Letters to the Corinthians: Spirit Wisdom

Now let’s look at 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 …

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

I know I haven’t really said all that much about wisdom in the previous posts – I’ve been letting the passages speak for themselves, but I wanted to consider something interesting about the composition of this letter. After the thanksgiving, Paul writes about the divisions in the church, then he talks about wisdom for the next two sections and then he goes back to talking about church leaders. This is a chiasm – A (talking about leaders), B (talking about wisdom), B’ (talking about wisdom), and finally A’ (talking about leaders.) With Chiasms, the important section is always in the middle – it’s the emphasis for the whole section. When this letter was read to the Corinthians for the first time, they would have understood that the key to understanding Paul’s point about leaders is Paul’s point about understanding wisdom. Chiasms also serve as mnemonic devices – so the people who hear these messages readily have a structure for memorizing them and sharing them with others – which is probably why they occur throughout the Bible. The last section is a quote from Isaiah 64:4, “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.

It strikes me just now how deep this passage is – I can’t imagine a Sunday School or Bible Study session where the teacher would settle the question: “Who’s the wisest leader of them all?” with “The person with the Spirit …“. Paul doesn’t say “I am” or “Cephas is” or “Apollos is your guy” but he reminds them that all of them are connected to Christ through the Holy Spirit making all of them a leader, but there’s only one the leader. The last quote is also from Isaiah, verse 40:13 – “Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor?” By the end of what we know as the second chapter, Paul has said Jesus name or referred to Him nearly twenty times.

I’m not sure what to make of the three quotes from Isaiah and one from Jeremiah so far. If the intended audience were mainly Jews, I might expect more quotes from the Old Testament. But the Corinthians are a mixed audience, there might be some Jews who had fled there to get away from persecution in Rome who could explain where it is written in Isaiah and Jeremiah and what it means to the rest, but odds are that they are a minority. The points Paul does make seem to be the minimum he can quote from the Old Testament to maximize the strength of his arguments. Which makes sense given his intended recipients probably don’t have the familiarity of the Old Testament that he does. It’s a different strategy then the one Paul used in Athens when he quoted from Epimenides and Aratus to tell the Aereopagus about the Unknown God. This is an interesting thing to note – Saul’s conversion to Paul didn’t mean that he read only the Scriptures and wasn’t familiar with the popular authors of his day, rather, he used his familiarity with the popular authors of his day to support his points about Christianity to cultures that didn’t have even the slightest familiarity with Christianity. Christians don’t have to make to Christian version of secular books, songs, and movies in order to reach people, being familiar enough with them to point people to Christ is all that’s needed.

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