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.

19 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).

  6. If Jesus had been here today, and died on the cross and came back again- there would be many parallels with “wise” people looking foolish. Today thee are still numerous people who think about the world from a logical standpoint. There are philosophers. scientists, and all types of people who do their own thinking on the world, and what makes the most sense. There are also many people in these roles who are considered to be very smart/wise amongst their peers. and well educated. However, this passage in Corinthians is a excellent example that even these people who look the wisest- can be foolish. It is impossible for us to fully understand God, and that is why people struggle with accepting God. People who think logically do not want to accept things that do not seem logical to them, just as the Greeks/Romans did not think it was possible for a god to live in the flesh, because it was illogical to them. Christianity is built on faith, not logic. “For we walk by faith, not by sight”(2 Corinthians 5:7). When Jesus returns, there will undoubtedly be many people who the world saw as wise who will look like fools, because their “logic” stopped them from receiving everlasting life in God’s kingdom.

  7. I have always liked these verses in 1 Corinthians. They seem very confusing at first. How could God make foolish the wisdom of the world? This passage shows how much God’s ways and plans differ from our own. We make our own plans and try to make life our way, but God makes us look foolish with his way of doing things. This is all because of the cross, God took the worst thing the Romans had and used it for his glory. The Jews and the Greeks had two very different ideas of wisdom. To the Jews, wisdom was a sign to prove the messiah. To the Greeks, wisdom was logic that could defend the messiah. The cross turned both of those methods to foolishness. God is omnipotent, but he proved it by allowing himself to be killed in the most shameful way possible by sinful people. The Jews could not accept Jesus’ execution, the Greeks and Romans could not accept God would allow himself to be harmed. God proved man’s ways to be foolish though. This idea of the gospel being foolishness appears in other places in scripture as well. Paul writes of a similar issue in 2 Corinthians 11. My grandfather, who was a Gideon for 75 years, wrote a sermon on this passage, that he titled, “Fool for God.” In it, he wrote, “Paul’s determination and conviction seemed foolish to many, especially to the Pharisees who knew him before as Saul, one of their own. Paul was certainly bold in his life preaching the gospel. No excuses! Just a fool for Jesus and the gospel of truth.” Not only is the gospel God’s foolishness, but those who dedicate their lives to preaching it can be seen as foolish. The gospel is foolishness in the world’s eyes, but it is so worth it to be seen as a fool for Jesus and the gospel.

  8. This is a very interesting blog as I have never thought about what Jesus did on the cross was ‘foolishness’. I have also always wondered why the cross instead of any other punishment/torture at the time, as I never knew the cross was the most shameful death. Nevertheless I think it is quite a creative and wise act that God had planned for Jesus to die, to make it totally unexpected from what the Greeks and Jews had thought of what would really happen. This goes on as Paul unpacks the crucifiction “he shows that it involves a radical redefinition of life and a sweeping configuration of lifestyle” (Longenecker and Still, p116). It is not only to show unexpectedly how He died, but to show that 180 degree lifestyle of how we are to live. Paul shows examples of this from his life as he continues to sacrifice his life to spread the gospel (1 Corinthians 11:23-27). Now I do not think this necessarily means that we go out of our way to go through intense suffering to teach God’s word, but as we teach there might be hardships even so God will still be by our side.

  9. To the Greeks and Romans outside of the church in the early first century, the Christian religion would have seemed foolish for a number of cultural reasons. For one, polytheism was the common religion of the time. Whether you were Roman or Greek, you prayed and made offerings regularly to numerous different gods. This alone made the Christian belief that there is only one God seem strange to the secular world of the time much like the Jewish religion would have seemed. Except that Judaism was at least regarded as a legal religion in Rome. This brings us to the imperial cult, the Roman belief that the emperor was himself a god. Christians, by calling Jesus the lord of their lives, would have been placing Christ above the emperor, a crime against Rome.
    These are only a couple of the barriers of cultural understanding that made the Gospel seem to be “folly” to the brightest minds of the time. The “worldly” individuals would regard such aspects of salvation such as Christ the messiah’s submission to death on the cross as absurdities. The messiah was supposedly going to overthrow the Roman occupation and reinstate Israel. Jesus did not meet these expectations and thus the teachers of the law foolishly missed the messiah that was right in front of them.

  10. Growing up Christian, and reading through 1 Corinthians in the past, I had never thought of how exactly Jesus’ death on the cross was foolish to those living in that day. Instead, my thought process while reading this led me more toward foolishness being that God’s thoughts and actions are so much higher than our understanding and that we can’t even comprehend his plans. There is already so much that we don’t understand about God, even after reading through the Bible, that frequently outlines His attributes directly. Plus, not only do we lack understanding of God, but there is so much in this world that is beyond our comprehension. Proverbs 2:6 tells us that out of God’s mouth comes wisdom and knowledge, which gives evidence for His omniscience, and He is so far above our finite minds. Thus, when it comes to comparing the knowledge and wisdom of God with our own, it isn’t even close. So, when we read that even the “foolishness of God,” which is hardly foolish to our standards, is wiser than our own, we can rest in knowing our minds are limited compared to His.
    While your explanation of this passage describes different messages to both the Greeks and Jews of that time, which I completely agree with, I believe this could be the overarching theme above it all that applies to all mankind.

  11. This post reminds me that when people think that they know everything about you within the first couple times of meeting up with you. This is not the case, in fact most long term friendships are still learning more and more about each other daily. Another way we can view this is by thinking that we all aren’t expecting the challenges that arise within us. If this were to happen, we wouldn’t need to worry about the future or have someone, God, to go to when we are in need of guidance. 1 Cor 1:22-25 discusses that the Jews demand a sign, which refers to some sign from heaven which confirms a person is approved by God. This is a unique statement because it truly defines what the Gospel truly is. The Gospel, in short terms, is a different term used for good news. Confirming that an individual is approved of God, is the true reason to believe that there is good news. God is one that it’s hard for us to sit down in one setting to learn about. In fact, every single one of us is learning something new about God each and every day. It’s always a good thing to point out new information that you have learned about our savior.

  12. I think something I never really thought about much was that Jesus dying on the cross was the most humiliating way to die. Jesus was to be the Savoir and to think about being in that time and see the one you thought would save you and to be the savior of the world and to see Him die on the cross the way He did would be quite a shock. But God knows what he was doing, I think He did this to show just how powerful He is. God chose for his son to die the way that is to be embarrassing and He was proving a point. Paul even tells the Corinthians that they need to look past the idea of foolishness so that they can be empowered with “the power of God” (TTP, 117). The world might look at this and see that it is shocking that God would do such a thing but as Christians, I think we know that this is just showing how powerful God is. It shows that He is also in control and has a plan for everything and as stated above God chooses the unexpected person to help carry out His goals. God used Jesus to show the world just what He can do.

  13. The mind of God is something that is so incredibly hard to understand. We live in a world that goes completely against the way of the Lord. God turns our world upside down. In 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 Paul explains that the Jews were stumped by Jesus. The Jews were not expecting the Jesus that came. They were expecting a messiah to handle the law and speak of the kingdom of God in the way the Jews did. Jesus came and flipped the world upside-down. When Jesus was crucified on the cross, we are given such a clear image of what Christ came here for. He came not to rule and have everyone bow at His feet. He came to bear the sins of the world on that cross. Because of the example we are given by Christ, we see the world differently as Sais in this blog. The world sees the world one way and Christians see it another. “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:24-25 ESV). Paul is telling us that we are all under the power of the Lord. Although we do not always understand the way things are done or why, we know that God is all powerful and is the one writing this story. Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth place a major emphasis on the crucifixion. The church does not understand this because gods don’t get crucified. In 1 Corinthians Paul makes it clear to the church the importance of what Christ did on the cross and the importance of understanding the deity of Christ.

  14. I totally get what you’re saying in this blog post. It’s almost like God went for and ultimate plot twist. Who would’ve thought that the most important thing ever which was saving humanity, would happen through something as unexpected and foolish to the most educated. I can imagine the educated people back then scratching their heads over this. Jews wanted signs and Greeks wanted wisdom then God comes in and totally flipped the script. It’s pretty wild when you think about it. The Jews were expecting a hero not someone who would end up on a cross and the Greeks they couldn’t even put together God getting executed like a criminal. God’s always been about doing things in the most unexpected ways, we have all experienced this in our own lives, He manages to surprise us when we need it the most, and in the weirdest ways. I guess it’s a reminder that it’s not just about us and how we think and do things it’s about something much much deeper and way beyond what we can imagine. It’s really cool how God operates outside of our expectations and shows us that there’s more to the story than what we can just see first hand. Thanks for sharing this perspective! It’s definitely given me something to think about.

  15. In light of the horrible suffering and anguish Jesus suffered on the cross, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 about the “foolishness” of the cross. However, Paul did not mean this in a negative way, but was trying to make a point that the message of a man, who was God himself, died for the sins of the world by hanging on a criminal’s cross. Culturally, being executed in the Roman way of dying on a cross was perhaps the most shameful way to die. In this passage, it seems that both the Jews and the Greeks were very intelligent, educated people that used sound reasoning to decide upon a decision. Therefore, I think that for the Jews, they would have thought that the Messiah was going to come clothed in power and military might to save them from their bondage to the Romans. And for the Gentiles and Greeks, I think that they would have expected to hear that a man who claimed to be God would have died a more heroic death from other form of death rather than the Roman cross. To the people from the early church period, Jesus dying on the cross would sound like foolishness, almost like an unbelievable story. Yet, as Isaiah 55:8-9 says that God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways, God chose to bring about the story of redemption in a different way than any human could have imagined.

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