1 Corinthians 1:22-25


1 Corinthians 1:22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,

So far as we know, the only modern translation which takes the first word in Greek, not translated in NIV, seriously is AAT: "Now that Jews ask for wonderful proofs and Greeks look for wisdom, we preach a crucified Christ." Verse 21 spoke of the unbelieving rejection of the Gospel by the covenant people in the Old Testament. A contrast was drawn between their rejection and God's gracious pleasure in proclaiming the Gospel to obedient believers. In verse 22 Paul speaks of all people, contemporary Jews and Greeks, who are typical of the rejecters of the Gospel throughout the New Testament era. We translate: "Since both Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, etc." 

Bengel:  Now  they ask for these things of the Apostles, as formerly from Christ.
Rienecker: To ask for a sign implies a refusal to take God on trust. . . . The present tense shows the habitual action and describes what is always done.
Morris: Paul brings out the characteristics of the two nations. The Jews thought of God as manifesting Himself in History in signs and mighty wonders. In the light of this they demanded a sign from the Lord, Matthew 12:38; 16:1-4; Mark 8:11ff; John 6:30. They though of the Messiah as One attested by striking manifestations . . . From the lofty heights of the their culture, the Greeks looked down on and despised the barbarians all who failed to appreciate their wisdom. That this wisdom often degenerated into meaningless sophistries meant little to them. They still remained proud of their intellectual acuteness.
Lenski: The Old Testament promised great signs in connection with the Messiah. But instead of following the Old Testament the Jews applied to its promises their own wisdom.
Kretzmann: That was characteristic of the Jews, they were not satisfied with the words of salvation, but demanded signs from heaven, John 4:48; Matthew 12:39; 16:4 . . . and of the Greeks it was characteristic that they sought wisdom; they wanted philosophic proof, logical demonstration, they wanted to be convinced by reasonable arguments, Acts 17:19; Colossians 2:4.

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

Just as in verse 21 the good pleasure of God was contrasted with the rejection by the Old Testament Jews, so here the preaching is contrasted with the rejection in the generations of the New Testament, verse 22. Note the emphatic "we." We agree that it denotes Paul and his helpers. But just as verse 22 applies typically to all nations in the New Testament era, so this verse applies to all true preachers and proclaimers in the New Testament era. "Christ crucified," of course, does not imply that Christ continues to suffer.

Rienecker: It refers primarily to the exalted Lord who, in His exaltation, remains the crucified One.
Lenski: Paul states that Christ once crucified, not stands before us continuously as such.
Morris: He continues in the character of the crucified One. The crucifixion is permanent in it efficacy and its effects.

The verse contrasts the Jews and the Gentiles, meaning of course, the unbelieving among them.  "Stumbling block" and "foolishness" are in apposition to "Christ crucified." 

Rienecker: A stumbling block is something that trips men up. . . . foolishness is that which displays a senseless act of thinking or speaking.
Kretzmann: The Jews will not accept Him, and therefore their perversity causes them to fall over Him as over an obstacle placed in their path. To the Gentiles in general the Savior savors to them of madness.
Lenski: A stumbling block is technically the stick of a trap to which the bait is fixed . . . It always is fatal in its effects . . . The word 'Gentiles'is a wider term, which embraces all non-Jews . . . 'Anything but that!' they reply.

How did the Gospel affect the unbelieving Jews? Read John 6 where we read of their hatred and intent to kill Jesus. Think on how they treated Jesus on the cross or Paul when he preached the Gospel. How did the Gospel affect the unbelieving Gentiles? Read Acts 17 of Paul in Athens. When he began speaking about the resurrection they would hear no more.

1 Corinthians 1:24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Verse 23 is in contrast to verse 22. And verse 24 is in contrast to verse 23, so far as the people to who the Gospel is preached are concerned. Note how Paul alternates between "Greeks" and "Gentiles" in verses 22, 23, and 24. Not all Jews and Greeks, who represent all people, reject the proclamation.

Morris:  Called has the thought of effectual calling. It is implied that the call has been heeded and obeyed . . . The cross revealed God and it gave people the power they needed.
Lenski: The called are the saved in verse 18 and the believing in verse 21 . . . While these two terms (called and saved) show what has happened to us, 'power' shows what has occurred  in us . . . In both expressions (power of God -- wisdom of God) 'God' is emphatic in being placed forward . . . Power and wisdom conjoin in the description of 'Christ' as the content of the saving proclamation of the Gospel . . . The caution must be added, never to confuse this power with His omnipotence, for we are saved by the power of grace, love, mercy, attributes altogether distinct from omnipotence.

He who truly believes in the Gospel is armed for eternity.

1 Corinthians 1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Here we have a summary statement showing the impossibility of comparing the wisdom and strength of God with that of human beings. AAT renders it: "The foolish thing God does is wiser than men, and the weak thing God does is stronger than men." TEV reads:  "What seems to be God's foolishness is wiser than men's wisdom, and what seems to be God's weakness is stronger than men's strength." 

Grosheide: 'The foolish thing of God' is that work of God which the world considers foolishness.
Bengel: Wiser than the wisdom of men, stronger than the strength of men.
Kretzmann: For that which is foolish in God, what seems to man's reason a foolish, weak policy, the redemption of the world through the death of His Son on the cross, is wise than men . . . And what is weak in God, what seemed to man's foolish reason altogether lacking in intrinsic strength and efficiency, that is strong than men. That is the mystery of the Cross, that Christ, in dying, conquered death, that in His yielding up the ghost death was swallowed up in victory, 2 Corinthians 13:4
Lenski: By using two neuters Paul avoids ascribing the abstract qualities of foolishness and of weakness to God as though they were two of His actual attributes . . . God indeed uses a foolish and weak thing in giving salvation to a world that loves to see wisdom and power in its own false fashion . . . For it is surely a foolish and a weak thing to let God's own Son die miserably on the cross . . . This foolish and this weak thing outranks and absolutely outdoes all the wisdom and all the power of man.
Morris: What in God proud man is wont to dub 'foolishness' is 'wiser than men' and anything that is in man. The suffering Messiah hanging from the cross appears to be weak. But it is 'the weakness of God' that He displays, and this is 'stronger than men' and anything that men can produce . . . The sign-seeking Jews were blind to the significance of the greatest sign of all when it was before them. The wisdom-loving Greeks could not discern the most profound wisdom of all when they were confronted with it.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 72-73. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index