For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. I Corinthians 1:21
Message Preached – The Greek text in this verse does not contain the word “message.” It simply reads “through the foolishness of preaching.” Why do you suppose that the NASB changes this from an action to a thing? What’s the difference between the foolishness of preaching and the foolishness of the message preached? Could it be that Paul’s Greek emphasizes the dynamic of life in action whereas the translators have converted the meaning to a set of propositions? The Greek word is kerugma. It is a noun so there is justification for adding the English word “message.” It does mean message or proclamation. But there is an ambiguity inherent in this word. It can mean both the message (the content) and the action of proclaiming (the act). Which meaning is in view is often very difficult to determine. What is clear in this translation is that the English pushes us toward content only. Why do you think this translation ignores the alternative?
This Greek term is connected with the Hebrew qol. But the Hebrew is not principally about a message. It is about a voice or a sound. It’s used for all kinds of sounds, from God’s voice to the noise of chariots. Etymologically, this word is derived from a root meaning “to call aloud.” As you can see, it is not about the message. It is about the action.
This causes us to pause and reflect. How much of our understanding or contemporary evangelicalism is based on certain propositions? How much do we rely on the message, the content, rather than the action? If Paul is thinking like a Hebrew, is he suggesting that the foolishness God uses is what we do, not just what we say? Is God’s wisdom located in the counter-cultural living of those who follow Him? Would it make any difference to the world if our message was not accompanied by our way of living?
This separation between thought and deed comes to us through the Greek separation of mental and physical. But that dichotomy does not exist in Hebrew. What I say is what I do or else I am a liar. God is what He says. I must be the same. To proclaim the content of a message but fail to act upon it is to lie to the audience. No wonder congregations collapse when the preacher’s life is exposed as a fraud. We expect content and action to flow together. Paul would have expected the same thing. There is no message without intertwined action.
It is indeed unfortunate, perhaps tragic, that translations like this one draw lines of distinction between what we say and what we do. The world is filled to the brim with those who proclaim the message of the Christ, but who don’t live in alignment with the God of Israel, the very God the message endorses. What kind of impact does that have on the pagan world? They look. They see. They see hypocrisy. They see adherents claiming a place in heaven whose lives are filled with tidbits from hell. They see religion without relationship – not just with God but with each other. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s way past time to stop preaching a message. It’s time to live according to God’s instructions and to shut up until we do.
Topical Index: message, preaching, kerugma, qol, 1 Corinthians 1:21