Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 2

Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First CorintiansHodge's Commentary

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Verse 1

Chapter II

Continues his defense of his mode of preaching. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 he shows that he acted on the principles set forth in the preceding paragraph. In 1 Corinthians 2:6-9 he shows that the gospel is the true wisdom. The source of this knowledge, as externally revealed as a spiritually apprehended, is the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:10-16.

Continuation of His Defense of His Mode of Preaching — 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

As God had determined to save men not by human wisdom but by the gospel, Paul, when he appeared in Corinth, came neither as an orator nor as a philosopher, but simply as a witness, 1 Corinthians 2:1, 1 Corinthians 2:2. He had no confidence in himself, but relied for success exclusively on the demonstration of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:3, 1 Corinthians 2:4. The true foundation of faith is not reason, but the testimony of God, 1 Corinthians 2:5.

Though what he preached was not the wisdom of men, it was the wisdom of God, undiscoverable by human reason, 1 Corinthians 2:6-9. The revealer of this divine wisdom is the Holy Ghost, he alone being competent to make this revelation, because he only knows the secret purposes of God, 1 Corinthians 2:10-12. In communicating the knowledge thus derived from the Spirit, the apostle used words taught by the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:13. Though the knowledge communicated was divine, and although communicated in appropriate language, it was not with excellency of speech;’ or with the word declaring, ‘I came not declaring with the spiritual,’ 1 Corinthians 2:14-16.

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

And I, i.e. accordingly I ‘In accordance with the clearly revealed purpose of God to reject the wisdom of the world and to make the cross the means of salvation.’

Excellency of speech or of wisdom. As speech and wisdom (λόγος and σοφία) are here distinguished, the former probably refers to the manner or form, and the latter to the matter of his preaching. It was neither as a rhetorician nor as a philosopher that he appeared among them. This clause may be connected either with the word came, ‘I came not with excellency of speech;’ or with the word declaring, ‘I came not declaring with excellency of speech, etc.’ The former mode is generally preferred, not only because of the position of the words in the sentence, but also because of the sense. Paul does not mean to say merely that he did not declare the testimony of God in a rhetorical or philosophical manner; but that what he declared was not the wisdom of men, but the revelation of God.

The testimony of God may mean either the testimony which Paul bore concerning God, or God’s own testimony which Paul bore concerning God, or God’s own testimony, i.e. what God had revealed and testified to be true. “The testimony of God” is, in this sense, the gospel, as in 2 Timothy 1:8. The latter interpretation best suits the connection, as throughout these chapters Paul contrasts what reason teaches with what God teaches. He did not appear as a teacher of human wisdom, but as announcing what God had revealed.

Verse 2

For I determined not to know any thing ‹3› among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

For is confirmatory. ‘I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, for I determined, etc.’ The negative particle in this sentence may be connected either with the word to know, ‘I determined not to know;’ or with the word determined, ‘I did not determine, i.e. I had no intention or purpose.’ The position of the words (οὐ γὰρ ἔκρινά) is in favor of the latter interpretation. The meaning in either case is the same.

Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Paul’s only design in going to Corinth was to preach Christ; and Christ not as a teacher, or as an example, or as a perfect man, or as a new starting point in the development of the race — all this would be there philosophy; but Christ as crucified, i.e. as dying for our sins. Christ as a propitiation was the burden of Paul’s preaching. It has been well remarked that Jesus Christ refers to the person of Christ, and him crucified, to his work; which constitute the sum of the gospel.

Verse 3

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

I came to you, ἐγενόμην πρὸϚ ὐμᾶς, I came to you and was with you, see John 1:2, weakness of which he here speaks was not bodily weakness; for although he elsewhere speaks of himself as weak in body, 2 Corinthians 10:10, and as suffering under bodily infirmity, Galatians 4:14, yet here the whole context shows he refers to his state of mind. It was not in the consciousness of strength, self confident and self-relying, that he appeared among them, but as oppressed with a sense of his weakness and insufficiency. He had a work to do which he felt to be entirely above his powers.

In fear and trembling, i.e. in anxiety, or solicitude of mind arising out of a sense of his insufficiency, and of the infinite importance of his work, 2 Corinthians 7:15. Philippians 2:12. Ephesians 6:5.

Verse 4

And my speech and my preaching (was) not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

My speech and preaching (λόγοϚ and κήρυγμα). If these terms are to be distinguished, the former may refer to his private, and the latter to his public instructions; or, the former is general, including all modes of address, and the latter specific, limited to public discourse. ‘My instructions in general, and my public preaching in particular.’ Both terms, however, may designate the same thing under different aspects.

His mode of preaching is described, first, negatively, and then positively. It was not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom, i.e. the persuasive words which human wisdom would suggest. In his endeavors to bring men to the obedience of the faith, he did not rely upon his own skill in argument or persuasion. This is the negative statement. Positively, his preaching was in (or with, ἐν; the preposition is the same in both clauses, though rendered by our translators in the former, with, and in the latter, in) the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. This may mean, ‘The demonstration of the powerful Spirit;’ or, ‘The demonstration of the Spirit and of (miraculous) power;’ referring to the twofold evidence or proof of the gospel, viz., the internal influence of the Spirit, and the external evidence of miracles. The word, (δύναμις), rendered power, often means miraculous power, but as such cannot be its meaning in the following verse, it is not probable it was intended to have that sense here. The phrase probably means ‘The demonstration of which the Spirit is the author, and which is characterized by power;’ so that the sense is, the powerful demonstration of the Spirit.

Demonstration (ἀπόδειχις) setting forth, exhibition of proof. Paul relied, therefore, for success, not on his skill in argument or persuasion, nor upon any of the resources of human wisdom, but on the testimony which the Spirit bore to the truth. The Holy Ghost demonstrated the gospel to be true.

Verse 5

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

That, i.e. in order that. The design of the apostle in acting as stated in the preceding verse, was that the faith of his hearers might not rest upon human reason, but on the testimony of God. It might have been easy for him to argue the Corinthians into a conviction of the truth of the Gospel, by appealing to its superiority to heathenism and to the evidence of its divine origin afforded by prophecy and miracles. He might have exhibited the folly of idolatry, and the absurdity of pagan rites and ceremonies, and convinced them of the historical truth of Christianity. The conviction thus produced would be rational and important; but it would not be saving faith. Faith founded on such evidence is merely speculative. The true foundation of faith, or rather, the foundation of true faith, is the power of God. This is explained by what he had before called “the demonstration of the Spirit.” That exercise of divine power, therefore, to which he refers as the ground of faith, is the powerful operation of the Spirit, bearing witness with and by the truth in our hearts. A faith which is founded on the authority of the church, or upon arguments addressed to the understanding, or even on the moral power of the truth as it affects the natural conscience, such as Felix had, is unstable and inoperative. But a faith founded on the demonstration of the Spirit is abiding, infallible, and works by love and purifies the heart.

In these verses, therefore, we are taught,

1. That the proper method to convert men in any community, Christian or Pagan, is to preach or set forth the truth concerning the person and work of Christ. Whatever other means are used must be subordinate and auxiliary, designed to remove obstacles, and to gain access for the truth to the mind, just as the ground is cleared of weeds and brambles in order to prepare it for the precious seed.

2. The proper state of mind in which to preach the gospel is the opposite of self-confidence or carelessness. The gospel should be preached with a sense of weakness and with great anxiety and solicitude.

3. The success of the gospel does not depend on the skill of the preacher, but on the demonstration of the Spirit.

4. The foundation of saving faith is not reason, i.e. not arguments addressed to the understanding, but the power of God as exerted with and by the truth upon the heart.

Verse 6

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought.

Paul had in the preceding chapter, 1 Corinthians 1:17-31, asserted the insufficiency of human wisdom, and in 1 Corinthians 1:1-5 of this chapter, he had said he was not a teacher of human wisdom. Was it to be inferred from this that he despised knowledge, that he was an illiterate contemner of letters, or that he taught nonsense? Far from it; he taught the highest wisdom. It is plain from this whole discussion, that by the wisdom of the world, Paul means that knowledge of God and divine things which men derive from reason. It is also plain that what he says of the worthlessness of that knowledge has reference to it as a means of salvation. The objection urged against him was, that he did not teach philosophy. His answer is, philosophy cannot save men. Whatever may be its value within its own sphere and for its own ends, it is worse than useless as a substitute for the gospel. He was not for banishing philosophy from the schools, but from the pulpit. Let the dead bury the dead; but do not let them pretend to impart life.

Howbeit, nevertheless, i.e. ‘although we do not teach human wisdom, we teach the true wisdom.’ Among them that are perfect (ἐν τοῖς τελείοις) i.e. the mature, the full grown, the competent. The ἐν here is not redundant as though the sense were to the perfect; but has its proper force among. Among one class of men the doctrine which he preached was regarded as foolishness, but among another it was seen to be divine wisdom. Who are meant by the perfect? There are two answers to this question. Some say they were the advanced or mature Christians as distinguished from the babes in Christ. Others say, they were believers as opposed to unbelievers; those taught by the Spirit and thus enabled to understand the truth, as opposed to the unrenewed. According to this view, Paul means to say that the gospel, although foolishness to the Greek, was the highest wisdom in the estimation of the truly enlightened. In favor of this view of the passage, and in opposition to the other, it may be argued,

1. That those who regarded Paul’s doctrine as foolishness were not the babes in Christ, but the unrenewed, “the wise of this world;” consequently those to whom it was wisdom were not advanced Christians, but believers as such. Throughout the whole context, the opposition is between “the called” or converted, and the unconverted, and not between one class of believers and another class.

2. If “the perfect” here means advanced Christians as distinguished from babes in Christ, men the wisdom which Paul preached was not the gospel as such, but its higher doctrines. But this cannot be, because it is the doctrine of the cross, of Christ crucified, which he declares to be the power of God and the wisdom of God, 1 Corinthians 1:24. And the description given in the following part of this chapter of the wisdom here intended, refers not to the higher doctrines of the gospel but to the gospel itself.

The contrast is between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God, and not between the rudimental and the higher doctrines of the gospel. Besides, what are these higher doctrines which Paul preached only to the elite of the church? No one knows. Some say one thing, and some another. But there are no higher doctrines than those taught in this epistle and in those to the Romans and Ephesians, all addressed to the mass of the people. The New Testament makes no distinction between (πίστις and γνῶσις) higher and lower doctrines. It does indeed speak of a distinction between milk and strong meat, but that is a distinction, not between kinds of doctrine, but between one mode of instruction and another. In catechisms designed for children the church pours out all the treasures of her knowledge, but in the form of milk, i.e. in a form adapted to the weakest capacities. For all these reasons we conclude that by “the perfect” the apostle means the competent, the people of God as distinguished from the men of the world; and by wisdom, not any higher doctrines, but the simple gospel, which is the wisdom of God as distinguished from the wisdom of men.

The apostle describes this wisdom, first negatively, by saying it is not the wisdom of this world, or, wisdom not of this world, i.e. it belongs not to the world, and is not attained by the men of the world. Nor of the princes of this world. This designation includes all who take the first rank among men; men of influence, whether for their wisdom, birth, or power. He does not refer exclusively to magistrates, or princes, in the restricted sense of that term. This seems plain from the connection, and from what follows in 1 Corinthians 2:8. Who come to nought, i.e. whom it is God’s purpose to confound, as taught above, 1 Corinthians 1:28.

Verse 7

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, (even) the hidden (wisdom), which God ordained before the world unto our glory.

Having in 1 Corinthians 2:6 stated what this wisdom is not, he here states what it is. It is, first, the wisdom of God; secondly, it is mysterious, or hidden; thirdly, it is a system of truth which God from eternity had determined to reveal for the salvation of his people. In other words, it is the revelation of the counsels of eternity in reference to the redemption of man.

The wisdom of God, i.e. the wisdom derived from God; which he has revealed, as distinguished from any form of knowledge of human origin. In a mystery. The word mystery always means something into which men must be initiated; something undiscoverable by human reason. Whether its being undiscoverable arises from its lying in the future, or because hid in the unrevealed purposes of God, or from its own nature as beyond our comprehension, is not determined by the signification of the word, but is to be learned from the context. The most natural connection of the words here is with what precedes, “wisdom in a mystery,” for mysterious, or hidden wisdom, as is immediately explained by what follows. As there is no connecting article (between σοφίαν and μυστηρίῳ) in the original, some prefer connecting this clause with the verb. ‘We speak in a mystery,’ i.e. as declaring a mystery or matter of revelation.

Which God before the world (πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων), before the ages, i.e. before time, or from eternity, preordained to our glory — predetermined in reference to our glory. The word glory is often used from all the benefits of salvation. It includes all the excellence and blessedness which Christ has secured for his people, Romans 5:2. The idea that the scheme of redemption, which the apostle here calls the wisdom of God, was from eternity formed in the divine mind, far out of the reach of human penetration, and has under the gospel been made known for the salvation of men, is one often presented by the apostle, Romans 16:25, Romans 16:26. Ephesians 3:9.

Verse 8

Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known (it), they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Which refers to wisdom, and not to glory; because the former, and not the latter, is the subject of discourse. ‘Which wisdom none of the princes, i.e. the great men, of this world knew.’ The reference is here principally to the rulers of the Jews, the authors of the crucifixion of Christ, and the representatives of the class to which they belonged. It was the world in its princes who rejected Christ.

Lord of glory is a title of divinity. It means, possessor of divine excellence. “Who is the King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory,” Psalms 24:10. Acts 7:2. James 2:1. Ephesians 1:17. The person crucified, therefore, was a divine person. Hence the deed was evidence of inconceivable blindness and wickedness. It was one that could only be done through ignorance. “And now, brethren,” said the apostle Peter to the Jews, “I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers,” Acts 3:17. The fact that the princes of this world were so blind as not to see that Christ was the Lord of glory, Paul cites as proof of their ignorance of the wisdom of God. Had they known the one, they would have known the other.

This passage illustrates a very important principle or usage of Scripture. We see that the person of Christ may be designated from his divine nature, when what is affirmed of him is true only of his human nature. The Lord of Glory was crucified; the Son of God was born of a woman; he who was equal with God humbled himself to be obedient unto death. In like manner we speak of the birth or death of a man without meaning that the soul is born or dies; and the Scriptures speak of the birth and death of the Son of God, without meaning that the divine nature is subject to these changes. It is also plain that to predicate ignorance, subjection, suffering, death, or any other limitation of the Son of God, is no more inconsistent with the divinity of the person so designated, than to predicate birth and death of a man, is inconsistent with the immateriality and immortality of the human soul. Whatever is true either of the soul or body may be predicated of a man as a person; and whatever is true of either the divine or human nature of Christ may be predicated of Christ as a person. We need not hesitate therefore to say with Paul, the Lord of glory was crucified; or even, in accordance with the received text in Acts 20:28, “God purchased the church with his blood.” The person who died was truly God, although the divine nature no more died than the soul of man does when the breath leaves his body.

Verse 9

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

The meaning of this verse is plain, although there are several difficulties connected with it. Paul had said, he preached the hidden wisdom of God, which none of the princes of this world knew; he taught what no eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived. That is, he preached truth undiscoverable by human reason. To enter into the heart means to occur to the mind. Compare in the Hebrew, Isaiah 65:17.

The first difficulty connected with this verse is a grammatical one, which does not appear in our version because of the freedom of the translation. Literally the passage reads, ‘What no eye saw, and no ear heard, and no heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him — .’ The sentence is incomplete. This difficulty may be met either by a reference to the usage referred to in the note on the last verse of the preceding chapter, 1 Corinthians 1:31, the custom of the apostles to quote passages from the Old Testament without weaving them grammatically into their own discourses. Or, we may supply, as many do, the word (λαλοῦμεν) ‘we speak what God hath prepared for those who love him.’ Or this verse may be connected with what follows: ‘What eye hath not seen — what (namely) God hath prepared for his people, he hath revealed to us by his Spirit.’ — The first of these explanations is generally adopted and is the most satisfactory.

The second difficulty relates to the passage quoted. As the formula, “As it is written,” is never used by the apostles except in the citation of the canonical books of the Old Testament, it cannot be admitted that Paul intended to quote either some book now lost, or some apocryphal writing. If it be assumed that he intended to quote Isaiah 64:4 the difficulty is twofold, first, the language or words are different, and secondly, the sense is different. Isaiah 64:4 (or 3 in the Hebrew) is literally translated by Dr. J. A. Alexander, is: “And from eternity they have not heard, they have not perceived by the ear, the eye hath not seen, a God beside thee (who) will do for (one) waiting for him.” The idea is, that men had never known any other God than Jehovah who did, or could do, what he threatened to do. The Septuagint expresses the same idea. The meaning in Isaiah as connected with what precedes, seems to be that the reason why such fearful things as had been predicted were to be expected from Jehovah is, that he alone had proved himself able to perform them. To get over this difficulty some propose a different interpretation of the passage in the prophet. By connecting it with what follows, and by taking the word God in the vocative, the sense may be, ‘From eternity they have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, eye hath not seen, O God, without thee, (i.e. without a revelation) what he, (or, by change of person) what thou hast prepared for those that wait for thee.’ This is the version given in the Vulgate, and brings the passage into harmony with the apostle’s quotation.

Others, assuming the first-mentioned interpretation of the passage in Isaiah to be the true one, consider the apostle as using scriptural language without intending to give the sense of the original. This we often do, and it is not unfrequently done in the New Testament, Romans 10:18. As it is written is not, in this case, the form of quotation, but is rather equivalent to saying, ‘To use the language of Scripture.’

A third explanation of this difficulty is, that the apostle did not intend to quote any one passage of Scripture, but to appeal to its authority for a clearly revealed truth. It is certainly taught in the Old Testament that the human mind cannot penetrate into the counsels of God; his purposes can only be known by a supernatural revelation. This is the truth for which the apostle cites the authority of the Old Testament. There is, therefore, not the slightest ground for imputing failure of memory, or an erroneous interpretation to the inspired apostle.

Verse 10

But God hath revealed (them) unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

What was undiscoverable by human reason, God hath revealed by his Spirit. Unto us, i.e. unto those to whom this revelation, was made, viz. “the holy apostles and prophets,” Ephesians 3:5. This revelation was made by the Spirit, for he alone is competent to make it; for he alone searches the deep things of God. Searches, i.e. explores, accurately and thoroughly knows. The word does not express the process of investigation, but rather its results, viz., profound knowledge. Thus God is said to search the hearts of the children of men, to intimate that there is nothing in man that escapes his notice, Romans 8:27. Revelation 2:23. So there is nothing in God unknown to the Spirit. The deep things, i.e. depths of God, the inmost recesses, as it were, of his being, perfections and purposes. The Spirit, therefore, is fully competent to reveal that wisdom which had for ages been hid in God. This passage proves at once the personality and the divinity of the Holy Ghost. His personality, because intelligent activity is ascribed to him; he searches; his divinity, because omniscience is ascribed to him; he knows all that God knows.

Verse 11

For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the Spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

This verse is designed to illustrate two points: First, as no one knows the thoughts of a man but the man himself, so no one knows the thoughts of God, but God himself. Therefore no one but a divine person is competent to make a revelation of the thoughts and purposes of God. Second, as every man does know his own thoughts, so the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God. His knowledge of what is in God is analogous to that which we have of the contents of our own consciousness. The analogies of scripture, however, are not to be pressed beyond the point which they are intended to illustrate. The point to be illustrated here is, the knowledge of the Spirit. He knows what is in God, as we know what is in ourselves. It is not to be inferred from this that the Spirit of God bears in other points the same relation to God, that our spirits do to us.

Verse 12

Now we have received, not the Spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

The apostle had set forth two sources of knowledge, the one, human; the other, divine; the one, the informing principle which is in man; the other, the informing principle which is of God. And he asserts that the source of that wisdom or knowledge which he communicated, was not the former, but the latter. It was not human reason, but the Spirit of God. The Spirit of the world does not here mean a worldly disposition or temper; but Spirit is that which knows and teaches. The Spirit of the world is therefore a periphrase for reason, which is the principle of knowledge in men. When Paul says he had not received that Spirit, he means that human reason was not the source of the knowledge which he communicated. The Spirit which is of God, is the Holy Spirit as proceeding from him and sent by him as the instructor of men. To receive the Spirit is to be the subject of his influence. It, therefore, depends upon the context and on the nature of the influences spoken of, who are intended by those who receive the Spirit. Here the whole connection shows that the apostle is speaking of revelation and inspiration; and therefore must mean we apostles, (or Paul himself,) and not we Christians.

That, i.e. in order that, we might know the things freely given to us of God, i.e. the things graciously revealed by God. This clause does not refer to inward spiritual blessings now enjoyed by believers, nor to the future blessedness of the saints, except so far as these are included in the general subject of Paul’s preaching. The connection is with 1 Corinthians 2:10. ‘What human reason could not discover, God hath revealed to us apostles, in order that we might know what he has thus graciously communicated.’ The subject is the wisdom of God, the gospel, as distinguished from the wisdom of the world. This is clear both from what precedes and from what follows.

Verse 13

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

Which things; the things revealed by the Spirit. We also speak. We do not only know, we also communicate the things which God has revealed. How is this done? What language did the apostle use in communicating what he had received by divine revelation? He answers, according to his usual method, first, negatively; and then, positively. It was not done “in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth.” This includes two things. The words used by the apostle were neither such as the skill of the rhetorician would suggest, nor such as his own mind, uninfluenced by the Spirit of God, suggested. The affirmative statement is, that the words used were taught by the Holy Ghost. This is verbal inspiration, or the doctrine that the writers of the Scriptures were controlled by the Spirit of God in the choice of the words which they employed in communicating divine truth. This has been stigmatized as “the mechanical theory of inspiration,” degrading the sacred penmen into there machines. It is objected to this doctrine that it leaves the diversity of style which marks the different portions of the Bible, unaccounted for. But, if God can control the thoughts of a man without making him a machine, why cannot he control his language? And why may he not render each writer, whether poetical or prosaic, whether polished or rude, whether aphoristic or logical, infallible in the use of his characteristic style? If the language of the Bible be not inspired, then we have the truth communicated through the discoloring and distorting medium of human imperfection. Paul’s direct assertion is that the words which he used, were taught by the Holy Ghost.

Comparing spiritual things with spiritual; or rather, joining spiritual things to spiritual words, or, explaining the things of the Spirit in the words of the Spirit. For the use of συγκρίνειν in the sense of interpreting or explaining, see Genesis 40:8; Genesis 41:15, Genesis 41:16. Daniel 5:12 in the lxx. This interpretation is demanded by the connection. The apostle had said that the truths which he taught were revealed by the Spirit; and that the words which he used were taught by the Spirit, which he sums up by saying, he explained spiritual things in spiritual words. This view of the passage is perfectly consistent with the signification of the words. The original word (συγκρίνω) means not only mentally to combine and hence to compare, but also to join together; and also to explain. It is used in the Septuagint to express the act of interpreting dreams or enigmas. The clause in question may, therefore, be translated either, combining spiritual things with spiritual words; or, explaining the one by the other. Besides, the word spiritual (πνευματικοῖς) which has no substantive connected with it, most naturally agrees with words (λόγοις) understood, which immediately precedes.

The other interpretation, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, whether it means comparing the Old Testament with the New, as some say; or, as others understand it, comparing one portion of the Spirit’s teaching with another, is inconsistent with the context. Much less can be said in favor of a third interpretation of this clause adopted by many, who understand the apostle to say, he explains spiritual things to spiritual persons. This anticipates what follows.

Verse 14

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know (them), because they are spiritually discerned.

Although the things of the Spirit, that is, the truths of his word, are so clearly revealed; and although they have been communicated in language taught by the Spirit, yet, by a certain class of men, they are rejected. That is, they are not believed, appreciated, and obeyed. This class of men is called natural. The meaning of this term cannot be determined by the there signification of the word (ψυξικός), for it signifies both sensual (i.e. under the influence of the lower animal principles of our nature), and also natural, i.e. under the influence of what belongs to the nature of man as it now exists, as distinguished from the Spirit of God. Many commentators say that the (ψυξικοί) natural are the sensual, and the opposite class the (πνευματικοί) spiritual are the intellectual, the rational, those under the influence of the (πνὲῦμα) Spirit in the sense of the higher, as distinguished from the lower, principles of our nature. According to this view, Paul means to say, that although sensual men do not receive the things of the Spirit, intellectual men do. This interpretation, however, cannot be correct.

1. Because it gives a meaning to the passage not only inconsistent with the direct assertion of the apostle, but opposed to the whole drift and design of his argument. He not only declares that it was not the wise, the refined and cultivated who received the gospel — but his whole object is to prove that the reason of man, or man in the highest development of his nature, can neither discover “the things of the Spirit,” nor receive them when revealed. It is of God, and not because of their superior culture or refinement, that men are in Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:30. These things are hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes, Matthew 11:25 :

2. Because the word spiritual, when used in the New Testament of persons, never means intellectual. It always means one under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It therefore must have that meaning here.

3. The very distinction designed to be expressed here and elsewhere by the terms natural and spiritual, is that between nature and grace, between the natural and supernatural, James 3:15; Judges 1:19.

4. The reason assigned why the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit, viz., because “they are spiritually discerned,” does not mean ‘because they are rationally discerned,’ and therefore it is not the want of due cultivation of the reason that characterizes the natural man, but the want of the Spirit. By natural man, therefore, we must understand the unrenewed man; the man under the influence of human nature, as distinguished from those who are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

The natural or unrenewed man does not receive the things of the Spirit. As the things which the Holy Ghost has revealed address themselves not only to the intellect as true, but to the conscience as obligatory and to the affections as excellent and lovely, not to receive them, is not to recognize, in our inward experience, their truth, authority, and excellence.

For they are foolishness unto them. The word (μωρός) foolish, as an adjective, means in Greek, dull, insipid, tasteless; as a substantive, one that is dull, or stupid; that is, one on whom truth, duty and excellence do not produce their proper effect. Foolishness (μωρία), is that which is to us absurd, insipid, powerless. When, therefore, it is said that the things of the Spirit are foolishness to the natural man, it means that they are to him absurd, insipid and distasteful.

And he cannot know them. To know is to discern the nature of any thing, whether as true, or good, or beautiful. This is in accordance with the constant usage of scripture. To know God is to discern his truth and excellence; to know the truth is to apprehend it as true and good. The wise are the good, that is, those who discern the truth and excellence of divine things. The fools are the wicked, those who are insensible to truth and goodness. What, therefore, the apostle here affirms of the natural or unrenewed man is, that he cannot discern the truth, excellence, or beauty of divine things. He cannot do it. It is not simply that he does not do it; or that he will not do it, but he cannot. We do not say of a clown that he will not discern the truth, excellence, and beauty of a poem. The difficulty is not merely in his will but in his whole inward state. The thing is foolishness to him. So the scriptures do not say of the natural man merely that he will not discern the things of the Spirit, because the difficulty in his case is not in the will alone, but in his whole inward state. He cannot know them. And the reason is,

Because they are spiritually discerned. That is, because they are discerned through the Spirit. Therefore those who have not the Spirit cannot discern them. If the effect of sin on the human soul is to make it blind to the truth, excellence and beauty of divine things; if, as the apostle asserts, the natural, or unrenewed, man is in such a state that the things of the Spirit are foolishness to him, absurd, insipid and distasteful, then it follows that he can discern them only through the Spirit. His inward state must be changed by the influence of the Spirit before he can apprehend the truth and excellence of the gospel. There must be congeniality between the perceiver and the thing perceived. Only the pure in heart can see God. If our gospel be hid, says the apostle, it is hid to them that are lost. The only hope of the unrenewed, therefore, is in doing as the blind did in the days of Christ. They must go to him for spiritual discernment; and those who go to him he will in no wise cast out.

Verse 15

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

To judge here means to discern, to appreciate, and thus pass judgment upon. As the original word is the same in this as in the preceding verse, there is no good reason why the translation should vary. The spiritual man discerns the things which are spiritually discerned, though he himself is not discerned or properly appreciated by any natural man. The all things here spoken of are limited by the context to the things of the Spirit. It is not of the officers of the church only, nor of the church collectively, but of each and every man in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, that the apostle affirms this ability to discern the truth, excellence and beauty of divine things. It is as impossible that one man should discern for another what is true and good, as that one man should see for another. We must see for ourselves or not at all. The right of private judgment in matters of religion, is inseparable from the indwelling of the Spirit. Those who can see, have the right to see. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth, to open our eyes to discern it in its true nature, and to feel its power. It is on this demonstration of the Spirit, as taught above, that saving faith is founded. And as this demonstration is granted to every one who has the Spirit, the faith of the Christian is founded neither on the wisdom of men nor on the authority of the church, and is subject to neither.

Yet he himself is judged of no man. This again is limited by the context. He is appreciated by no man who has not the Spirit. Paul afterwards says it was to him a small matter to be judged by man’s judgment, 1 Corinthians 4:3. He is not here speaking of the legitimate subjection of the believer to his brethren; for he elsewhere teaches that those who have the Spirit may sit in judgment on those who profess to be spiritual, and determine how far they are really led by the Spirit. And he gives the rule by which that judgment is to be directed, 1 Corinthians 5:9-12; 1 Corinthians 12:3. Galatians 1:8. If any man profess to be spiritual, and yet does what the Spirit in his word forbids, or denies what the Spirit teaches, we know that he deceives himself, and that the truth is not in him. We must try the spirits, whether they be of God. This is true, and is perfectly consistent with what the apostle here says, which only means that the spiritual man cannot be discerned or estimated aright by those who are not spiritual.

Verse 16

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

This is a confirmation of what precedes. No one can judge a spiritual man, for that would be to judge the Lord. The Lord had revealed certain doctrines. The spiritual discern those doctrines to be true. For any man to pronounce them false, and to judge those who held them, supposes he is able to teach the Lord. As no one can do this, no one can judge those who have the mind of Christ, that is, those whom Christ by his Spirit has taught the truth. Syllogistically stated, the argument would stand thus: No one can instruct the Lord. We have the mind of the Lord. Therefore no one can instruct or judge us. The first member of this syllogism is expressed in the language of Isaiah 40:15, according to the Septuagint. The philosophers of Greece and the scribes among the Jews had sat in judgment upon Paul, and pronounced his preaching foolishness. He tells them they were not competent judges. The natural man cannot discern the things of the Spirit, and is incompetent to judge those whom the Spirit has taught. As what we teach is the mind of the Lord, to condemn our doctrine, or to judge us as the teachers of those doctrines, is to condemn the Lord.

What in the Old Testament is said of Jehovah is often in the New Testament applied to Christ. This is the case here. Who hath known the mind of the Lord? means, who hath known the mind of Jehovah? We have the mind of Christ, therefore, means, we have the mind of Jehovah. What is true of the one is true of the other. The same person who is revealed in the New Testament as the Son of God, was revealed of old as Jehovah. This teaches how firm a foundation the believer has for his faith, and how impossible it is for any one taught by the Spirit to give up his convictions to the authority of men.

Bibliographical Information
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians.