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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 2

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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One of the problems in Corinth was related to the pretentious, empty philosophy of the Greeks who so highly regarded the eloquent speeches of the popular leaders of such sophistry; and Paul gave his reasons for not following the popular methods of oratory in his preaching of the word of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). However, fully mature Christians could look forward to an understanding of the true wisdom of God (as contrasted with the current sophistry); and the mystery of God, far more wonderful than the so-called mysteries of the Greeks, could be participated in by those of genuine spirituality (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Throughout this chapter, Paul made it clear that the glory of the Christian faith is resident in the content of the gospel and not in the manner of its presentation.

Verse 1

And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.

Paul had been educated at Tarsus which Strabo preferred as a school of learning above either Alexandria or Athens, and also had been schooled "at the feet of Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3), the famed scholar in Jerusalem. "Paul was a university man, the outstanding scholar of his generation."(F1) Nevertheless, he despised the pedantry, superficiality and narrow conceit of those who were received as intellectuals. Paul rejected their methods because he was above them, not because he was inferior to them. Paul had a wide acquaintance with all the learning of his generation. He quoted Aratus (Acts 17:28), Epimenides (Titus 1:12), and Menander (1 Corinthians 15:33);(F2) but he counted all such polite learning as mere dross, as compared with the gospel of Christ (Philippians 3:8).

Therefore, the meaning of this verse is that when Paul went to Corinth he renounced all of the tricks and devices of oratory, refused to accommodate the gospel to the style of the Greek philosophers, and did not try to adorn the truth with pagan wisdom. That Paul had the ability to do such things may not be doubted for a moment; but he wanted their faith to be in the power of God, not in the ability of human beings (1 Corinthians 2:5).

Excellency of speech … "When the preaching itself is stressed to the degree that it obscures its own content, there is a case of excellency of speech."(F3)

Testimony of God … This means that the gospel is founded upon the word and the authority of God himself; and, by this word, as Macknight said,

The apostle insinuated that the credibility of the gospel depended neither on its conformity to the philosophy of the Greeks, nor on the eloquence of its preachers, but on the attestation of God, who confirmed it by miracles.(F4)

Verse 2

For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

It is the style among certain commentators to construe Paul’s method in view here as a reversal of what he allegedly did in Athens. They say Paul tried to preach philosophically in Athens, sustained a miserable failure, learned his lesson and announced his return to a more simple advocacy of the gospel in these verses. Despite the popularity of such a view, however, there is nothing, either in the word of God or in history, to give the slightest credibility to it.

There is no hint whatever, either in this passage or in Acts 17, that Paul preached "Christ crucified" at Corinth because of a sense of failure of the philosophical approach in Athens. As a matter of fact, "His sermon at Athens was not basically philosophical."(F5)

He preached the resurrection of the dead, and when did that get to be philosophical? Furthermore, his preaching in Athens was in no sense whatever a failure. Dionysius the Areopagite, Damaris, certain men, and others with them were converted (Acts 17:34). An exceedingly large number of people in Athens became Christians. "The church in Athens was one of the strongest congregations in the empire in the second and third centuries,"(F6) and Lange pointed out that "A Christian congregation in Athens flourished in an eminent degree."(F7) The "others with them" of Acts 17:34 may not be construed as "a mere handful," except arbitrarily and with no logic to support it. It is also most probable that Sosthenes and his household were converted in Paul’s work in Athens (see my Commentary on Acts, under Acts 17:34).

In the light of the above, we feel that comments to the effect that "There (in Athens) Paul had one of his very few failures";(F8) "He feared a failure similar to that in Athens"(F9) "Athens was a sad memory for Paul. He never mentions her name in an epistle. He sends no word of greeting to any of her children";(F10) etc. — that all such notions are absolutely untenable. For example, how can it be known that Paul never wrote to the saints in Athens, there being at least one letter to the Corinthians which was lost?

Grosheide’s views on this question are undoubtedly correct. He declared that:

The answer to the question of whether Paul had ever preached anything but Jesus Christ must of course be negative. The meaning is not that the apostle did not resolve to preach Christ until he came to Corinth … but that he had to go on preaching Christ.(F11)

Determined not to know anything … has the meaning that Paul would rely upon no earthly wisdom for power in his preaching.

Save Jesus Christ and him crucified … This cannot mean that Paul would henceforth leave off preaching the resurrection, the final judgment, the brotherhood of humanity, the unity of God, the sin of idolatry, etc.; but, as John Wesley said, that here, "a part is put for the whole,"(F12) thus indicating that this is another New Testament example of the figure of speech called synecdoche in which a group of related things is denoted by the mention of one or two of them. What a shame it is that Wesley failed to see the same figure in "saved by faith."

Verse 3

And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

Such was Paul’s dauntless courage that it may not be supposed that this has reference to any fear of physical danger; but it suggests Paul’s recognition of human weakness and his realization that the salvation of so many persons was dependent upon so feeble an instrument as himself. Dummelow paraphrased this verse thus: "It was with much anxiety and self-distrust that I preached the gospel to you."(F13)

Verse 4

And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

Macknight’s paraphrase of this is:

Paul’s discourses were neither composed nor pronounced according to the rules of Greek rhetoric, yet they were accompanied with the powerful demonstration of the Spirit, who enabled him to prove the things he preached by miracles.(F14)

Of course, there was a reason for Paul’s renunciation of the methods of the rabble-rousers; and that reason he at once emphatically stated.

Verse 5

That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

"What depends upon a clever argument is at the mercy of a clever argument";(F15) and Paul desired that the faith of the Corinthians should be grounded in the facts and certainties of the Christian gospel, not in the showy eloquence of polished oratory. There can hardly be any doubt that this paragraph condemns much of the preaching of our own times.

Up to this point Paul was stressing the truth that the gospel of Christ owes nothing to human wisdom, and that his renunciation of the popular methods of advocating it had resulted in its being despised by those who considered themselves sophisticated; but, beginning in the next verse, Paul effectively refuted the notion that "Christianity is contemptible, and proceeded to show something of its profundity and dignity."(F16) He showed that it is not wisdom which he rejected but false wisdom; he preached God’s wisdom, which is higher than man’s wisdom, and the only true wisdom.

Verse 6

We speak wisdom, however, among them that are full-grown: yet a wisdom not of this world, nor among the rulers of this world, who are coming to naught.

Among them that are full-grown … All Christians begin as "babes in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1); but through prayerful study and growth they may attain unto the "stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). To all who are thus full-grown is revealed a measure of the knowledge of God’s wisdom. The rational and intellectual dimensions of the Christian religion infinitely surpass all of the achievements of mortal intelligence; and Paul’s blunt reference to this truth states that it forcefully applies even to "the rulers of this world." Not even they ever attained to any wisdom whatever in any manner comparable to the wisdom of God, the proof of it being that they themselves "are coming to naught."

Are coming to naught … The subject of this clause is "the rulers of this world"; but the meaning is not restricted to such persons as governors and emperors. "Paul had in mind all of those who set the pattern of this world, including the rulers in the sphere of science and art."(F17) The proof of what Paul said here came within a few years when the Jewish state, Jerusalem and the temple were utterly destroyed in 70 A.D. Nor was it any less true of Rome, where the period of the phantom emperors soon came; and the mighty empire itself eventually sank under the ravages of the invading hordes of vandals and barbarians. But it is also true of all history. If human wisdom had any genuine merit, the depredations of war, famine and pestilence might be controlled; but every generation has fulfilled its destiny of proving that "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Therefore, human wisdom stands condemned in the very areas where it might be supposed to be effective. And beyond that, "Man’s knowledge cannot bring about the redemption of the race."(F18)

We speak wisdom … "The plural we implies that Paul did not stand alone among the apostles in his method of teaching."(F19) None of the apostolic preachers of Christ taught in any other manner than that of Paul.

Verse 7

But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory.

Mystery … The mystery of the Christian religion far surpasses anything affected in the mysteries of the Greeks, and notably in the fact of its having been foreordained in God’s purpose even before the creation of the world. The usual definition of mystery, to the effect of its being something once unknown now revealed, while true enough, is inadequate. Some elements of the mystery of God will not even be finished until "the days of the voice of the seventh angel" (Revelation 10:7). Russell said that:

The mystery in the scriptures denotes (a) something above the ordinary human understanding (Mark 4:11); (b) something formerly hidden in the counsel of God, but afterward revealed as a plan understood by its own fulfillment; and (c) as something always accompanied by vastness depth and power.(F20)


The New Testament refers to many mysteries: of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:32), of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:7), of seven stars and seven candlesticks (Revelation 1:20), of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:51) of the blindness of Israel (Romans 11:25), of the harlot church (Revelation 17:7), and of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:11).

However, it is not to any of these, specifically, that reference is made here. There is a greater and more comprehensive mystery containing all of these and exceeding them. This greater mystery is often mentioned in the New Testament Scriptures where it is called great (1 Timothy 3:16), the mystery (Romans 16:25), the mystery of God’s will (Ephesians 1:9), the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:4), the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:1), the mystery of God (Colossians 2:3), the mystery of the faith (1 Timothy 3:9), and the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16) — it is to that mystery that Paul refers here.

It is this mystery which dominates the sixty-six books of the Bible. God announced the mystery in Eden; Satan’s part in it was revealed; the mystery deepened in the death of Abel; the mystery was progressively unfolded verbally in the Old Testament prophecies, systematically prefigured in the types and shadows of the Mosaic dispensation, explicitly heralded in the lives of great typical men of the old covenant, and came to crisis on the cross of Christ, where in its great essentials, it was fully unveiled. There are many corollaries of the central mystery; and the ultimate goals of it are projected into the future. A six-line summary of this "great mystery" is in 1 Timothy 3:16. Running throughout the entire Bible is the record of the "mystery of lawlessness" which is antagonistic to the true mystery, but which is to be resolved finally in the overthrow of Satan and the purging of wickedness out of God’s universe.(F21)

Unto our glory … highlights the benevolent purpose of God in the amazing and overwhelmingly comprehensive work of the Father looking to human redemption.

Verse 8

Which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.

One great essential element in the mystery is that of the incarnation of God in Christ, this being the precise element of the mystery unknown to the rulers of this world. Christ made it clear that the Jewish religious hierarchy did indeed know who Christ was, in the sense of knowing that he was the lawful heir of the temple, the promised Messiah, a holy and righteous prophet of God, and also the undisputed heir to the throne of David. What they did not know was that the "fullness of the Godhead" dwelt in him bodily (Colossians 2:9). In Matthew 21:38, the Jewish leaders, under the figure of wicked husbandmen, said, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and take his inheritance." Had the human wisdom of the world’s leaders been capable of recognizing God in Christ, they would not have crucified him.

The Lord of glory … Wesley declared that "The giving Christ this august title, peculiar to the great Jehovah, plainly shows him to be the supreme God."(F22) Thus "the Lord of glory," "the Father of glory" (Ephesians 1:17), and "the Spirit of glory" (1 Peter 4:14), indicate that the three members of the Godhead alike receive this title. Psalms 29:3 and Acts 7:2 mention "the God of glory."

Crucified the Lord of glory … "These words brought into juxtaposition the lowest ignominy, and the most splendid exaltation."(F23)

Verse 9

But as it is written, Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, And which entered not into the heart of man, Whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him.

These words are usually thought of as suggesting heaven and the glories of the future world; but Paul did not hesitate to apply them here to what God has already done for his children. "They certainly belong to the present state, and express the wondrous light, life and liberty which the gospel communicates."(F24) "While it is true that heaven will be so wonderful that we cannot comprehend it, Paul was talking about here, the present dispensation."(F25)

Learned men have conjectured that these lines are from an early Christian hymn, which had been formed by combining certain Old Testament expressions; but, despite this, as Grosheide said:

The view that Paul quotes the Old Testament, using passages like Isaiah 64:4, Septuagint (LXX) (Isaiah 64:3 in the Hebrew) for the first and last part of the quotation, and Isaiah 65:17 for the middle, remains the most plausible.(F26)

Verse 10

But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

Unto us … The things which eye had not seen, etc., were revealed through God’s Spirit to the apostles. It is a mistake to construe "us" in this passage as indicative of all Christians, except to the extent of their having received God’s revelation through the holy apostles.

The Spirit searcheth all things … This is true, "not in the sense of `needing information,’ but in the sense of penetrating all things."(F27) Ellicott and Wesley also concurred in the restriction of the emphatic "us" in this verse to "Christ’s apostles and (inspired) teachers."(F28)

The deep things of God … have reference not to some abstract inscrutability of God but to the concrete work of salvation."(F29) The mystery already mentioned is of the deep things of God.

Verse 11

For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even as the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God.

The only way to know God is through the revelation of God through the Holy Spirit to the apostles. Greek wisdom, apart from the inspiration of God’s Spirit, found the mind of God impenetrable, in the same manner of its being impossible to read another man’s thoughts.

The things of God none knoweth … is not to be understood as saying that people know nothing of God, for this would deny revelation. Again from Farrar, "All that is meant is that our knowledge of God must always be relative, not absolute. It is not possible to measure the arm of God with the finger of man."(F30)

Verse 12

But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God.

Not the spirit of the world … By this, Paul did not mean that such a spirit of the world, comparable in a sense to the Holy Spirit and opposed to him, actually exists. Nor can we agree with Marsh that "It may mean Satan."(F31) What Paul had in view here was the secular, materialistic thinking of unregenerated people. The Germans had a word for it, the Zeitgeist, which means "the spirit of the times," or "the intellectual and moral tendencies of an age or epoch."

The Spirit which is from God … "What is meant here is not the perpetual indwelling of the Spirit in the congregation, but the historical fact of his coming."(F32) The reference here is to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into all truth.

Verse 13

Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words.

This writer agrees with James Macknight that the declaration here refers to the Holy Spirit’s giving "words" of wisdom to the apostles, not leaving them free to clothe ideas and impressions in their own words merely, but in words which "the Spirit teacheth."(F33) Some deny that anything of this kind is meant; but when they deny it, they are left with no explanation whatever of what Paul meant.

Combining spiritual things with spiritual words … is a disputed rendition. Grosheide translated it, "comparing spiritual things with spiritual";(F34) Macknight rendered it, "explaining spiritual things with spiritual words,"(F35) holding that Paul had in view here what Paul called "the form of sound words" (2 Timothy 1:13). The theory that God gave people the ideas without imposing any vocabulary upon them breaks down when it is asked, "How may any idea be conveyed without the use of words?" Clearly, the "combining" in this verse pertains to what the Spirit of God did, not to what Paul did; and the fact of the Spirit’s combining spiritual things (ideas) with spiritual words would leave the choice of words to the Spirit, not to people. How otherwise can the writings of the New Testament be understood?

Verse 14

Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged

The natural man … is rendered from the Greek "physical man," and has the meaning indicated by Macknight, being that of "an animal man."(F36) It is an abuse of this passage to make it mean that unregenerated people cannot understand spiritual things until God, in some independent action, opens their hearts, or regenerates them. The receiving of the truth by the unconverted is not in view here at all. DeHoff gave this exegesis:

Paul means that ordinary man cannot receive or give a revelation from God, because God has not selected him and filled him with the Holy Spirit. Only the apostles and certain other writers of the New Testament were so selected and guided.(F37)

The application of this in its primary context is that none of the brilliant orators of Greece had the slightest knowledge of the wisdom of God, such wisdom appearing to the sophists as foolishness.

Verse 15

But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man.

This applies to the company of inspired apostles and evangelists who delivered the great corpus of Christian doctrine. Such men, "endowed with the Holy Spirit could discern and discriminate what is of God, and teach all things God revealed."(F38)

He that is spiritual judgeth … himself is judged of no man … In context, this applied to Paul himself, especially, as an affirmation of the authority he was about to exercise in correcting the disorders in Corinth. In the wider application, it means that only the inspired men of Paul’s generation were to be credited with any capability whatever, as regards what is, or is not, the truth of God. The inspired company of apostles and evangelists were "judged of no man." As Lipscomb emphatically stated it, "This applies to the original revelations."(F39) However, he went on to point out that Christians are instructed to "Believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1), adding that "Men now test all teaching by the truths delivered by the inspired men."(F40) This, however, is a secondary application of Paul’s affirmation in this verse. That secondary application, nevertheless, is valid, as outlined by Metz:

The Christian has a spiritual capacity to sift, to investigate, to examine, and to discern all things within the framework of the divine revelation of redemption. On the other hand, the natural man does not have the ability to subject the Christian way of life to examination and judgment, for he is completely unacquainted with the meaning of spiritual life.(F41)

Verse 16

For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

David Lipscomb and Adam Clarke concurred in rendering this verse, "Who hath known the mind of the Lord that he should teach it (that is, teach the truth)?"(F42) This would appear to be preferable, because the thought of any mortal "instructing God" is evidently not in the passage at all.

The thought is that `none of you uninspired men have any notion whatever of what the truth of God may be.’

But we have the mind of Christ … "We" indicates that Paul did not claim this status for himself only, but for all of the inspired apostles and evangelists of the New Testament dispensation.

Isaiah 40:13 speaks of Jehovah in words like those Paul here used of Christ. "This is another passage significant for Paul’s view of Christ. The passage in Isaiah refers to the MIND OF JEHOVAH, but Paul moved easily to the MIND OF CHRIST."(F43) By this Paul made the mind of Christ to be equivalent to the mind of Jehovah, thus attesting the deity of our Lord.


Precisely what is it to have the mind of Christ? There are a number of expressions in the New Testament which clearly have reference to the same condition: Being "in God," God’s being "in us," our being "in Christ," Christ’s being "in us," the Holy Spirit’s being "in us," our being "in the Holy Spirit," or our having the word of Christ dwell "in us," and our having the mind of Christ "in us," as here and in Philippians 2:5, are all references to the saved condition, not to eight different conditions.

There is a distinction, however, between the Christians of all ages having the mind of Christ and the fact of Paul and the other inspired teachers of the New Testament era having the mind of Christ as affirmed in this verse. It is a matter of degree; and they had plenary power to preach God’s word to mankind.

"The whole trend and meaning of the chapter is that none could know or teach the word of God by human wisdom."(F44) Today, all people are dependent for a knowledge of the will of God upon the revelation made by God’s Spirit through the apostles and inspired teachers of that era. "No man ever had any greater right than Paul to say, `We have the mind of Christ.’ "(F45)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-corinthians-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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