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Commentary On Corinthians Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

1 Corinthians 2:6-9

6. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to naught:

6. Porro sapientiam loquimur inter perfectos: sapientiam quidem non saeculi hujus, neque principum saeculi hujus, qui abolentur:

7. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

7. Sed loquimur sapientiam Dei in mysterio, quae est recondita: quam praefinivit Deus ante saecula in gloriam nostram,

8. Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

8. Quam nemo principum saeculi hujus cognovit: si emro cognovissent, nequaquam Dominum gloriae crucifixissent.

9. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

9. Sed quemadmodum Scriptum est (Ies.64:4.) |Quae oculus non vidit, nec auris audivit, nec in cor hominis ascenderunt, quae praeparavit Deus iis, qui ipsum diligunt.|

6. We speak wisdom Lest he should appear to despise wisdom, as unlearned and ignorant men (Acts 4:13) condemn learning with a sort of barbarian ferocity, he adds, that he is not devoid of that wisdom, which was worthy of the name, but was esteemed as such by none but competent judges. By those that were perfect, he means not those that had attained a wisdom that was full and complete, but those who possess a sound and unbiased judgment. For tm, which is always rendered in the Septuagint by teleios means complete He twits, however, in passing, those that had no relish for his preaching, and gives them to understand that it was owing to their own fault: |If my doctrine is disrelished by any of you, those persons give sufficient evidence from that very token, that they possess a depraved and vitiated understanding, inasmuch as it will invariably be acknowledged to be the highest wisdom among men of sound intellect and correct judgment.| While Paul's preaching was open to the view of all, it was, nevertheless, not always estimated according to its value, and this is the reason why he appeals to sound and unbiased judges, who would declare that doctrine, which the world accounted insipid, to be true wisdom. Meanwhile, by the words we speak, he intimates that he set before them an elegant specimen of admirable wisdom, lest any one should allege that he boasted of a thing unknown.

Yet not the wisdom of this world He again repeats by way of anticipation what he had already conceded -- that the gospel was not human wisdom, lest any one should object that there were few supporters of that doctrine; nay more, that it was contemned by all that were most distinguished for intellect. Hence he acknowledges of his own accord what might be brought forward by way of objection, but in such a way as not at all to give up his point.

The princes of this world By the princes of this world he means those that have distinction in the world through means of any endowment, for sometimes there are persons, who, though they are by no means distinguished by acuteness of intellect, are nevertheless held in admiration from the dignity of the station which they hold. That, however, we may not be alarmed by these imposing appearances, the Apostle adds, that they come to nought, or perish. For it were unbefitting, that a thing that is eternal should depend upon the authority of those who are frail, and fading, and cannot give perpetuity even to themselves: |When the kingdom of God is revealed, let the wisdom of this world retire, and what is transient give place to what is eternal; for the princes of this world have their distinction, but it is of such a nature as is in one moment extinguished. What is this in comparison with the heavenly and incorruptible kingdom of God?|

7. The wisdom of God in a mystery He assigns the reason why the doctrine of the gospel is not held in high esteem by the princes of this world -- because it is involved in mysteries, and is consequently hidden For the gospel so far transcends the perspicacity of human intellect, that to whatever height those who are accounted men of superior intellect may raise their view, they never can reach its elevated height, while in the meantime they despise its meanness, as if it were prostrate at their feet. The consequence is, that the more proudly they contemn it, they are the farther from acquaintance with it -- nay more, they are removed to so great a distance as to be prevented from even seeing it.

Which God hath ordained. Paul having said that the gospel was a hidden thing, there was a danger lest believers should, on hearing this, be appalled by the difficulty, and retire in despair. Accordingly he meets this danger, and declares that it had notwithstanding been appointed to us, that we might enjoy it. Lest any one, I say, should reckon that he has nothing to do with the hidden wisdom, or should imagine it to be unlawful to direct his eyes towards it, as not being within the reach of human capacity, he teaches that it has been communicated to us in accordance with the eternal counsel of God. At the same time he has something still farther in view, for by an implied comparison he extols that grace which has been opened up by Christ's advent, and distinguishes us above our fathers, who lived under the law. On this point I have spoken more at large in the end of the last chapter of the Romans. First of all then he argues from what God had ordained, for if God has appointed nothing in vain, it follows, that we will be no losers by listening to the gospel which he has appointed for us, for he accommodates himself to our capacity in addressing us. In accordance with this Isaiah (Isaiah 45:19) says --

|I have not spoken in a lurking place, or in a dark corner. I have not in vain said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me.|

Secondly, with the view of rendering the gospel attractive, and alluring us to a desire of acquaintance with it, he draws an argument still farther from the design that God had in view in giving it to us -- |for our glory.| In this expression, too, he seems to draw a comparison between us and the fathers, our heavenly Father not having vouchsafed to them that honor which he reserved for the advent of his Son.

8. None of the princes of this world knew If you supply the words by their own discernment, the statement would not be more applicable to them than to the generality of mankind, and the very lowest of the people; for what are the attainments of all of us as to this matter, from the greatest to the least? Only we may perhaps say, that princes, rather than others, are charged with blindness and ignorance -- for this reason, that they alone appear in the view of the word clear-sighted and wise. At the same time I should prefer to understand the expression in a more simple way, agreeably to the common usage of Scripture, which is wont to speak in terms of universality of those things that, happen epi to polu, that is commonly, and also to make a negative statement in terms of universality, as to those things that happen only epi elatton, that is very seldom In this sense there were nothing inconsistent with this statement, though there were found a few men of distinction, and elevated above others in point of dignity, who were at the same time endowed with the pure knowledge of God.

For had they known The wisdom of God shone forth clearly in Christ, and yet there the princes did not perceive it; for those who took the lead in the crucifixion of Christ were on the one hand the chief men of the Jews, high in credit for holiness and wisdom; and on the other hand Pilate and the Roman empire. In this we have a most distinct proof of the utter blindness of all that are wise only according to the flesh. This argument of the Apostle, however, might appear to be weak. |What! do we not every day see persons who, with deliberate malice, fight against the truth of God, as to which they are not ignorant; nay, even if a rebellion so manifest were not to be seen by us with our eyes, what else is the sin against the Holy Ghost than a willful obstinacy against God, when a man knowingly and willingly does not merely oppose his word, but even fights against it. It is on this account, too, that Christ declares that the Pharisees, and others of that description, knew him, (John 7:28,) while he deprives them of all pretext of ignorance, and accuses them of impious cruelty in persecuting him, the faithful servant of the Father, for no other reason but that they hated the truth.|

I answer that there are two kinds of ignorance. The one arises from inconsiderate zeal, not expressly rejecting what is good, but from having an impression that it is evil. No one, it is true, sins in ignorance in such a way as not to be chargeable meanwhile in the sight of God with an evil conscience, there being always a mixture of hypocrisy, or pride, or contempt; but at the same time judgment, and all intelligence in the mind of man, are sometimes so effectually choked, that nothing but bare ignorance is to be seen by others, or even by the individual himself. Such was Paul before he was enlightened; for the reason why he hated Christ and was hostile to his doctrine was, that he was through ignorance hurried away with a preposterous zeal for the law. Yet he was not devoid of hypocrisy, nor exempt from pride, so as to be free from blame in the sight of God, but those vices were so completely covered over with ignorance and blindness as not to be perceived or felt even by himself.

The other kind of ignorance has more of the appearance of insanity and derangement, than of mere ignorance; for those that of their own accord rise up against God, are like persons in a frenzy, who, seeing, see not. (Matthew 13:13.) It must be looked upon, indeed, as a settled point, that infidelity is always blind; but the difference lies here, that in some cases malice is covered over with blindness to such a degree that the individual, through a kind of stupidity, is without any perception of his own wickedness. This is the case with those who, with a good intention, as they speak, or in other words, a foolish imagination, impose upon themselves. In some cases malice has the ascendancy in such a manner, that in spite of the checks of conscience, the individual rushes forward into wickedness of this sort with a kind of madness. Hence it is not to be wondered, if Paul declares that the princes of this world would not have crucified Christ, had they known the wisdom of God. For the Pharisees and Scribes did not know Christ's doctrine to be true, so as not to be bewildered in their mind, and wander on in their own darkness.

9. As it is written, |What eye hath not seen.| All are agreed that this passage is taken from Isaiah 64:4, and as the meaning is at first view plain and easy, interpreters do not give themselves much trouble in expounding it. On looking, however, more narrowly into it, two very great difficulties present themselves. The first is, that the words that are here quoted by Paul do not correspond with the words of the Prophet. The second is, that it seems as though Paul had perverted the Prophet's declaration to a purpose quite foreign to his design.

First then as to the words; and as they may be taken in different senses, they are explained variously by interpreters. Some render the passage thus: |From the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived with their ears, and eye hath not seen any god beside Thee, who doth act in such a manner towards him that waiteth for him.| Others understand the discourse as addressed to God, in this manner: |Eye hath not seen, nor hath ear heard, O God, besides thee, the things which thou dost for those that wait for thee.| Literally, however, the Prophet's meaning is: |From the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor have they perceived with the ears, hath not seen a god, (or O God,) besides thee, will do (or will prepare) for him that waiteth for him.| If we understand 'lhym (God) to be in the accusative, the relative who must be supplied. This exposition, too, appears, at first view, to suit better with the Prophet's context in respect of the verb that follows being used in the third person; but it is farther removed from Paul's meaning, on which we ought to place more dependence than on any other consideration. For where shall we find a surer or more faithful interpreter than the Spirit of God of this authoritative declaration, which He himself dictated to Isaiah -- in the exposition which He has furnished by the mouth of Paul. With the view of obviating, however, the calumnies of the wicked, I observe that the Hebrew idiom admits of our understanding the Prophets true meaning to be this: |O God, neither hath eye seen, nor hath ear heard: but thou alone knowest the things which thou art wont to do to those that wait for thee.| The sudden change of person forms no objection, as we know that it is so common in the writings of the Prophets, that it needs not be any hindrance in our way. If any one, however, prefers the former interpretation, he will have no occasion for charging either us or the Apostle with departing from the simple meaning of the words, for we supply less than they do, as they are under the necessity of adding a mark of comparison to the verb, rendering it thus: |who doth act in such a manner.|

As to what follows respecting the entering of these things into the heart of man, though the expression is not made use of by the Prophet, it does not differ materially from the clause besides thee For in ascribing this knowledge to God alone, he excludes from it not merely the bodily senses of men, but also the entire faculty of the understanding. While, therefore, the Prophet makes mention only of sight and hearing, he includes at the same time by implication all the faculties of the soul. And without doubt these are the two instruments by which we attain the knowledge of those things that find their way into the understanding. In using the expression them that love him, he has followed the Greek interpreters, who have translated it in this way from having been misled by the resemblance between one letter and another; but as that did not affect the point in hand, he did not choose to depart from the common reading, as we frequently have occasion to observe how closely he follows the received version. Though the words, therefore, are not the same, there is no real difference of meaning.

I come now to the subject-matter. The Prophet in that passage, when mentioning how signally God had on all occasions befriended his people in their emergencies, exclaims, that his acts of kindness to the pious surpass the comprehension of human intellect. |But what has this to do,| some one will say, |with spiritual doctrine, and the promises of eternal life, as to which Paul is here arguing?| There are three ways in which this question may be answered. There were no inconsistency in affirming that the Prophet, having made mention of earthly blessings, was in consequence of this led on to make a general statement, and even to extol that spiritual blessedness which is laid up in heaven for believers. I prefer, however, to understand him simply as referring to those gifts of God's grace that are daily conferred upon believers. In these it becomes us always to observe their source, and not to confine our views to their present aspect. Now their source is that unmerited goodness of God, by which he has adopted us into the number of his sons. He, therefore, who would estimate these things aright, will not contemplate them in their naked aspect, but will clothe them with God's fatherly love, as with a robe, and will thus be led forward from temporal favors to eternal life. It might also be maintained that the argument is from the less to the greater; for if man's intellect is not competent to measure God's earthly gifts, how much less will it reach the height of heaven? (John 3:12.) I have, however, already intimated which interpretation I prefer.

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