1 Corinthians 2:1-10

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 2:1-10

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.


Paul begins to transition the discussion toward the topic of the Spirit and of God’s power. Let’s dive right in with The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 2:1

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. 52, and he had stayed a year and a half (Acts 18:11). He had since been (roughly speaking) “three years” (τριετίανActs 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 5:101 John 5:11).

The note here attributes some of the faction-forming as being primarily a split between those who followed Paul and those who followed Apollos. Chapter 3 – which we will get to soon – backs that idea up:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 

Surviving Church history implies that this split was a source of grief for Apollos as well. From wiki:

Jerome states that Apollos was so dissatisfied with the division at Corinth that he retired to Crete with Zenas; and that once the schism had been healed by Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Apollos returned to the city and became one of its elders. Less probable traditions assign to him the bishopric of Duras, or of Iconium in Phrygia, or of Caesarea.

Returning to the text of Chapter 2, verse 2, with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(2) I determined not to know.—Better, I did not determine to know. The only subject of teaching concerning which the Apostle had formed a determined resolve in his mind when coming to Corinth was the preaching Christ and Him as being crucified. We have here a statement of what was ever the subject-matter of apostolic teaching. St. Paul did not dwell on the miraculous in the life of Christ, which would have pandered to the Jewish longing for a “sign”; nor did he put forward elaborate “theories” of the gospel, which would have been a concession to the Greek’s longing after “wisdom”: but he preached a personal Christ, and especially dwelt on the fact that He had been crucified (1 Corinthians 1:171 Corinthians 1:23Galatians 6:14Philippians 2:8). We can scarcely realise now the stumbling-block which the preaching of a crucified Christ must have been to Jews and Greeks, the enormous temptation to keep the cross in the background which the early teachers would naturally have felt, and the sublime and confident faith which must have nerved St. Paul to make it the central fact of all his teaching. For us the cross is illumined with the glories of eighteen centuries of civilisation, and consecrated with the memory of all that is best and noblest in the history of Christendom. To every Jew and to every Gentile it conveyed but one idea, that of the most revolting and most degrading punishment. The remembrance of this fact will enable us to realise how uncompromising was the Apostles’ teaching—how it never “accommodated itself” to any existing desire or prejudice. This surely is no small evidence of the divine origin of the religion of which the Apostles were the heralds!

(3) And I was with you.—To show that the real force of his teaching lay in its subject-matter, and not in any power with which he may have proclaimed the gospel, the Apostle now dwells upon his own physical weakness. The “weakness and fear and trembling” of which St. Paul speaks here had in it probably a large element of that self-distrust which so noble and sensitive a nature would feel in the fulfilment of such an exalted mission as the preaching of the Cross. I cannot think, however, the allusion is only to that. There is, I believe, a reference also to what we may call a physical apprehension of danger. The bravest are not those who do not experience any sensation of fear, but rather those who keenly appreciate danger, who have an instinctive shrinking from it, and yet eventually by their moral might conquer this dread. There are traces of this element in St. Paul’s character to be found in several places, as, for example, in Acts 18:9, when the Lord encourages him when labouring at Corinth with the hopeful words, “Be not afraid;” again in Acts 23:11, when the terrible scene before Ananias had depressed him, the Lord is with him to strengthen him, “Be of good cheer, Paul;” and in Acts 27:24, when the angel of the Lord appears to him amid the storm and shipwreck, “Fear not, Paul.”

These verses re-convey many of the ideas from Chapter 1 and set up a transition in the discussion to its next focus – the Spirit. From the Pulpit Commentaries next:

1 Corinthians 2:4

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.

1 Corinthians 2:5

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.”

Spirit = πνεῦμα pneûma, pnyoo’-mah; from G4154; a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively, a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc., or (superhuman) an angel, demon, or (divine) God, Christ’s spirit, the Holy Spirit:—ghost, life, spirit(-ual, -ually), mind. Compare G5590.

Power = δύναμις dýnamis, doo’-nam-is; from G1410; force (literally or figuratively); specially, miraculous power (usually by implication, a miracle itself):—ability, abundance, meaning, might(-ily, -y, -y deed), (worker of) miracle(-s), power, strength, violence, mighty (wonderful) work.

As we see in the verse, and the note from Ellicott, Paul emphasizes prior demonstrations of the Spirit / power in verse 4:

(4) And my speech.—The result which necessarily followed from this weakness and trembling was that neither his “speech” (i.e., the style of his teaching), nor his “preaching” (i.e., the subject-matter of his teaching) were of such a kind as to appeal to the natural tastes of the Corinthians.

Demonstration of the Spirit.—The Apostle’s demonstration of the truth of the gospel was the result of no human art or skill, but came from the Spirit and power of God, and therefore the Corinthians could glory in no human teacher, but only in the power of God, which was the true source of the success of the gospel amongst them.

Keep this in the back of your mind, as we look at the next couple of verses. From The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 6:

1 Corinthians 2:6

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 13:27Luke 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.

After pushing back against the call for signs from among the Jewish converts, and against the calls for wisdom from among the Greek converts, Paul in these last couple of verses reminds them that they have been shown both signs (“demonstrations of the Spirit”) and wisdom (“we do impart wisdom”.) Does this feel contradictory?

Paul addresses the demonstrations of the Spirit in much greater depth later in 1 Corinthians. However, at this point, I think we should consider that perhaps the issue with a desire for signs is not that they should never be provided, but that they should not need to be perpetually provided. Faith that needs to be continually reassured through divine demonstrations is not faith at all. There comes a point, too, wherein those calls for signs and demonstrations might rightly be viewed as an attempt to control divine power.

But back to the topic of wisdom, which Paul continues through the end of this section. Again in The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 2:7

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 16:25Ephesians 3:4Ephesians 3:9Colossians 1:261 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).

1 Corinthians 2:8

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 3:17Acts 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 Psalms 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 7:2Ephesians 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.

For a people who desire wisdom, what could be better than secret and hidden wisdom? Paul is essentially telling his readers that many of them are looking in the wrong places.

mystery = μυστήριον mystḗrion, moos-tay’-ree-on; from a derivative of μύω mýō (to shut the mouth); a secret or “mystery” (through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites):—mystery.

The note above refers to esoteric teaching and contrasts that with what Paul is saying here, because what Paul is teaching is that this secret and hidden wisdom is now revealed (which Paul states a couple verses later.) Paul appears to refer to Scripture in the next verse, however, there is a problem with that – which we will examine via Ellicott:

(9) As it is written.—Where do the words which follow occur? They are not to be found as here given anywhere in the Old Testament. It has therefore been suggested (Origen) that they are from some apocryphal book, or some book which has been lost, as is supposed many have been. Chrysostom also suggests that it may be a reference, not to a writing, but to historical facts, as in Matthew 2:23. None of these explanations would justify the use of that phrase, “it is written,” with which these words are introduced, and which in the apostolic writings is confined to quotations from the Old Testament scriptures. It is not used where the words are taken from other sources (see, e.g., Jude 1:9Jude 1:14). Although the words given here are not to be found in the same sequence in any passage in the Old Testament, still there are phrases scattered through the writings of Isaiah (see Isaiah 64:4Isaiah 65:17; see also Isa 62:15 in the LXX.), which would easily be joined together in memory and resemble even verbally the passage as written here by the Apostle. This is not the only place in which St. Paul would seem to thus refer to the Old Testament scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 1:19-20) when he is not basing any argument upon a particular sentence in the Scriptures, but merely availing himself of some thoughts or words in the Old Testament as an illustration of some truth which he is enforcing.

The Pulpit Commentaries also add speculation as to the origin of this line, quoted by Paul:

1 Corinthians 2:9

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 1:31Eye 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 Isa 53:1-12 :15; Isaiah 65:17. It may be another instance of a loose general reminiscence. “Non verbum e verbo expressit,” says St. Jerome, “sed παραφραστικῶς eundem sensum 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’ (Jeremiah on Isaiah 64:4). and they occur in the Talmud. In a curious fragment of Hegesippus preserved in Photius, 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 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.

Personally, I think the verse below is the most likely primary source for the quotation. The same idea might be found in another text, though, perhaps outside of the modern canon, and perhaps that now unknown text provided the exact quote. Either way, the idea of the quote from Paul is not wrong, and it closely mirrors the verse in Isaiah:

Isaiah 64:4 From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.

Concluding this section of verse with Ellicott:

(10) But God hath revealed them unto us.—Here the emphatic word is “us.” The latter part of 1 Corinthians 2:8-9 are parenthetical, and the sense goes back to the beginning of 1 Corinthians 2:8. “None of the princes of this age know these things, but God hath revealed them unto us His apostles and teachers” (Matthew 13:11Matthew 16:172 Corinthians 12:1). This revelation of spiritual truth is made by the Holy Spirit of God to our spirits (Romans 8:16). The Apostle gives two proofs that the Apostles have this knowledge, and that the Holy Spirit is the source of it: 1. (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), because the Holy Spirit alone is capable of imparting this knowledge; and 2. (1 Corinthians 2:12-16), because the Holy Spirit has been given to us the Apostles.

Searcheth all things.—The word “searcheth” here does not convey the idea of inquiry for the purpose of acquiring knowledge, but rather complete and accurate knowledge itself, as in Romans 8:27; see also Psalms 139:1.

This leads into a larger discussion on the role of the Spirit, and its relationship with God, starting in the next verse.