Paul identified himself as having been “called” to be an apostle of Christ Jesus “through God’s will,” thus indicating that his authority as an apostle came from God as an expression of his unmerited favor. At the time, Sosthenes was with him and, therefore, he associated him with himself at the outset of the letter. The name “Sosthenes” does not appear to have been common. This may lend weight to the possibility that he is the same person as the synagogue official in Corinth who was submitted to a beating in the presence of Gallio and thereafter became a believer. Paul called Sosthenes “the brother,” one whom the Corinthians knew. (1:1; see the Notes section.)
The community of believers in Corinth belonged to God, for he had purchased it with the blood of his beloved Son. (Compare Acts 20:28.) As God’s congregation, the members thereof were “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Through their faith in the Son of God, they came to be part of his body and were sanctified or set apart as holy to do his Father’s will. They were called to be “holy ones” or God’s cleansed people. They shared this “holy” or pure standing with all others who “called upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To call upon his name signifies to acknowledge him as Lord, acting in harmony with his example and teaching. “In every place, theirs and ours,” would be wherever communities of believers existed and acknowledged God’s Son as their Lord. (1:2)
“Ours” could refer to places where Paul had ministered, and “theirs” to locations other than those where he had served. Another possibility is that the words “theirs and ours” may mean “their Lord and ours.” Numerous translations have added “Lord” in their renderings, thereby making this meaning explicit. (1:2; see the Notes section.)
“Favor,” unmerited or unearned kindness, or grace would include all the help and guidance the Father and his Son would provide. For believers to enjoy the peace of which God and Christ are the source would mean their being in possession of inner tranquility. Their sense of well-being and security would stem from knowing that as beloved children of God and brothers of Christ they would be sustained and strengthened in times of trial and affliction. (1:3)
In view of the gracious divine favor (including the gifts that existed within the community of believers) that had been granted to them, Paul was moved always to thank God for the Corinthians. According to numerous manuscripts, the apostle said, “my God,” which would have reflected his personal relationship with him. The divine favor had been given to the Corinthian believers “in Christ Jesus,” having come into their possession because of being at one with him on the basis of their faith in him and what he accomplished through his sacrificial death. (1:4)
“In him,” or as members of his body attached to him as the head, the Corinthian believers had been enriched in every way, “in all word and all knowledge.” Their enrichment in “word” appears to refer to their ability to express the message about the Son of God. Because of having come to know all the essentials about his example and teaching, they were also enriched in knowledge. They were fully acquainted with the glad tidings about him. (1:5)
The “testimony of Christ” had been firmly established or confirmed among the Corinthian believers. This may refer to the miracles or deeds that revealed the working of divine power, serving to verify the truthfulness of the message about the Son of God. (1:6)
Through the operation of God's spirit, various miraculous gifts had been imparted to the individual disciples of Christ. As a community of believers, the Corinthians were not lacking in any essential gifts. In keeping with what they had learned about Christ, they were waiting for his revelation or his return in glory. Approved believers would then be united with him and, in the ultimate sense, begin enjoying their status as God’s children. (1:7)
Paul expressed confidence that the Father, the one to whom he continued to offer thanks for the Corinthian believers, would keep them firm or strengthen them to the end. The Father’s safekeeping assured the Corinthian believers that they would be found blameless or fully approved “in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That “day” refers to his revelation or his return in glory. (1:8)
The apostle could express himself with such confidence because “God is faithful,” dependable, or trustworthy. He had called the Corinthian believers into fellowship with his Son and, therefore, would aid them to live in keeping with the purpose for which he had called them. (1:9)
Addressing the Corinthians as “brothers” or fellow children of God, Paul admonished them by “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” or on the basis of the authority Christ had granted him. The apostle urged all of them to “speak the same” or to be united in their profession of faith and not to have any divisions among them. All of them should have as their aim to be of the same mind and the same thought or purpose. (1:10)
Disturbing reports about the existence of strife among his “brothers” or fellow believers in Corinth had reached Paul from persons associated with Chloe. The ones who brought the report were either servants or other members of her household. Possibly Chloe was a woman of some means and, like Lydia in Philippi, engaged in commercial business. (1:11)
Divisiveness had developed because the Corinthians identified themselves with certain ones as leaders. Individually, they would say, “I am of Paul, but I am of Apollos, but I am of Cephas [Peter], but I am of Christ.” Whereas Paul and Apollos had been in Corinth, it is not known whether Peter ever passed through the city. If Peter did visit Corinth, this could explain why some of the Corinthians would identify themselves as belonging to him. Another possibility may be that certain believers had met Peter elsewhere and, on account of his close personal association with Jesus, chose to identify themselves with him. In view of his mentioning himself, Apollos, and Peter as examples of those who were being looked to in a manner that resulted in factions, Paul’s reference to those who said, “I am of Christ,” may also have been in a manner that contributed to quarreling. (1:12)
Disavowing the factious spirit that resulted from looking to certain men, Paul said, “Has the Christ been divided?” The implied answer is an emphatic “no.” Many manuscript readings would allow for rendering the words as a statement (“The Christ has been divided”), which would mean that the existing factions in the community of believers or the body of Christ caused Christ to be divided, for he is the head of the body. The apostle then raised other rhetorical questions that called for a “no” answer, “Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1:13)
He was grateful (“to God,” according to numerous manuscripts) that he had not baptized anyone other than Crispus and Gaius. As the reason for his gratitude, Paul added, “so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.” No general claim would have been justified that Corinthian believers had been immersed in the name of Paul and thereby acknowledged him as their leader to whom they came to belong. (1:14, 15)
After having mentioned Crispus and Gaius, the apostle appears to have recalled that he also baptized the household of Stephanas, but he had no recollection of having baptized anyone else. Christ’s purpose in sending him or commissioning him as an apostle had been for him to proclaim the good news. He had no special commission to do baptizing (as did John the Baptist). The fact that the apostle stressed that Jesus Christ had not sent him to do baptizing may indicate that certain ones, in an inordinate manner, looked to those who had immersed them, which action marked their entrance into the community of believers. (1:16, 17)
Furthermore, Paul’s having been sent did not serve to demonstrate “wisdom of word,” which may mean the human wisdom associated with eloquent speaking and impressive reasoning. In view of the absence of the persuasive power stemming from extraordinary speaking and reasoning ability, the death of Christ and the reason for it were revealed to the fullest extent. Thus the “cross [staurós] of Christ” was not emptied. The reference to the implement on which Christ died is representative of all that he accomplished through his sacrificial death, and nothing in Paul’s ministry diminished the power that this historical event had on all who responded to it in faith. (1:17; see the Notes section.)
To those who were perishing because of their persisting in unbelief, the “word of the cross” (the message about Jesus’ death and its significance) appeared to be foolishness. They could not comprehend how there could be any benefit resulting to them from one who died an ignominious death like that of a vile criminal. For those who responded in faith and thus were saved or delivered from God’s condemnation of the world of mankind that remained in a state of alienation from and enmity with him, the “word of the cross” proved to be God’s power. The message regarding Jesus’ death and what it accomplished has a powerful effect on all who embrace it, revealing to them both the seriousness of sin and the depth of God’s love for humans in a way that no other arrangement could have achieved. The nature of Jesus’ death exposed the seriousness of sin. As God’s provision for humans to be forgiven of their sins and to be reconciled to him as his approved children, Jesus’ death demonstrated the greatness of divine love. (1:18; see the Notes section.)
Paul appropriated the words of Isaiah 29:14 (LXX) to show that evaluation of God’s activity or purpose on the basis of human wisdom would lead to the wrong conclusion, which would explain why the unbelievers would consider the “word of the cross” to be foolish. “For it is written,” said the apostle, “I [YHWH] will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent ones.” (1:19; see the Notes section.)
Paul then raised a number of rhetorical questions. “Where [is the] wise one? Where [is the] scribe? Where [is the] debater of this age?” When referring to the “wise one,” Paul may have thought of the Greeks, with their pride in philosophy (“love of wisdom”). Possibly he particularly meant the Jewish scribes when mentioning the “scribe.” The “debater” could include any lover of disputes among both Jews and Greeks. In view of the absence of punctuation in the original Greek text, the phrase, “of this age,” could also modify “wise one” and “scribe,” not necessarily being restricted to “debater.” The expression “this age” may be understood to mean the then-existing Greco-Roman world. In relation to what God had accomplished through his Son, there was no one among the world’s wise ones, scribes, or debaters who could comprehend the divine arrangement for forgiveness of sins or come to any sound conclusion regarding it. Appropriately, in view of the ignorant state in which God had left them, Paul raised the rhetorical question, “Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish?” (1:20)
Through the “wisdom” existing in the world of mankind alienated from God, no one could come to know him. In his wisdom, he had purposed that this would be the case. Therefore, he was well-pleased to save from condemnation those who would believe, doing so through the “foolishness” (from the world’s standpoint) of the proclamation (regarding the death of his Son and what it accomplished). (1:21; see the Notes section.)
For their part, the Jews demanded “signs” as a condition for believing. On the basis of Daniel 7:13, they expected the promised Messiah to come with the clouds of heaven. For this reason, they repeatedly asked Jesus for a heavenly “sign.” The Greeks desired “wisdom,” wanting proofs that were set forth with eloquent and impressive reasoning. (1:22)
Either using the first person editorial plural or meaning to include his close associates, Paul indicated that he did not accommodate the demand for “signs” and the desire for “wisdom.” “But we preach Christ crucified.” For the Jews, this proved to be a cause for stumbling, for it did not fit their expectation of a conquering Messiah who would liberate them from the Roman yoke. As for the non-Jewish people, they could not imagine that benefits could come to them through a man who was executed like the worst kind of criminal. The message about “Christ crucified” sounded foolish to them. (1:23)
To the “called ones,” both Jews and Greek (non-Jews) who responded to God’s call or invitation to be reconciled to him as his beloved children, Christ proved to be “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Christ’s sacrificial death was the means God used to effect liberation from sin and condemnation, a liberation that no human power could have brought about. Thus, by what he accomplished, Christ manifested the incomparable divine power. The arrangement for being forgiven of sin and being reconciled to God gave evidence of surpassing wisdom. It made it possible for responsive humans to recognize the seriousness of sin and the greatness of God’s love. So, in his own person and by his willing surrender of his life, Christ displayed his Father’s wisdom. No other provision for forgiveness of sins could have stirred the inmost selves of believers as intensely as the awareness that the Son of God died for them and that his Father had sent him to the world for this purpose. The transcendent love of the Son in surrendering his life and that of the Father in giving his Son for humans in a state of alienation from him cannot fully be fathomed, for nothing in the human sphere is even remotely comparable. (1:24)
Whereas the message about “Christ crucified” appears as “foolishness” to unbelieving humans, this “foolishness of God” is “wiser than men,” for humans, regardless of how wise they may be, are incapable of devising a means to free themselves from sin and its consequences. In the eyes of unbelieving humans, “Christ crucified” would be “weakness” or a “weak thing,” for they could not imagine that the greatest possible good would result therefrom. The “weakness of God,” however, is “stronger than men,” for humans are powerless when it comes to effecting freedom from sin. (1:25)
Within the community of “brothers” or fellow believers, the Corinthians could see that, “according to the flesh” or according to human evaluation, not many of them were wise, powerful, or of noble birth. For the most part, they were persons of much lower social standing, including slaves. (1:26)
The upper classes of society would have looked down upon them as foolish and weak, persons of little account. God, though, had chosen what is regarded as foolish in the world of mankind to shame the wise ones and what is thought of as weak to shame the strong. To accomplish his purpose, God did not need the wise and the powerful. He did not seek their support, for they were of no special value to him. As individuals who were of no use to him in their state of unbelief, he put them to shame. (1:27)
Instead of soliciting the cooperation of the wise and influential ones of the world, God chose the ignoble, the despised, or the nothings or little nobodies as his people to advance his cause. This served to reduce to nothing “the things that are,” revealing that the unbelieving somebodies were of no value to him. (1:28) As a result, “no flesh,” or no human, had any basis for boasting in the sight of God. No one had anything to offer that God specifically needed to carry out his purpose. (1:29)
It was not on the basis of any personal merit that believers had come to be “in Christ,” at one with him as members of his body. God is the one who made this possible. As Paul expressed it, “Out of him, however, you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1:30, 31)
In the world, the Corinthian believers had mostly been nobodies or nothings. On account of what God had done for them, they enjoyed the dignified standing of his beloved children. Christ was “wisdom from God” for them, providing them with everything they needed to conduct themselves in keeping with their new life as members of his body. On account of their faith in him, they came into possession of his righteousness as persons forgiven of their sins and divinely approved. Through him and what he accomplished through his death, they were sanctified or set apart for his Father as holy or as his clean people. They were also redeemed, or set free from the condemnation of sin, and were awaiting the full redemption, which would be accomplished at the time of their being united to Christ in the sinless state. (1:30)
With all boasting on the basis of personal standing, achievement, or merit being ruled out, believers give credit to God and Christ for everything. Their new life is owing to them, and so they live for God and Christ. Any boasting rightly is “in the Lord.” Paul quoted the thought (not the exact words) expressed in Jeremiah 9:24, where the reference is to boasting in knowing YHWH or having a relationship with him. Accordingly, the boasting “in the Lord” could refer to boasting in the Father, the source of the life “in Christ.” It may be, though, that Paul meant the Lord Jesus Christ, for he is wisdom from God, and righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. (1:31)
In 1 Corinthians 1:1, the Greek word for “called” is missing in a number of manuscripts, including fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus.
In translations that add “Lord” after “their” in 1 Corinthians 1:2, a common rendering is, “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (NRSV) When the expression “theirs and ours” is understood to refer to “every place,” the phrase can be translated, “all those who in every place, theirs and ours, call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the basic alternate rendering found in a footnote of the New Jerusalem Bible and in the main text of a number of German translations, including the 1984 revision of Luther’s translation.
The Greek word staurós (in 1 Corinthians 1:17, 18), commonly translated “cross,” does not in itself designate a long stake with a transverse beam but can denote a stake or pole. The staurós that Jesus and thereafter Simon carried was a beam, for a cross would have been too heavy for one man to carry or to drag. The Latin term crux, from which the English word “cross” is derived, can designate a tree or a wooden instrument on which victims were either hanged or impaled.
In the allegorical Epistle of Barnabas (thought to date from the early second century and so from a time when the Romans continued to practice crucifixion), the staurós is linked to the letter tau (T). Moreover, very limited archaeological evidence does indicate that the Romans did make use of upright poles with a transverse beam. There does not seem to have been a standard way in which the Romans carried out crucifixions. According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus (War, V, xi, 1), the soldiers, out of wrath and hatred for the Jews, nailed those they caught, one in one way, and another in another way.
It is commonly believed that upright stakes were already at Golgotha or that the beams that had been carried to the site were attached to three adjacent trees (or possibly even the same tree) there. The minority view (expressed, for example, in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) is that Jesus was nailed in an upright position to the pole that Simon had carried and that it was not used as a transverse beam.
In 1 Corinthians 1:19, the wording of the quotation from Isaiah 29:14 is nearly identical to that of the extant Septuagint text. Instead of a form of the word for “reject,” “refuse,” “turn aside,” “disregard,” “void,” or “break” (athetéo), the Septuagint uses a form of the word for “hide” (krypto), as also do the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.
In the time of Isaiah, the Israelites concluded that their outward worship, though lacking in genuine devotion, merited YHWH’s favorable attention. Through Isaiah, YHWH exposed their wrong view, letting them know that he would act in a manner that would cause wonderment, amazement, or astonishment. This would be by withdrawing his blessing, favor, and protection. In the face of the resulting disaster, the wise ones among the people would be unable to formulate a plan to deal with the distressing situation. Their wisdom would be destroyed, for YHWH would not aid them to see a way out and would leave them in a confused state. The intelligent ones among the Israelites would have nothing to offer. It would be as if YHWH had hidden their intelligence or understanding so that it could not be found.
Although Paul quoted from Isaiah 29:14 without making a contextual application, he used the words in a manner that harmonized with the message they conveyed.
Literally translated, 1 Corinthians 1:21 reads, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through [its] wisdom, God thought well to save the believers through the foolishness of the proclamation.” In relation to not knowing God, the expression “in the wisdom of God” has been understood in two basic ways. (1) In his wisdom, God has made it impossible for humans, by means of their own wisdom, to come to know him. (2) Despite the evidence of the wisdom of God in the creation, humans, by means of their own wisdom, did not recognize him.
Both meanings are found in translations. “As God in his wisdom ordained, the world failed to find him by its wisdom.” (REB) “God was wise and decided not to let the people of this world use their wisdom to learn about him.” (CEV) Denn obwohl sich seine Weisheit in der ganzen Schöpfung zeigt, hat ihn die Welt mit ihrer Weisheit nicht erkannt. (For although his wisdom reveals itself in the whole creation, the world, in its wisdom, did not recognize him.) (German, Neue Genfer Übersetzung) Denn weil die Welt, umgeben von der Weisheit Gottes, Gott durch ihre Weisheit nicht erkannte, gefiel es Gott wohl, durch die Torheit der Predigt selig zu machen, die daran glauben. (For since the world, surrounded by the wisdom of God, did not recognize God through its wisdom, it pleased God well, through the foolishness of the proclamation, to save those who believed therein.) (Luther, 1984 revision [German])