A. Repugnant to the predelictions of both Greeks and Jews
17Not with [in
] wisdom of words, [discourse] lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 18For the preaching [discourse] of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God. 19For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of 20the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world [the world]? 21For after that [since] in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased 22God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For [since both]23the [om. the] Jews require a sign, [signs] and the [om. the] Greeks seek after wisdom: But we [on the contrary] preach Christ crucified, unto the [om. the] Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the [om. the] Greeks [Gentiles
] foolishness; 24But unto them which are called, [these, the called] both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
[The connection.—from the mention of his commission, especially to preach the Gospel, the Apostle takes occasion, as it were incidentally, to set forth the manner in which this work was to be done. The topic thus introduced has however a direct bearing upon the previous one, for he handles it in a way both to vindicate his own course to which some had taken exception, and also to rebuke those tendencies, which, in their antagonism to a pure Gospel, had engendered contention and schism. Of the mode of transition to this theme Bengel remarks: “I doubt whether it would be approved by the rules of Corinthian eloquence. Therefore the Apostle in this very passage is furnishing a specimen, so to speak, of apostolic folly, and yet the whole is arranged with the greatest wisdom.”]
1Co_1:17 b–21. [The proper mode of preaching described first negatively].—Not in wisdom of speech.—
ïὐê ἐí óïößᾳ ëüãïõ
. It is better to join this clause to the word “preach” just preceding, than to the main statement “Christ sent me.” [As to the meaning there are three distinct interpretations. 1. That of Calvin and others, who place the stress on “speech,” and understand by the phrase ornate and artificial discourse in contrast with plain homely speech. The objection to this is that it fails to give due weight to the word “wisdom,” which is used by the Apostle in a strict sense throughout the chapter, and is the special object of his animad version. 2. That of Olshausen, who takes it to denote “word-wisdom,” i.e., “a wisdom in appearance and not in reality,” an interpretation which de Wette justly styles “sonderbar.” 3. That of Storr and Flatt, de Wette and Hodge, who, taking the emphasis to be on “wisdom,” and understanding it of the subject-matter, suppose the Apostle to be repudiating here all connection with heathen philosophy. But to this it may be replied that such repudiation was wholly gratuitous, for no one would imagine that in preaching the Gospel he would be likely to employ the speculations of a secular Wisdom 4. That of Meyer and Kling, who while emphasizing “wisdom,” understand it as referring to the form of discourse. According to this, what the Apostle asserts is that he was not to preach the Gospel in a philosophical manner, making it a matter of science rather than a vital power for the heart and conscience. In such a case the Genitive would be used analogously to the Hebrew construction, where the first noun in construction qualifies the second. Hence “wisdom of discourse” would be=philosophic discourse. See Nordheimer Heb. Grammar B. III. 1 Corinthians 5. § 801. 2.] So Neander “
, not wisdom absolutely, but the wisdom of dialectic demonstration.” Indeed it is not to be denied that in the course of this paragraph both
are used also in relation to the subject matter, and that this is always more or less affected by the mode of exposition. Unquestionably it makes a difference whether the subject matter is first vitally apprehended by the spirit and then creates its own form of expression for itself, or whether a form foreign and unsuitable is forced upon it, drawn from other spheres of life and thought; in other words whether the Gospel is proclaimed naturally in its divine excellence and simplicity, or whether, taken up under the conceptions of an alien philosophy, and arrayed in the rhetoric and dialectics of a people still unsanctified (like the Greeks for example), it be thus presented to the mind. An instance of the latter kind occurred not only in the Gnosis of the heretics, but also to a certain degree in that of the Alexandrian Church of a later period. And probably it was with an eye to the beginning of such a tendency in the party of Apollos that the Apostle affirmed that, according to the will of the Great Commissioner, it devolved on him not to preach the Gospel “in wisdom of speech.” And the expression means nothing else than: not in the style of a philosopher trained in the rhetoric and dialectics of the schools, [but in that of a witness, bearing testimony to the great facts in and through which God had chosen to reveal himself. The reason for this was], lest the Cross of Christ be made of none effect.—
, become empty, void; here according to the connection: be robbed of its power and influence. By “the Cross of Christ” we understand that death of Christ upon the cross by which we are redeemed and reconciled to God. This is the centre and kernel of all Gospel preaching, by the power of which sinners are delivered from the tyranny of sin, and restored to a new and divine life. And this cross, he says, would be bereft of all efficiency for such results were it set forth in the forms of philosophy, inasmuch as in this way it would serve only to call out the assent of the intellect or awaken an aesthetic pleasure, while the flesh, that is, the corrupt natural life of the selfish heart, would remain unaffected. But let the cross only be held up before that heart in its divine simplicity, and it would then display an energy destructive of this life. Through it the flesh with its affections and lusts would be crucified. (Gal_5:24). But although this blessed result is obtained by means of preaching or doctrine, yet it does not follow from this that we are to make “the cross” here equivalent to “the doctrine of the cross, or to the doctrine of Christ crucified.” Rather the relation which this clause sustains to the foregoing implies that here we are to understand the simple fact itself held up in its own native majesty and power. [Whatever obscures or diverts attention from this deprives, it to that extent of its power].
1Co_1:18. [The position thus taken he proceeds to explain and substantiate from obvious facts.—For the preaching (lit: word
) of the cross is to them that perish folly, but to those that are saved, ourselves, it is the power of God.—Here the force of the argument is to be found in the second member of the antithesis. The first is introduced merely as a concession to a supposed objection. The Corinthians might retort, “The cross of Christ rendered without effect by wisdom of speech! Why, your method of preaching is not half so taking and effectual as the one you denounce.” This the Apostle concedes, but limits its applicability only to a certain class, to those who are in the way of sin and are going to destruction. ‘These,’ he says, ‘are blind. They have no sense of sin, and gee not therefore the wisdom of the cross. To them it is folly. But while to them I acknowledged it is such as you say, yet to those who are in the way of salvation, the cross is a thing of power. They see its meaning. They feel its disenthralling and life-giving influences. And it is by what you see of its effect among these that you must judge of it”]. Accordingly that to which this divine power is ascribed, “the word of the cross,” must be regarded as Gospel-preaching in its simplest and most unadorned style, the earnest exhibition of the great act of redeeming love directly to the heart, without human accessories. It is not the doctrine about the cross, but the word which presents the cross itself in its concrete form and in its plain and pungent application to human conditions. It is of this he predicates a divine power. But this power is manifested only among such as are saved—a thought which is brightened by the foregoing contrast. In both clauses the sign of the Dative “to” means “in their judgment.” But in the one case it is a judgment proceeding from a blinded mind, in the other a judgment founded upon blessed experience. In reference to the first see 2Co_4:3-4; to both 2Co_2:15-16. To the former it seems absurd to have the fact of Christ’s death nakedly held before them as the ground of all salvation—to hear a voice from the cross calling unto them “Look unto me and be saved,” because they see no rational connection between cause and effect here. These are “the lost,” i.e., they are excluded from all participation in the blessedness and glory of God’s kingdom, and are doomed to bitter anguish and disgrace. (See 2Th_1:9; Rev_21:8; Rev_22:15; Mar_9:43). In contrast with this appears the state of salvation, that is, a deliverance from this doom, (see Luk_6:9; Mat_18:11; Jam_4:12) which includes also a share in the blessedness and glory of God’s kingdom. (Comp. 2Ti_4:18; Rom_5:10; Rom_8:21). There are here, then, two classes of persons contrasted in relation to their final lot. For the purpose of designating them uses P. the present participles (
) as the ones best suited, since time is not taken into account. It is therefore not “the present for the future” for the purpose of indicating the certainty of the lot contemplated, nor yet does the present denote the progressive development in the condition of the parties. Nor yet would it be in place here to introduce the idea of predestination, as Rückert does, taking the terms to denote the divinely appointed destiny of two classes, for with Paul this idea never occurs in any such way as to exclude the idea of a free self-determination, (comp. 2Th_2:10; Act_13:46) since to all pro founder contemplation the work of God and the act of man in the genesis and development of faith are inseparably one. “This only must be conceded that the Apostle’s mode of expression is grounded upon a
; a mode of teaching peculiar to him. Paul delights to refer back everything at once to the divine superintendence. Only in this reference the human receptivity or non-receptivity is at the same time included.” Neander. On “the power of God” see Rom_1:6 where the Gospel is said to be “the power of God to every one that believeth.” The contrast between “folly” and “power” is certainly not a strict one, but nevertheless a true one. As the former implies that the Gospel is, according to the judgment of those that perish, a weak thing, so does the latter imply that it is to the others, a manifestation of divine wisdom; or, as the idea of folly excludes that of power, so does the idea of power presuppose that of wisdom.
1Co_1:19. Confirmation adduced from Scripture. “For it is written [“This formula with its following citations is found only in those Epistles of Paul which were addressed to churches in which there was a large admixture of Jewish converts. It does not occur in those written to the Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, which were composed almost entirely of Gentile converts. This coincidence between the History in Acts and the character of the Epistles is evidence of the genuineness of both.” Words.] I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to naught the prudence of the prudent.”—This Divine declaration is taken from a prophecy of Isaiah, which culminates in an announcement of salvation through the Messiah. (Isa_29:14, comp. 1Co_1:17 ff.), and, as the result and penalty of the hypocritical conduct of the Jewish people, proclaims the downfall of the wisdom of their wise ones and the vanishing of the understanding of the prudent, so that this wisdom and understanding should contribute nothing towards their deliverance in the day of evil. This judicial threatening on the part of God was incontrovertibly fulfilled in the times of the New Testament. The wisdom of the ungodly proves unfit for apprehending the Gospel salvation. In reference to this it loses all its availability and appears as nothing worth. The citation is not literal, though, according to the sense, exact. [It is taken from LXX. with slight variation:
omitted twice. “The prophet makes use of neuter verbs, while Paul turns them into the active form by making them have a reference to God. They are however perfectly the same in meaning. “Wisdom perishes,” but it is by the Lord’s destroying it. “Prudence vanishes,” but it is by the Lord’s covering it over and effacing it.—The application of this to the subject in hand is this: The Lord has been wont to punish the arrogance of those who, depending on their own judgment, think to be leaders to themselves and others; and if this happened among a people whose wisdom the other nations had occasion to admire, what will become of others?” Calvin]. In reference to this subject see the words of Christ: Mat_11:25 ss.; also 1Co_15:7-8.
1Co_1:20. [The Apostle’s triumphant challenge for disproof of this declaration.—Where is a wise? where is a scribe? where is a disputer of this world?—The designations here are all anarthrous, and Meyer, de Wette, Kling, all translate as above. Alford, Stanley, Hodge, Barnes, insert the article. The difference in meaning is plain, though not important. In the one case the inquiry is after the person mentioned, q. d., ‘Where is a wise man to be found?’ as though he were not. In the other the question is, ‘What has become of him conceding that he exists?’ The latter better suits the drift of the text.—There is a question also as to whether these words likewise are cited from the Old Testament. There is something like them to be found in Isa_33:18, uttered “in a burst of triumph over the defeat of Sennacherib,” and Stanley considers them as taken from thence. But as the Apostle is here evidently speaking in his own name, we can regard his language as no more than an undesigned imitation of that of the Prophet—a lingering echo of it freely reproduced to suit a present purpose. He is here appealing in his own name to existing facts by way of confirmation. Where is the wise? etc. So Calvin]. They have vanished. They pass for nothing in the Divine economy. So far as it is concerned, they are as if they had never been. His mode of challenge occurs also elsewhere with Paul (1Co_15:55; Rom_3:27; Rom_3:29; Rom_3:31.)—The last attributive: “of this world,” belongs, although not grammatically, (since the questions are rapid and abrupt), yet logically, to all the three terms, and describes those mentioned as belonging to the lower stage of human development, the Præ Messianic period. This old world, so far as it seeks to maintain itself still, even after that which is perfect has come in Christ, shows itself to be perverse and at enmity with God; yea, as in itself evil, because pervaded with error and sin. Comp. Gal_1:4, “from the present evil world.” Here the term rendered “world” is a
and more properly denotes a period of time, an age of the world. The antithesis to this is
: that age, or: the coming age. (
). This is a course of existence founded on the redemptive work of Christ, and includes in itself all the impulsive forces and power of the new life. Until the end of “this age,” the “coming age,” will be in a germinal state, enclosed and restricted within the envelope of the present; but then it will burst into open manifestation as the sole reality. The
: present age, is identical with
: this world. The only distinction is that the latter designates the sphere of life itself as one essentially godless and corrupt in its on-goings, especially the human race as alienated from the life of God, while the former indicates the period of time through which it continues. Hence in Eph_2:2 we see the two united in one phrase.
áἰὼí ôïῦ êüóìïõ ôïýôïõ
: the course of this world. The present age, as the period of the rule of sin and error, has for its god or governing principle the devil, as in 2Co_4:4 he is denominated ‘the god of this world,’ and in Joh_12:31 ‘the archor or ruler of this world.’ In so far now as the Jews also in their hostility to the perfect revelation of God in Christ, by which they became blinded to the nature of earlier revelations, also (2Co_3:14 ff.) belonged to this corrupt age, and inasmuch as in the progress of this discussion the Jewish element also is brought up to view, we shall be obliged to understand by the “wise” here mentioned, Jewish as well as Pagan sages, (not the one or the other exclusively); and since the Apostle afterwards speaks of wisdom only, it may be well perhaps to take the term “wise” in a general sense as denoting all those who were devoted to the higher science, or at least pretended to be such; and the other two terms as specific, “the scribe” denoting the wisdom-seekers among the Jews—and “the disputer,” the like among the Greeks. Such appropriation of the terms is supported by the fact that according to the uniform usage of the New Testament (Act_19:35 alone excepted) “scribe” is the designation of the Jewish learned class. But the other term,
, which is best translated: “disputer” (comp.
Act_15:2; Act_15:7; Act_28:29), and hence denotes a class of persons who make disputing their business and have facility in it, can be only incidentally applied to the Sophists then widely spread throughout the Hellenic world. So Meyer. But would it not be more suited to the rhetorical character of the passage to make no such disposition of terms, but merely to abide by the general fact that the Apostle had in his eye men who boasted of their learning and science and ready abilities, and as masters of the truth looked down contemptuously upon the masses—men who were to be found among the Jews as well as among the Greeks,—and that only in the word “scribe” there is a prevailing reference to the Jew? [Stanley, who takes 1Co_1:20 as a modified citation from Isa_33:18, says “These expressions acquire additional force by a comparison with the Rabbinical belief that the cessation of Rabbinical wisdom was to be one of the signs of the Messiah’s coming ‘see the quotations from the Mishna in Wetstein ad loc.), and that this was expressly foretold in Isa_33:18. Analogous to this was the belief of Christians that the oracles of the heathen world ceased on the birth of Christ”].
The challenge is strengthened by a further question—hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?—i.e. actually demonstrated that it is not what it professes to be; but rather, folly—unreason, stupidity, incapacity for knowledge in relation to the highest matters. [“We must here carefully notice these two things that the knowledge of all the sciences is mere smoke, where the heavenly science is wanting; and man with all his acuteness is as stupid for obtaining of himself a knowledge of the mysteries of God as an ass is unqualified for understanding musical harmonies.—Paul (however) does not expressly condemn either man’s natural perspicuity, or wisdom acquired from practice and experience, or the cultivation of mind obtained by learning; but only declares that all this is of no avail for acquiring spiritual wisdom.—We must restrict what he here teaches to the specialties of the case in hand.” Calvin].
1Co_1:21.—Shows why and how it was that God had made foolish the wisdom of this world.—For since in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching [
, not so much the preaching as the thing preached, though not without an implication of the former] to save them that believe.—The relation of the premise to the conclusion is that of a sequence, divinely ordained in the way of punishment [rather of mercy], so that in the first man’s guilt [rather guilty impotence, see below], is assigned as the ground of what is stated in the other. From this we perceive the incorrectness of Rückert’s view, who, snuffing predestination everywhere, explains the phrase “in the wisdom of God” to mean: “in virtue of God’s wisdom, its leading and appointment.” Neither does it consist with the relation of the two clauses to explain it of the wisdom of God’s plan of salvation in the Gospel (Mosheim and others); for the refusal to recognize this wisdom was not anything to which the divine determination spoken of in the second clause could be referred, as to something definitely concluded upon. To this it must be added that from the very beginning, before the disposition of men in relation to it could be ascertained, the preaching of the Gospel had for the world the appearance of folly. The case is entirely different in 1Co_2:6. Rather we must here understand a reference to something prior to Christ, to certain exhibitions of Divine wisdom previous to the revelation made in Christ, in and through which man could or ought to have discerned God,—to its sway in nature and history, and indeed not merely to that revelation alluded to in Rom_1:18 ff; Act_14:17; Act_17:24 ff, but also to the ordinances of this wisdom in the guidance of the covenant-people, who, because of their unbelief (with the exception of the “election,” Rom_11:7), belonged together with the world. Neander, on the contrary, discovers here only a contrast instituted between revelation and the religion of reason, and regards the wisdom of the Greeks as the particular object of whose relation to Christianity the Apostle is treating. But this interpretation is opposed by the fact that in the 1Co_1:22-24 closely connected by
: since, with v. 21, Paul three times expressly states that by “the world,” in v. 21, not only the heathen but also the Jews are intended. But does not the declaration in reference to the heathen that, they “did not know God” conflict with Rom_1:21 where it said that ‘when they knew God they glorified him not as God?’ We must here distinguish between that sense of a God forced upon the mind by a revelation of God, a merely passive religious notion, the ineffectualness of which is set forth even in the passage above referred to, and that living knowledge of God, which involves communion with Him, and which is the thing here denied of the world and which, had the world possessed, it would have qualified the world for the comprehension of that more perfect revelation in Christ which was to be the fulfilment and consummation of all that had gone before, so that had this knowledge existed such a decree of God as is affirmed in the second clause would not have been made, nor would the preaching of the Gospel have been to them foolishness. The “wisdom” then, “through” which the world knew not God (
äéὰ ôῆò óïößáò
), denotes that intelligence by means of which the knowledge of God ought to have been attained, but was not. It is the appropriate organ of the human mind, sharpened by culture, through which God is perceived and recognized as He displays Himself in His wisdom; in other words, the eye for discerning God’s light. But this proved itself disqualified for its proper end, since the world, the possessor of this wisdom, had become alienated from the truth and love of God, and hence perverted and darkened by error and sin. The translation, “on account of their wisdom,” as though this was the cause of their not perceiving God would require the accusative (
äéὰ ôὴí óïö áí
). It might still be questioned whether the phrase “through wisdom” does not refer like the previous one to the wisdom of God, so that it has its corresponding antithesis in the phrase, “through the foolishness of preaching.” This is Bengel’s view. “In the wisdom of God, i.e. because the wisdom of God was so great. By wisdom, namely, that of preaching, as is evident from the antithesis, by the foolishness of preaching.” So, too, Fritsche (Hall, Lit. Zeit. 1840). “After that, in the wisdom of God, i.e. while God allowed His wisdom to shine forth, the world did not recognize God, through the wisdom made available for them by God, then God resolved to choose means of directly the opposite kind. In setting forth the antithesis here, it occurred to him to emphasize strongly the wisdom of God, which failed of attaining its end.” But all things considered, the view carried out by us merits the preference, and the repetition of “the wisdom of God” must always appear somewhat artificial.
The judgment [rather the merciful pleasure] of God towards a world not recognizing Him in consequence of its own sin, is introduced by the phrase
åὐäüêçóåí ὁ èåüò
,—God was pleased—hence “concluded,” “determined.” It indicates here not so much the freedom or pure favor, from which the resolve proceeded, as the suitableness of his proceeding to the end contemplated, or to the circumstances of the case. We find it first among the later Scripture writers, and most commonly in the Sept. In the New Testament it occurs chiefly in Paul (Rom_15:26; Gal_1:15 ff.). In reference to the expression and thought comp. Luk_10:21. The world had shown itself incapable of discerning God in His wisdom through its wisdom. Therefore God found it good no more to appeal to human wisdom by the manifestations of His wisdom, but by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,—i.e., by a proclamation, the contents of which carried the impress of folly, or must need appear foolish to the world as it was. This was to deliver from sin and wrath, and introduce to everlasting blessedness those who should believe in what was declared. In other words, the determination was, to appeal to faith instead of to reason. [So Hodge: “The foolishness of preaching means the preaching of foolisness, i.e., the cross.” But is there not an allusion to the nature of the preaching itself as being distinct from philosophical disquisition in the simplicity of its method. Preaching is heralding, proclaiming facts and messages, a foolish matter for those who delight in the subtleties and arguments of philosophy.] From this it is clear [?] that the phrase “through foolishness of preaching” does not furnish, as might appear to be the case at first sight, the contrast to the phrase “this wisdom,” but to the other, “in the wisdom of God;” and the antithesis to “this wisdom” is to be sought in “them that believe.” Faith is pure receptivity, and as such is directly the opposite of all endeavors after knowledge by the unaided powers of the intellect, such as are peculiar to human wisdom. It is the humble acceptance and appropriation of the testimony concerning Christ crucified, in spite of all the objections which the understanding of the natural man may urge against the doctrine of salvation, and in the utter renunciation of one’s own opinions, and in the entire repudiation of predominant theories. In the act of believing there are united, therefore, both humility and courage. Finally, there is still another correspondence in the words “know” and “save.” Knowledge ought to lead to salvation (comp. Joh_17:3). Not knowing, therefore, hindered the obtaining of salvation.
1Co_1:22-24. Modein which the Apostle fulfilled the good pleasure of God expressed in 1Co_1:21.—Since both Jews require signs and Greeks seek after wisdom, we therefore on the contrary preach Christ crucified.—[So Kling translates the passage. But there is a question here as to the construction. This verse, like the previous one, begins with
. It may therefore be taken as a parallel to that, (so Hodge, Meyer), resuming the thought and amplifying it (so Stanley), and like the preceding having a protasis and apodosis (as Kling); or it may be joined by
directly to the previous clause, and regarded as explanatory of what is said of the “foolishness of preaching” being the means of saving believers (so Alford, Calvin, Rückert, de Wette). In this case the second clause instead of being an apodosis would be directly dependent on
, and the rendering would be:—Since, or seeing that, while both Jews require signs and Greeks seek after wisdom, we on the other hand preach Christ, etc.—This seems to us the most natural rendering. See Winer, P. 3 § 65: 6. But Kling rejects it as “the less suitable.” According to his view], what the protasis states is the result of “not knowing God” (1Co_1:21); what the apodosis states is the judicial procedure corresponding to it as carried out in “the foolishness of preaching,” viz., a refusal to yield to vain demands for wisdom, and the counter preaching which appears to those making these demands as absurd, but which to believers proves to be the power of God and the wisdom of God. The
introduces a case well known and made out: since indeed; the
) is used also elsewhere in the apodosis after
to make the antithetic relation of this clause the more prominent: therefore, on the contrary (comp. Meyer on this passage). This construction is favored by the parallelism between the protasis and apodosis in 1Co_1:21, and those here found. The
: both,—and, unite here classes alike in one respect, i.e., in the unwarrantableness of their demands, but otherwise diverse, and they belong not exclusively to the subjects mentioned (Jews and Greeks), but serve to connect the two clauses in one whole: “since it is so, that both Jews require signs and Greeks seek wisdom.” Jews and Greeks here represent two classes of men according to their peculiar characteristics. Hence they are mentioned without the article. It is as if he said “since people like the Jews seek, etc.” The Greeks here as in Rom_1:16, and elsewhere, stand as pars pro toto, for the Gentiles generally, who, according to the most probable reading, are mentioned afterwards in 1Co_1:23. They are the people who best represent the whole multitude of nations (
) found outside of the covenant relation with God, and who, in respect of culture and language, prepared the whole civilized world for Christianity; just as the Jews, scattered among them all, did the same thing in respect of religion, being freighted with the promise which was to be fulfilled in Christ. It was among these two nations that Christianity had its first sphere of operations,—the Jews, who had the first claim to announce the fulfilment of that promise which had been preserved, and of that hope which had been awakened by them (comp. Act_13:46; Act_3:25; Rom_1:16; Rom_15:8), and the Greeks, who had carried out the work of human culture in science and art, and had, as it were, taken the whole civilized world in possession, and so had furnished the most perfect form for the human appropriation of the truth of revelation, and so the richest receptivity for the life and truth which were in Christ, and which were fitted to ensure them the most perfect satisfaction. But in both alike did Christianity encounter peculiar obstructions. The Jews clave to the external form of revelation, the miracle; and they did this to such a degree as to insist on having it before their eyes in its most striking, dazzling form, as the condition of their acceptance of the truth. They thus betrayed their fundamental unbelief and disaffection for the truth which rebuked their sin, humbled their pride, and demanded of them entire self-denial. This is what is meant by their “seeking after a sign,” or, according to another reading, “signs.” (Comp. Joh_4:48; and Mat_12:38; Mat_16:4; Luk_11:16; Joh_2:18; Joh_6:30). (Meyer, Ed. 3.) “Signs, that is, miraculous tokens, by which Jesus, whom the Apostles asserted to be risen from the dead and ascended on high, should prove Himself to be the Messiah. These they still called for, inasmuch as the miracles of His earthly career had lost for them all evidencing power, in consequence of His crucifixion”). The Greeks, on their part, had been captivated by the outward show and glitter of their civilization. Whatever did not appear before them under the name of a new philosophy (comp. Act_17:19 ff.), or was not sustained by philosophic proof, or was not set forth with logical and rhetorical art, this they refused to accredit; and by insisting on wisdom only in a form agreeable to them, they likewise betrayed their unbelief and their aversion to that Divine truth which required a mortification of their vain self, with all its pride of science and art, and which demanded a humble surrender to a revelation in Christ that infinitely surpassed all their attainments. Thus on both sides, in modes diverse and conditioned by their peculiar histories, did the same opposition arise to the preaching of the Gospel which held up to their faith the one Christ, who was declared to have secured the salvation of mankind, and built up the way to regal glory, not through wondrous miracles, according to the demand of the Jew, nor through such wisdom as wisdom-seekers sought, but by suffering the shameful death of a malefactor. Thus did the preaching of the Apostles and their associates (
) concerning a crucified Messiah, their public proclamation of this fact and its significance in all simplicity, prove for the Jews a stumbling block,i.e., an offence, a hinderance to faith, the occasion of a fall, something causing them to err (comp.
Rom_9:32 ff.). A person hanging on the accursed tree presented such a contrast to all their desires for some glorious exhibition of power (such as destruction to their enemies, etc.), that they could do no otherwise than reject Him. [“They could have tolerated Christ on the mount, but not Christ on the cross.”—A. Butler].—For the Greeks (Gentiles) foolishness.—That salvation could come to the world through a crucified Jew appeared to them plainly absurd. It was an instrumentality utterly inadequate to the end proposed. Thus while to the Jews such a person was an object of horror, as one accursed of God, to the Gentiles he was an object only for scorn and contempt. (Comp. Act_23:18-32; Luk_23:36-41). To this, however, there is a noble contrast.
But unto these—the called—Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.—This clause might be taken to depend on “we preach,” so that this would be repeated in thought, and “Christ the wisdom of God” form an antithesis to “Christ crucified” with its adjuncts: We preach Christ as crucified, who for the Jew is a stumbling block, etc., but to those who are called we preach Christ as the power of God. Bengel appears to suggest this, when to “Christ” he adds “with his cross, death, life, kingdom,” and says further, “When the offence of the cross is overcome, the whole mystery of Christ lies open.”—But the course of thought would be more simple if we put “Christ crucified” directly in opposition with what precedes: “We preach a crucified Messiah who to the Jews is a stumbling block, etc.—but to them who are called, Christ—the power of God.” By it then is signified, that He, the crucified one, at whom the Jews stumble, is to the called, the Anointed of God, (Messiah, Christ),—the One in whom the promise of a heavenly king is fulfilled, the Power of God, etc. This corresponds also to the expression respecting the “word of the cross” in 1Co_1:18. The
: to these serves to give prominence to “the called” as the chief persons in the case, who occupy a positive relation to “the crucified,” and enjoy an experience corresponding to it. It points at the same time to those already mentioned, to “them that believe,” 1Co_1:21, and to the “saved,” 1Co_1:18; and while the first of these terms designates their subjective position towards the Gospel, the second shows the advantage they derive from it. The term “called” indicates the Divine ground on which they stand. (On
: called, comp. 1Co_1:2). By the addition of: both Jews and Greeks he gives us to understand that in the purpose of grace denoted in their calling the separation hitherto existing between these parties had been removed. (Comp. Rom_9:24; Rom_10:12).—the power of God and the wisdom of God.—Here we have the antithesis to “stumbling block” and “foolishness.” While the Jews were asking how a person crucified and accursed could possibly be the Saviour of Israel, how one so utterly devoid of strength could be able to overthrow all hostile power, and the Greeks were deeming it absurd to expect salvation from one who came to so miserable an end, the chosen of God were, on the contrary, experiencing and confessing that from this very crucified Redeemer there issued a Divine power, the power of a heavenly life and peace, a renewing, sanctifying, beatific power, such as could be found in nothing creaturely, and that accordingly Christ was the possessor of such a Divine power, that in Him there existed a Divine wisdom that was capable of solving the hardest problems, of lighting up the darkness that rested on the ways of God, of fulfilling God’s noblest purposes of bringing men back from all their wanderings into the path of life and of introducing them at last to their final destination.
1Co_1:25. A general proposition, substantiating what has just been said.—Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God mightier than men.—The phrase “foolishness of God” is not to be taken too abstractly, as if it meant the Divine folly. The Apostle is evidently here speaking from a human point of view and implies merely that which appears foolishness in God. He here has in mind God’s dealings with men in the Gospel, such as the procuring of salvation through the crucifixion of Christ, and other things connected therewith, which in the judgment of self-styled wise men of this world, who measure every thing by the measure of their fancied wisdom, appeared contrary to reason. Now of this apparent foolishness of God he affirms that it surpassed in real wisdom all men however wise they seemed to be in their own sight, or were held to be by others, or whatever they might be able to reason out or imagine. In a similar manner we must interpret the following expressson, the weakness of God—By this he means a Divine scheme which seemed weak to those who held merely to physical force and boasted in that (for instance, the, procuring of redemption through one subjecting himself to the humiliation of death on the cross), but which in fact is stronger than men,i.e., exerts a mightier power than they with all their imagined strength and prowess. Bengel adds: “Although they may appear to themselves both wise and strong, and wish to be the standards of wisdom and strength.” Thus interpreted, it would be needless to construe the words “than men” as involving a figure of speech in which a comparison instituted with a person or thing as a whole, properly applies only to a part of it, or to some quality in it, as though they meant: “than the wisdom of men,” or “than the strength of men.” Both interpretations, however, amount to the same thing.—There is still another construction suggested by what follows, viz.: that by the foolishness and the weakness of God are meant the persons themselves who are “called” (1Co_1:24), who experience Christ crucified as “the wisdom of God and the power of God,” so that they in consequence become Divinely wise and strong, and are thus enabled as the foolishness and weakness belonging to God to surpass men, i.e. that portion of the race who remain out of Christ in wisdom and power. “The thought is this—Human nature delights in doing great things. God, on the contrary, in His earthly dispensations always appears weak and small at the first, and not until afterwards reveals the overwhelming power that is concealed in His instrumentalities.” Neander.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. Christ and His cross—Christ crucified.—This is the clear light from Heaven, which comes to scatter all the darkness of man’s sinful life. This is the key to all the riddles of a history that has been deranged and confused by falsehood and sin. All God’s revelations in the Old Testament, his ordinances, institutions, promises, judgments and blessings here reach their fulfilment and find their real explanation. All the hints of truth current among heathen nations—all their sighing and striving after the knowledge of God and communion with Him, all attempts to get rid of the consciousness of guilt, to atone for sin and to effect a perfect restoration to Divine favor—all the labor of the wise to discover a clue for the great labyrinth of human life—in short every thing which glimmered as a ray of light here and there in this darkness, obtains in Christ its proper goal; and in so far as it at last leads to the apprehension of this perfect light and salvation, it has been not in vain. Here is the “power of God” which in place of a thousand-fold yet vain endeavor on the part of man is able to insure a true Divine life, an undisturbed peace, an all pervading sanctification—spreading from the inmost centre of a heart that embraces the holy, forgiving love of God,—and an invincible patience and steadfastness combined with the serenest tranquillity amid all the plagues, diseases, adversities and conflicts which may assail us from within and without. Here, too, is the wisdom of God. From this the deepest problems of human knowledge and human activity receive light, so that they can be recognized in their truth and in the goal to which they tend; and right methods of solution for them may be attained. Here the eternal thoughts of God, and the thoughts of man which spring up responsive to these out of the inmost truth of the human heart through the operation of the all-enlightening Logos, encounter each other. Here redeeming love with its wondrous plan of forgiveness and regeneration meets the manifold devices and strivings of man for the removal of guilt and, the acquisition of the chief good, and gives them a perfect satisfaction.
2. Christ and His cross—as confronting the world.—But the more this revelation of God in a crucified Saviour surpasses all the doings of man hitherto, the less can it be measured by the standard of truth and goodness existing among men, the less can it come within the scope of their ordinary conceptions. Where, therefore, the heart has not been renewed by a surrender to the truth foreshadowed by its mysterious need and corresponding to it, and so no change has been wrought in the whole course of thought, there this revelation remains an incomprehensible mystery; and where to the indolence, which refuses to stir out of the old beaten track, there is added an arrogant pride, which, with arbitrary exaggeration and embellishments insists on making what already exists the measure of the new and rejects whatever does not suit the demands thug originated, there, it is certain, that the revelation of God will be violently opposed. And this will be so much the more sure to occur, when, for the sake of presenting a contrast with the vain parade of carnal self in adhering to what is externally imposing and brilliant, and in cleaving to its own productions which seem so beautiful and fair, the revealed truth and grace are constrained to show themselves in an unpretending form, putting contempt upon the proud display of might by assuming a lowly aspect of weakness and setting at naught a lofty pretentious wisdom by wearing the guise of foolishness in order to lift humanity thereby out of the vanity of its conceited claims, and out of the arbitrariness of its own devices and endeavors, into the experience of a true divine power and wisdom.—But the cross and its preaching, which prove such a stumbling block and foolishness to those who are bound up in their vain conceit becomes to those who obey the heavenly calling in faith and who in the mortification of self with all its foolish conceits and pretensions yield themselves to the influences of the grace and truth in Christ, and in so doing experience its enlightening, sanctifying and beatific power, the wisdom of God and the power of God. Thus it happens that men with all their wisdom and power remain far inferior to what belongeth unto God, however foolish and weak it may seem.
3. “1 Col_1:22-24 afford us a point of observation which enables us to survey Church History in clearest light. The Apostles found two distinct tendencies setting in in strong hostility to the Gospel, the desire for miracles, and the conceit of wisdom. These two tendencies show themselves repeatedly through all times. A false, one-sided supernaturalism and a false one-sided rationalism are ever in rivalry with each other either to resist the Gospel in open enmity or to disturb and corrupt it by secretly insinuating themselves into it. It may be said that all external opposition and all internal peril to the Gospel resolve themselves at last into these two opposite principles. So long as a pure Gospel withstands and excludes these it will succeed in satisfying the genuine human needs lying at their foundation and in thus quieting them on both sides. This proves itself to be the true wonder-working power before which all other miracles must pale, and the true wisdom of God before which all other wisdom must be put to shame, and thus does it exhibit itself in both ways as the absolute Religion.” Neander.
4. [Since it is “to the called” that the Gospel proves “the power of God and the wisdom of God,” by bringing them at last to believe and be saved, it follows that the difference in the effects produced by the Gospel, so that on the one hand it appears to some as an offence and to others as foolishness, but to others still as a means of salvation, is all owing to the calling of God—his effectual calling.]
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
1. The cross of Christ is made of none effect by cunning words or the wisdom of speech.—For the wisdom of speech Isaiah 1, on the one hand scholastic wisdom which a. culminates only in knowledge, not in reformation; b. gives no satisfaction on the chief point, Religion; c. being in constant strife with itself evermore corrupts rather than improves; 2. On the other hand an artificial rhetoric, which springs not from the heart or from zeal for a cause known to be true, but aims only to dazzle and please, and by this means to persuade. But a mode of proceeding so altogether unworthy of heavenly truth robs the cross of Christ of its peculiar power; since a. the attention is turned away from the subject to the speaker, and so the heart is diverted and betrayed into vanity; b. and everything is viewed according to its fitness to delight; c. and the effect is ascribed not to the power of the truth presented but to the eloquence displayed. After Heubner.
2. The preaching of the cross. 1, is foolishness for those who are lost.a. Who are these? They are such as are hardened in their own guilt—such as follow their own perverted sense and will not accept of truth or consent to self-humiliation, so that humanly judging there is nothing to be hoped for from them. b. Why is the preaching of the cross foolishness for them? Because to the world, which insists on its own importance, everything appears absurd which fells its pride, destroys its meritoriousness and conflicts with its wisdom and righteousness. 2, is a wisdom of God unto us who are called.—The believer who permits himself to be saved, awakened and enlightened by the spirit of God, finds in the cross a divinely derived and divinely operating power, which draws the heart into peace with itself and with God, fills it with holy love, and strengthens it with a new power of life; and he recognizes therein a wisdom far surpassing all human thought and sense. After Heubner.
3. The vanity of scholastic wisdom or the judgment of God upon conceited worldly wisdom.—1. It effects nothing, because it aims only at show and not at improvement. 2. God allows it to be betrayed into folly and shame, because it seeks to be wise and strong without God, without prayer and piety. 3. Christianity exposes it in all its barrenness, since, while Christianity renews humanity, worldly wisdom perishes in its own schools, and is unable to maintain its own progress. After Heubner.
4. The causes of the rejection of the Crucified.—1. The Jewish desire for whatever was striking, imposing and externally mighty; 2. The Gentile conceit of wisdom and a vain misculture; 3. The pride of both which sought to comprehend God, but which would not enter into the apparently weak and foolish ways and means of his economy. After Heubner.
5. The preaching of the cross has with those who are saved a threefold effect. 1. It shames, inasmuch as man crucified Christ with his sins; for a long time did not recognize him; did not honor or thank him; and was willing so long to tolerate the sins which nailed Him to the cross. 2. It humbles, by reminding us of Christ’s own love, in that He, the Great God, died for us poor worms, and did so much for us when we were utterly worthless. It inclines us also to benevolence towards all men who differ from us only in this, that we are sinners saved, while they can and may yet be saved. 3. It awakens, gives power and life, so that we not only are ready and inclined, but also are enabled to love God, and to prove our love by works.
6. The Cross of Christ is an offence to all men who think that a good life will ensure them a happy end. These are the enemies of the Cross in the midst of Christendom. They worship it externally; they take pride in it, but in fact they hate the doctrine of the Cross. They cannot accept the truth that Christ has become our Redeemer and that we are saved out of sheer mercy, so that the holiest, the most pious, the most liberal, the most upright man is just as far from Heaven as the most miserable sinner, and that there is but one way for all. To the wise and prudent the cross of Christ is foolishness. The truth that Christ died for us they regard as a fable. There are persons even among [nominal] believers who take it as a compliment if they are said not to believe. Yet should one accuse them of holding the truth, and yet of living in untruthfulness, disobedience and ingratitude towards God, it would be the same as if he pronounced them deliberate villains. Oh! could they but once hear the Gospel in a way to pierce their
hearts they would certainly ask, What shall we do? Let the doctrine of the Cross be once made vital in the soul, then would there be no need of exhortation, alarm and threatening in view of this or that judgment. It would be sufficient to say, “The Saviour died for me.” If we are in trouble for our sins, and the hope of salvation vanishes, and the voice comes, “Christ has died and earned salvation for us,” how the heart not only seizes but holds fast to the declaration! How the truth penetrates like a divine power into the soul which can never be lost or forgotten! Then are our sins buried in the depths of the sea; they can no more tyrannize over us. Then we need sin no more. Such is the effect of the Word of the Cross in them that believe. Gossner.
Hedinger:—Power, wit, all human work and counsel corrupts faith, misleads in the church, and hinders the efficacy of the means of grace. In divine things, the more foolish anything seems to the world, the better it is. “Wisdom, wisdom, ready understanding, science, learning out of a thousand books!” Such is the cry of the world. An evil sound is it in the churches and in the schools. One thing is needful—one book, one Christ.
Starke:—The Gospel has a differencing effect according to the character of the persons who hear and use it. Mankind are divided into two classes: 1. Unbelievers; they are such as live on, without caring for their salvation, either in security or hypocrisy; each word and work of theirs is a step toward Hell. 2. Believers; they are those who are in daily concern about their salvation; and this is with them so vital a point that even when unmoved by efforts from abroad, while in the midst of their labors or talk, they are not easily repelled from it (1Co_1:18). Wisdom is in itself something divine, and before the fall the image of God in man consisted in it (Col_3:10); and even now the inclination to know and learn something is a remnant in us of this divine image. But if our natural wisdom profits us but little now, and is every where scandalized, this is the fault, not of wisdom, but of our corrupted reason and understanding. None of the loftiest and most learned of this world ought to be ashamed of the simplicity of the Gospel, for God Himself, the, highest and wisest of all, let Himself down to it. Sufficient is it for us that an infinite power resides in the Cross to deliver us out of all our deep depravity, (1Co_1:21).—God can never suit people. One will have it this way and another that. Shame on you! God does as it pleases Him (Mat_11:16 ff.). Men always delight in what is strange, lofty, conspicuous. Instead of desiring that God’s name alone should be praised they seek themselves in every thing. They look either at power, wealth, faculty, or at learning, prudence, dexterity. Both are means to greatness, but they prove hinderances in the kingdom of God. (1Co_1:22).—God will remain unsurpassed in His words and works (Psa_78:41), but their wisdom and strength are vain. The world makes wisdom to consist in much learning which secures honor and regard. But a believer considers it the height of wisdom to know that he is a poor sinner, becomes justified and saved only in deepest humility. The greatest power consists in being able to overcome ourselves and the kingdom of Satan. God can put to shame all the devices of the craftiest and all the might of the greatest in this world. Why wilt thou fear? Look to God! He can and will give thee enough for all things (1Co_1:25).
H. Rieger:—Let him who would even now, by the preaching of the Cross, awaken a sense of the Cross in the hearts of men, and thereby coöperate for their salvation, not seek for assistance from the fickle arts of worldly wisdom, but let him observe what renders himself humble, and subdued, and what he can thus convey with a tender spirit to others, and let him shun every thing which on the contrary tends to puff himself up and wherewith he is tempted to court the favor of men.
[Spencer: (1Co_1:21).—“Some Christian ministers sometimes think to do Christianity a very good service by philosophizing it to make it keep up with the times. In all this they do Christianity no other service than rob it of its power by robbing it of its peculiarity, and do no other service to the ‘philosophic minds’ which they say they would influence, than just to mislead them and keep them away from true faith in Christ and reliance on his great atonement.
Every thing is coming to be philosophized. Many a minister in the pulpit—shame on him—betrays his trust to the Bible and his God by teaching religion very much as if it were a new matter of reason, and human progress, and human discovery, instead of taking God’s Word as his authority and instructor, and uttering in the ears of the people like the old prophets, Thus saith the Lord God. Beware of such proceedings. They tend to infidelity. Learn duty from God. The Bible is safe. Philosophy is blind.”]
[Robertson:—“Men bow before talent even if unassociated with goodness, but between these two we must make an everlasting distinction. When once the idolatry of talent enters, then farewell to spirituality; when men ask their teachers, not for that which will make them more humble and God-like, but for the excitement of an intellectual banquet, then farewell to Christian progress. Here also St. Pau