describing the Christians’ calm and joyful expectation of the coming Judge Paul is stating the doctrine of justification by faith without the use o the technical terms he employs elsewhere.’ Barrett adds: ‘More important however than man’s faith is God’s faithfulness, on which all depends.’
They are far from blameless now, for Paul is about to lay a number of serious charges against them. But then they will enjoy a subjectively, as well as objectively, blameless. They are already free from the penalty and power of sin, then they will be free from its very presence.
The day of our Lord Jesus Christ – The OT ‘day of the Lord’ becomes ‘the day of Christ’, because it is through Christ that God will judge the world (Rom 2:16; Acts 17:31).
‘God called them in the past, God equips them in the present, and God will complete the whole process in the future. World history, and the story of the Christian life, has a shape, and Jesus is its shaper at every point.’ (Wright)
The prospect of a day of judgment is a fearful thing to the godless, Amos 5:18. But those who have received God’s grace and mercy can wait for it ‘calmly and joyfully’ (Ciampa & Rosner).
‘If we take the teaching on this subject in this letter, we discover that this day marks the full disclosure (literally ‘unveiling’) both of Jesus Christ as he really is, and of the true quality of our service for Christ (1 Cor 3:10–15), as well as the inner purposes and motives of our hearts (1 Cor 4:5). It is a day, anticipated with joy in each celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:26), when the dead in Christ shall be raised (1 Cor 15:23, 52) to an incorruptible life in what Paul calls ‘a spiritual body’ (1 Cor 15:44). It is a day, therefore, for which Paul longs in the prayer at the end of his letter (1 Cor 16:22): ‘Maran atha’ = ‘Our Lord, come!’’ (Prior)
1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
God…has called you – Paul has already stressed the nature and importance of the divine call in the first two verses of the letter. See also 1 Cor 1:26; 7:17-24.
…into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord – ‘Anderson Scott’s view aims at seeing koinonia as a designation of the church; but his interpretation here and elsewhere is being increasingly abandoned in favour of the objective sense of the genitive (or, with Deissmann, the ‘mystical genitive’ or ‘genitive of fellowship’). So the best translation of a difficult verse is ‘fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’ whether in the sense of ‘sharing in’ or ‘sharing with’ him.’ (NBC)
‘The person with whom believers are…intimately united, is “the Son of God,” of the same nature, being the same in substance and equal in power and glory. He is also “Jesus,” a man; consequently he is both God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person. This incarnate God, the Saviour, is “the Christ,” of whom the Old Testament says and promises so much. He is also “our Lord,” we belong to him; he is our possessor, our sovereign, our protector. How can they apostatise and perish who stand in this relation to the eternal Son of God?’ (Charles Hodge)
God…is faithful – These are the first three words of the verse in Greek.
‘If we have been called, on the initiative of God himself, to share in his Son, Jesus Christ, then God will not abandon us or go back on his promises.’ (Prior)
The OT stresses God’s utter faithfulness to his covenant and to his promises, Deut 7:9; Psa 144:13; Isa 49:7.
Cf. 1 Cor 10:13; 2 Cor 1:18. And so we can be sure that God’s calling is not in vain. ‘The continuance of the favours mentioned in the preceding verses may be confidently looked for. The character of God is at stake.’ (Morris)
‘Behind God’s calling of Christians is the glorious truth of his faithfulness (v. 9). His faithfulness gives us assurance concerning our salvation, sanctification and preservation, especially in times of testing (1 Cor. 10:13), temptation (1 Peter 4:19) and failure (2 Tim. 2:13; 1 John 1:9). It guarantees that what he has begun in our lives he will carry through to completion (Phil. 1:6; 1 Thes. 5:24). His faithfulness is a wonderful rock upon which to build and under which to shelter!’ (Prime)
‘The interpreters of our epistle, observing Paul in struggle against party strife, libertinism, the parading of spirituality, and the denial of his gospel, have cast Corinth in the role of a rabble. But rabble or no, Corinth was Paul’s, and for Paul that meant Corinth was God’s, and to Corinth the promise belonged.’ (Harrisville)
‘Because “God is faithful” (v. 9), Paul is confident that the Corinthians will no longer act like infants (3:1–5), but will grow to maturity. What God has done in the past by calling the Corinthians into the fellowship of the Son assures the community of God’s faithfulness in the future. Despite the childish behavior of those who have received God’s grace, God has not abandoned them, but will bring them to maturity in a unified church.’ (Thompson, Feasting on the Word, Vol 1)
‘As we look at the church in our own time, the weaknesses and failures are often all too evident. Paul can teach us to be grateful for the gifts that God has given to the church even with its frailties—gifts of understanding, gifts of caring, gifts of words that help and heal, gifts of faithfulness to Jesus Christ, gifts of shared community. The church is rich in blessings, not because of the accomplishments of the people within the fellowship, but because of the grace of God that has enriched and sustained the people.’ (Adams, Feasting on the Word, Vol 1)
In summary. ‘This opening holds together a view of the whole world (God’s world, with Jesus as its true Lord) and of the individual (called to faithful holiness, equipped for God’s service). It also brings together Paul’s task (being responsible to God for the Christian fellowships that have come about through his work), and his gratitude to God for what he has already done and for what he will continue until all is completed. Writing this letter, in other words, is part of the process by which God intends to take these Christians from the one to the other, from God’s past achievement to God’s future finishing of the job. May God grant that it will have that effect on us, too.’ (Wright)
Divisions in the Church
1:10 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose.
Fee identifies four aspects to ‘the problem’ which Paul addresses in 1 Cor 1:10-4:21:-
- There is quarrelling, disunity and party-spirit, 1 Cor 1:10-12; 3:3-4 3:21.
- This quarrelling and disunity is being carried on in the name of ‘wisdom’ (the sophia/sophos word-group dominates the discussion in chapters 1-3. Because in most cases Paul uses it in a pejorative sense: it is clear that this is a Corinthian way of speaking, not a Pauline.
- There is evidence to ‘boasting’ and being ‘puffed up’ 1 Cor 1:29-31; 3:21; 4:6-7,18-19. Their quarrels took the form of boasting that they were followers of mere men in the name of wisdom, 1 Cor 3:18-21.
- Paul’s response has an apologetic ring to it: Paul is defending both his past ministry and his present relationship with them, 1 Cor 1:16-17; 2:1-3:4; 4:1-21. The party-spirit extended to being not only for Apollos (say), but also against Paul.
The issue of quarrelling and disunity may not be the only or even the most important problem in the Corinthian church. Its significance is great, however, because it represents a profound threat to the gospel in that human wisdom was being allowed to subvert the divine plan of salvation.
Paul’s argument can be summarised as follows:-
- Statement of the problem, 1 Cor 1:10-17.
- The nature of the gospel 1 Cor 1:18-25, their own experience of it 1 Cor 1:26-31, and Paul’s preaching of it 1 Cor 2:1-5 all contradict their new stance based on worldly wisdom.
- Even though the gospel is viewed by the world as foolishness, it is in fact the supreme expression of divine wisdom, 1 Cor 2:6-3:4.
- They have a radical misunderstanding of the nature of the church and the role of its leadership, 1 Cor 3:5-17.
- Boasting in mere human is forbidden, and they are to redirect their focus on Christ, 1 Cor 3:18-23.
- Paul turns to their rejection of him and his ministry and tells them that they may not judge someone else’s servant, 1 Cor 4:1-5.
- He challenges their pride by contrasting his own ministry, with its focus on the cross, with their false theology, 1 Cor 4:6-13.
- He reasserts his authority, using the image of father and children, 1 Cor 4:14-21.
‘In order to understand the rhetoric and the flow of Paul’s theological thought and reasoning in this literary unit of 1 Cor 1:10-4:21, it is imperative to acknowledge the single focus of this entire section. Even though there is an amazing variety in the rhetoric, in the illustrations, in the sub-arguments, and in the tenor of the material stretching from 1 Cor 1:18-4:21, one must not lose sight of the fact that all this is Paul’s argument against the dissensions and quarrelling mentioned in 1 Cor 1:10-12. The reason that this point must be made explicitly here is that sometimes interpreters use portions of Paul’s arguments in this section as though they were directed to outsiders, to the lost of the world. While admittedly 1 Cor 1:18-31 describes the unsaved world of Paul’s day, both Jew and Greek, it is unacceptable to stop with that mere observation since it is clear that this section of Paul’s argument was intended by Paul both to address and to ameliorate the problem of party strife among believers at Corinth. Proper interpretation of this section must discern the flow of Paul’s thought by which he adapted this description of the attitudes of a world alienated from God into his argument designed to undermine the divisions among believers based upon personal loyalty. To miss this point is to miss the Pauline intention behind all the variety in this section and it runs the great risk of misusing material from this section to make points and doctrinal affirmations which Paul had no intention of making.’
Brothers – ‘Twice Paul addresses the Corinthians as brothers. As Beza, the old commentator said, “In that word too there lies hidden an argument.” By the very use of the word Paul does two things. First, he softens the rebuke which is given, not as from a schoolmaster with a rod, but as from one who has no other emotion than love. Second, it should have shown them how wrong their dissensions and divisions were. They were brothers and they should have lived in brotherly love.’ (DSB)
That all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought – ‘How sad is it to see religion wearing a coat of divers colours; to see Christians of so many opinions, and going so many different ways! It is Satan that has sown these tares of division. Mt 13:39. He first divided men from God, and then one man from another.’ (Thomas Watson)
1:11 For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels among you.
In conversation with a person I had recently met, I asked, “Are you Protestant or Catholic?”
My new acquaintance replied, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me too! What denomination?”
He answered, “Baptist.”
“Me too!” I said. “Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
“Northern Baptist,” he replied.
“Me too!” I shouted.
We continued to go back and forth. Finally I asked, “Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1879 or Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912?”
He replied, “Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912.
I said, “Die, heretic!”‘
1:12 Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.”
‘In almost all the apostolic churches there were contentions between the Jewish and Gentile converts. As Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles, and Peter of the Jews, Gal 2:8, it is probable that the converts from among the Gentiles claimed Paul as their leader, and the Jewish converts appealed to the authority of Peter…The Gentile converts, however, were not united among themselves. While some said, we are of Paul; others said, we are of Apollos. As Apollos was an Alexandrian Jew, distinguished for literary culture and eloquence, it is probable that the more highly educated among the Corinthian Christians were his peculiar followers…Who those were who said, we are of Christ, it is not so easy to determine…They must…have claimed some peculiar relation to Christ which they denied to their fellow believers.’ (Charles Hodge)
But is not every Christian entitled to say “I am of Christ”? ‘Of course he is. But Paul was criticising those who said “I am of Christ” in a sense which implied that many of their fellow-Christians were not “of Christ”, or at least not so completely “of Christ” as they themselves were. This appears from his indignant question “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor 1:13), and also from the wording of 2 Cor 10:7, “If any man trusteth in himself that he is Christ’s let him consider this again with himself that, even as he is Christ’s, so are we.’ (F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p89)
1:13 Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? 1:14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 1:15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! 1:16 (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else.) 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless.
Baptism is mentioned in four passages in this letter: 1 Cor 1:13-17 (water baptism); 1 Cor 10:2 (baptism into Moses); 1 Cor 12:13 (Baptism by the Spirit); 1 Cor 15:29 (baptism for the dead). There is also a reference to ‘washing’ in 1 Cor 6:11.
I also baptized the household of Stephanas – In Acts 16:33 Paul baptised the whole family when the Philippian jailer comes to faith. ‘Seen against the background of the ancient world, where the father as head of the family was practically omnipotent, it would have been very surprising if the household (which included slaves and children) were not baptised along with their head. As a Jew Paul would have ha dthe precedent of Old Testament circumcision. The children of believers shared in the sign and seal of the covenant, circumcision, long before they were old enough to understand its implications…Their was ample precedent, then, for the baptism of households, and many Christians believe that this still holds good, and that baptism may fittingly be administered to the children of those who are themselves believers, not in order to make the child belong to God but because the child does belong to God. He entrusted it to those parents. He died for it and rose again in Christ; and he offers it the pledge of justification and incorporation into his family long before the child itself is able to make any response one way or the other.’ (Freen)
Barrett, on the other hand, says that ‘it should be noted that at 1 Cor 16:15 the household…of Stephanas are said to have set themselves for service to the saints. This could hardly be said of children, and the presumption is that in using this word Paul is thinking of adults.’ But, there again, Paul could be using the expression household simply to denote the family as a whole.
The fact that infant baptism receives no explicit mention in the NT can be explained when we remember that the Church was in a missionary phase, when the emphasis would naturally fall on the baptism of adults. Nevertheless, the NT does speak of the baptism of households, which would be likely to contain children, Acts 16:15,33; 1 Cor 1:16. Calvin points out that if were are to exclude children from baptism because there is no explicit scriptural warrant, we must exclude women from the Lord’s Supper for the same reason!
When a ‘household’ is referred to, this would also have included the slaves, cf. Rom 16:10-11 1 Cor 1:11 Acts 11:14).
Not with words of human wisdom – i.e. ‘not with the wisdom of rhetoric’. It is notable that Paul here mentions his non-use of rhetoric in the context of factions within the Corinthian church. This fits well with idea that Apollos, their favourite speaker, is described as ‘eloquent’ in Acts 18:24.
‘The Corinthians loved public orations (Dio Chrysostom Or. 37.33). Paul saw the use of “the wisdom of rhetoric” (1 Cor 1:17) as the means of “emptying” the preaching of the cross, for it was more interested in the skillful structuring and delivery of a speech than in its content (Epictetus Diss. 3.23.23-25). By citing the OT in 1 Cor 1:19 (citing Isa 29:4 Ps 33:10) and 1 Cor 1:31, (citing Jer 9:22-23) he argued that God determined that “the debater of this age,” that is, the virtuoso rhetor, or sophist (Philo Det. Pot. Ins. 1-5), as well as the Greek philosophers and Jewish teachers (1 Cor 1:20) did not bring people to the knowledge of God. Paul explained why he had renounced in his modus operandi all formal conventions whereby a foreign rhetor established his credentials when he first came to a city. (1 Cor 2:1-5) he tells why he would not proclaim the gospel using the superior presentation of rhetoric or wisdom. (1 Cor 2:1) While rhetors sought topics from their audience on which to declaim in order to demonstrate their prowess in oratory, Paul was concerned only to proclaim Jesus, the crucified Messiah. (1 Cor 2:2) Orators used three accepted proofs to persuade their audience: acting out a character; manipulating his audience’s feeling; and demonstration, arguments. Paul uses none of these. He came “in weakness, and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3) -the absolute antithesis to the powerful and commanding presence of the virtuoso rhetor (Philodemus On Rhetoric 1.194-200). His speech and his preaching did not make use of “persuasive rhetoric.” It was a demonstration, not of rhetorical proofs, but of the Spirit and power. (1 Cor 2:4) It was a radical and costly step on the part of Paul to refuse to use the much admired rhetoric of his day in preaching. His renunciation was motivated by the desire that his converts’ faith must not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.’ (1 Cor 2:5) (DPL)
‘Does Paul, in this verse, completely condemn the wisdom of words as something in opposition to Christ?…I answer that Paul would not be so very unreasonable as to condemn out of hand those arts, which, without any doubt, are splendid gifts of God, gifts which we could call instruments for helping men carry out worthwhile activities. Therefore there is nothing irreligious about those arts, for they contain sound learning, and depend on principles of truth; and since they are useful and suitable for the general affairs of human society, there is no doubt that they have come from the Holy Spirit. Further, the usefulness which is derived and experienced from them ought not to be ascribed to anyone but God. Therefore what Paul says here is not to be taken as disparaging to the arts, as if they were working against religion.’ (Calvin)
‘Sometimes this passage has been read alongside Acts 17. When Paul was in Athens, it is argued, he changed his usual approach while speaking to the philosophers on Mars Hill. Previously he had merely declared the gospel without getting involved in philosophy and intellectual argument. In Athens he tried to meet the pagan philosophers on their own ground. What we find in 1 Cor 1-2, it is claimed, is an admission of his mistake, for he had come to Corinth from Athens. (cf. Acts 18:1)
Kenneth E. Bailey (Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes) discusses this point of view. He notes that at the very time that Paul says that he did not rely on rhetoric he makes skilled use of rhetoric! Bailey suggests: ‘This is somewhat like the winner of the Miss Universe beauty pageant saying, “Physical beauty doesn’t matter. What matters is having a beautiful spirit.” When a beautiful woman makes such a statement, it has a powerful impact. Using highly polished language, Paul says, “Polished language is not the point!”’
Bailey goes on to say that the Corinthian background is key here. Dio Chrysostom (born around AD 40) visited Corinth and observed the circus-like atmosphere at the Isthmian Games: ‘Crowds of wretched sophists around Poseidon’s temple shouting and reviling one another, and their disciples, as they were called, fighting with one another, many writers reading aloud their stupid works, many poets reciting their poems while others applauded them, many jugglers showing their tricks, many fortune-tellers interpreting fortunes, lawyers innumerable perverting judgment, and peddlers not a few peddling whatever they happened to have.’
Bailey concludes: ‘Paul wants to emphasize that he will not under any circumstances join the “carnival” described by Dio Chrysostom. He is not showing off his rhetorical skills and he has no desire to entertain his readers. In 2 Corinthians he writes, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word; but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Cor 2:17). None of this prevents him from presenting his message as winsomely as he can.’
Others understand this passage to mean that the gospel is quite literally folly, that it is bad philosophy and hasn’t anything to do with reason. So the Christian’s responsibility is simply to declare the gospel, for, it is said, the gospel does not lend itself to argument.’ Macaulay and Barrs (Being Human), proceed to oppose these views by making three points:-
1. This passage cannot be made to conflict with either 1 Cor as a whole or with Rom 1:18-21. In both letters Paul asserts the reasonableness of Christianity. In Rom 1 Paul states that people are guilty before Gd not in the first place because they are immoral but because they have made inexcusable errors in their thinking. In 1 Cor 12-14 Paul emphasises that communications in the church must be made in words that can be understood.
2. Paul does not mean that the gospel is intrinsically foolish. Paul’s point (e.g. in 1 Cor 1:17-25) is not that the gospel is foolish but that it is foolish in the eyes of the world. Indeed, his claim is that the gospel is ‘the wisdom of God’, 1:24. The Christian faith is not bad philosophy: it is the best philosophy. It is the best philosophy because it comes from the source of all true wisdom God himself. Whether or not we regard Christianity as a philosophy, it claims sovereignty over the same territory as philosophy, ‘just as rival governments sometimes lay claim to the same geographical area.’
3. The expression ‘the cross of Christ’ is not to be read narrowly. In using this expression, Paul was not saying that the cross of Christ was all he ever talked about, still less that it functioned for him as a slogan or mantra. The Pauline statement that he decided ‘to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (2:2) cannot be used to support an non-intellectual or irrational approach to the gospel. The contrast in Paul is not between wisdom and foolishness but between worldly wisdom (which God calls foolishness) and divine wisdom (which the world calls foolishness).
It is clear from what we know about his ministry that Paul used a reasoned approach in his preaching and teaching. He argued; he sought to persuade; he declared ‘the whole counsel of God’; (Ac 20:27) he wanted to capture and captivate the mind for Christ. (2 Cor 10:4f)
Lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power – ‘To substitute a system of notions, however true and ennobling, for the fact of Christ’s death, is like confounding the theory of gravitation with gravitation itself.’ (Edwards) In what ways do Christians today empty the cross of its power, by taking on board worldly wisdom?
The Message of the Cross
1:18 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.
In this passage Paul unfolds the wisdom of God in three ways: the cross of Christ (1:18-25), the plan of God (1:26-31), and the ministry of the Holy Spirit (1:26-31).
The message about the cross – ‘Paul turns now directly to his strategy of bringing the believers to their spiritual senses by reminding them that the cross of Christ, on which their salvation rests, is disdained by the world. Paul is attempting to alienate the Corinthians’ affections for worldly values and cultural acceptability, while at the same time rekindling their loyalty for the centrality of Christ crucified and the explicit foolishness attached thereto.’ (College Press)
The message – is lit. ‘the word’ (logos – also used in v17). ‘To the early church the word was a message revealed from God in Christ, which was to be preached, ministered and obeyed. It was the word of life, (Php 2:16) of truth, (Eph 1:13) of salvation, (Ac 13:26) of reconciliation, (2 Cor 5:19) of the cross.’ (1 Cor 1:18) (NBD)
‘For Paul the “word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18 NASB) is the heart of the gospel, and the preaching of the cross is the soul of the church’s mission. “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23; compare 2:2 Gal 3:1) is more than the basis of our salvation; the cross was the central event in history, the one moment which demonstrated God’s control of and involvement in human history. In 1 Cor 1:17-2:16 Paul contrasted the “foolishness” of the “preaching of the cross” with human “wisdom” (1:17-18), for only in the cross can salvation be found and only in the foolish “preaching of the cross” and “weakness” can the “power of God” be seen (1:21,25). Jesus as the lowly one achieved his glory by virtue of his suffering-only the crucified one could become the risen one (1:26-30). Such a message certainly was viewed as foolish in the first century; Roman historians like Tacitus and Suetonius looked upon the idea of a “crucified God” with contempt.’ (Holman)
The public proclamation kerygma of this doctrine is the great means of salvation. All other means simply prepare for this or are subordinate to it. This proclamation, whether to an individual or a crowd, whether from the pulpit or by the road-side includes the communication of truth. Acts 8:35, Philip…told him the good news about Jesus.
Those who are perishing – The same word is used in v19 (translated there ‘destroy’). They have not met their final end yet, but are regarded as already ‘perishing’. Cf. 2 Thess 2:10.
Those who are perishing…us who are being saved – The Cross divides humankind into two classes only – the perishing and the saved. ‘In the language of the New Testament salvation is a thing of the past, a thing of the present, and a thing of the future.’ (Lightfoot)
‘Paul expounds salvation in terms of three tenses. A well-known analogy depicts those rescued from a sinking ship by a lifeboat as: (1) those who have been saved: they have been rescued from peril; but (2) as the lifeboat moves to the shore, they are in process of being saved. Finally, (3) they look ahead with longing to the lifeboat’s reaching the solid shore. Then they will be saved.’ (Thiselton)
Foolishness…power of God – Paul might have said here that the cross is the wisdom of God, cf. vv24, 30, but its saving power must first be experienced, before the full splendour of its wisdom can be perceived.
1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.”
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” – The Gk. underlying ‘destroy’ is the same word as translated ‘perishing’ in v18. The quote is from Isa 29:14, which refers to God nullifying of the wisdom of Hezekiah’s advisors under the threat of Assyrian invasion. It is interesting to note the number of times Paul deals with problems and issues in this pagan setting by quoting Scripture. Cf. his argument in chapter 10.
1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish?
Where is the wise man? – Cf. Isa 19:12. ‘Pharaoh’s counsellors, for all their false pretensions to wisdom, could not foresee, much less frustrate, the judgement of Jehovah upon Egypt. The quotation is apt because the Greeks also glorified in their wisdom, but God will clearly show the futility of every form of reasoning that fails to reckon with him.’ (Wilson)
Where is the scholar? – or scribe. Cf. Isa 33:18. ‘After God’s deliverance of his people from the Assyrian danger, men will ask in astonishment, “What has become of the scribe who was to tabulate the tribute that had been forced from the Jews.”‘ (Wilson, quoting Lenski)
Where is the philosopher of this age? – This term ‘would apply equally well to the dialectical subtlety of the Greek and to the legal casuistry of the Jew.’ (Wilson)
Of this age – The construction indicates that this applies equally to the wise man, the scholar, and the philosopher. Their wisdom belongs to this age, to a world that is perishing. ‘This brief phrase serves as a window into Paul’s eschatological thinking.’ (College Press)
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? – The wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world are opposed to each other; each counts the other’s wisdom foolishness. ‘Paul declares that in fact God has looked upon the greatest wisdom and cultural acumen available in prosperous urban centers like Corinth and still regards it all as foolishness.’ (College Press) What might be regarded today as ‘the wisdom of the world’? How has God made it foolish? (cf. Rom 1:21f)
‘Jesus Christ must by his Spirit open the understandings of men, or they can never comprehend such mysteries. Some men have strong natural parts, and by improvement of them are become eagle-eyed in the mysteries of nature. Who more acute than the heathen sages? Yet, to them the gospel seemed foolishness, 1 Cor 1:20. Austin confesses, that before his conversion, he often felt his spirit swell with offence and contempt of the gospel; and he despising it, said dedignabar esse parvulus; “he scorned to become a child again.” Bradwardine, that profound doctor, learned usque ad stuporem, even to a wonder, professes that when he read Paul’s epistles, he condemned them, because in them he found not a metaphysical wit. Surely, it is possible a man may, with Berengarius, be able to dispute de omni scibili, of every point of knowledge; to unravel nature from the cedar in Lebanon, to the hyssop on the wall; and yet be as blind as a bat in the knowledge of Christ. Yes, it is possible a man’s understanding may be improved by the gospel, to a great ability in the literal knowledge of it, so as to be able to expound the scriptures orthodoxly, and enlighten others by them, as it is Mt 7:22. The Scribes and Pharisees were well acquainted with the scriptures of the Old Testament; yea, such were their abilities, and esteem among the people for them, that the apostle stiles them the princes of this world, 1 Cor 2:8. And yet notwithstanding Christ truly calls them blind guides, Mat. 23. Till Christ open the heart, we can know nothing of him, or of his will, as we ought to know it. So experimentally true is that of the apostle, 1 Cor 2:14,15 “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual, judgeth all things; yet he himself is judged of no man.” The spiritual man can judge and discern the carnal man, but the carnal man wants a faculty to judge of the spiritual man: as a man that carries a dark lantern, can see another by its light, but the other cannot discern him. Such is the difference betwixt persons whose hearts Christ has, or has not opened.’ (Thomas Watson)
‘Man with all his shrewdness is as stupid about understanding by himself the mysteries of God, as an ass is incapable of understanding musical harmony.’ (Calvin)
1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching.
‘This is not inconsistent with Rom 1:20, where the apostle says, God’s eternal power and Godhead are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. In this latter passage, Paul speaks of the revelation which God had made of himself; in the former, of the use which men had made of that revelation. The revelation was clear, but men…did not comprehend it…Besides, sometimes the knowledge of God in Scripture, means that speculative knowledge which human reason is adequate to derive from the works of God, and which renders their idolatry inexcusable; at other times, it means saving knowledge…Paul is here speaking of the knowledge which is connected with salvation. Such knowledge the world had failed to secure.’ (Charles Hodge)
‘To announce as the Saviour of the world one who died the vile death of a criminal on the cross seems, indeed, to be the acme of foolishness. To expect that this announcement will do what all the world with its mighty effort of wisdom failed to do, namely actually to lift man up again into communion with God, only intensifies the impression of foolishness.’ (Lenski)
‘The word preached, is virga virtutis, the rod of God’s strength; it is the great engine he uses for setting up the kingdom of grace in the heart. ‘Faith comes by hearing.’ Rom 10:17. Though God could work grace immediately by his Spirit, or by the ministry of angels from heaven, yet he chooses to work by the word preached. This is the usual mean, by which he sets up the kingdom of grace in the heart; and the reason is, because he has put his divine sanction upon it; he has appointed it for the means of working grace, and he will honour his own ordinance. 1 Cor 1:21. What reason could be given why the waters of Damascus should not have as sovereign virtue to heal Naaman’s leprosy, as the waters of Jordan, but this, that God appointed and sanctified the waters of Jordan to heal, and not the others? Let us keep the word preached, because the power of God goes along with it.’ (Thomas Watson)
God cannot be known through human wisdom. Cf. 1 Cor 2:14; 2 Cor 4:3-4; Jn 1:18.
‘God so arranged matters that it would be impossible for humans to know God through and on the basis of their own wisdom. The Apostle’s declaration that God did what pleased him finds its theological roots in the Old Testament idea of the sovereign will of God. Ps 115:3 and 135:6 contain the verbal antecedents of Paul’s thoughts at this point in the affirmation that God does what pleases him. Even though Paul does not spell out here why God did it in this way, there are an abundant number of Scriptures which make clear God’s disdain and hatred for boasting, pride and self-righteousness stemming from humanity’s sense of self-determination and self-actualization, all of which would eventuate had mankind through its wisdom come to know God.’ (College Press)
1:22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, 1:23 but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.
Jews demand miraculous signs – ‘The Jews throughout their history were very matter-of-fact. They showed little interest in speculative thought. Their demand was for evidence, and their interest was in the practical. They thought of God as manifesting himself in history in signs and mighty wonders. In the light of this they demanded a sign from the Lord. (Mt 12:38 16:1,4 Mk 8:11-12 Jn 6:30) They thought of the Messiah as one attested by striking manifestations of power and majesty. A crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms.’ (Leon Morris)
‘Historically, of course, this is what happened to Jesus on more than one occasion. When “some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you,’ ” he replied, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!” (Matt. 12:38–39). They were openly testing him by demanding a sign (Matt. 16:1). Even those who out of sheer desperation asked Jesus for miraculous help could at first be gently rebuffed, with words such as these, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders … you will never believe” (John 4:48). In some cases, such as the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus’ miraculous power was attractive to the crowd simply because of what it gave them (John 6:26).’ (Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians)
‘This very time during which Paul was writing produced a crop of false Messiahs, and all of them had beguiled the people into accepting them by the promise of wonders. In A.D. 45 a man called Theudas had emerged. He had persuaded thousands of the people to abandon their homes and follow him out to the Jordan, by promising that, at his word of command, the Jordan would divide and he would lead them dryshod across. In A.D. 54 a man from Egypt arrived in Jerusalem, claiming to be the Prophet. He persuaded thirty thousand people to follow him out to the Mount of Olives by promising that at his word of command the walls of Jerusalem would fall down. That was the kind of thing that the Jews were looking for. In Jesus they saw one who was meek and lowly, one who deliberately avoided the spectacular, one who served and who ended on a Cross-and it seemed to them an impossible picture of the Chosen one of God.’ (DSB)
‘Paul’s comments about the Jews probably contains an autobiographical element from his years of opposition to God’s Anointed. It also reflects an outlook similar to early Christian Gospel traditions which focused on this characteristic of certain Jews.’ (Mt 12:38-39; 16:1-4 24:3,24) (College Press)
Jews demand miraculous signs…Greeks look for wisdom – The leading characteristics of both cultures are clearly identified here. The Jews, having already received a divine revelation, demand proof of the credibility of any new teaching that seems to challenge their status quo. The Greeks, on the other hand, were always searching, and found it well-nigh impossible to settle on an object of worship.
Greeks look for wisdom – Ponder the achievements of the Greeks in terms of culture and wisdom. But Paul pronounces these worthless so far as knowing God is concerned.
‘Originally the Greek word sophist meant a wise man in the good sense; but it came to mean a man with a clever mind and cunning tongue, a mental acrobat, a man who with glittering and persuasive rhetoric could make the worse appear the better reason. It meant a man who would spend endless hours discussing hair-splitting trifles, a man who had no real interest in solutions but who simply gloried in the stimulus of “the mental hike.” Dio Chrysostom describes the Greek wise men. “They croak like frogs in a marsh; they are the most wretched of men, because, though ignorant, they think themselves wise; they are like peacocks, showing off their reputation and the number of their pupils as peacocks do their tails.”
It is impossible to exaggerate the almost fantastic mastery that the silver-tongued rhetorician held in Greece. Plutarch says, “They made their voices sweet with musical cadences and modulations of tone and echoed resonances.” They thought not of what they were saying, but of how they were saying it. Their thought might be poisonous so long as it was enveloped in honeyed words. Philostratus tells us that Adrian, the sophist, had such a reputation in Rome, that when his messenger appeared with a notice that he was to lecture, the senate emptied and even the people at the games abandoned them to flock to hear him.
…The Greeks were intoxicated with fine words; and to them the Christian preacher with his blunt message seemed a crude and uncultured figure, to be laughed at and ridiculed rather than to be listened to and respected.’ (DSB)
We preach Christ crucified – ‘The verb “preach” is that appropriate to the action of a herald. In this sense it is a peculiarly Christian term. It is used little, if at all, in this way in the classics, in the LXX, or in current religious systems such as the mystery religions.’ (Leon Morris)
‘The seventeenth century Jesuits in China, in order not to upset the social sensitivities of the Chinese, excluded the crucifixion and certain other details from the gospel. But, Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper has written…, ‘we do not learn that they made many lasting converts by the unobjectionable residue of the story.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 165)
But times changed. The ivy grew and pretty soon covered the last word of the inscription, so that it read, ‘WE PREACH CHRIST’. Other men came and they did preach Christ: but Christ without they cross; Christ the example, Christ the teacher.
As the years passed, the ivy continued to grow until finally the inscription read: ‘WE PREACH’. The generation that came along then did just that: they preached economics, politics, and the social gospel.
Finally, the ivy covered the remaining words of the inscription. The congregation dwindled and faded away, as the message of the gospel of God’s grace became neglected and forgotten.
Christ crucified – ‘For the Corinthians that’s like saying “fried ice.” ‘Messiah’ means power, glory, miracles; ‘crucified’ means weakness, shame, suffering. Thus they gladly accepted the false apostles, who preached a “different Gospel” with “another Jesus,” (2 Cor 11:4) and condemned Paul for his bodily weakness (2 Cor 10:10)
A stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles – Skandalon is perhaps better translated ‘offence’. Cf. Isa 53:3. ‘Since the Jews anticipated the advent of a victorious prince who would liberate them from the oppressor’s yoke, nothing could have been more repugnant to them than the scandal of a crucified Messiah.’ Cf. Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13. It was the doctrine on which they stumbled and fell, Rom 9:33; 1 Pet 2:8.’ (Wilson) ‘To Greeks and Romans the word of the Cross offered for Saviour and Lord a man branded throughout the Empire as amongst the basest of criminals; it was “outrageous,” and “absurd”.’ (Findlay)
‘If the Jew’s passion was righteousness, the Greek’s was reason. So while the Jew represents the moralist or legalist who takes pride in his own character, the Greek stands for the intellectualist whose boast is in his wisdom. The Cross was skandalon to the former, and moria, foolishness, to the latter.’ (Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait, p101)
‘One would have imagined that, when God sent his gospel to men, all men would meekly listen, and humbly receive its truths. We should have thought that God’s ministers had but to proclaim that life is brought to light by the gospel, and that Christ is come to save sinners, and every ear would be attentive, every eye would be fixed, and every heart would be wide open to receive the truth. We should have said, judging favorably of our fellow-creatures, that there would not exist in the world a monster so vile, so depraved, so polluted, as to put so much as a stone in the way of the progress of truth; we could not have conceived such a thing; yet that conception is the truth. When the gospel was preached, instead of being accepted and admired, one universal hiss went up to heaven; men could not bear it; its first preacher they dragged to the brow of the hill, and would have sent him down headlong; yea, they did more-they nailed him to the cross, and there they let him languish out his dying life in agony such as no man hath borne since. All his chosen ministers have been hated and abhorred by worldlings; instead of being listened to they have been scoffed at; treated as if they were the offscouring of all things, and the very scum of mankind. Look at the holy men in the old times, how they were driven from city to city, persecuted, afflicted, tormented, stoned to death, wherever the enemy had power to do so. Those friends of men, those real philanthropists, who came with hearts big with love, and hands full of mercy, and lips pregnant with celestial fire, and souls that burned with holy influence; those men were treated as if they were spies in the camp, as if they were deserters from the common cause of mankind; as if they were enemies, and not, as they truly were, the best of friends. Do not suppose, my friends, that men like the gospel any better now than they did then. There is an idea that you are growing better. I do not believe it. You are growing worse. In many respects men may be better-outwardly better; the heart within is still the same. The human heart of today dissected, would be like the human heart a thousand years ago; the gall of bitterness within that breast of yours, is just as bitter as the gall of bitterness in that of Simon of old. We have in our hearts the same latent opposition to the truth of God; and hence we find men, even as of old, who scorn the gospel.’ (Spurgeon)
Jews – ‘A respectable man the Jew was in his day; all formal religion was concentrated in his person; he went up to the temple very devoutly; he tithed all he had, even to the mint and the cummin. You would see him fast twice in the week, with a face all marked with sadness and sorrow. If you looked at him, he had the law between his eyes; there was the phylactery, and the borders of his garments of amazing width, that he might never be supposed to be a Gentile dog; that no one might ever conceive that he was not an Hebrew of pure descent. He had a holy ancestry; he came of a pious family; a right good man was he. He could not like those Sadducees at all, who had no religion. He was thoroughly a religious man; he stood up for his synagogue; he would not have that temple on Mount Gerizim; he could not bear the Samaritans, he had no dealings with them; he was a religionist of the first order, a man of the very finest kind; a specimen of a man who is a moralist, and who loves the ceremonies of the law.’ (Spurgeon, adding that there are many such people in every age, whether they are ethnic Jews or not.)
Foolishness to Gentiles – ‘To the Greek idea the first characteristic of God was apatheia. That word means more than apathy; it means total inability to feel. The Greeks argued that if God can feel joy or sorrow or anger or grief it means that some man has for that moment influenced God and is therefore greater than he. So, they went on to argue, it follows that God must be incapable of all feeling so that none may ever affect him. A God who suffered was to the Greeks a contradiction in terms.’ (DSB)
Origen tells us that the pagan philosopher Celsus mocked Christians for ‘actually worshiping a dead man.’ A drawing found in Rome depicts a slave kneeling before a donkey on a gibbet, with the caption, ‘Alexamenos worships God.’
Origen tells us that the pagan philosopher Celsus mocked Christians for ‘actually worshiping a dead man.’ A drawing found in Rome depicts a slave kneeling before a donkey on a gibbet, with the caption, ‘Alexamenos worships God.’
‘Both to the cultured Greek and to the pious Jew the story that Christianity had to tell sounded like the sheerest folly. Paul begins by making free use of two quotations from Isaiah (Isa 29:14 Isa 33:18) to show how mere human wisdom is bound to fail. He cites the undeniable fact that for all its wisdom the world had never found God and was still blindly and gropingly seeking him.’ (DSB)
‘Plutarch declared that it was an insult to God to involve him in human affairs. God of necessity was utterly detached. The very idea of incarnation, of God becoming a man, was revolting to the Greek mind. Augustine, who was a very great scholar long before he became a Christian, could say that in the Greek philosophers he found a parallel to almost all the teaching of Christianity; but one thing, he said, he never found, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Celsus, who attacked the Christians with such vigour towards the end of the second century A.D., wrote, “God is good and beautiful and happy and is in that which is most beautiful and best. If then ‘He descends to men’ it involves change for him, and change from good to bad, from beautiful to ugly, from happiness to unhappiness, from what is best to what is worst. Who would choose such a change? For mortality it is only nature to alter and be changed; but for the immortal to abide the same forever. God would never accept such a change.” To the thinking Greek the incarnation was a total impossibility. To people who thought like that it was incredible that one who had suffered as Jesus had suffered could possibly be the Son of God.’ (DSB)
‘When we wonder why the language of traditional Christianity has lost its liberating power for nuclear man, we have to realize that most Christian preaching is still based on the presupposition that man sees himself as meaningfully integrated with a history in which God came to us in the past, is living under us in the present, and will come to liberate us in the future. But when man’s historical consciousness is broken, the whole Christian message seems like a lecture about the great pioneers to a boy on an acid trip.’ (Henri Nouwen in The Wounded Healer)
1:24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Those whom God has called – ‘Here, as is usual in Paul’s writings, “called” has the thought of effectual calling. It is implied that the call has been heeded and obeyed.’ (Leon Morris) Only an omnipotent, effectual call could overcome the deep prejudice felt by Jew and Gentile alike.
‘Because of Paul’s deeply rooted conviction about the sovereignty of God and the prevenient nature of grace, he may well have in mind an intentional contrast between lost mankind who “demand” and “look for” (1 Cor 1:22) and the saints who are called and can only respond to God’s initiative.’ (College Press)
‘The Jews desired an exhibition of power; the Greeks sought wisdom: both are found in Christ, and in the highest degree. He is the power of God and the wisdom of God. In his person and work there is the highest possible manifestation both of the divine power and of the divine wisdom. And those who are called not only see, but experience this. The doctrine of Christ crucified produces effects on them which nothing short of divine power can accomplish. And it reveals and imparts to them the true wisdom…It does infinitely more than human wisdom could ever conceive, much less accomplish. It has already changed the state of the intelligent universe, and is to be the central point of influence throughout eternity.’ (Charles Hodge)
‘God thus puts his people in possession of a “salvation, which is at once the mightiest miracle in the guise of weakness and the highest wisdom in the guise of folly.”‘ (Wilson, quoting Edwards)
1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
The foolishness of God…the weakness of God – as illustrated in the Cross. If we had been asked to come up with a plan to save the world, we should certainly not have come up with the Cross. But that is what God did, and it works!
‘What God has done in Christ crucified is a direct contradiction of human ideas about God (and man), yet it achieved what human wisdom and power fail to achieve.’ (Barrett)
Man’s wisdom – ‘To Paul…the wisdom of the world (both Jewish and Greek) seemed to arise clearly out of man’s rebellion against God, his refusal to bow the knee and his determination to make God fit his own ideas and desires. Because God is determined to root out all such human pride, any wisdom is to be rejected which is not based on “Christ crucified” (and on the derivative truths which spring from that gospel, e.g. the essential sinfulness of man and the gracious provision of salvation by a holy and loving Creator God). (Prior)
1:26 Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. 1:27 But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. 1:28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, 1:29 so that no one can boast in his presence.
They must learn that ‘the things which elevate man in the world, knowledge, influence, rank, are not the things which lead to God and salvation.’ (Hodge)
Not many of you were wise by human standards – Cf. Mt 11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”
‘Paul glories in the fact that, for the most part, the Church was composed of the simple”]st and the humblest people. We must never think that the early Church was entirely composed of slaves. Even in the New Testament we see that people from the highest ranks of society were becoming Christians. There was Dionysius at Athens; (Ac 17:34) Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Crete; (Ac 13:6-12) the noble ladies at Thessalonica and Beroea; (Ac 17:4,12) Erastus, the city treasurer, probably of Corinth. (Rom 16:23) In the time of Nero, Pomponia Graecina, the wife of Plautius, the conqueror of Britain, was martyred for her Christianity. In the time of Domitian, in the latter half of the first century, Flavius Clemens, the cousin of the Emperor himself, was martyred as a Christian. Towards the end of the second century Pliny, the governor of Bithynia, wrote to Trajan the Emperor, saying that the Christians came from every rank in society. But it remains true that the great mass of Christians were simple”] and humble folk.’ (DSB)
Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, said she was thankful to God for the letter “m” in 1 Cor 1:26, that it read, “Not many mighty, not many noble! not “not any.” She gave her last testimony in the glowing words, “I have no hope but that which inspired the dying malefactor at the side of my Lord. I must be saved in the same way, as freely, as fully, or not at all.”
Speaking of Satan’s subtlety in choosing human instruments for carrying out his evil work, Gurnall remarks: ‘If any hath more pregnancy of wit and depth of reason than other, he is the man Satan looks upon for his service; and so far he prevails, that very few of this rank are found amongst Christ’s disciples, ‘not many wise.’ Indeed, God will not have his kingdom, either in the heart or in the world, maintained by carnal policy; it is a gospel command that we walk in godly simplicity, sine plicis; though the serpent can shrink up into his folds, and appear what he is not, yet it doth not become the saints to juggle or shuffle with God or men; and truly, when any of them have made use of the serpent’s subtilty, it hath not followed their hand; Jacob got the blessing by a wile, but he might have had it cheaper with plain dealing. Abraham and Sarah both dissemble to Abimelech, God discovers their sin, and reproves them for it by the mouth of an heathen. Asa, out of state policy, joins league with Syria, yea, pawns the vessels of the sanctuary, and all for help; and what comes of all this? ‘Herein thou hast done foolishly,’ saith God, ‘from henceforth thou shalt have wars.’ Sinful policy shall not long thrive in the saint’s hands well, but Satan will not go out of his way; he inquires for the subtilest-pated men, a Balaam, Ahithophel, Haman, Sanballat, men admired for their counsel and deep plots, these are for his turn.’
‘The religious perspective of this verse is one which runs throughout the Scriptures, and Paul’s choice of ideas here was influenced and inspired by the long history of God expressing his sovereign will through his choice of foolish and weak individuals to carry out his agenda. Whether one considers God’s choice of Israel, or of Moses, or of Gideon, or of David, or of Mary the mother of Jesus, the Scripture is clear in its depiction of a God whose list of friends portrays a lot of foolishness and weakness by human standards.’ (College Press)
- Foolish Things 1 Cor 1:27-29
- Weak Things 1 Cor 1:27-29
- Base Things 1 Cor 1:28-29
- Despised Things 1 Cor 1:28-29
- Non-existent Things 1 Cor 1:28-29
‘It is apparent from the dispensations of grace, that knowledge, rank, and power do not attract the favour of God, or secure from their possessors any pre-eminence or preference before him. This should render the exalted humble, and the humble content.’ (Charles Hodge)
‘Walk the streets by moonlight, if you dare, and you will see sinners then. Watch when the night is dark, and the wind is howling, and the picklock is grating in the door, and you will see sinners then. Go to yon jail, and walk through the wards, and mark the men with heavy overhanging brows, men whom you would not like to meet at night, and there are sinners there. Go to the Reformatories, and note those who have betrayed a rampant juvenile depravity, and you will see sinners there. Go across the seas to the place where a man will gnaw a bone upon which is reeking human flesh, and there is a sinner there. Go where you will, you need not ransack earth to find sinners, for they are common enough; you may find them in every lane and street of every city, and town, and village, and hamlet. It is for such that Jesus died. If you will select me the grossest specimen of humanity, if he be but born of woman, I will have hope of him yet, because Jesus Christ is come to seek and to save sinners. Electing love has selected some of the worst to be made the best. Pebbles of the brook grace turns into jewels for the crown royal. Worthless dross he transforms into pure gold. Redeeming love has set apart many of the worst of mankind to be the reward of the Saviour’s passion. Effectual grace calls forth many of the vilest of the vile to sit at the table of mercy, and therefore let none despair.’ (Spurgeon)
1:30 He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 1:31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Who has become for us – The first two words of this verse are, lit. ‘of him’. They have their standing before God ‘of him’, and not ‘of themselves’. Therefore, boasting is excluded v31.
Wisdom from God – Wright suggests that ‘wisdom from God’ harks back to that quasi-independent power of Prov 1-9, now relocated by Paul in Jesus. ‘When Paul looks out at the pagan world with its much-vaunted “wisdom” of various sorts, leading people to puff themselves up and give themselves airs (a favourite theme in 1 Corinthians), he looks at the creator God who has unveiled in Jesus the Messiah his wisdom-in-person, the one through whom the worlds were made (1 Cor 8:6), the one in whom believers are therefore to discover in every possible way what it means to be genuinely human.’ It is in this context that Paul introduces three further themes, each indicating a different sort of things (righteousness is a status, holiness a process, and redemption an event). But it would be illegitimate (says Wright) to press this verse into service in order to support the full reformed doctrine of ‘imputed righteousness’, not least because we would then also have to speak of ‘imputed holiness’ and ‘imputed redemption’. (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 130-135)
Schreiner agrees that a full doctrine of imputed righteousness cannot be derived from this verse alone. However, to exclude it altogether would be to assume (as Wright appears to do) that all the benefits of salvation are applied to us in exactly the same way.
‘Wisdom, with which the Corinthians are so enamored, and which Paul has taken such pains to debunk, is now redefined through the cross as a virtual synonym of salvation. This will be explained further in 1 Cor 2:6–16, where Paul expounds the wisdom of the cross and the Spirit (1 Cor 2:6: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature”). To follow the logic of Paul’s argument, to find wisdom, you must first renounce your own wisdom and become a fool.’ (Ciampa & Rosner)
‘He is in effect saying to the Corinthians, “You want wisdom? All right, here is the wisdom that God has provided us: Christ Jesus. And remember, that means Christ Jesus crucified!” This reiterates what Paul has already said in verses 23–24. The identification of Christ with wisdom cannot be separated from the very specific event of the cross, which ironically deconstructs all human wisdom.’ (Hays)
To know Christ, and his righteousness, holiness and redemption, is to be truly wise.
‘Christ is the true wisdom. He is the Logos, the Revealer, in whom dwells all the fulness of the godhead, and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. No man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal him, Jn 1:18. Union with him, therefore, makes the believer truly wise. It secures the knowledge of God, whose glory is revealed in the face of Christ, and whom is eternal life. All true religious knowledge is derived from Christ, and it is only those who submit to his teaching who are wise unto salvation.’ (Charles Hodge)
‘Man’s intellect seeks after rest, and by nature seeks it apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. Men of education are apt, even when converted, to look upon the simplicities of the cross of Christ with an eye too little reverent and loving. They are snared in the old net in which the Grecians were taken, and have a hankering to mix philosophy with revelation. The temptation with a man of refined thought and high education is to depart from the simple”] truth of Christ crucified, and to invent, as the term is, a more intellectual doctrine. This led the early Christian churches into Gnosticism, and bewitched them with all sorts of heresies. This is the root of Neology, and the other fine things which in days gone by were so fashionable in Germany, and are now so ensnaring to certain classes of divines. Whoever you are, good reader, and whatever your education may be, if you be the Lord’s, be assured you will find no rest in philosophizing divinity. You may receive this dogma of one great thinker, or that dream of another profound reasoner, but what the chaff is to the wheat, that will these be to the pure word of God. All that reason, when best guided, can find out is but the A B C of truth, and even that lacks certainty, while in Christ Jesus there is treasured up all the fulness of wisdom and knowledge. All attempts on the part of Christians to be content with systems such as Unitarian and Broad Church thinkers would approve of, must fail; true heirs of heaven must come back to the grandly simple”] reality which makes the ploughboy’s eye flash with joy, and gladdens the pious pauper’s heart-“Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Jesus satisfies the most elevated intellect when he is believingly received, but apart from him the mind of the regenerate discovers no rest. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” “A good understanding have all they that do his commandments.”‘ (Spurgeon)
Having debunked human wisdom, Paul and presents true wisdom as virtually a synonym for salvation. So far as the three aspects that follow – righteousness, holiness and redemption- are concerned, it might be a little too neat to see then as reflecting in turn the past, present, and future aspects of salvation (so Bruce). Instead, we should perhaps see them as expanding the concept of God’s wisdom in three metaphors: ‘Righteousness recalls the law court and speaks of vindication and acquittal, holiness brings to mind the temple and being set apart for God, and redemption evokes the slave market and emancipation on the analogy of Israel’s deliverance in the exodus.’ (Pillar)
‘Thus,’ says Fee, ‘there is “wisdom” with God, to be sure. But it is of another kind from what the Corinthians currently delight in and squabble over. Wisdom does not have to do with “getting smart,” nor with status or rhetoric. God’s wisdom—the real thing—has to do with salvation through Christ Jesus.’
Righteousness – ‘Those…who are in Christ have divine wisdom or the saving knowledge of God and of divine things; they have a righteousness which secures their justification. There is no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus, Rom 8:1. They are renewed after the image of God, and shall finally be presented without spot or blemish before the presence of his glory. And they are partakers of eternal redemption or full deliverance from all the evils of sin, and are introduced into the glorious liberty of the children of God.’ (Charles Hodge)
Holiness – ‘Here Paul refers to that state of holiness which God confers upon believers in Christ, and not to the process of sanctification in which their co-operation is enlisted.’ (Wilson)
‘We must go back to the Jewish worshippers, and the severe prohibition against coming before God if not purified according to the preparation of the sanctuary; for persons defiled were without access, and debarred from fellowship with Jehovah and other worshippers. But, when sprinkled by the blood of sacrifices, they were re-admitted to the worship. They were then a holy people. The blood of sacrifice was their sole ground of access. Even so, by means of the one ever valid sacrifice of Calvary, sinners excluded on account of sin have access in worship and boldness to approach a holy God. In that sense Christ crucified was made of God to us sanctification.’ (Smeaton)
Redemption – ‘This term sometimes includes all the benefits received from Christ. When he is called our Redeemer he is presented as our deliverer from guilt, from hell, from sin, from the power of Satan, from the grave. But when redemption is distinguished from justification and sanctification, it refers to the final deliverance from evil. The “day of redemption” is the day when the work of Christ shall be consummated in the perfect salvation of his people as to soul and body. Rom 8:23; Eph 1:14; 4:30; Heb 9:12.’ (Charles Hodge)
This ‘is the first gift of Christ to be begun in us, and the last to be brought to completion. For salvation begins when we are extricated from the labyrinth of sin and death. In the meantime however we sigh for the final resurrection day, yearning for redemption, as it is put in Rom 8:26. But if someone asks how Christ has been given to us for redemption, I reply that he made himself the price of redemption.’ (Calvin)
‘Diogenes used to complain that men flocked to the oculist and to the dentist but never to the man (he meant the philosopher) who could cure their souls. Jesus Christ can deliver a man from past sin, from present helplessness, and from future fear. He is the emancipator from slavery to self and to sin.’ (DSB)
‘There are three great aspects of the work of Christ which have in turn held the attention of the Church, and come home with special force to its spiritual situation at a special time. There are:
- Its triumphant aspect;
- Its satisfactionary aspect;
- Its regenerative aspect.
The first emphasizes the finality of our Lord’s victory over the evil power of devil; the second, the finality of his satisfaction, expiation, or atonement presented to the holy power of God; and the third the finality of his sanctifying or new-creative influence on the soul of man. The first marked the Early Church, the second the Medieval and Reformation Church, while the third marks the Modern Church. And if you fall back upon the New Testament, where all the subsequent development of the Church is in the germ, as a philosophy might be packed in a phrase, you will find those three strands wonderfully and prophetically entwined in 1 Cor 1:30, where it is said that Christ is made unto us (2) justification; (3) sanctification; and (1) redemption. The whole history of the doctrine in the Church may be viewed as the exegesis by time of this great text of the Spirit. Now, it is not meant that in the period specially marked by one of these aspects the other two were absent. In various of the medieval theologians you find all three. And it is a good test of the native aptitude of any theologian, and of his evangelical grasp, that he should find them all necessary to express the fullness of the vast work, and its adequacy to anything so great and manifold as the soul. But what we do not find in the classic theologians of the past is the co-ordination of the three aspects under one comprehensive idea, one organic principle, corresponding to the complete unity of Christ’s person, who did the work. We do not find such a unitary view of the work as we should expect when we reflect that it was the work of a personality so complete as Christ, and so absolute as the God who acted in Christ. Yet we must strive after such a view, by the very nature of our faith. A mere composite or eclectic theology means a distracted faith. A creed just nailed together means Churches that cannot draw together. We cannot, at least the Church cannot, rest healthily upon medley and mortised aspects of the one thing which connects our one soul with the one God in one moral world. We cannot rest in unresolved views of reconciliation. As the reconciliation comes to pervade our whole being, and as we answer it with heart and strength and mind, we become more and more impatient of fragmentary ways of understanding it. We crave, and we move, to see that the first aspect is the condition of the second, and the second of the third, and that they all condition each other in a living interaction.’
(P.T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ)
‘He became wisdom for us—and also righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. All three of these words reconnect the significance of Jesus with the story of God’s redemption of Israel to be a holy people in covenant with him. There is no such thing as wisdom apart from covenant relationship with God (righteousness) that leads to holy living (sanctification) made possible by God’s act of delivering us from slavery (redemption) through the cross. Those who are in Christ participate in this covenantal reality.’ (Hays)
Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
‘The Corinthian church was wracked by party strife because its members were glorifying in men. They were guilty of extolling the human agents through whom they had received their salvation instead of exulting in the Divine author of it, 1 Cor 3:21f.’ (Wilson)
‘We should not overlook the significance of the application to Christ of words which in Jer 9:23-24 refer to Jehovah. No higher view could be taken of the Person of Christ.’ (Leon Morris)
‘It is not the world’s false boasting in its wisdom and ability that caused Paul to write 1 Corinthians, but the same false boasting in the church…,where Christians were glorying in men and wrongly evaluating their gifts. They can only do this because they have forgotten that their Christian existence depends, not on their merit, but on god’s call and the fact that the Gospel is the message of Christ.’ (Barrett)