For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.
When we read the Bible today we tend to interpret it based on our contemporary understanding of the world. But if we look at this passage from the perspective of someone living in early Christian times, it says much more than what appears.
The Jews and Greeks are the major groups that Paul was addressing in the letter to the Corinthians.
Paul says that the Jews require a sign in order to believe something. He also says the Greeks will believe something if they are able to reach it through rationalization and idealization.
There is a special link between the Greeks and the Jews in the Bible. The Greeks were descendants of Japeth, son of Noah.
by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
“…The Talmud cites the verse, “May God expand Japheth and may he (Japheth) dwell in the tents of Shem”(Genesis 9: 27) as proof that the Torah was not to be translated into any language except Greek (Babylonia Talmud Megillah 9b). The verse is Noah’s blessing to Japheth and Shem for their modest behavior after he was shamed by their brother Ham. The Talmud’s reading of the verse turns Japheth and Shem into symbols. Japheth is the forerunner of Greece and Shem; the progenitor of Israel. The expansion of Japheth is the beautiful Greek language “which shall dwell in the tents of Shem,” when the Torah is translated into Greek. The Midrash adds: “Let the beauty of Japheth be incorporated into the tents of Shem” which has come to mean the ability to extract the positive aspects of Greek culture and synthesize them with our eternal Torah….”
So we see that the Jews and the Greeks are to proceed together. It is interesting that in these turbulent times, perhaps end times, Greece and Israel are allies once again.
But we know that the Bible speaks literally and it also holds greater more expanded meaning. The Jews and the Greeks are being singled out and addressed in 1 Corinthians. Paul is referring to them as separate groups, but as parts of a whole. The Jews and the Greeks are addressed separately, yet together, in one sentence.
They were the parts of the whole early Christian group in his letters.
They represent the same parts of the Christian group today.
No, we are not all Greeks and Jews in an ethnic sense! But ethnicity is not the issue here….it is how we approach faith.
The Jews wanted signs and the Greeks wanted wisdom. Those are the same two groups that define us today, the sign seekers and the wisdom seekers. Seekers seem to be falling into these divisions today more than ever.
There is a trend for believers to be seeking more than just the Word. The bombardment of media with end time signs and with end time teachers (genuine and false) as well as the very strong role that science plays in our society have caused many of the faithful to require validation through these influences in order to sustain their faith.
Sign seekers are those that have displaced their focus on prayer and contemplation/devotion and the Word, and are focusing most of their attention on signs – end time signs, wars, famines, quakes, persecutions, plagues, harbingers, ….. This is dangerous because it has the potential to change the true essence of the Gospel to satisfy our need for sensationalism. This poses the risk for Christians to sit back and become vulnerable prey of the barrage of news items that are being tossed out of the mass media sources and by the sources of alternative media. We need to be very careful how we handle this barrage of news.
The media blitz of end time signs serves many purposes that are not all on our agenda. It is very important to be aware of the signs and wonders of the end times. However, it is more important than ever for all Christians to take advantage of the moment and recognize it as a time to act quickly, because time is running short. This is not the time to sit back and watch.
When the signs and wonders start, we need to become even more active Christians – trying to spread the Word, and most importantly trying overtime to further correct our lives. However, we can be diverted by the huge influx and influence of writers, books, movies, news, blogs, sites whose emergence has been triggered by the end time signs. Some seek to genuinely inform and teach, others seek to enter the scene with their false teachings. This can be a dazzling array of information that strays you from your task at hand.
It is very easy to sit back and become a student of the signs, watching all of the horrors that are taking place the way we would watch a serial – waiting for the next episode. The danger here is that some people risk being overwhelmed by this, focusing solely on this and it threatens to become a spectator sport for many.
We have to be careful not to allow the huge stream of information that comes forward at this time to serve as an agent for front row seats in the Colosseum, hence not our agenda. The danger here is that some people risk being overwhelmed – focusing solely on this. allowing for these events and influx of opinions/debates to become a spectator sport for many.
The wisdom seekers today are those that walk the tight rope with science. They have the need for rational explanations for everything in order for them to believe it.
Christ’s teaching and the Gospel are simple truths, simple statements that contain the Truths of Ages.
If someone needs a sign or a rational explanation, then he needs convincing. That is not believing. We don’t necessarily need to understand what we believe in. That is where humbling is necessary, to understand that our intellect should not be participating in our faith. The intellect which is held in such high esteem in the affairs of the world is worth nothing in the Kingdom of God. It is the heart and soul which serve as bridges to faith, leading us there, not the mind and its logic.
The Bible contains the unbelievable, the undefinable, everything that defies our logic and explanations. It also contains a truth that only someone who has humbled themselves completely from the humanistic and egotistic glory of this world can understand.
Many of us still hold on to a bit of our ego, a bit of the worldly society. Many of us are still interested in what others think of us. Many of us are still preserving some doubts inside of them. Many of us are still trying to hold on to some vices or sinful ways, trying to allow for their faith and salvation without having to sacrifice being of this world.
This individualization of the Christ’s teachings and laws, trying to customize them to our liking, to fit into our life as an addition not as a radical change, was a big problem for the Corinthians. Some wanted their idols and Christ. They didnt want to make the changes, leave the world behind, jump the hurdles and change their lives.
Same problems exist today with the modern day Christians.
We can not individualize Christ’s laws and teachings to fit into our present life styles. Many of us want to be in both worlds. We want to enter Christ’s Kingdom, yet we don’t want to face having to run a tough course and jump huge hurdles in order to follow Christ’s laws and teachings.
And in order for many of us to get past these hurdles of faith today, we look for a huge sign or a good argument to give us that push.
So Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is talking to us, the parts of us that mistakenly hold on to the same needs in order to believe, as the Jew and the Greek did then.
King James Version (KJV)
Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
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 their’s and our’s:
3 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
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.
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.
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.
13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
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.
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.
19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
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?
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.
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.
30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
Bible excerpt from Bible Gateway.
A new podcast “Between Two Worlds” will begin this week with the first of Dr. George Parsenios lectures on First Corinthians. The lectures are part of his class lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary.