1 Corinthians 1:18–25 - For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? . . . 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”
The Word of the Cross (vv 18-19) - This short series will focus on the cross of Christ. The Triune God’s plan of redemption required the Son to take on a fallen human form, and the just curse of sin and death. Through the “deeper magic” of the cross, sin and death were overcome for all united to Him. In this passage Paul makes the cross the fundament divide of humanity. “The word of the cross is discriminating. It is a revelatory event that divides humanity into two groups. In this respect it has an eschatological function” (Sacra). While he refers to the categories of Jew and Gentile, he makes a more fundament contrast: apollymenoi, “those who are perishing” and so¯zomenoi, “us who are being saved” (1:18). Those being saved see the cross as fundamental, rather than human wisdom. “Roman society was built around power and status . . . . Associating power with a crucified man—the epitome of weakness—thus made no more sense to ancients than it does to modern people outside Christ” (Keener). Thus, the cross-message is the power of God. “Paul wanted to be sure their faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (BKC).
The Wisdom of the World (vv 20-25) - In the section section of the passage, Paul deepens the contrast of human wisdom/rhetoric with the cross. “God has not simply disregarded this wisdom or shown it to be foolish; he has made it foolish” (Morris). Paul develops these themes for several chapters to address their divisions around personalities (Paul, Peter, Apollos, etc. 1:12, 3:4ff). “The Corinthians . . . are competing for status. Wisdom and its cultured speech earned status in the culture of Paul’s time” (NIB). While Jews and Greeks seek something in contrast to the humility of the cross, the “demand for power and the pursuit of wisdom” are ”the basic idolatries of our fallen world” (Fee, cited in NAC). God’s “foolishness” in the cross is greater than the wisdom of men because through it God can be known (v25). “In spite of the highly sophisticated discussion of natural theology by the Stoics and Epicureans on ‘the nature of the gods’, that intellectual world did not know God” (NBC).
The Calling of Believers (vv 26-31) - “The called” (v 26) are in Christ “by His doing” (v 30) and not because of their social or intellectual status. Paul distinguishes the “low-born” from the “high-born” in the phrases “not many wise,” “many mighty,” or “many noble” of the Corinthians. The terms denote ”the educated, the influential, the people of [a] distinguished family” (Hermeneia). Union with Christ through the word of the cross, brings “wisdom,” “righteousness” “sanctification, and redemption.” In other words, all that is truly sought for through human power and wisdom is granted by faith in Christ. “Now the righteousness wherewith we are justified is perfect, but not inherent” (Hooker cited in JFB). In this context, righteousness means “the state of having been justified” (Edwards cited in Morris). Paul concludes with a reference to Jeremiah 9:23ff, “Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.”