1 Corinthians 1:18: The Power of the Gospel
18 Ὁ λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν
18 For on the one hand, the message of the cross is foolishness to the one perishing, but for us who are being saved the message of the cross is the power of God.
The presence of the article ὁ before the genitive phrase τοῦ σταυροῦ is not a common phenomenon. This construction (art.[a]+substantive+art.[a]+art.[b]+substantive) occurs three more times in the NT: Acts 11:23, Rom 13:2, and Tit 2:10. The occurrence in Rom 13 can be crossed off the list of similar structural behavior. Also, the occurrence in Acts 11 is suspect due to a variant reading, making the inclusion of the article τήν probable at best. The structure of Tit 2:10b is identical to that which we find in 1 Cor 1:18: ἵνα τὴν διδασκαλίαν τὴν τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν θεοῦ κοσμῶσιν ἐν πᾶσιν. Young argues that the article ὁ in 1 Cor 1:18 turns the genitive construction into a noun phase. This in turn places the ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ in apposition with the head noun Ὁ λόγος. He goes on to note “the article also has semantic value in raising the phrase to prominence, marking a contrast with the words of men.”1
On the other hand, according to BDF the article ὁ functions anaphorically, pointing the reader back to 1:17 were “the cross of Christ” (ὁ σταυρὸς τοῦ Χριστοῦ) is mentioned.2 But I am not sure a repetition of ὁ is necessary to get the readers attention; the mention of the the cross (σταυρός) alone functions as a hook work linking 1:17 with 1:18ff.
Missing in some manuscripts is the article ὁ before τοῦ σταυροῦ mentioned above. It would be easy to understand how the inclusion of the article ὁ in 1:18 was a scribal addition due to the presence of ὁ σταυρὸς τοῦ Χριστοῦ in 1:17. Certainly the the reading ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ is the more difficult reading.
Commentary and Reflection:
Paul is certainly not beating around the bush. His proclamation in 1:18, which serves as the statement for the 1:18-2:5, is as blunt and and offensive as you could get in the first century. In the Greco-Roman world Paul’s day the cross was an offensive and ruplsive thought. Even a man as sophisticated as Cicero decried crucifixion as something that should not even be in the thoughts of a Roman citizen (Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo 5.16). Likewise, the Jews recognized the shame associated with the cross. For them crucifixion associated with a curse (Deut 21:23; cf. Paul’s interpretation and application of Duet 21:23 to the crucifixion of Christ and the removal of the curse in Gal 3:13). So then why begin a letter with a thesis statement like Paul’s to the Corinthians? The answer is in the μὲν…δὲ.
The repulsiveness of the message of the cross is significantly surpassed by the power of God to save specifically by that very same message. What is on the one hand (μὲν) foolishness (μωρία) to some, it is nevertheless (δὲ) the very power of God for those of us who are being saved (τοῖς…σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν).
Paul has a similar proclamation in his letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of for salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Οὐ γὰρ ἐπαισχύνομαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν παντὶ τῷ πιστεύοντι, Ἰουδαίῳ τε πρῶτον καὶ Ἕλληνι)” (Rom 1:16). For Paul the message of the cross is synonymous with the gospel. What is considered utter foolishness and shameful is the very gospel that Paul proclaims to all.
In my life I interact with on a daily basis people who think the message of the cross is a ridiculous and foolish notion. They see no need for a Messiah who hung on a cross and died. They see no need for forgiveness because they have no recollection or awareness of the utter state of ruin they are in. They have no idea that at the present moment they are perishing, hell bound in a basket. What they need—what we all need—is the gospel! It is the only hope this world has to escape the wrath and judgment of God. For truly the axe is laid at the root of the tree, and some day God will chop it down and cast it into the everlasting fire of his righteous wrath. O let us run to the cross! Let us flee the wrath that is sure to come, and embrace with all our might the Messiah who died to bear our sins. For as the apostle said, “He was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom 4:25).
1 Richard A. Young. Intermediate New Testament Greek: A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach. Nashville: B&H, 1994: 60.
2 BDF §271.