Updated: Mar 3
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” [Isaiah 29:14]
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
This is the Epistle reading selection for the third Sunday in Lent, Year B, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It accompanies the Old Testament reading from Exodus 20, which lists the Ten Commandments. Psalm 19 is sung along with this, saying: “Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.” Finally, the Gospel reading from John, which tells of Jesus overturning the vendor tables and saying he would rebuild the temple in three days also fits the thread of Paul’s words.
In verse 18 that begins this reading, the word “cross” is found as the translation for “staurou.” While a “cross” is read by modern brains that know the whole story of Jesus of Nazareth, so the accepted global symbolism of a “cross” is it states how Jesus of Nazareth died for the sins of everyone in the whole wide world, that limits severely the truth. That meaning of a “cross” as an instrument of death is a viable translation of “staurou,” but the word was most commonly used in spoken and written language two thousand years ago [in an agrarian society] as meaning “an upright stake,” one most typically found (in the hundreds) in vineyards, as the instruments upon which grapevines grew.
Here, in order to grasp the full intent of Paul writing verse 18 as he did, placing focus on “the cross,” it is good to look closely at how the structure of what he wrote is presented, based on marks of punctuation. Whereas the NRSV presents verse 18 in two segments, with one comma in the middle, the BibleHub Interlinear presentation shows this verse broken into five segments, including a semi-colon. They are as such (literally translated into English):
“This word for those of the cross” ,
“to those truly dying foolishness is” ;
“those now being rescued” ,
“to us” ,
“strength of God it is” .
Because this verse begins with a capitalized first word (“Ho”), a meaning more substantive than “the” must be found. An acceptable substitution in translation, according to NASB Translation list of the uses of “ho” in the New Testament allows “This” to be a viable alternate translation, found translated as that thirty-one times. The capitalization as “This” makes verse 18 be referencing back to what was just written by Paul. There, Paul had asked the Corinthian Christians if they had been crucified or baptized in the name of Paul. [The obvious answer is "No."] In verse 17 he wrote [according to the NRSV translation]:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
As can be seen, “This” becomes an important clarification of his words stating “the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” There, Paul wrote the Greek word “stauros,” which has equally been translated as “cross.”
When verse 18 is broken down into segments that makes each need to be grasped independently from the others, the first segment sets up the whole verse and all segments that follow, such that Paul is announcing he was then writing about the “word” [from “logos”] that is “stauros,” relative to it being heard as an instrument of dead – the Roman crucifix. More than "the message of the cross," this verse addresses the "word" translated as "cross."
The second segment then addresses that issue of death, where to project that all Christians-to-be must die on a Roman crucifix is seen by them as “foolishness,” an “absurdity,” or “folly” [the meanings for "mōria"]. By translating the Greek word “stauros” as meaning an instrument of death makes no sense to those hearing the word as that. Because Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on a Roman “cross,” hearing that one must pick up his [or her] own “cross” and carry that [the lesson of the second Sunday of Lent] sounds like being asked to go down to some Roman office and ask to be killed by crucifixion. Paul said those who were “truly dying” could not fathom such a message of suicide.
The deeper meaning of Paul writing “to those truly dying” ["tois men apollymenois"] is it says all who are not saved from their sins are mortals and bound to die at some point. Without finding the salvation of Jesus Christ means they are “truly dying” of souls in bodies of sinful flesh. There is no crucifix that can possibly save their souls from a judgement by God that will send them back into new bodies of flesh, which also being mortal will be bound to die … again and again.
From seeing that deeper meaning about “truly dying” [“men apollymenois”], the “word” or “message” [“logos”] of the “cross” [“stauros”] is that of being “an upright stake.” While a Roman crucifix is likewise placed upright in the ground, it is first laid down on the ground, so a living body can be nailed to it. As an upright stake in a vineyard, the grapevines have support that allows full clusters of juicy grapes to hand from the cross members of the stake, without touching the ground and becoming ruined. This means becoming the good fruit of the vine [such as Paul] are those who offer salvation, by becoming another upright stake that supports the good fruit of the holy vine of God and Christ. This meaning can also be found reflected in the Genesis reading of the past Sunday, when God told Abram "walk with my face [the face of God] and be blameless], such that Abram lived his entire life as a "cross" that was upright.
This means the ability to be saved, in order to save others as an upright stake, is all from “the strength of God” awarded to an upright stake. God’s power is not displayed in instruments of death. God’s power is displayed in human beings, whose souls have married Him [merged with His Holy Spirit], giving rise to His Son within [in the name of Jesus Christ]. The power of God is to produce good fruit in the name of His Son, through others of true faith, who have become upright stakes, just as was Jesus of Nazareth.
In support of this intended message [“logos”], Paul then quoted Isaiah 29:14, where Isaiah said [paraphrasing] that God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and frustrate the intelligence of the intellectuals. This then states the intent of Paul writing about “foolishness, absurdity, or folly” from reading about a “stauros” and thinking of an instrument of destruction, the quote from Isaiah says reading divine Scripture can be a most tricky thing for scholars and people who are more connected to a university degree than God Almighty. The use of Isaiah’s verse says “stauros” can only be seen as an upright stake in God’s vineyard by those allowing their brains to be led by the Mind of Christ.
Paul then asked a series of rhetorical questions, the first three beginning with the word “pau.” The first question uses a capitalized “Pau,” which makes it important to realize the word is not meant simply to ask “where,” but to importantly ask, “In what place” one is. The importance places focus of where one’s thought process come from: scholarly intellect or divine insight.
The four questions are:
“In what place is learned” ? [the "wise"]
“in what place is a writer of Jewish law” ? ["the scribe"]
“in what place are philosophical arguments those of this age” ? ["the debater"]
“has God not made the fools of the world’s intelligence” ? ["the wisdom of the world"]
Why else would Paul turn to ask such questions, after introducing a verse that deals with “the message of the cross”? These question become a strong statement that seeing “stauros” as meaning the crucifix upon which Jesus of Nazareth faced death is shear intellect, overthinking and not being led by God’s insight to see the truth of its deeper meaning. A “staurou” is an “upright stake,” where that symbolizes “righteousness,” which is only possible through the “strength of God.”
In verse 21, where the NRSV translates Paul to state: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe,” the “wisdom of God” [“sophia tou Theou”] must be seen as the insight given to all whose books are canonized and presented as divine texts. The Holy Bible is a collection of texts that represent the wisdom of God, not the intellect of men.
When Paul wrote of those in “the world [who]… did not know him” [“ouk egnō ho kosmos”], the use of “egnō” says: “properly, to know, especially through personal experience (first-hand acquaintance).” (HELPS Word-studies) The absence of a personal relationship with God [marriage of one’s soul to His Holy Spirit] means intellect has no value beyond the material realm.
This then says that “those who believe” [“tous pisteuontas”] is not simple belief, but a deeper statement of true faith. Being relative to faith, where faith is based on personal experience, not hearsay, says the truth must come from being married to God and as one with Him becoming one with His wisdom. Instead of having eyes that cannot see, one is shown the truth that others are blind to, through their brains getting in the way. Brains believe, souls know, as faith.
It should not be overlooked how Paul writing “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached.” This is not a statement that God found pleasure in the preaching of the “cross” as an instrument of death. In reality, those words are divided into two segments of words, where “was pleased this of God” is relative to those who expressed belief in One God, such as did the Jews and some Greeks. They were the ones pleased, based on their intellect that preached belief in God was all they needed. Thus, the Jews were blessed simply by being Jews and the Greeks were blessed by claiming to be believers in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
Their preaching the “cross” made the death of Jesus only be for their benefit, which was foolishness. This is a message still preached today, which the intellectuals who lead the churches of Christianity refuse to see a call for sacrifice through righteousness, making them become fools in the eye of God.
Paul then wrote (according to the NRSV): “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” This says both the Jews and Greek philosophers demand evidence to what is written, as proof to believe that as holy. The Jews can only see the sign of “stauros” as a Roman crucifix, which angers Jews to revolt against foreign domination. The Greek philosophy was to see how death on a Roman cross means anything other than death, since there is limited proof of one dead returning to life. The evidence of Jesus would be enhanced by his still walking around, showing people his scars of death and telling his story as a firsthand witness. The metaphor of signs and the intelligence of logic is what keeps belief from becoming true faith. Still, for Gentiles, all talk of dying on a cross and being resurrected is difficult to believe, especially when those talking about it are obviously holding doubts of their own.
Where verse 23 states, “we proclaim Christ crucified” [“hēmeis de kēryssomen Christon estaurōmenon”], it is that message heard that becomes a “stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles.” That says the message preached in that way is wrong, simply because we recently read how Jesus told Peter he was a stumbling block and needed to get behind him, calling Peter “Satan.” God does not want stumbling blocks be part of His message through His Saints. Therefore, one who is frightened by a “cross,” because it symbolizes torture to death, is being misled.
Paul then wrote “to those who are the called,” where the Greek words written express “those” who have been led to stumble are to be helped upright, by “those called” by God, as Christ reborn in their flesh. Paul is one who was “called” [“klētois”], where the implication says “summoned by God to an office or to salvation.” (Strong’s usage)
It is then from those who God has called, as the ones who possess divine wisdom, that “stauros’ can be explained to be an “upright stake” that has the strength of God within, enabled to bear the weight of the truth of Scripture. That truth becomes the food that feeds those seeking knowledge, so they can then find “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
That understanding then led Paul to conclude here that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” All of this says human intellect will never be able to know the whole truth, but that half-truths discovered through human brains are easily misused and ultimately turned against them. To worship knowledge possessed by human brains is to turn one’s back to God, where one then bows down before scholastic knowledge and worships the Big Brain as all-powerful. The grand total of that power of human knowledge is nothing compared to the insight given to the faithful by God. Therefore, if one can see just how perverted human knowledge has become by preaching “stauros” means a cross of death, then one has become a fallen stake in God’s vineyard that has been raised and given the strength of God to bear the weight of His Christ Mind.
As a reading selected for the season of Lent, the element of “the cross” must be seen in the light of self-sacrifice. This was the lesson of the second Sunday in Lent, where Jesus was explained to have instructed all his followers to raise up their stake to an upright position in God’s vineyard and then become him reborn [“follow me”]. While the crucifix upon which Jesus’ dead body hung was an instrument designed to kill, rather than support vines with clusters of grapes, that cross must be seen as an upright stake upon which the good fruit of the vine hung. Because Jesus did not remain dead, rising after three days and returning in the flesh to his disciples, to complete their training, his cross does not stand for death, but rather a transition to a higher state of being.
Jesus did not die on a crucifix because his soul had married God’s Holy Spirit, making him in possession of eternal life, beyond the physical state of his flesh. Death is only a state of the physical and a soul can only experience death through an incarnation in the flesh, without the presence of God in one’s heart. To die in the flesh, releasing a soul that still is responsible for its sins means to return to the world (via reincarnation), not having gained the freedom of death that eternal salvation offers a soul. Thus, Lent becomes a time when one must raise up his or her state and prove that one has already died of self-ego and married God into one’s heart. The only way to survive this test of commitment is to be a soul merged with God’s Holy Spirit.
The message about the cross, told here in Paul’s first letter to the Christians of Corinth, says the only reason one will not marry God and will not sacrifice self-ego, thereby failing a Lenten test miserably, is due to thinking one is too smart to need to totally sacrifice oneself to the Lord. Thus, when Paul wrote “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified,” the stumbling block found is thinking Jesus died, so I don’t ever have to suffer and be tested. That is not the case; and, Lent is a season [whether or not anyone realizes it] when one knows why self-sacrifice is all important, as a total commitment to God. Marriage to God is the only way to raise one’s stake to an upright position and gain the strength necessary to go the rest of one’s life [well beyond forty days] as God’s wife.