2. 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
message of the cross—wisdom of the world—God’s choice—boasting
This is the second in this series of mouse investigations where I am nibbling through Corinthians in small mouse-size crumbs. The parts picked out in bold italic are, mostly, notes on the translation: primarily differences between the ‘accepted’ versions and the Greek; also translation decisions I have found necessary in order to render the meaning most clearly in English. And then, of course, there are, more obviously, regular stress points.
1 Corinthians 1
18 For truly the message of the cross is ludicrous to those who are perishing, but it’s the power of God to us who are being saved;
When we share our faith we must expect most people to think us fools, but when they ‘get it,’ it’s more than just sensible, it’s power to change their lives.
19 as it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and confound the understanding of the intelligent.”
This is (roughly) quoted from Isaiah 29:14. These are those who believe they are wise in the ways of the world and intelligent, but they are only so in the flesh: they will think the gospel foolishness because God’s wisdom stands in stark opposition to worldly wisdom, nullifying fleshly understanding.
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the educated? Where is today’s man of reason? Hasn’t God shown that the wisdom of this world is stupidity?
When it comes to finding God or proving His existence or knowing Him, the wisdom and knowledge of this world is completely useless. God has gone further and, through the cross, shown that the world’s wisdom and learning are simply stupidity, unlike many translations which state that God made the wisdom of the world into foolishness: God didn’t make it stupidity, it always was.
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world cannot know God by wisdom, God deemed it good to save those who believe through the absurdity of the preaching,
Importantly, the tense of “know” here is the present, or ongoing tense: it’s not in the past tense as in all the other translations—the world will never be able to know God by its wisdom, not just in the past.
God is not trying to trick people, He is looking for those who will believe what He says, just because He says it.
22 since Jews ask for a sign while Greeks seek wisdom;
The Jews, Pharisees and scribes often asked Jesus for “a sign” which He refused them, as they were supposed to receive the truth by faith; the Greeks wanted wisdom so they could air it in their discussions.
23 but we preach Christ crucified: truly, to Jews offensive, and to Greeks absurd.
The Jews were offended because, for anyone to be crucified meant to be cursed—Galatians 3:13 refers back to Deuteronomy 21:23 which says, “his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” So, as far as the Jews were concerned, Jesus was cursed by the law, so how could He be the awaited Messiah?
This was why the Jews wanted the Romans to execute Him in the first place—the Romans would crucify Him, thus ensuring that He was “accursed of God,” while the Jews could only stone Him. So they were making sure that their rejection of Jesus (whom they certainly recognised) was justified by the law: trying to use God’s law to disqualify His Messiah… through murder, which the law clearly condemned.
Most unbelievers today feel that the concept of Jesus dying in our place is ridiculous, and they mock.
24 But to those who are called, whether Jews or Greeks, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God,
Both God’s power and His wisdom are ours in Christ, if we appropriate them by faith. “Greeks” is used here as Paul’s alternative term for Gentiles.
25 since God’s foolishness is wiser than men, and God’s weakness is mightier than men.
That which seems foolishness to men as they are not privy to the understanding of God, while He reserves the term ‘foolish’ for those who despise His salvation and choose to remain in sin. God is neither foolish nor weak, but fallen man sees Him in that light—though they themselves truly are foolish and weak.
26 Look at your own calling brethren—not many were wise in the flesh, not many were powerful, not many of noble birth,
This is a humbling thought for the Corinthians, they just have to look at themselves to see that God is not picking those the world would choose.
27 but to confound the wise, God chooses the world’s foolish, and to confound those in power, the world’s helpless
Every translation I could find has used the past tense for God’s choice, forgetting that God continues to choose the foolish and helpless. And all but the Aramaic Bible have also added ‘things’ to ‘foolish’ and ‘weak,’ basically stopping this verse from talking about people at all! Perhaps they couldn’t cope with the insult in the Greek as it would also include them.
The reason the Greek doesn’t specify ‘things,’ is because it is referring to the people called. The proof that this speaks of people rather than things, is that “the weak things of the world” doesn’t refer to anything at all: what “weak things” did God choose? God has only chosen people, not “things.”
28 and low born. God chooses those who are despised and those who are of no account, that he might reduce to nothing those who have influence,
The other translations continue here to speak of things rather than people, thus reducing verse 29 to a meaningless remark with no purpose. The entire section is of a piece, simply talking about the humble origins of most of the people whom God calls. This is in perfect harmony with the Lord’s parable of the banquet in Luke 14:21, where He says, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” because those of significance in the world generally reject His salvation in their pride.
29 so that no one may boast in his presence.
No one who has been truly redeemed by Christ will have any desire to “boast” before Him; instead he will bow in gratitude and worship.
30 Yet it is from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who through God has become for us not only wisdom and righteousness, but also sanctification and deliverance,
Translation note: the “not only…, but also…” is the structure in the Greek, which no other translation has included. These are four separate things which logically pair in this way. All of them are ours as we abide in Christ, though if we allow ourselves to drift away we will find they are gone.
31 so that, as it is written, “whoever rejoices, let him rejoice in the Lord.”
Most translations put “boasts” rather than “rejoices” which forces the more alert translators to change the “in” to “of,” though most miss it. The problem is that “boasting” is an expression of the corruption of our flesh and, since it cannot be done in faith, is a sin. To “boast in the Lord,” would mean: from our position in Christ, by the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit. Many, many times we have been told that Paul was “boasting,” but every time it is due to translating καυχάομαι (kaucháomai) as “boast,” even though it also means to glory, to rejoice, to exult, to take delight, to celebrate, to be overjoyed. So to insist on the one (and only) meaning which would put Paul into sin is clearly unacceptable. It also leads to some very convoluted arguments attempting to limit or justify his boasting. Paul was far too wise in the things of the Lord to ever consider boasting, even to make some kind of point in his letters.
This is, roughly, quoted from Jeremiah 9:24, which reads, (in the NKJ) “But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord.
Most quotes from the Old Testament, appearing in the New Testament, differ from the original. This is because the New Testament writer, in this case Paul, is writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit, so what he actually puts is the “rhema” or living, spoken word of God, rather than just a direct quote, because the Holy Spirit is making a different point, or extending the original.
Bless you folks, Geoff >ᴥ<