1 Corinthians: Chapter 2 (verses 1-8)

April 30, 2024

by Peter Amsterdam

Paul continues his letter to the Corinthian church in chapter 2.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.1

Paul is referring to his first visit to Corinth. Unlike the philosophers and sophists of that time, who would speak in a way that showed superiority and flamboyance, Paul came without any pretense or putting on airs. He proclaimed a testimony (the gospel) that he had received from God regarding Christ crucified.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.2

Paul refers to the testimony of God which he proclaims. He had made a decision that, when proclaiming the message, he would focus on one subject—Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I decided to know indicates that Paul was Christ- and cross-centered in the way he spoke and the words he used, and that his life was focused on Christ.

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.3

Paul says that he was weak and fearful. He didn’t put on an air of self-confidence. Rather he had confidence in God and in the message of the gospel. He knew that his style and personality alone would not draw crowds of believers.

He knew he was not a great orator. He didn’t speak with eloquence in the Greek style. But he knew that God had called him to preach the gospel despite his weaknesses, fears, and failings. He recognized that God had chosen him so that Christ would be the one who was heard rather than the messenger.

Paul’s fear and trembling isn’t explained here, but in the book of Acts we read the account of Paul’s first visit to Corinth, where Luke made it clear that this visit was a very difficult time. He was opposed and reviled, and he left the synagogue and went to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next door to the synagogue.4 Paul was physically afraid, and rightfully so, for the Jews had made a united attack on him and brought him to court.5 Along with Paul, they also seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him as well.6

God had to intervene with a vision for Paul in which He addressed the fear that men might attack him. The Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”7 This caused Paul to remain eighteen more months in the city.8

My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.9

Paul goes on to point out that along with his weakness, fear, and trembling, his preaching was not with persuasive or enticing words, or as it says in the King James Version, not with enticing words of man’s wisdom. Paul is referring to the art of persuasion by using linguistic or rhetorical devices. He was clearly able to do this in his writings, but he avoided it.

…so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.10

It is God’s plan that faith should not be based in clever arguments made by people. Paul made this point earlier when he wrote to the Thessalonians: our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.11 It is all grace. Faith is about trust and commitment to Christ.

Paul brings his example to an end as he directs everything back to God and His power. He was an example of how God is involved at every stage in drawing people to Himself. He showed that a message which is folly to many and a stumbling block to others has been presented in a way that reflects the truth, without fancy rhetoric or refinement or powerful signs. The messenger was also weak and fearful. Therefore, the results of Paul’s visit can only be attributed to the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

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.12

Paul was concerned because the Corinthians put a high value on what he called the world’s wisdom. They had been judging people and making decisions about their status in the community by this standard rather than by their commitment to Christ. Hence, Paul needed to clarify the nature of true wisdom.

Paul addressed the type of wisdom he preached. It is apparent that God’s wisdom is about more than just believing in Christ. The whole wisdom and plan of God includes understanding the practical implication of belief and behaving as a church in a manner that exemplifies Christ’s teachings.

He goes on to say that his wisdom is not that of the age or the rulers of the age. He contrasts the wisdom of God with that which belongs to this age, which Paul says is followed by the rulers of this age. The cross has doomed this age, and those who belong to the world will perish. Godly wisdom won’t be regarded as wisdom by those who are doomed to pass away. Paul’s contrast is between those of this age who are being destroyed and those “who are being saved.”13

When speaking of the rulers, he was likely referring to political leaders of the day. This would have included those who were associated with the crucifixion as well as the Jewish and Gentile rulers, from the Pharisees to Herod, Pilate, and even Caesar. Elsewhere in the New Testament, political “rulers” are also associated with the crucifixion.14 He may have been taking a swipe at the influential people of honor who were admired by Corinthian society but had rejected Christ.

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.15

By saying he is imparting a secret wisdom, Paul is not saying that he speaks mysteriously or in a hidden way so that only the spiritual elite will understand what he is saying. Rather he is saying that God’s wisdom is “a mystery” and “hidden” to those who are of “this age.”

In Paul’s writings, the word “mystery” or “mysteries” appears 20 times in various contexts, and generally it addresses the fact that God’s way of salvation has been revealed “in Christ.” The “mystery” as Paul understands it has been declared by God Himself in Christ. Thus it has the power of God to deliver those who believe and to destroy the wisdom of the wise. The mystery that is revealed includes God’s salvation of people in Christ, not just some theoretical knowledge.

The word hidden, like secret, also qualifies “wisdom.” Paul is addressing the consequences of God’s wisdom as revealed in Jesus’ death on the cross. This wisdom is hidden, not because Paul has only made it available to the few, but because those of “this age” haven’t understood. Believers have been blessed to have these mysteries revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. No one group of Christians can claim to have received more hidden things than any other.

Paul says that God decreed this wisdom. Christ’s death on the cross was planned in advance by God. Paul emphasized this point by adding “before the ages.” It was God’s great wisdom from “before the foundation of the world,”16 which is now revealed to all who believe, that He should meet people with love, mercy and forgiveness in Christ. This was “hidden” from the beginning until the time when Christ was revealed.

None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.17

That this wisdom in Christ wasn’t understood by the rulers of the age is seen in the fact that they crucified the “Lord of glory.” In calling Jesus “the Lord of glory,” Paul takes a term which would have been expected to apply to God, “Yahweh,” and applies it to Christ. For those who love God, the way of the cross is the way of glory; it is the way of true wisdom.

(To be continued.)

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 1 Corinthians 2:1.

2 1 Corinthians 2:2.

3 1 Corinthians 2:3.

4 Acts 18:6–7.

5 Acts 18:12.

6 Acts 18:17.

7 Acts 18:9–10.

8 Acts 18:11.

9 1 Corinthians 2:4.

10 1 Corinthians 2:5.

11 1 Thessalonians 1:5.

12 1 Corinthians 2:6.

13 1 Corinthians 1:18.

14 Luke 23:35; Acts 3:17, 4:8.

15 1 Corinthians 2:7.

16 Ephesians 1:4.

17 1 Corinthians 2:8.