Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 39: Corinthians, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1 Corinthians 2:1-2
1. And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
1. Et ego, quum venissem ad vos, fratres, veni non in excellentia sermonis vel sapientiae, annuntians vobis testimonium Dei.
2. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
2. Non enim eximium duxi, (vel, duxi pro scientia,) scire quicquam inter vos, 102 nisi Iesum Christum, et hunc crucifixum.
1. And I, when I came Paul having begun to speak of his own method of teaching, had straightway fallen into a discussion as to the nature of gospel preaching generally. Now again he returns to speak of himself, to show that nothing in him was despised but what belonged to the nature of the gospel itself, and did in a manner adhere to it. He allows therefore that he had not had any of the aids of human eloquence or wisdom to qualify him for producing any effect, but while he acknowledges himself to be destitute of such resources, he hints at the inference to be drawn from this — that the power of God shone the more illustriously in his ministry, from its standing in no need of such helps. This latter idea, however, he will be found bringing forward shortly afterwards. For the present he simply grants that he has nothing of human wisdom, and in the meantime reserves to himself this much — that he published the testimony of God Some interpreters, indeed, explain the testimony of God in a passive sense; but as for myself, I have no doubt that another interpretation is more in accordance with the Apostle’s design, so that the testimony of God is that which has come forth from God — the doctrine of the gospel, of which he is the author and witness. He now distinguishes between speech and wisdom (λόγον ἀπὸ τὢς σοφίας.) Hence what I noticed before 103 is here confirmed — that hitherto he has not been speaking of mere empty prattling, but has included the entire training of human learning.
2. For I did not reckon it desirable. As κρίνειν, in Greek, has often the same meaning as εκλεγειν, that is to choose out anything as precious, 104 there is, I think, no person of sound judgment but will allow that the rendering that I have given is a probable one, provided only the construction admits of it. At the same time, if we render it thus — “No kind of knowledge did I hold in esteem,” there will be nothing harsh in this rendering. If you understand something to be supplied, the sentence will run smoothly enough in this way — “Nothing did I value myself upon, as worth my knowing, or on the ground of knowledge.” At the same time I do not altogether reject a different interpretation — viewing Paul as declaring that he esteemed nothing as knowledge, or as entitled to be called knowledge, except Christ alone. Thus the Greek preposition ανδ, would, as often happens, require to be supplied. But whether the former interpretation is not disapproved of, or whether this latter pleases better, the substance of the passage amounts to this: “As to my wanting the ornaments of speech, and wanting, too, the more elegant refinements of discourse, the reason of this was, that I did not aspire at them, nay rather, I despised them, because there was one thing only that my heart was set upon — that I might preach Christ with simplicity.”
In adding the word crucified, he does not mean that he preached nothing respecting Christ except the cross; but that, with all the abasement of the cross, he nevertheless preached Christ. It is as though he had said: “The ignominy of the cross will not prevent me from looking up to him 105 from whom salvation comes, or make me ashamed to regard all my wisdom as comprehended in him — in him, I say, whom proud men despise and reject on account of the reproach of the cross.” Hence the statement must be explained in this way: “No kind of knowledge was in my view of so much importance as to lead me to desire anything but Christ, crucified though he was.” This little clause is added by way of enlargement (αὔξησιν,) with the view of galling so much the more those arrogant masters, by whom Christ was next to despised, as they were eager to gain applause by being renowned for a higher kind of wisdom. Here we have a beautiful passage, from which we learn what it is that faithful ministers ought to teach, what it is that we must, during our whole life, be learning, and in comparison with which everything else must be “counted as dung.” (Php 3:8.)
1 Corinthians 2:3-5
3. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
3. Et ego in infirmirate, 106 et in timore, et in tremore multo fui apud vos:
4. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
4. Et sermo meus, et praedicatio mea, non in persuasoriis humanae sapientiae sermonibus, sed in demonstratione Spiritus et potentiae:
5. That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
5. Ut fides vestra non sit in sapientia hominum, sed in potentia Dei.
3. And I was with you in weakness He explains at greater length what he had previously touched upon — that he had nothing shining or excellent in him in the eyes of men, to raise him to distinction. He concedes, however, to his adversaries what they desired in such a way as to make those very things which, in their opinion, tended to detract from the credit of his ministry, redound to its highest commendation. If he appeared less worthy of esteem from his being so mean and abject according to the flesh, he shows that the power of God shone out the more conspicuously in this, that he could effect so much, while sustained by no human helps. He has in his eye not merely those foolish boasters 107 who aimed at mere show, with the view of obtaining for themselves a name, but the Corinthians, too, who gazed with astonishment on their empty shows. Accordingly a recital of this kind was fitted to have great weight with them. They were aware that Paul had brought nothing with him in respect of the flesh that was fitted to help him forward, or that might enable him to insinuate himself into the favor of men, and yet they had seen the amazing success which the Lord had vouchsafed to his preaching. Nay more, they had in a manner beheld with their own eyes the Spirit of God present in his doctrine. When, therefore, despising his simplicity, they were tickled with a desire for a kind of wisdom, I know not of what sort, more puffed up and more polished, and were captivated with outward appearance, nay, even with adventitious ornament, rather than with the living efficacy of the Spirit, did they not sufficiently discover their ambitious spirit? It is with good reason, therefore, that Paul puts them in mind of his first entering in among them, (1Th 2:1,) that they may not draw back from that divine efficacy, which they once knew by experience.
The term weakness he employs here, and in several instances afterwards, (2Co 11:30; 2 Cor. 12:5, 9, 10,) as including everything that can detract from a person’s favor and dignity in the opinion of others. Fear and trembling are the effects of that weakness There are, however, two ways in which these two terms may be explained by us. Either we may understand him to mean, that when he pondered the magnitude of the office that he sustained, it was tremblingly, and not without great anxiety, that he occupied himself in it; or that, being encompassed with many dangers, he was in constant alarm and incessant anxiety. Either meaning suits the context sufficiently well. The second, however, is, in my opinion, the more simple. Such a spirit of modesty, indeed, becomes the servants of the Lord, that, conscious of their own weakness, and looking, on the other hand, at once to the difficulty and the excellence of so arduous an office, they should enter on the discharge of it with reverence and fear For those that intrude themselves confidently, and in a spirit much elated, or who discharge the ministry of the word with an easy mind, as though they were fully equal to the task, are ignorant at once of themselves and of the task. 108
As, however, Paul here connects fear with weakness, and as the term weakness denotes everything that was fitted to render him contemptible, it follows necessarily that this fear must relate to dangers and difficulties. It is certain, however, that this fear was of such a nature as did not prevent Paul from engaging in the Lord’s work, as facts bear witness. The Lord’s servants are neither so senseless as not to perceive impending dangers, nor so devoid of feeling as not to be moved by them. Nay more, it is necessary for them to be seriously afraid on two accounts chiefly — first, that, abased in their own eyes, they may learn wholly to lean and rest upon God alone, and secondly, that they may be trained to a thorough renunciation of self. Paul, therefore, was not devoid of the influence of fear, but that fear he controlled in such a manner as to go forward, notwithstanding, with intrepidity through the midst of dangers, so as to encounter with undaunted firmness and fortitude all the assaults of Satan and of the world; and, in fine, so as to struggle through every impediment.
4. And my preaching was not in the persuasive words. By the persuasive words of man’s wisdom he means that exquisite oratory which aims and strives rather by artifice than by truth, and also an appearance of refinement, that allures the minds of men. It is not without good reason, too, that he ascribes persuasiveness (τό πιθάνον) 109 to human wisdom. For the word of the Lord constrains us by its majesty, as if by a violent impulse, to yield obedience to it. Human wisdom, on the other hand, has her allurements, by which she insinuates herself 110 and her blandishments, as it were, by which she may conciliate for herself the affections of her hearers. With this he contrasts the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, which most interpreters consider as restricted to miracles; but I take it in a more general sense, as meaning the hand of God powerfully exercised in every way through the instrumentality of the Apostle. Spirit and power he seems to have made use of by hypallage, 111 (καθ ᾿ ὑπαλλαγὴν,) to denote spiritual power, or at least with the view of showing by signs and effects in what manner the presence of the Spirit had shown itself in his ministry. He appropriately, too, makes use of the term ἀποδείξεως, (demonstration;) for such is our dullness in contemplating the works of God, that when he makes use of inferior instruments, they serve as so many veils to hide from us his influence, so that we do not clearly perceive it. On the other hand, as in the furtherance given to Paul’s ministry, there was no aid furnished from the flesh or the world, and as the hand of God was as it were made bare, (Isa 52:10,) his influence was assuredly the more apparent.
5. That your faith should not be in the wisdom of men. To be is used here as meaning to consist His meaning, then, is, that the Corinthians derived this advantage from his having preached Christ among them without dependence on human wisdom, and relying solely on the Spirit’s influence, that their faith was founded not on men but on God. If the Apostle’s preaching had rested exclusively on the power of eloquence, it might have been overthrown by superior eloquence, and besides, no one would pronounce that to be solid truth which rests on mere elegance of speech. It may indeed be helped by it, but it ought not to rest upon it On the other hand, that must have been most powerful which could stand of itself without any foreign aid. Hence it forms a choice commendation of Paul’s preaching, that heavenly influence shone forth in it so clearly, that it surmounted so many hindrances, while deriving no assistance from the world. It follows, therefore, that they must not allow themselves to be moved away from his doctrine, which they acknowledge to rest on the authority of God. Paul, however, speaks here of the faith of the Corinthians in such a way as to bring forward this, as a general statement. Let it then be known by us that it is the property of faith to rest upon God alone, without depending on men; for it requires to have so much certainty to go upon, that it will not fail, even when assailed by all the machinations of hell, but will perseveringly endure and sustain every assault. This cannot be accomplished unless we are fully persuaded that God has spoken to us, and that what we have believed is no mere contrivance of men. While faith ought properly to be founded on the word of God alone, there is at the same time no impropriety in adding this second prop, — that believers recognize the word which they hear as having come forth from God, from the effect of its influence.
1 Corinthians 2:6-9
6. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to naught:
6. Porro sapientiam loquimur inter perfectos: sapientiam quidem non saeculi hujus, neque principum saeculi hujus, qui abolentur:
7. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
7. Sed loquimur sapientiam Dei in mysterio, quae est recondita: quam praefinivit Deus ante saecula in gloriam nostram,
8. Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
8. Quam nemo principum saeculi hujus cognovit: si emro cognovissent, nequaquam Dominum gloriae crucifixissent.
9. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
9. Sed quemadmodum Scriptum est (Isa 64:4.) “Quae oculus non vidit, nec auris audivit, nec in cor hominis ascenderunt, quae praeparavit Deus iis, qui ipsum diligunt.”
6. We speak wisdom Lest he should appear to despise wisdom, as unlearned and ignorant men (Ac 4:13) condemn learning with a sort of barbarian ferocity, he adds, that he is not devoid of that wisdom, which was worthy of the name, but was esteemed as such by none but competent judges. By those that were perfect, he means not those that had attained a wisdom that was full and complete, but those who possess a sound and unbiased judgment. For תם, which is always rendered in the Septuagint by τελειος means complete 112 He twits, however, in passing, those that had no relish for his preaching, and gives them to understand that it was owing to their own fault: “If my doctrine is disrelished by any of you, those persons give sufficient evidence from that very token, that they possess a depraved and vitiated understanding, inasmuch as it will invariably be acknowledged to be the highest wisdom among men of sound intellect and correct judgment.” While Paul’s preaching was open to the view of all, it was, nevertheless, not always estimated according to its value, and this is the reason why he appeals to sound and unbiased judges, 113 who would declare that doctrine, which the world accounted insipid, to be true wisdom. Meanwhile, by the words we speak, he intimates that he set before them an elegant specimen of admirable wisdom, lest any one should allege that he boasted of a thing unknown.
Yet not the wisdom of this world He again repeats by way of anticipation what he had already conceded — that the gospel was not human wisdom, lest any one should object that there were few supporters of that doctrine; nay more, that it was contemned by all that were most distinguished for intellect. Hence he acknowledges of his own accord what might be brought forward by way of objection, but in such a way as not at all to give up his point.
The princes of this world By the princes of this world he means those that have distinction in the world through means of any endowment, for sometimes there are persons, who, though they are by no means distinguished by acuteness of intellect, are nevertheless held in admiration from the dignity of the station which they hold. That, however, we may not be alarmed by these imposing appearances, the Apostle adds, that they come to nought, or perish. For it were unbefitting, that a thing that is eternal should depend upon the authority of those who are frail, and fading, and cannot give perpetuity even to themselves: “When the kingdom of God is revealed, let the wisdom of this world retire, and what is transient give place to what is eternal; for the princes of this world have their distinction, but it is of such a nature as is in one moment extinguished. What is this in comparison with the heavenly and incorruptible kingdom of God?”
7. The wisdom of God in a mystery He assigns the reason why the doctrine of the gospel is not held in high esteem by the princes of this world — because it is involved in mysteries, and is consequently hidden For the gospel so far transcends the perspicacity of human intellect, that to whatever height those who are accounted men of superior intellect may raise their view, they never can reach its elevated height, while in the meantime they despise its meanness, as if it were prostrate at their feet. The consequence is, that the more proudly they contemn it, they are the farther from acquaintance with it — nay more, they are removed to so great a distance as to be prevented from even seeing it.
Which God hath ordained. Paul having said that the gospel was a hidden thing, there was a danger lest believers should, on hearing this, be appalled by the difficulty, and retire in despair. Accordingly he meets this danger, and declares that it had notwithstanding been appointed to us, that we might enjoy it. Lest any one, I say, should reckon that he has nothing to do with the hidden wisdom, or should imagine it to be unlawful to direct his eyes towards it, as not being within the reach of human capacity, he teaches that it has been communicated to us in accordance with the eternal counsel of God. At the same time he has something still farther in view, for by an implied comparison he extols that grace which has been opened up by Christ’s advent, and distinguishes us above our fathers, who lived under the law. On this point I have spoken more at large in the end of the last chapter of the Romans. First of all then he argues from what God had ordained, for if God has appointed nothing in vain, it follows, that we will be no losers by listening to the gospel which he has appointed for us, for he accommodates himself to our capacity in addressing us. In accordance with this Isaiah (Isa 45:19) says —
“I have not spoken in a lurking place, or in a dark corner. 114
I have not in vain said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me.”
Secondly, with the view of rendering the gospel attractive, and alluring us to a desire of acquaintance with it, he draws an argument still farther from the design that God had in view in giving it to us — “for our glory.” In this expression, too, he seems to draw a comparison between us and the fathers, our heavenly Father not having vouchsafed to them that honor which he reserved for the advent of his Son. 115
8. None of the princes of this world knew If you supply the words by their own discernment, the statement would not be more applicable to them than to the generality of mankind, and the very lowest of the people; for what are the attainments of all of us as to this matter, from the greatest to the least? Only we may perhaps say, that princes, rather than others, are charged with blindness and ignorance — for this reason, that they alone appear in the view of the word clear-sighted and wise. At the same time I should prefer to understand the expression in a more simple way, agreeably to the common usage of Scripture, which is wont to speak in terms of universality of those things that, happen επι το πολυ, that is commonly, and also to make a negative statement in terms of universality, as to those things that happen only ἐπι ἔλαττον, that is very seldom In this sense there were nothing inconsistent with this statement, though there were found a few men of distinction, and elevated above others in point of dignity, who were at the same time endowed with the pure knowledge of God.
For had they known The wisdom of God shone forth clearly in Christ, and yet there the princes did not perceive it; for those who took the lead in the crucifixion of Christ were on the one hand the chief men of the Jews, high in credit for holiness and wisdom; and on the other hand Pilate and the Roman empire. In this we have a most distinct proof of the utter blindness of all that are wise only according to the flesh. This argument of the Apostle, however, might appear to be weak. “What! do we not every day see persons who, with deliberate malice, fight against the truth of God, as to which they are not ignorant; nay, even if a rebellion so manifest were not to be seen by us with our eyes, what else is the sin against the Holy Ghost than a willful obstinacy against God, when a man knowingly and willingly does not merely oppose his word, but even fights against it. It is on this account, too, that Christ declares that the Pharisees, and others of that description, knew him, (Joh 7:28,) while he deprives them of all pretext of ignorance, and accuses them of impious cruelty in persecuting him, the faithful servant of the Father, for no other reason but that they hated the truth.”
I answer that there are two kinds of ignorance. The one arises from inconsiderate zeal, not expressly rejecting what is good, but from having an impression that it is evil. No one, it is true, sins in ignorance in such a way as not to be chargeable meanwhile in the sight of God with an evil conscience, there being always a mixture of hypocrisy, or pride, or contempt; but at the same time judgment, and all intelligence in the mind of man, are sometimes so effectually choked, that nothing but bare ignorance is to be seen by others, or even by the individual himself. Such was Paul before he was enlightened; for the reason why he hated Christ and was hostile to his doctrine was, that he was through ignorance hurried away with a preposterous zeal for the law. 116 Yet he was not devoid of hypocrisy, nor exempt from pride, so as to be free from blame in the sight of God, but those vices were so completely covered over with ignorance and blindness as not to be perceived or felt even by himself.
The other kind of ignorance has more of the appearance of insanity and derangement, than of mere ignorance; for those that of their own accord rise up against God, are like persons in a frenzy, who, seeing, see not. (Mt 13:13.) It must be looked upon, indeed, as a settled point, that infidelity is always blind; but the difference lies here, that in some cases malice is covered over with blindness to such a degree that the individual, through a kind of stupidity, is without any perception of his own wickedness. This is the case with those who, with a good intention, as they speak, or in other words, a foolish imagination, impose upon themselves. In some cases malice has the ascendancy in such a manner, that in spite of the checks of conscience, the individual rushes forward into wickedness of this sort with a kind of madness. 117 Hence it is not to be wondered, if Paul declares that the princes of this world would not have crucified Christ, had they known the wisdom of God. For the Pharisees and Scribes did not know Christ’s doctrine to be true, so as not to be bewildered in their mind, and wander on in their own darkness.
9. As it is written, “What eye hath not seen.” All are agreed that this passage is taken from Isa 64:4, and as the meaning is at first view plain and easy, interpreters do not give themselves much trouble in expounding it. On looking, however, more narrowly into it, two very great difficulties present themselves. The first is, that the words that are here quoted by Paul do not correspond with the words of the Prophet. The second is, that it seems as though Paul had perverted the Prophet’s declaration to a purpose quite foreign to his design.
First then as to the words; and as they may be taken in different senses, they are explained variously by interpreters. Some render the passage thus: “From the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived with their ears, and eye hath not seen any god beside Thee, who doth act in such a manner towards him that waiteth for him.” Others understand the discourse as addressed to God, in this manner: “Eye hath not seen, nor hath ear heard, O God, besides thee, the things which thou dost for those that wait for thee.” Literally, however, the Prophet’s meaning is: “From the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor have they perceived with the ears, hath not seen a god, (or O God,) besides thee, will do (or will prepare) for him that waiteth for him.” If we understand אלהים (God) to be in the accusative, the relative who must be supplied. This exposition, too, appears, at first view, to suit better with the Prophet’s context in respect of the verb that follows being used in the third person; 118 but it is farther removed from Paul’s meaning, on which we ought to place more dependence than on any other consideration. For where shall we find a surer or more faithful interpreter than the Spirit of God of this authoritative declaration, which He himself dictated to Isaiah — in the exposition which He has furnished by the mouth of Paul. With the view of obviating, however, the calumnies of the wicked, I observe that the Hebrew idiom admits of our understanding the Prophets true meaning to be this: “O God, neither hath eye seen, nor hath ear heard: but thou alone knowest the things which thou art wont to do to those that wait for thee.” The sudden change of person forms no objection, as we know that it is so common in the writings of the Prophets, that it needs not be any hindrance in our way. If any one, however, prefers the former interpretation, he will have no occasion for charging either us or the Apostle with departing from the simple meaning of the words, for we supply less than they do, as they are under the necessity of adding a mark of comparison to the verb, rendering it thus: “who doth act in such a manner.”
As to what follows respecting the entering of these things into the heart of man, though the expression is not made use of by the Prophet, it does not differ materially from the clause besides thee For in ascribing this knowledge to God alone, he excludes from it not merely the bodily senses of men, but also the entire faculty of the understanding. While, therefore, the Prophet makes mention only of sight and hearing, he includes at the same time by implication all the faculties of the soul. And without doubt these are the two instruments by which we attain the knowledge of those things that find their way into the understanding. In using the expression them that love him, he has followed the Greek interpreters, who have translated it in this way from having been misled by the resemblance between one letter and another; 119 but as that did not affect the point in hand, he did not choose to depart from the common reading, as we frequently have occasion to observe how closely he follows the received version. Though the words, therefore, are not the same, there is no real difference of meaning.
I come now to the subject-matter. The Prophet in that passage, when mentioning how signally God had on all occasions befriended his people in their emergencies, exclaims, that his acts of kindness to the pious surpass the comprehension of human intellect. “But what has this to do,” some one will say, “with spiritual doctrine, and the promises of eternal life, as to which Paul is here arguing?” There are three ways in which this question may be answered. There were no inconsistency in affirming that the Prophet, having made mention of earthly blessings, was in consequence of this led on to make a general statement, and even to extol that spiritual blessedness which is laid up in heaven for believers. I prefer, however, to understand him simply as referring to those gifts of God’s grace that are daily conferred upon believers. In these it becomes us always to observe their source, and not to confine our views to their present aspect. Now their source is that unmerited goodness of God, by which he has adopted us into the number of his sons. He, therefore, who would estimate these things aright, will not contemplate them in their naked aspect, but will clothe them with God’s fatherly love, as with a robe, and will thus be led forward from temporal favors to eternal life. It might also be maintained that the argument is from the less to the greater; for if man’s intellect is not competent to measure God’s earthly gifts, how much less will it reach the height of heaven? (Joh 3:12.) I have, however, already intimated which interpretation I prefer.
1 Corinthians 2:10-13
10. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
10. Nobis autem Deus revelavit per Spiritum suum: Spiritus enim omnia scrutatur, etiam profunditates Dei.
11. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
11. Quis enim hominum novit, quae ad eum pertinent, nisi spiritus hominis, qui est in ipso? Ita et quae Dei sunt, nemo novit, nisi Spiritus Dei.
12. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
12. Nos autem non spiritum mundi accepimus, seal Spiritum qui est ex Deo: ut sciamus quae a Christo donata sunt nobis:
13. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
13. Quae et loquimur, non in eruditis humanae sapientiae sermonibus, sed Spiritus sancti, spiritualibus spiritualia coaptantes.
10. But God hath revealed them to us. Having shut up all mankind in blindness, and having taken away from the human intellect the power of attaining to a knowledge of God by its own resources, he now shows in what way believers are exempted from this blindness, — by the Lord’s honoring them with a special illumination of the Spirit. Hence the greater the bluntness of the human intellect for understanding the mysteries of God, and the greater the uncertainty under which it labors, so much the surer is our faith, which rests for its support on the revelation of God’s Spirit. In this, too, we recognize the unbounded goodness of God, who makes our defect contribute to our advantage.
For the Spirit searcheth all things This is added for the consolation of the pious, that they may rest more securely in the revelation which they have from the Spirit of God, as though he had said. “Let it suffice us to have the Spirit of God as a witness, for there is nothing in God that is too profound for him to reach.” For such is the import here of the word searcheth By the deep things you must understand — not secret judgments, which we are forbidden to search into, but the entire doctrine of salvation, which would have been to no purpose set before us in the Scriptures, were it not that God elevates our minds to it by his Spirit.
11. For what man knoweth? Two different things he intends to teach here: first, that the doctrine of the Gospel cannot be understood otherwise than by the testimony of the Holy Spirit; and secondly, that those who have a testimony of this nature from the Holy Spirit, have an assurance as firm and solid, as if they felt with their hands what they believe, for the Spirit is a faithful and indubitable witness. This he proves by a similitude drawn from our own spirit: for every one is conscious of his own thoughts, and on the other hand what lies hid in any man’s heart, is unknown to another. In the same way what is the counsel of God, and what his will, is hid from all mankind, for “who hath been his counselor?” (Ro 11:34.) It is, therefore, a secret recess, inaccessible to mankind; but, if the Spirit of God himself introduces us into it, or in other words, makes us acquainted with those things that are otherwise hid from our view, there will then be no more ground for hesitation, for nothing that is in God escapes the notice of the Spirit of God.
This similitude, however, may seem to be not altogether very appropriate, for as the tongue bears an impress of the mind, mankind communicate their dispositions to each other, so that they become acquainted with each other’s thoughts. Why then may we not understand from the word of God what is his will? For while mankind by pretenses and falsehoods in many cases conceal their thoughts rather than discover them, this cannot happen with God, whose word is undoubted truth, and his genuine and lively image. We must, however, carefully observe how far Paul designed to extend this comparison. A man’s innermost thought, of which others are ignorant, is perceived by himself alone: if he afterwards makes it known to others, this does not hinder but that his spirit alone knows what is in him. For it may happen that he does not persuade: it may even happen that he does not properly express his own meaning; but even if he attains both objects, this statement is not at variance with the other — that his own spirit alone has the true knowledge of it. There is this difference, however, between God’s thoughts and those of men, that men mutually understand each other; but the word of God is a kind of hidden wisdom, the loftiness of which is not reached by the weakness of the human intellect. Thus the light shineth in darkness, (Joh 1:5,) aye and until the Spirit opens the eyes of the blind.
The spirit of a man Observe, that the spirit of a man is taken here for the soul, in which the intellectual faculty, as it is called, resides. For Paul would have expressed himself inaccurately if he had ascribed this knowledge to man’s intellect, or in other words, the faculty itself, and not to the soul, which is endued with the power of understanding.
12. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world He heightens by contrast the certainty of which he had made mention. “The Spirit of revelation,” says he, “which we have received, is not of the world, so as to be merely creeping upon the ground, so as to be subject to vanity, or be in suspense, or vary or fluctuate, or hold us in doubt and perplexity. On the contrary, it is from God, and hence it is above all heavens, of solid and unvarying truth, and placed above all risk of doubt.”
It is a passage that is most abundantly clear, for refuting that diabolical doctrine of the Sophists as to a constant hesitancy on the part of believers. For they require all believers to be in doubt, whether they are in the grace of God or not, and allow of no assurance of salvation, but what hangs on moral or probable conjecture. In this, however, they overthrow faith in two respects: for first they would have us be in doubt, whether we are in a state of grace, and then afterwards they suggest a second occasion of doubt — as to final perseverance. 120 Here, however, the Apostle declares in general terms, that the elect have the Spirit given them, by whose testimony they are assured that they have been adopted to the hope of eternal salvation. Undoubtedly, if they would maintain their doctrine, they must of necessity either take away the Spirit of God from the elect, or make even the Spirit himself subject to uncertainty. Both of these things are openly at variance with Paul’s doctrine. Hence we may know the nature of faith to be this, that conscience has from the Holy Spirit a sure testimony of the good-will of God towards it, so that, resting upon this, it does not hesitate to invoke God as a Father. Thus Paul lifts up our faith above the world, that it may look down with lofty disdain upon all the pride of the flesh; for otherwise it will be always timid and wavering, because we see how boldly human ingenuity exalts itself, the haughtiness of which requires to be trodden under foot by the sons of God through means of an opposing haughtiness of heroical magnanimity. 121
That we may know the things that are given us by Christ. The word know is made use of to express more fully the assurance of confidence. Let us observe, however, that it is not acquired in a natural way, and is not attained by the mental capacity, but depends entirely on the revelation of the Spirit. The things that he makes mention of as given by Christ are the blessings that we obtain through his death and resurrection — that being reconciled to God, and having obtained remission of sins, we know that we have been adopted to the hope of eternal life, and that, being sanctified by the Spirit of regeneration, we are made new creatures, that we may live to God. In Eph 1:18, he says what amounts to the same thing —
“That ye may know what is the hope of your calling.”
13. Which things also we speak, not in the learned words, etc. He speaks of himself, for he is still employed in commending his ministry. Now it is a high commendation that he pronounces upon his preaching, when he says of it that it contains a secret revelation of the most important matters — the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the sum of our salvation, and the inestimable treasures of Christ, that the Corinthians may know how highly it ought to be prized. In the meantime he returns to the concession that he had made before — that his preaching had not been adorned with any glitter of words, and had no luster of elegance, but was contented with the simple doctrine of the Holy Spirit. By the learned words of human wisdom 122 he means those that savor of human learning, and are polished according to the rules of the rhetoricians, or blown up with philosophical loftiness, with a view to excite the admiration of the hearers. The words taught by the Spirit, on the other hand, are such as are adapted to a pure and simple style, corresponding to the dignity of the Spirit, rather than to an empty ostentation. For in order that eloquence may not be wanting, we must always take care that the wisdom of God be not polluted with any borrowed and profane luster. Paul’s manner of teaching was of such a kind, that the power of the Spirit shone forth in it single and unattired, without any foreign aid.
Spiritual things with spiritual Συγκρινεσθαι is used here, I have no doubt, in the sense of adapt This is sometimes the meaning of the word, 123 (as Budaeus shows by a quotation from Aristotle,)and hence συγκριμα is used to mean what is knit together or glued together, and certainly it suits much better with Paul’s context than compare or liken, as others have rendered it. He says then that he adapts spiritual things to spiritual, in accommodating the words to the subject; 124 that is, he tempers that heavenly wisdom of the Spirit with a simple style of speech, and of such a nature as carries in its front the native energy of the Spirit. In the meantime he reproves others, who, by an affected elegance of expression and show of refinement, endeavor to obtain the applause of men, as persons who are either devoid of solid truth, or, by unbecoming ornaments, corrupt the spiritual doctrine of God.
1 Corinthians 2:14-16
14. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
14. Animalis autem homo non comprehendit quae sunt Spiritus Dei. Sunt enim illi stultitia; nec potest intelligere, quia spiritualiter diiudicantur.
15. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet himself is judged of no man.
15. Spiritualis autem diiudicat omnia, ipsc vero a neminc (vel, nullo) diiudicatur.
16. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
16. Quis enim cognovit mentem Domini, qui adjuvet ipsum? nos autem mentem Christi habemus.
14. But the animal man. 125 By the animal man he does not mean (as is commonly thought) the man that is given up to gross lusts, or, as they say, to his own sensuality, but any man that is endowed with nothing more than the faculties 126 of nature. 127 This appears from the corresponding term, for he draws a comparison between the animal man and the spiritual As the latter denotes the man whose understanding is regulated by the illumination of the Spirit of God, there can be no doubt that the former denotes the man that is left in a purely natural condition, as they speak. For the soul 128 belongs to nature, but the Spirit is of supernatural communication.
He returns to what he had previously touched upon, for his object is to remove a stumblingblock which might stand in the way of the weak — that there were so many that despised the gospel. He shows that we ought to make no account of a contempt of such a nature as proceeds from ignorance, and that it ought, consequently, to be no hindrance in the way of our going forward in the race of faith, unless perhaps we choose to shut our eyes upon the brightness of the sun, because it is not seen by the blind. It would, however, argue great ingratitude in any individual, when God bestows upon him a special favor, to reject it, on the ground of its not being common to all, whereas, on the contrary, its very rareness ought to enhance its value. 129
For they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them. “The doctrine of the gospel,” says he, “is insipid 130 in the view of all that are wise merely in the view of man. But whence comes this? It is from their own blindness. In what respect, then, does this detract from the majesty of the gospel?” In short, while ignorant persons depreciate the gospel, because they measure its value by the estimation in which it is held by men, Paul derives an argument from this for extolling more highly its dignity. For he teaches that the reason why it is contemned is that it is unknown, and that the reason why it is unknown is that it is too profound and sublime to be apprehended by the understanding of man. What a superior wisdom 131 this is, which so far transcends all human understanding, that man cannot have so much as a taste of it! 132 While, however, Paul here tacitly imputes it to the pride of the flesh, that mankind dare to condemn as foolish what they do not comprehend, he at the same time shows how great is the weakness or rather bluntness of the human understanding, when he declares it to be incapable of spiritual apprehension. For he teaches, that it is not owing simply to the obstinacy of the human will, but to the impotency, also, of the understanding, that man does not attain to the things of the Spirit. Had he said that men are not willing to be wise, that indeed would have been true, but he states farther that they are not able. Hence we infer, that faith is not in one’s own power, but is divinely conferred.
Because they are spiritually discerned That is, the Spirit of God, from whom the doctrine of the gospel comes, is its only true interpreter, to open it up to us. Hence in judging of it, men’s minds must of necessity be in blindness until they are enlightened by the Spirit of God. 133 Hence infer, that all mankind are by nature destitute of the Spirit of God: otherwise the argument would be inconclusive. It is from the Spirit of God, it is true, that we have that feeble spark of reason which we all enjoy; but at present we are speaking of that special discovery of heavenly wisdom which God vouchsafes to his sons alone. Hence the more insufferable the ignorance of those who imagine that the gospel is offered to mankind in common in such a way that all indiscriminately are free 134 to embrace salvation by faith.
15. But the spiritual man judgeth all things. Having stripped of all authority man’s carnal judgment, he now teaches, that the spiritual alone are fit judges as to this matter, inasmuch as God is known only by his Spirit, and it is his peculiar province to distinguish between his own things and those of others, to approve of what is his own, and to make void all things else. The meaning, then, is this: “Away with all the discernment of the flesh as to this matter! It is the spiritual man alone that has such a firm and solid acquaintance with the mysteries of God, as to distinguish without fail between truth and falsehood — between the doctrine of God and the contrivances of man, so as not to fall into mistake. 135 He, on the other hand, is judged by no man, because the assurance of faith is not subject to men, as though they could make it totter at their nod, 136 it being superior even to angels themselves.” Observe, that this prerogative is not ascribed to the man as an individual, but to the word of God, which the spiritual follow in judging, and which is truly dictated to them by God with true discernment. Where that is afforded, a man’s persuasion 137 is placed beyond the range of human judgment. Observe, farther, the word rendered judged: by which the Apostle intimates, that we are not merely enlightened by the Lord to perceive the truth, but are also endowed with a spirit of discrimination, so as not to hang in doubt between truth and falsehood, but are able to determine what we ought to shun and what to follow.
But here it may be asked, who is the spiritual man, and where we may find one that is endowed with so much light as to be prepared to judge of all things, feeling as we do, that we are at all times encompassed with much ignorance, and are in danger of erring: nay more, even those who come nearest to perfection from time to time fall and bruise themselves. The answer is easy: Paul does not extend this faculty to everything, so as to represent all that are renewed by the Spirit of God as exempt from every kind of error, but simply designs to teach, that the wisdom of the flesh is of no avail for judging of the doctrine of piety, and that this right of judgment and authority belong exclusively to the Spirit of God. In so far, therefore, as any one is regenerated, and according to the measure of grace conferred upon him, does he judge with accuracy and certainty, and no farther.
He himself is judged by no man. I have already explained on what ground he says that the spiritual man is not subject to the judgment of any man — because the truth of faith, which depends on God alone, and is grounded on his word, does not stand or fall according to the pleasure of men. 138 What he says afterwards, that
the spirit of one Prophet is subject to the other Prophets,
is not at all inconsistent with this statement. For what is the design of that subjection, but that each of the Prophets listens to the others, and does not despise or reject their revelations, in order that what is discovered to be the truth of God, 139 may at length remain firm, and be received by all? Here, however, he places the science of faith, which has been received from God, 140 above the height of heaven and earth, in order that it may not be estimated by the judgment of men. At the same time, ὕπ ᾿ οὐδενός may be taken in the neuter gender as meaning — by nothing, understanding it as referring to a thing, and not to a man. In this way the contrast will be more complete, 141 as intimating that the spiritual man, in so far as he is endowed with the Spirit of God, judgeth all things, but is judged by nothing, because he is not subject to any human wisdom or reason. In this way, too, Paul would exempt the consciences of the pious from all decrees, laws, and censures of men.
16. For who hath known? It is probable that Paul had an eye to what we read in the 40th chapter of Isaiah. The Prophet there asks,
Who hath been God’s counselor? Who hath weighed his Spirit, 142 (Isa 40:13,)
or hath aided him both in the creation of the world and in his other works? and, in fine, who hath comprehended the reason of his works? Now, in like manner Paul, by this interrogation, designs to teach, that his secret counsel which is contained in the gospel is far removed from the understanding of men. This then is a confirmation of the preceding statement.
But we have the mind of Christ. It is uncertain whether he speaks of believers universally, or of ministers exclusively. Either of these meanings will suit sufficiently well with the context, though I prefer to view it as referring more particularly to himself and other faithful ministers. 143 He says, then, that the servants of the Lord are taught by the paramount authority of the Spirit, what is farthest removed from the judgment of the flesh, that they may speak fearlessly as from the mouth of the Lord, — which gift flows out afterwards by degrees to the whole Church.
“Car je n’ay point eu en estime de scauoir aucune chose ou rien deli-ber~ de sqauoir entre vous:” — “I had nothing in esteem as knowledge; or, I determined to know nothing among you.”
Calvin refers to what he had said when commenting on an expression which occurs in 1Co 1:17 — not with wisdom of words.
Xenophon uses κρινω in the sense of choosing out, or preferring: in Mem. 4. 4, sec. 16, ουχ ὁπως τους αυτους χορους κρινωσιν οἱ πολιται — not that the citizens should prefer the dances.” See also Menander, prefer the same line 245, edit. Cleric. In the New Testament we find κρινω used in the sense of esteeming, in Ro 14:5. — Ed
“Ne fera point que ie n’aye en reuerence et admiration;” — “Will not prevent me from holding in reverence and admiration.”
“En infirmite ou foiblesse;” — “In weakness or feebleness.”
“Thrasones.” The appellation is borrowed from Thraso, a foolish captain in Terence (Eun. 3:1.) — Ed.
“Ne cognoissent ni eux ni la chose qu’ils ont entre mains;” — “They know not either themselves or the thing that they have in hand.”
This passage has largely exercised the ingenuity of critics, from the circumstance that the adjective πειθοῖς, occurring nowhere else in the New Testament, or in any of the writings of classical authors, it is supposed that there has been some corruption of the reading. Some suppose it to be a contraction or corruption of πείθανοις or πίθαςοις, and Chrysostom, in one or two instances, when quoting the passage, uses the adjective πίθανοις, while in other cases he has πειθοῖς It is perhaps in allusion to those instances in which Chrysostom makes use of the adjective πίθαςοις, that Calvin employs the phrase το πίθανον (persuasiveness.) Semler, after adducing various authorities, suggests the following reading: — ἐν πειθοῖ σοφαις taking πειθοῖ; as the dative of ἡ πειθω, (persuasion.) Bloomfield considers πειθοῖ, to be a highly probable reading, but prefers to retain πειθοῖς. — Ed
“Secrettement et doucement;” — “Secretly and softly.”
A figure of speech by which words change their cases with each other. — Ed.
“Thus we read, (Ge 25:27,) that Jacob was איש תם, “a perfect man,” i.e. without any manifest blemish. See also Job 1:1, 8. The corresponding word תמים, is frequently applied to the sacrificial victims, to denote their being without blemish Ex 12:5; Le 1:3. — Ed
“Il ne s’en rapporte pas a vn chacvn, mais requiert des luges entiers;” — “He does not submit the case to every one, but appeals to competent judges.”
“In allusion, it is generally thought, to the deep and dark caverns from which the heathen oracles gave forth their responses. Such was the cave (antrum) of the Cumean Sibyl, described by Virgil, AEn. 6:42-44, and also the cavern in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, described by Strabo (lib. 9.) “φασι δ ᾿ ειναι το μαντειον αντρον κοιλον μετα βαθους, ου μαλα ευροστομον;” — “They say that the oracle is a hollow cavern of considerable depth, but not at all wide in the opening.” — Ed
Locke, in accordance with Calvin’s view, understands Paul as if he had said: “Why do you make divisions, by glorying, as you do, in your distinct teachers? The glory that God has ordained us (Christian teachers and professors) to, is to be expounders, preachers, and believers of those revealed truths and purposes of God, which, though contained in the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament, were not understood in former ages.” — Ed.
“Vne zele de la loy desordonne et real regle;” — “An inordinate and ill regulated zeal for the law.”
The distinction drawn by Calvin is illustrated by a statement of Solomon in Pr 21:27. “The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more when he bringeth it with a wicked mind.” בזמה — “with a wicked design.” — Ed
“Assauoir, Fera, or Preparera;” — “Namely — He will do, or He will prepare.”
The word made use of by Isaiah is מחכה, which is a part of the verb חכה, to wait for, and Calvin’s meaning most probably is, that the “Greek interpreters had (from the resemblance between ב and כ) been led into the mistake of supposing it to be a part of the verb חבב, to love, while the corresponding part of the latter verb — מחובב, manifestly differs very widely from the word made use of by the Prophet. There appears, how ever, to have been an oversight, in this instance, on the part of Calvin, as the word in the Septuagint version is not the word made use of by the Apostle — ἀγαπῶσιν, “them that love” (him,) but (corresponding to the word made use of bythe Prophet ὑπομένουσιν, “them that wait for” (him.) It is not a little singular, that Clemens Romanus (Ep. ad Cor. Sect. 34.) quotes the words of Isaiah precisely as Paul quotes them, with the exception of the last clause, which he gives as follows: ὅσα ἡτοιμασε τοις ὑπομένουσιν αὐτὸν — “which he hath prepared for them that wait for him.” Some have supposed the citation to have been taken from one or other of the two Apocryphal books, entitled, “The Ascension of Esaiah,” and “The Apocalyps of Elias,” in both of which this passage was found, but, as is justly observed by Horne in his Introduction (volume 2,) “it is so near to the Hebrew here both in sense and words, that we cannot suppose it to be taken from any other source, nor in this case would the Apostle have introduced it with the formula of quotation — as it is written.” In accordance with Calvln’s remark, that “though the words are not the same, there is no real difference of meaning,” it is well observed by Poole in his Annotations, that “waiting for” God is “the certain product and effect of love to him.” — Ed
The reader will find this subject treated of at greater length in the Institutes, volume 2, p. 143. — Ed.
“Fondee en vne magnanimite heroique;” — “Founded upon a heroical magnanimity.”
“A similar rendering is given in some of the old English versions of the Scriptures. Thus, Wiclif’s version, (1380,) it is rendered “not in wise wordis of mannes wisdom:” in Tyndale’s version (1534) — “not in the connynge wordes of mannes wysdome: and in Rhemls version (1582) — “not in learned wordes of humane wisedom.” — Ed.
“Es bons autheurs;” — “In good authors.”
Beza’s view is substantially the same — “Verba rei accommodantes, ut, sicut spiritualia sunt quae docemus, neque sinceritas doctrinae caelestis ullis humanis commentis est depravata, ita spirituale sit nostrum illius docendae ghenus: — “Accommodating the words to the subject, so that as the things at we teach are spiritual, and the purity of heavenly doctrine is not corrupted by human contrivances, our mode of teaching it may in like manner be spiritual.” — Ed.
“Or l’homme naturel. A le traduire du Grec mot a mot, il y auroit l’homme animal;” — “But the natural man. Rendering the Greek literally it means the animal man.”
“Les facultes et graces;” — “The faculties and gifts.”
Beza’s definition of the term is much similar — “Homo non alia quam naturali animi luce praeditus;” — “A man that is not endowed with anything more than the natural light of the mind.” — Ed.
“Anima“ “the soul” corresponds to the Greek term ψυχη, and the Hebrew term נפש, while spiritus (spirit) corresponds to πνευμα and רוח; but Calvin employs the epithet animalis (animal) as a derivative from anima, (the soul,) and as designating the man whose soul is in a purely natural state — without supernatural illumination — in other words, the man of mere mind. — Ed
“D’autant qu’il est fait a peu de gens, d’autant doit-il estre trouue plus excellent;” — “The fewer it is conferred upon, it ought to be accounted so much the more valuable.”
“Et n’auoir point de goust;” — “And has no relish.”
“O quelle sagesse!“ — “O what wisdom!”
“Vn petit goust;” — “A slight taste.”
“The reader will find the Apostle’s statement respecting the “natural man” commented upon at some length in the Institutes, volume 1. — Ed.
Calvin obviously does not mean to deny that “all indiscriminately” are invited and warranted to “embrace salvation by faith.” He says in the Harmony, volume 3, “For since by his word he [God] calls all men indiscriminately to salvation, and since the end of preaching is, that all should betake themselves to his guardianship and protection, it may justly be said that he wills to gather all to himself.” His meaning is, that the will requires to be set free by the Spirit of God. — Ed.
“En cest endroit“ — “In this matter.”
“Pour estre ou n’estre point selon qu’il leur plaira;” — “So as to be or not to be, according as it shall please them.”
“Et foy;” — “And faith.”
“N’est point suiete au plaisir des hommes, pour estre ou n’estre point, selon qu’ils voudront;” — “It is not subject to the pleasure of men, so as to be, or not to be, according as they shall choose.”
“La pure verite du Seigneur;” — “The pure truth of the Lord.”
“Mais yci il establit et conferme la science de roy, laquelle les eleus recoyuent de Dieu;” — “But here he establishes and confirms the science of faith, which the elect have received from God.”
“Et expresse;” — “And exact.”
The expression made use of by Isaiah is, Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord? Our author, quoting from memory, seems to have had in his eye an expression that occurs in a preceding part of the same passage, “and weighed the mountains in scales.” — Ed.
Calvin, when alluding to this passage, as he evidently does in his Commentary on Ro 11:34, views the expression, We have the mind of Christ, as applicable to believers universally — “Nam et Paulus ipso alibi, postquam testatus erat onmia Dei mysteria ingenii nostri captum longe excedere, mox tamen subjicit, fideles tenere mentem Domini: quia non spiritum hujus mundi acceperint, sed a Deo sibi datum, per quem de incomprehensibili alioqui ejus bonitate edocentur;” — “For even Paul himself, in another place, after testifying that all the mysteries of God far exceed the capacity of our understanding, does nevertheless immediately add, that believers are in possession of the Lord’s mind, because they have received not the spirit of this world, but that which has been given them by God, whereby they are instructed as to his otherwise incomprehensible goodness.” — Ed.