1 Corinthians 1:17-2:6
New American Bible (Revised Edition)
Paradox of the Cross. 18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.(B) 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”(C)
20 Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?(D) 21 [c]For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,(E) 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,(F) 24 but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
The Corinthians and Paul.[d] 26 Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,(G) 28 and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, 29 so that no human being might boast[e] before God.(H) 30 It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,(I) 31 so that, as it is written, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”(J)
1 When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God,[f] I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.(K) 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.(L) 3 I came to you in weakness[g] and fear and much trembling, 4 and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive [words of] wisdom,[h] but with a demonstration of spirit and power,(M) 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.(N)
The True Wisdom.[i] 6 Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.
- 1:17b–18 The basic theme of 1 Cor 1–4 is announced. Adherence to individual leaders has something to do with differences in rhetorical ability and also with certain presuppositions regarding wisdom, eloquence, and effectiveness (power), which Paul judges to be in conflict with the gospel and the cross.
- 1:17b Not with the wisdom of human eloquence: both of the nouns employed here involve several levels of meaning, on which Paul deliberately plays as his thought unfolds. Wisdom (sophia) may be philosophical and speculative, but in biblical usage the term primarily denotes practical knowledge such as is demonstrated in the choice and effective application of means to achieve an end. The same term can designate the arts of building (cf. 1 Cor 3:10) or of persuasive speaking (cf. 1 Cor 2:4) or effectiveness in achieving salvation. Eloquence (logos): this translation emphasizes one possible meaning of the term logos (cf. the references to rhetorical style and persuasiveness in 1 Cor 2:1, 4). But the term itself may denote an internal reasoning process, plan, or intention, as well as an external word, speech, or message. So by his expression ouk en sophia logou in the context of gospel preaching, Paul may intend to exclude both human ways of reasoning or thinking about things and human rhetorical technique. Human: this adjective does not stand in the Greek text but is supplied from the context. Paul will begin immediately to distinguish between sophia and logos from their divine counterparts and play them off against each other.
- 1:21–25 True wisdom and power are to be found paradoxically where one would least expect them, in the place of their apparent negation. To human eyes the crucified Christ symbolizes impotence and absurdity.
- 1:26–2:5 The pattern of God’s wisdom and power is exemplified in their own experience, if they interpret it rightly (1 Cor 1:26–31), and can also be read in their experience of Paul as he first appeared among them preaching the gospel (1 Cor 2:1–5).
- 1:29–31 “Boasting (about oneself)” is a Pauline expression for the radical sin, the claim to autonomy on the part of a creature, the illusion that we live and are saved by our own resources. “Boasting in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31), on the other hand, is the acknowledgment that we live only from God and for God.
- 2:1 The mystery of God: God’s secret, known only to himself, is his plan for the salvation of his people; it is clear from 1 Cor 1:18–25; 2:2, 8–10 that this secret involves Jesus and the cross. In place of mystery, other good manuscripts read “testimony” (cf. 1 Cor 1:6).
- 2:3 The weakness of the crucified Jesus is reflected in Paul’s own bearing (cf. 2 Cor 10–13). Fear and much trembling: reverential fear based on a sense of God’s transcendence permeates Paul’s existence and preaching. Compare his advice to the Philippians to work out their salvation with “fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), because God is at work in them just as his exalting power was paradoxically at work in the emptying, humiliation, and obedience of Jesus to death on the cross (Phil 2:6–11).
- 2:4 Among many manuscript readings here the best is either “not with the persuasion of wisdom” or “not with persuasive words of wisdom,” which differ only by a nuance. Whichever reading is accepted, the inefficacy of human wisdom for salvation is contrasted with the power of the cross.
- 2:6–3:4 Paul now asserts paradoxically what he has previously been denying. To the Greeks who “are looking for wisdom” (1 Cor 1:22), he does indeed bring a wisdom, but of a higher order and an entirely different quality, the only wisdom really worthy of the name. The Corinthians would be able to grasp Paul’s preaching as wisdom and enter into a wisdom-conversation with him if they were more open to the Spirit and receptive to the new insight and language that the Spirit teaches.