This article looks at 1 Corinthians 2:9-16. The things of God are inaccessible to man by his own investigation; instead, they are revealed and communicated to us by the Spirit of God.

Source: The Outlook, 1985. 3 pages.

1 Corinthians 2:9-16 - How We Know the Things of God

Read 1 Corinthians 2:9-16

Questions about the Bible🔗

Why should I believe the Bible? When natural science has exposed the errors of so many old beliefs and is making so many new discoveries, isn't it foolish for anyone to take such an ancient book as his guide? As we become increasingly aware of the way changing times influence or control the views of people in each age and society, why should any educated person today believe the Bible's old teachings, visions and prophecies? Growing up in a California par­sonage and attending very liberal public schools for a dozen years, these were the questions that most troubled me as a teenager over 50 years ago. Today these are questions that in one way or another appear in almost every significant debate of our church synods and in every important issue that increasingly divides our own and many other churches. How shall we answer them?

The Bible's Own Answer🔗

Perhaps the best answer to such questions that I have en­countered in over a half century, and one that generally seems to have gotten remarkably little attention, is that given by the Apostle Paul in the first two chapters of his First Letter to the Corinthians. Especially in the latter part of the second chapter he deals with the problem of how we must come to know the things of God. He points out that they are by nature

  1. inaccessible to man's own investigation, that they are
  2. revealed only by God's Spirit, and that they are
  3. com­municated to us only by that Spirit.

1. Their Inaccessibility to Man's Investigation🔗

To turn to the Bible to seek answers to these modern pro­blems is not as inappropriate as it might seem, for we soon discover in our study of the Bible that there is nothing essen­tially new about these problems. Although we may encounter them in slightly altered forms, they are essentially the same as those Jesus met among the Sadducees or those Paul faced in Athens. What in our time affects their formulation and makes them especially urgent is the popular reverence for the natural sciences. Many people will admit that these sciences, among which physics and chemistry take a leading role, have replaced religion in their lives. (One recalls Anthony Standen's amusing book, Science Is A Sacred Cow.) While we must acknowledge that these sciences with their methods of measurement and experiment have been very use­ful in certain areas and have produced remarkable dis­coveries, we must also recognize their unsuitability to other, more peculiarly human areas of man's life. The most im­portant things in life, those that are characteristically human, just cannot be observed, weighed, measured and manipulated by these methods. While one can carefully weigh a pound of coffee, he can't do that to such things as love or loyalty.1

Turning now to the letter of the Apostle Paul, we observe that the limitations of these methods, already evident when one tries to apply them to human relations, become even more glaringly obvious when we confront the highest and most important matters. These, says the Apostle, are "things which eye saw not and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love Him" (v. 9). These things of God are beyond the perception of our senses and even beyond the reach of our unaided imagination!

  1. Truths Beyond Our Reach🔗

The apostle supports his argument with an analogy. "Who among men," he asks, "knows the thoughts of a man ex­cept the spirit of the man, which is in him?" How can anyone know what is in another person's mind unless that person will tell him? A man with serious problems was once persuaded to see a psychiatrist. The doctor could do nothing for him, however, because he stubbornly refused to talk. We can penetrate another man's mind only to the extent that he is willing to reveal it to us and that we are willing to listen to him. "Even so," the Apostle continues, "the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God." If we can­not even know what is in the mind of our fellow man unless he will tell us and we will listen to him, how could we possibly expect to discover the mind of God by our imper­sonal "scientific" research?

  1. Our Native Blindness🔗

Paul points out that there is, in addition to the inacces­sibility of these matters to our research, still another reason why it is impossible for us "on our own" to discover the truth about ourselves, the world and God. That reason is the condition of our own minds and hearts. "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (v. 14). The Bible teaches us that by nature we have become blind to such matters. I once roomed with a landlord who was a gifted amateur ar­tist. He had a serious handicap, however, in that he was color-blind. His work was as good as it was only because he had learned to rely on his wife's perception to select col­ors. To try to discuss the differences between colors with him was frustrating. He could only talk of what appeared lighter or darker, because to his perception, color distinc­tions just did not exist. This, the Bible teaches us, is exactly the condition of the natural man with respect to spiritual things. His objections to and arguments against God's revela­tion only reveal the more clearly the insensitivity which he would like to deny. Such spiritual "color-blindness" to God is the natural predicament of all of us.2

2. Their Revelation only by God's Spirit🔗

But if most of the facts of the matter are not accessible to our research, and we would not be able to perceive them if they were, how can we or anyone else get to know them? The Apostle's answer to that question is that what neither we nor anyone else could or can do is being done by the Spirit of God. He knows and reveals these things. "To us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God." And "we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God that, we might know the things freely given to us by God" (vv. 10, 12). That Spirit, working outside of us, reveals the things of God which are inaccessible to our investigation, and working inside of us, cures our blindness so that we can see and believe them.

3. Their Inspired Communication🔗

Paul explains further that the Spirit of God not only re­vealed these things to him and to others. He also enabled them to speak of these things to the world: "which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" (v. 13).

This Inspiration even Determined the Words Used🔗

Observe that the Apostle does not say that he was only given certain insights or certain revealed principles which he must somehow try to express in whatever imperfect way he might consider appropriate or most effective. The Holy Spirit even taught the choice of words to be used to convey these things. This is verbal inspiration — the direct, detailed guidance which the Bible in many places states that its writers received, so that what they wrote could be properly quoted as "The Spirit says..." (e.g. Hebrews 3:7). It should hardly surprise anyone that He who gave the revelation of Himself ensures that it be even more accurately conveyed than in­formation verbally conveyed by important human documents or contracts (Galatians 3:15ff.).

Why this Kind of Revelation?🔗

This claim of the Bible to be the verbally inspired revela­tion of God is especially criticized in our time. Although the Bible repeatedly insists on this as a fact, it also helps us to understand why God should choose such a method of revealing Himself: "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1:21). "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise ... that no man should boast before God" (1:27, 29). Mankind had fallen away from God through pride, God deliberately chose a way of revealing Himself to save them that no man could proudly misrepresent as his own discovery!

Paul, in passing on this revelation, is deeply concerned that it always be presented in such a way "that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (2:4). At this point as at others, salvation is shown to be impossible as a human achievement; it must from first to last be understood and shown to be a gift of God's grace (Matthew 19:26).

What increasingly impressed me as I first faced these pro­blems as a teenager and then encountered them again and again in a half century of dealing with others, was the effec­tive way in which this simple presentation of the Apostle deals with the questions of doubt and unbelief that we often regard as peculiarly modern. Such arguments will not in themselves convert the unbeliever. They may seem to provoke only fur­ther argument. But they are the answers God's Word teaches us to present to those who ask reasons for our faith (Cf. 1 Peter 3:15). As the testimony of God's Word, these are the kinds of answers that the Holy Spirit, who inspired that Word, will use to break down the obstacles of doubt and unbelief, to lead men to recognize their own condition as lost sinners, to receive Christ as their Savior and Lord, and to find that in Him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).


  1. ^ The effort to apply the methods of physics and chemistry to the individual life by behavioristic psychologists and to the collective life of people by sociologists who try to reduce everything to what is statistically measurable seems to have created much of the confusion and frustration that one often encounters in those fields. I recall how the veteran historian, Henry S. Lucas, when discussing differences between the views of the 16th Century Reformers, quipped that some people at this university thought that they could unders­tand these matters by studying rats.
  2. ^ In order to avoid misunderstanding, we should observe that, while the Bible teaches that in our natural human condition we are kept by both the nature of God's mind and works and by our spiritual blindness from perceiv­ing the "things of God", this must not be understood to mean that we are totally ignorant of them. The teaching of 1 Corinthians I and 2 needs to be complemented by that of the same Apostle in Romans1. There He states that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.... For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator... (1:18-25). In other words, although man cannot investigate scientifically what occurred long before he was born, the evidence of the Creator's work is so apparent everywhere that he cannot escape from it. His "blindness " toward it is not total ignorance, but a moral opposition or prejudice that drives him to resist what he ought to acknowledge. That is currently rather dramatically demonstrated in the persistence of evolu­tionists (including some professing Christians!) in clinging to their theory despite the mass of evidence against it.

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