First Corinthians 2--Paul's School of Revelation
Mar 01, 2017
Paul had been a student of philosophy before studying the law under Gamaliel in Jerusalem. His unique educational background is seen in virtually all of his letters to the Greek churches, for he often speaks of various philosophies (without naming them). The language of philosophy is Greek, but Paul develops a new philosophy of his own, using Greek language to express truth from the Hebrew Scriptures.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, he reveals his new Pauline School of Moriasophy, based on the wisdom of God—or, as he would call it, foolish wisdom. Rather than trying to make the wisdom of God logical and believable to those of other philosophical schools, Paul revels in the contrast between Greek wisdom and the wisdom of God. He does not seek to persuade men by the power of soulish logic. He is looking for something deeper, known as faith, which is the response to divine revelation of truth.
Essentially, Paul is contrasting human reasoning with divine revelation. Therefore, it would be more accurate to describe his new school of philosophy as a School of Revelation. Among Hebrew readers, it was called the Household of Faith, composed of all who followed the example of Abraham, the Father of Faith.
Paul was obviously writing to a church which was composed of both Jews and Greeks. Some of them must have been well schooled, and philosophy was essentially the education of the day. The problem with Greek education was that they had lost the truth revealed in Scripture. They had perverted the creation story, making the devil (demiurge) the creator of all physical matter, which was therefore considered to be evil, rather than good. More than that, Greek philosophers did not distinguish between soul and spirit, believing instead that man had only a body and a spiritual, immortal soul.
In the second chapter of First Corinthians, Paul sets forth his revelation of the “mystery, the hidden wisdom,” known to men of faith from the beginning of time in the Hebrew Scriptures. His anthropology, studying the created structure of man as a human being, is the clearest study that we have been given in the Scriptures. Paul is compelled to show that we are spirit, soul, and body, in order to identify the spirit (rather than the soul) as the origin of all true revelation.
The mysteries—or secrets of God—are revealed only through the spirit, which is the point of contact between heaven and earth. Because spiritual things cannot be comprehended by the soul (i.e., the “soulish man” within), Paul’s School of Revelation was seen by the world at large as the School of Moriasophy, or foolish wisdom. Greek philosophers had all developed their schools on their confidence in the ability of the soul.
The Highest Truth
The mystery religions of ancient times (as well as today) led men to believe that their leaders possessed ultimate truth, and that if their students progressed in learning under their superiors, they too would eventually be entrusted with the final secret. This was, of course, an illusion and a deception, for even the highest men in the various schools of mystery religions did not know the truth. Yet by tantalizing men with the appearance of wisdom, they lured followers and solicited generous donations from those who were so deceived.
Paul’s School of Revelation was not set up as a mystery religion, for he revealed the highest truth plainly for all to see. Though he spoke of mysteries, or secrets, he revealed them without cost and without vows of secrecy.
1 Corinthians 2:1, 2 tells us,
1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
Herein is revealed “the testimony of God,” that is, God’s witness of the truth. The word translated “testimony” is marturion, from which we also derive our word martyr. This nuance was not the primary meaning of the term, but with Jesus as the prime example of one being killed for His testimony of truth—with many martyrs yet to come—it is not hard to see the connection between the testimony of God and the Martyr of God, “and Him crucified.”
The cross is the highest secret in Paul’s School of Revelation. It was an open secret, a mystery only to those who based their belief on soulish wisdom and logic. There is an excellent comment on the definition of testimony in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
“In Rev. 15:5, in the phrase, ‘the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven,’ the testimony is the witness to the rights of God, denied and refused on earth, but about to be vindicated by the exercise of the judgments under the pouring forth of the seven bowls or vials of Divine retribution.”
In Hebrew thought, a witness is one who is called to testify in a court of law of that which he has seen or heard. If he has not seen or heard something, then he is not a valid witness. A valid witness is one who speaks by personal experience. Jesus spoke truth by personal experience, for He was an ear-witness to all that the Father spoke and an eyewitness to all that the Father did. Having come from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47) in the image of the Father’s very nature (Hebrews 1:3), Jesus was uniquely qualified to bear witness of the Father.
He bore witness of the right of the Creator to rule that which He created—that is, the property rights of the Owner. But those on earth who rely upon soul-based knowledge and wisdom are unable to agree with the truth that He has revealed. They cannot comprehend the need for Him to die in shame on a cross. Soul-based knowledge missed the revelation in the Law of Victims Rights—the secret that a victim has the right to exact full compensation as well as having the right to forgive the entire debt at his discretion.
The revelation of biblical law formed no part of Greek philosophy, but it was the foundation of Paul’s School of Revelation. The cross was the final secret, the mystery of the gospel, and in it we see Jesus as the ultimate Victim, taking responsibility for the sin of the whole world (1 John 2:2), thus becoming the One Victim who had the lawful right to forgive the sin of the world.
The forgiveness of sin and the restoration of all things is the final secret revealed through the spiritual man in each of us, which, if we hear his voice, produces the response of faith and qualifies us to join the Household of Faith and become a student in Paul’s School of Revelation. So, in typical Hebrew exaggeration, Paul was determined to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified. What he meant was that if he were forced to choose to know only one truth, it would be this. Why? Because this is the core of Revelation, the highest truth known to man.
This is not to say that there is no other truth, nor should we despise all other truths. Rather, the cross is the foundational truth of Revelation, seen as foolishness to the Greeks, and a stone of stumbling to the Jews, but the power of God to those of the Household of Faith.
1 Corinthians 2:3-5 continues,
3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
Though Paul was an educated philosopher in his own right, he did not appeal to men on the basis of soulish wisdom. His goal was not to persuade them, but to reveal spiritual truth and to prove that truth by demonstrating the power of the Spirit. In other words, the revelation actually worked in real-life experience. Though it appeared illogical to the world, it was practical.
Paul sought to break men’s dependence upon the soul and its claim to wisdom. He sought to shift their dependence, so that their faith rested on the power of God.
Those who are Mature in Wisdom
1 Corinthians 2:6-8 says,
6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery [secret], the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.
Paul expresses confidence that the believers in Corinth have matured in spiritual wisdom. They understand the mystery of divine revelation through the inner “spiritual man.” Before criticizing them and correcting their foolish errors, evident by the letter from Chloe, he appeals to their ability to receive divine revelation.
In essence, Paul is suggesting that if they go back to their foundational belief (which all of them had accepted) that revelation comes through the spirit, rather than the soul, then the problem of factions can be resolved. Factions are the result of listening to men, rather than to God. Factions are soulish divisions, where men are more interested in “persuasive words of wisdom” than in the revelation of God.
Revelation can appear weak and illogical, and while those enrolled in the School of Revelation are yet growing and learning, it is by no means certain that they will immediately recognize the power of any given revelation. But by prayer and discussion, the students of this School may be enlightened, thus ending controversy and division.
This is, of course, easier said than done. We all start out as soulish creatures, for we are Adamic. As Paul says later in 1 Corinthians 15:45, “Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
Either we identify ourselves (ego) with the first Adam or the last. Each person’s “I” (sense of identity or consciousness) is either that which he received from his earthly parents or that which was begotten by the Father in heaven. Our “I” is either soulish or spiritual, depending on who we claim to be and through which consciousness we live our lives.
The world at large, along with its rulers and intellectuals, are passing away, because the seed that conceived them was corruptible and mortal (1 Peter 1:23). We, however, have been begotten by the immortal and incorruptible seed of the word. Those who are spiritually mature understand these things. They also understand that to obtain the lawful authority to save the world, Jesus had to become its Victim. If the soulish-minded rulers of this world had understood this principle, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
Their soulish minds could not receive or believe the revelation of God—in this case, the Law of Victims Rights—which they thought was foolishness. In their blindness, then, they crucified Jesus, and in their stupidity, they laid the foundation of truth that would expose all of their various philosophies as mere vanity.
In the end, when all is known, the logic of the cross will prove to be true and demonstrable, whereas all of the Greek philosophies and Jewish soul-based law studies alike will be discarded in the dumpster of foolish pride.
This is part 10 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones