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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 2

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations

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1 Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul declareth that he used not human learning and eloquence in preaching the gospel to his converts, that their faith, being built on the testimony of the Spirit, and on miracles, might be solely ascribed to God.

1 Corinthians 2:6-13 The gospel doth contain God’s wise, but secret, counsel for bringing men to glory; which no natural abilities could discover, but the Spirit of God only, by which it was revealed to the apostles.

1 Corinthians 2:14-16 Upon this account, both the doctrine and its teachers are held in disesteem by the mere natural man, who is not duly qualified to judge of and discern them.

Verse 1

It should seem by the apostle’s so often declaring against that vanity, that even that age much admired a style, and ministers in sacred things delivering their minds, not in a mere decent, but in a lofty, high-flown phrase; and that they vilified St. Paul, because his phrase did not so tickle their ears. The apostle had declared against this, 1 Corinthians 1:17; there he called it the wisdom of words; here he calls it an excellency of speech: 1 Corinthians 1:4, the enticing words of man’s wisdom: 1 Corinthians 4:19, the speech of them which are puffed up; puffed up with conceits of their own parts and abilities. St. Paul declares, that this was not his way of preaching, he came to declare to them the gospel, which he calleth the testimony of God: this needed no fine words, and excellent phrase and language, to set it forth.

Verse 2

I did not value myself upon any piece of knowledge I had attained, saving only that of

Christ, and him crucified; or, I determined with myself to carry myself amongst you, as if I knew nothing of arts, or sciences, or languages, but only Christ, and him crucified; not to make any thing else the subject of my public discourses. I was acquainted with the Jewish law, rites, and traditions, with the heathen poets and philosophers; I troubled you with none of these in my pulpit discourses; my whole business was to open to you the mysteries of the gospel, and to bring you to a knowledge of and an acquaintance with Jesus Christ; this was my end, and the means I used were proportionable to it.

Verse 3

Either in a weakness of style, I used a plain, low, intelligible style, studying rather to be understood by all than admired by any. Or in weakness of state, in a mean and low condition; for we read, Acts 18:3, that he wrought with his hands at Corinth; so Acts 20:34. Or it may be, in a weak state of body; or it may be he means humbleness of mind and modesty, which to worldly eyes looks like a weakness of mind. And in much fear and trembling, either with respect to the Jews, and the danger he was exposed to from them, or with respect to the greatness of his work, lest they should refuse the grace of the gospel, by him brought and offered to them. So as (saith he) you might see that all the work was God’s, I but a poor instrument, contemptible with respect to my outward quality, appearing poor and mean, in my phrase and style, and whole behaviour amongst you.

Verse 4

Either here Paul’s speech and preaching signify the same thing, (expressed by two words), or else speech referreth to his more private conferences and discourses with them, and preaching signifieth the more public acts of his ministry; neither of them was

with the persuasive or enticing words of man’s wisdom. What these persuasive words of man’s wisdom are, will quickly appear to any that considers there are but two human arts that pretend to any thing of persuading; rhetoric, and logic, or the art of reasoning. Rhetoric persuadeth more weakly, working more upon the affections than upon the understanding and judgment. Logic, or the art of reasoning, more strongly, working upon the understanding and judgment, and teaching men to conclude from connate natural principles. Now, saith Paul, my preaching was neither of these ways, I neither studied neat and fine words and phrases, nor did I make it my work to demonstrate gospel propositions to you from principles of natural reason.

Object. Ought not then ministers now to use such words?

Answer. A learned popish writer saith, that "at that time it was the will of God that his ministers should use plain speech; but it is otherwise now; the using of words studiously composed and ordered, being now the ordinary way to persuade others." But:

1. After this rate any thing of the will of God may be evaded; it is but saying, that it was the will of God indeed then, but not now.

2. The thing is false. It was then, as much as now, the ordinary way of persuading to use rhetorical phrases and rational demonstrations.

3. Although now this be the ordinary method of persuading men of learning and capacities, yet for the generality of people it is not so.

4. The apostle’s reason holds now as much as ever. It is the way to make Christians’ faith stand in the wisdom of men, not in the power of God.

Object. Ought then ministers to use no study, but talk whatever comes at their tongue’s end, and to use no reason to prove what they say?

Answer. By no means.

1. It is one thing to study matter, another thing to study words.

2. Nay, it is one thing to study a decency in words, another to study a gaudery of phrase. It is an old and true saying, Verba sequuntur res: Words will follow matter, if the preacher be but of ordinary parts. In the study of words we have but two things to attend:

(1) That we speak intelligibly, so as all the people may understand.

(2) That we speak gravely and decently. All other study of words and phrases in a divine is but folly and vanity.

3. We ought to use our reason in our preaching; but reason works two ways:

(1) Either making conclusions from natural and philosophical principles;

(2) Or, from Scriptural principles. We ought to study to conclude as strongly as we can what we say from principles of revelation, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, but not from all natural and philosophical principles; for so we shall conclude, there is no Trinity in the Unity of the Divine Being, because, according to natural principles, three cannot be one, nor one three; and against the resurrection, because there can be no regress from a privation to a habit, &c.

4. Again, it is one thing to use our natural reason, ex abundanti, as an auxiliary help to illustrate and confirm what is first confirmed by Divine revelation; another thing to use it as a foundation upon which we build a spiritual conclusion, or as the main proof of it. Paul’s preaching was in words intelligible to his hearers, and decent enough, and with reason enough, but not concluding upon natural principles, nor making any proofs of that nature the foundation upon which he built his gospel conclusions.

But in demonstration of the Spirit; by which Grotius and some others understand miracles, by which the doctrine of the gospel was at first confirmed; but Vorstius and many others better understand by it the Holy Ghost’s powerful and inward persuasion of men’s minds, of the truth of what was preached by Paul. All ministers’ preaching makes propositions of gospel truth appear no more than probable; the Spirit only demonstrates them, working in souls such a persuasion and confirmation of the truth of them, as the soul can no longer deny or dispute, or withstand the conviction of them.

And of power: by this term also some understand the power of working miracles; but it is much better by others interpreted of that authority, which the word of God preached by Paul had, and preached by faithful ministers still hath, upon the souls and consciences of those that hear it. As it is said, Matthew 7:29, Christ taught them as one having authority. And it is said of Stephen, Acts 6:10, They were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. So the gospel preached by Paul came to people, not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance, 1 Thessalonians 1:5; and was quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, Hebrews 4:12. And thus every faithful minister, with whose labours God goeth along in the conversion of souls, yet preacheth in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Nor indeed call those miracles, by which Christ and his apostles confirmed the truth of the doctrine of the gospel, though they were a mighty proof, be, in any propriety of speech, called a demonstration; which, properly, is a proof in which the mind fully acquiesceth, so that it no longer denieth or disputeth the thing so proved, but gives a firm and full assent to it: the miracles wrought by Christ himself never had that effect; the Pharisees and the generality of the Jews believed not that Christ was the true Messiah and the Son of God, not withstanding his miracles. Nothing but the inward powerful impression of the Spirit of God, persuading the heart of the truth of gospel principles, can possibly amount to a demonstration, bringing the minds of men, though never so judicious and prepared, to a certainty of the thing revealed, and a rest, so as they can no longer deny, resist, dispute, or contradict it. With this Paul’s preaching was attended, not to every individual person to whom he preached, but to many, even as many as should be saved: he delivered the doctrine of the gospel freely, plainly, and boldly, not resting upon the force of his rhetoric and persuasive words, nor yet upon the natural force of his reasoning and argumentation; but leaving the demonstration and evidencing of the truth of what he said to the powerful internal impression and persuasion of the holy and blessed Spirit of God, who worketh powerfully.

Verse 5

Faith properly signifieth our assent to a thing that is told us, and because it is told us. If the revelation be from man, it is no more than a human faith. If it be from God, and we believe the thing because God hath revealed it to us, this is a Divine faith. So as indeed it is impossible that a Divine faith should rest in the wisdom of men. If we could make gospel propositions evident to the outward senses, or evident to such principles of reason as are connatural to us, or upon such conclusions as we make upon such principles, yet no assent of this nature could be faith, which is an assent given to a Divine revelation purely because of such revelation. An assent other ways given may be sensible demonstration, or rational demonstration, or knowledge, or opinion; but Divine faith it cannot be, that must be bottomed in the power of God. Nor ought any thing more to be the care of the ministers of the gospel than this, as to call men to believe, so to endeavour that their faith may

not stand in the wisdom of men: nothing but a human faith can do so. This will show every conscientious minister the vanity of not proving what he saith from holy writ: all other preaching is but either dictating, as if men were to believe what the preacher saith upon his authority; or philosophizing, acting the part of a philosoplter or orator at Athens, not the part of a minister of the gospel.

Verse 6

Lest what the apostle had seemed to speak before in defamation of wisdom, should reflect upon the gospel, and give some people occasion to justify against it their impious charge of folly, the apostle here something corrects himself, affirming that he and the rest of the apostles spake

wisdom, and what would be so judged by such as were perfect; not absolutely, for so there is no man perfect, but comparatively, that is, persons who have their senses exercised to discern betwixt good and evil, Hebrews 5:14, or such as are of a true, sound judgment, and are able to discern what is true wisdom. To such, saith the apostle,

we speak wisdom; and it needs must be so; for wisdom being a habit directing men to use the best means in order to the best end, the salvation of men’s souls being the best end, that doctrine which directs the best means in order to it, must necessarily be wisdom, and the purest and highest wisdom.

Yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought; but, saith he, not what the philosophers, or cunning men, or politicians of the world count wisdom; for all their wisdom is of no significancy at all, in order to the best end, the salvation of men’s souls, and it will all vanish, and come to nothing at last.

Verse 7

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery; we preach the gospel, where the righteousness in which alone men can another day appear, and be accepted before God, is revealed from faith to faith. It is indeed a sacred secret, a mystery to many men, but it is the wisdom of God, a doctrine directing the best means to the best end of man.

Even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: it is hidden wisdom: it was ordained of God before the world unto our glory, the way of salvation for man, which he had from all eternity ordained and decreed; but it lay hidden in the secret counsels of God till the latter ages of the world, when it pleased God to send forth his Son into the world to publish it, and after him to appoint us to be the preachers and publishers of it.

Verse 8

Which none of the princes of this world knew; which Divine wisdom neither Caiaphas, nor Pontius Pilate, nor any considerable number of the rulers of this age, whether amongst the Jews or amongst the heathens, understood, though they heard of it.

For had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; for if they had so known it, as to have believed and been persuaded of it, they would never have nailed to the cross that person, who was the Head and Fountain of it, and the Lord of glory; both with respect to his Divine nature, as to which he was God blessed for ever, and also as Mediator, being the Author of glory to those who believe. Nor would this ignorance at all excuse their crucifying of Christ, because it was not invincible, they had means sufficient by which they might have come to the knowledge of him, and have understood what he was; so as their ignorance was affected and voluntary.

Verse 9

The place where this is written is by all agreed to be Isaiah 64:4, where the words are, For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. It is so usual with the penmen of holy writ to quote the sense of texts in the Old Testament, not tying themselves to letters and syllables, that it is mightily vain for any to object against this quotation, as no where written in the Old Testament, but taken out of some apocryphal writings. The sense of what is written, Isaiah 64:4, is plainly the same with what he speaketh in this place; the greatest difference is, the apostle saith,

them that love him; the prophet, him that waiteth for him (which is the certain product and effect of love). The whole 64th chapter of Isaiah, {Isaiah 64:1-12} and some chapters following, treat concerning Christ; so doth this text. Christ and his benefits are to be understood here, by

the things which God hath prepared for them that love him; which are set out as things not obvious to sense, nor to be comprehended by reason. It could never have entered into the heart of men to conceive, that God should give his only begotten Son out of his own bosom, to take upon him our nature, and to die upon the cross; or, that Christ should so far humble himself, and become obedient unto death.

Verse 10

God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit; God by his Spirit hath opened our understandings to understand the Holy Scriptures, the types and prophecies of Christ, and what the holy prophets have spoken of him both as to his person and offices.

For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God; for the Holy Spirit being the third person in the blessed Trinity, and so equal with the Father and the Son,

searcheth the deep things of God, and so is able to reveal to us all the counsels of God, whatsoever God would have men to understand concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. So as this text is an evident proof of the Deity of the Holy Spirit, he searching the deep things of God, and being alone able to reveal them unto men, so as they shall acknowledge, comprehend, and believe them.

Verse 11

Look, as it is with a man, no man knoweth his secret thoughts, and counsels, and meanings, save only his own soul that is within him; so it is as to the things of God, until God by his Spirit hath revealed them to men, none knoweth them but the Holy Spirit of God. It is true as it is with man; when he hath by his tongue discovered his mind to others, they know it so far as he hath so delivered it; but there is no man that discovereth all his thoughts and counsels: so God having in his word revealed his will so far as he hath plainly revealed it men may know it; but there are deep things of God, mysteries in Scripture, which, till the Spirit of God hath revealed to men, they know not nor understand; for none knoweth them originally,

but the Spirit of God, who is himself God, and searcheth the deep things of God.

Verse 12

By the spirit of the world some understand the devil, that evil spirit which is in the world, and ruleth those that are worldly, carnal men: others understand a mere human spirit, by which men understand and comprehend mere worldly things. The sense certainly is, we have not a mere worldly instruction and tutoring, we are not taught and instructed from the world; (so the spirit is put for the effects of the spirit of the world); but we are taught and instructed by the Holy Spirit, by which we are taught and

know the things that are freely given to us of God, whether they be Divine mysteries, or Divine benefits, both what God hath done for us, and what God hath wrought in us.

Verse 13

Reason and all practice directeth men to speak and write of subjects in a style and phrase fitted to the matter about which they write or discourse. Our subjects, saith the apostle, were sublime, spiritual subjects; therefore I did not discourse them like an orator, with an excellency of speech or of wisdom, ,{ as 1 Corinthians 2:1} or with the enticing or persuasive words of man’s wisdom, ( as he had said, 1 Corinthians 2:4), nor with words which man’s wisdom teacheth, ( which is his phrase here), but with words which the Holy Ghost hath taught us, either in holy writ, or by its impressions upon our minds, where they are first formed.

Comparing spiritual things with spiritual; fitting spiritual things to spiritual persons who are able to understand them, or fitting spiritual language to spiritual matter, speaking the oracles of God as the oracles of God, 1 Peter 4:11; not declaiming like an orator, nor arguing philosophically like an Athenian philosopher, but using a familiar, plain, spiritual style, giving you the naked truths of God without any paint or gaudery of phrase.

Verse 14

There are great disputes here, who is meant by the natural man, qucikov anyrwpov. Some think that by the natural man here is meant the carnal man: thus, 1 Corinthians 15:44, the natural body is opposed to the spirtiual body; besides, they say, that in the constant phrase of holy writ, man, who is made up of flesh and spirit, as his essential parts, hath constantly his denomination from one of them, and all men in the world are either carnal or spiritual, and that the Greek word ψυχη signifies that soul and life which is common to all men, from whence all common motions and affections are, and is opposed to the Holy Spirit, which dwells in the souls of them that are sanctified, by which they are led and guided, &c. Thus, say they, the natural man is one who is a servant to his lusts and corruption, under the perfect government of his soul considered merely as natural, all whose motions in that estate of sin and corruption are inordinate. Others think that the apostle here speaks of such as are weak in the faith, little ones, babes in Christ, who had need of milk, not of strong meat, and are natural men in comparison of those more spiritual and perfect. In this sense indeed the apostle, 1 Corinthians 3:4, calleth them carnal. But there is nothing more plain, than that the apostle, under the notion of ψυχικος ανθρωπος (which we translate natural man) here, understands all such as were not perfect and spiritual, such to whom God hath not by his Spirit revealed the deep things of God, 1 Corinthians 2:10; such as had only received the spirit of the world, not the spirit of God, by which alone men come to know the things that are freely given them of God, as 1 Corinthians 2:12.

Receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: all these, though some of them are much better than others, having their minds more cultivated and adorned with worldly knowledge and wisdom, yet do not in their hearts (though they may with their ears) receive, that is, believe, embrace, and close with or approve of, spiritual and Divine mysteries, such doctrines as are purely matters of faith, standing upon a Divine revelation.

For they are foolishness unto him; for men of wit and reason count them all foolishness, being neither demonstrable by sense or natural reason.

Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned; neither can any man, no otherwise taught and instructed, so comprehend them, as to give a firm and fixed assent to them, or in heart approve them, because they are only to be seen and discerned in a spiritual light, the Holy Spirit of God, which is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, enlightening their understandings, that they may know the hope of his calling, and what is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to them that believe, according to the working of his mighty power, & c., Ephesians 1:17-19. Thus the apostle gives a reason of what he had said, 1 Corinthians 2:8, that none of the princes of the world knew the wisdom of God.

Verse 15

He that is spiritual, in this verse, is opposed to the natural man, in the former verse, πνευματικος to ψυχικος. So that by spiritual here is understood, he that is taught by the Spirit of God, and is by him specially and savingly enlightened.

Judgeth or discerneth

all things, that is, of this nature, the mysteries of God, which concern man’s eternal life and salvation; not that every good Christian hath any such perfect judgment or power of discerning, but according to the measure of illumination which he hath received.

Yet he himself is judged of no man; it may as well be translated, of nothing; and the term judged might as well have been translated examined, or searched, as it is in Acts 4:9; Acts 12:19; Acts 17:11; Acts 24:8; or condemned. The wisdom that is of God is not to be subjected to the wisdom of men, nor to be judged of any man, but only the spiritual man. The truth, which the spiritual man owneth and professeth, dependeth only upon God and his word, and is not subjected to the authority and judgment of men, nor the dictates of human reason: so as the spiritual man, so far forth as he is spiritual, is neither judged by any man nor by any thing. There are some that by he himself understand the Spirit of God; he indeed

is judged of no man, nor of any thing; but that seemeth a much more strained sense.

Verse 16

For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? This phrase is taken out of Isaiah 40:13, and was quoted by our apostle before, Romans 11:34; the sense of it, as here used, is: For what natural man, that never was taught and enlightened by the Spirit of God, could ever know the secret counsels of God, and the Divine mysteries of man’s salvation? Nor can any instruct him what to do. It is by some observed, that συμβιβασει signifies, by arguments to bring one over to be of his mind, which indeed is a kind of instruction.

But (saith the apostle) we, who have the Spirit of God given to us, dwelling and working in us, and instructing us, we have the mind of Christ; for the Spirit of Christ, which is our teacher, knoweth his mind, and hath revealed it unto us.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/1-corinthians-2.html. 1685.
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