1 Corinthians


3. Maintaining unity in the church, 1:11-4:21

ii] Secular reasoning and the gospel are mutually exclusive, 1:18-2:16

c) Human wisdom versus the Spirit and God's power


Paul continues to argue that human wisdom and the gospel are mutually exclusive, 1:18-2:5. In this third part of his argument, 2:1-5, Paul makes the point that his own preaching, during his time in Corinth, was not characterized by the kind of cleverness designed to impress an audience. So, in this passage the conflict between human wisdom and the foolishness of the cross is illustrated in Paul's preaching.


i] Context: See 1:11-17. As already noted , 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 divides into three paragraphs which together argue that human wisdom and the gospel are mutually exclusive. C. Clare Oke in Paul's Method, Not a Demonstration, but an Exhibition of the Spirit" says this of the gospel, as compared to secular wisdom: "The Divine and humbling non-contentious character of Christianity is shown ...... in three ways: by the gospel's obvious independence of human intelligence (1:18-25); by the lowly calibre of those called (1:26-31); and by the manner in which [Paul] consistently introduced the gospel at Corinth (2:1-5)".


ii] Background: See "Party Spirit in Corinth", 1:11-17.


iii] Structure: Paul's argument regarding the worth of his "weak" preaching presents in two parts:

The content of Paul's preaching, v1-2;

The form / style of Paul's preaching, v3-5.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul's preaching was not characterized by the kind of cleverness designed to impress an audience, but none-the-less it did prompt faith in the Corinthian believers, a fact which indicates that the gospel and human wisdom are mutually exclusive.


Regarding the criticism directed at Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:10 Paul admits that "his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account". Michael Bullmore (Paul's Theology of Rhetorical Style) notes that against the "public display oratory" of the time, Paul used "a simple and unaffected style which draws no attention to itself". Along with style, the content of Paul's preaching was very simple and uncomplicated; he proclaimed "Christ crucified." It seems likely that some members of the Corinthian congregation compared both the style and content of Paul's preaching with that of teachers who had followed up on Paul's ministry in Corinth. Obviously their oratory was viewed as superior, as was their "wisdom".


v] Comment:

The art of preaching is a hot topic with we clergy today. There was a time when all seemed well in the church; numbers were high and we were confident. In that environment expository preaching was widely accepted in conservative church circles. The method was simple enough. First, exegete a unit of scripture (what is the writer saying in the original setting?). Second, identify the central truth in the passage along with its sub points, if any. Third, apply the truth of the passage to God's people today.

These days we are no longer as confident as we used to be. We fear that the exposition of Biblical truth does not seem to have the same holding power. We see our congregations getting smaller and we observe that the church which employs the dynamic preacher is the church that gets bigger and bigger. So, we are faced with the pressure to compromise our preaching. Preaching that addresses the "me", the "I", addresses my problems, my needs, an existential rather than objective reality. With our decreased confidence we adopt the technologies of our age - powerful rhetoric, polished oratory, reinforced with electronic media and mediums. Visualization, music, entertainment technology.... all increase the impact, but not necessarily the impact of truth. The medium becomes the message, a medium more in tune with "human wisdom."

It's not always easy to rely on nothing more than "Christ and him crucified".


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 2:1

True wisdom illustrated in Paul's own preaching, v1-5. Paul opens by stating that just as all human boasting is eliminated by God through the cross and the "lowly" status of the people of God, so it is also eliminated in the preaching of their founding apostle. Paul reminds his readers that his preaching was "not in such a way as to distinguish myself", Conzelmann.

kagw "- / and so it was with me" - and I. Possibly emphatic = "I too am weak, as you are, for when I came to you ....", but more likely serving to indicate a major step in the argument.

elqwn (ercomai) aor. part. "when I came" - having come. The participle is adverbial, probably temporal, as NIV; "When I came to visit you", TH.

adelfoi (oV) "brothers" - "My fellow believers".

kaq (kata) + acc. "with" - More often than not expressing a standard, "in accordance with", but here possibly serving to introduce an adverbial prepositional phrase expressing manner; Lit., "I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you with elaborate words or wisdom."

logou (oV) "eloquence" - [excellence, superiority] of speech, word. This genitive, as with sofiaV, "of wisdom", is best taken as adjectival, attributed; "sublime words", Zerwick, "lofty speech or wisdom", ESV.

soqiaV (a) "human wisdom" - of skill, wisdom. "I did not come proclaiming .... with any special kind of rhetorical or philosophical brilliance", Barclay.

kataggellwn (kataggellw) pres. part. "as I proclaimed" - announcing, proclaiming, declaring, preaching. The participle is adverbial, probably modal, expressing the manner of Paul's coming; Paul came preaching.

uJmin dat. pro. "to you" - Dative of indirect object.

to musthrion "the testimony" - the mystery. Accusative direct object of the participle "proclaiming". Variant marturion, "witness, testimony", but musthrion is probably original, so Metzger, Garland, Fitzmyer, Thiselton, ... contra Fee, Naylor, .... The "mystery" is the revelation of God's grace in Christ, once hidden, now revealed, ie. the gospel; "let you in on God's master-stroke", Peterson.

tou qeou (oV) "about God" - of God. When "testimony/witness" is read, the genitive "of God" is usually treated as subjective, as NIV, although objective is possible, ie., "Paul's witness about God and his acts in Christ", Thiselton, even ablative, expressing source / origin. The genitive is best treated as adjectival, expressing quality or possession, not just any mystery, but the divine type that entails the content of Christian preaching, namely the gospel.


Paul testified to "Jesus Christ and him crucified." The "know nothing" may imply that he said nothing else, but we have many examples of Paul's preaching and we know he did cover a whole range of topics in his desire to make Christ known. Nor should we think he spoke only of "him crucified". Paul's teaching is extensive, but he does emphasize the "foolishness" of the cross.

gar "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why Paul did not preach in "lofty words and wisdom", NRSV.

ekrina (krinw) aor. "I resolved" - I decided, determined, I chose. "I made up my mind."

eidenai (oida) perf. inf. "to know" - to know, recognize. The infinitive forms an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what Paul decided "to know"; "I decided that I know ......." "Know" in the sense of an act of resolution, or of firm, considered decision, BAGD. "I had in fact made up my mind that ....", Barclay.

ou .... ti "nothing" - not ... a certain thing, something, anything. The NIV, as with the NRSV, has linked the negation ou with "anything" giving the meaning "nothing", ie. Paul determined to apply his mind to the message of the cross alone. None-the-less, the negation may also go with: i] eidenai, "to know" = "not to know any thing", AV, ie., Paul determined to only apply his mind to the message of the cross, "I made up my mind to speak only about Jesus Christ", CEV; ii] ekrina "resolved" = "I did not resolve" = "I refused", ie., Paul only determined to apply himself to the message of the cross, cf. Thiselton; iii] The whole clause, cf. Fee. Either way, the sense is clear, although clouded by the negative, so best stated positively, "[In my ministry to you] I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did - Jesus crucified", Peterson.

en + dat. "while I was with [you]" - in [you]. Somewhat elliptical. The preposition here is possibly temporal, as NIV, although Paul obviously spoke on other things while he was with the Corinthians. Paul probably has the focus of his preaching ministry in mind, so "in my preaching to you", Barclay.

ei mh "except" - except. Introducing an exceptive clause expressing a contrast by designating an exception. Other than "Christ and him crucified" there was nothing else that Paul wanted to focus on while he was ministering to the Corinthians.

kai "and" - and. Somewhat epexegetic. As brought out by Peterson above, there are two focal points to Paul's word ministry, "Jesus Christ and him crucified."

touton estaurwmenon (staurow) perf. pas. part. "him crucified" - this one having been crucified. Accusative direct object of the verb "to know." The personal pronoun touton, "him", fails to draw out the independence of this second phrase, but "this one / himself crucified" is strained. The participle with touton, "this one", may be taken as a substantive, or adjectival, limiting "this one", "Christ who has been crucified." The perfect tense expresses ongoing consequences, so not his "crucifixion" as such, "him upon his cross", Barclay, but better "the fact of his death upon the cross", Phillips, or just "Christ crucified", Thiselton.


Paul goes on to speak of his weak preaching. His weakness is possibly some physical condition. The common argument is that it had something to do with his sight. Yet, here his "weakness" probably has more to do with the inadequacy of his preaching as against the confident self-promotion of an audience-pleasing performer. He also admits he was overwhelmed by fear. Yet this weakness, in a sense, confirms his gospel ministry.

kagw "and I" - = kai + agw. Note the repetition of kai in this verse; a polysyndton, the piling up of connectives for emphatic effect.

egenomhn (ginomai) aor. "came [to you]" - was become [to you]. With proV to give the sense "come to", as NIV.

en + dat. "in" - in. The three uses of the preposition in this verse are probably adverbial, modal, expressing manner, the manner/method by which the action is performed. Paul came to the Corinthians "with" a sense of his "own inadequacy, .... apprehensive and very (the intensifier pollw/ "much") nervous", Barclay. Paul's sense of inadequacy is expressed beside the social inadequacy of the Corinthian congregation, 1:26-31, and therefore it is likely that his inadequacy is that of a Jewish religious teacher whose oratory compares poorly with "the confident self-promotion .... of an audience-pleasing performer", Thiselton.


For the spiritual in the church at Corinth, "speaking in the Spirit" was done by revealing profound and secret wisdom in a dynamic and persuasive way. In contrast, Paul's presentation was foolish and weak. Yet, God's power is made manifest through weakness and so through his preaching there was a demonstration of "the Spirit and power" in the conversion of a remnant out of the darkness that infested Corinth. The Spirit's power was manifest in the transformation of people's lives.

mou gen. pro. "my" - [the word] of me. Adjectival, possessive, but given the active sense of "word / speech, the genitive is often classified as verbal, subjective.

oJ logoV "message" - the word. Probably the message/content of the gospel. Paul may be using "message" here in the sense of "teaching", so both his "teaching" and "preaching" were orientated to communicating truth rather than winning someone over by "fancy mental or emotional footwork", Peterson.

to khrugma (a atoV) "preaching" - preaching, proclamation. The communication of the gospel.

en + dat. "with" - in. Again this preposition, with its other use in this verse, is probably being used adverbially, expressing manner/method, "with", but possibly also a locative sense, "was not couched in wise and persuasive words", or an instrumental sense, "by", "by the undeniable presence of the Spirit and power", Barclay.

sofiaV (a) gen. "wise [and persuasive words]" - [persuasive words] of wisdom. The text is somewhat disturbed here. The variant anqrwpinhV "human / of man's wisdom", AV, is now rejected by most commentators. The variant logoiV" ,Words of wisdom", is accepted by some." The phrase may simply be "by persuasion of wisdom" = "persuasive wisdom", taking the genitive sofiaV, "wisdom", as adjectival, attributed. The word "persuasion", read as a dative singular of peiqoV, refers to the oratorical skill of persuasion, with sofiaV, "wisdom / skill" = "clever", so "by clever persuasion/rhetoric." Paul is simply saying he didn't use the rhetorical skill of persuasion while he was ministering in Corinth; his teaching and preaching "was not delivered in professionally persuasive language", Barclay.

alla "but" - Adversative.

apodeixei (iV ewV) "a demonstration" - a proof, demonstration, evidence. It seems likely that Paul has in mind the technical aspect of this word, "a compelling conclusion drawn from the premises .... a clear proof", Fee. The proposition upon which Paul's teaching and preaching rests, namely the gospel, finds its verification/proof, not in powerful or skillful oratory, but in the evidential fruit of a powerful God, namely converted sinners. "A transparent proof", Thiselton.

pneumatoV (a atoV) gen. "of the Spirit's" - of spirit. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, subjective; see "power" below. Either "the Holy Spirit" is intended or simply "spirit" as in "spiritual", the inward human spirit, that part of our being which enables us to relate to God ("the affective and willing self", Fitzmyer), giving the sense "a demonstration of spirit and power", NAB. "The Holy Spirit" is read by most translations. Of course, Paul may not be personifying the Spirit at this point, but rather referring to "the presence and controlling influence of God in a creative, prophetic, or renovating way", Fitzmyer. "I simply let God's Spirit show his power", CEV.

kai "-" - [of spirit] and [power]. The NIV has opted for a hendiadys where a single idea is expressed by two words joined by kai, "and". So, either " by the Spirit's power", or "by spiritual power", REB. Either way, Paul's preaching verified itself since "the gospel is the power of God unto salvation"; it carries its own built-in supernatural conviction - "it is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord God almighty." The evidence of this fact is found in changed lives - seekers saved.

dunamewV (iV ewV) gen. "power" - of power. The two genitives, "S/spirit" and "power" are usually treated as objective genitives where Paul's teaching and preaching itself verifies/proves "the convincing power of the Spirit", NJB. Yet, subjective would seem more likely where Paul's teaching and preaching is verified/proved by "the Spirit's power". Possibly just adjectival, "a proof which consists of the Spirit's power." The point is, "the supernatural conviction and force that accompanied the preaching furnished a better proof of its truth than any logical process (persuasion)", Bruce. That "conviction and force" was, of course, God's saving power, the very power which gathered the Corinthian congregation.


Finally, Paul states that God's use of the foolishness of the message and the weakness of the preacher, has a clear intention. Salvation rests on God's work in Christ's death and resurrection, the hearing of that work through the proclamation of the gospel, and a response of faith. In simple terms, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and not oratory. A saving response of faith can only rest on the gospel; if it rests on eloquence or philosophical wisdom, it's worthless.

iJna + subj. "so that" - that. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose.

uJmwn gen. pro. "your" - [the faith] of you. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, although usually classified as verbal, subjective.

hJ pistiV (iV ewV) "faith" - Here a reliance on the gospel message, a message concerning the divine promise of mercy realized in the redemptive work of Christ. "The message of the cross, which is folly to the wise, is the saving power of God to those who believe", Fee.

en + dat. "[might not] rest on" - [may not be] on. The preposition here is local, expressing space / sphere in a metaphorical sense giving the sense "stand / rest on", "be based on", Zerwick; "might have for its foundation", Cassirer.

anqrwpwn (oV) gen. "human [wisdom]" - [wisdom] of men. The genitive may be adjectival, possessive, as NIV, or ablative, source / origin; "the wisdom that originates from men." So also dunamei qeou, "the power of God" = "the power that belongs to God", or "the power that comes from God."


1 Corinthians Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]