Wiser Than the Greatest Wisdom: 1 Corinthians 1:10–25 Explained

Even seasoned theologians are challenged with certain passages in the Bible.

The Logos Tough Topics 2018 Bundle was created knowing you might be, too. In this bundle, five leading theologians break down their seminary-level courses to help you untangle some of these perplexing passages.

In our featured Tough Topics course, Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (Book Study), Dr. Craig Blomberg walks through one such passage, 1 Corinthians 1:10–25:

 

Transcript (edited for readability):

First Corinthians 1:10–17 presented the “presenting problem,” as counselors might put it today, and that is factionalism in Corinth.

Beginning with verse 18, Paul offers a series of antidotes to this problem of factionalism—and the first one of these is to focus consistently on the cross of Jesus Christ. Verses 18 and 19 put it well: “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. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate’” (NIV).

Verses 18–25 contrast what Paul calls the foolishness (by human standards) of the story of Jesus crucified with the so-called wisdom (the best that humans on their own can manufacture) of this world.

God’s foolish method

The general principle that verses 18–21 outline is that God chooses to save by a foolish method. In verse 19, Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14 and shows how Scripture is being fulfilled by this twin but opposite pair of reactions of considering the message foolish or considering it wise.

Verses 20–21 go on to not reject all forms of Christian wisdom, as it might seem at first blush, but the wisdom of the world. The philosopher, the scribe, the teacher of this age—these are key qualifiers. Paul is not an anti-intellectual, as at times some of his followers and some of Christ’s Church have been, but he is certainly anti-every-form-of-godless intellectualism, if that becomes our central and captivating worldview.

In verses 22–24, Paul applies this principle of how the gospel of Christ and him crucified seems foolish, first to Jews and then to Greeks: “Jews [seek] signs and Greeks [demand] wisdom.” We recall in the Gospels the multiple occasions when Jewish leaders came to Jesus and asked, “What sign will you work?” to testify and corroborate the astonishing claims he was making—sometimes right after he had worked a miracle. Apparently they were looking for something even more spectacular.

Wiser than the greatest wisdom

Certainly, the Greeks in and around Corinth (a home of philosophy, a home of sophistry) sought after wisdom, but Paul considers it worldly wisdom and climaxes this paragraph in verse 25 by claiming that God’s foolishness—what seems foolish to a lost world about God’s plans for saving it—is, in fact, wiser than the greatest wisdom of the world that leaves God out of the picture.”

Craig L. Blomberg, NT334 Book Study: Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017).

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