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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 2

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) And I.—The Apostle now proceeds to show how he personally, in both the matter and manner of his teaching at Corinth, had acted in accordance with those great principles which he has already explained as God’s method. “The testimony of God” is St. Paul’s testimony concerning God in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:6; 2 Timothy 1:8).

Verse 2

(2) I determined not to know.—Better, I did not determine to know. The only subject of teaching concerning which the Apostle had formed a determined resolve in his mind when coming to Corinth was the preaching Christ and Him as being crucified. We have here a statement of what was ever the subject-matter of apostolic teaching. St. Paul did not dwell on the miraculous in the life of Christ, which would have pandered to the Jewish longing for a “sign”; nor did he put forward elaborate “theories” of the gospel, which would have been a concession to the Greek’s longing after “wisdom”: but he preached a personal Christ, and especially dwelt on the fact that He had been crucified (1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 6:14; Philippians 2:8). We can scarcely realise now the stumbling-block which the preaching of a crucified Christ must have been to Jews and Greeks, the enormous temptation to keep the cross in the background which the early teachers would naturally have felt, and the sublime and confident faith which must have nerved St. Paul to make it the central fact of all his teaching. For us the cross is illumined with the glories of eighteen centuries of civilisation, and consecrated with the memory of all that is best and noblest in the history of Christendom. To every Jew and to every Gentile it conveyed but one idea, that of the most revolting and most degrading punishment. The remembrance of this fact will enable us to realise how uncompromising was the Apostles’ teaching—how it never “accommodated itself” to any existing desire or prejudice. This surely is no small evidence of the divine origin of the religion of which the Apostles were the heralds!

Verse 3

(3) And I was with you.—To show that the real force of his teaching lay in its subject-matter, and not in any power with which he may have proclaimed the gospel, the Apostle now dwells upon his own physical weakness. The “weakness and fear and trembling” of which St. Paul speaks here had in it probably a large element of that self-distrust which so noble and sensitive a nature would feel in the fulfilment of such an exalted mission as the preaching of the Cross. I cannot think, however, the allusion is only to that. There is, I believe, a reference also to what we may call a physical apprehension of danger. The bravest are not those who do not experience any sensation of fear, but rather those who keenly appreciate danger, who have an instinctive shrinking from it, and yet eventually by their moral might conquer this dread. There are traces of this element in St. Paul’s character to be found in several places, as, for example, in Acts 18:9, when the Lord encourages him when labouring at Corinth with the hopeful words, “Be not afraid;” again in Acts 23:11, when the terrible scene before Ananias had depressed him, the Lord is with him to strengthen him, “Be of good cheer, Paul;” and in Acts 27:24, when the angel of the Lord appears to him amid the storm and shipwreck, “Fear not, Paul.”

Verse 4

(4) And my speech.—The result which necessarily followed from this weakness and trembling was that neither his “speech” (i.e., the style of his teaching), nor his “preaching” (i.e., the subject-matter of his teaching) were of such a kind as to appeal to the natural tastes of the Corinthians.

Demonstration of the Spirit.—The Apostle’s demonstration of the truth of the gospel was the result of no human art or skill, but came from the Spirit and power of God, and therefore the Corinthians could glory in no human teacher, but only in the power of God, which was the true source of the success of the gospel amongst them.

Verse 6

(6) Howbeit we speak wisdom.—Nevertheless, there is a wisdom in the gospel. The assertion is in the Greek a more striking contrast to 1 Corinthians 2:4 than appears in the English. In the original (1 Corinthians 2:4) the word is “wisdom,” and not “man’s wisdom,” as in the English. Thus the statement here is a verbal contradiction of that in 1 Corinthians 2:4. In using the plural “we,” St. Paul implies that he did not stand alone among the Apostles in the method of his teaching.

Them that are perfecti.e., those who are grown up, and not “babes” (1 Corinthians 3:1; see also 1 Corinthians 14:20). The “wisdom” of the gospel is that deep spiritual truth which only those whose spiritual natures have been trained and cultivated were capable of understanding. This “wisdom,” however, the Apostle had not taught the Corinthians; he had only taught them the alphabet of Christianity, for they were still but “babes”—they were still only “fleshly” (1 Corinthians 3:3). That the Apostle himself not only grasped the higher truths which he designates the “wisdom” of the gospel, but taught them gladly when there were hearers capable of appreciating them, is evident from many passages in the Epistles to the Romans, Colossians, and Ephesians, where he unfolds the “mysteries” of the gospel. (See Romans 11:25; Romans 16:25.)

Yet not.—Better, a wisdom, however, not of this world.

That come to nought.—Better, which are being brought to nought, the reference here being, not to the inherent transitoriness of human wisdom and teachers, but to the fact that they are being brought to nought by God’s rejection of them, and His choice of the “weak” things as the means of spreading the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:28).

Verse 7

(7) In a mystery.—The writer explains in these words the plan on which his speaking of God’s wisdom proceeded, that he dealt with it as the ancient mysteries were dealt with, explaining certain truths only to the initiated, and not to all (1 Corinthians 4:1; Colossians 1:26).

Hidden.—Heretofore unrevealed, but now made manifest in Christ and by His teachers (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:10). And this has been in accordance with what God ordained “before the beginning of time,” to our glory, as distinct from the humiliation of the world’s teaching, which is coming to nought.

Verse 8

(8) They would not have crucified.—The conduct of the princes and rulers of this world, alike Jewish and Gentile, illustrates and proves the previous assertion (John 8:19; John 19:9).

Lord of glory.—In striking contrast to the ignominy of the crucifixion.

Verse 9

(9) As it is written.—Where do the words which follow occur? They are not to be found as here given anywhere in the Old Testament. It has therefore been suggested (Origen) that they are from some apocryphal book, or some book which has been lost, as is supposed many have been. Chrysostom also suggests that it may be a reference, not to a writing, but to historical facts, as in Matthew 2:23. None of these explanations would justify the use of that phrase, “it is written,” with which these words are introduced, and which in the apostolic writings is confined to quotations from the Old Testament scriptures. It is not used where the words are taken from other sources (see, e.g., Jude 1:9; Jude 1:14). Although the words given here are not to be found in the same sequence in any passage in the Old Testament, still there are phrases scattered through the writings of Isaiah (see Isaiah 64:4; Isaiah 65:17; see also Isa 62:15 in the LXX.), which would easily be joined together in memory and resemble even verbally the passage as written here by the Apostle. This is not the only place in which St. Paul would seem to thus refer to the Old Testament scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 1:19-20) when he is not basing any argument upon a particular sentence in the Scriptures, but merely availing himself of some thoughts or words in the Old Testament as an illustration of some truth which he is enforcing.

Verse 10

(10) But God hath revealed them unto us.—Here the emphatic word is “us.” The latter part of 1 Corinthians 2:8-9 are parenthetical, and the sense goes back to the beginning of 1 Corinthians 2:8. “None of the princes of this age know these things, but God hath revealed them unto us His apostles and teachers” (Matthew 13:11; Matthew 16:17; 2 Corinthians 12:1). This revelation of spiritual truth is made by the Holy Spirit of God to our spirits (Romans 8:16). The Apostle gives two proofs that the Apostles have this knowledge, and that the Holy Spirit is the source of it: 1. (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), because the Holy Spirit alone is capable of imparting this knowledge; and 2. (1 Corinthians 2:12-16), because the Holy Spirit has been given to us the Apostles.

Searcheth all things.—The word “searcheth” here does not convey the idea of inquiry for the purpose of acquiring knowledge, but rather complete and accurate knowledge itself, as in Romans 8:27; see also Psalms 139:1.

Verse 11

(11) What man . . .—Better, Who of men knoweth the things of a man? but the spirit of the man which is in him knoweth them.

The things of God knoweth no man.—These words cannot be taken as an assertion that man cannot have any knowledge of the things of God; but the Apostle urges that man, as man, cannot know the things of God, but that his knowledge of these things is in virtue of his having the Spirit of God dwelling in him.

Verse 12

(12) We.—This must not be confined to the Apostles exclusively. Though referring primarily to them, it includes all the members of the Christian Church as one with its teachers and rulers. The “things freely given us of God” mean all spiritual things.

Verse 13

(13) Not in the words.—Not only the gospel truths themselves, but the very form and manner in which those truths are taught is the result of spiritual insight.

Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.—Better, explaining spiritual things in spiritual language; really only another more pointed form of stating what he has just said. The word translated here “comparing” in our Authorised version is used in the sense of expounding or teaching in the LXX. (Genesis 40:8; Genesis 40:16; Daniel 5:12), especially of dreams, where the dream is, so to speak, “compared” with the interpretation. So here, the spiritual things are “compared” with the spiritual language in which they are stated. Another meaning—explaining spiritual things to spiritual men—has been suggested, but that adopted would seem to be the more simple and natural. This second interpretation, would make these words the introduction to the remark which follows about “the spiritual man,” but it involves a use of the word in which it is not found elsewhere in the New Testament.

Verse 14

(14) But the natural man.—To understand this and other passages in which St. Paul speaks of “natural” and “spiritual” men, it is important to recollect that our ordinary manner of speaking of man as consisting of “soul and body”—unless “soul” be taken in an un-technical sense to denote the whole immaterial portion—is altogether inaccurate. True psychology regards man as a trinity of natures. (See Note on Matthew 10:28.) In accordance with this, St. Paul speaks of man as consisting of body (soma), soul (psyche), and spirit (pneuma); the soma is our physical nature; the psyche is our intellectual nature, embracing also our desires and human affections; the pneuma is our spiritual nature. Thus in each of us there is a somatical man, a psychical man, and a pneumatical man; and according as any one of those parts of the nature dominates over the other, so is the character of the individual person. One in whom the soma is strongest is a “carnal,” or “fleshly,” man; one in whom the intellect or affections pre-dominate is a “natural,” or “psychic,” man; and one in whom the spirit rules (which it can do only when enlightened and guided by the Spirit of God, which acts on it) is a “spiritual” man. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:23.)

Natural.—That is, literally, that part of our nature which we call “mind,” and hence signifies that man in whom pure intellectual reason and the merely natural affections predominate. Now such a one cannot grasp spiritual truth any more than the physical nature, which is made to discern physical things, can grasp intellectual things. Spiritual truth appeals to the spirit of the man, and therefore is intelligible only to those who are “spiritual,” i.e., in whom the pneuma is not dormant, but quickened by the Holy Pneuma.

Verse 15

(15) He that is spiritual.—The spiritual man judges all spiritual truth, but he himself is judged by none who are not spiritual. (See 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 John 4:1.)

Verse 16

(16) For.—This is the proof that the enlightened spiritual man cannot be judged by any one who is not thus enlightened. “Who (thus uninstructed) can know the mind of the Lord Jesus, that he may instruct Him?”

But we.—That is, spiritual men, including the Apostles. The Apostle here identifies Christ with the Spirit, whom he has previously spoken of as the Teacher of spiritual things. He does not mean to assert that the Apostles knew all that the mind of Christ knew, but that all things which they did know were from Him and spiritual (John 15:15).

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-corinthians-2.html. 1905.
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