The Message of the Cross – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, Paul shows the heart of his message was that God sent his son into the word to die on the Cross in order to provide atonement for sin. To a Jew, Greek or Roman living in the first century, almost every word of this familiar summary of the Gospel would be radical, strange, or even foolish. A god cannot die, and he certainly would not die by crucifixion. What God did through Jesus runs counter to both Jewish and Gentile expectations about how gods are supposed to behave, or what the God of the Hebrew Bible does. The Gospel has some awkward facts, the object of our worship was executed as a criminal of the worst kind! In fact, he intentionally allowed himself to be destroyed in the most shameful way possible.

Jesus on the CrossPaul does not shy away from these inconvenient facts of the Gospel in order to gain more converts because God has chosen foolish things in order to make foolish the wisdom of this world. The Gospel is not the sort of thing a religious person would have invented in the first century.

The Cross divides all of humanity into two groups, those who are “perishing” and those who “are being saved.” Perishing (ἀπόλλυμι) is a strong word chosen to highlight the present judgment of those who have rejected the Cross.  The word used in the Septuagint for a sacrifice that is completely consumed in fire (Lev 7:10, for example). It is used for God’s judgment of the unrighteous (Sodom, Gen 18:24, several times). Psalm 2:12 used the verb for God’s destruction of the nations that have challenged the Lord’s anointed. The verb is in the present tense, indicating these people are under God’s judgment now because of their rejection of the cross.

Paul describes himself and his readers as “those who are being saved,” emphasizing the presentness of salvation. The verb is again in the present tense, all people are either (at this moment) either in need of salvation because they reject the Cross or being saved by the power of the Cross.

This division in humanity is based on the reaction to the Cross. The Cross is foolish to the ones who are perishing. Two related nouns (μωρία, 1:18 and μωρός, 1:27) refer to some idea that is senseless to believe, perhaps with the sense of ridiculous (the earth is hollow and lizard people are controlling our thoughts; a child telling a story about fairy tale creatures to a genius scientist, etc.) To believe in something foolish is a waste of time, since it cannot possibly be true.

Why is the Cross foolishness? In the Greco-Roman world, self-sacrifice was not considered a virtue. The idea a person might willingly shame themselves by voluntarily sacrificing themselves on a Cross is unthinkable and so radically offensive no rational person could believe it.

To those who are being saved, the Cross is the power of God. A death on the Cross was such an offensive and shameful death that it would have been shocking for Paul call it the “power of God for salvation.”  D. A. Carson suggested the analogy of someone today claiming the Holocaust was “the power of God” (The Cross and the Christian Message, 12). No one in the world today would say the Holocaust is “the power of God.” Such a statement would be a jarring and offensive statement. Anyone making that sort of claim would not just be laughed at, but vilified and persecuted for such a claim.

Yet this is what Paul claims, because God chooses foolish things in order to silence the wise. He quotes Isaiah 29:14, a saying embedded in a context of the judgment on Judah for worship with their lips but not their heart (29:13); since their hearts are not right they are about to face God’s judgment. The Corinthians may have heard this as a pronouncement on the wise of this age (which is true), but since the object of God’s wrath in Isaiah Judah, it is possible Paul’s point here is that the church is also going to be silence because of their foolishness!

How does this “foolishness” play out in the modern preaching of the Gospel? Some American evangelical Christians like to use apologetics to present faith in Jesus as rational and reasonable to a rational mind. Others try to use secular culture to present the Gospel in a way which appeals to the modern, or post-modern mind (those “Mars Hill” ministries, for example). Would Paul have created a rational argument for the prove the need of the violent death of Jesus on the Cross? Would he have hosted a poetry slam in one of his churches for people to express their repressed feelings about religion? How can we “embrace the foolishness” and still reach our culture?

19 thoughts on “The Message of the Cross – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

  1. Thank you for your explanation on “those who are perishing” and “those who are being saved.” It provides an answer to those who would accuse Christians of being self-righteous individuals who judge and condemn all other people. If we evangelize to people with the mindset that I am saved and you are dead in your sin, I can see why people reject it, but when you approach it with the mindset that all these things are present tense, everything changes. I was perishing in my sins, and I am not saved, but rather, I am still being saved because I am still a sinner who needs constant grace. This message is radical, in that I am no longer on a different level than someone else who is perishing – we are both perishing together, but God has extended the same offer to both of us. He is the one who did all the work; therefore, our minds need “to be reoriented to the story of the cross and resurrection of Jesus,” just like the Corinthians (Longenecker 117).
    I do not believe that Paul would have formed a rational argument for why God accomplishes His will in the way that He did, because our God is not a rational god by human standards. He sees the entire picture because He is in every moment throughout history at the same time, so we will never know why God uses the things that He does. I think that the reason God chooses to accomplish His will with what the world sees as “foolishness,” is because it requires His followers to have blind faith in Him. We say that He is a good god and that He is sovereign, but we want Him to be sovereign according to our plan. Isaiah 41:10 states, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.” The Jews knew this, but they wanted a savior who would deliver them from their physical bondage to the Romans, so when God sent His son to deliver them from their spiritual bondage to sin, they rejected Him because Jesus did not fit in their plan. We must embrace the “foolishness” and show those who are perishing that it is demonstrated throughout history that God has everything in control.

  2. In the Greco-roman time period and culture, it was very common to believe in a god or many gods. Jews believed in one God, Yahweh, and Christians believe that as well. Most people believed in a god of some sort, whether it was the true God or not. Their struggle was to believe in the Christ Jesus the messiah, but their initial belief in God was present. Today, the struggle is simply believing in God. With scientific arguments, spirituality and other explanations, it is very hard to convince them that the “foolishness” of believing in the existence of God is authentic and true. Once that bridge is crossed, then we can approach the “foolishness” of the cross issue with people. Another barrier we face as american Christians is that we are so afraid of offending people. If we embrace this timid culture, how are we supposed to preach an offensive gospel that spotlights the sin in our lives? No one wants to hear that they are a sinner, a bad person, deserving death. THAT message is very offensive to Americans because everyone is “good, perfect and beautiful just the way they are”. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves, receive attention, and to feel complete in their identity. Maybe, this is something appetizing that we can share with people, that Christ is the one that gave us enough attention, enough to DIE for us, and that in him we are complete. This sounds good to the listener, but it is true at the same time, without giving a “half’ or “fluffy” gospel.
    I think another way in which we might be able to reach this culture with the foolishness of the gospel is emphasizing the empathy that Jesus has with us coming to earth as a human. He empathizes with our struggles, was an outsider, was rejected, and suffered on our behalf.

  3. Rachel Smith

    How does this “foolishness” play out in the modern preaching of the Gospel? (P. Long, blog – The Message of the Cross). In the modern world, the ‘foolishness of the cross’ is still a stumbling block to some. “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.” 1 Corinthians 1:18. Two millennia later, it still does not make logical sense for the eternal God to send His Son to die for sinners! Today, the quest for honour is not exactly the same as the social honour system of the Corinthians; yet we still understand the desire to be respected and honoured. To believe that our only way to heaven is salvation by grace through faith in the Son of God who died a shameful death for us, can be a hard concept to wrestle with, especially for those who are surrounded by a culture that teaches self reliance as the most honourable way to live.

  4. How does this “foolishness” play out in the modern preaching of the Gospel? (P. Long, blog – The Message of the Cross). In today’s world, we often find it hard to believe in the one true God in our whole being with everything that is being said and going on around us. There are people who would rather question God in our modern world. In this world, we cannot listen to a command and be okay with it. We must question every word in it and try to find the meaning behind it. We tend to overanalyze and make situations into what they are not. Everyone is searching to be the wisest human they can be rather than entrusting their lives with God. People continue to want more and more rather than see and believe what is right in front of them as The Jews and Romans did, “For Jews requested a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22 NKJV). There is a day where most Christian’s come together and believe in what Jesus did for us. That day is Easter and each Christian seems to remember that Jesus died on the cross for us and rose again and celebrate that fact. But, sadly, after that day has passed we often go back into our old ways of thinking and trying to understand God. When we do not need to understand Him and His actions. All we need to do is believe in Him and what He did for us. He created us in His image He did not create us to be equal to Him. He made us to love Him and to love what He did for us but again we are not thankful for Jesus dying for our sins. We instead question His motives and intentions.

  5. How does this “foolishness” play out in the modern preaching of the Gospel? (P. Long- The Message of the Cross). Today’s society wants answers right away, as they can look up anything they want on google and boom-they have an answer. Today’s society also wants everything to make them feel butterflies, rainbows, and to only gratify themselves. In today’s society, everyone says they want to “keep it 100,” but when someone speaks something convicting to a person, they want to run and hide. For those reasons and many more, that is why I think churches struggle with presenting the Gospel in an honest way and “without foolishness.” According to TTP, Paul had no problem addressing the issues that needed to be addressed and he did not beat around the bush. What would modern churches look like today if we spoke like Paul did? Sadly, there probably wouldn’t be as many people in them and the churches would be smaller, like in 1 Corinthians. Many Christians want to go to church and sing songs about surrendering to Jesus, but do they know what the Scripture says about it? God is a righteous God.

  6. The message of the Gospel is foolishness to the world. Galatians 5:17 states, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” People living their lives for flesh, for the world, will see the message of the cross as foolishness. For some people, no amount of apologetics, no amount of scientific proof or rational argument will sway them. It comes down to living in the flesh vs living in the spirit. They will always be in conflict with one another. In today’s preaching, it can often be observed that a pastor will compromise the scripture in order to make people feel comfortable. Things such as same sex marriage, pride, selfishness, gossip, and many other topics very clear in the bible, are taken as “old news” and no longer used. One example I have heard is the argument that women should be pastors and elders. Whether I agree or disagree with that point is irrelevant, my point is that when scripture was brought up that goes against this belief, many will say that it’s just outdated. That is the “foolishness” of the scripture in modern preaching.

    • I would have to challenge you on this post because the examples that you used are not correct. Homosexuality, gossip and even pride are actually relevant and more so than not. That’s one of the reasons many people don’t want to koin the Christian faith. I see this in a very different light, I think that Pastors will go the extra mile to make that person feel uncomfortable whether it be extending bible verses against homosexuality etc. I appreciate what you were trying to say, I think we all have different perceptions.

  7. I struggle with this. I don’t like the word division, (humanity divided). But I realize that this is where the world is currently at, although I don’t think God intended for it to be that way. In order to even reply or begin to understand 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, you have too understand the word “fool, or foolishness.” This word is used five times in eight verses. In the Greek language, fool is translated to “Moros” . Moros is actually from the root word of moron (moronic). (Bible Hub). The definition of fool would be: dull, flat, mentally inert or lacking a grip on reality. In modern day, the “foolishness” might sometimes be portrayed by people who decided to question or want more facts about the cross. I also think that a lot of people think of the cross as moronic, because it offends them. This means that they have to give up their pride and know that salvation is only given by God and not humans. Another thing that might bother people is that salvation is extended to everyone not a specific group. Salvation isn’t just for the white man or the Hispanic family, it is extended to anyone who is saved, and who does not reject the cross. There are some people in the world like myself who wholeheartedly believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. There are some people who don’t believe this, and will never. But the common ground we all meet at is the foot of the cross. At the foot of the cross, we all look around realize we are even.(even in a sense of how God looks at us.) I struggle with believing we as Christians should rassle with salvation for other people. Salvation is a personal covenant if you will between you and God, your saying I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and I profess that I am a sinner. All of this becomes very personal. We are not to down someone because they question the cross, we are supposed to pray for everyone’s salvation. (1 Tim 2:1-4). God is just and knows about each of our personal salvation. Here on earth, we are to receive the message of the cross, believe this, profess to the kingdom and make disciples of all nations. We are not to condemn, or be little even those who reject the cross, because that would make us “foolish”.

  8. I never thought of what Jesus did on the cross is foolish. After reading this blog post, it put the crucifixion into perspective for me. I can now see how confusing it would be to believe in such a thing. It was foolish to believe in this in the 1 century and even the present day.
    I will answer the question of how would Paul display the gospel today? I can see this question is difficult to answer, but the way I see it is that Paul was called as an apostle of Jesus. Kind of in the same way every other pastor today, they feel called to love people and preach the gospel. Pastors every day are saving people because of the power of the gospel. I see Paul doing the same thing. Paul would have most likely taken the path of an evangelistic pastoral role. Paul would not have softened the gospel, he would still preach for what it is and not apologize for it.
    But how can we get people to understand that the cross may seem foolish, but it is so powerful? We need to explain how Jesus dying on the cross as a sacrifice for us who are full of sin. It is also a covenant, that he has forgiven us for sinning against him and that if we believe this, we will spend eternity forgiven with him.

  9. As believers and evangelists, we should not try to “rationalize” the Gospel or Jesus’ death on the cross. In fact, I am growing quite tired of leaders in ministry who are sugar-coating the Gospel and what we believe. I understand adapting the way you present it in a way that will not rationalize why Jesus did what He did, but in a way that certain people will understand the story better. If you speak to a group of kindergarteners about the Gospel in the same way that you would to an adult, they may not fully understand what you are talking about. However, we should not be rationalizing the act of Jesus’ death on the cross in order to portray it as less foolish than it seems. As you said in this post, “God chooses foolish things in order to silence the wise.” If the act of Jesus’ death in every way did not make sense because of the culture and time period and everything in between, that doesn’t mean it is incorrect. God does radical things and He can do anything (and anything He wants for that matter)! Applying this concept to our own lives, God can call us to do things that may seem foolish to the world, but it is for a much greater purpose than we realize. Sometimes it takes a foolish act to get the attention of people who need to hear the Gospel. There should be no beating around the bush when it comes to the Gospel and Jesus’ death because the Words of the Bible are the flat out truth. Altering it to make sense of it for people would be altering its truth in a way. Maybe we need to start sharing the Gospel with more passion and confidence, knowing that it sounds crazy but it’s undeniably true! People need to start hearing the full truth in order to come to know who Jesus really is and what He has done for us! “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

  10. The message of the Cross is such an important aspect of the Bible to understand. Throughout the Bible it mentions how God sent His only son into this world full of sin to die a death on the cross in order to provide atonement for sin. We have the ability to be saved and have eternal life because of God’s act of love of sending His son and Jesus’ willingness to obey His Father’s plan.
    The Gospel has some facts about it that made it inconvenient for Paul to be preaching it to the Jew, Greek, or Roman cultures—due to the belief that a god would never sacrifice themselves and would not be able to die. However, this did not stop Paul from preaching every fact to them. Paul divides humanity into two groups. Those two groups are the “perishing,” which include people who reject the cross, and those who “are being saved.” Those who reject the cross believe that believing in the cross is foolishness. The Greco-Romans believed that self-sacrifice was not a virtue; therefore, the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross (Hebrews 10:10) was unthinkable to them. Whereas to those who are being saved, the cross is the power of God.
    God chooses foolish things in order to silence the wise. An example of this is that Jesus hangs out with the prostitutes in the Bible. This is something that seems not logical to a typically wise person, but this is what is right to Christianity, in order to reach the broken world. I believe that this is true to reaching the broken world of today too. Being a follower of Jesus seems foolish to perishers because we do not “get to live life the way we want.” Perishers see our lives as we are being controlled and we have a bunch of rules to follow, but that is not what being a Christian is about. We live our lives for Jesus, so that one day we can meet Him and have eternal life in Heaven, and we live our life to bring others on earth with us to Heaven one day too. I believe that Paul needed to preach just the way that he did, including all of the facts that were inconvenient to preaching to that culture. Today’s world is so challenging to work with. I am living in it and it is hard for me to understand why people believe the things that they believe. Preaching like Paul and including all the inconvenient facts of the Gospel, keeping it the same as it always has been, is the best way to reach today’s culture. God will work in people.

  11. The message of the cross is one that can easily be misinterpreted and taken for granted. Today especially we see people who claim to be “Christians”, live their day to day life like an atheist. This could easily be because their view of what Jesus did on the Cross is wrong. They believe that because of Christ Jesus that they can live their life however they want because that is why God died. Yes, Christ Jesus did die on the cross for our sins, but not so that we can continue down the path of the fool without any worries. Rather so that they fool could be saved and given new life if we believe and try to live a life honoring to Him.

    Then you have others who think it’s “folly” how Jesus Christ died. If he was the Son of God why would He let himself be humbled and beaten on the cross. That is why the Corinthians we’re thinking when Paul was writing to them. They and most of the world at that time expected the Redeemer to be this King who would build a fortress on earth and destroy anyone who when against him. But Jesus was not because that is not how God uses people. God all throughout scripture uses people who would not expect and changes them. One of the best examples of this is the writer of 1 Corinthians himself, Paul (Saul), who was killing Christians until the Holy Spirit came in him. Paul was a fool, yet, God used him to be a missionary to dozens of different Churches. In the same way, we are all fools, who are fallen in sin and God still calls on us and wants us to have a relationship with him. That is why He has his Son die in a “foolish” way, to show that He does not just want the doctor or lawyer, but He desires the begger just as much.

  12. Jesus dying on the cross was never a foolish thing to me because it was showing a way that He died for us and the sin that consumes us. After reading this blog post it showed me a different perspective of how it would be confusing for people of the Greco-Roman times. Within the topic of Paul preaching the Gospel, it would be much like how Pastors are today. Paul being called upon by Jesus to love people and let the Word be known. Most Pastors today are the same way, they felt called to love people, spread the Word and save people just as Paul was doing. The issue that Paul had was explaining to people that Jesus died on a cross for their sins but that same level of confusion would still be true today. It would take a deep understanding to explain to someone because God’s should not die, but Jesus did. We need to explain why Jesus did that and why God sent His only son to do so. By God doing this, He is showing us as his followers a way to see that He forgives us for our sins and He gave us the ultimate sacrifice for us to follow Him.

  13. In modern society I think a majority of preaching the Gospel can be looked at as foolishness compared to how the Word was presented in Paul’s day. It’s a given that culture is going to shift and change overtime due to the dynamic of mainstream acceptance but the Word of God should never change. Oftentimes we can find preachers trying to have the message fit / justify the problem at hand rather than having the message be a solution the the problem at hand.Preachers today tend to beat around the bush when it comes to somethings in fear that the answer might not be what is culturally accepted (rather should I say demanded of them). It’s so unfortunate that others are so sensitive to the point where we need to “sugar coat” some scripture to make people feel better or relevant. I don’t think Paul would be pleased with the modern day preaching of justifying why Christ’s death was violent or hold sessions for others to talk about how they feel about the church / religion as a whole. Though we can’t be 100% sure because as we all know Paul on some occasions would adopt the “Do as the sinners do” in order to preach the Gospel to them. Here we can see how Paul was involved in their culture yet used it as a mutual ground to introduce them to Christ. Understandably as culture changes we as Christians must find a way to still reach out to those who are fully enthralled in it; I wouldn’t say we need to “embrace the foolishness” per say but we need to learn to live with it being a part of our ground for ministry. It is hard to stay relevant in culture while being a believer in Christ not only because of the looks one may get but off the bat assumptions are what can trigger the “foolish” thinking of both non believers and believers alike.

  14. This is indeed a most interesting post. I have never thought that the Greco-Romans would have thought that what Jesus did on the cross was foolish. As Paul explains in more depth the meaning of what He did was to “to show that it involves a radical redefinition of life and a sweeping reconfiguration of lifestyle” (Longenecker and Still, 116). I also think that Paul would have created a rational argument to prove the need for the violent death of Jesus on the cross if he thought it was needed. I do not think that Paul would have hosted poetry slams from my very limited knowledge of them. From what I know of Paul so far I think he focuses more on correcting, teaching, and rebuking churches as he talked much about in his letters (Romans 2:17-29, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, Galatians 1:6-10). How we can “embrace the foolishness” and still reach our culture is for sure not to treat the cross as a fairy tale. Instead of evangelizing the big picture of what Jesus did, is to retell the story (without adding too much) in a way that helps in the modern world understand better. The teachings back then might be a little more suitable to that culture as it could explain some misunderstandings today of how we take it.

  15. God dying on the cross appeared foolish to the Jews and Gentiles. I really liked the way Long explained it, “What God did through Jesus runs counter to both Jewish and Gentile expectations about how gods are supposed to behave, or what the God of the Hebrew Bible does.” When Jesus came, He had to die to atone for our sin. Jesus had to counter their expectations because the gospel that they believed was wrong. “The idea a person might willingly shame themselves by voluntarily sacrificing themselves on a Cross is unthinkable and so radically offensive no rational person could believe it,” (Long, 2019). In the Greco-Roman world, people who were thieves, murders and other acts committed against the government were killed on a cross to be shamed in front of the city. Jesus was also killed on a cross, beforehand he was mocked, whipped and beaten. This was a shameful way to die. But because Jesus defeated death the people saw and realized that His words were true and He was and is Jesus Christ. Most of the Jews and Gentiles did not believe that He was God until He died and rose again. As they were killing Him they probably thought He was a fool because He would not back down on claiming to be Jesus Christ. As a believer it is important for us to allow God to use us, and work through us so that others can be saved. God become less for us, so that we could be saved. Jesus took our sin and made us new. Sometimes it takes shame to bring us to repentance in Jesus Christ.

  16. In society, American Christian evangelists will give out tracts to share the gospel about Jesus of how He died for our sins and we ask forgiveness. It is to help people to remind them that they have a chance to be saved by giving their life to Christ. It is our opinion to choose whether to be saved or not be saved. The Cross divides all of humanity into two groups: “perishing” and those who are “being saved” (Long, 2019). In Psalm 2:12, talks about God’s destruction to the nation and those who are anointed. It also indicates that God judges the people for rejecting the cross. Next section about the being saved that Paul describes himself as being saved in the present time. The people at a moment like now or a little later on in life have the need to have salvation in them for rejecting the Cross or be saved, how the person wants to give their life to Christ. Yes, we have those who are foolish of rejecting the cross, they need to seek reality like you mention that something to a belief is a waste of time which is true. Nobody is perfect, there is no such thing as perfect or luck. Those who do not believe they can do it their way until life as we know it, it will hit them hard. We should not rationalize the Cross, people believe He died on the Cross for our sins and forgives us but there is more to it. The church or the evangelist should put a little more effort into sharing the Gospel.

  17. In terms of what the world views as foolishness nowadays, I think it could be the exact opposite. It’s easy to imagine someone sacrificing themselves–be it death, money, time, or otherwise. It is somewhat expected in our culture–giving up money or time–or viewed as heroic–in terms of death. Many movies and stories nowadays include a character sacrificing themselves to save the day. Whereas believing there to be an all powerful being that also personally loves us is hard to believe. When you ask someone, the first thing they will probably say is they don’t believe in God, before they even think about Jesus as the Messiah. In our day, it is much more foolish to believe in a being of great multitude than it is to believe someone would self-sacrifice themselves for another. Although could you clarify what you are asking by how can we embrace the foolishness? Maybe because of the thought I had above, I don’t know how I could embrace the foolishness idea.

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