1 Corinthians 1:17-31 • Wisdom and Power


The city of Corinth was extremely diverse culturally, more of a melting pot of many cultures rather than having a distinct personality or influence of its own. The two biggest influences are the Jews and the Greeks which is quite a contrast. The Jews’ search for spiritual truth required it be accompanied by a sign. Not just a miracle but something spectacular from Heaven. The Greeks sought spiritual truth through wisdom, their evaluation of which was based on the elegance and rhetoric of the speech and arguments great orators or speakers presented. One group’s wisdom is based on signs, the other on communication skills. The Gospel came through Paul and was accepted by both groups with wisdom and power, but not precisely in accord with how they would interpret wisdom and power.

Read 1:17-18

Q: Is Paul stating that he does not believe in baptism or that it’s unnecessary? How did Paul implement baptism in his ministry?

A: Analysis of Acts indicates that he probably baptized the very first converts when establishing a church but largely delegated the responsibility of baptism to his ministry team or deacons. The team followed up by building the church up and ensuring that new believers completely understood the purpose of baptism. Apparently this didn’t have the effect in Corinth as it did in other places as here they quarreled and boasted regarding who baptized them.

Q: What’s wrong with preaching really well? Why is Paul worried that a clever presentation might negate the Gospel?

A: The art of rhetoric was one of the most prized abilities of the day, especially in Corinth where one of the most popular forms of entertainment was oratory and debate. It’s an extension of their quarrel as to which personality they clung to more. Paul is trying to get them to look beyond man to the source: Jesus Christ. [Read 1:9, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”] They should be unified in their fellowship with one another through Christ, not divided as to which apostle they favored best.

Q: What are the two basic groups Paul identifies in v.18?

A: “….those who are perishing….” and “….us who are being saved….”

Q: Why is it significant that these conditions are described in the present tense?

A: It describes the current earthly situation for believers and non-believers. One is in the process of dying, the other being rescued from death.

Q: How is the Gospel – or “the word of the cross” as Paul calls it in v.18 – viewed be each group? They’re witnesses of the same events/message, yet how do they describe it?

A: “Foolishness” and “the power of God”.

Q: How could two groups, viewing the same events and hearing the same message, come to such radically different conclusions?

A: It’s not a matter of knowledge but faith.

Read 1:19-20

Q: So why can’t man understand the Gospel like any other discipline, science or topic he’s analyzed under the sun?

A: Because God has intervened to make it an issue the mind cannot fathom until the heart is given over to Him.

Q: Who might the 3 types of people described in v.20 represent?

A: “The wise man” is everyone in general (someone applying their intellect), “the scribe” is the Jew (someone looking for a confirming sign), and “the debater” the Greek (someone seeking to explain things through a higher wisdom).

Q: How does the world display its foolishness in regards to the Gospel?

A: Not because of its lack of knowledge but of its lack of faith in Christ crucified.

Read 1:21

Q: Has any scientific endeavor, any new technology or discovery, any academic research ever discovered man’s duty to or relationship with God?

A: No. It has only come about through revelation – through a step of faith completely outside the domain of man’s knowledge. As stated at the end of this verse, the Gospel can only save those who believe.

Read 1:22-25

Q: Paul consciously knows the Jews want signs and the Greeks want wisdom. Why doesn’t he customize the Gospel to their beliefs so they’ll be won over?

A: Trick question: He already has. The problem for each group is their pride which prevents them from believing. The Gospel of Christ’s crucifixion is a sign that trips up the Jews and confounds the Greeks. The process of presenting the truth of the Gospel breaks down barriers of pride that can’t be overcome simply with knowledge.

Q: How is it that “the called” understand that Christ is both the ultimate sign and wisdom of God but the Jews and Greeks referred to here do not?

A: “The called” believe.

Q: How does Paul put man’s power and wisdom into perspective in v.25?

A: Even the most foolish thing of God is wiser than the highest wisdom of man, and the weakest thing of God stronger than the strongest thing of men.

Read 1:26-29

Q: Do we have any Biblical examples of these verses in action, where God used people who by worldly standards would have been the wrong choices? Or where he nullified the “things that are” with “the things that are not”?

Q: What does Paul want us to always remember concerning our calling?

A: That it has come from God. We cannot boast that it has come about by our own power or wisdom but only from God.

Point: What is the application of this for us individually and then for our local church as a whole?

Read 1:30-31

Q: So God not only defuses earthly wisdom when it comes to understanding the power and message of the cross, but gives true understanding of them as we are drawn into Christ. What does Christ then become to us in our understanding and acceptance of the Gospel?

A: Wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification (notice how these 2 things are joined together to represent power or “the sign”), and this wisdom and power works for our redemption. (Back to v.1:18)

Read Jeremiah 9:23-24

Point: Ever notice how every poll places you in a category such as “Baby Boomer” or “Republican” and so forth?