And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
Verses 1-5. - St. Paul's own method. Verse 1. - And I; "I too;" I in accordance with God's method. When I came to you. The date of his first visit was in A.D. , and he had stayed a year and a half (Acts 18:11). He had since been (roughly speaking) "three years" (τριετίαν, Acts 20:31) at Ephesus. Of speech or of wisdom. I spoke to you neither oratorically nor philosophically. Hence the Apollos party, fond of the brilliant rhetoric of the young Alexandrian, spoke of Paul's speech as "contemptible" (2 Corinthians 10:10). The testimony of God; that is, the witness borne to Christ by the Father (1 John 5:10, 11).
For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
Verse 2. - I determined. The unadorned simplicity of my teaching was part of a fixed design. Not to know anything. Not, that is, to depend on any human knowledge. Of course, St. Paul neither means to set aside all human knowledge nor to disparage other Christian doer, toes. His words must not be pressed out of their due context and proportion. Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Christ, in the lowest depth of his abasement and self sacrifice. He would "know" nothing else; that is, he would make this the central point and essence of all his knowledge, because he knew the "excellency" of this knowledge (Philippians 3:8) - knew it as the only knowledge which rose to the height of wisdom. Christ is the only Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11). In the person and the work of Christ is involved the whole gospel.
And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
Verse 3. - I was with you; literally, I became or proved myself, towards you, as in 1 Corinthians 16:10. In weakness. St. Paul was physically weak and liable also to nervous weakness and depression (1 Corinthians 4:7-12; Galatians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 10:1, 10; 2 Corinthians 12:7, 10). He shows an occasional self distrust rising from the consciousness of personal infirmities. This enhances our sense of his heroic courage and endurance. Doubtless this physical weakness and nervous depression were connected with his "stake in the flesh," which seems to have been an acute and distressing form of ophthalmia, accompanied with cerebral disturbance (see my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:215-221). In fear, and in much trembling. Probably the words are even literally true, though they are a common phrase (2 Corinthians 7:15; Philippians 2:12, 13; Ephesians 6:5). It must be remembered that in his first visit to Corinth St. Paul had gone through stormy and troubled days (Acts 18:1-12).
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
Verse 4. - My speech and my preaching; the form and matter of my discourse. He would not attempt to use the keen sword of philosophical dialectics or human eloquence, but would only use the weapon of the cross. Was not with enticing words of man's wisdom; rather, with persuasive words of wisdom (the word anthropines is a gloss). This simplicity was the more remarkable because "Corinthian words" was a proverb for choice, elaborate, and glittering phrases (Wetstein). It is not improbable that the almost total and deeply discouraging want of success of St. Paul in preaching at Athens had impressed him mere strongly with the uselessness of attempting to fight Greek philosophers with their own blunt and imperfect weapons. In demonstration of the Spirit and of power. So he says to the Thessalonians," Our gospel came not to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." The plain facts, so repellent to the natural intellect, were driven home with matchless force by spiritual conviction. The only heathen critic who has mentioned St. Paul's method is Longinus, the author of the treatise on 'The Sublime and Beautiful,' who calls him "a master of unproved dogma," meaning apparently that his force lay in the irresistible statement of the facts which he came to preach.
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Verse 5. - In the power of God. So in 2 Corinthians 4:7 he says that the treasure they carried was "in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us."
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
Verses 6-16. - The apparent foolishness is the only wisdom. Verse 6. - Howbeit. In this passage he shows that in reality a crushing irony lay in his description of the gospel as being, in the world's judgment, "weak" and "foolish." It was the highest wisdom, but it could only be understood by the perfect. Its apparent folly to the Corinthians was a proof of their blindness and incapacity. Among the perfect. The word either means
(1) the mature, the full grown, as opposed to babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1); or
(2) the fully initiated into the mysteries of godliness (ἐποπται 2 Peter 1:16). A wisdom not of this world; literally, of this seen. The word kosmos means the world in its material aspect; aeon is read for the world in its moral and intellectual aspect. "The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God" (1 Corinthians 3:19). Nor of the rulers of this world. Some have taken these "rulers" to be the same as "the world rulers of this darkness," i.e. the evil spirits, in Ephesians 6:12 (John 13:27; Luke 22:53). Ignatius (?) seems to have understood it thus; for he adopted the strange notion that "the prince of this aeon" (i.e. Satan) had been deceived and frustrated by the incarnation from a virgin, and the death on the cross (Ignat., 'Ad. Ephesians,' 19). It means more probably "wisdom," as understood by Roman governors and Jewish Sanhedrists, who treated the Divine wisdom of the gospel with sovereign contempt (Acts 4:27). That [who] come to nought; literally, who are being done away with. Amid all the feebleness of the infant Church, St. Paul saw empires vanishing before it.
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
Verse 7. - In a mystery; that is, "in a truth, once hidden, now revealed." The word is now used for what is dark and incomprehensible, but it has no such meaning in the New Testament, where it means "what was once secret, but has now been made manifest" (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:4, 9; Colossians 1:26; 1 Timothy 3:16). It implies the very reverse of any esoteric teaching. Hidden. It was "hidden from the wise and prudent, but revealed to babes" (Matthew 11:25). Before the worlds; literally, before the ages; before time began. Unto our glory. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews clearly states that "the future age" is in God's counsels subjected, not to the angels, but to man. But "our glory" is that we are "called to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus" (1 Peter 5:10).
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Verse 8. - Had they known it; literally, had they recognized; had they got to know it. The apostles often dwell on this ignorance as being in part a palliation for the sin of rejecting Christ (see especially Acts 3:17; Acts 13:27; comp. Isaiah 2:1). Jews and Romans, emperors, procurators: high priests, Pharisees, had in their ignorance conspired in vain to prevent what God had foreordained. The Lord of glory. This is not a mere equivalent of "the glorious Lord," in Psalm 24:10. It is "the Lord of the glory," i.e. "the Lord of the Shechinah" (comp. Ephesians 1:17, "the Father of the glory "). The Shechinah was the name given by the Jews to the cloud of light which symbolized God's presence. The cherubim are called, in Hebrews 9:5, "cherubim of glory," because the Shechinah was borne on their outspread wings (see, however, Acts 7:2; Ephesians 1:17). There would have been to ancient ears a startling and awful paradox in the words "crucified the Lord of glory." The words brought into juxtaposition the lowest ignominy and the most splendid exaltation.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
Verse 9. - But as it is written. The whole sentence in the Greek is unfinished. The thought seems to be, "But God has revealed to us things which eye hath not seen, etc., though the princes of this world were ignorant of them." Scriptural quotations are often thus introduced, apart from the general grammar of the sentence, as in the Greek of 1 Corinthians 1:31. Eye hath not seen, etc. The Revised Version is here more literal and accurate. The quotation as it stands is not found in the Old Testament. It most resembles Isaiah 64:4, but also vaguely resembles Isaiah 53:15; 65:17. It may be another instance of a loose general reminiscence (comp. 1 Corinthians 14:21; Romans 9:33). "Non verbum e verbo expressit," says St. Jerome, "sed παραφραστικῶς ευνδεμ σενσυμ aliis sermonibus indicavit." St. Chrysostom regards the words as part of a lost prophecy. Origen, Zacharias of Chrysopolis, and others say that the words occurred in an apocryphal book, the 'Apocalypse of Elias,' but if so the apocryphal writer must have had the passage of Isaiah in his mind. Some regard the words as a fragment of some ancient liturgy. Origen thought that they came from the 'Revelation of Elijah.' They were also to be found in the 'Ascension of Isaiah' (Jerome on Isaiah 64:4). and they occur in the Talmud (Sanhedr. 99 a). In a curious fragment of Hegesippus (circ. A.D. 150) preserved in Photius (Cod. 232.), that old writer indignantly repudiates this passage, saying that it is futile and "utterly belies (καταψεύδεσθαι) the Holy Scriptures and the Lord, who says, 'Blessed are your eyes which see, and your ears which hear.'" Photius cannot understand why (ὅτι καὶ παθὼν) Hegesippus should speak thus. Routh ('Rel. Sacr.,' 253) hardly knows how to excuse him; but perhaps if we had the context of the fragment we should see that he is attacking, not the words themselves, but some perversion of them by heretics, like the Docetae. The phrase, "As it is written," decisively marks an intention to refer to Scripture. Neither have entered into the heart of man; literally, things which have not set foot upon the heart. The general thought is that God's revelations (for the immediate reference is to these, and not to future bliss) pass all understanding. The quotation of these words as referring to heaven is one of the numberless instances of texts inaccurately applied.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
Verse 10. - But God hath revealed them unto us. They are secret no longer, but are "mysteries which now it is given us to know" (Matthew 13:11). By his Spirit. The Spirit guides into all truth (John 13:16). In ch. 12:8-11 St. Paul attributes every gift of wisdom directly to him. Searcheth. "How unsearchable are his judgments!" (Romans 11:33). Yea, the deep things of God. This expression, "The depths of God," passed into the cant expression of the Gnostics, and it may be with reference to their misuse of it that St. John uses the phrase, "The depths of Satan" (Revelation 2:24). "Oh, the depth," etc.! (Romans 11:33).
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
Verse 11. - The things of God none knoweth. Some manuscripts have not the same word (οῖδεν) as that rendered "knoweth" in the earlier clause, but "hath learnt" (ἔγνωκεν); comp. John 21:17; 2 Corinthians 5:16. 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.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
Verse 12. - The spirit of the world. The heathen world in its heathen aspect is regarded as under the power of the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:11, 12). Freely given to us by God. The word "freely" is here involved in the verb (χαρισθέντα) "graciously bestowed." It is different from the phrase used in "Freely ye have received," which is gratuitously (δωρεὰν, Matthew 10:8). All God's gifts are "without money and without price" (Isaiah 55:1), and not "to be bought with money" (Acts 18:20).
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
Verse 13. - Comparing spiritual things with spiritual. The meaning of this clause is very uncertain. It has been rendered, "Blending spiritual things with spiritual" (Kling, Wordsworth), i.e. not adulterating them with carnal admixtures (2 Corinthians 2:17; 1 Peter 2:22). "Interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men" (Bengel, Reichert, Stanley, margin of Revised Version; see Genesis 40:8; Daniel 5:12, LXX.). "Explaining spiritual things in spiritual words." This meaning the Greek will not bear, but Calvin and Beza get the same meaning by rendering it, "Adapting spiritual things to spiritual words." It is doubtful whether the Greek verb (sunkrinontes) can be rendered "comparing," which comes from the Vulgate, comparantes. Wickliffe has the version, "Maken a liknesse of spyritual things to goostli men, for a besteli man persuyved not through thingis." The commonest sense of the word in the LXX. is "interpreting" (Genesis 40:8, etc.), and the best rendering is, "Explaining spirituals to spiritual men." If it be supposed that the verb συγκρίνω acquired the sense of "comparing" in Hellenistic Greek (2 Corinthians 10:12; Wisd. 7:29 Wisd. 15:18), then the rendering of our Authorized Version may stand.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Verse 14. - The natural man. The Greek word is ψυχικὸς (psychical); literally, soulish, i.e. the man who lives the mere life of his lower understanding, the unspiritual, sensuous, and egoistic man. He may be superior to the fleshly, sensual, or carnal man, who lives only the life of the body (σωματικὸς); but is far below the spiritual man (πνευματικός). St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:23) recognizes the tripartite nature of man - body, soul, spirit. Receiveth not; i.e. "does not choose to accept." He judges them by the foregone conclusions of his own prejudice. Because they are spiritually judged. The organ for the recognition of such truths - namely, the spirit - has become paralyzed or fallen into atrophy, from neglect; therefore the egoist and the sensualist have lost the faculty whereby alone spiritual truth is discernible. It becomes to them what painting is to the blind, or music to the deaf. This elementary truth is again and again insisted on in Scripture, and ignored by sceptics (Romans 8:6, 7; John 3:3; John 6:44, 45; John 14:17; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6). This verse is sometimes used to depreciate knowledge, reason, and intellect. On that abuse of the passage, see Hooker, 'Eccl. Pol.,' 3. 8:4-11, an admirable passage, which Bishop Wordsworth quotes at length. It is, perhaps, sufficient to say that if God has no need of human knowledge, he has still less need of human ignorance.
But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
Verse 15. - Judgeth all things. If he can judge the higher, lie can of course judge the lower. Being spiritual, he becomes intellectual also, as well as more than intellectual. He can see into the difference between the dream and the reality; he can no longer take the shadow for the substance. He can not only decide about ordinary matters, but can also "discriminate the transcendent," i.e. see that which is best even in different alternatives of good. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him" (Psalm 25:14). He himself is judged of no man. He may be judged, condemned, depreciated, slandered every day of his life, but the arrow flights of human judgment fall far short of him. These Corinthians were judging and comparing Paul and Apollos and Cephas; but their judgments were false and worthless, and Paul told them that it was less than nothing to him to be judged by them or by man's feeble transitory day (1 Corinthians 4:3). "Evil men," as Solomon said, "understand not judgment" (Proverbs 28:5).
For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Verse 16. - Who hath known the mind of the Lord? "The Lord" is Jehovah (see Isaiah 40:13, LXX.; Romans 11:34). This is the reason why no one can judge the spiritual man in his spiritual life. To do so is like judging God. We have the mind of Christ. So Christ himself had told the apostles (John 15:15); and St. Paul always claimed to have been taught by direct revelation from Christ (Galatians 1:11, 12). They had the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), and therefore the mind of Christ.