Oh, A Wise Guy, Huh?

J. P. Holding

I’ve been asked to take a look at an item by Osama Abdallah making sport of Paul for allegedly uttering a "blasphemous statement" in 1 Cor. 1:25. The argument (here) is the sort presented by people who think "exegesis" means "putting an X on a picture of Jesus," so it won’t take long to disassemble. Let’s break it down to constituent elements, without using screaming red fonts as it seems Osama is fond of doing (who can tell why … maybe he likes red).

1. step: "Paul's blasphemous statement" "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.  (From the NIV Bible, 1 Corinthians 1:25)" Somehow Osama gets out of this that Paul is saying that "God is a fool," "God is weak," etc. and blows his stack a bit claiming that:

The comparison itself is very insulting and degrading to GOD Almighty.  It is also limiting to Him since our finite and limited intelligence and strength were compared to His infinite Attributes.

When Osama is done figuring out how to color his fonts, he may want to look up a word in the dictionary: "Irony". Paul is doing none of these things; what he IS doing is clear when we back up a bit and do some of that "ex uh jesus" stuff:

18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." 20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For 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. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Paul has said, first of all, that the message of the cross is "foolishness" TO others – which indeed it was. The very idea that a crucified man could be savior would have been regarded as foolish. (See my essay, "The Impossible Faith.") Then, using a technique of the sort typical of rhetors of his day, Paul ironically turns the tables on those who call such things "foolishness" – using their own word for ironic effect – by saying that this "foolishness" is actually wisdom to those who see it for what it is. So likewise "weakness" is a turnabout on the Jewish demand for signs (which amount to shows or power and strength). Put another way, 1:25 in modern parlance would have quotation marks around the words "foolishness" and "weakness" as a way of indicating that Paul is turning the arguments of his opponents against them.

So, sorry to tell you this, Osama, but – it’s Paul’s opponents (ideological opponents) who insulted God – not Paul. All he’s doing is turning the tables, and insulting THEM, if anyone.

(By the way, if Osama ever wishes to debate whether Trinitarianism is "polytheistic" – he can check out and learn what a "hypostasis" is.)

2. step: "Fool" is a forbidden word by Jesus!

That’s wrong, actually. Jesus said not to call a brother (a fellow member of your own social ingroup) a fool, not that the word could never be used anywhere at any time. He underlines Matthew 5:22 thus:

"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

It would be rather foolish, however, to claim that Jesus meant here that anyone sitting in a chair alone in a room that said, "You fool!" to no one was what was in mind. The underlined portion is modified by the prior statement of speaking to one’s brother and cannot simply be ignored. Since Paul was insulting ideological opponents and not members of his social ingroup, he did nothing contrary to the words of Jesus.

3. step: GOD Almighty would never declare such utter nonsense!

Osama says that "GOD Almighty would never say that He has stupidity and weakness in Him" and we agree – and say that He didn’t, as noted above. It was ideological opponents of Christianity who said this.

4. step: In his Conclusion Osama asks us to "give him a break" but when it comes to amateurish exegesis, no one deserves a break, and he won’t get one. We would suggest that he "bone up" on things like Greco-Roman rhetorical technique (specifically, the use of irony), as well as the social reaction to Christianity in the Greco-Roman world, before he opens his mouth again.

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