1 Corinthians 2:11-16

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 2:11-16

11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.


In this section of the text, Paul refers to the spirits, believing that his audience knows what that is. Perhaps the original audience did.

Today there’s a split among Christians regarding the idea of the spirit in a person. Some view the spirit as the same thing as the soul. These people are known as dichotomists – meaning that they thing people exist in two parts – a physical state and a spiritual state. Dichotomists represent the larger point of view among Christians. However, there’s another camp of Christians who are trichotomists who believe that human beings are comprised of a three part soul – the body, soul, and spirit, with the latter two being separate things. I imbedded a short video below explaining the difference. If you’re interested in the topic, there’s a wealth of written scholarly material on the topic. I imbedded a short video clip below explaining the two sides of the argument.

With these ideas firmly in mind, then, we’ll dive into text with commentary notes from The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 2:11

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. Joh 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.

1 Corinthians 2:12

The spirit of the world. The heathen world in its heathen aspect is regarded as under the power of the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4Ephesians 6:11Ephesians 6:12). 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).

In these two verses, Paul teaches that only a person’s spirit really knows that person, and that only the Spirit of God really knows God, therefore God sent His Spirit to us so that we might know Him. Verse 13 continues this idea, with Paul stating that God’s Spirit then teaches those who receive this gift. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(13) Not in the words.—Not only the gospel truths themselves, but the very form and manner in which those truths are taught is the result of spiritual insight.

Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.—Better, explaining spiritual things in spiritual language; really only another more pointed form of stating what he has just said. The word translated here “comparing” in our Authorised version is used in the sense of expounding or teaching in the LXX. (Genesis 40:8Genesis 40:16Daniel 5:12), especially of dreams, where the dream is, so to speak, “compared” with the interpretation. So here, the spiritual things are “compared” with the spiritual language in which they are stated. Another meaning—explaining spiritual things to spiritual men—has been suggested, but that adopted would seem to be the more simple and natural. This second interpretation, would make these words the introduction to the remark which follows about “the spiritual man,” but it involves a use of the word in which it is not found elsewhere in the New Testament.

Verse 14 then links this line of thought with Paul’s earlier teaching on “God’s folly” and explain why the wisdom of God seems folly. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 2:14

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 noti.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 8:6Romans 8:7John 3:3John 6:44John 6:45John 14:172 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.Ecclesiastes 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.

Note here that the commentary above embraces the trichotomist view of a person being in three parts. You might read that and take from the certainty of the author that this view is settled, however, as I mentioned above, the more widely held view here is the dichotomist view.

The commentary also points out an abuse of this verse that occurs sometimes, namely that knowledge, reason, and intellect are not valuable. That is a misread of the intention of the text for the reason provided above.

Ellicott also embraces a trichotomist view:

(14) But the natural man.—To understand this and other passages in which St. Paul speaks of “natural” and “spiritual” men, it is important to recollect that our ordinary manner of speaking of man as consisting of “soul and body”—unless “soul” be taken in an un-technical sense to denote the whole immaterial portion—is altogether inaccurate. True psychology regards man as a trinity of natures. (See Note on Matthew 10:28.) In accordance with this, St. Paul speaks of man as consisting of body (soma), soul (psyche), and spirit (pneuma); the soma is our physical nature; the psyche is our intellectual nature, embracing also our desires and human affections; the pneuma is our spiritual nature. Thus in each of us there is a somatical man, a psychical man, and a pneumatical man; and according as any one of those parts of the nature dominates over the other, so is the character of the individual person. One in whom the soma is strongest is a “carnal,” or “fleshly,” man; one in whom the intellect or affections pre-dominate is a “natural,” or “psychic,” man; and one in whom the spirit rules (which it can do only when enlightened and guided by the Spirit of God, which acts on it) is a “spiritual” man. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:23.)

Natural.—That is, literally, that part of our nature which we call “mind,” and hence signifies that man in whom pure intellectual reason and the merely natural affections predominate. Now such a one cannot grasp spiritual truth any more than the physical nature, which is made to discern physical things, can grasp intellectual things. Spiritual truth appeals to the spirit of the man, and therefore is intelligible only to those who are “spiritual,” i.e., in whom the pneuma is not dormant, but quickened by the Holy Pneuma.

Since two of my commentaries have seemingly embraced the minority view, it feels unfair not to give voice to the more dominant dichotomist perspective. Below is a snippet from an article by R. Scott Clark on the topic. I highly recommend reading the entire article to get the complete perspective:

Trichotomists seek support in the fact that the Bible, as they see it, recognizes two constituent parts of human nature in addition to the lower or material element, namely, the soul (Heb., nephesh; Greek, psuche) and the spirit (Heb., ruach; Greek, pneuma). But the fact that these terms are used with great frequency in Scripture does not warrant the conclusion that they designate component parts rather than different aspects of human nature. A careful study of Scripture clearly shows that it uses the words interchangeably. Both terms denote the higher or spiritual element in man, but contemplate it from different points of view. It should be pointed out at once, however, that the Scriptural distinction of the two does not agree with that which is rather common in philosophy, that the soul is the spiritual element in man, as it is related to the animal world, while the spirit is that same element in its relation to the higher spiritual world and to God. The following facts militate against this philosophical distinction: Ruach-pneuma, as well as nephesh-psuche, is used of the brute creation, Eccl. 3: 21; Rev. 16: 3. The word psuche is even used with reference to Jehovah, Isa. 42: 1; Jer. 9: 9; Amos 6: 8 (Heb.); Heb 10: 38. The disembodied dead are called psuchai, Rev. 6: 9;20: 4. The highest exercises of religion are ascribed to the psuche, Mark 12: 30; Luke 1: 46; Heb. 6: 18,19; Jas. 1: 21. To lose the psuche is to lose all. It is perfectly evident that the Bible uses the two words interchangeably.

I encourage whoever reads this to do a thorough study of this topic, and the competing perspectives.

Finishing the chapter in The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 2:15

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” (Psalms 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).

1 Corinthians 2:16

Who hath known the mind of the Lord? “The Lord” is Jehovah (see Isaiah 40:13LXX.; 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 1:11Galatians 1:12). They had the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), and therefore the mind of Christ.

The verses discuss judgment, and the giving of judgment. The comment above reminds us that one of the vices of the Church in Corinth was judgment and factionalism. Paul tells them in this verse that their judgments – when natural rather than spiritual – are not valuable. By taking the side of Apollos or Paul, Believers sit in judgment over one of them or the other. To do this, they either sit in judgment of the wisdom given to either man through God’s Spirit, or they are judging that one or the other of them lacks that Spirit. I suspect that the local Church might feel uncomfortable with either of those options.

That concludes Chapter 2! When we get into Chapter 3, Paul will continue with his condemnation of the disunity among the Corinthians.

Leave a Reply