Remember when I was slowly working my way through 1 Corinthians, before other matters intruded? As always, these are the unlicensed thoughts of a New Testament amateur.
6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
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. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Jump ahead for a moment to 1 Corinthians 3:1. There, Paul puts the Corinthians in their place: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” They are not among the “mature” that Paul suggests he speaks wisdom among in 2:6. Paul’s argument is deliberately exclusionary: having established that the cross is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, he then explicitly affirms that there is a wisdom within it—but it is a wisdom which is hidden, veiled from the rulers of this world who otherwise would not have “crucified the Lord of glory.” I tend in my own thinking to associate Paul’s affirmation that ’no eye has seen, no ear has heard’ with the riches of glory laid up for us in heaven, in large part because of my deep affinity with Bottom’s mangling of it after seeing the Fairy Queen in Midsummer Night’s Dream. And in one way it does. But it comes not at the apex of Paul’s soaring ascent into the eschatological vision of 1 Corinthians 13 and 14, but within his discourse on how the cross disturbs and overcomes the falacious wisdom of this world.
It is not any wisdom, though, that Paul speaks among the mature. And this point cannot be stressed too much for understanding the dialectic between ‘fleshly’ and ‘spiritual’ that Paul here introduces. It is a wisdom of God which is revealed in the mystery, prepared from ages in advance—the wisdom of His own providential ordering of salvation, the revelation of His own life and love to the world in Jesus Christ. In other words, it is a wisdom which is ordered and determined by the covenant. This things God reveals to us through the Spirit, who searches out the ‘deep things of God’ and discovers for us the meaning and significance of the economy of God’s salvific acts, beginning in the Old Testament and carrying on into the New.
Thus Paul’s distinction between the ‘spiritual’ man and the ‘natural’ man: The “spiritual” who judges all things, and is judged by no one (2:15) has been formed and determined by the revelation of God within this economy. The Spirit of God has a shape, in other words, in his perfecting work and empowering presence—the shape of Jesus Christ. The ‘natural’ man who has not received the Spirit is unable to see the disclosure of God’s own revelation within His acts in history. Indeed, he finds such a significance foolish, and with those rulers of the world who crucified the Lord of glory is lost in his ignorance.
Yet framing the ‘wisdom’ we have received this way does not utterly undo the anthropological dimension of Paul’s thought here, nor the possible dualisms which seem to arise within it. Note that there is a dialectic of inner and outer within Paul’s thought. No one is able to know the “things of man except the spirit of man which is in him.” Paul draws a corollary to God here, associating the same claim with the Holy Spirit. But the anthropological side is of as much interest to me. There is a depth to the human being, a fundamental inaccessibility of our own persons—except to the spirit which is in us. We speak these days of “consciousness”—but the term is too thin to capture the kind of deep self-reflectiveness and reflexivity that Paul’s point captures. Paul introduces here the theme of judgment, which will be a recurring theme in the rest of the book (4:3-4, 9:3, 10:25-27, 14:24). There’s a hidden corollary in Paul’s thought here that having received the Spirit of God, who searches out the ‘deep things of God,’ we are within that same Spirit given a deeper knowledge of the otherwise impenetrable depths of the ‘spirit of man’ which is in us. This corollary will only become fully clear at the end of 1 Corinthians 13, when Paul announces that in the eschaton “I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
There isn’t much of immediate ethical significance here. But it is indispensable work for understanding the way in which Paul will form his moral judgments later in the book, and the anthropology that he will continue to develop.