Lectionary Year A
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 3, 2002
1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Step IV: Context

A. Primitive Christianity

(JFC) Many of the topics raised in this passage are significantly meaningful with the New Testament Church. For example, II Thessalonians 2:9f says that Satan "uses all powers, signs and wonders and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved." The end of Acts 2, reports that "And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved." Romans 1:18ff records how those who know God not necessarily honor and/or give thanks to the God revealed through creation, etc. In Romans 11:33, we get the exclamation, "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!" Matthew 11:25 reports Jesus' praying, "I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things (God's power got no or too little response by repentance) from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants." Signs were requested by scribes and Pharisees (Luke 11:16 and 29-32) and by Pharisees and Sadducees (Mark 8:11-13). When Paul was in Athens, Acts 17 tells, he debated with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. In Romans 3:27, Paul dismisses boasting altogether "by the law of faith". Yet, in Romans 5:11, Paul says, ". . . we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." In Philippians 3:9, Paul states, " . . . not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God based on faith." God's grace justifies and redeems all sinners, according to Romans 3:24. And, in Galatians 6:14, he emphasizes, "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world." Still, in Philippians 3:3, he states, "For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh . . ."

B. Old Testament and Judaism

(JFC) As with the New Testament Church, the Old Testament people found the subjects discussed in this part of Paul's letter to the Corinthians very interesting, especially wisdom, knowing God, strengths and weaknesses and the power of God. The quote in verse 19 of our text comes from Isaiah 29:14b and Psalm 33:10, if somewhat paraphrased. In an oracle concerning Egypt (Isaiah 19:11, Septuagint) we read of the ineffectiveness of Pharaoh's leaders. Isaiah 33:18 also contrasts supposedly trusted leaders in figurative language, as does Isaiah 44:25. Job (chapter 12, especially verses 13-25) also contrasts God's sovereign power and wisdom with those of the human leaders. Habakkuk 3:19 refers to God, "my strength, who makes my feet like the feet of a deer and lets me tread upon the heights." Jeremiah 9:23 admonishes the wise to avoid boasting "in their wisdom, nor the mighty boast in their might, nor the wealthy boast in their wealth." He encourages boasters to boast in knowing and understanding God to be "the Lord who 'acts with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight,' says the Lord."

C. Hellenistic World

(JFC) The concept of wisdom would certainly arrest the attention of these intelligentsia. The contrasting of wisdom and foolishness could provoke these thinkers to try to discern what for them might be meant by these terms. Remember, they highlighted "knowing oneself" through their dialogues. Where were they, among the wise or the foolish? Any questions? What would they do with the "human standards" and "noble birth" in the 26th verse of our text at hand? What would their high ethical concerns do with the lowly and the despised? Could they ever even imagine themselves among the wise whom God chooses to shame in verse 27? And, what would they do with the figure of Christ's having become wisdom from God?

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