What Makes I Corinthians 1:17-31 The Worst Passage In The Bible?
If someone were to ask me what I think is the worst passage in the Bible, this would be it. No question.
And that’s really saying something, because there’s a lot to choose from when it comes to the worst passage in the Bible — but this one takes the cake.
Let me apologize right off the bat — I’m sorry it’s so long. But that’s part of what makes it such a nightmare. It’s not something that can be skipped over and ignored. And in the length is just this…devastating specificity.
No, I didn’t choose any of the genocide verses in the Old Testament, or the laws on stoning, or the atrocious levity with which Moses — er, “God” — treated rape, or the really harmful ways that Jesus discussed hell. First, for most Christians these verses aren’t nearly as universal in application as 1 Corinthians 1: 17-31. And second, a significant number of Christians (though not nearly enough) are embarrassed by those verses so that they don’t have near as universal an impact — I’ve never met a Christian remotely embarrassed by the sentiments of I Corinthians 1:17-31. And third — as bad as those verses are, they don’t insulate belief as much as 1 Corinthians 1:17-31. They are the terrible inside of Christianity; I Corinthians 1:17-31 makes up the outer protective shell.
I’ll let you in on something: When I first deconverted, I thought it would be easy to get the Christians in my life to deconvert, too. Especially the fundies. It shouldn’t be that hard to convince people that we didn’t become aware of morality because naked people ate fruit at the prompting of a talking snake, or that the laws of the Old Testament were misogynistic and homophobic and transphobic nonsense, or that the genocides were the product of war-hungry tribes who needed an excuse to take over land, or that virgin births don’t happen any more often than people walking on water, or that it’s a bit absurd to think a godman waltzed out of a tomb after three days of stone cold death, or that it’s harmfully ignorant to think that hell exists for all the awesome non-Christians in the world (like yours truly).
But I was wrong. Oh, I was wrong. I mean…I could argue so that Christians could admit that I made logical sense. I could show them things that made them “uncomfortable” and that they “struggled” with. But then they usually rubber-banded back into full on Christian mode, thanks to I Corinthians 1:17-31.
It is fair to say that this passage has done more to keep Christians in my life in perpetual awe of the Bible than, I think, any other passage. The Christian’s belief in this passage has, I’ve found, made debate over every other passage in the Bible and belief in Christianity an absolute waste of time with countless Christians I’ve met. Because when you mention the horrible things in the Bible, and show them rationally that the book doesn’t make sense, they seem to inevitably use this passage (or the general sentiment they got from a preacher who used this passage) to basically say that the entire argument doesn’t matter. And worse than that, doing that makes them smugly feel more humble and holier-than-thou than you are.
And what I want to say, when that happens, is “stop pretending.” If you’re using this verse as your backup, please stop pretending that your beliefs are based on rational thought and honest examination, and state that you believe it in a vacuum or in spite of these things.
Here it is, in all its glory:
I Corinthians 1:17-31 (NIV)
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18 For 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. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?21 For 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. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
What Makes That So Terrible?
Right off the bat, verse 17 takes a pot shot at wisdom and eloquence. It’s like saying, “You can have intelligent, well voiced points, but that’s not what the cross of Christ is about — so your argument is invalid.” That verse and general sentiment is a wall. It doesn’t matter how well I make my point. The verse gives Christians the false license to hold up a cross and say they won the argument at any given moment. Like the kid who thinks they can claim victory at any moment by flipping the board.
Then, Verse 18 says that people who disagree with Christians are foolish and I deserve to perish. That’s really rude. I mean, I’m just saying that the Christian is wrong — I’m not making a judgment as to what they deserve (much less saying they deserve to “perish” — wow. How disrespectful). And then it gives Christians the holier-than-thou headtrip with the blatant attempt at flattery in the “us who are being saved” bit. Yeah…now they can see themselves as a superior class that can look down on me in pity for perishing (although I kinda deserve it, foolish person I am) instead of actually remotely taking seriously anything I’m saying, no matter how good my evidence and reasoning is.
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