Friday, 18 April 2014
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14
This is another highly abused verse within common Christian speech. It needs to be viewed from within the context given and with reasonable contemplation. Far too often, Christians will cite it as a demonstration of the impossibility of a non-believer being able to know, understand, or perceive anything found in the Bible. Likewise, they will cite it to demonstrate that they have access to all knowledge and are therefore authorities on the subject matter they desire to speak of. Both of these are immense misinterpretations of Paul’s intent.
He has been speaking of the contrast between human wisdom and the wisdom of God (which is the work of God in Jesus Christ). He has demonstrated that His work – the cross, the resurrection, etc. is God’s plan of salvation, something which is “foolishness” to those who reject this plan. To support this, he begins with “but.” This is given as the contrast to those things “which the Holy Spirit teaches.” The contrast is that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God.” The natural man is the Greek term psychikos de anthropos. The word psychikos is descriptive of the natural or lower aspect of humanity. It is earthly rather than heavenly. The word pneumatikos on the other hand is used to describe the spiritual aspect of man.
A great comparison of these two words is found in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul describes the contrast between the earthly and the spiritual man. In James’ epistle, he uses the term to describe earthly wisdom –
“This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.” James 3:15
Jude speaks in similar terms as well. Understanding that this is a state of the person, it should be noted that there are many Christians who act anything but spiritual. They have accepted Christ, but they aren’t focused on Him as Lord through much of their walk. This is exactly what James is talking about in his letter. Therefore, Paul’s words here cannot be taken as an example that Christians suddenly become the possessors of all spiritual knowledge, nor can it be used to say that non-believers have no ability to discern the contents of the Bible.
Instead, and what should be perfectly clear from the context, is that Paul is speaking of the very same matter he has been speaking of throughout the chapter (and even in the previous chapter). It is that the wisdom of God is displayed in the work of Jesus Christ. This is God’s special revelation concerning the redemptive process. Those who believe that one can answer all things through natural revelation (what can be perceived through creation), logic, and philosophy will inevitably reject the work of Jesus. To them it is foolishness that God would save people in such a way as this.
This is what Paul is referring to. Such things “are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Only through the spiritual knowledge imparted to us by God can we know the truth of the gospel. The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets and apostles, testifying to the work of Jesus Christ. They in turn gave us the Bible to read, accept, and believe.
The problem with misinterpreting this verse as many people do, is that they suddenly act upon it as if they have all the spiritual insight they need and it is available to them by daily injections of Holy Spirit power. When in fact, what they have available to them is the Bible – given by the Holy Spirit. The Bible, however, is a big, complicated, and often hard to grasp book. It takes immense study, contemplation, meditation, and care to fully grasp – and in fact, no one can truly plumb its depths.
Study is hard work and it involves expanding one’s mind, even to exhaustion. It is time-consuming and it requires much perseverance and dedication. These things are not now, nor have they ever been, very popular. Interestingly, many non-Christians – Jews, agnostics, and even professing atheists, know the Bible far better than most Christians. They discern many truths from it and they use it as a valuable source of knowledge and history. Because of this, it is obvious that Paul isn’t speaking on the terms of general knowledge and ability to perceive Scripture. He is speaking on the truth of what Scripture ultimately proclaims – Jesus Christ crucified.
Life application: Care needs to be taken to always keep verses in their proper context. Sometimes a whole chapter, or even more, is needed to properly discern the intent of just one verse. Running ahead with a verse like 1 Corinthians 2:14 without keeping it in its intended context can only lead to a pretext. It is harmful to sound interpretation and it inevitably will lead to know-it-alls who actually know very little. Be patient, studious, and determined in your pursuit of Bible knowledge and understanding.
Lord, I am so thankful to You for Your word. Please grant to me the heart to never misuse it, misquote it, or mishandle it. Give me wisdom to apply all it’s truths to my life and to grow in my knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.