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1 Corinthians Chapters 2 and 3, Verse by Verse, Part 1 (of 4 Parts)

by Karl Kemp  
9/06/2015 / Bible Studies

All quotations were taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Sometimes I make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make them more obvious. I am using straight quotation marks ("), hyphens (-) instead of dashes, and a few other things like this because some of the internet sites where I post these articles require it. Also they don't allow footnotes. Cf., e.g., means "compare, for example."

1 CORINTHIANS 2:1. "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom [[On worldly, human, fleshly/carnal wisdom, which has a strong demonic input, which is contrasted with the wisdom of God which is true wisdom, see, for example, 1 Cor. 1:17-31 and 2:2-16. The apostle Paul did share God's true wisdom with those who would/could receive it.]], proclaiming to you the testimony of God [[Or, "the mystery of God" (see 2:7). The "United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament," fourth revised edition, favors the Greek reading for "mystery," instead of "testimony," with a B rating, which means that the editors are almost certain. With either translation, the apostle Paul was proclaiming the gospel of new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus, which he received by revelation from God. That was quite a message (very good news) to bring to Corinth! The Corinthians (and all of us) need God's pure Word, not an admixture of things of the flesh. God's Word doesn't need any embellishment, which would detract from its glory.

I prefer the reading "mystery of God." The "mystery" is the gospel that centers in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 2:2) and His all-important atoning death (cf. 1 Cor. 2:2, 7-9). It is called a mystery in that it was hidden in God but has now been revealed through the apostle Paul in significant detail, including God's plan to fully include the Gentiles in His salvation plans. I could live with the translation "the testimony of God." Paul was proclaiming the gospel that God revealed to him. Therefore God had testified to the authenticity and truthfulness of the gospel that Paul had brought to Corinth. There was no other message that could save Jews or Gentiles.

I'll quote 1 Cor. 1:17, "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech [more literally, "not in wisdom of the word," referring in context to worldly, fleshly, carnal, demonic wisdom], so that the cross of Christ would not be made void." It is clear, based on what the apostle Paul says in his epistles, that he had a high view of water baptism, but he was against fleshly Christians at Corinth (or anywhere else) boasting in the fact that they had been baptized by the apostle Paul (see 1 Cor. 1:10-17).

The apostle Paul knew that the Greeks (Corinth was a Greek city) were proud of their "superiority of speech" (1 Cor. 2:1; rhetoric) and worldly "wisdom" (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 1:17-31). The Greeks were proud of their rhetoricians and philosophers. (The word "philosophy" is from the Greek and means "love of wisdom.") He went out of his way to give them the wisdom of God that centers in the gospel of new-covenant salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ separated from the things of the flesh. He knew that the things of the flesh (very much including worldly wisdom, worldly philosophy, or being an expert at worldly, persuasive, polished speaking [rhetoric]) could not save them, or help save them.

Those things could not save them, but they confuse the issue. The more we focus on things of the flesh, the more we will miss the essential things, the things that deal with God and His new-covenant plan of salvation. The Corinthians (and all people) needed to hear the true gospel, understand it, repent and take it into their hearts by faith, be forgiven, be born again by the Spirit of God, and begin to live for God in His truth, righteousness and holiness by the enabling grace of God in Christ by faith (faith in God and the gospel), which includes walking by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis.

To the extent we walk in the flesh, instead of walking in line with the Word of God and by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis by faith, we will continue to live in sin. We are required to walk by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis, by faith, so that we will not do the sinful desires/works of the flesh (cf., e.g., Gal. 5:16, 19-21). It is rather easy for born-again Christians to be fleshly (to walk in the flesh to some extent). Many of the Corinthian Christians demonstrated that. But the apostle Paul made it clear that that way of living is totally unacceptable. It is a serious perversion of the gospel, and it is a dangerous way to live. In Gal. 5:19-21, for example, Paul made it clear that "Christians" who continue to do the works of the flesh (all sin are works of the flesh by Paul's definition of the flesh) will not inherit the kingdom of God (heaven).]] (2) For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. [[Compare 1 Cor. 1:23. The message of the cross sounds weak (it sounds like defeat) until we understand it. For one thing, the apostle Paul also spoke of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus, of His present ministry at the Father's right hand, and of His coming again to save His people and judge the world, of all the work of the Holy Spirit, etc. He taught all of these things at Corinth, but he emphasized the fact that we must be humble (which is the opposite the fleshly pride of man) and submitted to God, His Word, and His Spirit, and that most of the glory of our salvation is reserved for the future, when the Lord Jesus returns.

The apostle limited himself to the fullest extent possible to the foundational truths of the gospel presented in a simple, humble, but quite effective manner that was backed up by the infinite Holy Spirit. For one thing, unlike the boasting ways of the world, Paul gave the Corinthian Christians only one thing to boast in, namely God (the triune God), the God of creation and the God of new-covenant salvation, which makes us new creations. I'll quote 1 Cor. 1:29-31, "so that no man may boast before God. (31) But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom [true wisdom] from God, and righteousness and sanctification [I prefer the translation "holiness"], and redemption, (31) so that just as it is written, 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord [cf. Jer. 9:23, 24].' "]] (3) I was with you in weakness [cf. 1 Cor. 4:10; 2 Cor. 11:30 with 2 Cor. 11:1-12:13; and 13:9] and fear and in much trembling [[For one thing, the attitude and demeanor of Paul was to be contrasted with the attitude and demeanor of some proud, arrogant, bombastic Greek leaders, including some who were "Christian" leaders at Corinth. Christians SHOULD manifest fear and trembling when it comes to being afraid to sin against God or to be unfaithful to Him in our lives and ministries (cf., e.g., Matt. 10:28; Luke 1:50; 12:5; 2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 5:21; 6:5; Phil. 2:12; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17). I'll quote 2 CORINTHIANS 7:1, "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."

The apostle Paul was not weak when it came to being faithful to God by His sufficient grace and effectively fulfilling his ministry, which included his accurately presenting the truth of the gospel "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (2:4). The apostle walked by faith and by the Holy Spirit and was faithful to God by His grace through faith. When Paul was "weak" in the things of the flesh (he did not rely on things of the flesh; he did not look good when it came to things of the flesh), the power of God could be manifested to the max through him (cf., e.g., 2 Cor. 12:7-10; 10:1-6). We should also undoubtedly include the idea that Paul was very much aware of the awesome responsibility he carried as the apostle to the Gentiles and of the opposition of the devil and those who follow him; fleshy Christians are influenced by the devil.

Paul was criticized by some at Corinth for his appearance and his speaking (cf., e.g., 2 Cor. 10:10; 11:6); he didn't try to compete with some of the Greeks in things of the flesh. We must see that Paul's "weakness" helped his converts focus on God and His salvation. God must receive all the glory, not His spokesmen. Even with Paul's "weakness," some Christians who were fleshly boasted in Paul in a way that hurt the Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:3-9, 21-23; 4:1, 6).]], (4) and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of [worldly] wisdom [cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 1:17 ("...but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech [literally "wisdom of speech"]..."); 2:1, 13], but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power [[Compare Rom. 15:19. This "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" included the working of miracles, but even more important, it included God's transforming spiritually dead people who were in bondage to sin into born-again servants of God and His truth, righteousness (which includes humility), and holiness.]], (5) so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God [the power of God that comes with the wisdom of God]. [[Compare 2 Cor. 4:7; 6:7; and 12:9, 10. The only thing in the universe that could save them was the wisdom of God contained in the gospel of the new covenant, which is backed up by the Spirit of God, who indwells all true Christians. Those who submit to the gospel by faith and walk by faith and by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis are forgiven, redeemed, and enabled to walk in the truth, righteousness and holiness of God, with the victory over sin, all sin (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30, 31) and will be ready to stand before God at the end of this age. Forgiveness for the sins of Christians when they repent is also provided through the all-important atoning death of the Lamb of God. And when Christians understand and walk in line with the gospel that the apostle proclaimed, by grace through faith, they give God all of the glory, as it must be. Pride with unbelief is at the root of the sin problem.]] (6) Yet we [[(This double bracket goes on for four paragraphs.) The "we" here and in verse 7 refers especially to the apostle Paul (note that he switches to "I" in 3:1-4), but Sosthenes (1 Cor. 1:1), Timothy (2 Cor. 1:1), and others who learned from Paul and ministered with him are apparently included, and in a fuller sense the other apostles could be included (cf. 1 Cor. 15:9-11). It is very important to see that Paul went out of his way in 1 Cor. 2:6, 7, 10-13, 16 to distinguish between himself (along with the others included in the "we") and the Corinthians Christians when he used the pronouns "we" and "us" and that he made the same distinction between himself and the Corinthian Christians using "I" in 3:1-4. (The second "we" and the "us" in 2:12 are applicable for all true Christians, even as the word "our" is applicable to all true Christians in 2:7.)

For one thing, there was a distinction between Paul and the Corinthian Christians because Paul had received the gospel by revelation which he shared with those at Corinth and everywhere else God sent him. But it is also important to see that Paul emphasized the distinction between himself and the Christians at Corinth because of the fleshiness of so many of the Christians at Corinth. He made the point that their fleshiness limited the wisdom that he could communicate to them. Some of the Corinthian Christians were spiritual, by the Spirit, but Paul doesn't make that important point in 2:6-3:4.

Significantly, the apostle was strongly insulting them (in love) in an attempt to wake them up (especially see 2:14 and 3:1-4); for one thing, he somewhat overstated the fleshiness (they were not spiritual by the Spirit) of most of the Christians at Corinth, but the problem was quite serious. The apostle repeatedly rebuked and often insulted the Corinthian Christians throughout 1 and 2 Corinthians ((along with 1 Cor. 2:14; 3:1-4; cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 4:3-21; 5:1-13; 6:1-20; 8:1-13; 10:6-22; 11:3-10, 17-34; 14:12, 36-38, 40; and 15:12-19, 33, 34, 36; and 2 Cor. 5:20-6:2; 6:11-7:1, 8-11; 10:1-11; 11:1-13:10, especially 11:3, 4, 19, 20; 12:11-13, 16; and 13:2-5, 10)), but he also strongly encouraged them too throughout those epistles (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 1:1-9; 3:16, 17, 22, 23; 10:13; 15:50-58; and 2 Cor. 1:1-3; 4:13-15; 7:2-16; 8:7, 8; and 13:14). And those who were walking in the truth, righteousness and holiness of God would have understood that the rebukes and insults (which included biting sarcasm) were not aimed at them.

The more that fleshly Christians are fleshly (which is the opposite of being spiritual by the Spirit), the more they are not interested in, not able to understand, or not aware of the fact that they do not have much of God's true wisdom. (It is dangerous for Christians to be fleshy. Christians are called, enabled, and required to walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis by faith.) As the apostle will make clear as we continue, many of the Corinthians Christians were far from being spiritual, far from walking by the Spirit on a continuous basis. As it often happens, many of them thought they were spiritual, which made their condition all the more serious, but they weren't. For one thing, it takes more than genuine spiritual gifts to make Christians spiritual (see 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14; these chapters are discussed in a paper on my internet site). Also there are demonic counterfeits for the spiritual gifts, but Paul didn't accuse them of that problem in this epistle, he did, however, accuse them of listening to false apostles, which is a super-serious problem (see 2 Corinthians chapter 11).]] do speak wisdom [[Paul is not speaking of worldly wisdom here. He is speaking of God's true wisdom that centers in the glory of His new-covenant plan of salvation, which includes the overthrow and removal of all His enemies, very much including Satan and all who follow him, through the Lord Jesus Christ and the glorious things He has prepared for those who Him (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 2:9, 12). We will discuss this wisdom further under verse 7.]] among those who are mature [[(This double bracket goes on for four paragraphs.) I believe the translation "perfect" (with the KJV), instead of "mature" better communicates Paul's intended meaning for the Greek adjective "teleios" here. (Sometimes the translation "complete" works well.) Paul clearly was not speaking of Christians having absolute perfection; absolute perfection is reserved for the age to come, where we will be glorified, including having glorified bodies. He was speaking of a relative perfection. Christians (including those who are young in the faith) who walk in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God by the saving grace of God in Christ, which includes all the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, by faith, are relatively perfect (spiritual). (It is significant that Eph. 4:24 informs us that the truth of God includes His righteousness and holiness; compare James 3:17 regarding wisdom.) All Christians are called and enabled to walk in this relative perfection, which is the equivalent of walking in an abiding state of holiness.

The words "he who is spiritual" of 2:15, the word "spiritual men" in 3:1, and the words at the end of 2:13, which should be translated "to spiritual men," or the equivalent, carry the same meaning as the words "those who are perfect" here in 2:6. Christians who walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis are "spiritual," and, as Gal. 5:16 shows, they do not carry out the sinful desire of the flesh; in other words they do not do the sinful works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). They are not fleshly; they don't sin; if they should commit occasional acts of sin they will be forgiven when they repent (1 John 2:1, 2); in the ideal case they don't sin at all. (You can read about various sins of some of the Corinthian Christians throughout 1 Corinthians and to a lesser extent in 2 Corinthians.) Some other verses that use "teleios" in a comparable way (of relative perfection) are Phil. 3:15; Col. 1: 28 (this verse has some application for the present state, but is looking to the future when we will stand before God); 4:12; and James 3:2 (cf. Matt. 5:48; Rom. 12:1, 2).

Those who are relatively "perfect" and "spiritual" by the grace of God in Christ, by faith, with a strong emphasis on the work of the Spirit who indwells all true Christians, are contrasted in this passage with those who are called "the natural man" in 2:14 (I prefer "unspiritual," instead of "natural," as in the margin of the NASB; see under 2:14); who are called "men of flesh" and "infants in Christ" in 3:1 and "still fleshly" and "walking like mere men" in 3:3). All five expressions have essentially the same meaning here: they were not walking by the Spirit on a consistent basis (which went along with the fact that they were not walking in line with the Word of God, by grace through faith), which was a very serious problem.

Paul intended all five of these expressions to refer, in an insulting way, to large numbers of the Corinthian Christians. As I mentioned, I believe we must see that Paul went out of his way (in love) to insult those who needed to be insulted in an attempt to wake them up; for one thing, he somewhat overstated the non-spirituality of most of the Christians at Corinth, but the problem was quite serious. See under these verses below for more details.]] a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away [On "the rulers of this age," see under verse 8.]; (7) but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our [The pronoun "our" applies to all true Christians.] glory [[(This double bracket goes on for three paragraphs.) Most of the glory of our salvation is reserved for the future, when we will be glorified (cf., e.g., Rom. 5:2; 8:17, 18, 21; Col. 1:27; 3:4; and 1 Pet. 5:1, 4, 10). The word "mystery" goes with the fact that God had kept hidden (cf. Col. 1:26), for the most part, His plan of salvation that centers in the incarnation and sacrifice of His unique Son. Now it was being revealed through the apostle Paul (and others). I'll quote 1 Cor. 1:23, 24, "but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." And Col. 2:2b, 3, "resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." God chose to reveal a large part of that mystery through the apostle Paul ((cf. Rom. 16:25, 26; Gal. 1:11, 12; Eph. 1:3-14; 3:1-13 (Paul emphasized the super-important point [as far as we Gentiles are concerned] that the mystery includes the fact that Gentiles are fully included in God's new-covenant salvation plans); 5:25-33; 6:19; Col. 1:26, 27; and Romans chapters 9-11, including that part of the "mystery" that Paul mentioned in Rom. 11:25-27: that the end-time remnant of Israel will be saved at the end of this age)). In Rev. 10:7 "the mystery of God is finished" under the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet of the book of Revelation (Rev. 11:15), not when the angel begins to sound his trumpet. (See Article 21 in my e-book, "Introduction to the Mid-Week Rapture," for one place.) The "mystery" of God includes His saving and His judging at the end of this age.

Through the plans of God contained in the mystery that have now been revealed (been revealed at least for the most part), God will save, with a very full salvation (that includes being glorified) all who submit to Him in faith. This includes Gentiles; part of the mystery revealed through the apostle Paul was that believing Gentiles would be grafted into, and become part of, God's true Israel (e.g., Rom. 11:17-24). It also includes the remnant of the people of Israel who will be saved in the last days; this was also revealed by the apostle Paul (e.g., Rom. 11:25-27), but it was also prophesied in the Old Testament. And it includes all the believers from the days of the Old Testament. The plans of God contained in the mystery also include the details on His overpowering and totally removing the devil and all who follow him from His kingdom forever.

The devil had fallen and a third of God's angels followed him in his rebellion before man was created, and then man joined in the rebellion. That was a BIG problem! But God totally solves that problem through His Son, and we (all believers) will be reigning with Him in His end-time judgment from the time we are glorified and raptured (cf., e.g., Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; 15:24-26; Rev. 2:26, 27; 5:10; 12:5; 17:14; 19:14, 19; 20:6; and 22:5). What a plan! Before the world was created God "predestined" (laid out the path beforehand) these things for "our glory" (cf., e.g., Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:3-14, especially verses 5, 11. We will be glorified, including having glorified bodies, and even reign with God the Father and His Son in a never ending reign (cf. Rev. 22:5).]]; (8) the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age [[The "rulers of this age" includes the rulers in the spiritual dimension, starting with Satan, along with the human rulers of this age, who are strongly influenced by the spiritual rulers. The apostle Paul understood that our primary warfare is against Satan and the rulers in the spiritual dimension (cf., e.g., John 12:31; 14:12; 16:11; 1 John 5:19; Eph. 2:2; 6:12; 2 Cor. 4:4). And the rulers in the spiritual dimension were very involved with the crucifixion of the Lamb of God (cf., e.g., Luke 22:3-6; John 13:2, 21-30). They have been attacking God's people (many of those attacks were carried out through human rulers) throughout the history of mankind to the extent God permitted, and especially those who were the greatest threat to them. The "wisdom" spoken of here includes the things spoken of in the next verse.]] has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory [[If God had not kept His salvation plans hidden (see verse 7; cf. Col. 1:26), the "rulers of this age" would have understood that the crucifixion of the Lamb of God was the primary thing that God would use to overthrow sin and Satan and his entire kingdom of darkness and at the same time bring about the salvation of all believers (cf., e.g., John 12:31; 16:11; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 2:14, 15; Heb. 2:14, 15).]]; (9)

We will continue this verse-by-verse study of I Corinthians chapters 2 and 3 in Part 2 of this paper, starting with 1 Cor. 2:9.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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