1 Corinthians 2:6-13


The word sophia , "wisdom", has occurred ten times up to this point in 1 Corinthians. See 1:17,19,20,21,22,24,30. Thus far, Paul has made a sharp distinction between the deluded nature of man's wisdom, (who in his sinfulness makes himself god and thinks he can save himself,) and the true wisdom of God, the Gospel, Christ crucified. God is not anti-intellectual. He is the author of all true wisdom. but fallen human nature deludes itself with a production of false wisdom.

The word  "wisdom"  occurs in our text four times: twice in verse 6 and once each in 7 and 13. The first three times it is used of the true wisdom of the Gospel. The last time, verse 13, it is used of human wisdom, contrasted sharply with the Spirit's wisdom.

By the way,  "wisdom" occurs fifty times in the New Testament. Of these, seventeen occur in 1 Corinthians. Sixteen occur up to 3:19. It occurs once more at 12:8. It occurs only once in 2 Corinthians. It occurs only once in Romans, thrice in Ephesians, six times in Colossians.

To summarize, of the fifty occurences in the New Testament, twenty-six are found in the Pauline Epistles. And, as said above, seventeen of these are in 1 Corinthians. This is the Epistle of Wisdom, the Wisdom of the Gospel. In our text for today Paul distinguishes sharply between worldly wisdom and God's true wisdom. Furthermore, Paul emphatically insists that this wisdom came only by direct revelation of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. We now have this wisdom in the inspired, inerrant Word.

1 Corinthians 2:6 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.

Note that "wisdom" occurs twice and stands emphatically forward and in each case is followed by "but." The first one sharply distinguishes the true wisdom from the human wisdom mentioned in verse 5 and the second one makes sure that we understand what the origin of true wisdom is NOT.

Morris: Paul is not excluding all wisdom from the Christian purview, but only worldly wisdom.

By the way, note that there is no emphatic "our" here as in verse 12 below.

Lenski: Paul is using a real plural which embraces all those who properly preach the Gospel.

Who are the "mature" and what does it mean? Note that NKJV reads "mature," not "perfect" as does the KJV, a very good improvement. "Mature" has nothing to do with perfection. NKJV, RSV, NIV, and NASB translate "the mature." TEV has "spiritually mature." JB has "who have reached maturity," and NEB and AAT have "who are ripe for it." 

Morris: Paul is not dividing men into religious casts . . . there is no spiritual truth that is not available for even the humblest believer to appropriate. By 'wisdom' Paul accordingly does not mean some secret teaching, withheld of set purpose from the rank and file. With unwearied persistence the apostle points out that the 'wisdom' of which he speaks is not the wisdom of this world.
Kretzmann: The full-grown, the believers, those whose hearts and minds the Spirit has prepared through faith are able to comprehend its unspeakable wisdom.
Lenski: The present context speaks of only two classes of people: such as accept the Gospel in faith, and such as spurn the Gospel and prefer their own wisdom.

The "mature" are those who do not call the Gospel foolishness. Jesus never breaks the bruised reed nor quenches the smoking flax. People may be very weak in their faith from our point of view, but so long as they accept the Gospel as the wisdom of God, they are "mature." 

In the second part of verse 6 the word "we speak" is to be repeated: "But we do speak wisdom not of, etc." We have an either-or. It is neither from this age nor from the powerful rulers of this age.

"Age" is defined by Rienecker as "The course and current of this world's affairs." 

Lenski: This 'age' must end. Then what about its 'wisdom'?

Exactly. Paul is saying that what men regard as wisdom is transitory, last such a short time, and therefore cannot save. It is not true wisdom. Furthermore, just as it does not find its source in this age, neither does it find its source in the most powerful among men of this age.

Rienecker: 'Ruler' refers to the great men of authority.
Morris: It is the temporal rulers that Paul has in mind. Probably his use of 'age' is not without a glance at the transitory nature of their office.
Bengel: Paul uses a comprehensive word, embracing the men of rank both among Jews and Greeks.
Lenski: 'The rulers of this world-age' are those who are foremost and leaders of others because of their learning, their power, or their birth.

They are qualified by "who are coming to nothing." The verb means "to make idle, to put out of commission, to remove from power." The translations are interesting: RSV: "Who are doomed to pass away"; NKJV: "Who are coming to nothing"; AAT and NASB: "Who pass away"; They are like the "age," transitory, passing. This does not mean that we do not have to obey them. God sends them as rulers. But, they are not the source of spiritual wisdom.

1 Corinthians 2:7 No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

"No" is very strong:  "Quite to the contrary." "We speak" includes apostles, but is not limited to them. Here the word "wisdom" is qualified by epithets or adjectives, in one way or another:

  1. It is of God, both adjectival and source;

  2. It is secret, a wisdom that has been hidden and was absolutely unknown to man before it was revealed. AAT is good here: "We tell about God's secret wisdom that was kept hidden," implying that it is hidden no longer;

  3. God devised and created this wisdom in eternity, before the temporal ages, which absolutely excludes any possibility of human origin.

  4. That its purpose is our everlasting salvation. That's the meaning of "glory" here, the word indicates our complete salvation.

Morris: 'Secret' has about it nothing of the mysterious in our sense of the word. It does not signify a puzzle. It signifies a secret which man is wholly unable to penetrate. But it is a secret which God has now revealed.
Bengel: It is hidden before it is brought forward, and when it is brought forward, it yet remains hidden to many, the unbelievers.
Kretzmann: The entire plan of salvation was determined upon by God from eternity, and its final aim and object is the final glory which shall be revealed to the believers in heaven. The Gospel-message is realized only in the believers, as Paul shows by the contrast.

By the way, the word "our" at the every end of the verse, is anticipating (verses 10-13) the revelation of this mystery only to believers. That is brought out by sharp contrast in the next verse.

1 Corinthians 2:8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Here we have another qualifying word or phrase for "wisdom," in verse 8a. In verse 6 we were told that this "wisdom" did not originate with transitory earthly rulers, no matter how powerful. In verse 8 we are told that they did not even recognize or discern it when confronted with it. These "rulers" are not limited to the unbelieving Roman and Jewish rulers at Christ's time, but surely include them. At Luke 23:34 Jesus said: "They know not what they do." They did not recognize, much less know.

Lenski: All the Jewish and Roman political and ecclesiastical leaders were guilty and fatal ignorance comes to the surface in the crucifixion of Christ, John 18:38; Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; 13:17.

Note that the word "age" occurs for the third time in our text. We are constantly being reminded of the sinfulness of the present age. Note that 8a and 8b are separated by a semi-colon (;), not a period, because the thoughts are so closely connected. "For" is a post positive conjunction which explains. It means "you see." 

Verse 8b is a contrary to fact condition. The implied object of "know" is the "wisdom of God." They did not recognize God's wisdom, the Gospel, the message which Christ brought. And for that reason they crucified the Lord of glory. This is the only place where "the Lord of glory" is applied to Christ.

Before we go any further we quote a very pertinent passage from the Epitome of the  Formula of Concord, Art. VII, Person of Christ, Tappert 488:14:

Therefore the Son of God has truly suffered for us, but according to the property of the human nature which he assumed into the unity of his divine person and made his own, so that he could suffer and be our high priest for our reconciliation with God, as it is written in 1 Corinthians 2:8, 'They have crucified the Lord of Glory,' and in Acts 20:28, 'We are purchased with God's own blood.'

The appellation "The Lord of Glory" is here applied to Christ according to His human nature.  "Of glory" is an adjectival genitive, telling us what kind of Lord He was and is. Here in verse 8 "glory" refers to the divinity of Jesus. In verse 7 it referred to our glorification in heaven.

Lenski: The person is here designated according to his divine nature (Lord of Glory), while the thing predicated of him belongs to his human nature (crucified.)

The rulers of this age were so ignorant of God's  "wisdom" that they actually crucified God. True Lutherans are careful to avoid both Eutychianism and Nestorianism. Read Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art. VIII, Tappert 598.39-43, where Luther takes Zwingli to task. We quote only in part:

Therefore it is correct to say: The Son of God suffers. Although, so to speak the one part (namely, the diety) does not suffer, nevertheless the person who is true God suffers in the other part (namely, in the humanity). For the Son of God truly is crucified for us -- that is, this person who is God, for that is what he is -- this person, I say, is crucified according to the humanity . . . . Therefore, we regard our Lord Christ as God and man in one person, neither confounding the natures nor dividing the person.

1 Corinthians 2:9 However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" --

Lenski calls attention to the fact that "however" is parallel to "however" in verse 7 and therefore "we speak" must be supplied after "however" in verse 9. That makes good sense. In verse 6 we were told that this wisdom did not originate with the rulers of this world. And then: "But we speak the wisdom of God." In verse 8 he says that the rulers did not recognize this wisdom. And then Paul: "But we speak precisely as it has been written." In verse 10 Paul will explain how both of these are possible. All true Lutherans, who know the doctrine of the Word far better than do others, insist that Paul is quoting an existing passage of Scripture, because it says "it is written." Rienecker is in error when he says:

The source of Paul's quotation is not known. It may be from a Jewish liturgy, or be based on Isaiah 64:4, or be from an Apocalypse of Elijah.

Morris is far more careful:

The formula 'it is written' is one he uses when citing Holy Writ. Perhaps the nearest is Isaiah 64:4, though Isaiah 65:17 and 52:15 have been suggested . . . . On the whole it seems best to think of this verse as a rather free citation of Isaiah 64:4 with reminiscences of other passages.

Bengel takes the quotation of Isaiah for granted:

What was future in the time of Isaiah had been done in the time of Paul.

Kretzmann says it is quoted from Isaiah 64:4 and then adds:

The passage is taken from the Advent call and Messianic prophecy which attempts to picture the inexpressible glory of the promised salvation . . . . It is a magnificence of blessings, undreamed of in former ages, unknown to all men by nature, which comes all prepared to the believers.

Lenski is priceless at this spot:

'Even as it has been written' always introduces inspired canonical utterances . . . Paul uses Isaiah 64:4 and for the second line Isaiah 65:17. When using expressions from these two passages Paul's evident object is to show the mystery-character of the wisdom which he and others are preaching.
Morris: Paul's thought is that there is no method of apprehension open to man (eyes, ears, or understanding) which can give him any idea of the wonderful things that God has made ready for them that love Him (compare Romans 8:28) . . . . The glories that come to believers are not haphazard, but are in accordance with God's plan from of old.

This passage is remarkable for a number of reasons:

  1. It eliminates synergism completely. Faith does not begin or originate something. It merely receives what is already there.

  2. This passage implies the total sinfulness of man. In no way, in his fallen estate (and even in the state of innocence, for that matter) could any mere human being ever have originated the "wisdom" of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Note the expression "for those who love him" and Romans 8:28 in the margin of the Greek text. Who are "those who love Him?" The elect. Look closely at Romans 8:28ff.

Verse 9 is not talking about the wonders of everlasting life, though it includes that too. The next verse shows that God has already revealed them to us. The RSV has a very interesting translation of verses 9-10a: "But, as it is written 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,' God has revealed to us through the Spirit." This translation removes the period at the end of verse 9 and eliminates the preposition at the beginning of verse 10, but this translation surely brings out precisely what Paul is saying. JB punctuates as does Nestle Greek text, but translates verse 10a thus: "These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit." Perhaps RSV and JB translate thus because very often Christians take verse 9 exclusively of everlasting life. No. It's the revelation of the Gospel now already.

1 Corinthians 2:10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

Note the emphatic position of  "to us." Who are these? All believers, the Apostles or both? Morris says it is the believers. Bengel and Lenski limit it to the Apostles.

Kretzmann: The Spirit is God's instrument and agent to bring the proper enlightenment to our hearts. In the case of the apostles the Spirit worked by direct or immediate action when they were engaged in the world of preaching the Gospel, Galatian 1:12; 1 Peter 1:12; and since their day the revelation comes to us through the preaching based upon the Word of the apostles, Hebrews 2:3.

We think Kretzmann's explanation is correct. God reveals Himself to us only through the Apostolic Word, which came to them by direct revelation.

KJV, NKJV, TEV, NIV read "but" NEB and NASB read the variant and translate "for." RSV, JB and AAT omit the word. If one reads "but" this verse is in contrast to verse 8. If one reads "for" this verse is explanatory of the beginning of verse 9: "But (we speak) just as it has been written." With the Nestle Greek text and the majority of the translations these  Notes  prefer "but." 

From here to the end of verse 13 the word "spirit" occurs seven times. In five of these seven instances the Holy Spirit is meant. "Searches" has variously been translated: "search, penetrate, examine, investigate." Six of our versions translate: "searches." AAT has: "The Spirit finds out everything." 

Morris: 'Searches' does not mean that the Spirit searches with a view to obtaining information. Rather it is a way of saying that He penetrates into all things. There is nothing which is beyond His knowledge.
Kretzmann: The Spirit has access to, is familiar with, the innermost thoughts and plans of God. And what He has discovered He discloses to us. Those unexplorable, unfathomable, bottomless depths of God's essence where the gracious will of God for the salvation of mankind lay hidden, the Spirit has made know to us.

The words "the deep things of God" make us sure that there is no exception to the word "all" and therefore are very, very comforting. What are these "deep things?" 

Rienecker: God's essence, His attributes, volitions, and plans.
Morris: The innermost recesses of the divine counsel.
Lenski: His essence, and his attributes, as well as his thoughts, his purposes, his plans, his providence in regard to us, etc., Romans 11:33.

The Spirit has all knowledge about God. He does not reveal incomprehensible things about God to us. But, those which we need, He does reveal. The text simply assures us that the revealer, the Holy Spirit, can truly be trusted in what He has revealed.

Kretzmann: Since the Spirit has access to the innermost secrets of God, His must be the divine essence, He must be true God. This fact is brought out by the comparison which the apostle introduces in verse 11.

More on this point in verse 11.

1 Corinthians 2:11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

Here Paul draws a beautiful analogy. Note the beautiful symmetry. The first part of this verse is a rhetorical question which requires the answer: "No one." Then comes the application in the second part introduced by "likewise also." In the case of man, the word "spirit" means "the innermost self." In the case of God, of course, it means "The Holy Spirit." The rhetorical question really states an axiom: No human being can know the innermost thoughts of another person unless that person reveals them. There are many things that not even dearest of friends tell each other. Many times even husbands and wives hide their inmost thoughts from each other. They are two persons but not the same essence. The "no one" in the second sentence, of course, means "no person." As to inmost thoughts a human being is just as blind toward God as he is toward the inmost thoughts of another human being. But not so with the Holy Spirit. He and the other two members of the Trinity are distinct persons, but they are of the same essence.

Note that the Greek distinguishes between "know" and "comprehend," as is reflected in RSV.

Rienecker: The perfect tense emphasizes the continuing knowledge.
Lenski: The perfect tense means that He has known from eternity and thus ever knows.
Morris: Nobody can really know what is going on inside a man, nobody except the man's own spirit. From outside, other men can but guess. But the spirit of the man does not guess. He knows. In the same way, reasons Paul, no one outside God can know what takes place within God. The Spirit knows God from the inside. There can be no question but that this passage ascribes full deity to the Spirit. And it also implies that the revelation of which Paul has been speaking is authentic.
Kretzmann: No person is able to know the innermost feelings and desires of another unless that person reveals himself to him by word or sign.
Lenski: There is an obvious difference between man's spirit and the Spirit of God. Man's spirit is 'in him.' No counterpart to this exists in God, the essence of whose Spirit is identical with that of the Father and the Son. We dare not extend Paul's analogy beyond the one point indicated: As man's spirit alone knows what is in himself, thus God's Spirit alone knows what is in God.

1 Corinthians 2:12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.

We have two problems in this verse:

  1. What is meant by "we?" Morris is of the opinion that Paul is comparing Christians with the heathen. Kretzmann apparently is of the same opinion. But Lenski thinks the word refers specifically to the Apostles.

  2. Is the second use of "spirit" to be capitalized, meaning "the Holy Spirit?" Lenski says no. Morris, Bengel, and Kretzmann prefer "the Holy Spirit" and we think that is correct.

What is meant by "spirit of the world?" 

Kretzmann: The spirit of the world is the spirit whose wisdom God has shown to be foolishness, the spirit which is always ready to crucify the Lord anew, the spirit which is darkened and blinded against the understanding of God.
Lenski: The world's spirit is thus that which animates the world, lends its distinctive character to the world. It is what makes the world 'world.' . . . This 'spirit of the world' is not the faculty of reason created in man, although this 'spirit' frightfully abuses also this faculty, just as it abuses the members of the body, and all other possessions.
Bengel: The spirit of the world is not received; but they who are of the world are always in it.

Very well put. "Of the world" is obviously adjectival genitive. The first part of the verse could be paraphrased: "But we have not received a worldly attitude." The attitude and thinking of natural man is always still dead in trespasses and sins.

"But" after a negative means: "But quite to the contrary." These  Notes  translate "the Holy Spirit whom the Father has sent." This means that "from" denotes agent, not source. God sends His Spirit so that we have real knowledge, not illusions or worldly knowledge.

Kretzmann: Ours is rather the Spirit which has been bestowed upon us by God, the Spirit of spiritual enlightenment.

Lenski does not agree.

This is the spirit of true faith and trust toward God, the spirit of humility and love.

We agree rather with Kretzmann.

The final purpose clause which is speaking primarily of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We truly know the things which have graciously been bestowed by revelation of the Holy Spirit.

Kretzmann: All these gifts are included in Christ and made possible through the redemption of Christ . . . . Note that the apostle does not make our possession of these gifts dependent upon our feeling, but upon the knowledge transmitted to us by the Spirit, through the Word.

1 Corinthians 2:13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

Conservative Lutheran commentators limit the  "we" in "we speak" to the Apostles and we think that is right. This is a very important passage for the doctrine of verbal inspiration. Compare John 14:26. Both uses of "in" denote means. "Taught" is a passive verbal adjective. Both genitives are subjective: "Not my means of words taught by mere human knowledge but by words taught by the Holy Spirit." 

The last three words in the Greek text have evoked much discussion. The translations differ among themselves. We quote several typical translations:

Rienecker mentions that "combining" can mean "to bring together, to combine or to compare or to explain, to interpret." Morris prefers this idea: "Combining spiritual things (the words spoken) with spiritual things (the truths expressed)." 

Bengel: Connecting spiritual things with spiritual, i.e., not mingling heterogeneous things but linking the spiritual lessons of the Spirit with spiritual language.

Kretzmann gives the Lutheran position on this passage thus:

Paul says that they place spiritual things side by side with spiritual things, matching the spiritual truth with spiritual phrases. In the teaching of the apostles there is a perfect harmony of subject-matter with the expression in words, with the form of speech as presented to his readers. The language of Scripture correctly represents the thoughts of God as He wanted to make them known to us for our salvation.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp. 55-60. Used with permission.

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