1CORINTHIANS 1:10-25 CORRECTING MISCONCEPTIONS
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
Although there were many practical issues that needed addressing Paul begins his rebukes and corrections by discussing a key foundational issue – the misconceptions his readers held about the Gospel – about God’s truth. Not about what the Gospel taught, but about the very nature of the Word of God itself. Their theology, their understanding, of the essential nature of God’s truth was askew. It was necessary to get rid of their twisted and defective perceptions of God's word first, before addressing the more obvious and practical problems.
A. MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE SOURCE AND FOCUS OF THE WORD – 1:10-17
The first issue Paul addresses is the report of ‘quarrels’ and divisions among them. These quarrels and divisions were caused by focus on the person who taught the Word of God.
Read 1:10-17. List the words and phrases that state or infer divisions.
Paul appeals to his readers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ –
That all of you agree with one another
So that there may be no more divisions among you
And that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Such unity of mind and thought can come only from a united and correct perception of the nature of the Word of God. The divisions and quarrels that characterized them arose from wrong perceptions of the Word that tied the Word to individual teachers of the Word. This resulted in alignment with the various teachers rather than alignment with the Word.
Paul identifies four of these teacher-related allegiances – Paul, Apollos, Cephas (and Christ). Such allegiances have two immediate results: the individual teacher is exalted in some way and Christ is diminished in some way. So Paul asks three questions:
‘Is Christ divided?’ Jesus Christ alone is the Light of the world, the Way, the Truth, the Life. He alone is the Bread of Life. He, and he only, is the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us. He and he alone reveals the Father. As Paul will teach later, he and the other apostles are mere servants, labourers in the fields of God. The truth does not derive from those who teach the truth – it comes from he who alone is the truth, who alone reveals the Father. There is one source of truth: Jesus Christ. To pit one teacher of the truth against another, to champion one individual teacher, is to reveal a basic failure regarding our understanding of what God’s truth is and where God’s truth comes from. It comes from Christ alone. Indeed it is Christ alone. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Study these Scriptures:
To align and identify truth with an individual human teacher of the truth is to relativise and reduce truth to changing human opinions. As soon as we do that our concept of truth as absolute disintegrates, and ‘truth’ becomes merely the relative subjective perceptions of truth expressed by the human individual.
‘Was Paul crucified for you?’ To exalt a teacher of the Gospel, to profess allegiance to an individual teacher of the Gospel, is to overlook and even deny the essential allegiance of the Christian to Jesus Christ. Indeed, more than our allegiance - our very existence as Christians, as forgiven, redeemed sinners, is dependent not on the individual teacher but on Jesus Christ. It was Jesus Christ who was crucified for us. It is his death that secures our redemption. It is his death that paid the ransom necessary for our release from sin’s guilt, condemnation and judgment. By Christ’s death we are saved from God’s wrath and reconciled to God. The Christian belongs to Christ, we are his blood-bought possession. We do not belong to any teacher of the Word. We belong to Christ of whom the Word speaks, to him whose atoning, substitutionary death the Word proclaims.
Study these Scriptures:
No human teacher of the Word ought to be exalted in such a way as to replace Jesus Christ as the focus of the Christian’s allegiance, as the focus of the Christian’s trust. It is not the teacher of the Word, but the truth revealed in the Word, that is important. That truth fixes our attention and our allegiance on Jesus Christ.
‘Were you baptized into the name of Paul?’ Again using reference to himself as an example of the Corinthian error, Paul, by this question, points out that neither he, nor any teacher of the Word, is the one to whom baptism unites the believer. Baptism is baptism into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is not into the name of the Christian teacher. Allegiance to Paul, or any other teacher, cannot do anything, because no teacher of the Word is anything. But baptism into the name of Christ is a public affirmation of one’s allegiance to Jesus Christ, a public declaration of union with Christ our substitute in his death and resurrection, a public confirmation that this believer is so united to Christ that all that Christ is and did is, by God’s sheer grace, credited to this believer, a public symbol of this amazing and comprehensive spiritual reality. The name of Paul is nothing. The name of Christ is everything. Paul can do nothing to save. Christ does everything to save.
The baptismal positions of some Christian denominations, some independent Christian churches and some pseudo-Christian cults deviate from the position expressed here by Paul. The question of biblically valid baptism is not whether or not a person has been baptized by any given denomination, church, or cult, and thereby identified as belonging to that denomination, church or cult, but rather whether a person has been baptized into the name of Jesus Christ. It is not the integrity of the baptiser that is significant, but the integrity and dependability of Jesus Christ, into whose name a person is baptized. Any perception of baptism that focuses attention on the baptiser [individual or organisational] and not on Christ attracts exposure to Paul’s criticisms in this passage.
Paul is greatly concerned by these schisms in the Corinthians church because they are taking the believers’ focus and confidence off of Jesus Christ, and in doing so, are eroding the believers’ perception of their salvation and its critical dependence on Jesus Christ. The teachers of the Word have become more important to them than him of whom the Word speaks. The unity that all believers have in their common union with Christ has been replaced by man-focused divisions.
‘… Christ did not send me to baptize …’
So concerned is he by their focus on the teachers of the Word that he states his thankfulness that, with a few exceptions, he did not baptize any of them. In his rebuke of their alignment with their various teachers, whom we might assume may also have baptized them, Paul makes the somewhat surprising statement that ‘Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel’ [verse 17]. This statement is surprising because it stands in contrast to Christ’s final commission recorded in Matthew 28:19, where the disciples were commanded to make disciples of all nations ‘baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.
But if we look more closely it is perhaps not so surprising after all. The command in Matthew 28 is ‘make disciples’. The ‘baptising’ and ‘teaching’ are not the command, but the way in which they were to carry out the command.
‘… but to preach the gospel …’
It is clear from Paul’s statement here that he did not view baptism as a critical component of the Gospel, or of Gospel proclamation.
The commission given to Paul was ‘… I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. … I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’ [Acts 26:16-18].
According to Paul’s statement of his commission, the Gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ, is what opens people’s eyes. The Gospel is what turns them from darkness to light. The Gospel is what turns them from the power of Satan to God. It is by the Gospel that they receive forgiveness of sins. It is by the Gospel that they are given a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ. Baptising those who repented and believed was not part of the commission given to Paul by the risen Christ.
‘… not with words of human wisdom …’
By this phrase Paul indicated that he simply preached the Gospel … as it was. He did not dress it up with personal learning or eloquence. His intention was not to draw attention to the extent of his education, nor to depth of his own philosophy, nor to the skill of his ability with words. He did not seek fame as a philosopher or as an orator, both of which were valued by the Greeks. He simply taught and explained the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
‘… lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.’
If a person responds to the Gospel because he was attracted to the preacher’s philosophy or wisdom, if a person responds to the Gospel because he was drawn by the preacher’s eloquence, the cross of Christ has been rendered powerless. As Paul is about to point out, the message of the cross is both ‘foolishness’ and ‘a stumbling block’. On both counts it is offensive. Any human preacher who dresses it up by clever human words, hiding, camouflaging its offence, is also robbing it of its power. Its power is indissolubly embedded in its offence.
B. MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT 'WISDOM' AND 'POWER' – 1:18-25
Verse 17 thus introduces a second, and quite serious, misconception evident in the Corinthian church, that centred round the concept of 'wisdom'. From the human point of view there is an inbuilt 'foolishness' embedded in the Gospel. It does not fit in with human ideas of 'wisdom', indeed it runs quite contrary to human 'wisdom'. Both the content of the Gospel – 'the cross' [verse 18], 'Christ crucified' [verse 23], and God's method of publicising the Gospel – unembellished by human wisdom or skilled human oration, appear foolish and/or offensive to the human heart and mind.
In this section we see wisdom and foolishness contrasted, and power and weakness contrasted. What seems foolish to humans is actually the wisdom of God. What seems weak to humans is actually the power of God. So great is the divine/human divide that what is seen as God's foolishness is wiser than the greatest human wisdom. What is seen as God's weakness is more powerful than the greatest human power.
B.1 The foolishness of the cross
Read verses 18-25. Answer these questions:
 How do 'those who are perishing' define the message of the cross?
 What does this message do to human wisdom? [verses 19,20]
 What is not possible for human wisdom to do?
 What is 'Christ crucified' to the Jews?
 What is 'Christ crucified' to the Greeks?
B.2 The wisdom of God
Read the same verses again. Answer these questions:
 What is the opposite of 'foolishness' in verse 18?
 How is the power of God demonstrated in verse 19?
 What is attributed to the wisdom of God in verses 20-21?
 Discuss why God, in his wisdom, made it impossible for us to know him through our own wisdom.
 On what basis did the Jews acknowledge the validity of a message or messenger?
 On what basis did the Greeks acknowledge the validity of a message or messenger?
 What are the two essential elements of God's wisdom? [verse 23].
 Discuss and explain why both of these elements are essential to the message.
 What is Jesus Christ to those whom God has called?
 Explain verse 25.
B.3 Looking at the text
'For the message of the cross …'
Paul summarises the Gospel by referring to one of its two key components: 'the cross'. This reference to the cross encompasses the totality of everything the Bible states about it: its anticipation in the Law, the history and the prophets of the Old Testament; the historical narratives about it recorded in the four Gospels; and the explanatory teaching about the cross presented by the apostles in Acts and in the New Testament letters. In addition, 'the message of the cross', the reality of the cross, was planned by God for our salvation before the beginning of time. Far from being 'foolish', it is the consummation of an amazingly gracious divine plan that God had determined before he created both the universe and you:
But all of that is not at first discernible. Reference to the 'cross' stirred up a whole lot of immediate negative thought and emotion, for a cross was neither a pleasing nor a powerful thing. It was a thing of guilt, shame and public exposure; it was an exceedingly cruel execution device; its victims were incredibly powerless; it was something that ended in nothing but death.
But here it is – at the core of the Gospel, and indispensable to the Gospel.
'… is foolishness to those who are perishing ...'
This core content of the Christian Gospel is deemed 'foolishness' by those who do not believe in Jesus Christ – those who are 'perishing'. The one thing that could rescue them and reverse that designation 'perishing' is the very thing they despise and reject. There seems to be no sense in it – how can the horrific criminal death of one man provide spiritual rescue for all others? How can this execution possibly save others years down track? The very mention of a cross, the focussing of a whole message on the cross, with the expectation that people will want to listen to such a message, is foolish.
This foolishness is compounded by human pride. Our egos lead us to believe that if indeed we need 'saving' then we can save ourselves: that we, by our own goodness or obedience, can secure our own acceptance with God. We do not want to depend on the actions of another. We do not want to admit that we cannot 'make it' ourselves, by our own efforts. The whole world operates with a 'tit-for-tat' mindset in which 'good' results in approval and advancement and 'bad' results in disapproval and demotion. Good actions are rewarded and bad actions are penalised. This is the way it works in families. This is the way it works at school. This is the way it works in employment and business. This is the way it works in our communities. This is the way it works in religions and cults. The message is not only 'foolish' in its focus on a 'cross', but also in its stark contrast to all that humans have been conditioned to believe.
'… those who are perishing ...'
By these words Paul refers to all who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They are still 'dead' in their transgressions and sins [Ephesians 2:1,5]. They have not 'crossed over from death to life' [John 5:24]. They do not have the Son and therefore they do not have life [1John 5:12]. This 'perishing' is the opposite of having 'eternal life' [John 3:16]. It is true of unbelievers now and, unless they believe in the Son of God, it will be true of them for ever. It is these, these people who are still trapped in death, who hear the message of the cross and deem it 'foolishness'.
For an extended study on the condition of those who are perishing go here.
'… but to us who are being saved …'
There's a feeling of relief in these words … no longer are Paul and his readers 'those who are perishing', they are 'us who are being saved'. They are beyond 'perishing' – they are beyond that spiritual death brought on by Genesis 3; they are beyond the judgment and the condemnation incurred by sin; they are beyond the wrath of God; they are beyond alienation from God. They are 'being saved'.
We must not let the present continuous tense of this verb frighten us. Rather it should assure us that our salvation is secure. Just as he who saves us is the one who was, and who is, and who is to come [Revelation 1:4,8; 4:8], so our salvation is past, present and future: we have been saved, we are even now being saved, and we shall be saved. It is an eternal salvation – yesterday, today and forever. Even now while we struggle with temptation and imperfection we are being saved – saved from the guilt and shame and condemnation that would otherwise be incurred if we stood for a moment in the presence of God apart from Christ our Saviour. There is never a moment that we are sufficient in ourselves: rather at every moment we depend entirely on Christ, we trust ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ and his righteousness.
'… it is the power of God.'
For us who are being saved the message of the cross is the power of God. Paul affirms this in Romans 1:16 where he states that the gospel 'is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.' He then describes at length the disqualification of all [both Jew and Gentile] in Romans 1:18 to 3:20, pointing out that all are equally incapable [Romans 3:22,23 – 'there is no difference']. Because salvation comes only by the power of God in the Gospel, there is also 'no difference' among those who are thereby saved [Romans 3:22,24] – all are saved only by this power of God and not at all by their own efforts.
In Ephesians 1:18 to 2:7 Paul gives extended teaching about the 'power' of God at work in the Gospel. He states that the power of God active for those who believe, by which he brings us out of death and raises us into eternal life seated even now with Christ, is the same power by which he raised Christ from death to life and by which he seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.
The power embedded in the message of the cross is not a trivial power; nor is it reproducible or transferable. It is the power of God, always and exclusively. Although we are the focus and the beneficiaries of this power, it is never our power. When we presume to ascribe this power to ourselves we demonstrate that we do not really understand it. When we, like Paul's readers in Corinth, presume to applaud and follow the messenger rather than the message we also demonstrate our ignorance of the message and its inbuilt divine power.
'For it is written …' verse 19
Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14 – that God destroys 'the wisdom of the wise' and frustrates 'the intelligence of the intelligent'. The message of the cross, the Gospel, does not fit within the parameters set by the wise and intelligent. What humans, with their individual and collective wisdom and intelligence, decide is 'truth', or 'the way of life', is exposed as worthless by the message of the cross.
Solomon pondered this inadequacy and frustration of human wisdom:
'I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly...
I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.
The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness,
but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.
Then I thought in my heart,
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said in my heart,
“This too is meaningless.”
For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
in the days to come both will be forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise man too must die!” ' [Ecclesiastes 2:12-16]
Even the wisest and most intelligent of humans cannot by their wisdom and intelligence save themselves from death and condemnation and restore their own relationship with God.
'Where …?' verse 20,21
The Gospel – 'the message of the cross', 'Christ crucified' – exposes the inadequacy of 'the wise', 'the scholar', 'the philosopher'. Although their human wisdom and intelligence is considered 'the wisdom of the world' none of their individual or collective wisdom, whether religious or secular, has ever been able to identify how human beings can escape from the human dilemma, from the pathos and lostness and angst that characterises us all. There are many religions, and many secular ideas, but none of them addresses our deep human needs with any complete and permanent success. For the most part they lay more responsibilities and more burdens upon us. Despite millennia of human wisdom and philosophy, we continue to live divided within ourselves, divided from each other, and divided from and ignorant of God.
God, by the Gospel, has 'made foolish the wisdom of the world'. By the incarnation of his Son he revealed the truth about himself. By the crucifixion of his Son he provided for our redemption. By this incarnation the foolishness of human definitions of God is exposed. By this crucifixion the foolishness of human definitions of the way of salvation is exposed.
This Christ reveals who God is: to know this Christ is to know God [John 14:6-9].
This crucifixion is the way of redemption: by it the full penalty for our guilt and sin is paid [1Peter 2:24].
Human wisdom, in its ignorance of God, in its definitions of God based on human criteria and human values and human expectations, could never discover this truth: that God, in his great love for us, is both our Redeemer and our redemption, both our Saviour and our salvation. Human wisdom, in its limitations and finiteness, could never track back before the creation of the world, before the beginning of time, to that decision of God to redeem us through the death of the Lamb. Human wisdom, in its inevitable legalism, could never define a way of salvation that is by sheer grace and not by any element of human merit.
'… in the wisdom of God ...'
The fact that 'the world through its wisdom' does not know God, is, Paul states, the result of 'the wisdom of God'. God has so ordained it that knowledge of himself it not accessible to or by human wisdom. Were it otherwise the educated and the super-intelligent would have an advantage over the uneducated and those of average or below average intelligence. By this wisdom of God that makes him accessible only through his self-revelation and by the working of his Spirit, all humans are rendered equal in their ignorance of God. No one can say 'I have found God by my own intelligence and wisdom'. Any true knowledge of God is, just like salvation, the precious gift of his grace.
'Jews demand … Greeks look for …' verse 22
The message of the cross, as we have seen and will see again, contains its own power. It needs no embellishment.
But 'the Jews' sought the validation of the message and the messenger by 'miraculous signs'. They repeatedly demanded miracles of Jesus, and he rebuked them for it [Matthew 12:38-39; 16:1-4; John 2:18; 6:30].
And the Greeks looks for 'wisdom' – for a message that reflected the 'wisdom' of their philosophers debated, developed and taught for centuries in the writings of men like Anaximander, Plato, Socrates, Democritus and Aristotle.
'but we preach Christ crucified …' verse 23
To the Jews this message is 'a stumbling block'. They looked for a Christ [a Messiah] who would come as a mighty national/political conquering hero, liberating them from their subjection to Rome. A conquered, dead, crucified 'Christ' simply did not fit with their interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies of his coming. In addition, for those Jews who understood that the term 'the Christ' equated with 'the Son of God' [see Matthew 16:16; Mark 14:61; John 11:27] the association of death with this 'Christ, the Son of God' was extremely offensive. It rendered the message – 'Christ crucified' – totally unacceptable. The apparent defeat, defamation and debasement involved in death by crucifixion could not, in the Jewish mind, be applied to 'the Christ, the Son of God'. Nor could this obvious disgrace and humiliation be experienced by anyone on whom God's favour rested, for such a death, such suffering, was perceived by the Jews to be evidence of God's displeasure. Rather than attract Jews to Christ the message of the cross offended them, pushing them further away from Christ.
To the Gentiles 'Christ crucified', and human redemption through 'Christ crucified', was foolishness. It had no connection at all with human philosophies and religions. Its exposure of human inability to redeem itself; its association of God with human flesh [in the incarnation] and human death [in the crucifixion]; and its insistence on God's grace in contrast to human merit, cut right across the collective human wisdom of every nation.
By these two terms – 'Jews' and 'Gentiles' [as distinct from his previous 'Greeks' in verse 22] – Paul indicates the response of the whole world to the message of the cross. Left to themselves, without the operation of the Spirit of God by which the truth is revealed to them, there is no one in the whole world who, by their own wisdom, and who, even with the presence of miracles, would understand that the Gospel, 'Christ crucified', is indeed the truth for which they have been seeking, the one truth that is the power of God to save all who believe.
'… but to those whom God has called …' verse 24
Here we have yet another description of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Previously, Paul spoke of 'us who are being saved'. Now he describes Christians as 'those whom God has called'. This 'called' does not refer to the physical calling heard in a purely physical manner by all present when the Gospel is proclaimed ['many are called' in this physical way – Matthew 22:14]. It refers, rather, to a special, spiritual and effectual calling of an individual that results in their acknowledgement of Jesus Christ and the complete spiritual blessedness granted to all who so believe.
Romans 1:6; 8:28-30; 9:24
1Peter 2:9,21; 5:10
'...Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God' verse 24
Paul has already spoken of the power of God in verse 18 where he stated that 'the message of the cross' is, for those who are being saved, 'the power of God' [see notes above]. Now he states the same truth by affirming Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God for those whom God has called.
What we could not do, Christ has done.
What we could not know, Christ has revealed.
God, in Christ, by means of the incarnation and crucifixion, has addressed both our human ignorance and our human disqualification and inability.
' For the foolishness of God … and the weakness of God …' verse 25
What humans see as 'foolishness' on God's part – the message of a crucified Christ – is, Paul states, wiser than human wisdom. What humans see as 'weakness' on God's part – the message of salvation through the cross – is stronger than human strength.
Even the best of human wisdom, individual or collective, religious or secular, has not provided humans with the knowledge of God. The proliferation of 'god' concepts testifies to this.
Even the best of human strength has not provided a means of sure salvation for one individual human. The epidemic of human despair, and the continual striving for approval, the countless repeated rituals – all testify to the impotence of human promises of salvation and acquittal.
God, through the message of the cross, through Christ crucified, exposes the foolishness of our human wisdom and the weakness of our human strength.
Apart from this cross, this Christ, we are all lost, we are all trapped in darkness and in inability.
Paul will continue to speak of the inability and inadequacy of human wisdom and of the inappropriateness of human boasting in chapters 2 to 4. He understands that the failure of the Corinthians to discern the real source and the real nature of both the truth and their salvation is the root cause of the divisions among them.