In His first Epistle to the Corinthians Paul recognizes two major cultural groups that made up the world around him. He was interested in preaching the gospel to both of these groups. The first group was the group that Paul himself came from. These were those who followed the Jewish religion. They read the old Testament books that had been given to them by God. The other group was the “Greeks,” or the “Gentiles.” This group was the non-Jewish peoples who followed a variety of pagan religions and philosophies. The “Greeks” tended to be less zealous than the Jews in their religious beliefs, and focused more on philosophy and logic to make sense of the world. Paul explains why both groups tended to reject the message of the gospel:
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, (I Corinthians 1:22-23).
The message of the cross contradicted the mindset of both the Jews and the Greeks of Paul’s day. The Jews rejected the gospel message because they were looking for signs of great power. Yes, the fact that Jesus rose from the dead was a very great and powerful thing, yet Jews could not get over the fact that He had to die first! The Jews knew that God was great and powerful, that He had created the world from nothing and that he had brought the children of Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Therefore, it was hard for them to accept that their great God would choose to become a man. They thought that it was blasphemy to teach the Yahweh could and would come in the flesh.
The Greeks, on the other hand, were not looking for supernatural signs–of which Christianity has plenty. They were looking for some logical explanation of the world that they could get their minds around. They found the message of the cross foolish, inferior to the mutterings and ramblings of their great philosophers. Thus they tended to reject the gospel too.
But both groups were wrong. The Jews were so focused on the power of God, that they forgot to notice the great love of God that is present in the message of the cross. They were so arrogant that they did not realize that they had made themselves enemies of Yahweh, and only the very radical, selfless, sacrifice of the Son of God could save them from Yahweh’s wrath. The Greeks, on the other hand, in mocking the simple plain truths of the gospel, preferred to accept the philsophies of confusion and contradiction. None of them with all their intelligence had every yet figured out the meaning of the universe despite all their striving. The simple message of the gospel, although it sounded silly, was their only hope for salvation.
Fortunately, there were some Jews and some Greeks who did believe, despite all of this. Those “whom God has called,” were able to recognize both the incredible “power” of God and the “wisdom” of God that is present in the gospel message. Those who are not blind can see how the simple message of the cross easily satisfies the concerns of both the Greeks and The Jews, if they would only listen to it.
but to those whom God has called,both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (I Corinthians 1:24-25)