1 Corinthians 1:26-31


In 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 Paul greeted the Corinthians Christians. In verses 10-17 he warned them of a situation of disunity among them. The NKJV captions verses 18-25  "Christ the Power and Wisdom of God." J.B. Phillips captions verses 18-25  "The True Wisdom and the False." Verses 18-25 ought be read before you begin studying the text for today. Phillips captions verses 26-31 "Nor Are God's Values the Same as Man's." Morris captions them "The Believers are Insignificant."

Ever since the fall into sin, human beings by nature are spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. The only thing which can remove this awful condition is the Gospel which is God's power, God's wisdom. And it comes to us only because Christ was crucified and the message comes only in the Gospel.

God is not anti-intellectual. He is the author of all wisdom and knowledge, also that which is purely secular. The problem at Corinth, verses 10-17, was that the flesh was getting the upper hand. Note that "flesh" is mentioned twice in today's text, verses 26 and 29. The flesh is diametrically opposed to God's wisdom and the sense of values of the flesh is the very opposite that of God.

1 Corinthians 1:26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

The Greek text begins with a word, not translated here, which means "in view of this." In view of what? What is said in verses 18-25. And now Paul is asking them to take a good look at themselves.

There is a question whether  "think" should be translated as an imperative or an indicative. Is it a fact or is it a command? KJV, NKJV, and AAT take it as indicative. RSV, TEV, JB, NEB, and NIV take it as imperative. We think the imperative is better.

Lenski: The Corinthians need only look at their own 'calling.' In this calling they were passive.
Morris: 'Calling' refers to the divine call. Paul emphasizes once more the divine initiative.
Kretzmann: The miraculous working of the power and wisdom of God is exemplified in the case of the Corinthians Christians themselves. The apostle urges them to consider, to contemplate earnestly, their calling, the act of God's calling as it affected their own ranks.

Look at John 1:13 and 1 Peter 1:23. Also Luther's explanation to the third article.

Note that Paul calls them "brothers" again. Look at verses 10 and 11. Paul is not condemning the wise people. He is saying that not many wise people, wise according to the standard of the sinful flesh, become Christians or were called. The word "many" implies that there were some.

Rienecker: The social structure of the church at Corinth included those from all levels of society.
Morris: The Corinthians had the typical Greek reverence for wisdom. But Paul decisively rejects this as the criterion whereby God chooses His own.
Bengel: Hence at Athens, the seat of Greek wisdom, so very few person were gained . . . The world judges according to the flesh.

Human wisdom, which is devoid of the wisdom of the Gospel, is always looking for something new, ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth, and never giving lasting and sure comfort.

"Influential" means the powerful, the influential, those who had clout. Note again that "not many" indicates that there were some.

"Noble birth" denotes those of the aristocracy, the blue-bloods, of noble rank. Not many, but there were some.

To sum up: In verse 26 Paul asks the Corinthians to look at themselves and the character of the membership of their congregation.

1 Corinthians 1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

"But" here means "quite to the contrary." Note here we have in the Greek "God chose for Himself." This occurs twice in this verse and in each case we have the same pattern: object, verb, subject. We have the same phenomenon in verse 28 with the same verb. Furthermore, notice that we have two purpose clauses with "to shame" in verse 27 and one in verse 28 with "to nullify."

In verses 27 and 28 we find that God has chosen for Himself three items, all articular, neuter plural, which are modified by "world."

Morris: The neuter concentrates attention on the quality possessed by these people, rather than on themselves as individuals. . . . God has not chosen only those whom the world counts foolish and weak; He has chosen those who really are the foolish and weak in the world.

"Foolish" is the very antithesis of wisdom. "Weak" is the very opposite of power, verse 18. "Low" is the very antithesis of that which is noble.

Various translations differ: RSV "What is foolish in the world -- what is weak in the world -- what is low and despise in the world." TEV: "what the world considers nonsense -- what the world considers weak -- what the world looks down on." It is not easy to make a decision between these two interpretations. KJV leaves it at "of the world" all three times and therefore leaves it to the interpreter to decide.

"Call" in verse 26 denotes the call in time. "Chose" in verses 27 and 28 points to eternal election about which we shall quote a passage from the Book of Concord at the conclusion of this study.

Morris on "to put to shame": 'To put to shame' i.e. by the contrast between the estimate the wise form of themselves and that which God's choice reveals.
Lenski: The verb 'to put to shame' means to bring to shame and disgrace . . . Here in the world they still strut in high honor, but this strutting is all a hollow show. . . . This neuter plural embraces the entire category whoever and whatever is strong in the eyes of the world. By his choice God intends to disgrace all of it . . . . All the strong things in the world of human beings are only strong shams, with no reality of strength in their make up, and full of hostility against God. The whole world lies in wickedness.

Exactly. Well said.

Kretzmann: Since the time of Christ the believers have been despised, scorned, ignored, and yet they have displayed a power of action and endurance which cannot be accounted for by reasonable suppositions. The despotism of the Roman emperors, the tyranny of the medieval hierarchy, the inquisition of the counter reformation, all the so-called assured results of modern science falsely so called have not been able to overcome or render obsolete the truth and the power of the Gospel.

Note the words "the wise", meaning those who are too smart for Christ, don't feel any need of the Gospel, refuse to repent. In our day think of the evolutionists, the cults, those who make the demands of the labor unions a religion, those who no longer regard marriage as a sacred binding union until death, etc, etc.

Note that "the strong" at the end of verse 27 is in the neuter, placing stress on the characteristic of mistaken strength rather than on the persons themselves.

1 Corinthians 1:28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are,

We have already mentioned some of the items in this verse under verse 27 and therefore will not repeat them here. To summarize thus far: If the world considers you and your faith in Christ foolish, weak, low-born, or contemptible, flee to Him who has chosen you from eternity, by grace, in Christ.

Some remarks regarding "the things that are not."

Rienecker: A more contemptible expression in Greek thinking was not possible. Being was everything.
Morris: 'The things which are not' is even stronger. God's activity in men is creative. He takes that which is nothing at all and makes of it what he pleases.
Bengel: 'Things that are not' is a genus, comprehending things base and despised, also things foolish.
Lenski: There is one last and still lower step that at least Paul does not fail to see; 'and the things that are not,' that do not even exist. While this is the lowest step in the series, beyond which even the mind cannot go, it is at the same time more . . . This last group in reality includes the four groups previously mentioned. . . In foolish things true wisdom does not exist; in weak things true strength does not exist; in base-born things true, divine, origin does not exist; in things that are counted as nothing true value does not exist. Nil runs through all four of them, something that does not exist . . . The fifth specification 'things that do not exist' is not coordinate with the preceding four. Non-existence could be paired only with one other, namely, existence. Now all these four are in reality hollow with non-existence too, only in each of the four this is a non-existence of something specific, of wisdom, strength, etc. . . . Do you ask what they are? The new life God's grace creates in our hearts, our faith and our good works, our glory to be when we reach heaven.

In other words, "all that are" denotes all of man's wrong, delusive, and mistaken ideas about religion. And "all that are not" is all that which God alone, in Christ Jesus, has planned and carried out. That is carefully explained in verse 30.

"Bring to nothing" is not easy to translate. It means something like to put out of action, to make inactive. It occurs 27 times in the New Testament and is translated 17 different ways in the AV alone. Basically it means something like "to render idle" or "inoperative," and all its usages derive from this base.

1 Corinthians 1:29 so that no one may boast before him.

Three times we were told what God chose for Himself and in each case for a definite purpose which has been carried out. Verse 29 comes down like a heavy sledge hammer at the end of all this.

Morris: God does all this with the purpose of taking away from all men every occasion of boasting.
Bengel: Flesh is beautiful and yet frail, Isaiah 40:6.

He means it all looks so attractive and yet is so vain.

Lenski: All flesh is everlastingly trying to glory in God's presence, insulting him to his face; secondly, that no flesh really has anything in which to glory, it only thinks it has, it only deceives and cheats itself . . . 'Flesh' here means man in his fallen state.

The flesh is constantly trying to be God. The flesh is constantly vain-glorious. The flesh is constantly trying to save itself. The flesh is constantly deceiving itself by thinking that it is wise, strong, powerful, and noble. The only thing which can stop this boasting is repentance and faith. And that leads us to the heart of the Gospel as presented in verse 30.

1 Corinthians 1:30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

In verse 30 Paul returns to the Corinthians and rounds out the thought begun in verse 26. Verses 27-29 speak of the wonders of becoming members in the Kingdom. "Of him" stands prominently forward. It denotes source, its antecedent is God. All synergism is completely eliminated.

By the way, note "from God" in the next line. You have been begotten from God and Christ's wisdom is from God. Paul makes sure that he is not misunderstood. All boasting is truly eliminated. The Greek text begins this verse with a "but", it is not translated. We take "but" as adversative contrasting the true state of the believer with the lie of the boaster.

"In Christ Jesus" occurs hundreds of times in the New Testament. "In" with a person's name occurs nowhere else in literature except in the New Testament. It simply denotes the faith relationship. Some have called it the mystical dative for want of a better term.

2 Corinthians 5:17 reads  "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." That explains itself.

Rienecker: You are born of him in Christ Jesus.
Morris: Whole books have been written about "in Christ Jesus", the enigmatic phrase which Paul habitually uses to describe the relationship of believers to Christ. Briefly we may say that it indicates that the believer stands in the closest possible relationship to his Lord . . . The phrase describes personal attachment to a personal Savior.
Kretzmann: Out [coming from] of Him, due to His grace and power, you are in Christ Jesus. We are the spiritual offspring of God by His grace, and the life which we have received from God is grounded in Christ.

Look at Ephesians 2:8. "Of him" at one blow overthrows all the wisdom, power, etc, of the world.

We make several observations.

On "wisdom" some comments.

Rienecker: Christ is the true wisdom and union with Him makes the believer truly wise.
Morris: The wisdom of God is embodied in Christ. Here is the real wisdom. Look at Colossians 2:3.
Bengel: We are Wisdom in Christ, though we were formerly fools.
Kretzmann: Christ has become Wisdom to us. This would not be possible were it not for the fact that Christ became unto us Righteousness as well as Sanctification, 2 Corinthians 5:21; Jeremiah 23:5; Matthew 3:15; Galatians 2:16,17. The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us as well as His perfect fulfillment of the Law, and thus our whole life is consecrated to God, and every act is a work of divine service.

And now a problem. Is Paul mentioning four items: wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption? Thus KJV, RSV, and AAT. Or, are the last three an explanation of the first? Is "wisdom" explained by the last three? Thus NKJV, TEV, NIV, and likely NASB.

Commentators are not agreed among themselves on this point either. These notes agree with Morris, who writes: "The Greek seems rather to mean that these three are subordinate to wisdom, and explanatory of it. The wisdom of which Paul writes includes these other three." Bengel does not seem to commit himself. Kretzmann seems to agree with Morris. Lenski says that the four are coordinate.

What is true wisdom? It is three things:

  1. Righteousness. This is the imputed righteousness of Christ. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:8. In prophecy, Jeremiah 23:6 calls Jesus "The Lord, our Righteousness."

  2. Sanctification. We take this in the narrow sense, the life of good works. Look at John 15:5; Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 2:20.

  3. Redemption. The word is used in the New Testament either of what Christ did for us, as in Ephesians 1:7, or our final deliverance on judgment day, as in Luke 21:28.
Morris: Christ is our redemption, placed last in the verse, and perhaps as pointing to the last great day, the consummation of redemption, because He has paid the ransom price in His own body on Calvary.
Lenski: 'Redemption' cannot signify the original 'redemption' wrought by Christ on the cross but here must mean our own final 'redemption' from sin and death through Christ, and our translation into glory.

I am constantly assured that Christ will finally deliver me on judgment day. Look at Luke 21:28.

Before we leave this verse, we not several quotes from the  Book of Concord: 

Book of Concord  (Tappert 119.86): Faith is the very righteousness by which we are accounted righteous before God. This is not because it is a work worthy in itself, but because it receives God's promise that for Christ's sake he wishes to be propitious to believers in Christ and because it believes that 'God made Christ our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption' 1 Corinthians 1:30.
Book of Concord  (Tappert 473.3):We believe, teach, and confess unanimously that Christ is our righteousness neither according to the divine nature alone nor according to the human nature alone. On the contrary, the entire Christ according to both natures is our righteousness wholly in his obedience which as God and man he rendered to his heavenly Father into death itself."
Formula of Concord  (Tappert 618.12): So, too, Scripture presents this doctrine of election in no other way than to direct us thereby to the Word, Ephesians 1:13,14; 1 Corinthians 1:21, 30, 31; to admonish us to repent, 2 Timothy 3:16, to urge us to godliness, Ephesians 1:15ff; John 15, to strengthen our faith and to assure us of our salvation, Ephesians 1:9, 13, 14; John 10:27-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15.

1 Corinthians 1:31 Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

Note that in the Nestle Greek text verses 26-29 are one sentence. At the end of verse 26 we have a semi-colon but no period. Note that this long sentence, 26-29, ends with a negative purpose clause. It tells us why people cannot and dare not boast before God. Verses 30-31 comprise one sentence and also end with a purpose clause, but this time it is positive, not negative. It tells us who should boast and how he should do it.

The contents of verse 30 brought about the fulfillment of a recorded prophecy found in Jeremiah 9:23-24; "This is what the LORD says: 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the LORD."

In other words, the direct purpose of Christ's coming, living, dying, rising, etc. was that man boast in the Lord.

Morris: All glorying must be in what Christ has done, and not in the puny things that we, at best, can achieve . . . . No higher view could be taken of the person of Christ.
Bengel: 'In the Lord,' not in himself, not in the flesh, not in the world.
Kretzmann: There should be boasting and praising indeed, but only in God, as the Author of salvation.

Lenski asks the question: "Does 'in the Lord' refer to God (Yahweh), or to Christ?" We think Morris gives a fine answer to this question: "Characteristically Paul proves his point from Scripture. We should not overlook the significance of the application to Christ of words which in Jeremiah 9:23 refer to Jehovah."


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp. 46-50. Used with permission.

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