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Proclaiming Christ Crucified


When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

The True Wisdom of God

6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

nor the human heart conceived,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.


“For who has known the mind of the Lord

so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

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?” (Romans 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, (John 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. 120120     The reader will find this subject treated of at greater length in the Institutes, volume 2, p. 143. — Ed. 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. 121121     “Fondee en vne magnanimite heroique;” — “Founded upon a heroical magnanimity.”

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 Ephesians 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 122122     “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. 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, 123123     “Es bons autheurs;” — “In good authors.” (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; 124124     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. 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.

14. But the animal man. 125125     “Or lhomme 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.” 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 126126     “Les facultes et graces;” — “The faculties and gifts.” of nature. 127127     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. 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 128128     “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 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. 129129     “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.”

For they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them. “The doctrine of the gospel,” says he, “is insipid 130130     “Et n’auoir point de goust;” — “And has no relish.” 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 131131     “O quelle sagesse!“ — “O what wisdom!” this is, which so far transcends all human understanding, that man cannot have so much as a taste of it! 132132     “Vn petit goust;” — “A slight taste.” 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. 133133     “The reader will find the Apostle’s statement respecting the “natural man” commented upon at some length in the Institutes, volume 1. — Ed. 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 134134     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. 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. 135135     “En cest endroit“ — “In this matter.” 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, 136136     “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.” 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 137137     “Et foy;” — “And faith.” 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. 138138     “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.” What he says afterwards, that

the spirit of one Prophet is subject to the other Prophets,
(1 Corinthians 14:32,)

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, 139139     “La pure verite du Seigneur;” — “The pure truth of the Lord.” may at length remain firm, and be received by all? Here, however, he places the science of faith, which has been received from God, 140140     “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.” 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, 141141     “Et expresse;” — “And exact.” 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, 142142     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. (Isaiah 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. 143143     Calvin, when alluding to this passage, as he evidently does in his Commentary on Romans 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. 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.

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