Extant Statements from Scripture about Certainty
In this chapter I will change my argument to an expository method to address the issue of certainty. God has much to say about certainty and objective truth. God’s method to communicate specifics of transcendent truth is by didactic propositions. He uses narrative literature to communicate more general revelation. I will show how God in 1 Corinthians chapters 1 and 2 views the fallacy of postconservatism.
We clearly see God’s didactic approach to truth in 1 Corinthians 1:17–2:16. This section shows that the message was not exclusively for the intellectual and that the method of approach did not accommodate their assumptions about truth (1:18–25). Second, Paul used the simple, unadulterated, certain gospel to reach people (2:1–5). Third, because God’s wisdom comes by revelation, inspiration, and illumination (2:6–16), we can know what God said with certainty.
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17 esv)
Paul transitions from explicitly dealing with divisions in the church to explain- ing what causes divisions—the Corinthian church’s lack of focus on the central message of the cross (1:18–2:16). Often Greek culture of the first century did not care about the content of what was said, as long as it was said beautifully. To Paul, content mattered, not simply the manner of delivery. Paul did not use clever speech of human wisdom. His method did not use human viewpoint to convince his hearers of the gospel. He did not use rhetoric so that people would focus on the messenger’s style rather than on the gospel itself.
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1:17 esv)
It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to win people to Christ by the power of the message of the cross. The gospel of Christ can be “emptied of its power.” Human technique and presupposition can neutralize the power of the gospel. “Emptied” means “to render void.” “Eloquent wisdom” will void effectiveness in presenting the gospel. If we begin with the presupposition of human viewpoint, we will end in human viewpoint. If we leave the message of the cross out of the gospel, we negate and vacate its true power.
Paul and his team used a countervailing system of evangelism. They kept the message of the gospel central in their presentations even at a cost. They clearly understood that this message would be viewed as “folly” to their hearers. This did not daunt them from presenting the message unabashedly. The attitude of Paul’s team was that the gospel itself carried the power in evangelism.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 esv)
The Holy Spirit radically distinguishes the wisdom of human viewpoint against the wisdom of God. Greeks formed their culture around philosophy. They had scores of countervailing philosophies. Above all, they were in love with wisdom. Their ultimate view of life revolved around philosophy (love of wisdom). This gave them a sense of certainty, meaning, and purpose. A plurality of viewpoints pervaded Corinth (pluralism), none of which provided an absolute view of truth. Some Greek Corinthian Christians brought their philosophies to church. This desire to add human wisdom to truth caused schism in the Corinthian church (chapters 1 through 4). The central problem was the dislocation of Scripture as the focus of viewpoint. Christians cannot permit themselves to become divided over human viewpoints; true unity comes in unity of truth (divine viewpoint).
The word “for” indicates the reason Paul did not come to Corinth in the wisdom of words. Human wisdom ruins the content of the message. That is why there are two reactions to the cross. The cross always offends philosophical pluralism because the message of the cross demands exclusivity. God’s wisdom is the only true wisdom. The word “wisdom” occurs thirteen times from 1:18 through chapter 2. Throughout this section of Corinthians the Holy Spirit sets divine wisdom over against human wisdom. Those who are in the process of perishing use human wisdom to appeal to human wisdom. There is nothing supernatural in it.
In the phrase “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,” “word” means the message or content (revelation) of the cross, not the act of preaching the cross. “Word” carries the idea of “message.” The message is God’s plan that Christ would die for our sins. This is foolishness to the non- Christian. Their first reaction to the cross is that it is “foolishness.”
Paul sets “who are being saved” in sharp contrast those to “those who are perishing.” Everyone falls into one of these two classes of people. On the one hand, the message of the cross is the power of God to the believer—the true and essential means of evangelism. Paul contrasts “power” to the “wisdom” of the previous clause. We would expect that Paul would say that the gospel is the “wisdom of God,” but he says it is the “power of God.” The gospel is more than a good suggestion, because it produces a dynamic effect. It is fit to attain its end. We can have confidence in its efficacy. However, that is the problem today—many do not believe in the gospel message as supernaturally powerful.
We live in a pluralistic society where people prefer relativism to absolutes. No one has the truth, and pundits revel in opinion rejecting divine authority and certainty. The church today falls prey to the prevailing idea in society that the self is the only source for meaning, so Christians accommodate Scripture to prevailing subjective opinion. When the believer accepts human philosophy as ultimate, that inevitably exchanges the truth for a lie (Romans 1:25).
There are only two kinds of people, and the differentiating point between them is the cross. We understand this difference when we grasp the meaning of the cross. The cross indicates that God has absolute righteousness and cannot compromise with sin. That absolute righteousness condemns our righteousness. This is an offense to our pride and good works. We cannot obtain God’s wisdom through human cunning, for there is no compromise in the cross. Those who perish take offense to the cross because it is the only way to heaven.
Now the Holy Spirit turns to argue extensively against the idea of trusting human viewpoint. Verses 19 through 25 give three reasons for why we cannot trust man’s wisdom: (1) Scripture (vv. 19–20); (2) finiteness of reason (v. 21), and (3) a spiritual issue (vv. 22–25).
First, God will “destroy” human viewpoint. For evangelicals to trust in human faculty is a dangerous thing because it is something that God will demolish.
For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (1 Corinthians 1:19 esv)
To prove his point that human viewpoint will end in destruction, Paul appeals to Scripture by quoting from Isaiah: “For it is written.” Paul argues from the Bible to prove that we cannot trust man’s wisdom or reason (Isaiah 29:14). At the time, Sennacherib the Assyrian threatened Judah with an invasion. Isaiah declared that deliverance would come by God and not through alliance with pagan Egypt. Assyria had already conquered the northern kingdom and Syria. Judah was tottering and about to fall. The politicians of Isaiah’s day used human wisdom to form an alliance with Egypt rather than trust God to address their problem. That is why God said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise”; God will overthrow human-centered wisdom. Political brain trusts are not adequate to do God’s work. God does not depend on human ingenuity.
God challenges human discernment when he says, “And the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” “Discernment” means to “bring together,” and it denotes the ability of bringing the parts to a whole; hence, it carries the idea of comprehension or insight. God does not need our finite comprehension. “Thwart” means “to set aside, reject.” God brings to nothing those who trust in human ingenuity or political schemes. God sets aside the prudent or the brilliant. Rulers of Israel sought the help of Egypt. This was rebellion against God’s policy of depending on God alone. God delivered Judah without Egypt’s help (Isaiah 37; 2 Kings 17). When the Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem, Hezekiah prayed about it and God answered by destroying 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (Isaiah 37:36). God saves souls by special revelation of his Word and the person of Christ. He does not join other worldviews in doing so. God does not operate on relative truth or pluralism. He does not ask counsel from human wisdom.
To develop the idea that God will render human faculty ineffective, Paul fires four machine-gun-like rhetorical questions to make emphatic the finite perspective on reality:
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20 esv)
Human wisdom is not permanent. It ebbs and flows, for its theories go back and forth like a pendulum. First comes a view; then a countervailing view follows. Finite wisdom has a problem of instability and constant change. This verse alludes to Isaiah 33:18. Because human viewpoint is finite, it cannot get to the root of reality or find ultimate answers. God views finite wisdom as transient in nature. This wisdom is a short-lived show. God not only disregards the wisdom of the world, he designates it as foolish. The first question Paul asks—“Where is the one who is wise?”—is a reference to Greek philosophers. Stoicism and Epicureanism (antithetical schools of thought) were the dominating philosophies of Corinth at the time.
The second question—“Where is the scribe?”—could refer to the scribe that the Assyrians sent with their army to record the battles and booty or, alternatively, to the Jewish scribe who interpreted the law.
The third question is “Where is the debater of this age?” The Greeks loved to argue. Paul asks where all the clever arguments of philosophy are in the light of God’s eternal truth. Finite philosophers bring us finite truth. The debater of this age uses the dialectical approach that debates all the incompatible viewpoints of the day. That gets nowhere.
Finally Paul asks, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” The infinite wisdom of God puts human wisdom into finite irrelevance. The strong negative in the Greek shows the utter foolishness of the finite wisdom of this age, for God proves human wisdom to be diminished and minuscule. Humans by human wisdom and effort can never provide certainty. Humans are not autonomous from God and it is ridiculous from God’s viewpoint to think otherwise.
The polytheistic gods of the Greco Roman culture made that culture pluralistic. Zeus governed the gods and chased women on the side. Mercury carried messages. Aphrodite was the goddess of love. Each played a role without a unifying truth. Pluralistic polytheism sustained antithetical and competing viewpoints in Corinth.
Some believers at Corinth turned from the viewpoint of God’s Word to seek solutions in human wisdom. This was the cause of the Corinthian division problem; the church began to divide into varying positions. They turned from God’s plan to man’s plan. They wanted to accommodate their culture, time, and philosophies and did not fancy a system of absolutes. They preferred a more flexible viewpoint, as do postconservatives today. The Bible presents the gospel as absolute. God does not permit equivocation on the truth of the gospel. The debater does not tolerate the believer who comes to a final view of truth. Abso- lute truth flies in the face of the predominant bias of today’s thinkers who are people without conviction. However, God is absolute, and anything that comes from God is absolute. Our understanding of God’s Word is not absolute, but neither is it eclectic; it is definitive. Definition comes from didactics, as we will see later. Note the following passages where Paul answers three of the above questions: he deals with the philosopher in 1:21–29, with the scribe in 1:30, 31, and with the debater in 2:1–16.
Christianity stands in mutually exclusive counterdistinction to relativistic pluralism. A strength of Christianity is its certainty, its truth. It is strong because it comes to conviction and is not a flexible system that neutralizes conviction. Believers with strong conviction do not fall for plurality and relativism. The “wisdom of this world” is the satanic system, worldliness. Because human wisdom is finite, it cannot come to certainty, for finite philosophy can find no ultimate answers; thus, God views finite wisdom as transient and foolish. The Bible presents the gospel as absolute. God does not allow equivocation on the truth of the gospel.
The wish of the debater or dialectical thinker is to offer varying viewpoints without conclusion; however, God’s desire is that we come to conclusion about truth. God’s perspective on the universe is entirely different from the viewpoint of finite humans. God proves human viewpoints foolish. It is impossible for a perfect, absolute person to devise an imperfect plan. This galls pluralistic, relativistic thinkers of our day.
Paul now turns to the second reason we cannot trust man’s viewpoint—finiteness of human reason (v. 21). Man in finite capacity cannot know God:
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21 esv)
Humans cannot know God in our own capacity. When Paul says, “For since, in the wisdom of God,” the word “since” means “inasmuch as”—that is, inasmuch as the reality of God’s wisdom is a different domain than the wisdom of humans. Paul here responds to his own rhetorical questions of verse 20.
All human philosophy operates in the realm of the finite soul, not in the realm of an infinitely wise God—an omniscient God. Both philosophy and science rest on human beings’ capacity to understand with a finite brain. God’s wisdom is omniscient, encompassing both time and eternity, both space and beyond space (that which is transcendent). God’s wisdom demands that humans depend on God for knowing eternity and everything transcendent (beyond time and space). This is humbling for humans. Most people do not want to submit to the wisdom of God.
People cannot come to God through the presupposition of philosophy, for “the world did not know God through wisdom.” In the realm of wisdom, the world, by employing human wisdom, did not know God. The only way anyone can know God is by the supernatural means of God revealing himself (1:18–2:16). Human wisdom breaks down in its attempt to know God; it is utterly futile for finiteness to try to find infiniteness.
No one can become a Christian solely from the Adam’s apple up. Neither can anyone become a Christian without information. It is the nature of the information whereby a person becomes a Christian—God’s revelation of the gospel in the Bible. No one would know God if God did not reveal himself. Because God is infinite, no one can know him by finite means. God reveals himself by nature, by the person of Christ, and by the Word of God.
Christianity epistemologically depends on God to reveal himself. It is a system of faith based on unadulterated grace to show God in Jesus Christ, in nature, and in the Word. There is no success to finding truth by operation bootstraps. The only way to come to infinite (absolute) truth is through an infinite God who reveals himself. Finite humans must depend on God to reveal himself. Humans are not autonomous, so there is no sense in asking people to come to God independently. If the Bible is true, then we human beings must humble ourselves to accept God’s grace in showing himself to us.
Humans want to hang onto a system of independence from God. This is kosmos diabolicus—the satanic system that seeks wisdom about God independent from God. Satan’s system is an organized scheme that pivots around the autonomy of humans. God’s system is entirely different; his truth transcends time and space and, accordingly, only he can give us truth about himself.
There is a method that pleases God, for the verse under consideration says that “it pleased God.” The absolute God has a right to determine which methodology saves us. It is totally his prerogative because he created the world. His method is to give mankind a message received by faith.
God’s method is completely different than human methods; it is “the folly of what we preach.” God’s system is entirely different; he chooses to use a foolish system of declaring the message preached. Note again that this refers not to the act of preaching but to the content preached. Literally, “the word preached” is “the thing preached.” It is not the act of preaching but the message preached that reaches people. It is the message that Jesus died for our sins—past, present, and future—and that all that is necessary is for us to believe it.
The phrase “those who believe” shows that salvation is entirely a work of God engaged by faith. God’s purpose is to save eternally anyone who believes the message. All systems that approach truth come to belief by faith, including the systems of philosophy and science. This is also true with the current skeptical movement about knowing truth (postmodernism), which accepts by faith that no one can come to an absolute truth. By faith, the philosopher accepts the methodology of philosophy (rationalism). By faith, the scientist accepts the method of approaching truth by data (empiricism). Every approach to truth has an assumption of faith. That choice of a faith system is where the issue lies from God’s viewpoint; that is, we accept either a human system or God’s system.
Choice of a faith system is where the issue lies from God’s viewpoint; either we accept our system or God’s system. Thus, the third reason why we cannot trust human viewpoint is a truth issue, a refusal to accept God’s way of coming to truth (1:22–25).
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:22 esv)
Here we find two classes of unbelief and two false criteria for determining truth: (1) The Jews asked for supernatural evidence (a miracle); they wanted supernatural evidence before they would believe in the authenticity of the message. (2) The Greeks sought after wisdom (philosophy); they wanted to use a human method in order to believe.
The word “for” means “seeing that.” This verse shows how the message preached was deemed foolish by both Jews and Greeks.
The Jews “demand signs.” They possessed revelation in the Old Testament and believed in truth, but they wanted their own, supernatural system of verification. They wanted supernatural evidence manifested in a miracle as the ground for their belief. The Jews wanted something to stimulate and cater to their emotions, which is a false criterion for coming to God.
On the other hand, the Greeks (Gentiles) “seek wisdom.” Deeming the message preached as foolish, they sought after wisdom (philosophy); they wanted to presume human philosophical assumption in order to believe. They required God to submit to their conventions. Greeks pursued truth; they did not possess it.
Because they did not have a Bible, the Greeks lurched in philosophical speculation; that is, they “seek after wisdom.” They sought wisdom, but they did not find it. Like a countervailing pendulum, one system of philosophy contradicted another system so that all that remained was skepticism. They sought but did not find. Their skepticism was very much like the skepticism of today (postmodernism). One system of ideas abrogated another system. Even Pilate called out, “What is truth?” This was also a false criterion in order to believe in God.
Paul now turns to the Christian approach to truth which countervails the two previous systems for coming to truth:
But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 1:23 esv)
The word “preach” here is the action of a herald, so the message is God’s, not the preacher’s. The word “preach” means “to make an announcement or declaration” of something important. The Christian method is to “preach” something revealed by God.
The Romans crucified thousands of people. There was nothing unique about the idea of crucifixion itself, but there is something unique in Christ’s crucifixion. He was the God-man who came to die for sin. The Greek for “crucified” indicates that the work of Jesus stands as permanent in its effect and efficacy. This is the heart and soul of the message of Jesus Christ. Final truth was a problem to both Jews and Greeks.
The crucified Christ was a “stumbling block” to the Jews. A stumbling block was an occasion of offense. The finished work of Christ was a hindrance to Jewish doctrine. They expected a triumphant Messiah who would establish a kingdom for them, but Christ was a crucified Messiah who delayed his kingdom until a later time.
The Greek view of the cross was different from that of the Jews; the Greeks viewed it as fallacious. There was no way they could squeeze a crucified Christ into their system of thinking. Biblical evangelicalism is a declaration of the crucifixion of Christ for our sins. God’s method for winning the lost does not cater to the Greeks’ system or criterion for coming to truth. God uses his own system for reaching people. The content of the cross convicts of sin and supernaturally touches the heart. This flies in the face of much of evangelism today. We want to do anything but tell the essential meaning of the gospel.
We find the antithesis to the Jews and the Gentiles in Christ, who was God’s power and work:
But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24 esv)
In this verse, the “called” stand in contrast to those who do not know God by their own methodologies. “Called” means “effectually called,” so that these people actually became believers (Matthew 22:14; 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2; Romans 8:30).
By the phrase “both Jews and Greeks” (Gentiles), we know that people of any stripe can find God by God’s means.
The name “Christ” is in the emphatic position in the Greek phrase “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” This means that “Christ and only Christ” is the power and wisdom of God. Christ is God’s answer to the issue of salvation. Christ is the means whereby both Jews and Greeks can connect with the power of God and the wisdom of God. He and his work are the highest expressions of the power and wisdom of God. God’s power and wisdom originate in his eternal counsel and decree.
Christ is the personal instrument of our salvation. God’s wisdom and power extend far beyond the finite capacity to comprehend. We can find this only in God and from God because it comes from his eternal counsel before the world began. God’s plan centers on the person and work of Christ. This plan so transcends human capacity to understand that God does not attempt to stoop to finite method for determining truth. Because God’s capacity is infinite and our capacity is finite, there is no way we can fully comprehend God, so God reduces his plan to the simple message of Christ crucified. Acceptance of the death of Christ for the individual is the beginning of the plan of God for us. God’s plan is, therefore, based on his essence and character. That is why it is foolish for finite man to try to figure it out. There is self-sufficiency in God, but there is no self-sufficiency in man.
Verse 25 shows that God’s foolishness is wiser than finite man’s wisdom, and his weakness is stronger than finite man’s strength:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:25 esv)
The “foolishness of God” is the gospel of “Christ crucified.” The words “the foolishness” are literally “the foolish thing” (neuter). This is yet again the foolish message of God (not the act of preaching).
The “weakness of God” is stronger than the greatest of human might. The words “the weakness” are literally “the weak thing.” This again says that the foolish message of God is stronger than the greatest power of philosophy or science man might concoct. The rationale of God’s philosophy is the revelation of Christ and his finished work on the cross. As people believe this, they see God’s wisdom and power. No futile philosophies can match this.
It is humbling to realize that God does evangelism his way and does not depend on finite devices. This is a hard pill as well for Christian leaders to swallow today. Beyond all church growth and understanding of our target audience lies God’s simple message of the cross. Obviously, believers should grasp everything they can about how to reach people, but if we forget that it is the content of Christ crucified that wins people, then we have missed God’s boat. Vision planning, building church-growth constructs, and understanding the values of people of our day pale in light of the content of the gospel. The gospel transcends any human reason, philosophy, or device.
Verse 26 begins to demonstrate the nature of those who come to certainty about truth. God does things by his method, not by human method:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. (1 Corinthians 1:26 esv)
This verse shows that God does not depend on nobility or might to accomplish his purposes. God does not count on philosophy, or power, or nobility itself to win people to Christ. He uses frail instruments to carry out his ends. God does things according to his provision, his providence, and does not depend on education, philosophy, science, or any human device for doing his will.
In the phrase “for consider your calling brothers,” the word “for” indicates further proof of verse 25: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” The Corinthians could “see” their calling by looking around at the Corinthian congregation. Evidently, there were some human greats among them, but not many. The majority were ordinary people.
The word “calling” is the focus of the entire section. Christianity is a divine act, not a human act. The New Testament never uses the Greek word for “calling” to refer to human employment or vocation. It is always an act of calling by God’s initiative. If God chose us in his calling, there is no place for human pride.
If God takes the initiative and makes the provision, then there is no place for works. God does the work, and God does the epistemological calling. “Brothers” needed to take a close look at this.
In saying, “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,” Paul modifies the word “wise” with “according to the flesh.” God does not use human norms and standards to establish his plans. He conveys wisdom but not the wisdom confined to time and space or human wisdom, the criterion of human rationalism or empiricism, or even postmodernism.
God’s call does not include many “powerful” people. He does not put his plan for the gospel at the mercy of the mighty—the influence of great leaders, politicians, or military strategy. The glory of God’s conquest does not depend on mighty messengers who wield authority but on the power of his message supernaturally revealed.
In the phrase “Not many were of noble birth,” “noble birth” refers to aristocrats, blue bloods, families of high descent. God does not try to make the gospel fashionable before people can receive it. The gospel is not a product of human machinations or devices; rather, God uses methodology different from our expectation. He turns our viewpoints upside down by using the scandal of the cross. The issue at stake is God’s power, not human power. The questions asked earlier in this chapter were “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” What real value is there in their systems? We can put no trust in their epistemological systems.
The issue addressed in this passage is not anti-intellectualism or irrationalism. The issue at hand is that we are at the mercy of God to reveal himself. We cannot find infinite things by finite methods. Note T. S. Eliot’s warning of elevating human wisdom too far:
All our knowledge brings us closer to our ignorance.
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death.
But nearness to death, no nearer to God.
Where is the life we have lost in living?237
God’s ways “seem” foolish to man (1:25) but the most minimal thing God ever thought is greater than the best thing man ever thought. That is why God uses the weak things of the world to “confound” the great of the world (1:26–28). God does not choose human greatness to do his work—he rejects it as a value in itself. He does not reject great people, but he rejects their greatness as a means of reaching people for Christ. This runs counter to the world’s system. God chooses the weaker and less noble to prove the power of his message. Human methodologies preempt God’s method of truth—the gospel of Christ. Humility to accept God’s message is a first prerequisite in becoming a Chris- tian. God always works by giving grace to the humble.
In presenting a radical distinction between God’s infinite wisdom and finite wisdom, verse 26 shows three things the Corinthians were not and, in verses 27 and 28, what they were.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27 esv)
The context of verse 27 shows the radical distinction between God’s infinite wisdom and the finite wisdom of humans in coming to truth. This shows the fundamental difference between God-confidence and self-confidence. Verses 26 through 31 take a hard look at the Corinthians themselves. Verses 29 through 31 explain why God uses the weaker. In 2:1–5, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the one-and-a-half years he spent with them. Neither those who listened nor those who presented the gospel did so by self-confidence.
The word “but” in the phrase “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” is a conjunction of strong contrast. God’s wisdom is set in strong contrast to human wisdom. God chooses simple trust in the gospel message to accomplish his purpose. The reason for this is that human philosophy is bankrupt in its attempt to find infinite truth by finite means.
The phrase “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” shows the power of Christianity is in its message, not in its messengers. The power of the gospel does not reside in recognition by the high and mighty but in the power of the gospel message itself. Note the three-fold use of the words “has chosen” (twice in this verse and once in the next). God makes it abundantly clear that his work is his work, not that of the human being. His chosen weak things put to shame mighty things and expose the pretentions of the academy to reveal it as a shallow show. God is in the business of disgracing it, and he does this to demonstrate the power of the message of the gospel, not the power of the evangelist. God is independent of human power.
In verse 28 God renders human systems for certainty inoperative by a supernatural intervention of the Word of God into time and space:
God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are. (1 Corinthians 1:28 esv)
The word “low” in this verse means “ignoble, of no family, low born.” It does not refer to evil but to humble persons, people of low pedigree. God chooses nobodies to achieve his purposes. The word “despised” means “considered as nothing.” The world brands believers with contempt because of their naive acceptance of the gospel, yet this is the very kind God chooses. God’s system epistemologically is the polar opposite of the system of the world.
God’s system is a paradox to human systems, for what is epistemologically weak is strong in God’s economy. God will “bring to nothing the things that are;” these “things” are pure human systems for knowing and certainty. God will render them inoperative for knowing in the infinite realm. Finite philosophers cannot see beyond time and space. They can only come to conclusions that reside in the finite brain. That is because they have only a soul (mind, emotion, and will) and do not have a capacity to relate to God. They are spiritually dead epistemologically.
The simple believer knows something beyond time and space because God revealed himself in the Word. Unbelieving PhDs confine themselves to their own assumptions about how to know truth. They choose human systems with human results. Yet the lowly believer with the message, viewed as of no repute in the estimation of the philosopher, will render inoperative all philosophical systems.
Verses 29–31 explain why God chose the ignoble to confound the noble, why he chose the weak to render inoperative the strong, and why he chose those with less academic credentials to confound those with high academic achievement. The reason? God, not humans, will receive glory for God’s work.
So that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:29 esv)
In the phrase “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God, the word “that” is a term for strong purpose and ultimate end. God shows that by rendering inoperative the philosophical systems of this world and choosing lesser powers for his purpose, all glory should go to him. He is totally self-sufficient and needs nothing, but humans are finite and need God epistemologically.
God negates human pride. The word “boast” means pride in self-confidence, self-glory. It carries the idea of “brag.” That is why we do not boast or glory in the messenger but in the message. Everything in our society points to human achievement and pride. God takes full responsibility for his epistemological system of truth. Human pride rests on the illusion that people can find ultimate truth. We cannot independently come to God, so God does not give us the option of doing so. God shatters all our pride and self-sufficiency. If God does the epistemological doing, God gets the glory. If we autonomously seek salvation by our own means, then we get the glory.
In verses 30 and 31, God gives the reason why he uses lesser folks to advance his kingdom. Our identity is an unadulterated gift from God in Christ. God’s wisdom pivots around the believer’s position in Christ. This kind of wisdom produces righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30 esv)
God’s salvation comes from God, in contrast to those who seek God by human methods. The source indicated by the words “of him” is literally “out of him”— God the Father is the source of what follows. God is the epistemological original cause of our salvation in Christ. Salvation comes from God, not from something that originates in the self.
In the phrase “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” the word “became” means “to become something he was not before.” What Christ was before was eternal God. Then he stepped foot on earth into a human body to die for our sins. Christ became the source of our salvation by his incarnation, death, and resurrection. This did not happen when we believed but when Christ came in the first century.
God made Christ “our wisdom”—with “wisdom” the ruling word in the Greek sentence. “Righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” expand what God’s wisdom means—God’s system of salvation. Every believer accepts “wisdom from God” in becoming a Christian. Christians become Christians by God’s wisdom, not human epistemological method. God’s wisdom is unattainable by a human method of seeking. This wisdom involves righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. It is a wisdom of a different viewpoint—God’s viewpoint. God personifies his thoughts (wisdom) in what he did in Christ.
“Righteousness” here is not our personal righteousness but Christ’s righteousness (imputed righteousness). It is the quality of being right in God’s eyes; we stand in perfect conformity to God’s standard of righteousness. “Sanctification” means “set apart.” God sets each believer apart unto himself; we hold special deference with God and are his unique possession. This is imparted sanctification, positional sanctification. “Redemption” means “to buy something back.” Christ delivered our souls from the penalty of sin and its curse. Therefore, God views our identity as being in Christ; we hold the same status quo as Jesus holds before God. Because God alone is the source of our salvation, this points to his glory. God gets the glory because God does the doinVerse 31 excludes all human achievement in God’s plan of salvation:
. . . so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31 esv)
The words “so that” point to the purpose of God’s wisdom of salvation: to glorify God through providing a simple message in Christ.
The words following “as it is written” are a free quotation from Jeremiah 9:24. Jeremiah does not want Israel to brag about human wisdom, strength, or riches, for these things are temporary. Instead, Israel should brag only to the degree that they understood and knew God.
The focus of our boasting should be “in the Lord.” The true basis for glorying is God’s grace in providing salvation from his viewpoint. The believer’s boast is in God, who works from something already known and self-evident to reveal conclusions in the Bible (a priori). We can never experience all that God knows and experiences; that is why we must accept God’s deductive conclusions, for we cannot discover them with finiteness. God reveals his grace through the wisdom of the person and work of Christ, a concept that comes by pure revelation. We cannot brag in the finite limitations of humans who seek to discover truth inductively (a posteriori).
We cannot work our way from the effect to the cause, because the cause is finite and God is infinite. We do not have the capacity to comprehend God exhaustively in order to evaluate him fully. We must accept God’s deductive conclusions from the revelation of Scripture. That is why we glory in the Lord rather than glory in finite human capacity.
Paul turns to how he keeps the message the core of his ministry in chapter 2. He did not allow method to displace message. He first states how he did not minister when he came to Corinth:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. (1 Corinthians 2:1 esv)
Paul met a diversity of viewpoints (pluralism) when he came to Athens (Acts 17:18–21). When the Athenians heard of the resurrection, they sneered at Paul (17:32). The natural mind views the resurrection as unacceptable. Paul, in the face of this skepticism, determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified when he came to Corinth (1 Corinthians 2:2) and did not accommodate truth to meet their need. They did not need one more opinion. The supernatural power of the cross would countervail human viewpoint.
When Paul writes “and I, when I came to you, brethren,” he harks back to when he first came to Corinth. He did not come with philosophy but with an announcement of a message. He depended on God’s system of transcendent, objective truth rather than a human perspective approach to truth.
Paul did not come to Corinth with “lofty of speech or wisdom.” “Lofty” carries the ideas of “preeminence, rising above.” Paul did not seek to rise above Corinthian culture by trying to outshine them with rhetoric of philosophical display, which would have been right in their wheelhouse. That might have appeared impressive, but it is vacuous in comparison to God’s mighty concrete revelation in the Bible.
But Paul came “proclaiming” the “testimony of God.” The word “proclaim- ing” means “to announce, declare, make known, proclaim publicly, publish.” A proclaimer for Christ is to present the facts of the gospel stated in the Bible and his personal experience with those facts. A witness in court does not presume, speculate, or suppose. Paul did not speculate about philosophical theories about life but came with the testimony of God and nothing more. Evangelicals today are impressed with the latest and greatest methodology that comes along. These new machinations always sound very impressive. Like a pendulum, these phases come and go. Today’s philosophical emphasis on postmodernism will one day disappear; this is especially appalling in that postconservatives change their message to adapt to this philosophy. Will they change their message again for a newer philosophy?
Paul proclaimed biblical truth to the Corinthians. He did not speculate about philosophical theories about life but came with the testimony (truth not hitherto revealed; that is, the New Testament) of God and nothing more. Paul did not come with dialectical process. He came with a proclamation of the objective gospel. He simply announced the facts. He added no properties to the gospel but presented it in an unvarnished fashion. There is a correlation between the very essence of the gospel message and its method of delivery. The Corinthians came to Christ through declaration of the content of the person and work of Christ. As long as the message was not changed, Paul was willing to change the method (1 Corinthians 9).
The reason Christians buy into these philosophies is that they look at them through the eyes of their culture. Culture rife with relativism and pluralism blinds them to stark statements of Scripture. They reinterpret and make Scripture in the likeness of culture (deconstructing the Bible).
In verse 2 Paul moves to the focus of his message. It was message, not method:
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2 esv)
In deciding “to know nothing” among them, Paul set up a policy for himself. This protocol did not allow him to be sidetracked by philosophy in presenting the simple gospel message. Paul did not address or adapt to the philosophies of Pythagoreanism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, or any other philosophy. He simply presented the gospel of the person of Christ and him crucified.
Paul resolved to keep the one great central truth of the gospel message primary in any evangelistic approach used to reach the Corinthians—the person and work of Christ: “For I determined not to know anything among you.” Paul intentionally set aside anything that might prop up the message of the gospel. He did not seek any other means of communication. The reason for this was that the cross was a verdict on human wisdom and philosophy. This is God’s foolish methodology. People do not seek God because they have a stake in not doing so:
As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10–12)
Paul determined to know nothing “except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The content of the cross is what counts in God’s eyes. Biblical evangelism is an unembellished setting forth of the unvarnished gospel of Christ. God blesses an unpretentious and simple gospel message. The reason Paul centered on the person and work of Christ is that this is the heart of the gospel whereby one becomes a Christian—“except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Paul placed his trust in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross to save and did not clutter his message with philosophy. A simple gospel presentation is a foolish approach in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of some postconservatives as well! Any approach that belittles the unadulterated gospel message obscures the gospel. Because the gospel constitutes absolute truth, philosophy or human methods cannot defeat it. This is in stark contrast to the popular method today of taking the dialectical approach to truth. The biblical principle is to declare the message and let the Holy Spirit work on the heart (1 Corinthians 2:4). We do not have to know everything about a Muslim to witness to a Muslim; we do not have to know philosophy to witness to a philosopher; we do not have to be a scientist to witness to a scientist.
Paul came to Corinth with a sense of apprehension because he did not have confidence in human technique:
And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:3 esv)
Paul sensed personal inadequacy to minister in Corinth, especially because he had not received a warm welcome in Athens (Acts 16:22–17:32). His fear and trembling had to do with how the Corinthians would accept the gospel from an inadequate person.
The Spirit’s Testimony to Certainty
Although Paul went to Corinth with a personal sense of inadequacy, that did not mean he had no sense of confidence; his confidence was in the power of the Spirit to demonstrate certainty to a pluralistic society.
And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. (1 Corinthians 2:4 esv)
When Paul came to Corinth, he did not come with human persuasion or try to coax and convince with the human point of view. He did not conciliate the Corinthians by accommodating his message to their philosophy. The Corinthians were famous for putting a premium on the facade of false rhetoric. The word “speech” refers to the style of delivery, and “message” refers to the gospel. Paul adjusted neither to suit the Corinthians; rather, he presented the simple gospel message of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Paul “came in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” He depended on the Holy Spirit to minister in antagonistic Corinth and did not rest on his intellect or speaking ability. The Holy Spirit took the content of his message and won a number of Corinthians to Jesus. The Holy Spirit supernaturally persuaded the Corinthians to come to Christ. Paul proclaimed, and the Holy Spirit persuaded.
The word “demonstration” carries the idea of manifestation or proof. The Holy Spirit presents evidence that convinces. This is the polar opposite of the façade of false rhetoric. The Holy Spirit shows by demonstration and exposition that something is factual—proof, evidence, verification. The Greek term “demonstration” means proof that is necessarily or demonstrably true—incontrovertible. This word carries the idea of something evident beyond contradiction by expressing absolute certainty; it is true with mathematical certainty. This was a term of didactic Aristotelian logic opposed to dialectical thought. The Holy Spirit proves the Bible true through demonstration of his power by making the propositions of Scripture unassailable.
The word “demonstration” is an etiologic term (a figure of speech known as apodeixis for rendering a full reason for what is said or done). The Greek word for “demonstration” indicates clarity produced in the hearer’s mind by lifting of the veil of darkness (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4). The Holy Spirit produces in the hearer a conviction from the force of a sovereign move of God, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit powerfully reveals the truth of salvation.
If Paul wanted to use a term for probability, he could have used another term in the Greek: πῐθᾰνολογια—use of probable arguments. It is plausible, but false, speech resulting from the use of well-constructed, probable arguments— convincing speech, plausible language. The word carries the idea of plausible argument in Colossians 2:4: “that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” This term is opposite to our word “demonstration” (ἀπόδειξις—we get the English word “apodictic” from this word).
Probability speaks of a degree of belief less than certain. The Bible asserts a certainty of belief to the point that the individual is culpable for what is known (Romans 1:19, 20). John speaks of the argument in the writing of the gospel of John, saying that we can “know” and “believe” that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31).
The claim that there is no uncontaminated interpretation that is independent from bias flies in the face of extant statements of Scripture. This is an attempt to shed the very essence of what the Scripture is all about—objective and certain truth. The Bible does not present truth as situational and bound by culture or experience. Contrary to this premise, postconservatives cannot come to conclusion about God’s revelation with confidence—because they deem that people always ascribe meaning to the text. According to them, we must constantly dialogue with other theological viewpoints and restrict formal and even practical certainty to the Word of God. We must especially restrict individual understanding in favor of the community and downplay absolutes in lieu of a dynamic or flexible perspective on truth. There is openness toward the salvation of people in other religions. Tolerance and saccharin sentiment prevails in this thinking. It is almost a mirror reflection of present culture and a desire to accommodate that culture. In this shift from the Bible, truth and certainty are at stake in a compromise of the faith.
“Demonstration” stands in opposition to plausibility. The noun form of this word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. God expects us to be certain of convincing truths about Christ.
Paul explains that he went to Corinth in fear and trembling that he would not have an adequate presentation of the gospel for the intellectual Corinthians. He went with a sense of dependency on the Lord to do the work. Verse 4 explains that dependency.
The point of this passage is to demonstrate that knowledge of God depends on God conveying his knowledge into time and space so that man can understand it. People cannot find the transcendent and infinite God by finite means. We need the Holy Spirit to reveal an infinite God. In logic, we call this the a priori approach to truth. People cannot come to God by studying the universe inductively (a posteriori). That is why there is no certainty in human systems for finding truth. There is peril in taking a human approach to understanding God because it rests on the false presumptions of human reason to demonstrate certainty.
The Holy Spirit sets forth God’s Word by evidence and certainty. The issue at hand is the certainty of premises. Only God knows premises that are transcendent, so only he can know whether those premises are true. The Holy Spirit shows the ultimate causes of truth within God’s sphere of knowledge. All other knowledge is subordinate to these reasons.
Dialectical knowledge starts from uncertain and non-evident premises of human beings. Thus, the apodictic knowledge of the Holy Spirit stands in opposition to the prominent system of thought today—dialectical process. Apodictic (certain) knowledge rests on two kinds of properties: definitions and assertions. Definitions present the object of what God says in his Word; assertions present
the connection between the objects. These definitions and assertions create a system whereby definitions are justified by assertions justified earlier, resting on ultimate premises of the Word of God—axioms revealed by God through the Holy Spirit. An axiom is the most general assumption for finding truth.
The only way we can find God is through God revealing himself deductively. That is why God uses the term “demonstration” (apodictic) in this verse. This is a Greek term for deductive knowledge. A deductive syllogism’s validity rests unconditionally on the relation of the facts inferred to the facts posited in the premises. The premises of God’s syllogism depend upon existence of knowledge that comes only from God. A syllogism whose validity rests partly upon the non-existence of some other knowledge is a probable syllogism. Only the Holy Spirit can give knowledge that rests solely on transcendent knowledge.
Apodictic truth is self-evident truth. An apodictic truth is a working fact but not a hypothesis. Apodictic truth needs no justification by reason or argument, or evidence. It is truth based on judgment by the Apprehender, for only God apprehends infinite truth. When God revealed himself, all pursuit of truth about him outside of revelation came to a dead end. God’s truth is external to evidence or philosophy.
The Holy Spirit demonstrably or indisputably shows that Christianity is true. Humans cannot autonomously come to God, because finiteness cannot comprehend infiniteness. We are at the mercy of God revealing himself through the Holy Spirit.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4 esv)
The issue here is not that the Christian should follow personal feelings to connect with the Holy Spirit. The concern is in responding to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit’s testimony to the objective Word of God. There is a norm, or standard, of truth that confirms the Holy Spirit’s convicting work. That is what Scripture warrants or justifies. This is coming to understand what God wants us to know deductively.
The Bible never presupposes that communicators are infallible in preaching the Word of God. However, to the degree that we faithfully expound God’s Word, the Holy Spirit takes that Word and confirms it to the heart. Insofar as we accurately communicate the content of Scripture, we communicate the certainty of that evidence. This is the only sense whereby we can claim communication of certainty.
The presuppositions of an argument are not among the premises of the argument. Therefore, the circularity in view is not what we normally call circularity in logic textbooks.238
Paul rejects the prevailing philosophical culture of Corinth for the convincing work of the Holy Spirit. The Corinthians knew nothing of the realm of the Holy Spirit. Paul sets in stark contrast the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit against vacuous philosophy. The Holy Spirit can give apodictic proof of the truthfulness of the gospel. He establishes the gospel by conviction (John 16:8) and illumination of the finite perspective with divine viewpoint. The role of the Holy Spirit in convincing the unbeliever is clear from Scripture.
And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8–11)
The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever in three areas: (1) the sin of non-belief, (2) God’s absolute righteousness, and (3) the fact that Satan has been judged. Without the authenticating ministry of the Holy Spirit in these three areas, no one would become a Christian, for no one “seeks after God” on one’s own (Romans 3:10, 11). If people seek God, it is because God the Holy Spirit has already sought them. God takes the initiative to “draw” people to himself (John 6:44). We love darkness rather than light (John 3:19). Satan blinds the mind of the unbeliever (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4). The unbeliever is spiritually dead about the premises of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) and even hostile to God (Romans 8:7). Rejection of Christ is not because of insufficient drawing by God but because of spiritual darkness of the soul. At root, the unbeliever’s problem is darkened negative volition. It is a matter of volition whether a person responds positively to the gospel.
Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” (John 7:16, 17)
Apodictic Truth and Logical Syllogisms
Aristotle distinguished apodictic truth from logical syllogisms. Logical syllogisms depend on premises. The problem is the warrant or veracity of the premises. In apodictic logic, the premises are known to be true and are therefore certain. Therefore, there is an issue higher than mere logic. The Holy Spirit establishes certainty in a way that finite premises can by no means do.
The word “power” in 1 Corinthians 2:4 complements the quality of the Holy Spirit’s “demonstration”—it denotes the mode of the Spirit’s action. Paul came to Corinth in power as well as demonstration. The Holy Spirit takes possession of the understanding and will by the inward power of truth. The “demonstration” of the Spirit takes place in conjunction with the Spirit’s power; thus, it is God’s power that saves, not man’s:
So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salva- tion to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:15, 16 esv)
For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:20 esv)
. . . because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (1 Thessalonians 1:5 esv)
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 esv)
Testimonium and Certainty
The two occurrences of “my” in 1 Corinthians 2:4 (“my speech” and “my message”) emphatically contrast Paul’s message and method with the philosophers’. Paul’s method was to depend on the Spirit of God to convict about the truth of the gospel. This is what the Reformers called the testimonium. This is the relationship between the Word and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit relates to Scripture in inspiration, illumination, application (conviction), and testimonium. Inspiration refers to the Spirit’s superintending the writing of Scripture (2 Timo- thy 3:16). Illumination enables the reader of Scripture to understand with clarity (1 Corinthians 2:10, 14). Application is the Spirit’s work in appropriating principles of Scripture to experience.
The concept of testimonium focuses on certainty. The Holy Spirit authenticates the reliability of Scripture to our souls, bestowing certainty about its veracity. The testimonium, not subjectivism or mysticism, is the ultimate ground for certainty in the veracity of Scripture. It transcends reason but does not contradict reason. Only God can verify his words. Only infiniteness enlightens infinite truth. Therefore, the testimonium is transrational.
There is then both objectivity and subjectivity in the demonstration of the Spirit. The believer clearly understands with reason (logic) what the Scripture says but also concurs with that truth through the “demonstration of the Spirit and power.” The Holy Spirit offers no new truth but convicts with the statements already made in Scripture. He brings compliance to the truth of Scripture with a sense of certainty. This is unqualified yielding to the truth of Scripture with assurance of its truthfulness.
This testimonium does not function in a subjective vacuum but with the objectivity of the Word of God. This demonstration of the Spirit does not go against evidence and is not separate from the evidence but works in conjunction with the evidence in God’s revelation. The Spirit gives certainty that the evidence is true, and he supernaturally impels us to submit to the truthfulness of Scripture. Submission is a subjective trust in the objective evidence. Negative volition against the evidence of Scripture countervails the ministry of the Holy Spirit in verifying the truthfulness of Scripture.
The ultimate truth of Christianity does not rest on anything posterior to revelation or on some sensory experience. It is definitely not a posteriori in that it rests on science or some sense experience. It is a deduction from fixed premises (“demonstration”). This is apodictic truth, truth based on established premises.God’s arguments from Scripture transcend human experience by Scripture’s very nature. This is correspondence between the knower and the object known at the most level.
No inductive argument can establish anything. Something that has only the possibility or probability to be true has the possibility or probably to be false. Hence, inductive argument cannot give certainty to the reality of Christianity. Only arguments that flow from right premises are true and can give formally valid “demonstration.”
The first principle, or ultimate presupposition, for finding truth is the starting point for the person committed to revelation. Finding ultimate truth by induction is a pragmatically hopeless task. Thus, finite humans must assume the first principle without proof from induction if they are to become Christians. The Bible does not grant to human knowledge the self-sufficiency to arrive at God’s truth autonomously. Finiteness can never find transcendent truth. That is why mankind is epistemologically under the authority of God. This is an undeniable, intransigent starting point, but without it we wallow in our own schemes. Without it, we can never arrive at truth with validity and certainty.
Every system begins with a presupposition; even inductive approaches to truth begin with the assumption about how to know what is known. It is that presupposition that controls all assessment of truth from that point forward. The Chris- tian presupposition is that the Spirit of God reveals the Word of God. Unless we begin with this, we will never end with this. Unless we begin with the assumption that the Bible is the Word of God, we will never end with confidence or certainty that it is absolute truth. That is the fundamental axiom of the Christian faith, for only the infinite God can know all things qualitatively and quantitatively. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit authenticates the Word of God in a self-authenticating way. Unless we begin with God, we will not end with God; nor will we be able to verify anything as absolute truth. Because God is absolute, only he can bear witness to himself. God’s Word and the Holy Spirit inherently carry their own evidences.
The conviction of the Holy Spirit transcends our opinion or the opinion of others. No human system can evaluate the testimony of the Spirit. This unassailable truth does not lean upon probabilities or human judgment.
If one assumes an inductive approach, the data of inductive logic is never finished. That is why the only way to certainty is through the self-attesting conviction of the Holy Spirit in the objective Word of God.
It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. (John 6:45)
Kinds of Certainty
Because the testimonium concerns certainty, we need to define what we mean by that term. Theologian R. C. Sproul indicates that there are three different kinds of certainty: (1) philosophical, or formal, certainty, (2) confidence as certainty, and (3) moral certainty.239
Sproul first identifies philosophical certainty as a tight, formal argument based on logic. This argument rests on the “formal relationship of propositions,” such as in syllogisms. Syllogisms require the veracity of the premises of the syllogisms. There is no certainty without demonstrating the truthfulness of the premises. The conclusion could be properly valid but not essentially true. We can never achieve this kind of certainty if we limit ourselves to induction.
If we try to find ultimate certainty by induction, until we examine all reality exhaustively and completely dispassionately for all time and in every situation, we cannot make an absolute claim to know something with absolute certainty. We cannot come to absolute truth inductively (a posteriori). Absolute certainty is restricted by relative and conditional formal relationships of propositions. This is the problem of a finite human being. As long as we are finite, our ability to achieve absolute certainty philosophically is impossible. Only infiniteness can comprehend infiniteness. Only God can possess philosophical certainty.
Sproul’s second category is “confidence as certainty,” which he says is “not the same as technical philosophical certainty.” This form of certainty is a matter of degrees. Confidence is an attitudinal state of assurance with a mixture of doubt.
The third form of certainty mentioned by Sproul is “juridical” certainty, which is confidence “beyond reasonable doubt.” A doubt might be rational but not reasonable. This is a distinction between formal and juridical certainty. Juridical certainty is certainty “from the weight of evidence.” This kind of certainty is the certainty of Scripture. It does not carry philosophical certainty but a certainty of culpability.
The subjective condition of mankind means that humans cannot come to certitude by our own means. This condition makes the testimonium necessary. Without God, the heart is adverse to God’s Word. The testimony of the Spirit to Scripture is a subjective grounding of the heart (mind, emotion, and will) with a temper to receive the objective Word of God.
The dialectical method proposes another explanation of the internal witness of the Spirit. The neo-orthodox perspective of dialectical thought shifts the testimonium from Scripture to the person of Christ as the incarnate Word. Neo-orthodox thinkers do not want to view the Bible as objective revelation but as dynamic revelation. Scripture, in their view, is not itself revelation but is a witness to revelation. Revelation becomes revelatory as the Holy Spirit speaks through it dynamically. The only objectivity is in the person of Christ, not in biblical writings.
Contrary to neo-orthodoxy, orthodoxy argues that concursive Scripture is the only place where we know about Christ. There is no person of Christ without the Word that tells about Christ. Scriptures are not the ultimate object of our faith, but they are the means of faith. All truth is personal in that we must respond to truth, but truth is also propositional. We have objective revelation to which we can reply.
If we divorce the content of revelation from objective truth, then we end in the subjectivism of finite human beings. God’s objective authority in the Bible is above human experience, not in the authority of private human experience. There is an experience, but that experience is a subjective answer to the objective Word of God from incentive of the Holy Spirit.
Relation of Faith to Certainty
Now Paul explains why he rests his case in the demonstration of the Spirit; he did not want to depend on human faculty but on the power of God:
That your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:5 esv)
Paul came in the “demonstration of the Spirit” rather than in the power of his speaking ability, that “faith might not rest in the wisdom of men.” The word “that” indicates Paul’s basis for coming to Corinth in the “demonstration of the Spirit.”
The principle is clear: All the human ability and power in the world cannot persuade one person to trust Christ as Savior. Only demonstration from the Holy Spirit can break through to the soul. Faith comes from Christ, not from the ingenuity of philosophy, oratory, or human persuasion. This refutes the idea that a person must be a success in order to witness. Human attraction does not bring people to Christ. It is not necessary to be intellectual to introduce intellectuals to Christ. We do not have to know all philosophies to win them; all we need to know is the gospel message. If we base faith on philosophical argument, we can refute our faith by philosophical argument.
The nature of faith includes the idea of certainty. Any degree of lack of faith undermines faith. Faith always rests on certainty, not on a suggestion of probability. Otherwise, chance is final and probability is empty. The very idea of probability precludes certainty and places chance at the core of a system. A probable belief is of no more value than an improbable belief. That is why God’s self-attesting Word transcends all probable approaches to truth. It is impossible to verify truth by probability because the finite mind can never come to infinite truth. No one can come to truth a posteriori but only through a priori revelation. Conclusion about truth must come from a higher source than the human being. Christianity does not rest on opinion, as most non-believers presume. The testimony of the Holy Spirit transcends the finite world of beliefs and perspectives. He is superior to philosophy and reason.
Every ultimate belief must begin with an ultimate presupposition, a first principle somewhere. Every system always assumes that presupposition without proof. The axiom that God revealed himself in the Word is Christianity’s first principle. Unless we begin with this, we will not arrive at this. The genesis of Christianity about choosing the first principle or presupposition is that God the Holy Spirit “demonstrates” the first principle to us. That is, it does not rest on finite humans choosing a finite presupposition for finding truth.
The Holy Spirit characterizes God’s Word by evidence and certainty, but the issue at hand is the certainty of premises. Only God knows premises that are transcendent, so only he can know whether those premises are true. The Holy Spirit shows the ultimate causes of truth within God’s sphere of knowledge. All other knowledge is subordinate to these reasons. Only God has infinite as over against finite knowledge. He has the true perspective on the universe.
The highest level of justification-rationality for the human mind exists when a person has attained truth by reliable belief-forming mechanisms that are in keeping with biblical norms. At this level, all true beliefs, and only true beliefs, are justified and hence rational.240
Belief in the truthfulness of God’s Word is an ultimate presupposition and the controlling approach to truth. God’s revelation in Scripture is our deepest commitment for truth. It is a strategic error to appeal to autonomous human reason because that will confine the conclusion to the finite realm. It will make chance ultimate because chance is the outcome of probability, with the best chance of belief in the Word of God then only probable. But God reveals himself in self-attesting revelation (Hebrews 1:1–3).
Atypical Wisdom of the Word Not Understood by Human Faculty
From verse 6 to the end of the chapter, Paul addresses believers so that they can understand revelation, inspiration, and illumination.
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. (1 Corinthians 2:6 esv)
The “we” in this verse refers to the apostles. When the apostles spoke the wisdom of the Word of God, they spoke to Christians. The “mature” are simply Christians. Maturity recognizes God’s wisdom as superior to man’s wisdom because only those with positive volition toward the gospel can understand divine viewpoint.
God’s wisdom is not temporal or transitory as is the “wisdom of this age or the rulers of this age.” All that leaders of this world know is the passing wisdom of human thought and “are doomed to pass away.” These leaders “are coming to nothing.” These leaders and their philosophies will not last into eternity. Chris- tians operate in the realm of eternity when it comes to truth; our view of truth comes from eternal decree.
But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7 esv)
God’s wisdom is emphatically superior to the puny brain of man. The Greek for the word “secret” means a truth not hitherto revealed. It does not mean spooky, puzzling, or mysterious. It is truth infinitely higher than we can attain by our finite faculties.
God’s wisdom is prior to creation—“decreed before the ages.” There was no place for input from people at that time, for God hid his wisdom in eternity past. God’s wisdom was no afterthought, nor was it contingent on circumstance. Unlike the wisdom of the world, the Word of God is eternally designed for “our glory.” We possess this glory currently and will enter into a state of glory (blessedness) when we get to heaven, where God will glorify body and soul. Our bodies will have no defect; our souls will be completely set apart unto God without sin. All this is in the realm of eternal truth. If non-Christians would have understood this, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” because he conveys his glory to us.
None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:8 esv)
Leaders at the time of Christ did not know that the glory of the Christ came in flesh. Pilot, Herod, religious leaders, and the Sanhedrin all failed to recognize the glory that was in Christ at his first coming. The phrase “Lord of glory” refers to the deity of Christ and all that that entails; he in every respect is almighty God.
Turning to the Bible itself to demonstrate the glory of God’s revelation, Paul draws inferences from Isaiah 64:4 and 65:17:
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9 esv)
The context of Isaiah 64 and 65 speaks to Israel in captivity. God put Israel in captivity to Babylon because of her rebellion and located her in a place of
discipline. Israel cried to God to deliver her from captivity, and he delivered the Israelites after seventy years of exile. Isaiah gives words of encouragement for present deliverance. Paul draws on the authority of written revelation to make the point that God delivers believers in time by promise. This is documentation from the Word of God that we can know transcendent truth only by revelation.
The “eye” that has not seen and the “ear” that has not heard indicate empirical ways of knowing. People cannot find the nature of this truth by empirical evidence independent of revelation. No one can observe the content of Scripture in nature or creation. We can know some things by creation, but we can know nothing of God’s love or God’s provision in Christ by nature or science. Likewise, neither has “the heart of man imagined,” for we cannot comprehend transcendent truth from something within ourselves.
In this context, “what God has prepared for those who love him” is not the glory of heaven but the glory of the Word of God. God reveals his truth in the Word of God in the here and now (note verse 10). We do not seek God by external or internal evidence naturally; however, God bestows his unexpected grace on us solely by revealing himself in the Word of God through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. It is utterly impossible for us to find God by science or philosophy. Postconservatives are right in this.
Ways to Know Transcendent Truth and Certainty
From verse 10 to the end of the chapter, Paul shows three ways the believer can know God: by revelation (2:10, 11), by inspiration (2:12, 13), and by illumination (2:14–16).
Revelation is the first way we can know God:
These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10 esv)
“Revealed” (unveiled) here refers to Scripture, an end product of revelation. The Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture. He used human agents to place Scripture in written form; the Holy Spirit disclosed Scripture to the human authors. The Holy Spirit is the agent who unveils God in written form. The Greek stresses the words “to us”—to the apostles in contrast to the rulers of the world. Leaders of the world use science and philosophy but cannot come to ultimate truth. They can find only human perspectives of truth, but God revealed eternal, absolute truth to the apostles so that they could write Scripture.
The Greek word for “searches” is the report of a professional researcher, such as someone who investigates custom issues for the government. The Holy Spirit searches the attributes, work, and counsels of God and selects from “all things” truth appropriate for the believer. He does not search to discover but to select what is appropriate for the writing of Scripture. He searches the “depths of God,” so there is nothing that he does not penetrate to formulate the final product of Scripture. Therefore, we can know supernatural truth through the Holy Spirit’s work.
For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:11 esv)
Here Paul set up an analogy of the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Scripture to a personal knowledge of oneself in a self-conscious sense. We can never know another person as we know ourselves. We cannot even know a mate as we know ourselves. The Spirit of God can know God thoroughly because he is God and thus knows himself.
Human authors of Scripture were not left to themselves to write Scripture. The Holy Spirit who “comprehends the thoughts of God” knows everything about God because he is God. The Word of God is the product of God himself. He used human agents, but he supernaturally superintended the writing of every word of Scripture so it became fully inspired. There is a distinction between revelation and inspiration. Revelation is the process whereby the Holy Spirit gave the content of Scripture, whereas inspiration is the superintending process of the Holy Spirit to ensure that every word of Scripture is without error and accurate.
All Scripture [that which is written down or scribed] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17 esv)
Inspiration is the second way the believer can know God:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12 esv)
The Holy Spirit first revealed truth to the apostles (writers of Scripture), then he inspired their writings (12, 13).
The human authors of Scripture could not find God’s wisdom through human faculty—through “the spirit of the world.” The spirit of the world is the prevail- ing principle working in mankind today. This principle is autonomous from God and alien to God, a knowledge limited to the realm of the world.
The only way the Bible’s authors could know God’s transcendent wisdom was by revelation through the Holy Spirit—“the Spirit who is from God.” Note the contrast: There is the spirit of the world but then there is the spirit of God. The Holy Spirit gave us the Word of God by revelation and verbal, plenary inspiration. God did not leave writers of Scripture to themselves to write Scripture.
The “we” in this verse refers to the apostles. The “things that have been freely given by God” is the Word of God—Scripture. Inspiration of Scripture is an act of the grace of God.
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:13 esv)
“This” in verse 13 is divine wisdom, or “the things freely given us by God” of verse 12. Scripture is not human wisdom or a compilation of human thoughts.
Inspiration of Scripture came in “words,” not merely in thoughts—“in words not taught by human wisdom.” The Holy Spirit did not give general thoughts to the human authors of Scripture and then let them put down whatever words they wanted. He guided them to use each word.
The Holy Spirit teaches truth consistent with what Scripture says in words. The idea of inspiration is that the Holy Spirit combines divine revelation with words guided by him personally—“interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” The apostles did not source their knowledge from human means but from the Holy Spirit.
Illumination is the third and final way God can be known. Paul takes up this subject in verses 14 through 16.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 esv)
Illumination is God’s intervention on our behalf to help us understand the Word of God.
First, Paul deals with why the non-believer cannot understand divine phenomenon. The word “natural” means “soulish.” We get our word “psychology” from this word (psuchikos). The “natural person” is all soul, pure psychology, and no spirit. In this state, non-Christians have natural capacity but no spiritual capacity. They do not have capacity to relate to God because they have had only one birth and not a second birth. They might outwardly be very moral or righteous, but inwardly they are dead to God. Soulish people do not “receive the things of the Spirit of God.” In this state, they have no capacity to appreciate divine truth. God’s Word does not penetrate their thinking. The word “receive” means “welcome.” They do not welcome the Word of God into their souls because they are self-sufficient and independent from God.
The “things of the Spirit of God” (revelation) are “folly” to the natural person. Such a person has negative volition toward divine, deductive, didactic truth.
In the phrase “he is not able to understand [Scriptures] because they are spiritually discerned,” the word “discerned” is the word “judged.” A judge makes distinction as to who is innocent or who is guilty and distinguishes between opinion and fact. Non-Christians do not have the faculty to make judgments about the Word of God because they are spiritually dead; therefore, they have no transcendent discernment.
Non-Christians exist purely at the human or material level. They have a perception handicap to spiritual things and, therefore, lack adequate faculty to know God. They begin with self and end with self, and exist in a purely human condition without recourse to connect to God. Non-believers are spiritually blind, like a sightless person who cannot see the sun. They believe that self is the measure of a person—that all that they need is their own perception of reality. Operating in pure self, they are kind as long as they can have their own way.
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:7 esv)
The Christian, on the other hand, has a special capacity to discern truth by illumination:
The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. (1 Corinthians 2:15 esv)
The believer has a built-in Bible teacher—the Holy Spirit. This stands in contradistinction to the non-believer, who cannot decipher spiritual truth (see previous verse). It is the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit to illumine the Bible to the believer. God gave revelation and inspired the writing of the apostles, but he as well illumines the Word of God to all believers.
Believers then can “judge” or assess spiritual things by their true standard. They can come to believe properly and apply truth to experience. They can judge “all things,” in contrast to the non-believers, who cannot discern spiritual things. They can come to conclusion and certainty about truth.
…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:18)
Paul says to the believer that he is “judged by no one.” Non-believers try to pass judgment on believers, but they do not have capacity to do so because they are spiritually dead, incapable of connecting to the believer’s orientation to divine revelation. They might accurately assess our faults, but they cannot accurately assess our faith. Unbelievers cannot figure us out because we march to a different drummer than they have the capacity to perceive.
Non-Christians have no built-in Bible teacher. Non-Christians can understand facts and objective phenomena of Scripture, but they cannot truly grasp the spiritual significance of its truth, being spiritually blind.
Finally, Paul quotes from Isaiah 40:13 to establish his point that the Bible is transcendent phenomena:
“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16 esv)
The “mind of the Lord” is the Word of God. Isaiah was Old Testament Scripture. No one knows the mind of God except God, so natural man does not have the capacity to assess the mind of God autonomously.
The word “mind” refers to the seat of consciousness, the faculty of perception and judgment; here the “mind” is the “mind of the Lord.” To pronounce false what God reveals to the believer from his “mind” is to pronounce false the “mind of Christ,” Christ’s perception and judgment about truth. Believers have the mind of Christ because we have the Bible, the revelation of God’s mind.
Believers have the capacity to understand inspired books of the Bible because the Holy Spirit illumines our minds to do so. The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. Believers must first understand truth before we apply truth to experience. We have the ability to apply truth to experience because we have the “mind of Christ.” We do not flop around in our convictions but stand firm on what we believe. We have certainty that comes from God. The Bible stands in polar opposition to the prevailing and dominant view of man today.