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Three Categories of Humans

Notes & Transcripts

Three Categories of Humans

1 Corinthians 2:1-3:3a

Paul had two basic purposes for writing 1 Corinthians: (1) to reprove the Corinthian Christians for the flagrant sins that were being permitted in the church; and (2) to answer their questions about Christian life and doctrine (which they appear to have asked in a letter they wrote to him). (READ 1 CO 2:1-5) In chapter 2 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul remembers back to the time when first he came to Corinth, and three things stand out.

(i) He came speaking in simplicity. It is worth noting that Paul had come to Corinth from Athens. It was at Athens that, for the only time in his life, as far as we know, he had attempted to reduce Christianity to philosophic terms. There, on Mars’ Hill, he had met the philosophers and had tried to speak in their own language (Acts 17:22–31); and it was there that he had one of his very few failures. His sermon in terms of philosophy had had very little effect (Acts 17:32–34). It would almost seem that he had said to himself, “Never again! From henceforth I will tell the story of Jesus in utter simplicity. I will never again try to wrap it up in human categories. I will know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him upon his Cross.”[1]

(ii) He came speaking in fear. Here we have to be careful to understand. It was not fear for his own safety; still less was it that he was ashamed of the gospel that he was preaching. It was what has been called “the trembling anxiety to perform a duty.” The very phrase which he uses here of himself Paul also uses of the way in which conscientious slaves should serve and obey their masters. (Ephesians 6:5). It is not the man who approaches a great task without a tremor who does it really well. The really great actor is he who is wrought up before the performance; the really effective preacher is he whose heart beats faster while he waits to speak. The man who has no nervousness, no tension, in any task, may give an efficient performance; but it is the man who has this trembling anxiety who can produce an effect which artistry alone can never achieve.1

(iii) He came with results and not with words alone. The result of Paul’s preaching was that things happened. He says that his preaching was unanswerably demonstrated to be true by the Spirit and by power. The word he uses is the word for the most stringent possible proof, the kind against which there can be no argument. What was it? It was the proof of changed lives. Something re-creating had entered into the polluted society of Corinth.1

As God had determined to save people not by human wisdom but by the Gospel, Paul, when he appeared in Corinth, came neither as an orator nor as a philosopher, but simply as a witness (verses 1–2). He had no confidence in himself but relied for success exclusively on the demonstration of the Spirit (verses 3–4). The true foundation of faith is not reason, but the testimony of God (verse 5).[2]

(READ VV. 6 – 8)


V.6 - The wisdom (σοφία: the capacity to understand and function accordingly, wisdom. natural wisdom that belongs to this world; transcendent wisdom is wisdom that God imparts to those who are close to God.) shown in the gospel is divine in its origin (vv. 6, 7). We speak wisdom among those who are mature (τέλειος: Xð perfect; perfect, complete, expert ... | BDAG) or full-grown. Yet it is not the wisdom of this age, nor would it be wisdom in the eyes of the rulers of this age. Their wisdom is a perishable thing which, like themselves, is born for one brief day. [3]

In the early Church there was a quite clear distinction between two kinds of instruction. (i) There was what was called Kerygma. Kerygma means a herald’s an announcement from a king; and this was plain announcement of the basic facts of Christianity, the announcement of the facts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and his coming again. (ii) There was what was called Didache. Didache means teaching; and this was the explanation of the meaning of the facts which had already been announced. Obviously it is a second stage for those who have already received kerygma.[4]


V.7 - We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery. A mystery (μυστήριον: (God’s) secret; transcendent/ultimate reality, secret | BDAG) is a NT truth not previously revealed, but now made known to believers by the apostles and prophets of the early Church Age. This mystery is the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory. The mystery of the gospel includes such wonderful truths as the fact that now Jews and Gentiles are made one in Christ; that the Lord Jesus will come and take His waiting people home to be with Himself; and that not all believers will die but all will be changed. 4


V.8 - The rulers of this age may refer to demonic spirit beings in the heavenlies or to their human agents on earth. They didn’t understand the hidden wisdom of God (Christ on a cross) or realize that their murder of the Holy Son of God would result in their own destruction. Had they known the ways of God, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.[5]


(READ VV. 9)

V.9 – Verse 9 may be a free quotation from Isaiah 64:4 and 65:17. (Many translations footnote those verses as cross references to Verse 9.) Usually when you see the phrase “As it is written” the Bible is stating that what follows is a direct quotation of another part of scripture. Here, however, it is not, in this case, the form of quotation, but is rather equivalent to saying, “To use the language of Scripture …”. Here the apostle most likely did not intend to quote any one passage of Scripture but to appeal to its authority for a clearly revealed truth. It is certainly taught in the Old Testament that the human mind cannot penetrate into the counsels of God; his purposes can only be known by a supernatural revelation. This is the truth for which the apostle cites the authority of the Old Testament. There is, therefore, not the slightest ground for imputing failure of memory or an erroneous interpretation to the inspired apostle.[6]

Verse 9 is often memorized. But it is also frequently misapplied. This verse has often been misunderstood to mean that while we are in the body we will never be able to understand what the Lord plans for His people. As J Vernon McGee said, “There are certain things which cannot be attained by human means. You cannot discover God by searching for Him. The things which God has prepared for them who love Him are not gotten through the eye-gate, the ear-gate, or by reasoning. Then how are you going to get them?”[7] Paul is not referring to the wonders of heaven, but to the wisdom God has prepared for believers. His point is that the natural eyes, ears, and hearts of men cannot know or comprehend His wisdom. It is prepared only for those who love Him.[8]

(READ VV. 10-12)

V.10 - There are many things we can learn by studying the Bible—such as the history of it, the poetry of it—but we cannot get spiritual truths that way. Why? Because “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” There are certain things that only the Spirit of God can reveal to us. “for the Spirit searches all things, even the cdepths of God.”

Depthsβάθος (1) the space or distance beneath a surface; (2) Something nonphysical perceived to be so remote that it is difficult to assess.[9]

In V.11, Paul says that the only person who can tell us about God is the Spirit of God. He uses a human analogy. There are feelings which are so personal, things which are so private, experiences which are so intimate that no one knows them except a man’s own spirit. Paul argues that the same is true of God. There are deep and intimate things in him which only his Spirit knows; and that Spirit is the only person who can lead us into really intimate knowledge of God. This verse aims to illustrate two points. First, just as no one knows the thoughts of a man but the man himself, so no one knows the thoughts of God except God himself. Therefore, no one but a divine person is competent to make a revelation of the thoughts and purposes of God. Second, as every man does know his own thoughts, so the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God. His knowledge of what is in God is analogous to that which we have of the contents of our own consciousness.[10]


A parallel passage to V.11 is Proverbs 20:27:

     27     A person’s breath is the lamp of the Lord,

          searching the innermost parts. o p 


In V.12 he says that even then it is not every man who can understand these things. Paul speaks about interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people. The apostle has set forth two sources of knowledge: the human and the divine. One is the informing principle that is in man; the other is the informing principle that is of God. And Paul asserts that the source of the wisdom or knowledge that he communicated was not the former, but the latter. It was not human reason, but the Spirit of God. The spirit of the world does not here mean a worldly disposition or temper; spirit is that which knows and teaches. The spirit of the world is, therefore, another way of saying reason, which is the principle of knowledge in men. When Paul says he had not received that spirit, he means that human reason was not the source of the knowledge he communicated. The Spirit who is from God is the Holy Spirit proceeding from God and sent by him as our instructor. To “receive” the Spirit is to be the subject of his influence. Who is meant by those who receive the Spirit therefore depends on the context and on the nature of the influences spoken of. [11]


The Spirit indwells believers (v. 12). The very moment you trusted Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God entered your body and made it His temple (1 Cor. 6:19–20). He baptized you (identified you) into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). He sealed you (Eph. 1:13–14) and will remain with you (John 14:16). He is God’s gift to you. [12]


(READ VV. 13-16)

How he does it (2:13–16): This is accomplished through the Scriptures and through making His Word rhema (revelation in our spirit from the Holy Spirit).

·        The Spirit teaches (v. 13). Jesus promised that the Spirit would teach us (John 14:26) and guide us into truth (John 16:13). But we must note carefully the sequence here: the Spirit taught Paul from the Word, and Paul then taught the believers. The truth of God is found in the Word of God. And it is very important to note that these spiritual truths are given in specific words. In the Bible, we have much more than inspired thoughts; we have inspired words. “For I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me” (John 17:8). How does the Spirit teach the believer? He compares “spiritual things with spiritual.” He reminds us of what He has taught us (John 14:26), relates that truth to something new, and then leads us into new truth and new applications of old truth. What a joy it is to sit before the pages of the Bible and let the Spirit reveal God’s truth. The trouble is, many Christians are too busy for this kind of quiet meditation. What enrichment they are missing![13]

·        The Spirit matures the believer (vv. 14–16). The contrast here is between the saved person (called “spiritual” because he is indwelt by the Spirit) and the unsaved person (called “natural” because he does not have the Spirit within). In 1 Corinthians 3:1–4, Paul will introduce a third kind of person, the “carnal man.” He is the immature Christian, the one who lives on a childhood level because he will not feed on the Word and grow. [14] At one time, every Christian was “natural,” having only the things of nature. When we trusted the Saviour, the Spirit came in and we moved into the plane of “spiritual”—able to live in the realm of the Spirit. Then we had to grow! The unsaved man cannot receive the things of the Spirit because he does not believe in them and cannot understand them. But as the Christian day by day receives the things of the Spirit, he grows and matures.

(a) There are those who are pneumatikoi. Pneuma is the word for Spirit; and the man who is pneumatikos is the man who is sensitive to the Spirit and whose life is guided by the Spirit.

(b) There is the man who is psuchikos. Psuche in Greek is often translated soul; but that is not its real meaning. It is the principle of physical life. Everything which is alive has psuche; a dog, a cat, any animal has psuche, but it has not got pneuma. Psuche is that physical life which a man shares with every living thing; but pneuma is that which makes a man different from the rest of creation and kin to God.[15]  He is the man who lives as if there was nothing beyond physical life and there were no needs other than material needs, whose values are all physical and material. A man like that cannot understand spiritual things. A man who ranks the amassing of material things as the supreme end of life cannot understand generosity; and a man who has never a thought beyond this world cannot understand the things of God. To him they look mere foolishness. No man need be like this; but if he stifles “the immortal longings” that are in his soul he may make himself like this so that the Spirit of God will speak and he will not hear.

  • The Spiritual person can evaluate everything because he has the Mind of Christ within him (VV. 15-16)

V.16 parallel verse is Isaiah 40:13 and Romans 11:34:

13     Who has directed a the Spirit of the Lord,

          or who gave Him His counsel? b


To “have the mind of Christ” does not mean we are infallible and start playing God in the lives of other people. Nobody instructs God! (Paul quoted Isa. 40:13. Also see Rom. 11:33–36.) To “have the mind of Christ” means to look at life from the Saviour’s point of view, having His values and desires in mind. It means to think God’s thoughts and not think as the world thinks. [16]

One of the marks of maturity is discernment—the ability to penetrate beneath the surface of life and see things as they really are. Unsaved people “walk by sight” and really see nothing. They are spiritually blind. The maturing Christian grows in his spiritual discernment and develops the ability (with the Spirit’s help) to understand more and more of the will and mind of God. The Corinthians lacked this discernment; they were spiritually ignorant. [17]

Unaided, the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God. They are foolishness to him. He cannot possibly understand them because they can only be spiritually understood. [18]


  • The unsaved man cannot experience the illuminating ministry of the Spirit since he is blinded to the truth of God (1 Co 2:14). This does not mean be cannot learn anything of the facts of the Bible, but he considers what he knows as foolishness.

On the other hand, the Christian has been promised this illumination of the text (Jn 16:12–15; 1 Co 2:9–3:2). Taking these two passages together, several facts emerge:

1. The most obvious is that the Spirit Himself is the Teacher, and His presence in the life of the believer is the guarantee of the effectiveness of this ministry.

2. The content of His teaching encompasses “all the truth” (the definite article is present in Jn 16:13). It specifically includes an understanding of prophecy (“things to come”).

3. The purpose of the Spirit’s illumination is to glorify Christ, not Himself.

4. Carnality in the believer can hinder and even nullify this ministry of the Spirit (1 Co 3:1–2).[19]

(READ ch 3 vv.1-3a)

Paul already explained that there are two kinds of people in the world—natural (unsaved) and spiritual (saved). But now he explained that there are two kinds of saved people: mature and immature (carnal). A Christian matures by allowing the Spirit to teach him and direct him by feeding on the Word. The immature Christian lives for the things of the flesh (carnal means “flesh”) and has little interest in the things of the Spirit. Of course, some believers are immature because they have been saved only a short time, but that is not what Paul is discussing here.[20]

In verse 1 of chapter 3, he calls them sarkinoi. This word comes from sarx which means flesh and is a very common term in Paul’s epistles. Now all Greek adjectives ending in -inos mean made of something or other. So Paul begins by saying that the Corinthians are made of flesh. That was not in itself a rebuke; a man just because he is a man is made of flesh, but he must not stay that way. The trouble was that the Corinthians were not only sarkinoi they were sarkikoi, which means not only made of flesh but dominated by the flesh. To Paul the flesh is much more than merely a physical thing. It means human nature apart from God, that part of man both mental and physical which provides a bridgehead for sin. So the fault that Paul finds with the Corinthians is not that they are made of flesh—all men are—but that they have allowed this lower side of their nature to dominate all their outlook and all their actions.[21]


[1]The letters to the Corinthians. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (23). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[2]Hodge, C. (1995). 1 Corinthians. The Crossway classic commentaries (1 Co 2:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[3]MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (1 Co 2:6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4]The letters to the Corinthians. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (25). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

NT New Testament

[5]MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (1 Co 2:8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[6]Hodge, C. (1995). 1 Corinthians. The Crossway classic commentaries (1 Co 2:9). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[7]McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (5:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[8]MacArthur, J. (1996, c1984). 1 Corinthians. Includes indexes. (61). Chicago: Moody Press.

c Rom 11:33ff

[9]Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. "Based on Walter Bauer's Griechisch-deutsches Wr̲terbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der frhchristlichen [sic] Literatur, sixth edition, ed. Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, with Viktor Reichmann and on previous English editions by W.F. Arndt, F.W. Gingrich, and F.W. Danker." (3rd ed.) (162). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[10]Hodge, C. (1995). 1 Corinthians. The Crossway classic commentaries (1 Co 2:11). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

o 20:27 Ps 139:23; Pr 20:30; 1Co 2:11

p 20:27 Lit the chambers of the belly

[11]Hodge, C. (1995). 1 Corinthians. The Crossway classic commentaries (1 Co 2:12). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[12]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (1 Co 2:10). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[13]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (1 Co 2:10). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[14]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (1 Co 2:10). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[15]The letters to the Corinthians. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (27). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

a 40:13 Or measured, or comprehended

b 40:13 Rom 11:34; 1Co 2:16

[16]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (1 Co 2:10). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[17]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (1 Co 2:10). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[18]MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (1 Co 2:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[19]Ryrie, C. C. (1995, c1972). A survey of Bible doctrine. Chicago: Moody Press.

[20]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (1 Co 3:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[21]The letters to the Corinthians. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (29). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

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