When a division arose in the church of Corinth, the apostle Paul blamed the root of the trouble on the Corinthian believers’ misunderstanding of the true nature of wisdom. Many who considered themselves wise were using their own puffed-up intellect to divide and destroy the church. Thus, Paul spends 1 Corinthians 1:18–25 contrasting worldly wisdom with the wisdom of God. Divine wisdom seems foolish and weak to those who value human knowledge, but Paul asserts, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25, ESV).
Paul begins his argument by explaining that “the message of the cross [or ‘the gospel’] is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). According to the world’s way of thinking, the gospel is utter foolishness, dying on a cross is an act of weakness, and humility, suffering, and servanthood are attitudes of the unwise. The Jewish people were looking for a mighty, miracle-working, kingdom-conquering Savior (Acts 1:6). They forgot the Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah who would suffer and die (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53). Because of their forgetfulness, Jesus called them foolish (Luke 24:13–35).
Paul tells the Corinthians that their human thinking is worthless, citing Isaiah 29:14, where the prophet reprimands and reminds Israel that “the wisdom of the wise will pass away, and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear” (NLT). Later, Paul states, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:19). Christians are not to rely on their own wisdom or the wisdom of the world. According to James, “such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15).
God’s wisdom has long been regarded as foolishness to the world (Hosea 9:7; 1 Corinthians 4:9–10). Some of the world’s most brilliant philosophers, scholars, and debaters say the gospel of Jesus Christ is nonsense. Some people laugh at the message of salvation, “but to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ [and His saving work on the cross] is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24, NLT).
Using irony, Paul calls the ministry of the gospel “foolish preaching” because that is how the world sees it: “Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21, NLT). Worldly wisdom does not have the power to save anyone. Instead, it only destroys the work of the gospel.
The foolishness of God is wiser than men means God’s wisdom far exceeds any human understanding and knowledge that people can possess. The message of Jesus Christ crucified is the ultimate wisdom and power of God (1 Corinthians 1:30). Those who believe the gospel and accept salvation in Jesus Christ are forgiven and set free from sin’s dominion, from divine judgment, and eternal death (2 Timothy 1:10; Romans 5:12; 6:23; Hebrews 2:14). Jesus Christ is the Christian’s wisdom and power, indeed, everything we need. What the world calls “the foolishness of God,” true believers understand to be “the power of God,” which conquers death and hell. What the lost call “the foolishness of God,” the saved know to be “the wisdom of God,” who is Jesus Christ crucified, the only One who grants eternal life to those who believe in His name.