1 Corinthians 1:26-31: A Contrast of Wisdom, pt. 2
26 Βλέπετε γὰρ τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα, οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί, οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς· 27 ἀλλὰ τὰ μωρὰ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός, ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τοὺς σοφούς, καὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός, ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τὰ ἰσχυρά, 28 καὶ τὰ ἀγενῆ τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὰ ἐξουθενημένα ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός, τὰ μὴ ὄντα, ἵνα τὰ ὄντα καταργήσῃ, 29 ὅπως μὴ καυχήσηται πᾶσα σὰρξ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ. 30 ἐξ αὐτοῦ δὲ ὑμεῖς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὃς ἐγενήθη σοφία ἡμῖν ἀπὸ θεοῦ, δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις, 31 ἵνα καθὼς γέγραπται· ὁ καυχώμενος ἐν κυρίῳ καυχάσθω.
26 For consider our calling, brothers and sisters: not many are wise according to the flesh, not many are influential, not many are of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world in order to shame the wise, and God chose the weak things of the world in order to shame the things which are strong, 28 and God chose the despised and the insignificant things of the world, the things which are not, in order to invalidate the things which are, 29 so that no person may boast before God. 30 But because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written,
“The one who boasts let him boast in the Lord.”
A few mss. (D F G) have the reading οὖν in place of γάρ. Because of the shift in person a scribe may have seen γάρ as to soft of a transition and inserted οὖν in its place, signifying shift in topic
The insertion of καί before τὰ μὴ ὄντα is due to the repetitious nature of vv. 27-28. Each of the three clauses are connected by a καί, thus the insertion of καί is likely due to a scribes attempt to match the style of the previous three clauses. But as Metzger notes, “In adding the [καί], however, scribes overlooked the force of the expression τὰ μὴ ὄντα, which…is not another item of the series, but is a comprehensive and climactic characterization of all the preceding items.”1
Some mss. have the reading αὐτοῦ is place of τοῦ θεοῦ.
Commentary and Reflection:
These verses are closely related to the preceding ones. The conjunction γάρ is explanatory in nature,2 picking up on the second part of Paul’s proclamation in 1:18 (“but for us who are being saved the message of the cross is the power of God”). Further, the γάρ does not introduce a new topic (contra Garland, 72n.1) in the discourse; rather it continues to elaborate on what was previously discussed, namely the folly of worldly wisdom and the power of God’s wisdom.3
Another contextual indication for an explanatory use of γάρ is the repetition of key lexical words like “wise” (σοφός),“foolishness, foolish” (μωρία, μωρός), “weakness” (ἀσθενής), and “strong” (ἀσθενής). These keys terms help to move the discourse along, but they do so in an explanatory way without causing a change in the topic.
There is a shift in person, however, in the discourse at 1:26. Paul returns his focus again to the Corinthians specifically (this is seen in the shift to 2nd person, i.e. Βλέπετε… ὑμῶν, and in the use of the vocative ἀδελφοί). Whereas the focus of 1:19-25 seems to be on those outside the church, the focus in 1:26ff is on those who have been called (κλῆσις) into the church of God, specifically here the Corinthians. The “calling” the Corinthians are to consider is their calling to faith, not a vocational calling (i.e. calling to ministry). They are to contemplate their calling in light of the fact that not many people who the world would consider wise or of great importance were called by God to salvation. As Garland notes, “In choosing [the Corinthians], God overlooked their lack of spiritual merit and flouted all worldly measures of human worth.” 3
The structure of 1:27-28 is stylized in a somewhat poetic way. Paul lists three indicatives stating God’s choice, followed by three reasons for his choice. This is followed by the ultimate purpose for God’s actions in 1:29:
A ἀλλὰ τὰ μωρὰ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός
A’ ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τοὺς σοφούς
B καὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός
B’ ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τὰ ἰσχυρά
C καὶ τὰ ἀγενῆ τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὰ ἐξουθενημένα ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός, τὰ μὴ ὄντα
C’ ἵνα τὰ ὄντα καταργήσῃ
Purpose: ὅπως μὴ καυχήσηται πᾶσα σὰρξ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ
A But God chose the foolish things of the world
A’ in order to shame the wise
B and God chose the weak things of the world
B’ in order to shame the things which are strong
C and God chose the despised and the insignificant things of the world, the things which are not
C’ in order to invalidate the things which are
Purpose: so that no person may boast before God
Our calling to salvation is because of God (ἐξ αὐτοῦ), for he has called us into Christ (ὑμεῖς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ; 1:30). And this calling to Christ is so that if we boast, we boast only in the Lord, not in ourselves or or merit (1:31; cf. Eph 2:8-9).
Paul’s statement regarding those who are called to Christ in 1:26 is so true. Just look at world in our day. It is not the scientists, or philosopher, or politician, or the Steve Jobs that are coming to Christ. No, it is the you and I’s of this world. It is the people with very little money, power, nobility, and social status that are by and large turning to Christ for salvation from sin. This is not to say that God does not redeem those who are of money, power, etc. He does indeed do so. But the majority of people trusting in the Messiah are those of very little or no reputation. It is usually those who see their need for a Redeemer. They know that whatever wisdom, inteillect, presitige, and power they have will get them no closer to a holy God. They know that there weakness in strength, and their foolishness in the world’s eyes in true wisdom.
1 Bruce M. Metzger. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd ed. New York: United Bible Societies, 1994: 480.
2 A.T. Robertson. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. Logos, 2006: 1190.
3 For an excellent discussion on the function of γάρ in a discourse see Steven E. Runge. A Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis. Bellingham: Logos Research Systems, 2010: 69-73.
4 David E. Garland. 1 Corinthians. BECNT. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003: 73.