1Corinthians 1:22 The Jew requires a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom.
This verse is often used to justify the belief that signs were given to Israel and they have the right to ask for a sign, whereas, Gentiles were not given signs and therefore have no right to ask for them and further therefore, we should not expect, when “God is working with Gentiles” that signs are being used.
But, is this what 1Corinthians 1:22 actually says? Does this verse say that God gave Israel the right to ask for signs? Does this verse teach that signs are something special that God gave to Israel to enjoy, but to Israel alone?
Let’s briefly look at signs themselves and then turn our attention back to 1Corinthians.
A sign can be used to signify a host of various things. Often in scripture signs were used as a proof of truth or God’s reality. Signs can also be used to signify natural phenomenon. For example, in Genesis 1:14, we see that the lights in the firmament were to be for signs and seasons, for days and years. These lights could be used as the point of reference to determine a day or a year. Their position likewise in the firmament would signal change (namely, in the seasons).
Throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament, God used signs to demonstrate His power and His faithfulness. When Moses recounts the purpose of God, for delivering Israel out of Egypt, he reminds his people of what they witnessed – as a testimony of God’s power and faithfulness:
Deuteronomy 6:21 Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand: 6:22 And the LORD shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes: 6:23 And he brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he sware unto our fathers.
Notice where Moses places the credit for their exodus – the Lord brought them out; the Lord showed signs and wonders; the Lord brought them out in order for the Lord to take them in (to Canaan). How often do believers, having been brought out of the rule of Sin by Jesus Christ, then turn to themselves to “finish” their faith or to “finish” their Christianity? Is not Christ the Author and FINISHER of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)? God brought Israel out of Egypt with an express purpose and that was to likewise bring them into the land He promised unto their fathers. God’s purpose was not to have them wander in the wilderness for 40 years.
This is the same purpose in Christ. We were brought out of Adam in order to be taken into Christ. This is all God’s doing – we simply agree with Him and allow Him to work. But, for the believer who attempts to finish their faith, as it were, they have alienated their mind to a wilderness. They do not realize they have already been brought into the land (Christ, as it were), but they aimlessly wander in the wilderness of guilt and obligation – having been fooled into thinking they must finish their faith. If that’s you – stop! Simply agree with Him that He is the finisher of your faith and therefore, you can rest from your attempts to finish it yourself.
But, you might ask, just as God gave Israel signs to demonstrate His power and faithfulness, what sign would He give the world to demonstrate the very same? Interesting that the Pharisees essentially asked Christ this very question, although, perhaps their motives weren’t as pure when looking under the surface of their own pride.
Matthew 12:38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. 12:39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 12:41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. 12:42 The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.
These Pharisees are this wicked and adulterous generation and Christ calls them on it that their intention of having a sign have nothing to do with them desiring truth. In verse 41, Christ says that Nineveh shall rise to judge this aforementioned generation and shall condemn it. Notice what Christ just told these haughty, heritage-boasting Jews – that a Gentile city would rise, judge and condemn these Jews because these Gentiles actually repented at the preaching of Jonah (insinuating that these Jews were not repenting at the preaching of Christ).
This would have set them off. How dare Christ even suggest that God would allow Gentiles to judge the Jews – this was the Pharisee’s mindset. But, Christ says that a greater than Jonah is here (referring to Himself). From this, (verses 39 and 40), we see the pinnacle evidence of Christ being the Messiah will be the sign of the prophet Jonah, as it relates to Jonah’s temporary entombment in the belly of the whale – the sign of the resurrection.
For all time, the paramount sign/evidence of God’s power and faithfulness is summed up in the very resurrection of Jesus Christ. It not only demonstrates His power to defeat DEATH, but His faithfulness to eternally provide LIFE, being the God of Life that He is. There is never a time when the Life of God flickers or dims – it is faithful.
Understanding a bit more about signs then, perhaps we can turn our attention back to the verse at hand and attempt to understand what Paul is actually saying. As always, context will help lay the ground work.
First, the letter to the Corinthians is due to many divisions and contentions being reported to Paul. Paul opens the letter reminding the Corinthians of their UNITY in Christ. (I’ll note the lack of division, but the predominance of unity with a different colored font.)
1Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 1:2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: 1:3 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
1Corinthians 1:4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 1:5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 1:6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 1:7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: 1:8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1:9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul has shown that who they are in Christ is all defined by Christ and they have all been brought in to enjoy the richness of Him. God did not bring some in at a higher level of spirituality at the expense of others – God brought them out of Adam in order to take them into Christ. However, because of the divisions and contentions that were being fostered within the group, the Corinthians had derailed on many fronts of their understanding and behavior as they were not living together in light of this unity and harmony they had with one another, in Christ. Paul wastes no time at driving to this point and in the next verses, he jumps right in:
1Corinthians 1:10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 1:11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 1:12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
Paul understands that there were some faulty allegiances that were established. People were aligning themselves under men – some were following Paul (sound familiar?); some were following Apollos; some were following Peter; some were following Christ. By the way, if the Corinthians were not to be following Peter but following Paul (as some dispensationalists would propose), then this is the perfect time for Paul to set these Corinthians straight. Let’s see if he does so:
1Corinthians 1:13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? 1:14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; 1:15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. 1:16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. 1:17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
Ha! Not a word of rebuke for their following Peter over Paul. I wonder why that is? Well, no need to wonder – Paul is exceptionally clear here. His question – is CHRIST divided? Where do you suppose Paul’s mind is? Upon WHOM is Paul’s mind fixed? If unity happens in the person of Christ and all of these Corinthian saints were in Christ, then upon whom Paul’s mind is fixed is exactly upon whom these Corinthians should affix their minds. Instead, these Corinthians were apparently making cliques based on who water baptized them. But, Paul makes it quite clear that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel. Why was Paul not sent to baptize? Many make a big deal over this statement, but without looking at the context, I can see why. However, we see that Paul is saying nothing more than you Corinthians who are making these allegiances over who baptized them have your focus misplaced because it is the preaching of the gospel (Jesus Christ) that the point. In fact, if the Corinthians (especially those who had chosen to “follow Paul”) were actually LISTENING TO PAUL, they would have concluded that CHRIST is the focus, not Paul.
Paul says that the preaching of the gospel is not with “wisdom of words”, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. Paul’s message was not this poetic display of eloquence, whereby he dazzled the ears of his listeners. But rather, Paul preached the gospel clearly and plainly to allow the power of the message to be on display. He did not want folks to think that the power of the message was in the delivery of the message, but was rather centered on the content of the message.
1Corinthians 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 1:19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 1:20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
Paul has simply demonstrated the uselessness of bathing his message delivery in the wisdom of this world and that through the lenses of this world’s wisdom, the cross is foolishness, but is a demonstration of the power of God unto us which are saved. Therefore, Paul says it pleased God to save them that believe, not from the lofty heights of worldly wisdom, but out of the foolishness of preaching.
1Corinthians 1:22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: 1:23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 1:24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Do you see Paul’s point? Is it saying that Jews have a right to ask for a sign before they will believe and that God will respond once they have exercised this right? No, not at all in the context! Paul is exposing the wrong thinking on both the Jews and the Gentiles. Instead of yielding to the foolishness of preaching, the Jews require a sign and the Greeks require wisdom. Therefore, when Paul preaches Christ and Him crucified, it is unto the Jews a stumbling-block and unto the Greeks it is foolishness. But, Paul says, unto both Jews and Greeks who have believed, Christ is the power of God (the sign of God) and Christ is the wisdom of God. The very thing that these other Jews and Gentiles aimlessly seek for is only to be found in Christ Himself.
Just as the Pharisees were told, all the signs/evidence you need is the resurrected Christ. And, what more would one need to not only know that Jesus is the Christ, but that same person who believes this is joined in union to the very Same. The believer lives and breathes, at all times, in the Sign of God Himself. You have all the signs you need.