What does is it mean that God used the foolish in the world to shame the wise?
1 Cor 1:27 cannot be understood in isolation. This part of Paul's argument begins in V18. In this passage is at pains to pint out two things:
- V18 - the Gospel appears foolish to the Jews and the Greeks, for largely the same reasons - the Messiah was born illegitimately, and died as a criminal - Some hero!! A stupid idea to non-Christians that made no sense whatever. Paul then quotes Isa 29:14 in support of this obvious conclusion and then pivots to the next point;
- V20 - the greatest intellectual human efforts are miniscule compared to the wisdom of God. (Recall Isa 55:9, As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.) Paul expresses it this way, (v25) "For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."
Conclusion: V21 - God uses what looks stupid (= "foolish") in the world's eyes to do great things for those who believe, namely save hopeless sinners.
Paul then elevates ordinary people to something greater than nobility by saying (V26), "Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth."
Next Paul makes a series of parallel statements that all say the same thing:
- God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise (V27a)
- God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (V27b)
- God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are (v28)
That is, what the world things is stupid (= foolish, ie, an illegitimate crucified criminal Messiah) is the very thing that saves us. Jesus appeared weak because He allowed Himself to be killed; But the forget the best part of the story that Jesus rose from the dead and now reigns with God in heaven!
Thus, it is true - "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise" (V27).
In this passage the apostle imitates the contemptuous language in which the Greek philosophers, and men of learning, affected to speak of the Christian preachers: yet, as he does it in irony, he aggrandizes them. The first preachers of the gospel, as Bishop Newton observes, “were chiefly a few poor fishermen, of low parentage, of no learning or eloquence, of no reputation or authority, despised as Jews by the rest of mankind, and by the Jews as the meanest and worst of themselves. What improper instruments were these to contend with the prejudices of the world, the superstition of the people, the interests of the priests, the vanity of the philosophers, the pride of the rulers, the malice of the Jews, the learning of the Greeks, and the power of Rome!” But the weaker the instruments who converted the world, the greater was the display of the power of God by which they acted.