1 Corinthians 1:18-31
I. MAIN THEME
1. Messiah the power and wisdom of G-d
II. KEYS WORDS OF PASSAGE
1. Execution Stake [cross], foolishness, power, wisdom, strength, weakness
III. CURRENT ISSUES OR PROBLEMS THE PASSAGE ADDRESSES
1. The secular world’s confidence in its institutions, wisdom, strength.
a. Cornith: 1 Corinthians
First Corinthians is a practical letter. Paul dealt with problems concerning the church as a whole and also with personal problems. The letter is relevant for the needs of today. Individuals and churches continue to face many of the same problems encountered at Corinth.
There is no need for doubt concerning the authorship, origin, and destination of this letter. It was used by early Messianic writers. Quotations and allusions are found in 1 Clement, a letter sent from Rome to Corinth in A.D. 96. Others reflecting use of 1 Corinthians include Ignatius (35-107), Justin Martyr (100-165), Irenaeus (130-200), and Tertullian (160-220). First Corinthians was written from the city of Ephesus. In 16:7b-8a, Paul wrote, “I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.”
Paul’s First Ministry in Corinth
A brief survey of Paul’s contacts with Corinth will aid in understanding his correspondence with Corinth. In a vision at Troas on his second missionary journey, Paul heard the call, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9). Paul and his party went to Philippi and established work there. Following their release from prison, Paul and Silas went to Thessalonica. Although a work was established there, persecution arose due to the jealousy of the Jews. Paul and Silas moved on Berea, where they were well received. However, Jews from Thessalonica came and stirred up the crowds.
The decision was made for Paul to minister alone in Athens. A comparison of Acts 17:13-15 with 1 Thessalonians 3:6 indicates that Timothy returned to Thessalonica. Silas probably remained at Berea. Paul’s ministry was brief in Athens. Some converts were made, but a church was not established. Paul left Athens alone and probably discouraged.
Paul went from Athens to Corinth, where later Silas and Timothy joined him (Acts 18:5). Paul ministered in Corinth at least eighteen months (Acts 18:1-18). He began working with Aquila and Priscilla in tent making. Probably, they already were Messianics. They had come to Corinth because of an edict by Claudius that Jews should depart from Rome.
Allowing for a margin of one year, Paul’s first visit to Corinth can be dated with a high degree of assurance. Two events provide data for this dating. Aquila and Priscilla had “lately come from Italy … because Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome” (Acts 18:2). Suetonius wrote concerning Claudius, “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.” “Chrestus” is probably a reference to Messiah. If so, the non-Messianic Jews and Messianic Jews were arguing concerning Messiah. Orosius, a fifth-century historian, dates the edict in the ninth year of Claudius (History, VI.6.15). The ninth year of Claudius was from January 25, 49, to January 24, 50. Although the accuracy of Orosius has been questioned, this dating fits with other data. If correct, Aquila and Priscilla probably came from Rome in A.D. 49 or early 50. Thus, Paul would not have arrived in Corinth before 50.
The date of Gallio’s proconsulship provides better data for determining the time of Paul’s ministry in Corinth. Normally, a proconsul served for only one year, beginning on July 1. An inscription found at Delphi is a copy of a letter from Claudius in response to a report sent by Gallio as proconsul. It states that Claudius was in his twelfth year, thus January 25, 52, to January 24, 53. It also stated that Claudius had been acclaimed as emperor for the twenty-sixth time. An inscription on an aqueduct in Rome shows that the twenty-seventh acclamation came before August 1, 52. This would place the Delphi letter between January 25, 52, and August 1, 52.
Gallio could not have begun in July 52, reported to Claudius, and received an answer by August 1. If he served for only one year, it would have been from July 1, 51, to June 30, 52. Acts 18:18 seems to indicate that most of Paul’s ministry of eighteen months had passed when he appeared before Gallio (Acts 18:11). Thus the most likely time for dating Paul’s arrival in Corinth is early 50.
Paul left Corinth accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:18). He left them at Ephesus and promised the Ephesians that he would return. In the meantime, Aquila and Priscilla instructed Apollos; and he left for Corinth, where he preached for some time (Acts 18:24-28). After visiting Jerusalem and Antioch of Syria, Paul returned to Ephesus for a ministry of more than two years (Acts 19:8-10).
Paul’s Contacts with Corinth During His Ephesian Ministry
During Paul’s Ephesians’ ministry a series of disturbing events took place relative to Corinth: (1) A party spirit arose in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:12-13; 3:3-4). (2) A series of reports came to Paul, some by those of Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11). These reports included attacks upon Paul (1 Cor. 2:1-10) and problems of immorality (1 Cor. 5:1). (3) Paul wrote a letter warning against fellowship with sexually immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9). This letter is lost unless a portion of it remains in 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1. (4) The Corinthians wrote to Paul (1 Cor. 7:1), asking about certain problems concerning marriage, fornication, and disorders in public worship. (5) A delegation came from Corinth (Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus) with news from Corinth (1 Cor. 16:17). (6) Apollos quit his work in Corinth and returned to Ephesus. Even under Paul’s urging, he refused to go back to Corinth (1 Cor. 16:12). (7) Paul sent Timothy to Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17) in an effort to heal the problems. Timothy probably went by way of Macedonia (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor. 16). (8) Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8), expecting them to receive the letter before the arrival of Timothy (1 Cor. 16:10).
Purpose for Writing First Corinthians
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to give instruction and admonition that would lead to the solving of the many problems in the congregation. Some of these problems may have arisen out of a “super spiritualist” group that had been influenced by incipient gnostic teachings. All of the problems in chapters 1-14 were grounded in egocentric or self-centered attitudes in contrast to self-denying, Messiah-centered attitudes. Chapter 15 concerning the resurrection may reflect sincere misconceptions on the part of the Corinthians.
Theme of 1 Corinthians as Whole
The egocentric life is contrasted with the Messiah centric life, or, the mature Messianic is characterized by giving, not getting.
Outline Introduction (1:1-9)
A. Fragmentized by a party spirit (1:10-17)
B. Messiah crucified: a stumbling block to the world in its wisdom, yet the power and wisdom of G-d (1:18-31)
2. Word Studies
a). Cross, Crucifixion
1.4716. stauros, stow-ros’; from the base of G2476; a stake or post (as set upright), i.e. (spec.) a pole or cross (as an instrument of capital punishment); fig. exposure to death, i.e. self-denial; by impl. The atonement of Messiah:–execution stake (cross). The method the Romans used to execute Yahshua Messiah. The most painful and degrading form of capital punishment in the ancient world, the cross became also the means by which Yahshua became the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. It also became a symbol for the sacrifice of self in discipleship (Rom. 12:1) and for the death of self to the world (Mark 8:34).
Originally, a “cross” was a wooden pointed stake used to build a wall or to erect fortifications around a town. Beginning with the Assyrians and Persians, it began to be used to display the heads of captured foes or of particularly heinous criminals on the palisades above the gateway into a city. Later crucifixion developed into a form of capital punishment, as enemies of the state were impaled on the stake itself. The Greeks and Romans at first reserved the punishment only for slaves, saying it was too barbaric for freeborn or citizens. By the first century, however, it was used for any enemy of the state, though citizens could only be crucified by direct edict of Caesar. As time went on, the Romans began to use crucifixion more and more as a deterrent to criminal activity, so that by Yahshua’s time it was a common sight.
The eastern form of crucifixion was practiced in the Old Testament. Saul was decapitated and his body displayed on a wall by the Philistines (1 Sam. 31:9-10), and the “hanging” of Esther 2:23; 5:14 may mean impalement (compare Ezra 6:11). According to Jewish law (Deut. 21:22-23) the offenders were “hung on a tree,” which meant they were “accursed of G-d” and outside the covenant people. Such criminals were to be removed from the cross before nightfall lest they “defile the land.” During the intertestamental period the western form was borrowed when Alexander Janneus crucified 800 Pharisees (76 B.C.), but on the whole the Jews condemned and seldom used the method. Even Herod the Great refused to crucify his enemies. The practice was abolished after the “conversion” of the emperor of Constantine to Christianity.
A person crucified in Yahshua’s day was first of all scourged (beaten with a whip consisting of thongs with pieces of metal or bone attached to the end) or at least flogged until the blood flowed. This was not just done out of cruelty but was designed to hasten death and lessen the terrible ordeal. After the beating, the victim was forced to bear the crossbeam to the execution site in order to signify that life was already over and to break the will to live. A tablet detailing the crime(s) was often placed around the criminal’s neck and then fastened to the execution stake (cross). At the site the prisoner was often tied (the normal method) or nailed (if a quicker death was desired) to the crossbeam. The nail would be driven through the wrist rather than the palm, since the smaller bones of the hand could not support the weight of the body. The beam with the body was then lifted and tied to the already affixed upright pole. Pins or a small wooden block were placed halfway up to provide a seat for the body lest the nails tear open the wounds or the ropes force the arms from their sockets. Finally, the feet were tied or nailed to the post. Death was caused by the loss of blood circulation and coronary failure. Especially if the victims were tied, it could take days of hideous pain as the extremities turned slowly gangrenous; so often the soldiers would break the victims legs with a club, causing massive shock and a quick death. Such deaths were usually done in public places, and the body was left to rot for days, with carrion birds allowed to degrade the corpse further.
Four types of crosses were used: 1) The Latin cross has the crossbeam about two-thirds of the way up the upright pole; 2) St. Anthony’s cross (probably due to its similarity to his famous crutch) had the beam at the top of the upright pole like a T. 3) St. Andrew’s cross (supposedly the form used to crucify Andrew) had the shape of the letter X; 4) the Greek cross has both beams equal in the shape of a plus sign.
3.The Crucifixion of Yahshua
Yahshua predicted His coming crucifixion many times. The Synoptic Gospels list at least three (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 and parallels), while John records three others (3:14; 8:28; 12:32-33). Several aspects of Yahshua’s passion are predicted; 1) it occurred by divine necessity (“must” in Mark 8:31); 2) both Jews (“delivered”) and Romans (“killed”) were guilty (Mark 9:31); 3) Yahshua would be vindicated by being raised from the dead; 4) the death itself entailed glory (seen in the “lifted up” sayings which imply exaltation in John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-33).
The narration of Yahshua’s crucifixion in the Gospels emphasized Jewish guilt, but all four carefully separated the leaders from the common people, who supported Yahshua all along and were led astray by the leaders at the last. Yet, Roman guilt is also obvious. The Sanhedrin was no longer allowed to initiate capital punishment; only the Romans could do so. Furthermore, only Roman soldiers could carry it out. Roman customs were followed in the scourging, mock enthronement, bearing the crossbeam, and the crucifixion itself. The site on a hill and the size of the cross (the use of the hyssop reed shows it was seven to nine feet high) showed their desire for a public display of a “criminal.” The Jewish elements in the crucifixion of Yahshua were the wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23), the hyssop reed with vinegar (Mark 15:36), and the removal of Yahshua’s body from the cross before sunset (John 19:31).
The four Gospels look at Yahshua’s crucifixion from four different vantage points and highlight diverse aspects of the significance of His death. Mark and Matthew centered upon the horror of putting the Son of G-d Himself to death. Mark emphasized the messianic meaning, using the taunts of the crowds to “save yourself” (15:30-31) as an unconscious prophesy pointing to the resurrection. Matthew took Mark even further, pointing to Yahshua as the royal Messiah who faced His destiny in complete control of the situation. Yahshua’s vindication was found not only in the rending of the veil and the centurion’s testimony (Matt. 27:51,54 paralleling Mark) but also in the remarkable raising of the Old Testament saints (vv. 52-53-53) which links the cross and the open tomb. For Matthew the execution stake inaugurated the last days when the power of death is broken, and salvation is poured out upon all people.
Luke has perhaps the most unique portrayal, with two emphases: Yahshua as the archetypal righteous Martyr who forgave His enemies and the crucifixion as an awesome scene of reverence and worship. Luke omitted the negative aspects of the crucifixion (earthquakes, wine with myrrh, cry of dereliction) and overturned the taunts when the crowd “returned home beating their breasts” (23:48 RSV). Luke included three sayings of Yahshua which relate to prayer (found only in Luke): “Father, forgive them” (v. 34, contrasted with the mockery); “today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43, in response to the criminal’s prayer); and “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit” (v. 46). A wondrous sense of stillness and worship color Luke’s portrayal.
John’s narration is perhaps the most dramatic. Even more so than Luke, all the negative elements disappear (the darkness and taunts as well as those missing also in Luke), and an atmosphere of calm characterizes the scene. At the core is Yahshua’s sovereign control of the whole scene. The cross becomes His throne. John noted that the inscription on the cross (“YAHSHUA OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS”) was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek (19:19-20), thereby changing it into a universal proclamation of Yahshua’s royal status. Throughout the account to the final cry, “It is finished” (v. 30), Yahshua was in complete control.
4. The Symbolic Meaning
Yahshua Himself established the primary figurative interpretation of the execution stake (cross) as a call to complete surrender to G-d. He used it five times as a symbol of true discipleship in terms of self-denial, taking up one’s cross, and following Yahshua (Mark 8:34; 10:38; Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23; 14:27). Building upon the Roman practice of bearing the crossbeam to the place of execution, Yahshua intended this in two directions: the death of self, involving the sacrifice of one’s individuality for the purpose of following Yahshua completely; and a willingness to imitate Yahshua completely, even to the extent of martyrdom.
Closely connected to this is Paul’s symbol of the crucified life. Conversion means the ego “no longer live(s)” but is replaced by Messiah and faith in Him (Gal. 2:20). Self-centered desires are nailed to the cross (Gal. 5:24), and worldly interests are dead (Gal. 6:14). In Romans 6:1-8 we are “buried with him” (using the imagery of baptism) with the result that we are raised to “newness of life” (v. 4). This is taken further in 2 Corinthians 5:14-17. The believer relives the death and resurrection by putting to death the old self and putting on the new. In one sense this is a past act, experienced at conversion. Yet according to Ephesians 4:22,24 this is also a present act, experienced in the corporate life of the church. In other words, both at conversion and in spiritual growth, the believer must relive the cross before experiencing the resurrection life. The Messianic paradox is that death is the path to life!
5. Theological Meaning and References
While a theology of the execution stake (cross) is found primarily in Paul, it clearly predates him, as can be demonstrated in the “creeds” (statements of belief/teaching) Paul quoted. For instance, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 says Paul had “received” and then “delivered” to the Corinthians the truth that Yahshua “died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Three major themes are interwoven in this and other creeds (Rom 4:25; 6:1-8; 8:32; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:21; 3:18-22): Yahshua death as our substitute (from Isa. 53:5; compare Mark 10:45; 14:24); Yahshua’s death and resurrection as fulfilling Scripture; and Yahshua’s vindication and exaltation by G-d.
For Paul the “word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18 NASB) is the heart of the gospel, and the preaching of the “cross” is the soul of the church’s mission. “Messiah crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23; compare 2:2; Gal. 3:1) is more than the basis of our salvation; the cross was the central event in history, the one moment which demonstrated G-d’s control of and involvement in human history. In 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16 Paul contrasted the “foolishness” of the “preaching of the cross” with human “wisdom” (1:17-18), for only in the cross can salvation be found and only in the foolish “preaching of the cross” and “weakness” can the “power of G-d” be seen (1:21,25). Yahshua as the lowly One achieved His glory by virtue of His suffering–only the crucified One could become the risen One (1:26-30). Such a message certainly was viewed as foolish in the first century; Roman historians like Tacitus and Suetonius looked upon the idea of a “crucified G-d” with contempt.
The execution stake (cross) is the basis of our salvation in Paul’s epistles (Rom. 3:24-25; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20; 2:14), while the resurrection is stressed as the core in the Book of Acts (2:33-36; 3:19-21; 5:31). Romans 4:25 makes both emphases. The reason for the distinct emphases is most likely seen in the fact that Acts chronicles the preaching of the early church (with the resurrection as the apologetic basis of our salvation) and the epistles the teaching of the early church (with the crucifixion the theological basis of our salvation). The three major terms are: “redemption,” stressing the “ransom payment” made by Yahshua’s blood in delivering us from sin (Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:18); “propitiation,” which refers to Yahshua’s death as “satisfying” G-d’s righteous wrath (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17); and “justification,” picturing the results of the cross, the “acquittal” (“declaring righteous”) of our guilt (Rom. 3:24; 4:25; Gal. 2:16-21; 3:24).
The execution stake (cross) did even more than procure salvation. It forged a new unity between Jew and Gentile by breaking down “the dividing wall of hostility” and “made the two one” (Eph. 2:14-15 NIV), thereby producing “peace” by creating a new access to the Father (v. 18). In addition the “cross” “disarmed” the demonic “powers” and forged the final triumph over Satan and his hordes, forcing those spiritual forces to follow his train in a victory procession (Col. 2:15 NIV). The cross was Satan’s great error. When Satan entered Judas in betraying Yahshua, he undoubtedly did not realize that the “cross” would prove his greatest defeat. He could only respond with frustrated rage, knowing that “his time is short” (Rev. 12:12 NIV). Satan participated in his own undoing!
b). Foolishness 472. moria, mo-ree’-ah; from G3474; silliness, i.e. absurdity:–foolishness.
c). Power 1411. dunamis, doo’-nam-is; from G1410; force (lit. or fig.); spec. miraculous power (usually by impl. a miracle itself):–ability, abundance, meaning, might (-ily, -y, -y deed), (worker of) miracle (-s), power, strength, violence, mighty (wonderful) work.
d). Wisdom 4678. sophia, sof-ee’-ah; from G4680; wisdom (higher or lower, worldly or spiritual):–wisdom.
e). Strength 2478. ischuros, is-khoo-ros’; from G2479; forcible (lit. or fig.):–boisterous, mighty (-ier), powerful, strong (-er, man), valiant.
f). Weakness 72. asthenes, as-then-ace’; from G1 (as a neg. particle) and the base of G4599; strengthless (in various applications, lit., fig. and mor.):–more feeble, impotent, sick, without strength, weak (-er, -ness, thing).
3. Cross References