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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 2

 

 

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Verse 1-2

Paul Now Stresses His Own Example To Demonstrate That the Gospel in its Successful Presentation by Him Had Not Been with Eloquence and Wisdom, But In Power (2:1-8).

‘And I, brothers, when I came to you, did not come with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the mystery (or ‘testimony’) of God, for I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him the crucified one.’

In accordance with what he has said Paul reminds them of how he himself approached them with the Gospel. He did not come as an orator using flowery words. He did not put on a show of wisdom pretending to, and expanding on, special knowledge. He simply and straightly preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He is not here attacking eloquence or true wisdom. He is attacking preaching which gained its sole impact through eloquence, and depended on eloquence for its effect, and wisdom which was wisdom in men’s eyes, but not in God’s, as described in the previous verses, both of which could blur the essential content of the message.

‘Proclaiming to you the mystery (or testimony) of God’. The early authorities are fairly equally divided between reading ‘mystery’ (musterion) or ‘testimony’ (marturion) with the edge towards ‘mystery’. The third century papyrus 46 (the Chester Beatty papyrus) and the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, together with 5th century Alexandrinus, support ‘mystery’ but the fourth century Codex Vaticanus, and a fifth century (?) ‘correction’ in Codex Sinaiticus support ‘testimony’. But as the term ‘mystery’ also appears in 1 Corinthians 2:7, and the ‘mystery of God’ is also mentioned in Colossians 2:2; Revelation 10:7 (compare also 1 Timothy 3:16 ‘the mystery of godliness’), whereas the term ‘the testimony of God’ occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, the weight would seem to be towards ‘mystery’ as the correct original. For ‘testimony’ is usually used in relation to Christ.

The term ‘the testimony of Christ’ occurs in 1 Corinthians 1:6 and ‘the testimony of our Lord’ in 2 Timothy 1:8. The ‘testimony of Jesus Christ’ appears in Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9 in parallel with ‘the word of God’ and in 1 Corinthians 12:17 in parallel with ‘the commandments of God’. The ‘testimony of Jesus’ is found in Revelation 19:10. Thus in view of the fact that the idea of testimony or witness is always elsewhere referred to Jesus Christ and not God, and the ‘mystery of God’ is mentioned elsewhere, we must favour ‘mystery’ as the original here as in 1 Corinthians 2:7, unless there is good reason to do otherwise

In the New Testament a ‘mystery’ refers to God’s divine plan, once hidden but now revealed openly to His own. It is a testimony now made to something not fully previously known. Thus Paul is here referring to the message of the cross as something once hidden, although indirectly depicted in the Old Testament sacrifices, but now openly revealed and declared as the means of salvation. Although depicted clearly in Old Testament prophecy (e.g. Isaiah 53), it was of such a nature that man’s wisdom had not caught on to it. And its present revelation now especially brought out the folly of man’s wisdom. This fits aptly into this context, and ties in with its use in 1 Corinthians 2:7.

In favour of ‘testimony’ some would question as to why any copyist should make the change this way. But the reason is not hard to find. ‘Testimony’ is superficially attractive because the whole passage is referring to Paul’s testimony to the Corinthians, and it is unlikely that the copyist would discern or think about its parallel usages. And ‘testimony’ had then become an ‘in word’ for the witness, often to death, of Christians before the heathen world and heathen judges. And they knew that Paul had been a ‘marturos’.

‘I determined not to .’ That is, ‘made a judgment that I would not--’ (krino - to judge).

‘Know anything among you except Christ, the crucified One.’ His message was to be centred only on Christ with special emphasis on Him as the One Who was crucified and now lives, with no flowery background calling on many aspects of wisdom. All was to be centred on Christ. All was to be centred on the cross. And as his letters make clear that means that it included all that He was doing and would yet do as a result of the victory obtained at the cross. For every aspect of the work of Christ, past, present and future, centres around the cross. All that we receive from God comes through the cross. His ministry would thus not be a restricted one except in this, that in everything Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Saviour was to be kept central and made abundantly clear.


Verses 3-5

‘And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling, and my word and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.’

Paul stresses the great concern that he had had that his words to them might not be just persuasive and clever words, but that his preaching should be in demonstration of the Spirit and power. He had wanted to ensure that they did not respond because of his persuasion, or as a result of elegant ideas, but because of the Spirit’s persuasion and testimony to the cross as He revealed His power among them. For he knew that if they only believed for his sake their faith would soon fail. But if it was founded in the work of the Spirit and on the word of the cross it would stand firm, for all God’s power would be behind it.

‘I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.’ This was how he felt inside as he had contemplated the message he had brought them. ‘Weakness’ may indicate a physical indisposition of one kind or another. The word often means illness. But it may simply mean a sense of lack. We must not, however, overstress the fear and much trembling. It is one of his favourite descriptions to describe genuine concern, and regularly means simply that, that he was acting in genuine and careful concern. See 2 Corinthians 7:15 where the Corinthians had received Titus ‘with fear and trembling’ and Philippians 2:12 where the Philippians are told to ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God Who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.’ In both cases it is clear that it is a slight exaggeration to stress great concern and effort. See also Ephesians 6:5.

Thus Paul is stressing how genuine his aim had been. He had come to them in weakness, either because he had recognised that the success that really mattered would not come from his strength and power but from the power of the word of the cross, or because of some indisposition, and he had come ‘in fear and trembling’ because he was very concerned that his ministry should be in the power of the Spirit. When a minister does not come to preach in ‘weakness, fear and much trembling’ we may need to question his genuine calling.

‘My word and my preaching were not in persuasive words of men’s wisdom.’ The word of the cross is powerful to save (1 Corinthians 1:18) when accompanied by the Spirit, and God saves men ‘through the foolishness of what is preached’ (1 Corinthians 1:21), that is, through the foolishness of the preaching of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17), which in turn is the word of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18), once they respond in belief and trust. But both require the Spirit as the necessary condition. Thus he was careful to avoid a word and preaching which simply expressed and taught human endeavour, and used persuasive words containing men’s carefully constructed wisdom so as to sway their beliefs, and engaged in eloquent and flowery language, which might blur the message of the cross.

‘But in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’ By coming to God in weakness and godly fear and opening himself to God he became a channel of the Spirit. Thus his preaching was powerful and effective, and produced powerful results (compare Galatians 3:5). It was a demonstration of power. It was a demonstration of the Spirit at work. Notice the continual stress on ‘power’ in the whole passage (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5). The word of the cross was God’s word active in power (Isaiah 55:11). The combination with this of a man faithful to the message of the cross and submissive to the Spirit resulted in powerful preaching, because it was such preaching that applied the power of God to men’s hearts. It gave men spiritual wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:11-16), it brought men under the Kingly Rule of God (1 Corinthians 4:20), it dealt firmly with open sin (1 Corinthians 5:3-5). This then resulted in the spiritual gifts which were manifested among the Corinthians (12-14). All had demonstrated that God was there.

‘That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.’ This was why he feared, this was the reason for his great concern, the fear that because of clever words and highflown ideas men would be ‘convinced’ but would not be genuinely responsive to God Himself, being like reeds swaying in the wind, uncertain as to quite why they had responded, and just as easily convinced when others spoke a different message. So rather than this he concentrated on submission to the Spirit and the preaching of the word of the cross (for which see 1 Corinthians 1:18). Then he knew that any response of faith would be permanent because it resulted only from the powerful activity of God.

In all this Paul is not denying that he preached as effectively as he could, and as carefully as he could. Indeed that is his point. That he concentrated all his skills on ensuring ‘with greatest care’ that the central message was plain and that it got over. Away with impressing people. He wanted them to know exactly what he was saying. He wanted them to receive and understand the message of Christ and Him crucified. And above all he wanted it to be not in his own power, but in the power of the Spirit.


Verses 6-8

‘Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are perfect. But a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world which are coming to nought. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds to our glory, which none of the rulers of this world knew, for had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’

Having spoken of foolishness he now wants to correct any misapprehension. It is not really foolishness that they are speaking, it merely appears like that to unbelievers. It is in fact great wisdom. Those who have received understanding, who have received perfection in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 3:15; 2 Timothy 3:17; Hebrews 10:14), recognise and admire its wisdom.

Here the idea of being ‘perfect’ is of having been made ‘perfect’ in mind in Christ, having fully accepted the word of the cross, and having thus taken up the right mind set in the Spirit. Having received enlightenment and understanding from God Himself they have ‘perfect’ understanding. It is to have matured into adulthood as no longer children under the Law, but as adult sons through the Spirit of adoption so that we receive the Spirit of His Son whereby we cry ‘Abba, Father’ (Galatians 4:4-6).

As with many other Christianised words it has a past, a present and a future reference. Jesus’ hearers would become ‘perfect’ by taking up the same attitude towards others as God had, that is, by yielding their wills to the will of God, taking up His mind set as demonstrated through what He revealed Himself to be (Matthew 5:48). For the rich young ruler to become ‘perfect’ he had to yield his will to God by yielding his riches and taking up the right mind set towards his riches (Matthew 19:21). To be ‘perfect’ (men and not children) in understanding is to have the right mind set in order to be ready to receive spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 14:20). It is the Spirit Who makes ‘perfect’, giving the right mind set, and nothing else is therefore required (Galatians 3:3). To press on towards the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus indicates the ‘perfect’ man (Philippians 3:15), the one with the right mind set towards God. Thus to be perfect is to have a right mind and heart set towards the will of God, which comes about through the working of God’s Spirit, so that Christians, who initially receive this mind set at conversion, are called on to reveal it in their lives, and to maintain it. That it also has a continuing present and future significance, is revealed in Ephesians 4:12-13.

But the wisdom that is appreciated by having the spiritual mind set does not gain the appreciation of ‘the world’. It contradicts all that the world believes about the innate goodness of man. It is a wisdom which the world’s rulers (‘not many noble are called’ - 1 Corinthians 1:26) do not appreciate. They scorn it. They reject it. It does not agree with their view of things, or with their view of how things should be. It would interfere with their future intentions, and their desire to keep control of the world by their own methods. It is rather a wisdom that reveals what God has foreordained, from the beginning of time, a wisdom that brings about potential of the salvation of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 4:14) through the death of His Son, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-10).

‘We do speak wisdom.’ That is, Apollos, Peter and himself (1 Corinthians 1:12), along with all like-minded preachers.

‘Among those who are perfect.’ The word rendered ‘perfect’ means ‘full and complete’, ‘having full measure’, ‘fully developed’. They are those who have become true sons and have received the right mind set through the Spirit. They have received true wisdom. Thus it means those whose understanding is enlightened (Ephesians 1:18), because they have fully grasped the truth of the message and have fully understood its implications. They have received a full measure of God’s wisdom, and recognise the wisdom of the word of the cross. They have become knowledgeable in Christ. They have received the Spirit which has made them complete in Him.

‘Yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, those who are coming to nought.’ The world does not see it as wisdom. It goes against all that they hold dear, it contradicts their own self-righteousness. It calls on them to behave in a way in which they do not want to behave. It calls on them to deny themselves and to take up their cross and follow Him. It calls for genuine humility. And this goes against all that they are.

Nor do the world’s rulers see it as wisdom. They have demonstrated this in that they actually carried out the crucifixion of the Lord of glory. They did not want someone who got in the way of how they saw things. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate, all had their own reasons for getting rid of Jesus. They followed different aspects of man’s wisdom, both Jewish and ‘Greek’, but their ends were the same. This last fact confirms that the ‘rulers of this world’ are not to be seen as spiritual forces but as human beings (although we may see spiritual forces as at work behind them). So again we are reminded that the wise of the world, and the powerful of the world, have rejected this wisdom, which has on the whole only been received by those who are foolish and weak, those who are base and despised (1 Corinthians 1:27-28), for the powerful do not want to humble themselves as sinners.

‘Those who are coming to nought.’ That is, those who are to be made ineffective, powerless, who are to pass away, who are to be brought to an end, who are doomed to perish. In other words their wisdom will cease in contrast with the expansion of the everlasting wisdom. Their power will fail in contrast with the eternal power at work through the Spirit. Their authority will collapse as God’s authority and Kingly Rule expand. For they themselves will come to nothing.

‘But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even that which has been hidden.’ We declare something which, in the wisdom of God, has been hidden, a mystery which is now a revealed mystery to those who have come to understanding, who have thereby become ‘perfect’, something hidden in the foreknowledge of God but now made known. God’s secret is now laid bare to His own. The Old Testament had built up to the coming of Christ, it had revealed what God was going to do quite clearly to those with eyes to see it, and yet the way of His coming and what He did in His coming has taken all by surprise. Although it was there to see, none saw it. To His own it has now been made clear. To all others it is still a mystery.

‘Which God foreordained before the ages (worlds) unto our glory.’ It is a wisdom revealed in the plan and purpose of God, foreordained before time began. And that wisdom is made up of all that is contained in the word of the cross and of the crucified and risen Christ, spoken by God, issued forth from God, and brought to fruition when the hour had come, so that all who responded in faith and trust might be saved. And God purposed it from the beginning that through it ‘we’ might receive ‘glory’ through being in Christ, a glory which is both present and future. The idea of glory includes future splendour, both literal and moral (2 Corinthians 3:18), and honour (1 Corinthians 15:43) and is meanwhile descriptive of the joy and rapture that fills the hearts of His people (1 Peter 1:8) and of the power that rests on them through the Spirit of God (1 Peter 4:14).

For the amazing thing is that it is God’s gracious purpose for His people, that they may receive glory, as is constantly emphasised. Being declared righteous by faith we ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (Romans 5:2), for the body at the resurrection, sown in dishonour, will be ‘raised in glory’ (1 Corinthians 15:43), when He comes in His glory (Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27), for when Christ Who is our life is revealed and made known, we also will be revealed with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4).

Further, the ministration of the Spirit, the ministration of righteousness, is with glory (2 Corinthians 3:8-9), so that as we behold (or reflect) as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, even though the mirror reveals it but dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12), we are transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18), and our light affliction, which is for a moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17), so that we know that we will receive a crown of glory that is unfading (1 Peter 5:4).

Thus our being ‘called’ through the Gospel will result in our ‘obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thessalonians 2:14). For the elect are to ‘obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory’ (2 Timothy 2:10), and God has called us into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Peter 5:10), and is bringing many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10). Note here that the calling of the elect by God is through the Gospel, through the word of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17-18), and results in glory. So the glory that His people are destined to is very real.


Verse 8

‘Which none of the rulers of this world know, for if they had known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’

This refers back in his mind to both ‘wisdom’ and ‘glory’. They did not know the wisdom of God, and thus they did not recognise the glory which came in the Lord Jesus, the glory of Christ. He was in the world as God’s word and God’s light, and the world did not know Him (John 1:9). Though they considered themselves wise and were themselves arrayed in splendour and glory, the rulers’ foolishness was revealed in their crucifying the One Who was made to us the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30) and is ‘the Lord of glory’, a glory more long lasting and greater far than theirs, and a glory which He provides for His own.

Their mind set was such that they were oblivious both to God’s wisdom and the glory revealed in Christ. This is clear from the fact that in their extreme folly they crucified the Lord of glory, they sought to destroy the true glory. Nothing could reveal what they were better than that. And why did they do this? Because they were without the Spirit of God.


Verse 9

‘But as it is written, “Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which did not enter into the heart of man, whatever things (those refer to) God prepared for those who love him”.’

He declares that Scripture reveals that what he has been describing is beyond human comprehension. It is describing what man could neither see, nor hear, nor know within. It therefore results in something that is naturally outside man’s ability to understand. Yet it speaks of what God has prepared for those who love Him. And he goes on to say that it is revealed by God’s own Spirit coming to man’s spirit, if they receive Him, and making all supernaturally known.

‘As it is written.’ Again Paul intends to reinforce his argument from the authoritative word of God.

The verse in mind is Isaiah 64:4 possibly amplified by Isaiah 65:16 c (LXX). Isaiah 64:4 reads in the Hebrew, ‘From of old men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, a God beside you Who works for those who wait for Him.’ In LXX it reads, ‘From of old we have not heard, nor have our eyes seen a God beside you, and your works which you will perform for those who wait for mercy’. Isaiah 65:16 c LXX reads ‘neither shall they at all come into their mind’ (Hebrew ‘nor come into mind’).

As regularly (compare 1 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 1:31) Paul may well be making a deliberate paraphrase in order to specifically apply the verse or verses (compare the same method in Mark 1:2-3) to the situation, for the point he is bringing out is that God has done a new thing for His own which is beyond anything man has known or seen, He is working for them in a new way, just as He promised in the days of Isaiah. The change from ‘wait for Him’ to ‘love Him’ is in part simply a change of emphasis, for those who wait for Him are those who love Him, and in part a declaration that there has been a moving forward. They no longer wait lovingly but love Him because He has acted, because of what He has done in the cross. Paul is concerned that there be a full response to the significance of the cross. To Paul Christians are those who supremely love God (Romans 8:28).

Origen suggested that this actual wording was as found in the Apocalypse of Elijah, but that is unknown to us and it may well be that that apocalyptic writing as known to Origen was quoting from Paul, just as Clement of Rome may have had Paul’s quotation in mind when he writes ‘For [the Scripture] says, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which He has prepared for them that wait for Him”.’ Alternately some have suggested that they all obtained it from a jointly known source such as a Jewish/apocalyptic collection of verses not known to us. (Exact quotation was more difficult in those days due to shortage of manuscripts and the difficulty in consulting them, and anthologies would often be used, just as we use different versions).

But the significance of the words is the same. What God will do is beyond what man has ever known, for God will act on behalf of those who love Him, who trust Him, who wait for Him, in a way beyond telling.


Verses 9-16

This Message Is Revealed To Men by the One Holy Spirit Enlightening the Mind and Heart (2:9-16).

1 Corinthians 2:9-10 are connecting verses. They confirm what has been said about the wonder of what God has done, and lead in to Paul’s explanation of how God brings it home to men.


Verse 10

‘But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.’

For at this end of the ages the Spirit has been poured out from above to illuminate the church of Christ, all who truly believe in Christ, and He has revealed to God’s people (‘to us’, emphasised by its position) the things hidden from the ages, what God has foreordained for them through the crucified and risen Messiah, and through the power of His work accomplished on the cross, which has revealed and brought into effect the divine power as never before. For nothing is hidden from His Spirit. He searches all things, yes, even the deepest secrets of God.

The personality of the Spirit comes out here, for He is depicted as searching out in order to reveal. When we speak of ‘searching’, however, the point is that He searches it out along with us. He is not seeking new truth for Himself. He knows all truth. He is searching it out so that God’s people may receive it and understand it. He searches in and through us.

‘Deep things.’ ‘Bathos’. Used of the depths of the sea and of the depths of divine knowledge. What was in the depths of the sea was beyond man’s wisdom and knowledge. It was a secret, hidden, unreachable place beyond his scope. The sea was a mystery which man could not penetrate. And so the divine wisdom and knowledge was also totally beyond man’s ability to know or understand. But the Holy Spirit takes of what is in those unfathomable depths and reveals it to those chosen by God. Compare Romans 11:33 where Paul speaks of ‘the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out’.

(There are two possible renderings of the text although they do not affect the main idea. P46 and B have ‘gar’ (for), Aleph A D G have ‘de’ (but). The former sees the verse as carrying on the argument with new matter introduced, the latter as introducing a new element).


Verse 11

‘For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God, except for the Spirit of God.’

A man’s true self and inner knowledge and very being is only known to that man, deep inside through his ‘spirit’, that inner part which is the seat of his understanding and consciousness and spiritual experience. Others may think they know him but the deepest things, the things which are essentially him, are hidden; known, in so far as they are known at all, only to him. The verb for ‘know’ is oida, knowing intellectually. He knows himself but he does not truly ‘know’ (ginosko) himself. In a similar way God’s true self and inner knowledge and very being is known only to God, deep within Him, in His Spirit. But this time it is known (ginosko) to the full, intellectually and experientially. And this is the Spirit that we have received if we are His, the One Who knows God in every way. For if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (Romans 8:9). And to have received the Spirit is to have received the One Who holds all the secrets of God, and reveals them to the heart as we are receptive to them.

This is to be seen as a play on ideas rather than as suggesting that man’s make up is like God’s, as the change of verbs also indicates, for the whole point is that God’s Spirit actually comes to us and brings us the revelation of what He Himself is (whereas our spirits remain within us as part of us). It is not to be seen as like and like.


Verse 12

‘But we received, not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God.’

The contrast with the Spirit of God is the spirit of the world. There may be a verging here on to the idea of an elemental spirit that deceives men (‘the spirit of the world’) and leads them astray, compare 1 John 4:4 where ‘He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world’ in a context where false spirits are in mind, but if so, as there also, it is not prominent. The main stress is rather on man’s inadequacy and inability of himself to know God because his spirit is caught up in the aims, desires and attitudes of the world, the spirit of the world (compare 1 John 2:15-16). Man is of the world and has the spirit of the world directing his life.

‘The spirit of the world.’ Here he sees the spirits of men (1 Corinthians 2:11) as one great whole, their hearts set on earthly things, bereft of God and unable to understand Him and His ways. But it may well be that he also has in mind in the background ‘the prince of this world’ whose evil presence lies behind the princes of this world, who was condemned with them at the cross (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11), along with his minions (Colossians 2:15 compare Galatians 4:8-9), spoken of by Jesus. It is noteworthy that the New Testament constantly assumes this evil, shadowy presence behind the world and its ways, without overemphasising him, although the idea is sharply brought out in Revelation.

‘But we received --- the Spirit of God.’ (John 7:39; John 20:22; Acts 2:1-4; Acts 8:17; Acts 10:47; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). God on the other hand has entered into the world through His Spirit in a vividly personal way, and it is He Who possesses and dwells in His people, illuminating them, transforming them, and empowering them in various degrees, and it is He Who brings into action and makes real the power of the cross. Thus are they freed from the spirit of the world, dying to the world that they might live to God.

‘That we might know the things that are freely given to us by God.’ He comes as ‘the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17; John 14:26; John 16:13 - verses which more specifically apply to the Apostles, but in a secondary way to all Christians) and He makes known the truth to His people, both through men ‘inspired’ by the Spirit and in His working in their inner hearts (Ephesians 1:17-18; Colossians 1:9; Colossians 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 5:20; Hebrews 10:32).

‘The things that are freely given to us of God.’ That which has been made available to us through the word of the cross, e.g. the grace of God (1 Corinthians 1:4), righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30), justification, glorification (1 Corinthians 2:7), power from God (1 Corinthians 1:18), salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:8) and above all God’s unspeakable gift, our Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 9:15).

We should note the movement here has been from ‘we’ as referring to God’s messengers, to ‘we’ as all God’s people (at 1 Corinthians 2:9). Whereas the messengers proclaim and declare the truth, all true Christians receive it fully because they have received the Spirit of God. It is He who takes their words and makes them known in the hearts of each of God’s people.

So while the things freely given to us by God my be seen as including what is revealed through the genuine spiritual gifts of chapters 12-14, also brought to us by the Spirit of God, as compared with false spiritual gifts, which did occur elsewhere, the product of the ‘spirit of the world’, it goes beyond that to the fact that weallreceive the whole range of the things given to us by God because we have received the Spirit Who brings home to us the indwelling of Christ and makes God known to the heart.


Verse 13

‘Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.’

‘We speak.’ Thus all who truly teach in Christ’s name do so through the Spirit. For all who are truly His operate through the Spirit of God. This includes Paul and Apollos and Peter, but it should also include the Corinthians. As men of God empowered and enlightened by the Spirit they are to teach in a wisdom which is not of man, and which is not their own, and ensure that it is with words provided by God through the Spirit (compare Matthew 10:20, although there the words are given before judges). That is why later he is so concerned that they speak in words understandable to all, that all may benefit (1 Corinthians 14:1-33). Thus it is folly to give the credit to such men.

‘Not in words which man’s wisdom teaches.’ None of them look to man’s wisdom. They do not pour over books of wisdom, or attend schools of wisdom eager to learn the latest thing. They look to God and His word as the source of their wisdom. Thus they have one message and are united as one. But they know that this is not just ‘given’, it requires thought. They compare spiritual things with spiritual.

‘Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.’ ‘Sunkrino’ means ‘to bring together, to judge by comparison, to combine, compare, explain, interpret.’ It therefore stresses the application of thought. They are not just carried along by the Spirit without the effort needed to understand the message. The whole of a man’s being should be caught up in his teaching.

There are a number of possible translations and interpretations for this phrase (pneumatikois pneumatika sunkrinontes). This possibility partly ariese from the use of pneumatikois which can be masculine plutral (spiritual men) or neuter plural (spiritual things), and partly because ‘spiritual’ has no noun and therefore a noun could be assumed. Possible translations include;

1) Comparing (bringing together, interpreting) spiritual things with spiritual things.

2) Giving spiritual truths a spiritual form, expressing them in spiritual words.

3) Interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess or are guided by the Spirit (spiritual men) (see 1 Corinthians 3:1).

4) Comparing the spiritual things we have received (e.g. in the Old Testament Scriptures) with the spiritual things we will yet receive (e.g. in the words of Christ and the Apostles, and in the New Testament), and thus judging them by comparison (compare 1 Corinthians 14:29-32).

The basic idea is the same in all interpretations, that the overriding need is to see all things in the light of the Spirit and as illuminated by the Spirit. It is important that what is spiritual is received and compared with, and interpreted in the light of, what is spiritual, rather than in comparison and contrast with worldly wisdom. It needs to be received, and considered, and applied, and expressed with the Spirit’s aid, with the purpose of being received by those enlightened by the Spirit. But again we must stress that the context is that of proclaiming the Gospel and revealing the significance of the cross and of the crucified One (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Thus 1) and 2) (which merge into each other) would seem to be more in mind with the thought that spiritual things are thought on, compared, and interpreted spiritually and received by those who have been made ‘spiritual’ by receiving the Spirit.

However, while ‘interpreting spiritual things in spiritual words’ would fit well the context, the fact that Paul could have made this plain by adding another word seems to suggest that he was not being so specific. We are therefore probably to see him as intending us to equate the two ‘spirituals’, ‘spiritual things with spiritual things’, the point being that there is not to be a mixture of spiritual truth and worldly wisdom, a watering down of what is spiritual, but a wholehearted concentration on what is spiritual, that is, on the essence of all that has been revealed through Christ crucified and in the Scriptures.


Verse 14

‘Now the natural man (man in Adam, the animal man, the man of this world, the man without the Spirit, man as he is without God) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, because they are spiritually discerned (examined, considered, assessed, judged).’

In contrast the ‘natural man’ (‘the first man’ as in Adam - 1 Corinthians 15:47) without the Spirit cannot receive them, he does not accept them because his receptors are blocked. They are dead (Ephesians 2:1). The whole stress here is that man as he is in himself is unable to receive spiritual truth, or even to consider spiritual truth. What the Spirit has taught Paul and his fellows, and is teaching through them, is nonsense to such people, for they have no spiritual discernment. It is outside their senses, outside their ability range, not mentally but spiritually. Such truth requires spiritual discernment and spiritual judgment, which can only come from the Spirit. The consequence is that it is only when the Spirit enlightens men that they can understand the Gospel, and the preaching of the cross, and respond to it. And only those who are so enlightened can go on to understand it in its fullness.


Verse 15-16

‘But the spiritual one (pneumatikos) judges all things, and he himself is judged of no man. For “who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.’

The second part of this verse is a quotation from Isaiah 40:13, ‘who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor has taught him?’ Or in LXX, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? And who has been his counsellor, to instruct him?’ Note how LXX equates the ‘mind of the Lord’ with the MT ‘Spirit of the Lord’. The point behind the words is that God’s thoughts are above man’s thoughts, so that man can neither understand His ways, know His mind, nor teach or direct Him. In context it puts His wisdom and knowledge as above and beyond all men.

‘But he who is spiritual judges all things, and he himself is judged of no man.’ Most see this as meaning that in contrast with the natural man who cannot spiritually judge them, the spiritual man can judge all ‘the things of the Spirit of God’, because he has the Spirit, and yet he cannot himself be judged by any man, that is, by any natural man. This is because the mind of the Lord cannot be known by the natural man, nor is man able to instruct Him. Thus the natural man cannot judge what is known by the spiritual man. However, in contrast, the spiritual man actually has the mind of Christ, because he has received the Spirit (note how the Spirit and the mind are equated by LXX). He therefore does himself know the mind of the Lord. He has entered into an understanding of spiritual things, because through the Spirit he has the mind of Christ.

As long as we do not apply the ideas in the verse too strictly this gives us a sound meaning. The spiritual man (literally ‘the spiritual one’), in contrast with the natural man, discerns the things of the Spirit, understands the things of the Spirit and stands beyond the world’s judgment on such matters, because he has the mind of Christ through His Spirit, so that he can, at least to some extent, know the mind of the Lord. This can only, of course, be seen as true ‘ideally’, and many would thus apply it strictly only to the knowledge and understanding of the word of the cross.

But the fact that it actually seems to fit ill with what is actually said comes out in that some therefore try to interpret it as referring to spiritual Christians as opposed to fleshly Christians (1 Corinthians 3:1). They are unhappy with the suggestion that it can apply to every Christian person, and thus they have to look for an alternative. But the whole idea of the passage is against such a change, for the contrast is between those who have the Spirit and those who do not. And the former must mean all Christians, for ‘if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His’ (Romans 8:9).

So the question must be asked as to whether, in view of the strength of the language, which commentators agree is difficult and which has to be argued around, this fully explains the significance of the verse. Can every spiritual man, even granted that he has received the Spirit, ‘judge (or discern) all things’, even if we mean all things spiritual, when it is to Jesus alone that ‘all things’ have been made known (see 1 Corinthians 2:10; Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 3:35; John 4:25; John 5:20; John 13:3; John 16:30). The answer can only be ‘potentially’, and that is not really satisfactory, especially in view of the words of Scripture that follow. It is true that the Apostles were to have ‘all things’ that Jesus had spoken to them revealed to them (John 14:26); and that Jesus had made known to them ‘all things’ that He had heard from His Father (John 15:15), but this was to the Apostles alone and had a specialist meaning. This was spoken to them in their unique position as those who had to remember and pass on the words of Jesus, and it had in mind what Jesus had taught them. It is also true that to the new man in Christ ‘all things’ become new (2 Corinthians 5:17), but that refers to the whole of their lives, and while including spiritual awareness does not suggest spiritual awareness of ‘all things’. So these are not really identical. In fact the only verses in which an unqualified ‘all things’ in relation to knowledge is described, apart from those speaking of Jesus above, are 2 Timothy 2:7, where Timothy was to be given understanding in ‘all things’, and 1 John 2:20 where those ‘with an anointing from the Holy One’ know ‘all things’. The latter is fairly close to this. However it there referred to the church as a whole and not to every individual Christian. It is doubtful if John would have suggested that each believer knew all things. Timothy was clearly seen as an exception. Thus the idea that every Christian is ‘spiritual’ and as such can unequivocally judge ‘all things’ would, if it were correct, be unique to this passage. For although it is true that ‘all things’ might mean ‘all the things of the Spirit of God’ which the natural man cannot receive (1 Corinthians 2:14), without qualification its very starkness seems to suggest more than that. To Paul there is no limit. On the other hand the verses cited above demonstrate that thisisclearly true of Jesus.

Furthermore can we in fact say that every spiritual man is not judgeable by ‘any man’? For while in the passage ‘man’ has tended to signify the natural man in contrast to the Spirit, the thought here again seems so stark as to mean any man at all. Both ideas seem all-inclusive. Able to judge/discern all and themselves unjudgeable. Surely this is not true of every individual Christian.

And when we add to this that this one not only knows the mind of the Lord, but can also ‘instruct’ Him, we must pause and ask ourselves, of whom could this be true? And we must surely reply, ‘this can only be true of God alone’.

Thus it would seem that here Paul does one of his quick switches whereby he comes to a climax by introducing Christ Himself into the exposition. It would suggest that it is He Who is ‘the Spiritual One’, in Whom we then partake of ‘spirituality’. For the verse goes on to suggest quite firmly that in fact no one can know the mind of the Lord or instruct the Lord, and this would be true of all; other, of course, than the Lord Himself. Thus it would seem that here he is turning attention to the only true Spiritual One, the Crucified One in His glory, He Who alone judges all things, He Who alone can be judged by none, He Who alone knows the mind of the Lord, He Who alone can even ‘instruct’ Him, having had all things delivered into His hands (John 13:3; John 16:15; Matthew 11:27). This would then explain the change from ‘mind of the Lord’ to the ‘mind of Christ’, as the latter would then be a direct application of the idea to us, directly connecting us with Christ ‘the Spiritual One’, having made Him the main person in the equation.

The thought then is that in contrast to the natural man (seen as a whole as in chapter 15 compare also Romans 5:12-21) is the Spiritual One. This then ties in with the expansion of such a thought in 1 Corinthians 15:44-49 where the ‘natural’ is again contrasted with the ‘spiritual’, Adam is natural, Christ is spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:44-45), the first man is natural, the second man is spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:46-47). So in Paul’s mind the contrast with the natural man is not spiritual men, but Christ, the second man, the spiritual man. Once that is established as true here the conclusion then follows that because we are ‘in Him’ (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 1:5), because we are made one with Him, united in His body in which He was crucified, we are in Him made spiritual and have His mind, and are thus able to discern what none other can discern. We are ‘spiritual’ in Him, enjoying discernment through His Spirit. This then fits in well with why at the same time the Corinthians can be ‘fleshly’ (1 Corinthians 3:1) when they should be revealing their ‘spiritual’ side which they have in Christ, and why Paul can immediately judge them, having declared them unjudgeable.

Taking ‘He Who is the Spiritual One’ as Christ then reminds us that He alone is the One Who is ‘spiritual’ in the fullest sense, the One Who was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 4:1), the One to Whom the Spirit was given without measure (John 3:34), the One in Whom thus dwells all the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and all the fullness of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9), the One Who Himself sends the Holy Spirit to His own and baptises with the Holy Spirit. And thus He is put beyond man’s judgment or ability to examine, for they do not and cannot know the mind of the Lord in order that they might instruct Him, or indeed condemn Him. And because He is the truly spiritual One He can judge all things, and will Himself judge men at the last day (John 5:22; John 5:27; John 12:48).

‘We have the mind of Christ.’ But what is true of them is also true of His own. ‘We.’ That is ‘we who have received the Spirit and who truly proclaim Christ and Him the crucified One, and who are one with Him in His body as the crucified One.’ ‘Have the mind of Christ.’ This means the mind of Christ communicated to us by the Spirit, and illuminated by the Spirit, so that we are able to understand the things of Christ. It is imparted to us by the Spirit, signifying thus that because Christ Himself is in us we can know the unknowable mind of the Lord (compare Ephesians 3:17-19). This reminds us that, whichever interpretation we follow, all Christians are to be seen as joined with Him because they have been given His mind through the Spirit. Thus they enter into all He enters into.

It hardly need to be pointed out that here the mind of Christ is equated with the mind of the Lord of the Old Testament, the mind of Yahweh, in such a way as to indicate their oneness. Paul is in no doubt concerning the full Godhood of Jesus.

So we conclude that however we interpret ‘the spiritual one’ the basic idea of the verse is the same for we can only have the mind of Christ, and thus be spiritual ones, when we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Romans 6:5; compare Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:10), that is, when we have received the word of the cross. It is only the emphasis which is different. But it seems to me that the best contrast with ‘the natural man, the Adamic man, is Christ as the second man, the spiritual man in Whom all His own find their own spirituality.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-corinthians-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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