Notes on 1 Corinthians 2:11-16

1 Corinthians 2:11-16
It is the Holy Spirit then by whom God has revealed to us what of old was hidden; and He is thoroughly able to do, so, seeing that He searches the very depths of God, as indeed He is God. This the apostle illustrates by an analogy drawn from human nature. “For who of men1 knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of the man that [is] in him? So also the things of God knoweth2 no one save the Spirit of God. But we did not receive the spirit of the world but the Spirit that [is] from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.” (Vers. 11, 12.)
No man knows what is in another's mind; He may conjecture more or less accurately, but none of men can know inwardly what is in another's mind and has not been communicated to him. The spirit of the man himself knows, and no one else. It is shut out not only from animals inferior to man in the scale of creation, but from his fellows. So, but with incomparably greater force, no one has come to know the things of God, unless they be revealed: only the Spirit of God knows them. But here is the inestimable privilege of the Christian. It was not the spirit of the world we received, but the Spirit that is from God, and this expressly that we might know, inwardly know, the things freely given to us by God.
We are in the conscious relationship of children, and have not merely an acquired objective knowledge, but realize what God has vouchsafed in our own minds. Were any courting the spirit of the world? what a descent for a Christian! What a forgetfulness of our new and divine and eternal associations through our Lord Jesus! Here then it is a question of knowing through the Holy Ghost the things freely given us by God, and to this end is the Spirit given to the believer now that Christ was come and had wrought redemption. Where the blood has been put, the oil can follow, that unction from the Holy One whereby the very babe in Christ knows all things. For the grace that has freely given him all with God's own Son would put him in the conscious knowledge of all and in the joy of communion; and this can only be by the Holy Spirit of God, who accordingly anoints us when established in Christ, that is, when firmly attached to Him.
But the apostle tells us of more than this supernatural Spirit-given knowledge. In order that they may be enjoyed, the things of God had to be communicated divinely; and here the chosen instruments had to be made, not infallible of course, which is the quality of God alone, but perfectly guided in giving out the truth and guarded from all error for their task. This is inspiration, its permanent fruit being the scriptures we possess in the goodness of God. The principle is stated in verse 13, “which things also we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in [those] taught by [the] Spirit,3 communicating spiritual things by spiritual4 [words].”
It is well known that the last clause has been variously interpreted, through a different sense given, now to συνκρίνοντες, now to πνευματικοῖς, and even to πνευματικά. Thus Chrysostom, Theodoret, &o., take it to mean, “explaining spiritual truths [of the New Testament] by [Old Testament] spiritual testimonies.” Only less far-fetched is the counter-view of Theophylact, H. Grotius, and others, “explaining what the Spirit-led prophets said by what Christ has opened to us by His Spirit.” But Theophylact proposed a way too, which, as it prevailed in medieval times, so also it has been common up to our day, of taking πνευματικοῖς as masculine, which the late Dean Alford treated as “clearly wrong” in several editions of his Greek Testament, but gave as right in his New Testament revised (1870), as Wiclif had done in 1380.
Again our Authorized Translation preferred, with all the other early English versions except that of Geneva, the sense of “comparing” as in the Syriac, Vulgate, &c., rather of “explaining” for συνκρίοντες. And doubtless it is a natural impulse to use a meaning which is unquestionable in 2 Cor. 10:1212For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. (2 Corinthians 10:12) for the same word in 1 Cor. 2:1313Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:13): so Tyndale's (1584), Cranmer's (1539), and perhaps that of Rheims (1582), though I am not quite sure what was meant by “comparing spiritual things to the spiritual,” as the latter might be understood as masculine (so the Arabic) no less than as neuter. The Geneva Version (1557) gave “joining spiritual things with spiritual things,” I presume after Calvin, Beza, Piscator, &c.
There are two elements for gathering the mind of God in the clause which have not been in general borne in mind adequately. First, the context as elsewhere helps to the sense of e. here demanded. Now it is certain that the apostle is describing, in verse 13, neither the revelation of divine things which the Spirit of God alone knows and can give (vers. 10-12), nor the reception of what is revealed, which is due to the power of the Spirit (vers. 14, 15), but the intermediate process of conveying in words spiritual things when disclosed that they may be received by the spiritual man. Secondly, as συνκρίνοντες appears to be a carrying on the thought of speaking the things of God to others in verse 13, so is ἀνακρίνεται equally characteristic of the manner and means of reception. As the one aptly expresses the putting together (συνκρίνοντες) spiritual things with spiritual words so as to furnish that concrete whole, the word of God, so the spiritual man ἀνακρίνει π., the converse sifting and examining accurately—a sense common to the New Testament and the LXX. (1 Sam. 20:1212And Jonathan said unto David, O Lord God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and show it thee; (1 Samuel 20:12); Acts 17; 11) Ἀνακρ was a word used technically in ordinary Greek of the preliminary investigation to ascertain whether an action would lie.
Hence in my judgment the meaning of “comparing” or even of “explaining” is here shut oat; and, when we examine the present passage along with that in the second Epistle, we may readily see with certainty that the construction wholly differs, though Parkhurst is rash enough to say the contrary. For in the latter it is a question of persons only, and hence “comparing” gives the sense justly. So Wahl in his second edition rightly, though from Rose's note to Parkhurst it would seem that in his first with Schleusner he explained it as “we cannot endure to enroll or mix ourselves with” &c.—a poor sense assuredly.
Here, in one phrase, if not in both, it is a question of things, and hence the analogy disappears. In the LXX, which so constantly furnishes the true source of the Greek New Testament language, we find the verb and its derivatives used in senses more suitable to the requirement of our text, as has been often noticed. Compare Gen. 40:8, 12, 16, 18, 228And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you. (Genesis 40:8)
12And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days: (Genesis 40:12)
16When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said unto Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head: (Genesis 40:16)
18And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof: The three baskets are three days: (Genesis 40:18)
22But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them. (Genesis 40:22)
Dan. 2:4-454Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack, O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation. 5The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill. 6But if ye show the dream, and the interpretation thereof, ye shall receive of me gifts and rewards and great honor: therefore show me the dream, and the interpretation thereof. 7They answered again and said, Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation of it. 8The king answered and said, I know of certainty that ye would gain the time, because ye see the thing is gone from me. 9But if ye will not make known unto me the dream, there is but one decree for you: for ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me, till the time be changed: therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that ye can show me the interpretation thereof. 10The Chaldeans answered before the king, and said, There is not a man upon the earth that can show the king's matter: therefore there is no king, lord, nor ruler, that asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean. 11And it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can show it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh. 12For this cause the king was angry and very furious, and commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. 13And the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain. 14Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the king's guard, which was gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon: 15He answered and said to Arioch the king's captain, Why is the decree so hasty from the king? Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel. 16Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would show the king the interpretation. 17Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: 18That they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: 21And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: 22He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. 23I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king's matter. 24Therefore Daniel went in unto Arioch, whom the king had ordained to destroy the wise men of Babylon: he went and said thus unto him; Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will show unto the king the interpretation. 25Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste, and said thus unto him, I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation. 26The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof? 27Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, show unto the king; 28But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these; 29As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. 30But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart. 31Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. 32This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, 33His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. 34Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. 36This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. 37Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. 38And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. 39And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. 40And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. 41And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. 42And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. 43And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. 44And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. 45Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. (Daniel 2:4‑45) (thirteen times); iv. (seven times); v. (eight times), where “interpret” or “interpretation” is meant. Again we have Num. 15:3232And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. (Numbers 15:32), where it means “to determine;” also Num. 9:3; 293In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, ye shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it. (Numbers 9:3) six times in the sense of “ordinance,” &c.
It is certain then that the most common meaning in the Septuagint, so familiar to the writers and earliest readers of the New Testament, is that of making known the previously hidden mind of God couched in a dream or vision; and that the word was also applied to a determination through a judge or law-giver speaking for God. By an easy transition thence the apostle was inspired to use it here in the sense of “communicating” (or, in a similar usage, of “expounding") spiritual things by spiritual words. “Communicating” however seems to me better, because less ambiguous than “expounding,” as the point here is the fact and appropriate form of conveying spiritual truths rather than of “expounding” or explaining it when conveyed in words, which is the function of the teacher and not really in the passage at all. It is plain to him who weighs all that, though in some cases σύνκρισις may seem to mean pretty much the same as ἐξήγησις applied to such subjects, it goes really farther. For instance, Joseph's or Daniel's task went much beyond that of an ordinary expounder of scripture; and the word which duly described it might easily pass into the sense of communicating the previously unknown things of God in language suited to them. This I feel assured is the idea in the verse under consideration.
The apostle then shows that not human wisdom but the Spirit taught the words to convey the truth of Christ now. How null then in divine things is that wisdom! Why did Corinthian eyes see differently?
There was another lesson in its place of no less weight—the incapacity of man without the Holy Spirit not merely to know or convey, but even to revive the truth of God. “But [the] natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he cannot know [them] because they are spiritually discerned; but the spiritual [man] discerneth all things while he himself is discerned by no one. For who hath known [the] Lord's mind that he should instruct him? But we have [the], mind of Christ.” (Ver. 14-16.)
This is a momentous declaration in all its parts. For the apostle by the “natural man” means man as he is born and grows up, without being born of God or the Holy Ghost given to him. He might be ever so learned, scientific, intellectual and refined; still, till quickened of the Spirit, he is ѱυχικός. He does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for to him they are folly; nor can he learn them, so as to appropriate them, apprehending their truth, because they are spiritually discerned, and the Spirit of God he has not as unbelieving in Christ. The spiritual man on the other hand is one who is not only renewed but in the power of the Spirit. He accordingly has a divine spring of discerning while he is beyond the ken of all who are destitute of the Spirit.
It is in virtue of the Spirit of God that the believer now stands in so astonishing a place, capable of discerning all things, yet himself outside the discernment of man. How great the folly of any saint in Corinth or elsewhere yearning after human wisdom! What makes it even more striking is the application the apostle appends from Isa. 40:13. For there the prophet insists on the supremacy of Jehovah's intelligence, as before of His infinite goodness and power. Unsearchable Himself yet searching all, “who hath measured the Spirit of Jehovah, and, the man of his counsel, will teach him?” As independent of man's measuring and instruction is the Christian in divine things, and this through the Spirit of God dwelling in him. Thus the use of Isa. 64 bears witness that, as man's heart had not conceived the purpose of God before the world for our glory (not merely the nations, as Kimchi would have it, but man generally, Israel included), so God has revealed it now that Christ is crucified and received up in glory, and this by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven to be in and with us. But the use of Isa. 40 goes farther; for the apostle ascribes to the Christian the mind (νοῦν) or intelligence of Christ, in whom God's wisdom is, and thus appropriates to us now by grace, as possessing the Holy Spirit, that which, belonging characteristically to God, is wholly independent of man and undiscoverable by him.
In short, as the revelation of God's hidden wisdom is of the Holy Spirit, so is the inspiration that conveys it, and no less truly though of a more general character is the reception of it. In the gospel as Paul knew and made it known, in the mystery of the gospel, was brought positively new truth, of which not Gentiles only but Israel or men universally were ignorant; but now it was revealed, communicated, and received in the Spirit. As He only could make it known, so He gave the words which were the due medium of conveying it, and He enables us to receive it.
How infinite then is the Christian's debt not only to the Father and the Son but to the Holy Ghost! Paul's gospel was pure truth to man, and pure truth through man: may we have self judged so as to receive it in like purity. It is the flesh—man's nature—which ever opposes the Spirit of God. There are those who count what the apostle insists on as supernatural; and they labor, some in this way, some in that, to reduce the gospel to the level of common sense. But let me warn them that if they succeed in their scheme for themselves or other men, they have lost the truth for God, who will not, to please man, give up His purpose of thus glorifying Christ by the Holy Spirit.
To naturalize Christianity is simply to ruin it. Only scripture draws a deep and marked distinction between the revelation. and inspiration of the truth on the one hand and the reception of it on the other, though all be of the Spirit, and of Him only to be of true spiritual profit. And indeed it is evident that, if the communication had not been perfect by those employed as instruments of His inspiration, the revelation of God had not been any more perfect; and consequently the authority of God attached to their writings had been not only a delusion but a deception; for Christ and the apostles treat it as no less the word of God than what He uttered without human intervention. If it be not the infinite brought into the finite we should have nothing to trust to as divine truth; we should have the finite and nothing else. Whereas the word of God, like Christ Himself, is God's entering into our circumstances, and this to give us His own grace and truth in perfection. Our use of it is another thing; and for this we are wholly dependent on the Spirit of God. But He is given to us; and we have the mind of Christ.