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Biblical Apologetic Methodology by Dr. Myron Houghton (part 5)

Dr. Myron Houghton works through more Biblical evidence as he looks at another passage of Scripture.

(5) 1 Corinthians 2:1-16Introduction. In the first chapter, Paul tries to restore unity and godliness to the Corinthian church by contrasting salvation with baptism, signs, reason and worldly qualifications. Here in chapter 2, he focuses on the message of salvation as a revelation from God.

Revelation and the Spirit’s Power—2:1–5. The message Paul preached was the gospel: “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (v. 2). He describes it as the “testimony” of God (v. 1) [1. Instead of “testimony” (martuvrion), some manuscripts have “mystery” (musthvrion). However, both readings emphasize Paul’s message as a revelation from God.] This message was not proclaimed “with excellence of speech or of wisdom” (v. 1) that is, “with persuasive words of human wisdom” (v. 4). Rather, Paul’s speech and preaching were “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (vv. 4, 5). While it is possible that the expression “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” could refer to external miraculous signs, it is not probable in light of chapter one where “power” refers, not to signs (1:22–24) but to the power of God which accompanies the preaching of “Christ crucified,” a power which produces internal certainty of one’s salvation (1:18).

Revelation and the Spirit’s Wisdom–-2:6–13. I think “those who are mature” (toi`~ teleivoi~, literally, “those who have reached the goal”) refers, not to mature Christians in contrast to immature ones, but rather to believers in contrast to unbelievers. I accept this interpretation because the “wisdom” Paul speaks is not deeper life truth but the gospel (cf. 1:21, 24; 2:2). The wisdom proclaimed by Paul is in contrast with “the wisdom of this age” (v. 6). It is “the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (vv. 7, 8). Thus, I think Lattimore’s translation of 1 Corinthians 2:6 captures the meaning when he says, “Still, what we say is wisdom to the initiates, but not the wisdom of this age.” [2. Richmond Lattimore, Acts and Letters of the Apostles (N.Y.: Dorset Press, 1982), p. 110.]

If in 2:6 “wisdom” is the gospel, and those who have reached the goal are those who are saved, then “we” (vv. 6, 7, 12, 13) and “us” (vv. 10, 12) does not refer to all believers but to (at least some of) the apostles (cf. 3:5, 9; 4:1, 6–9). This interpretation of “we” and “us” as apostles is supported by verse 9, which refers, not to what awaits us in glory, but to divine revelation: the human eye, ear, and mind cannot see, hear, or imagine certain things but, according to verse 10, “God has revealed them.” Verses 10 and 11 show that just as a human spirit alone knows what a person is thinking, even so the Holy Spirit of God is uniquely qualified to know the thoughts of God the Father.

Verses 12 and 13 describe two special ministries of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles: (a) verse 12 describes the Spirit of God enabling an apostle to know (oivda) the things freely given (i.e., revealed) by God, while (b) verse 13 describes the Holy Spirit enabling the apostle to speak (and, by extension, to write) what had been freely revealed. [3. See 2 Peter 1:21, where the verse describes men who spoke from God by being carried along by the Holy Spirit, yet this description refers to “Scripture” (v. 20), a word which means writing. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 2:13 Paul is saying, “These things [the Spirit has revealed] we also speak [and write], not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but [in words] which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” or, as NASB translates, “Combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” NOTE: I would change “spiritual” to read, “Spirit-given” both times at the end of this verse: “Combining Spirit-given thoughts with Spirit-given words.”] Support for this rendering can be found in the fact of English grammar that a participial phrase is intended to further explain the action of the main verb. Thus, “We speak . . . [in words] which the Holy Spirit teaches” is further explained by, “Combining Spirit-given thoughts with Spirit-given words.”

Revelation and the Spirit’s Enlightenment—2:14–16. Not only does the Holy Spirit reveal the gospel (2:1–5) and cause it to be written down (2:6–13) but He also causes it to be understood (2:14–16). “The natural man [literally “the soulish man,” i.e., an unbeliever] does not receive [devcomai, literally, “welcome”] the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know [ginwvskw] them, because they are spiritually discerned” (v. 14). On the other hand, the person who is controlled by God’s Spirit “judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one” (v. 15). These verses are saying that God’s Spirit alone is able to judge or evaluate properly the message He has revealed and inspired. Therefore, the unbeliever, apart from God’s Spirit, does not welcome or evaluate properly the gospel; instead the gospel is considered foolishness.

And this truth is not merely a passing thought in Scripture. In Romans 1:18—3:20 Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, presents a detailed and sustained treatment of how the unbeliever responds to divine revelation, including the following ideas: (a) “God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18); (b) God’s “invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (1:20); (c) the objects of God’s wrath include not only those whose lives are characterized by “uncleanness” (1:24), “vile passions” (1:26) and “a debased mind” (1:28), but also those who judge these people by professing a public morality while practicing a private immorality (2:1), specifically including religious people who do not practise what they preach (2:23, 24); (d) the conclusion is that every human being is an object of God’s wrath because “there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God” (3:10, 11).

In light of these truths, the evidential apologetic method is doomed to fail. There can be no common ground, not because humanity isn’t created in God’s image but because, being created in God’s image, the whole human race is in rebellion against God. The solution to such a condition is not to locate shared criteria by which proofs for God’s existence and the reliability of the Bible can be demonstrated; rather, the solution is found in the gospel, which when presented and accompanied by the work of God’s Spirit, is able to produce saving faith. Dr. John Whitcomb gives an example from his early experience as a Christian of going with the Bible teacher who had led him to Christ to visit an unsaved university student who said he no longer believed the Bible and who had questions and objections against Christianity. Dr. Whitcomb says, “As I recall the conversation, Tom did raise some questions about Christianity and the Bible. The questions were not totally ignored, but the answers were always amplified by new perspectives on the gospel and fresh appeals for surrender to Christ. At the end of an hour I saw something I had not dreamed possible—a proud university student kneeling beside his bed with this God-honoring missionary, acknowledging the lordship of Jesus Christ in his life. There had been no great arguments, no rushing to the library for documentation on this or that Christian evidence, no appeal to human authorities.” [4. John C. Whitcomb, Jr., “Contemporary Apologetics and the Christian Faith,” The W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, 2/8-11/77, published in four parts in Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas: Dallas Seminary, 4/77-1/78). This quote was from the April–June 1977 issue, p. 102.]

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  • Read part 2
  • Read part 3
  • Read part 4
  • Read conclusion
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