And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.
1 Corinthians 2:1
Paul lived in a time when a great deal of emphasis was placed both upon eloquence and human wisdom or knowledge. The Greeks greatly prided themselves in their rhetoric or grandiloquence in speech-making. Of course, they were also well known for the wisdom of their famous philosophers, like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. When Paul first came to Corinth he was fresh from his visit and ministry in Athens. He had even preached to some of the Greek philosophers (Acts 17:16-34).
Some commentators feel that Paul was a little depressed about his teaching at Athens. Some feel that he had tried to use the philosophic method of teaching and failed, but there is really not much proof of this. 1 Clearly, Paul did not preach a philosophical sermon at Athens and his ministry there was not unfruitful. Luke says of it, “Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others” (Acts 17:34). DeWelt relates to us that the church at Athens became one of the strongest congregations in the empire during the second and third centuries. 2 The famous Bible scholar, F.F. Bruce says concerning Paul’s decision to preach only the cross of Christ, as seen in the next verse: “This was no new policy on Paul’s part, adopted (as some have thought) because of the ill success of another approach at Athens (Ac 17:22-31); it was his regular practice (cf.
Gal 3:1).” 3
While Paul may not have preached directly on the crucifixion he did speak of the resurrection and of the importance of Christ. His sermon, since it was to Gentiles, was based on God’s general revelation and the folly of worshipping idols. In these respects, it was a masterful sermon.
We should note that the word “testimony” or “witness” in this first verse has presented a problem for translators. Smith says, “A number of ancient manuscripts read ‘testimony’ and a number read ‘mystery…’ The evidence for these two variations is rather evenly split…” 4 Obviously, the message of the cross that he will deal with next is a deep heavenly mystery which is now made plain to all.
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2). Still, Paul may have decided to emphasize the cross more in his preaching. Barclay in citing Stewart relates this story: “The Christian missionaries had come to the court of Clovis, the king of the Franks. They told the story of the cross, and, as they did, the hand of the old king stole to his sword hilt. ‘If I and my Franks had been there,’ he said, ‘we would have stormed Calvary and rescued him from his enemies.’” 5
Clearly, it has been the cross of Christ that has moved people and nations to repentance. It was Isaac Watts who penned the old hymn, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross (1707). Charles Wesley reportedly said that he would have given up all his other hymns to have written that one. The last stanza goes like this:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all. 6
Paul may have studied rhetoric at the famous school of Tarsus in Cilicia. At Athens he quoted Aratus (Acts 17:28), and in other instances, Epimenides (Tit. 1:12), and Menander (1 Cor. 15:33). 7 He was obviously well educated and had studied under a foremost Hebrew scholar, Gamalial, in Israel (Acts 5:34; 22:3). Yet, he knew such wisdom could not save a soul. Only the cross of Christ could do that. Really, the cross of Christ is the heart of the gospel.
The popular Christian writer, Max Lucado, tries to describe the great mystery of the cross that draws so many to the Master. He says, “Never were those arms opened so wide as they were on the Roman cross. One arm extending back into history and the other reaching into the future.” 8 The word “crucified” (estaurōmenon) is a Greek perfect passive participle. The Baptist professor, Bob Utley, says of it, “… the perfect tense reveals that Jesus remains the crucified one. When we see him, he will still have the scars. They have become his badge of glory…” 9
IN FEAR AND TREMBLING
I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling” 1 Corinthians 2:3.
Paul’s initial stay in Corinth was obviously difficult for the apostle. He was alone and was probably sorely missing Timothy and Silas. He had been ill-treated and imprisoned at Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica and Berea. He had fled alone to Athens and had heard the ridicule of the philosophers there. He was no doubt concerned about his personal safety. 10 Scholars feel that there were other matters of concern for him. Paul was often weak and infirm in body (2 Cor. 10:1; 10:10, Gal. 4:13-14). His weakness (astheneia), could also have represented a flare-up of his thorn in the flesh, as seen in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.
While “fear and trembling” sometimes expresses deep concern (2 Cor. 7:15; Phil. 2:12), it is not unlikely that Paul was experiencing some real fear about his own safety as well as about the welfare of the new churches he had just established. At some low point, the Lord had come to encourage Paul in a vision. He said to him, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). Paul took courage and stayed on in Corinth for a year and a half.
“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (2:4-5). Paul would not rely upon philosophy and fancy rhetoric to present the gospel. Rather, he presented it with a demonstration of changed lives, brought about by God’s Spirit. Barclay says, “The result of Paul’s preaching was that things happened…The word he uses is the word for the most stringent possible proof, the kind against which there can be no argument. What was it? It was the proof of changed lives. Something re-creating had entered into the polluted society of Corinth.” 11
Barclay also relates a touching story that a certain John Hutton used to tell with gusto. “A man who had been a reprobate and a drunkard was captured by Christ. His workmates used to try to shake him and say, ‘Surely a sensible man like you cannot believe in the miracles that the Bible tells about. You cannot, for instance, believe that this Jesus of yours turned water into wine.’ ‘Whether he turned water into wine or not,’ said the man, ‘I do not know; but in my own house I have seen him turn beer into furniture.’” 12
It is interesting that the word Paul uses for “demonstration” is the Greek apodeixei. Its meaning was once explained by the ancient Roman orator Quintillian as “clear proof.” In a similar way, another Roman orator, Cicero, called it a “logical proof.” 13 The Greek word also can refer to producing proofs in a court argument. 14
Paul refused to gain converts by great speaking and clever reasoning. Guzik adds: “what you draw them with is what you draw them to… if someone can be persuaded into the kingdom by human wisdom, they can also be persuaded out of the kingdom by human wisdom.” 15 In his second book of Corinthians, we see some criticism of Paul: “…His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (2 Cor. 10:10). In one second-century document Paul was said to be, “a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked.” 16 He was probably not much to look at, physically speaking, but he made up for it with spiritual power.
PAUL’S WISDOM FROM THE SPIRIT
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 1 Corinthians 2:6
God has no argument against real wisdom. God made the world by his wisdom (Jer. 10:12). The Bible says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Pro. 9:10). The Bible also says, “…Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Pro. 4:7). So, there is a godly wisdom that is greatly prized in Scripture. There is a spiritual wisdom that Paul speaks of here. “Yes, the message of the gospel is simple enough for an illiterate pagan to understand, believe, and be saved. But it is also so profound that the most brilliant theologian cannot fathom its depths. There is a ‘wisdom of God’ in the gospel that challenges the keenest intellect.” 17
This message of wisdom is given to the mature. The Greek word here is the common teleiois. Sometimes this is translated “perfect,” but the general sense of the word is “full-grown” or “mature.” 18
The wisdom that Paul speaks of has no relation to the so-called wisdom of this age. Today, many take pride in the wisdom or philosophy of this present evil age. The Christian philosopher Nancy Pearcey sighs, saying, “Plato said philosophers should rule the world, and they do – hundreds of years after they die.” 19 Francis Bacon once observed that a little philosophy “inclineth man’s mind to atheism.” 20
The “wise” rulers of this age are coming to nothing and such was the case so long ago when the rulers of the age withstood Jesus and crucified him. Can we just imagine, the Son of God, God incarnate, crucified by the rulers of this age? Can we imagine God being crucified by his creation, by mortal men?
“No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (2:7). The Scripture is clear that God chose us believers before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). God’s mysterious work was finished before the world began (Heb. 4:3). Even the Lamb of God was foreordained and slain before the world began (1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8). It was said by Jesus in his ministry, as he spoke in parables:“So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world’” (Matt. 13:35).
The word “mystery” has little connection with the modern word. It is not something mysterious. Rather it is a divine secret that cannot be discovered apart from divine revelation. 21 It is “a ‘sacred secret,’ a truth hidden in past ages but now revealed to the people of God.” 22
“None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (2:8). There has been a lively discussion over the centuries as to whether these rulers in the Lord’s time were simply men, or whether they were demonic spiritual rulers of the dark world system. 23 We may not solve this problem. However, in the New Testament, “rulers” can be used to speak of human leaders (Jn. 7:26, 48; Rom. 13:3) and also for the devil and his satanic forces (Matt. 9:34:12:24; Mk. 3:22: Lk. 11:15; Eph. 2:2). 24 Obviously, both the natural rulers and the spiritual rulers did not understand what would happen when Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The natural rulers were dismayed at these things and the spiritual rulers were disarmed by them (Col. 2:15).
The early writer Ambrosiaster (between 366 and 384), says of this: “The rulers of this age are not only those who were great among the Jews and the Romans but also every spiritual power which sets itself up against God. The Jewish rulers cannot be called rulers of this age, because they were subject to the Romans. …The rulers who crucified him were the demons.” 25 The church father Augustine (354-430) sums up the victory of the crucifixion saying, “By seducing the first man, he killed him. By killing the last man, he lost the first from his snare.” 26
EXPLORING THE SECRET THINGS OF GOD
However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—
1 Corinthians 2:9.
This is a majestic passage, however, scholars have labored through the centuries to try to find this original quotation. It is very close to Isaiah 64:4, and some feel that it might also be a reference to Isaiah 65:17. Morris says, “On the whole, it seems best to think of this as a rather free citation of Isaiah 64:4, with reminiscences of other scriptural passages.” 27
From this passage we can know for certain that God has many wonderful surprises for us in this world and in the world to come. Unfortunately, we are asleep to these unseen realities. God has some things to share with us that no one has ever seen, heard or thought about. Just think of some of the wonderful revealed mysteries of this earth. For instance, From mere grains of sand (silicon) our whole cyber age has come into being. This does not compare with the vast mysteries the Lord is anxious to reveal to us in the new heaven and the new earth.
The writer Randy Alcorn has tried to probe into the mysteries of the new heaven and the new earth. He says, “The power of Christ’s resurrection is enough not only to remake us, but also to remake every inch of the universe – mountains, rivers, plants, animals, stars nebulae, quasars, and galaxies.” 28 “We will glorify God and find joy in him as we do what he has made us to do: serve him as resurrected beings and carry out his plan for developing a Christ-centered, resurrected culture in a resurrected universe.” 29 “The gospel is far greater than most of us imagine. It isn’t just good news for us – it’s good news for animals, plants, stars and planets. It’s good news for the sky above and the earth below.” 30 We can see by these things that we need to get over the idea that Heaven only involves our sitting forever on some distant cloud strumming a harp. Alcorn says, “If God were to end history and reign forever in a distant Heaven, Earth would be remembered as a graveyard of sin and failure. Instead, Earth will be redeemed and resurrected.” 31
Paul adds, “these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (2:10). We can see here how the persons of the godhead work together. The Holy Spirit searches all things that are in the Father and reveals them to us. It is through the new birth of the Spirit that we know God in the first place (cf. Joh. 3:5, 8; Rom. 8:26-27). Barnes says, “the Spirit is omniscient. He searches or clearly understands ‘all things’— the very definition of omniscience. He understands all the profound plans and counsels of God. And how can there be a higher demonstration of omniscience than to ‘know God?’” 32 Keener adds, “This was a radical statement for most of ancient Judaism, because most Jewish teachers did not believe that the Spirit was active in their day.” 33
The Spirit searches through the unfathomable depths of God. The word for depths is bathē, and this word is used for the ocean depths as well as the depths of divine knowledge. 34 Godbey remarks here: “These ‘deep things of God’ in beauty, sweetness, spiritual fascination and delectation have captured and enraptured the saints of all ages. For them the martyr has gladly hugged the burning stake and sung his death song amid devouring flames.” 35
SPIRITUAL THINGS IN SPIRITUAL WORDS
For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 2:11
Who can really tell what a person is thinking, but the person himself or herself? We cannot even tell what our dog is thinking. Psychologists have tried to devise many ways of getting into the minds of people and finding out what they are really thinking, but this has been largely futile. Thus, we certainly cannot know what God is thinking. The Scripture exclaims, “How great are your works, LORD, how profound your thoughts!” (Psa. 92:5).
Barnes says of verse 11, “The passage proves, therefore, that there is a knowledge which the Spirit has of God, which no man, no angel can obtain, just as every man‘s spirit has a knowledge of his own plans which no other man can obtain.” 36
When we come to Jesus and are saved we receive the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9). That Holy Spirit will teach us (Jn. 14:26) and guide us into all truth (Jn. 16:13). “The Spirit knows God from the inside,” 37 and he who knows God from the inside will reveal God to each of us. This does not mean that we will have perfect knowledge of God. Coffman citing Farrar says, “All that is meant is that our knowledge of God must always be relative, not absolute. It is not possible to measure the arm of God with the finger of man.” 38
“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us” (2:12). We have not received the spirit of this world. Smith says of this expression, that “‘spirit of the world’ appears to be, for all practical purposes, synonymous with the ‘wisdom of this age.’” 39 Coffman adds: “What Paul had in view here was the secular, materialistic thinking of un-regenerated people. The Germans had a word for it, the Zeitgeist, which means ‘the spirit of the times,’ or ‘the intellectual and moral tendencies of an age or epoch.’” 40 Rather, we have received the Spirit from God. Guzik citing Clarke says, “every believer has the access to this spiritual wisdom…This does not mean every believer has equal spiritual wisdom. And it does not mean we will understand all spiritual mysteries.” 41
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (2:13). Wiersbe compares this to an engineering student who must grasp the technical terms of his trade: “The successful Christian learns the vocabulary of the Spirit and makes use of it. He knows the meaning of justification, sanctification, adoption, propitiation, election, inspiration, and so forth…” 42
The expression “explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” is translated in other versions to read: “combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (NASB); “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (NKJV); “interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual” (NRS); “fitting spiritual language to spiritual things” (NJB).
Chrysostom comments: “Some spiritual truths are unclear and need to be interpreted, but this can be done only by comparing them with other spiritual things. For example, when I say that Christ rose again, I compare this to the deliverance of Jonah form the belly of the whale.” 43 Bruce says of this: “the Spirit supplies the language as well as the substance of revelation.” 44
One blessed way of comparing spiritual things with spiritual is through Christian meditation. This method of Christian growth has become contaminated by transcendental meditation. We need to rescue biblical meditation and we need to begin practicing it immediately. As we turn over passages in our minds it is much like a cow chewing her cud. We end up getting flashes of insight and brand new meaning to old passages.
THE SPIRITUAL AND THE UNSPIRITUAL
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:14
In verses 14 and 15, Paul contrasts the unspiritual person (psuchikos) with the spiritual person (pneumatikos). The psuchikos is the animal person, who belongs to the heritage of the first Adam, the father of our mortal humanity. The pneumatikos is the spiritual person who is joined with the exalted Christ, head of the new creation. 45
The person without the Spirit is fleshly, seeking fleshly wisdom and pursuing fleshly goals. There is an old rhyme that expresses this lifestyle:
Into this world to eat and to sleep,
And to know no reason why he was born,
Save to consume the corn,
Devour the cattle, flock and fish,
And leave behind an empty dish. 46
Pfeiffer and Harrison comment how the Greek word rendered “natural” means “dominated by the soul.” They remark,”…Human ears cannot hear high-frequency radio waves…the unsaved are incompetent to judge spiritual things, a most important practical truth.” 47 John Calvin likened the natural man to a blind man trying to distinguish colors.48 Thus the brilliant philosophers at Athens scoffed at the godly wisdom of Paul. Today we seem to have a whole society scoffing at the gospel and the truths of the Bible.
Unlike the natural or unspiritual person, the spiritual person receives revelation from God through the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. This one can understand and accept the wisdom of the Creator and has an opportunity to fashion his or her life in accordance with this divine wisdom. Obviously, there is a vast chasm between these two lifestyles.
“The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (2:15-16). The last part of the statement here contains a quote from Isaiah 40:13 in the Septuagint, or the Greek version of the Old Testament. The spiritual person continually makes judgments that are not understood and not appreciated by the unspiritual. Obviously, these judgments cannot be understood or judged by the unspiritual (Rom. 11:34).
Chrysostom says, “This does not mean that we know everything which Christ knows but rather that everything which we know comes from him and is spiritual.” 49 The statement “we have the mind of Christ” simply means that in a spiritual sense, we Christians are in the process of receiving a mind transplant.