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1 Corinthians Chapters 2 and 3, Verse by Verse, Part 2

by Karl Kemp  
9/07/2015 / Bible Studies

We continue this verse-by-verse discussion of 1 Corinthian chapters 2 and 3 here in Part 2, starting with 1 Cor. 2:9.

(9) but just as it is written, 'THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND WHICH HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM [[The NASB, in a marginal note, refers to Isa. 64:4 and 65:17 as the source for this "quotation." Some of the glory of our salvation is available to us now, but most of the glory is reserved for the future, which will start when the Lord Jesus returns and we are glorified and begin to reign with Him. It is very important for us to have a solid hope of the glory that God has prepared for those who love Him (cf., e.g., Col. 1:5, 27; Titus 3:7). This hope (hope refers to the future, but there is no suggestion of doubting, like there is when we typically use the word hope in English: I hope it won't rain) will help us stay strong in faith with a heart of thanksgiving as we endure the trials that come to us (Christians) during this present age (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:16-18).]].' (10) For to us [It is important to see that Paul was not including the Corinthian Christians in this "us"; see under verses 6 and 12, and see verse 13.]] God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. (11) For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? [Compare Prov. 20:27.] Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. [[The Spirit of God revealed the gospel to the apostle Paul, and the apostle Paul, as God's spokesman, shared the gospel with the Corinthians. THE APOSTLE PAUL IS THE SPOKESMAN IN THE SPOTLIGHT HERE. These revelations are included in the Bible. God doesn't reveal the gospel to each of us individually, but He enables us as individuals to understand God's Word and to live it.]] (12) Now we have received [[I'll quote the first paragraph that I have under 2:6: 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, and 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 significant distinction between Paul and the Corinthian Christians because the apostle Paul had received the gospel by revelation (Gal. 1:11, 12, for example), 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. Some of the Corinthian Christians were spiritual, by the Spirit, but Paul doesn't make that important point in 2:6-3:4.

I'll quote two sentences from what John MacArthur says under verses 12 and 13 ("1 Corinthians" [Moody Bible Institute, 1984], page 63): "The 'we's' and the 'us' of verses 12-13 (as in verses 6-7, 10) do not refer to Christians in general but to Paul himself. God's word is for all believers, but was 'revealed' only to the apostles and the other writers of Scripture."

I'll also quote a few sentences from what Bruce Winter says under verses 6-16 ("New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition" [Inter-Varsity Press, 1994], page 1165): "God has been pleased to reveal His wisdom through His Spirit to the apostles, 'to us,' (2:10). The 'we' referred to in verses 6, 7, 13, and 16 does not refer to the Corinthian Christians.... Nor does it refer to the Christians in general but rather to the unique ministry of the apostles." The apostle Paul was chosen to be the "apostle to the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13 [NIV, KJV, NKJV]); cf. Acts 9:15; Gal. 1:16; 2:7, 8; Eph. 3:1-13, and he received special revelation dealing with that topic and dealing with some other topics too.]], not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God [the Holy Spirit], so that we may know the things freely given to us [[The things are freely given to all true Christians, to all "those who love Him" of 2:9, but many true Christians do not receive nearly all that is available to us during this age. This is a significant problem!]] by God, (13) which things we [the apostle Paul (and others); see 2:6, 7, 10, 13; not including the Christians at Corinth] also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom [The apostle repeatedly makes the point in the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians that we need God's wisdom, and that we must avoid worldly, human, demonic wisdom.], but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. [[I cannot live with this translation of the NASB for the last few words of this verse. A translation like the marginal note in the NASB is required, "Or, 'interpreting spiritual things for spiritual men.' " I strongly prefer "explaining spiritual things [the things revealed to Paul by the Spirit] to spiritual men [people]." Paul goes on in 3:1 to say that he "could not speak to [the Christians at Corinth] as spiritual men," even though they were born again. The same Greek adjective "pneumatikos" in the masculine, dative, plural form that I would translate "to spiritual men [people]" here in 2:13 is used in 3:1 ("to spiritual men [people]"), and the same adjective is used in the singular in 2:15 ("he who is spiritual").

I'll quote the last words of 2:13 from several other translations: "explaining spiritual things to those who are spiritual" (J. B. Phillips); "explaining spiritual things to spiritual men" ("Epistles of Paul" by Conybeare); "interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual" (NRSV); "interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men" (American Bible Union Version). Some, including the NEB, translate the last words "to those who have the Spirit," but that translation won't work here, because the problem wasn't that the Corinthian Christians didn't have the Spirit (they were born-again Christians, and the charismatic gifts were manifested among them [cf. 1 Cor. 1:7 and chapters 12-14]), but that they weren't walking by the Spirit in an adequate way on a consistent basis - they were fleshly, which is a very serious problem. (See 2:14 and 3:1-4.)]] (14) But a natural man [[(This double bracket goes on for six paragraphs.) The translation "natural" man for the Greek adjective "psuchikos" would be quite acceptable here if Paul were limiting the people he was speaking about to unbelievers. But since he wrote these words, in an insulting way with the born-again Corinthian Christians in mind, that translation doesn't work here. The translation "soulish" would work OK, with the understanding that "soulish" is being used in contrast with "spiritual" by the Holy Spirit.

It would be possible to understand Paul to be speaking only of unbelievers here, and most (but not nearly all) of the commentators I have looked at understand this verse that way, but I am confident that Paul intended to include the large number of "fleshy" Christians at Corinth here (in fact, the fleshly Christians are in the spotlight here) who were "walking like mere men [like unbelievers]" (1 Cor. 3:4). For one thing, it makes Paul's strong insult stronger (which I believe he intended), and this understanding fits verses 15 and 16 perfectly.

It seems that the translation that best fits Paul's intended meaning here in verse 14 is "unspiritual." In 2:13-3:4 the apostle is contrasting the "unspiritual" person with the one who is "spiritual" by the Spirit. (The spiritual Christian is the equivalent of the "perfect" Christian of 2:6.) Paul uses "spiritual" (Greek adjective "pneumatikos") in 2:13, 15, and 3:1 to show what is required of all Christians and will be manifested by all Christians who walk by faith (faith in God and His Word) and by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis. The only way we can be spiritual (in the sense the apostle Paul is using the word in this passage) is by walking by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis, in line with the Word of God, by grace through faith.

I'll list some translations that have "unspiritual" for "psuchikos" here in 2:14: In the margin the NASB has a note: "Or, 'an unspiritual [man].' " The J. B. Phillips translation; Jerusalem Bible; RSV; NRSV; NEB; and the Williams translation have "unspiritual"; so too does Simon Kistemaker in his commentary on 1 Corinthians; the Amplified Bible in its typical amplified sense has "natural, nonspiritual." The NIV has "the man without the Spirit." The problem with this translation is that Paul would not (could not) say that the born-again Christians at Corinth were without the Spirit, but that they were not walking on a consistent basis by the Spirit. (The translators of the NIV were assuming, like so many Christian scholars do, wrongly I believe, that the apostle was speaking only of unbelievers with the adjective "psuchikos" in 2:14.) Referring to the same people in 3:1, Paul called them "men of flesh [fleshy]" and "infants in Christ" and in 3:3 he said that they were "still fleshly" and "walking like mere men," even though they had been called and enabled to be spiritual by walking by the Spirit on a continuous basis.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO SEE THAT THE FIVE DESCRIPTIONS: "unspiritual" of 2:14, "men of flesh" and "infants in Christ" of 3:1, and "fleshy" and "walking like mere men" of 3:3 ALL REFER TO THE SAME PEOPLE, THAT THEY HAVE ESSENTIALLY THE SAME MEANING, AND THAT THEY ARE ALL STRONGLY CONTRASTED WITH the "spiritual" BY THE SPIRIT OF 2:13, 15 and 3:1. (As I mentioned "psuchikos" in 2:14 also includes unbelievers.)

I'll quote part of what A. Robertson and A. Plummer say under 1 Cor. 2:6 ("Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians" [T & T Clark, 1921, printed in 1983], page 36): "On the one hand, there are the 'teleioi" ["perfect"; in 2:6; these "oi" endings are plural endings in the Greek], whom he calls lower down [in this writing] 'pneumatikoi' ["spiritual"] (2:13, 15, and 3:1); on the other hand, there is the anomalous [abnormal; it ought not be true for Christians] class of 'sarkinoi' [translated "men of flesh"], who are babes in Christ [on "babes in Christ" see at the end of 3:1]. Ideally, all Christians, as such, are 'pneumatikoi' [spiritual] (...Gal. 3:2, 5; Rom. 8:9, 15, 26). But practically, many Christians need to be treated 'as' (on the word 'as,' Greek 'os,' see 3:1), and to all intents are, 'sarkinoi' [translated "men of flesh" by the NASB in 3:1], 'nepioi' [babes/infants], 'psuchikoi' [unspiritual], even 'sarkikoi' (3:3) [translated "fleshly" by the NASB]. The work of the Apostle has as its aim the raising of all imperfect Christians to the normal and ideal standard...." Under 2:14 (page 49) these authors say: "The word ["psuchikos"] is thus practically another name for the 'sarkikos' (3:1-3)."]] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually [[Greek adverb "pneumatikos" (with the letter "o" being a long o in the Greek, an omega) was derived from the adjective "pneumatikos" (which has the short o, an omicron, in the Greek). This adverb is only used here and in Rev. 11:8 (translated "mystically" by the NASB).]] appraised [or, discerned, or the equivalent; Greek verb "anakrino"]. [[Those who are unspiritual cannot understand, or appraise, or discern the things of the Spirit of God. Paul is telling the Christians at Corinth, in an intended very insulting, somewhat overstated way, that this is why he couldn't share much godly wisdom with them. He is also setting the stage to say in verses 15 and 16 that the fleshly, unspiritual Christians at Corinth don't have any legitimate basis to judge him (Paul), which some of them had been doing.

The commentator F. Godet comments that "Paul would not apply to true believers such strong expressions as those of our verse [referring to 2:14]: 'The things of the Spirit are foolishness unto them.' " I believe the apostle used such strong expressions to intensify his insults that were designed (in love) to wake them up from their serious fleshiness, etc. Hopefully he would get their attention. I need to make it clear that even if Paul was referring only to unbelievers here in 2:14, which I very strongly doubt, he clearly very strongly insulted the Christians at Corinth in 3:1-4 (and other places in 1 and 2 Corinthians).]] (15) But he who is spiritual [Greek adjective "pneumatikos," which was used in the plural 2:13; 3:1, but here in verse 15 it is singular, masculine] appraises [[The same verb "anakrino" was used in verse 14; here in verse 15 it could also be translated "makes judgments about" (NIV), or "judges" (NKJV), or the equivalent. And the same verb will be used again at the end of verse 15.]] all things [[In this context "all things" is limited to things like understanding the truth of the gospel, who is spiritual or unspiritual, what does God require of us (including things like humility, walking in love, and the need for unity in the Body of Christ), what is righteous and what is sinful, and what about the future? These things had been revealed to the apostle Paul and he walked by faith and by the Holy Spirit. The Corinthian Christians were not spiritual by the Spirit, and since they were fleshly and didn't understand these things they were not qualified to make judgments on these things or to judge Paul and his ministry; however, some of the Corinthian Christians were wrongly judging Paul and his ministry.]], yet he himself is appraised [or, judged, or the equivalent] by no one. [[(This double bracket goes on for three paragraphs.) I believe this verse rather strongly confirms what I said under verse 14 about Paul's including the fleshy Christians at Corinth in the "unspiritual" man in a way that was strongly insulting to those Christians at Corinth who were "unspiritual" and "walking like mere men [unbelievers (3:3)]." The apostle was making the point here that, although (at least some of) the fleshly Christians at Corinth were JUDGING him (see the next paragraph), they were way out of line, because as he says here, "yet he himself [the spiritual Christian] is judged by no one." Paul certainly qualified to be a "spiritual" Christian, even as they were quite unspiritual and not qualified to judge Paul or other spiritual things.

It is apparently quite significant that the same Greek verb, "anakrino," is used in 1 Cor. 4:3, 4 and 9:3 of the apostle being judged by Christians at Corinth and that he deals with this topic other places in 1 and 2 Corinthians. I'll quote 1 Cor. 4:3-5 from the NIV: "I care very little if I am judged ["anakrino"] by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. [The apostle Paul made it a top priority to always walk in the center of God's will, but he realized that God is the only one qualified to be our Judge.] (4) My conscience is clear [that's a good testimony], but that does not make me innocent [before God]. It is the Lord who judges ["anakrino"] me. (5) Therefore judge [Greek verb "krino," from which "anakrino" was derived] nothing [very much including judging Paul and his ministry] before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise [or something else] from God." The apostle clearly was not saying that we are not to do any judging during this age. He rebuked the Christians at Corinth for not dealing with the serious sin spoken of in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, for example. But they were way out of line judging Paul with bogus accusations.

I'll also quote 1 Cor. 9:3 from the NIV: "This is my defense to those who sit in judgment ["anakrino"] on me." And he goes on to give a lengthy defense. As he explained, he gave his defense for the sake of the Christians at Corinth who needed to see that the apostle was a faithful minister of the gospel, unlike the false apostles of 1 Cor. 11:13 and other ministers, who, for one thing, attacked Paul and his ministry with bogus judgments.]] (16) For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? [[Compare Isa. 40:13, Septuagint version; Rom. 11:34. Of course no one "will instruct [God]" (but many try to, and many even have the boldness to criticize Him or even to deny His existence), but those who are spiritual by His Spirit do "have the mind of the Lord," and are able to think right (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:5-9) and make right judgments. It is extremely important that the Spirit of God enables us to think right, especially to think right in our hearts. Thinking right by the Holy Spirit is a big part of what it means to walk by the Holy Spirit, which we are called, enabled, required and privileged to do on a continuous basis (cf. Gal. 5:16; Rom. 8:1-4). However, the fact that we (born-again Christians) are called to walk by the Spirit doesn't guarantee that Christians will walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis (the Corinthian Christians proved that), but to the extent we don't walk by the Spirit, Christianity cannot work right, and we must be aware of the fact that born-again Christians can lose their salvation. (See my paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?" on my internet site. Google to Karl Kemp Teaching.)

The apostle is very much including the point here, even emphasizing the point, that the fleshly Christians at Corinth (or anywhere else) are not able (though they think they are) to instruct (or to judge) Paul. This did not mean that Paul could not benefit from the counsel of others.]] But we have the mind of Christ. [[(See the first paragraph under this verse.) In a different context the "we" could refer to Paul and all Christians, but in this context the "we" is limited to Paul and a few others (see under 2:6). He is distinguishing between himself (and a few others) and the large number of fleshy Christians at Corinth, which he has been doing since 2:6 and will continue to do through 3:1-9. For one thing, to the extent Christians are "unspiritual" (2:14), "men of flesh" and "infants in Christ" (3:1), and "fleshy" and "walking like mere men [unbelievers]" (3:3) they do not "have the mind of Christ" - they are not thinking like He thinks and would have them think - they are not thinking by the Holy Spirit, which true Christians are enabled and required to do (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:5-9; 12:1, 2; and Eph. 4:23; these passages are all discussed in my paperback book "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" and my recently published e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin"; both books are available at]] (3:1) And I, brethren [[The apostle made it clear with the word "brethren" that he considered them (at least most of them) to still be true Christians, in spite of their fleshiness. However, he was exhorting and warning them here, and throughout 1 and 2 Corinthians, that they could not continue in that fleshly state. It was far from what they were called to in the gospel and a very dangerous place to be.]] could not speak to you as to spiritual [[(Compare 1 Cor. 14:37.) Greek adjective "pneumatikos" in the plural, masculine form, as in 2:13, and the singular, masculine was used in 2:15. "Spiritual" men are contrasted with the "unspiritual" men of 2:14 and the "men of flesh" and "infants in Christ" of 3:1 and the "fleshly" and those "walking like mere men" of 3:3. The expressions "men of flesh," "infants in Christ," "fleshly," and "walking like mere men" all communicate the idea of being unspiritual (of not being spiritual by the Spirit of God). As I have mentioned, all of these expressions would have been extremely insulting to the Corinthians, who prided themselves on their spirituality. If the apostle Paul loved them, he had to exhort them to repent where repentance was required, and Paul had to be faithful to fulfill his ministry before God.

I'll quote a paragraph from what A. Robertson and A. Plummer (see under 2:14) say here (on page 52): "Ideally, all Christians are 'pneumatikoi' (1 Cor. 12:3, 13; Gal. 4:5-7): but by no means all the Corinthians were such in fact. Along with the heathen, they are in the category of "psuchikoi" [2:14] or "sarkinoi" [3:1; these "oi" endings go with these masculine plural adjectives in the Greek], but they are not on a level with the heathen. They are babes in character, but 'babes in Christ'; and apart from the special matters for blame, there are many healthy features in their condition (1:4-9, 11:2)."]] men, but as to men of flesh [[(This double bracket goes on for eight paragraphs.) The Greek translated "men of flesh" here is the masculine, plural of the adjective "sarkinos," which was derived from the Greek noun "sarks," which is normally translated "flesh." This Greek adjective is used four times in the New Testament.

We will continue this eight paragraph double bracket in Part 3 of this paper.

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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