1 Corinthians 1 Study Notes


1:1 Paul generally used the designation as an apostle . . . by God’s will when his apostolic authority was being challenged or when he was writing to correct his readers.

1:2 Paul attached two epithets that identified the church at Corinth: those who were sanctified in Christ Jesus and those who were called as saints. These epithets and the last qualifying phrase, with all those in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord—both their Lord and ours, suggest the letter’s theme: those who are set apart belong to the Lord and appeal to his authority. Jesus Christ is the “Lord” in every place.

1:3 Paul’s standard greeting after the salutation identified two persons of the Trinity, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. “Lord” recalls “Lord God” of the OT, thus making a clear statement about Jesus’s divine identity.

1:4 Paul later used the word grace with reference to the Corinthian believers being accepted as blameless at the Lord’s appearing (vv. 7-8), and also with reference to their spiritual giftedness that confirmed their relationship with Christ (vv. 6-7). As is only fitting, Paul’s chief reason for gratitude toward the Corinthian believers was the gift of grace God had given them.

1:5-8 Paul clarified this grace with reference to the gifts given to the Corinthians. Their spiritual giftedness confirmed their reception of the testimony of the gospel. Paul declared they were enriched, referring not only to gifts that testified to their faith but also to those gifts that were being abused or counterfeited within the congregation. These latter included gifts such as ecstatic speech, a source of pride for the congregation. The Corinthian congregation also was prideful with respect to their possession of special religious knowledge. Despite these problems, their genuine reception of the gospel testimony was confirmed by their spiritual giftedness.

1:9 In the introduction to 1 Corinthians, the word Lord occurs more than in any other letter introduction of Paul (vv. 2,3,7,8,9). In this transition to the body of the letter, Paul again emphasized his theme—the authority of the Lord over his subjects. He acknowledged the Father’s faithfulness to call the Corinthians into a unified fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ, who is Lord of the church.

1:10-4:21 The letter includes Paul’s responses to two reports. The first was regarding major divisions within the church (1:10-4:21). The second regarded gross sexual immorality (5:1-6:20).

1:10 Paul’s appeal to unity is expressed in a first-century idiom translated agree in what you say. The added phrase the same conviction refers to the shared conviction about the centrality and importance of the gospel message—Christ crucified (v. 17; 1:18-3:4). In Paul’s mind, this central conviction was the key to church unity.

1:11-12 Paul disclosed the report from Chloe’s household about the quarrelsome, divisive spirit in the church at Corinth. In a vivid, ironic style, he repeated their party slogans that used the stock phrase “I belong to so-and-so.” Slaves used this expression to identify their master. Also, anyone who slavishly belonged to a factious political party could use this phrase. Even though they said, “I belong to Christ,” Corinthian believers who followed mere men exhibited a divisive, slavish spirit contrary to the way of Christ. Apollos was a popular teacher at Corinth (Ac 18:24-19:1). Cephas is the Aramaic name of Peter.

1:13-16 Paul answered the rhetorical question is Christ divided? by illustrating from his own life and ministry two crucial issues related to who he was and what devotion others owed him. In rapid-fire fashion, he asked: Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in Paul’s name? The answer to both questions was clearly no. Christ died for each of us, and by Christ’s authority we are identified with him in one corporate body that belongs to Christ (12:12-13). Therefore, Christ is the one to whom honor is due.

1:17 Paul did not try to gain a greater faction by baptizing, but rather he preached the gospel, his God-given mission (Ac 9:15). Not with eloquent wisdom emphasizes what the world sees as the gospel’s foolishness, that being the message of “Christ crucified” (vv. 18,23; 2:2). The message of the cross of Christ should never be diluted in our evangelism, for by such “clever” means we risk voiding it of its power.

1:18-19 The cross divides the human race. The division is between those who are perishing, to whom the cross is foolishness, and those who are being saved, to whom the cross is wisdom and power. Paul supported this truth by quoting Is 29:14, where God warned the unbelieving leaders of Jerusalem who considered themselves wise. God’s judgment will expose all pretensions to human wisdom not anchored in Christ.

1:20-21 Paul introduced God’s indictment against those who view themselves as wise in this age. The last question of the series (Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish?) shows the futility of unbelieving human wisdom. The world takes the gospel and its emphasis on the cross as foolishness, but God determined to save people on the basis of their trust in what is preached—Christ crucified.

1:22-23 To Jews, the message Christ crucified signaled weakness, indicating that Jesus was a false messiah. Jews looked instead for signs of Messiah’s power (Is 35; 61); thus, the message “Christ crucified” was a stumbling block (Gk skandalon; an offense) to their expectations. To the Gentile mind-set, which held no “messianic expectations” but only general conceptions of what deity should be like, the message of “Christ crucified” was foolishness.

1:24 Among the called of all nations, Christ is the power and wisdom of God to save from his judgment (v. 21).

1:25 The foolishness (as perceived by the world) of God is wiser than the wisdom of man. The term translated “foolishness” refers to the foolish content of the message preached—the offensive message of Christ crucified.

1:26-28 Paul gave the rationale for the makeup of God’s people. Because the Lord’s people embrace the “nothing” message, the world views them as nothing. But in the next age God will shame the wise and the strong and bring to nothing the things that in this age are viewed as something (2:6; 3:18-20).


Greek pronunciation [sah FEE ah]
CSB translation wisdom
Uses in 1 Corinthians 17
Uses in the NT 51
Focus passage 1 Corinthians 2:6

The Greek noun sophia means wisdom, intelligence, or knowledge, but this intelligence and knowledge pertain more to skill in living than to intellectual mastery. Related words are the verb sophizo, meaning to make wise (2Tm 3:15; 2Pt 1:16), and sophos, the adjective meaning wise or clever.

In the OT, wisdom does not refer to intellectual ability but to one who looks to God for instruction. Solomon stated that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Pr 1:7), which implies that even a genius who does not fear God is a fool (see Ps 14:1).

Paul understood sophia in the light of the OT. He saw world-ly wisdom and God’s wisdom as opposites (see 1Co 2:1-9; Col 2:23). The Greeks depended on human mental prowess and insight to unravel the mysteries of life, but Paul relied on God’s revelation in Christ (1Co 1:30; Eph 1:8-9,17; 3:8-12). This is why Paul said that God’s wisdom in Christ is not “of this age” and “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1Co 2:6; 3:19).

1:29 God determined to choose despised ones—those who embrace the foolishness of the cross—so that no one can boast about his human accomplishment or position in his presence.

1:30-31 By the Father’s doing, believers have an identification in Christ (shorthand for “in Christ crucified,” cp. vv. 23-24,30; 2:2). Because of this they possess the wisdom of God—Christ crucified, the very essence of wisdom. Through this wisdom, believers have justification at God’s court, sanctification that allows their entrance into his presence, and ultimate redemption.