Paul and Wisdom: Part 2 of 5 (series: Lessons on 1 Co.)
by John Lowe
declaring unto you the testimony of God.
This means that the Gospel is founded upon the word and the authority of God; “Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you” (1 Cor 1:6; KJV). The apostle insinuated that the credibility of the Gospel (the testimony of God) depended neither on its conformity to the philosophy of the Greeks, nor on the eloquence of its preachers, but on the testimony of God, who confirmed it by miracles. Some versions have revised this clause to read "declaring unto you the Mystery of God," which they say harmonizes better with the context. This would concur well with the scope of the argument; but the present reading is probably the correct one. The Syriac version also has mystery. The gospel is often called "a mystery"; for example:
• And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: (Eph 3:9; KJV).
• And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Tim 3:16; KJV)
Paul did not come in the wisdom of the world, declaring the testimony or the mystery of God. What does he mean by a mystery? We will be confronted with this word again in the epistle. A mystery simply means “that which had not been revealed before.” The mystery of God which Paul preached was that Jesus Christ had been crucified. That had not been preached before but now it had been revealed. In the Old Testament, the crucifixion of Christ was revealed in type and in prophecy only. The actual event was something new, something not previously revealed.
The testimony of God or the witnessing is that which God has borne to the gospel of Christ by miracles, and by accompanying it everywhere with his presence and blessing. The gospel contains the testimony of God in regard to his own character and plans; especially in regard to the great plan of redemption through Jesus Christ.
We have already mentioned that Paul was educated at Tarsus, but he also had been schooled "at the feet of Gamaliel"—“I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day” (Acts 22:3; KJV)—the famed scholar in Jerusalem. "Paul was a university man, the outstanding scholar of his generation." Nevertheless, he despised the sophistication, superficiality, and conceit of those who were acknowledged as intellectuals. Paul rejected their methods because he was better than them, not because he was inferior to them. Paul had a wide acquaintance with all the learning of his generation; but he considered all such learning as nil, compared with the gospel of Christ—“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil 3:8; KJV). Therefore, the meaning of this verse is that when Paul went to Corinth he renounced all of the tricks and devices of oratory, refused to accommodate the gospel to the style of the Greek philosophers, and did not try to adorn the truth with pagan wisdom. It is certain that Paul had the ability to do such things; but he wanted their faith to be in the power of God, not in the ability of human beings (See verse 5).
2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
For I determined not to know anything among you,
Paul made up his mind at some point to move his ministry from Athens to Corinth; but, it was only after he came to believe it was God’s will; and it wasn’t by accident, or chance, that he made Christ his grand and constant theme, but it was his firm and deliberate purpose. You may recall that Paul made
this resolution, knowing the special fondness of the Greeks for elegant oration, and for polished and sophisticated enunciation; and that he made up his mind, as we may conclude from his writings, to adopt a very narrow theme for his teaching and sermons, which was “Christ, and him crucified”; which could not have failed to attract the attention of the Greek philosophers and their followers; and he made that decision even though he must have been fully aware that the theme which he had chosen to dwell upon would be certain to excite ridicule and contempt. Nevertheless, he made his decision and he stuck to it, though it might expose him to contempt, and though they might reject and despise his message.
Not to know. The word know is used probably in the sense of attend to, be engaged in, or regard. I resolved not to give my time and attention while among you to the laws and traditions of the Jews; to your orators, philosophers, and poets; to the beauty of your architecture or statuary; to a contemplation of your customs and laws; but to attend to this only--making known the cross of Christ. Paul says that he decided that this should be the only thing on which his mind should be fixed; the only object of his attention; the only subject about which he would communicate knowledge.
Any thing among you. The meaning is “anything while I was with you”; or, “anything that may exist among you, and that may be objects of interest to you.” I resolved to know nothing of it, whatever it might be. The former is, probably, the correct interpretation.
This was a resolution the apostle made before he joined them, that though he was well versed in human literature, and had a large scope of knowledge in the things of nature, religion, science, and history; nevertheless, he would not impart anything to them, or make anything else the subject of his ministry, except this one thing; “Christ, and him crucified.” This means that where his preaching is concerned that Paul would rely upon no earthly wisdom for power in his preaching. He was convinced that the Gospel of God alone could make you wise unto salvation, and that Jesus Christ was the foundation of all true wisdom, piety, and happiness.
The opinion held by certain commentators is that Paul's method in view here is a reversal of what he allegedly did in Athens. They say Paul tried to preach philosophically in Athens, met with a miserable failure, learned his lesson and announced his return to a simpler propagation of the gospel in these verses. Despite the popularity of such a view, however, there is nothing, either in the word of God or in history, to give the slightest credibility to it.
There is no hint whatever, either in this passage or in Acts 17, that Paul preached "Christ crucified" at Corinth because of a sense of failure of the philosophical approach in Athens. As a matter of fact, "His sermons at Athens were not basically philosophical." He preached the resurrection of the dead, and when did that get to be philosophical? Furthermore, his preaching in Athens was in no sense whatever a failure. Dionysius the Areopagite, Damaris, and others were converted—“Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:34; KJV). An exceedingly large number of people in Athens became Christians.
"The church in Athens was one of the strongest congregations in the empire in the second and third centuries," and Lange pointed out that "A Christian congregation in Athens flourished in an eminent degree." The "others with them" of Acts 17:34 may not be construed as "a mere handful," except arbitrarily and with no logic to support it. It is probable that Sosthenes and his household were also converted during Paul's work in Athens.
In the light of the above, we feel that comments to the effect that "There (in Athens) Paul had one of his very few failures" are absolutely indefensible. In answer to the question, “Did Paul ever preach anything other than Christ, and Him crucified,” there must be an emphatic; no! He didn’t begin preaching it when he came to Corinth; he continued to preach it.