The first reading is from Paul’s “1st Letter to the Corinthians,” from the middle of the first of five sections within the letter. Chapter 2-4 are about divisions within the Corinthian community. The reasons for these divisions are several and some are explored in detail in following chapters, but in this section, the divisions are about the popularity of certain leaders leading to rivalries among them: “I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas.” (1 Cor 1:12)
His basic response is “You’ve got to be kidding me! You belong to Christ.”
Paul notes that adherence to individual leaders has something to do with differences in preaching ability along with certain presuppositions regarding wisdom, eloquence, and power, all of which Paul judges to be in conflict with the gospel and the cross. But it is especially this idea of wisdom that Paul finds troublesome and in need of correction. And so, Paul addresses the community on the nature of true Wisdom as it applies to the community in Corinth.
Paul does not deny that the gospel is wisdom, but he argues that it is a different kind of wisdom than the world understands, one which the world does not recognize. The Gentile Christians at Corinth were tempted by many forms of worldly wisdom. It was probably some form of logic such as was taught by Philo, the Alexandrian philosopher who attempted to translate Jewish teachings into philosophical categories. Greek philosophy generally held that the spiritual was superior in every way to the physical. All that pertained to the body could and perhaps even should be ignored. The material is irrelevant. Ethics was often ignored, while what one could grasp with the mind was considered to be of sole importance.
Paul is against spiritual elitism because it moves away from everyday Christian life led in the body. Paul warns that such “wisdom,” which he characterizes as of this world, breeds division, jealousy, competition. The Corinthians pursued a kind of enlightenment that would give them superiority over those who were considered merely infants. The “rulers of this age” used such ideas to maintain power over others, and even to put Jesus to death (2:8; see Luke 22:25).
But, says Paul, only the Spirit of God can plumb the depths of God and only the truly spiritual person can receive the revelation of God. God’s is a revelation summed up in the wisdom of the cross. This is a revelation that changes the criteria for judgment, enabling us to put on the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16).
Image: Nicholas Mutton; CC-BY-SA 2.0