Exposition of 1 Corinthians 1:18–25 God’s power and wisdom: Christ crucified

1 Corinthians 1:18–25

18 For 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. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, 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.

In verse 17 Paul has rejected “words of eloquent wisdom” (ESV) as not having anything to do with what God has done in the cross of Christ. Now, in verse 18, he adds that “the word of the cross” (ESV) divides the world into two parts” “those who are perishing” and “[we] who are being saved.”

The Greco-Roman system offered human wisdom — including philosophy, rhetoric and military power — as a solid basis for life, leading to the constant scramble for wealth and power. The cross of Christ stands in utter contradiction to all that. Garland summarizes: “The story behind Jesus’ death discloses that he was rejected by the very people he came to save, was deserted by his own disciples, was strung up by the proper authorities, and apparently was powerless to save his own skin.”[1] But God used this seeming defeat to pay the penalty for all sin, to reconcile humanity to God and to be the basis for those who commit themselves to Jesus to be eternally saved.

The choice is simple: jump into the Great Game of the World and join “those who are perishing” or rely on the cross of Christ, which made it possible for us to join those “who are being saved.” Paul immediately summons Old Testament Scripture (Isa. 29:14 LXX) to support his argument against human wisdom. The whole reason that human wisdom will not prevail is that God will not allow it to succeed! “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.

In 1 Cor. 1:20, we find three different types of human experts representing rationalism, Jewish law, and Greek rhetoric. The idea behind the repeated “where is . . .?” is that in the realm of knowing God those three are not to be found. Garland says, “One can know God only according to the cross, not through human wisdom.”[2] The wisdom of the world is a general way of assessing life that is egocentric, and it leads away from the cross and its shame.

But the Bible informs us that our kind and loving God did not leave us in this clueless state. He both sent Christ to die for us on the cross and sent emissaries to tell how those who believed could be saved (1 Cor. 1:21). This belief consists of accepting the kindness of God-given to us in Jesus Christ.

Paul looks into the culture of his day and sees some demanding one sort of divine proof and others demanding another form, but God is revealing “Christ crucified” by preaching the message, no matter how it is received (1 Cor. 1:22–23). Garland explains: “The ‘called’ . . . is parallel to ‘those who believe’ in 1:21 and ‘us who are being saved’ in 1:18. Part of being called is being able to hear God’s call and being open to it.”[3] Christ is both power and wisdom in one person.

Paul again displays his sarcasm in 1 Cor. 1:25, because there is no such thing as the “foolishness of God” or “weakness of God.” Only those committed to the world’s alleged wisdom and strength would discuss it as if it were comparable to God’s wisdom and strength. The death of Christ overturned all earthly wisdom, and the resurrection of Christ overwhelmed those powers resisting it.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 61.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 67.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 70.

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