1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Submitted by admin on Sat, 2009-06-13 11:31.

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Paul reminded his “brothers,” his fellow believers in Corinth, about the way in which he had presented the message about Jesus Christ. He had not come to them with impressive words or wisdom when he proclaimed the “mystery of God” or (according to another manuscript reading) the “testimony of God.” The apostle did not rely on a clever use of words or make a show of how wise he was in formulating persuasive arguments. When referring to the “mystery of God” or the “testimony of God,” he meant the message about Christ and how through him and what he accomplished by surrendering his life humans would be forgiven of their sins and reconciled to his Father. Whereas the Father had in ages past purposed to reconcile them to himself through his Son, this arrangement remained a mystery until Jesus Christ made his appearance on the earthly scene. (2:1)

Instead of resorting to means that were designed to impress others on an intellectual or emotional level like an eloquent orator or skilled debater, Paul decided to know nothing of that nature while among the Corinthians but made “Jesus Christ and him crucified” the focus of his message. Perhaps the apostle chose to know nothing other that “Jesus Christ and him crucified” on account of the limited results in Athens when he used thoughts from their own Greek writings as he reasoned with an audience that included philosophers. (Acts 17:16-34; see the Notes section on the kind of argumentation Epicurean philosophers may have used when arguing with Paul.) In Corinth, Paul’s message centered exclusively on Jesus Christ and what his death made possible. (2:2)

Paul did not arrive in Corinth with a spirit of self-confidence, relying on his personal ability to persuade and impress. From a human standpoint, he came “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.” There was nothing about Paul’s personal bearing or manner of presentation that reflected the kind of power, boldness, and confidence that eloquent orators who can sway the masses display. He must have been keenly aware of his personal limitations, and concerned that his own weakness would not detract from his testimony regarding God’s Son. (2:3)

Paul’s “word” (either his message or his speech [the manner in which he presented the message]) and his preaching (either the content or the nature of his proclamation) did not reflect the persuasive power of human wisdom but did make evident “spirit and power.” Likely the “spirit” is the spirit of God that worked mightily in and through the apostle as he carried out his commission. The “power” to which he referred could either be the power evident in the miracles that accompanied his preaching or the powerful effect that the message about Christ had on those who responded to it in faith. Responsive ones began living noble lives distinguished by deep concern and love for others, and they ceased to be enslaved to base desires. (2:4; see the Notes section.) The reason for Paul’s approach was so that those who responded to his message and preaching would have a solid faith based on the evidence of God’s power and not on the persuasive power associated with the display of impressive human wisdom. (2:5)

Either using the editorial first person plural or including his close fellow workers with himself, Paul contrasted human wisdom with the kind of wisdom he imparted. “We speak wisdom among the mature,” he continued, “not, however, the wisdom of this age nor of the rulers of this age,” which rulers he saw as coming to nothing or being deprived of their power. God was the source of the “wisdom” Paul made known, and it centered on Christ and what God accomplished through him. The “mature ones” among whom the apostle spoke this wisdom were those who, in faith, had embraced the message about Christ and whose thinking, disposition, and conduct had come to harmonize with his example and teaching. (2:6)

The wisdom revealed in what the Father did through his Son was far greater than the kind of human wisdom of the then-existing age and incomprehensible to the rulers of the age. (2:6) In verse 8, Paul refers to the rulers of the age as having been involved in the Lord’s crucifixion. This would have included Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, and the Jewish leaders. Possibly the apostle also had in mind the powers of darkness, for Jesus identified Satan as the “ruler of the world.” (John 14:30) By his death in faithfulness, Jesus conquered the world (John 16:33) and, therefore, the apostle could rightly indicate that the rulers of the age had been stripped of their power. (Compare Colossians 2:15.)

A strong marker of contrast (allá, meaning “but”) serves to introduce the superior wisdom as the “wisdom of God” that Paul spoke “in mystery, the hidden [wisdom], which God predetermined before the ages for our glory.” The apostle’s speaking “in mystery” does not mean that he himself concealed the wisdom, but that he made known the wisdom pertaining to a mystery that had remained hidden throughout the ages. This mystery related to what God had predetermined before the ages and included how humans would be forgiven of their sins, be divinely approved and, ultimately, attain glory—full sonship as his beloved children. The long-hidden mystery was disclosed when Jesus completed his earthly walk in faithfulness, surrendering his life and thereby providing the basis for repentant humans to be forgiven of their sins and to attain the status of approved children with glory in view. That glory is the sinless state of sonship that is in possession of God’s unique Son, Jesus Christ. (2:7)

Not a single one of the rulers who had the opportunity to see Jesus came to know this wisdom, for they did not recognize him as the Son of God and his role in liberating humans from sin and condemnation. If they had known or recognized the wisdom of God, they would not have “crucified the Lord of glory,” Jesus Christ. Had they recognized Jesus for who he was and his role in making reconciliation with God possible, it would have been inconceivable for them to have acted against him, either through active participation in sentencing him to death or by doing nothing to prevent this from happening. Herod Antipas, though he found no guilt in Jesus, had soldiers mock him. Prominent Jewish leaders incited the crowd to demand that Jesus be crucified, and Pilate yielded to their will. (Luke 23:8-24) As God’s Son, Jesus was the “Lord of glory” who perfectly reflected the very image of his Father, the glorious or magnificent one in the ultimate sense. (2:8)

“But, as it is written” in the sacred scriptures, “‘Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,’ and it has not come up in the heart [meaning ‘mind’ in this context] of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” It appears that Paul used words from Isaiah 64:4 to show what had happened in the case of the rulers who rejected Christ. Their eyes did not see, and their ears did not hear with understanding, but they remained blind and deaf respecting Jesus’ identity and the things that would be made possible through him for those who loved God. Lovers of God revealed the genuineness of their love by accepting his Son and came to be recipients of what the unbelieving rulers could not have imagined as having been prepared beforehand by God—forgiveness of sins and an approved standing as his beloved children with all the blessings and privileges associated therewith. (2:9; see the Notes section.)

Including himself among those who love God, Paul continued, “For to us, God, through his spirit, has revealed [the things he has prepared], for the spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” By means of his spirit, the heavenly Father has revealed to believers all that is needed about himself, his purpose, and his will for them. Everything that is the object of the spirit’s searching pertains to the things of God. This “searching” appears to relate to disclosing what would otherwise remain concealed. Thus, through the spirit, the object of the “searching out” of the things of God is revealed to believers but remains hidden from unbelievers. The “depths of God” could refer to matters relating to his identity (the kind of God he is) or to his will and purpose, which would include the things he has prepared for those who love him. (2:10)

Using a question, Paul illustrated that coming to know the things pertaining to God could only be by means of his spirit. “For who of men [among humans] knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit [that is] in him? So also the things of God no one knows except the spirit of God.” In the case of a man, the spirit that is within him, or the activating or motivating principle of his inner life, identifies who he truly is. Outward appearances are not enough for one to come to know a fellow human. Likewise, without the spirit of God, one could not come to know him and his will and purpose. That is why the things of God remain concealed to the unbelievers of the world, including those who are reputedly wise. (2:11)

The world of mankind that is an alienated state from God also has a spirit. This spirit influences or motivates persons who are a part of the world to think, speak, and act in ways that are centered on self, personal advantage, or the mundane affairs of life. This is not the spirit believers have received, for it is one that does not allow those who have it to perceive the things of God. It is because of having received God’s spirit that believers are in a position to know or recognize the things that he has graciously given them. These things would embrace all the blessings and privileges associated with having been forgiven of their sins and coming to be God’s approved children on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ and the surrender of his life for them. (2:12)

With the reference to speaking the things of God, Paul again used either the editorial first person plural or included his close associates as also sharing in the same kind of speaking. When speaking about the things of God, the apostle did not use words taught by human wisdom but those taught by the spirit. With the spirit-taught words, he explained “to the spiritual [the] spiritual.” (2:13)

Paul did not use a new vocabulary but employed words in common use among the people to whom he proclaimed the message about Jesus Christ. The thoughts he conveyed with the words he spoke, however, were of a spiritual kind. He imparted divine teaching or words that were the product of the operation of God’s spirit upon him. The Greek plural noun in the dative case (pneumatikoís) is both a masculine and a neuter form of the word and so could mean either “spiritual persons” or “spiritual things.” The term that has been rendered “explain” (synkríno) literally means “judge with” (bring together to compare and then render a judgment on the basis of the comparison) and could denote “compare” or “interpret.”

If the reference is to “spiritual persons,” the thought could be that Paul discerningly adapted his spiritual teaching to those who were spiritual. A number of translations convey a similar sense. “We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.” (HCSB) “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (ESV)

When regarded as applying to “spiritual things,” Paul may have been saying that, in his teaching, he explained spiritual things in words God’s spirit imparted to him. Translators who have adopted the sense of “spiritual things” have variously rendered verse 13. “Of these we speak — not in language which man’s wisdom teaches us, but in that which the Spirit teaches — adapting, as we do, spiritual words to spiritual truths.” (Weymouth) “We speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.” (NLT) Von dem, was Gott uns durch seinen Geist offenbart, reden wir so, wie sein Geist es uns lehrt. (Of that which God has revealed to us by his spirit, we speak just as his spirit teaches us.) (German, Gute Nachricht Bibel)

As for the “unspiritual man” (the person who has no relationship with God), he “cannot receive” (or respond in a positive way to) what the spirit of God imparts, “for it is foolishness to him.” He cannot grasp the spiritual truths about Christ and his sacrificial death. These truths make no sense to him. It is impossible for him to “know” or understand spiritual things, for spiritual things must be judged or evaluated spiritually. A proper understanding of spiritual things requires the guidance of God’s spirit, which unbelievers do not have. (2:14)

The spiritual man is able to judge, evaluate, or assess everything. Guided by God’s spirit, he can properly assess that which has lasting worth and is essential for his life as a servant of God and Christ. He himself, though, is not judged by anyone. No unspiritual person is able to assess who he is as a beloved child of God. (2:15)

Paul quoted words from Isaiah 40:13 (LXX), “‘For who has come to know the mind of the Lord? Who instructs him?’ But we [either an editorial first person plural or Paul and his close associates] have the mind of Christ.” In the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the reference is to the “spirit of YHWH.” The Son of God did have his Father’s spirit, and so Paul, in his use of Isaiah 40:13, may have meant the “mind of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The apostle did have the mind of Christ, enabling him to make proper judgments or evaluations. Unspiritual persons, though, did not have the mind of Christ and so could not rightly assess or evaluate Paul. (2:16)


In his On the Nature of the Gods, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) placed the following arguments in the mouth of an Epicurean debater: “I inquire why these powers suddenly appeared as constructors of the world, and why for innumerable ages they were asleep, for it does not follow, if there was no world, that there were no ages. By ages I do not now mean those that are made up of a number of days and nights by means of the yearly revolutions, for I acknowledge that ages in that sense could not have been attained without a rotary movement of the heavens, but from infinitely far back there has existed an eternity, the nature of which in point of extent can be conceived, though it was not measured by periods of time.”

“What reason, again, was there why God should be desirous of decking the world, like an aedile, with figures and lights? If he did so in order that he himself might be better lodged, it is clear that for an infinite amount of time previously he had been living in all the darkness of a hovel. And do we regard him as afterwards deriving pleasure from the diversity with which we see heaven and earth adorned? What delight can that be to God? And if it were a delight, he would not have been able to go without it for so long. Or was this universe, as your school is accustomed to assert, established by God for the sake of men? Does that mean for the sake of wise men? In that case it was on behalf of but a small number that so vast a work was constructed. Or was it for the sake of the foolish? In the first place there was no reason why God should do a kindness to the bad, and in the second place what did he effect, seeing that the lot of all the foolish is undoubtedly a most miserable one? The chief reason for this is the fact that they are foolish, for what can we name as being more miserable than folly? And the second is the fact that there are so many ills in life that, while the wise alleviate them by a balance of good, the foolish can neither avoid their approach nor endure their presence.” (Translated by Francis Brooks)

Admittedly, faced with this kind of argumentation, Paul would not have been very successful if he had tried to reason with the Epicurean and other philosophers on their terms.

There are various manuscript readings for 1 Corinthians 2:4, including a longer and a shorter version of the text. The expanded text reads, “persuasive words of wisdom”; the shorter version is, “persuasion of wisdom.”

In 1 Corinthians 2:9, the Greek of the quoted words do not match the Greek text of the Septuagint but are in harmony with the message they convey. The similar phrase in Isaiah 64:4(3, LXX) reads, “From the age [from long ago], we have not heard nor have our eyes seen a God besides you, and your works, which you will do for those waiting for mercy.” In view of the mention of God’s works for those who are waiting for his mercy, Paul could rightly speak of the things that “God has prepared for those who love him.”

Instead of a rendering that would allow for an application to the rulers, the Revised English Bible translates 1 Corinthians 2:9 in a way that can apply to all things God prepared beforehand for those who love him but which things long remained concealed from the understanding of everyone. “Scripture speaks of ‘things beyond our seeing, things beyond our hearing, things beyond our imagining, all prepared by God for those who love him.’”