New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


2:1- see on Jn. 1:14.

I brothers, when I came to you, I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God- Paul has just argued in chapter 1 that the wisdom of God is in the crucified Christ, and those who are humanly wise will not respond to it. So Paul reasons that we should likewise present the Gospel with no attempt to make the cross of Christ somehow intellectually respectable, or acceptable in a secular sense. I have previously failed in this and so has so much Gospel outreach. Paul of course as a Rabbi and an intellectual could indeed have presented the Gospel with the trappings of secular wisdom. But he writes here as if he consciously stripped his message of anything like that. His message was after all, that of God in Christ- "the testimony of God". The Greek here seems to specifically mean 'evidence'. Faith is not built upon evidence that is visible (Heb. 11:1,2)- and that includes arguments from science, archaeology etc. The evidence / testimony of God is "the cross of Christ"; and the addition of human wisdom to it makes it of none effect (1:17). This is God's evidence which He provides to us in order for us to have a basis for faith. In encountering the Lord Jesus there, we are challenged to believe in God, as faith in God really is. All the energy expended upon apologetics to provide a supposed basis for faith is therefore in my view misguided. It is psychological encounter with the crucified Christ which elicits faith.

2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified- See on :1. The "determined" reflects Paul's struggle with the temptation to make the message of Christ crucified somewhat respectable in secular terms.

The letters to Corinth must have been very difficult to write. Paul was walking an absolute minefield. Therefore he  says that his attitude to Corinth was that he wanted to know nothing among them, saving Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2); he wanted to keep his mind fixed upon the Lord Jesus and the intensity of His passion, rather than get sidetracked by personality issues and ecclesial politics. And his letters reveal this. They contain many unconscious allusions to the suffering and death of Christ. Paul refers to Christ as "Lord" throughout all his letters about once every 26 verses on average. And yet in Corinthians he does so once every 10 verses on average. The Lordship and suffering of Jesus were therefore very much in Paul's mind as he wrote. His Christ and cross-centred perspective is a real example to us, living as we do at a time when the body of Christ increasingly distracts us from the central object of our devotion: the Son of God who died for us, and was raised again for our justification.

When Paul faced Corinth, the ecclesia whom he had loved and brought into being with great labour pains, yet now riven with carnality, fabricating the most malicious rumours against him, bitter at his spirituality... he determined to know nothing among them, saving Christ, and Him crucified. The antidote to ecclesial problems and selfishness is reflection upon the cross. By insisting on our rights, Paul says, we will make the weak brother stumble, "for whom Christ died". 'Think of His cross and sacrifice', Paul is saying, 'and the sacrifice of self restraint you are asked to make is nothing at all'.

Despite “the offence of the cross", Paul preached it. “I determined not to know [i.e. ‘teach the knowledge of'] any thing among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified". Paul didn’t accommodate his message to the ears of his hearers. There are times when God’s revelation is accommodated to us, but not when it comes to the basic message of Christ and the demands which His cross makes upon us.

2:3 - see on 1 Cor. 8:9; 2 Cor. 12:7.

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling- For Paul, his glory was not in heroic "deeds of the body" [see on Gal. 1:10] but rather in the fact that when he first preached to the Corinthians, he was suffering from "weakness... much fear and trembling"- a reference to anything from agitated nervous breakdown to malaria. We have Gal. 4:13 in the same vein: "You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at the first". So it could be that this is a reference to his physical weakness at the time he preached to the Corinthians. But William Barclay understands the Greek words to more imply “the trembling anxiety to perform a duty”, and I tend to run with this. The words are a reflection of the heart that bled within Paul. The man who has no fear, no hesitancy, no nervousness, no tension in the task of preaching…may give an efficient and competent performance from a platform. But it is the man who has this trembling anxiety, that intensity which comes from a heart that bleeds for ones hearers, who will produce an effect which artistry alone can never achieve. He is the man who will convert another. It has truly been said that “the need is the call”. To perceive the needs of others is what calls us and compels us to witness, coupled with our own disappointment with ourselves, our race, our nature.

2:3-5- see on Jn. 15:26.

2:4 And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power- This is parallel in thought to Paul's idea that he would preach the cross of Christ without any words of human wisdom. The "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" is thus paralleled to the cross of Christ. Here was and is the demonstration of Spirit and power. And yet in what sense can the cross of Christ be so powerful? I would say that the Lord's death was designed and is empowered to produce faith in God within those who accept it. For the Spirit was released as rivers of waters from His slain body. And especially in the first century context of illiteracy, the cross of Christ had power in that it was the motivation for the living examples of Christian sacrifice which were Christianity's best advert.

The essence of all this is the same today as it was then- the revelation of the person of Jesus isn’t solely through Bible reading and getting the interpretation right; it’s through a living community, His body. It is there that we will see His Spirit / personality in action. I don’t refer to miraculous gifts- but to the spirit / mind / disposition / essence of the Lord, man and saviour Jesus.

2:5 So that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God- Paul has earlier defined "the power of God" as the crucified Christ (1 Cor. 1:18,24). Paul correctly perceived that a person's faith 'stands in' the message they first receive and believe. The teacher / preacher therefore has huge responsibility to teach the right thing. Real faith is not in the wisdom of men, Paul has argued, nor is it predicated upon anything other than the cross of Christ. And so he preached likewise- simply of the cross. The Greek phrase translated "stand in" is the closest we get in the Bible to an explanation of the substance of faith; of what faith is based in. And it is not in "the wisdom of men", including apologetics. It is in the "power of God" which we have earlier defined as Christ crucified (1:18,24).

2:6 We speak wisdom, however, among them that are mature- Paul spoke only of Christ crucified (:2), and so the true wisdom was Him. The "mature" would perceive this. For we have just been told that God has made Christ to be "wisdom" for us (1 Cor. 1:30). The Corinthians needed exhortation to become "mature" (1 Cor. 14:20); maturity has been reached by some now (Phil. 3:15; Col. 4:12; Heb. 5:14; James 1:4) and yet in another sense it is yet future, when we attain the full measure of Christ's maturity (Eph. 4:13; Col. 1:28). The same Greek word is used in all these passages. The idea that faith is predicated upon encounter with Christ crucified will be struggled against, shot down as philosophically lacking, intellectually weak and so forth. But the paradox is that the mature will perceive it. When you reach 'Christ', the maturity that is Him, then we will understand that all is of Him and His cross.

Yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nothing- The wisdom of this world and its "princes" (AV), its academics and philosophers and chat show hosts, is 'coming to nothing'. Paul has just used the same word in 1:28 of how the despised simple believers shall 'bring to nothing' what seems so smart and wise. The means by which the wise of this world shall be brought to nothing is through the simple believers. And the Greek tense used suggests that this is ongoing- the wise of this world are already "coming to nothing". The world rulers are defined in :8 as those who crucified the Lord; Paul envisaged the overthrow of the Jewish system as being at the hands of the humble Christian believers, including the worldly Gentiles of Corinth. Things didn't work out that way because the Lord's return was delayed until our last days, but the principle remains the same.

2:7 But we speak God's wisdom in a mystery- Paul doesn't mean that he has shrouded the simple message of the cross in "a mystery". For he has spoken of how his preaching is of the cross of Christ, stripped of literally anything else (:2). He means that the message of God's wisdom, which is Christ crucified (1:24), is so simple that it is received as a mystery by the wise of this world and indeed by all those who do not believe it.

Even that which was hidden, which God foreordained before the ages for our glory- The appeal of the cross is "hidden" in that the 'wise' won't see it because they choose not to believe it. The allusion is surely to the usage of the same word in the Lord's teaching that the things of the Gospel had been 'hidden' from the wise, and revealed to babes (Mt. 11:25). 1 Cor. 2:6-9 stresses how the early believers possessed a truth which nobody else apart from them could know. Whilst this feature of true Christianity led into the arrogance and pride which eventually doomed the early church, when and whilst used properly, it bound them even closer together. Nikolaus Walter observes that the first century generally “did not experience religion as a binding force that was capable of determining everyday reality by offering support, setting norms, and forming community”. And yet the Truth of Christ enabled just such things to occur. In this, as today, the example of the community is the ultimate proof that the doctrine of Christ which we teach is indeed the Truth and of itself demands conversion. 

2:8- see on 1 Cor. 1:19.

Which not one of the rulers of this world has known. For had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory- The rulers or princes of the world therefore referred specifically to the Roman-Jewish leaders who crucified the Lord. As noted on :6, those rulers were already 'coming to nothing' and would be condemned by the simple faith of illiterate Christians. Such talk of the overthrow of empire and ruling systems was criminal within the first century Roman empire. But Paul writes as he does, so important is the message of how simple faith shall gloriously triumph over all secular splendour.

Paul saw the naked, forsaken, mocked, bleeding, spittle covered body of Jesus as glorious. This was another inversion of all human values. And His glory is ours- for :7 has just mentioned that this mystery was foreordained for "our glory". The Lord's glory is ours, and ours is His.

2:9 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 God prepared for them that love Him- The context is speaking of man's rejection of the crucified Christ. Unbelievers did not perceive [see or hear] that message, neither therefore did it enter their heart. The "things God prepared" are therefore those of the crucified Christ, who died in order to achieve that great salvation "for them that love Him". The 'things prepared' are those of the Kingdom feast (Mt. 20:23; 22:4; 25:34); but the same word is also used of the 'preparation' of the Lord Jesus as our sacrifice (Lk. 2:31). The cross of Christ enabled all the wonderful things of the Kingdom and the salvation experience in Christ. And it is all those things which are not really believed by the eyes, ears and heart of secular man, because the wisdom of this world has blinded them to it.

So the things which God has prepared for those who love Him, things which the natural eye has not seen but  which are revealed unto us by the Spirit, relate to our redemption in Christ, rather than the wonders of the future political Kingdom (because Mt. 13:11; 16:17 = 1 Cor. 2:9,10). The context of 1 Cor. 2 and the allusions to Isaiah there demand the same interpretation.

2:10 God revealed them to us through the Spirit- Again the allusion is to Mt. 11:25, where the Lord praises the Father for 'hiding' His identity from the wise and prudent, and revealing it [s.w.] to "babies". Those immature, largely illiterate disciples who 'got it' about Jesus are therefore us. Here Paul adds that the process through which that revelation happens is "through the Spirit". This is not to say that one person is zapped by the Spirit and forced to believe, but another is not. There is indeed an element whereby faith is not simply a result of human steel will, but involves the gracious work of the Spirit on human minds. Yet as explained so far in Corinthians, it is our freewill choice to encounter the crucified Christ and believe in God's salvation through Him.

For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God- The "things" in view are surely those concerning the Lord Jesus and His kingdom of :9. These are the deep things, and not any apparent profundity of human wisdom or debates. The 'Spirit' is personified as searching around all the depths of God's mysteries because we are going to now read that this Spirit has been given to us, so that we might know those deep things. This is all beautifully shown by a comparison of Is. 64:4 and 1 Cor. 2:9: “Men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, O God, besides you, what He has prepared for him that waits for him”. Paul quotes this in 1 Cor. 2:9,10: “It is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him. But God has revealed them unto us by His Spirit”. The passage in Is. 64 says that no one except God can understand the things He has prepared for the believers. However 1 Cor. 2:10 says that those things have been revealed to us. Because His Spirit is given to us and becomes our spirit.

2:11 For who among men knows the things of a man, save the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the things of God nobody knows, save the Spirit of God- The spirit of a person is intimately connected to themselves. Only the heart knows its own bitterness in this sense, and likewise an external person can never totally get involved with the heart's joy (Prov. 14:10). This is the wonder of the fact that God's Spirit is given to us; this is the intimacy possible between God and man in Christ.

2:12 But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, so that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God- The "we" refers to the same "we" who were speaking / teaching the Corinthians (:13) and refers I suggest specifically to Paul and his preaching team. The spirit of the world is the mindset of "the wisdom of this world". Although Paul had that in his rabbinic days, he disregarded it. The Spirit he had received was in response to his faith in the crucified Christ whom he had encountered. This was God's Spirit, and revealed the things of God; and it was those things which he taught to the Corinthians in his preaching of the Gospel. The "things" were "freely given" in that the Spirit of God as it were searches all of God's things. The connection between Christ crucified and the free gift of God's "things" is developed in Rom. 8:32, where the same words are used: "He that spared not His own Son but delivered him up for us all, how shall He not also with him freely give us all things?". Once we accept the gift of God's Son, then all else, quite literally, is surely going to be given. And those things include faith and understanding. The Greek word for "freely given" is also that translated 'forgive'. Our experience of forgiveness on account of the cross opens the way to receive so much more too- all the things of God's free giving. For the cross not only is the basis for the 'free giving' of forgiveness, but of God's Spirit which knows all things.

2:13 Which things also we speak about- The "things" are those of the Gospel of Christ which Paul spoke or taught.

But not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but in words that the Spirit teaches- Paul has said that he preaches Christ crucified without any words of human wisdom. They are the "things" in view. The words taught by the Spirit were therefore the words of or concerning the cross. Paul's teaching of the Corinthians was only verbalizing what the Spirit taught which flowed from the crucified Lord. We can now better understand why "the Spirit" is a title of the Lord Jesus in material like Romans, 2 Corinthians and Revelation. He personally is to be identified with His Spirit which He freely gives to all who believe in Him.

Combining spiritual things with spiritual- The Spirit in Paul's message would connect with the Spirit within the believers at Corinth. The GNB seems to get the point of this rather difficult Greek: "As we explain spiritual truths to those who have the Spirit". It was and is only to the spiritual that spiritual things make sense; to all others, who do not believe the simple message of the cross and all that is given to us through His work there, the spiritual things remain mysterious and unwise. And I have to add, that those believers who resist the current work of the Spirit will likewise find many things closed and hidden, because the Spirit of those teachings is not being allowed to combine with the Spirit within them.

2:14 Now the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot know them- Secular wisdom will not believe in a crucified Saviour. Instead of allowing the crucified Christ to convert them, they rush to Josephus and other early historians to enquire whether Jesus of Nazareth really died on a cross outside Jerusalem. But the point is that there is a power within Him there which of itself converts- if we let it, and humble ourselves to shed our human wisdom. Any references in Josephus etc. are at best confirmations of our faith, but play no part in essential faith in Christ. We must take seriously the repeated reports of the early missionaries, that they could not elicit belief in the message of Christianity or the Christian God amongst the illiterate folk they encountered in Africa or the Pacific islands- until they explained or drew pictures of the crucifixion. Then, all seemed to make sense- to those who felt their own sin and thirsted for forgiveness and connection with the one God. "The natural man" is the wise of this world who would consider the cross and all we have written about it to be foolish. Because human pride has stopped him believing. He will not "know" these things because he cannot- until he quits his human wisdom.

Paul saw the cross of Christ as parallel with “the things of the Spirit of God", the wisdom of God, what eye has not seen nor ear heard, but what is revealed unto the believer and not to the world (1 Cor. 1:18,23,24; 2:7-13). The cross of Christ was the supreme expression of the Spirit of God, and it’s true meaning is incomprehensible to the world. In the cross, according to Paul’s allusion back to Isaiah, God bowed the Heavens and came down. He did wonderful things which we looked not for. The thick darkness there is to be associated with a theophany presence of God Himself. See on Jn. 19:19.

Because they are spiritually discerned- Only the Spirit within a person who has believed in the crucified Christ will be able to 'combine with' or connect with Spiritual things (:13). The Greek word means literally to question; asking questions as we read God’s word is therefore an appropriate thing for us to be doing. Paul is not advocating a simplistic approach, nor a shutting down of any critical, analytical approach.

2:15- see on 1 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 2:17.

But he that is spiritual judges all things; and he is ultimately judged by no man- Those who have believed in the crucified Lord will receive of His Spirit, and are thereby able to judge or discern the truth of the things Paul was preaching. Such persons will be mocked and despised by the wise of this world; but ultimately, they are not judged by those men. Indeed, they shall bring to nothing all such pretensions in the day of final judgment, as explained in 1:27,28 (see notes there).

In the final analysis, we will meet Jesus alone. There will by God’s grace be a moment when we will even see the face of Almighty God- alone. This was the light at the end of Job’s tunnel- he would see his redeemer for himself “and not another”. Paul possibly expresses the same idea of an unenterable relationship in 1 Cor. 2:15: "He that is spiritual discerneth all things (about God), yet he himself is discerned of no man".  Our real spiritual being is a "hidden man" (1 Pet. 3:4). The Spirit describes our final redemption as our "soul" and "spirit" being "saved" ; our innermost being, our essential spiritual personality, who we really are in spiritual terms, will as it were be immortalized (1 Pet. 1:9; 1 Cor. 5:5). Notice that Paul styles the spiritual man "he himself" (1 Cor. 2:15 AV); as if the real, fundamental self of the true believer is the spiritual man, notwithstanding the existence of the man of the flesh within him. Likewise Paul calls his spiritual man "I myself" in Rom. 7:25. He now felt that when he sinned, it was no longer “I", his real, personal self, who was doing so (Rom. 7:17).

2:16 - see on Job 21:22.

For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ- The person who knows the Lord's mind is the one who has His Spirit (:11). We have the mind of Christ, who had the mind of God. The spirit of Christ and that of God are the same thing. The idea that men should instruct God is unthinkable- but this is what effectively is the position of those who consider that their human wisdom is the true wisdom, and God's wisdom is foolishness. The quotation from Is. 40:13,14 is about God's people in Babylon being tempted to think that the wisdom of Babylon, perhaps the most advanced in the world at its time, was somehow superior to that of Israel's God. Paul uses the same idea in Rom. 11:34 concerning the false wisdom of Judaism claiming as it were to be superior to God's wisdom in Christ.