To the church of God in Corinth, Paul wrote the following words.
“But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the things of God no one knows, except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).
Four times in this text Paul uses the term “things.” Once it is employed comprehensively, “all things.” Once it is used of the “things of a man,” and twice there is reference to the “things of God.” The “things of God” are identified in the final sentence of verse 9; they are “whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him.”
This is within a context in which the apostle discusses “wisdom,” a concept very popular with the Greek mind (cf. 1:20). The Greeks gloried in wisdom (1:22). But the apostolic argument is this: God’s will for man is not to be discovered in human wisdom; rather it is accessed by divine words—the gospel (cf. 1:21 ASVfn).
There is a passage in one of Plato’s Dialogues in which he quotes Socrates as saying that we do not know “how to behave toward the gods and towards men”; someone, with a “special interest” will have to come to us and remove “the darkness” (Alcibiades II.150). From this background let us note some truths explicitly affirmed, or implied, in 2:11-12.
Lessons to Learn
First, no one knows the heart of a man except the spirit of the man within him. (a) There is a spirit “in” man—Paul was no materialist. (b) No man can know the spirit of another man unless that person reveals the contents of his mind. There are no “mind-readers.” (c) The thoughts of one’s mind are made known by words.
Second, the things of God are not accessed naturally. Rather, the Holy Spirit, who “searches” all things, even the deep things of God, has revealed these matters to humanity. “Searches” is a figure of speech suggesting intimate knowledge of every detail (cf. Romans 8:27).
These sacred “things” of God are embodied in “words” (v. 13), not in dreams, visions, or other non-verbal modes of communication. One cannot know of Christ’s birth, teaching, miracles, death/resurrection, ascension, etc., apart from the “words” that convey the information regarding these historical events. These are objective truths that necessitate objective revelation.
Third, the “words” that reveal the marvelous “things of God” are those matters, declares Paul, which “we speak.” The “we” represents those of the apostolic age who were empowered by the Spirit of God to supernaturally impart the treasures of the gospel. “Words” were the vehicles of sacred communication (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13). Any view of the scriptures that fails to acknowledge that their “words” ultimately are the “words of God,” is false. The Lord guided the inspiration process so that precisely his message was conveyed to the apostolic writers—no more, no less. The documents containing these “words” were collected eventually into a single volume—the New Testament. There is no accessing of the will of God apart from the New Testament record.
Fourth, the “things of God” are those things that were prepared by the Lord for those who “love” him (v. 9c). Thus, the “things” are bestowed neither universally nor unconditionally. And “love” is not a mere emotion that is divorced from response. As Jesus said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; cf. 1 John 5:3; 2 John 6).
This text from the first Corinthian epistle is rich indeed. It is very unfortunate that it has been misunderstood by so many in the religious community.