What is “the foolishness of God” in 1 Corinthians 1:25?

WHAT IS “THE FOOLISHNESS OF GOD” IN 1 CORINTHIANS 1:25?

by Shawn Brasseaux

Can God be foolish? First Corinthians 1:25 says, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Why does the Bible say “the foolishness of God?” In this Bible study, we hope to compare verses and shed light on this expression.

To get the thought-flow, we begin at verse 17: “[17] For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. [18] For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. [20] Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? [21] For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. [22] For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: [23] But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; [24] But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. [25] Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Jesus Christ, from heaven, post-resurrection, commissioned the Apostle Paul to preach the Gospel, a new set of Good News never known to man until now. This Gospel is called “the Gospel of the Grace of God” in Acts 20:24. Water baptism was not a part of this Gospel message as it had been with the Gospel of the Kingdom in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16 (cf. Acts 2:38). While the 12 Apostles were indeed sent by Jesus Christ to water baptize converts, Paul was not sent to water baptize. True, Paul water baptized during the Acts period, but that was only temporary, necessary to communicate to Israel the fact that Paul was replacing Peter and the 11. Paul eventually quit water baptizing. The emphasis of Paul’s Gospel was not religious ceremonies (namely, water baptism). Neither was it delivered by smooth, eloquent Greek oratory (rhetoric). Romans 16:17-18 talks about such false teachers who use “good [kind, appealing] words and fair [beautiful] speeches.” Employing elaborate vocabulary, they sound attractive enough to reel in supporters by the masses. Think of the rich chanting and singing in the Roman Catholic Mass, the multi-syllable vocabularies of many theologians and clergy members, and so on.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:2,4: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God…. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Such “wisdom of words” would make the cross of Christ “of none effect,” or nullify it, for eloquence would make Paul the speaker the issue instead of Jesus Christ, the Saviour, the issue. The Apostle, although educated, thus refrained from using flattering, extravagant words to attract people. Remember, the wisdom to be declared in the Gospel was not Paul’s wisdom, but God’s wisdom. Man’s wisdom was not important concerning the Gospel; God’s wisdom was to have the preeminence, and it did in Paul’s ministry (this should also be of our ministry).

Since Paul did not resort to eloquent speeches and ostentatious phrases, his preaching was at variance with religious norms. He did not sound like “just another religious leader.” When compared to religious standards, he appeared and sounded silly. He was not sent to water baptize?! (Nearly every religion reveres some water ceremony!) He was traveling throughout the Roman Empire, preaching that the cross of Calvary—when a Jew had died—was “the power of God.” Calvary’s cross, even today, is ridiculed. “How can a dead Jew save me from hell?,” it is still asked. “What kind of God would see value in sending His Son to die in such a cruel, painful manner?,” it is still inquired. “How is victory accomplished when Jesus let the Romans kill Him?,” it is still asked. First Corinthians 1:18 could not be any plainer: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” The lost people of the world do not have spiritual eyes. All they have is human wisdom, and that is not enough to understand the things of God. Therefore, they scoff at and dismiss that which they do not know.

God in His wisdom actually fixed it to where mankind will never be able to figure out Him or His plan. It is for this reason that intellectuals laugh at Christians, invent anti-God arguments, and attack His Bible. Yes, they appear to sound smart, “untouchable,” clothed in their beautiful robes of scholarship and rationalism. “Me? Need God? Ha! I have degrees from prestigious institutions! My education causes me to live in reality! I do not believe in some ‘old man in the sky!’ I think for myself! Get away from me with that ‘book of superstition!’” All the while, they are totally oblivious to true wisdom. They have pompously ignored the fact that all the knowledge humanity has gained as a whole—which is much, much more than what they know individually—is just a fraction of the information in existence. In that realm of unknown wisdom, we find God’s wisdom, that which they will never grasp. Without this discernment to make sense of it, they simply dismiss it as quickly as possible using whatever convenient means.

As it is written in Isaiah 55:8-9: “[8] For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. [9] For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” First Corinthians chapter 1 continues: “[19] For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. [20] Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” This is a quote from Isaiah 29:14, which is God’s response to the Israelites exalting the opinions of men above His Word. He will let them have their way—spiritual ignorance!

In fact, let us turn to Isaiah chapter 29 to notice the parallel: “[9] Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. [10] For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. [11] And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: [12] And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. [13] Wherefore the LORD said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: [14] Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.” By using His wisdom to outsmart man in his “wisdom,” God proved man’s wisdom was really foolishness! First Corinthians 1:20 again: “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”

With respect to 1 Corinthians chapter 1, we continue: “[21] For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. [22] For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: [23] But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; [24] But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. [25] Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Again, verse 21 says that God, in His wisdom, planned it to where man could use his wisdom and still be unable to reach the level of divine wisdom. Man would remain at the spiritual I.Q. of “0” and God would be ranked as “infinity.” In God’s wisdom, He did not choose to save from hell people who went to seminary for a decade. He did not choose to save from hell those who joined a church, gave a donation to a ministry, kept a list of rules and regulations, got water baptized, held on, held out, recited a book of prayers, helped the poor and homeless, promised to live their lives for Him, and so on. These are classic responses in religion, but Paul never preached them. Again, that is why Paul was such an “oddball,” and that is why we grace-preaching Christians are equally foolish to the world. We do not sound religious and we claim not to be “religious,” yet we believe in God and the Bible. They see us as the most mysterious paradox of all!

The Bible says what pleased God was to “save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). While the Gospel of Grace sounded foolish, what was on display was God’s wisdom and man’s natural inability to grasp it. Apart from the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, we Christians could not understand it either (see chapter 2, which we cannot discuss here for brevity’s sake). As we read, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom” (verse 22). The Jews were interested in miracles, the Greeks pursued wisdom, but the thrust of Paul’s Gospel was not miraculous demonstrations or human philosophy. “[23] But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; [24] But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. [25] Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Paul went and “preached Christ crucified” (verse 23). The Jews to which he preached during Acts saw no victory or power in a dead Jew on a cross. The Greeks to which he preached during Acts heard no flattering oratory or polished expressions. Thus, “unto the Jews a stumblingblock”—the unbelieving Jews who heard Paul preach saw Jesus crucified as nothing more than a scandal of weakness most unpleasant and worthy of being shunned. (See them reject it in Acts 13:45!) Furthermore, “unto the Greeks foolishness”—the unbelieving Gentiles who heard Paul preach saw Jesus crucified as nothing more than absurdity. (See them laugh at it in Acts 17:32!) However, the believing Jews and Greeks/Gentiles who saw value in the words of God that Paul was preaching, these saints saw with spiritual eyes Jesus Christ “the power of God” (Jews) and “the wisdom of God” (Greeks). They were willing to let the Holy Spirit teach them!

Now, we (finally!) get to verse 25: “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” On one hand, the “foolishness of God” is how the Greeks viewed the Gospel of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for our sins. On the other hand, the “weakness of God” is how the Jews saw that Gospel of Grace. That God would do for man what he could never do for himself? Outlandish! That God would become a Man and die for man’s sin by letting man put Him to death? Strange! That there could be life in such a death? Folly! That a dead Man, totally deceased, could return to life and never die again? No! That such information could be conveyed without fancy phraseology and scholarly wisdom? Ridiculous! That God would do away with religious works as means to approach Him? Heresy! (No wonder Paul’s audience was so rattled! Beloved, no wonder they give us such bizarre reactions today! Hahaha)

First Corinthians 1:25 does not mean God does foolish things or thinks foolish thoughts. Remember, “the thought of foolishness is sin” (Proverbs 24:9). God cannot sin; therefore, He cannot think foolishly or act foolishly. It is talking about what appears to be, or what seems to be, foolish. Again, man, because of his limitations, cannot fairly evaluate what God does or thinks. Man in and of himself does not have enough strength or knowledge to gauge spiritual matters. Therefore, God’s thoughts and actions are so foreign to him. Lest he appear foolish and/or weak, his only hope is to explain away God’s thoughts and actions as “foolish.” You can go on into chapter 2 of 1 Corinthians to see this, particularly verse 14: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

We end this by saying, “What a wise God we Christians serve!”

Also see:
» Why can I get nothing out of the Bible when I read it?
» What does the Bible mean, “rude in speech?”
» Why do people get angry when we share right division with them?

4 responses to “What is “the foolishness of God” in 1 Corinthians 1:25?

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  3. Pingback: Why is Hell forever if life on Earth is but decades? | For What Saith the Scriptures?

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