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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
1 Corinthians 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-16

Chapter 2

THE PROCLAMATION AND THE POWER (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

2:1-5 So, brothers, when I came to you, I did not come announcing God's secret to you with any outstanding gifts of rhetoric or wisdom, for it was my deliberate decision to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him upon his Cross. So I was with you in weakness and in diffidence and in much nervousness. My story and my proclamation were not made with persuasive words of wisdom; it was by the Spirit and by power that they were unanswerably demonstrated to be true, so that your faith should not depend on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

Paul remembers back to the time when first he came to Corinth, and three things stand out.

(i) He came speaking in simplicity. It is worth noting that Paul had come to Corinth from Athens. It was at Athens that, for the only time in his life, as far as we know, he had attempted to reduce Christianity to philosophic terms. There, on Mars' Hill, he had met the philosophers and had tried to speak in their own language (Acts 17:22-31); and it was there that he had one of his very few failures. His sermon in terms of philosophy had had very little effect (Acts 17:32-34). It would almost seem that he had said to himself, "Never again! From henceforth I will tell the story of Jesus in utter simplicity. I will never again try to wrap it up in human categories. I will know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him upon his Cross."

It is true that the sheer unadorned story of the life of Jesus has in it a unique power to move the hearts of men. Dr. James Stewart quotes an example. The Christian missionaries had come to the court of Clovis, the king of the Franks. They told the story of the Cross, and, as they did, the hand of the old king stole to his sword hilt. "If I and my Franks had been there," he said, "we would have stormed Calvary and rescued him from his enemies." When we deal with ordinary, untechnical people, a vivid, factual picture has a power that a close knit argument lacks. For most people, the way to the recesses of a man's inmost being lies, not through his mind, but through his heart.

(ii) He came speaking in fear. Here we have to be careful to understand. It was not fear for his own safety; still less was it that he was ashamed of the gospel that he was preaching. It was what has been called "the trembling anxiety to perform a duty." The very phrase which he uses here of himself Paul also uses of the way in which conscientious slaves should serve and obey their masters. (Ephesians 6:5). It is not the man who approaches a great task without a tremor who does it really well. The really great actor is he who is wrought up before the performance; the really effective preacher is he whose heart beats faster while he waits to speak. The man who has no nervousness, no tension, in any task, may give an efficient performance; but it is the man who has this trembling anxiety who can produce an effect which artistry alone can never achieve.

(iii) He came with results and not with words alone. The result of Paul's preaching was that things happened. He says that his preaching was unanswerably demonstrated to be true by the Spirit and by power. The word he uses is the word for the most stringent possible proof, the kind against which there can be no argument. What was it? It was the proof of changed lives. Something re-creating had entered into the polluted society of Corinth.

John Hutton used to tell a story with gusto. A man who had been a reprobate and a drunkard was captured by Christ. His workmates used to try to shake him and say, "Surely a sensible man like you cannot believe in the miracles that the Bible tells about. You cannot, for instance, believe that this Jesus of yours turned water into wine." "Whether he turned water into wine or not," said the man, "I do not know; but in my own house I have seen him turn beer into furniture."

No one can argue against the proof of a changed life. It is our weakness that too often we have tried to talk men into Christianity instead of, in our own lives, showing them Christ. "A saint," as someone said, "is someone in whom Christ lives again."

THE WISDOM WHICH IS FROM GOD (1 Corinthians 2:6-9)

2:6-9 True, we speak wisdom among those who are mature--but it is a wisdom which does not belong to this world, nor to the rulers of this world whose extinction is inevitable. But we speak the wisdom of God in a way that only he who is initiated into Christianity can understand, a wisdom which up to now has been kept hidden, a wisdom which God fore-ordained before time for our eternal glory, a wisdom which none of the leaders of this world knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but as it stands written, "Things which eye has not seen, which ear has not heard and which have not entered into the heart of man, all these God has prepared for them that love him."

This passage introduces us to a distinction between different kinds of Christian instruction and different stages of the Christian life. In the early Church there was a quite clear distinction between two kinds of instruction. (i) There was what was called Kerygma (Greek #2782). Kerygma means a herald's announcement from a king; and this was the plain announcement of the basic facts of Christianity, the announcement of the facts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and his coming again. (ii) There was what was called Didache (Greek #1322). Didache means teaching; and this was the explanation of the meaning of the facts which had already been announced. Obviously it is a second stage for those who have already received kerygma (Greek #2782).

That is what Paul is getting at here. So far he has been talking about Jesus Christ and him crucified; that was the basic announcement of Christianity; but, he goes on to say, we do not stop there; Christian instruction goes on to teach not only the facts but the meaning of the facts. Paul says that this is done amongst those who are teleioi (Greek #5046). The King James Version translates that word as perfect. That is certainly one of its meanings; but it is not appropriate here. Teleios (Greek #5046) has a physical sense; it describes an animal or a person who has reached the height of his physical development. It has a mental sense. Pythagoras divided his disciples into those who were babes and those who were teleioi (Greek #5046). That is to say it describes a person who is a mature student. That is the translation given in the Revised Standard version, and that is the sense in which Paul uses it here. He says, "Out in the streets, and to those who have just newly come into the Church, we talk about the basic elements of Christianity; but when people are a little more mature we give them deeper teaching about what these basic facts mean." It is not that Paul is hinting at a kind of caste distinction between Christians; it is a difference of the stages at which they are. The tragedy so often is that people are content to remain at the elementary stage when they should be going on strenuously to think things out for themselves.

Paul uses a word here which has a technical sense. The King James Version has it, "We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery." The Greek word musterion (Greek #3466) means something whose meaning is hidden from those who have not been initiated, but crystal clear to those who have. It would describe a ceremony carried out in some society whose meaning was quite clear to the members of the society, but unintelligible to the outsider. What Paul is saying is, "We go on to explain things which only the man who has already given his heart to Christ can understand."

He insists that this special teaching is not the product of the intellectual activity of men; it is the gift of God and it came into the world with Jesus Christ. All our discoveries are not so much what our minds have found out as what God has told us. This by no means frees us from the responsibility of human effort. Only the student who works can make himself fit to receive the real riches of the mind of a great teacher. It is so with us and God. The more we strive to understand, the more God can tell us; and there is no limit to this process, because the riches of God are unsearchable.

SPIRITUAL THINGS TO SPIRITUAL MEN (1 Corinthians 2:10-16)

2:10-16 But God revealed it through his Spirit, for the Spirit explores all things, even the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of the man unless the spirit of the man which is in him? So no one ever knew the things of God except the Spirit of God. It is not the spirit of the world that we have received, but the Spirit which comes from God, so that we may know the things given to us by the grace of God. The things we speak we do not speak in words taught by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people. A man who has no life but physical life cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God. To him they are foolishness and he cannot understand them, because it takes the Spirit to discern them. But a spiritual man exercises his judgment on the value of all things, but he himself is under no man's judgment. For who ever understood the mind of the Lord so as to be able to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

There are certain very basic things in this passage.

(i) Paul lays down that the only person who can tell us about God is the Spirit of God. He uses a human analogy. There are feelings which are so personal, things which are so private, experiences which are so intimate that no one knows them except a man's own spirit. Paul argues that the same is true of God. There are deep and intimate things in him which only his Spirit knows; and that Spirit is the only person who can lead us into really intimate knowledge of God.

(ii) Even then it is not every man who can understand these things. Paul speaks about interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people. He distinguishes two kinds of men. (a) There are those who are pneumatikoi (Greek #4152). Pneuma (Greek #4151) is the word for Spirit; and the man who is pneumatikos (Greek #4152) is the man who is sensitive to the Spirit and whose life is guided by the Spirit. (b) There is the man who is psuchikos (Greek #5591). Psuche (Greek #5590) in Greek is often translated soul; but that is not its real meaning. It is the principle of physical life. Everything which is alive has psuche (Greek #5590); a dog, a cat, any animal has psuche (Greek #5590), but it has not got pneuma (Greek #4151). Psuche (Greek #5590) is that physical life which a man shares with every living thing; but pneuma (Greek #4151) is that which makes a man different from the rest of creation and kin to God.

So in 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul speaks of the man who is psuchikos (Greek #5591). He is the man who lives as if there was nothing beyond physical life and there were no needs other than material needs, whose values are all physical and material. A man like that cannot understand spiritual things. A man who thinks that nothing is more important than the satisfaction of the sex urge cannot understand the meaning of chastity; a man who ranks the amassing of material things as the supreme end of life cannot understand generosity; and a man who has never a thought beyond this world cannot understand the things of God. To him they look mere foolishness. No man need be like this; but if he stifles "the immortal longings" that are in his soul he may make himself like this so that the Spirit of God will speak and he will not hear.

It is easy to become so involved in the world that there exists nothing beyond it. We must pray to have the mind of Christ, for only when he dwells within us are we safe from the encroaching invasion of the demands of material things.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-corinthians-2.html2. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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