The Gospel is “God’s Foolishness” – 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

By using the death of Jesus on the Cross, God has “made foolish the wisdom of this world” (v. 20). Where is the wise, scribe, the debater of this age? These three questions call on the highest educated (and potentially most arrogant) people in the Greek or Jewish world. There is a tone of derision: God has made your most educated look foolish when he saved people through the folly of the Cross.

God did not choose to save those who are perishing in a way that might be expected, by using a method the intelligent of the world would have given their approval. Rather, he chose to use the foolishness of the Cross. In other words, “God’s actions make the worldly-wise look like blundering fools” (Garland, 1 Corinthians, 63).

Execution by crucifixion was the most shameful death possible. If the Romans executed someone by crucifixion, they were guilty of the very worst of crimes and suffered such dishonor that it might even be shameful to admit you knew the person, let alone think they were your savior.

Romans Crucifying Their Enemies

Paul begins this paragraph with the observation “Jews demand a sign, Greeks seek wisdom.” The Jewish “demand for a sign” refers to some sign from heaven which confirms a person is approved by God. If someone claimed to be the messiah, then Pharisees might demand they do some sort of sign, as they did Jesus. If Jesus could give them a sign to convince them he was the messiah, then perhaps they would believe. The point of the apostolic signs such as Peter healing a lame man in Acts 3 was to show the messianic age has begun.

A Greek would be far more likely to believe a well-constructed, logic argument in favor of Jesus as the Messiah. When Paul teaches in Ephesus, for example, he argues persuasively from the Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah; Apollos also persuades people from the Scripture through logical arguments (Acts 18).

The Messiah crucified was a stumbling-block to the Jews and a god who is executed as a criminal is foolishness to the Greek. Many Jews expected some sort of Messiah, but no one really expected a Messiah who would be executed by the Romans. The Gentiles were to fall under the judgment of the Messiah! He was to rule over a reunited Israel like an idealized David, no one expected him to die in the most shameful way possible. Peter response to Peter in Mark 8 is an indication that even Jesus’ followers misunderstood what the messiah would do in Jerusalem.

A “stumbling-block” is something that causes you to stumble (obviously), but Paul is using it as a metaphor. The cross is the thing that causes the Jewish person to not accept Jesus as the messiah and savior. They might like Jesus’ teaching, his way of handling the Law, his views about the kingdom of God, his rejection of oral tradition, etc. But most Jews would have a hard time accepting a messiah who was unjustly executed by the High Priest!

To the Greek or Roman thinker, it is not impossible for a god to appear to be flesh and live among humans for a time. Perhaps the more intellectual Greeks disbelieved the stories of Zeus or Hermes appearing as men, but it was at least possible. But it was impossible for a god to be harmed by humans, let alone be executed as the worst of criminals!

God chose to use the most foolish thing imaginable in the first century, the Cross, to save those who are perishing. God has always used the unexpected person to achieve his goals so that it is clear he has done it not human wisdom or skills (David as the youngest son, defeats Goliath, etc.)  What God did through Jesus is to turn the world “upside down,” an idea Paul will return to throughout this letter.

The world sees the world one way, the Christian sees it much differently.

9 thoughts on “The Gospel is “God’s Foolishness” – 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

  1. This passage really highlights the omniscience of God. God is all-knowing and his logic far surpasses human logic. When we try and understand God and his ways fully, we fail. In a way, it is ironic in that the cross is used to humiliate Christ, the messiah, because of it’s meaning in the culture. Christ’s Lordship still dominates despite the worldly standards of success and honor of the time. In their culture, the cross resembled failure and shame, bringing dishonor to that person on the cross. However, God ironically used it to bring glory to the name of Jesus and bring all people to salvation. Paul highlights the fullness and power of God’s wisdom in that we are not match for God; our logic, understanding and knowledge is no match for his omniscience and wisdom. Isaiah 55:8 shows this in the same light: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”

    Responding to your thought, “The world sees the world one way, the Christian sees it much differently”, this is very true. Each person’s worldview has great effect in how they see the world, culture, other people, etc. In this, Christians look back to the cross and see victory, redemption, and freedom, where as a 1st century Jewish worldview would see the cross as shame, ridicule, and failure. No wonder the crucified messiah is such a hard pill for Jews to swallow. The severity of this issue is highlighted in Acts 7 with the stoning of Stephen. Not only does Stephen preach that Christ is the Messiah, but that they killed him. That accusation really set them off the edge and lead them to stone him. I think as Christians we judge the Jews of that time too harshly. If we were Jews in this time, we probably wouldn’t believe or understand this either. We do this with other Bible characters such as the disciples and think they are ignorant and silly, where as, if we were them, we would ask the same “silly” questions they were asking due to lack of hindsight and understanding.

    • I agree, each person’s worldview affects how they see the world, other people, understand scripture, and their culture. When I read a bible verse, such as 1 Corinthians 1:22-25, I have background knowledge and scripture to help me understand this verse. I am able to connect the thoughts and ideas to Paul’s other teachings. The Corinthians who heard this from Paul’s letter for the first time were recent Christians. We are very fortunate today, in the United States, to have printed Bibles that we can reference and read any time we want without judgment. The church body in Corinthians who read Paul’s letter may have had some written word and some background knowledge of the gospel, such as the Torah. Word of mouth from Paul and other apostle’s teachings would have been a large amount of their referenceable knowledge. God made the wise, the philosophers and scholars, of the world look foolish. To those called by God “to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). The top scholars of the world were foolish compared to God, whose foolish plan would be wiser than the smartest plan of mankind (1 Corinthians 1:25). Paul called the Corinthians “to look beyond the perception of foolishness in order that they might be empowered with the ‘power of God’”(Longenecker, 117).

  2. Honestly, God is such a clever and awesome being that it is hard to wrap our minds around why he does what he does. I have always been curious, why God’s chosen people did not believe that Jesus truly died for them. This always aggravated me that no one in my life could give me a clear answer. This blog post really opened my eyes. It would be so hard to be in the Jews shoes. If I try to visualize being there as a Jew, I could not imagine going against the High Priest. That would be so hard to witness such a horrific event and think that it was all to honor God. It would take great faith to come to the conclusion that Jesus truly did save them that day. Obviously, I do believe that Jesus was victorious that day! And I cannot be more grateful for all that he did for us. He got on the cross that was meant for the lowest of lows in society (us). The most embarrassing, shameful, and gruesome death. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength,” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Remembering that our “wisdom” or “insight” on this life is not perfect, it is flawed and broken. When we remember that it will help us rely on God’s wisdom more. We are all foolish beings Jews and Gentiles, I do not think anyone would have said: “hey, I bet the savior is going to die in a shameful, not glorious way, oh hey, why not the cross?” When we think of kings we think of honorable, dignified, glorious death stories. Not the Savior being born in a manger and dying on a cross. God continually blows our minds, He likes to keep us on our toes. “Paul calls the Corinthians to look beyond that perception of foolishness in order that they might be empowered with “the power of God,” enabling them to be reoriented to the story of the cross and resurrection of Jesus,” (TTP, pg. 117).

  3. I believe Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross was messy, extreme and done in a way that the world viewed as shameful. One reason for this was because Jesus’ crucifixion was meant to be the final atonement sacrifice. Up until this point, the innocent lives of animals like lambs were sacrificed as atonements to remove the punishment for sin. The punishment of sin in death, therefore, animal deaths were needed to pay the price of sins. In order to pay for all the sins of the world, Jesus had to die as a innocent sacrifice too. There was nothing pretty or delightful about this form of death. Our sins are messy, an extreme and shameful, so that is how Jesus had to die for our sins. If people of the world do not understand how messy our sins are, then they will also have trouble understanding how messy our God’s sacrifice was.
    -Chloé P

  4. This inherently reminds me of looking at the crucifixion through different lenses. God never does things the way we expect him to — he never has, and he never will. He’s outside of our understanding, and as will his actions always be. It’s a weird thing to consider, that the Messiah grew up in an average life, rather than an extravagant one (though once again, this is from a perspective — he definitely lived a unique life of his own, for sure). Prophecy did say he’d ride into town on a donkey, and yet — when that happened, something about it didn’t make sense to the people that were witnessing it, at least not immediately. Let alone the fact that the Messiah, the Savior, was a carpenter, but he also died a criminal’s death on the cross for being a heretic! It really does have something to say about the minds of people back then, that in such a foolish way, because of our close-mindedness and higher expectations, the son of God himself was put to death on a cross. A “stumbling block”. Wood. A tree. In those times, it was a true method of torture, yes; to be left starving and deprived up there. Jesus was nailed to it, think of how unsanitary that had to have been, and having steaks driven into your body is gonna kill you at some point, regardless. The expectation for a Savior back then had to have been so high, and yet, we see Jesus reduced to the death of a criminal. That doesn’t just show us something about our humanity — it shows us God’s intention, and his ever-existing ability to punk us, just when we think we know what he’s going to do, and how it’s going to be done.

  5. In my Systematic Theology class, we talked about how a man can understand how all of God’s attributes can coincide together each being 100% perfect all of the time. This means that God’s wrath and God’s love have to coexist together. Reading 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 kind of sums up all that I think about those conversations in class. We can try to understand God but when we make statements about Him that he can only know, trying to be wise, we are still only fools. It takes a lot of faith to trust that all things are working together for his good and righteousness (Rom. 8:28).

    Pertaining to this passage, Paul jumps right to the point obviously knowing that the people would have trouble believing that crucified Jesus was the Messiah. As Longenecker points out in chapter 4, the central vision of 1 Corinthians is “Nothing but Christ crucified” (116). Paul uses the analogy of human wisdom and God’s foolishness as well as human strength to being lesser than Gods weakness to tie in how the foolishness of the cross is actually far beyond human wisdom, thus Jesus is Messiah, and the Corinthians need to refocus themselves on that message rather than boasting in themselves as they had been (TTP 117).

    “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God” (1cor. 1:27-29).

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