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1 Corinthians 2:14

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

But the natural man - Ψυχικος, The animal man - the man who is in a mere state of nature, and lives under the influence of his animal passions; for the word ψυχη, which we often translate soul, means the lower and sensitive part of man, in opposition to νους, the understanding or rational part. The Latins use anima to signify these lower passions; and animus to signify the higher. The person in question is not only one who either has had no spiritual teaching, or has not profited by it; but one who lives for the present world, having no respect to spiritual or eternal things. This ψυχικος, or animal man, is opposed to the πνευματικος, or spiritual man: and, as this latter is one who is under the influence of the Spirit of God, so the former is one who is without that influence.

The apostle did speak of those high and sublime spiritual things to these animal men; but he explained them to those which were spiritual. He uses this word in this sense, 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 9:11; and particularly in 1 Corinthians 2:15; of the present chapter: He that is spiritual judgeth all things.

But the natural man - The apostle appears to give this - as a reason why he explained those deep spiritual things to spiritual men; because the animal man - the man who is in a state of nature, without the regenerating grace of the Spirit of God, receiveth not the things of the Spirit - neither apprehends nor comprehends them: he has no relish for them; he considers it the highest wisdom to live for this world. Therefore these spiritual things are foolishness to him; for while he is in his animal state he cannot see their excellency, because they are spiritually discerned, and he has no spiritual mind.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

But the natural man - ψυχικὸς , δὲ ἄνθρωπος psuchikos de anthrōposThe word “natural” here stands opposed evidently to “spiritual.” It denotes those who are governed and influenced by the natural instincts; the animal passions and desires, in opposition to those who are influenced by the Spirit of God. It refers to unregenerate people; but it has also not merely the idea of their being unregenerate, but that of their being influenced by the animal passions or desires. See the note on 1 Corinthians 15:44. The word “sensual” would correctly express the idea. The word is used by the Greek writers to denote that which man has in common with the brutes - to denote that they are under the influence of the senses, or the mere animal nature, in opposition to reason and conscience - Bretschneider. See 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Here it denotes that they are under the influence of the senses, or the animal nature, in opposition to being influenced by the Spirit of God. Macknight and Doddridge render it: “the animal man.”

Whitby understands by it the man who rejects revelation, the man who is under the influence of carnal wisdom. The word occurs but six times in the New Testament; 1 Corinthians 15:44, 1 Corinthians 15:44, 1 Corinthians 15:46; James 3:15; Jude 1:19. In 1 Corinthians 15:44, 1 Corinthians 15:44, 1 Corinthians 15:46, it is rendered “natural,” and is applied to the body as it exists before death, in contradistinction from what shall exist after the resurrection - called a spiritual body. In James 3:15, it is applied to wisdom: “This wisdom - is earthly, sensual, devilish.” In Jude 1:19, it is applied to sensual persons, or those who are governed by the senses in opposition to those who are influenced by the Spirit: “These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.” The word here evidently denotes those who are under the influence of the senses; who are governed by the passions and the animal appetites, and natural desires; and who are uninfluenced by the Spirit of God. And it may be observed that this was the case with the great mass of the pagan world, even including the philosophers.

Receiveth not - οὐ δέχεται ou dechetaidoes not “embrace” or “comprehend” them. That is, he rejects them as folly; he does not perceive their beauty, or their wisdom; he despises them. He loves other things better. A man of intemperance does not receive or love the arguments for temperance; a man of licentiousness, the arguments for chastity; a liar, the arguments for truth. So a sensual or worldly man does not receive or love the arguments for religion.

The things of the Spirit of God - The doctrines which are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the things which pertain to his influence on the heart and life. The things of the Spirit of God here denote all the things which the Holy Spirit produces.

Neither can he know them - Neither can he understand or comprehend them. Perhaps, also, the word “know” here implies also the idea of “loving,” or “approving” of them, as it often does in the Scripture. Thus, to know the Lord often means to love him, to have a full, practical acquaintance with him. When the apostle says that the animal or sensual man cannot know those things, he may have reference to one of two things. Either:

(1)That those doctrines were not discoverable by human wisdom, or by any skill which the natural man may have, but were to be learned only by revelation. This is the main drift of his argument, and this sense is given by Locke and Whitby. Or,

(2)He may mean that the sensual the unrenewed man cannot perceive their beauty and their force, even after they are revealed to man, unless the mind is enlightened and inclined by the Spirit of God. This is probably the sense of the passage.

This is the simple affirmation of a fact - that while the man remains sensual and carnal, he cannot perceive the beauty of those doctrines. And this is a simple and well known fact. It is a truth - universal and lamentable - that the sensual man, the worldly man, the proud, haughty, and self-confident man; the man under the influence of his animal appetites - licentious, false, ambitious, and vain - does not perceive any beauty in Christianity. So the intemperate man perceives no beauty in the arguments for temperance; the adulterer, no beauty in the arguments for chastity; the liar, no beauty in the arguments for truth. It is a simple fact, that while he is intemperate, or licentious, or false, he can perceive no beauty in these doctrines.

But this does not prove that he has no natural faculties for perceiving the force and beauty of these arguments; or that he might not apply his mind to their investigation, and be brought to embrace them; or that he might not abandon the love of intoxicating drinks, and sensuality, and falsehood, and be a man of temperance, purity, and truth. He has all the natural faculties which are requisite in the case; and all the inability is his “strong love” of intoxicating drinks, or impurity, or falsehood. So of the sensual sinner. While he thus remains in love with sin, he cannot perceive the beauty of the plan of salvation, or the excellency of the doctrines of religion. He needs just the love of these things, and the hatred of sin. He needs to cherish the influences of the Spirit; to receive what He has taught, and not to reject it through the love of sin; he needs to yield himself to their influences, and then their beauty will be seen.

The passage here proves that while a man is thus sensual, the things of the Spirit will appear to him to be folly; it proves nothing about his ability, or his natural faculty, to see the excellency of these things, and to turn from his sin. It is the affirmation of a simple fact everywhere discernible, that the natural man does not perceive the beauty of these things; that while he remains in that state he cannot; and that if he is ever brought to perceive their beauty, it will be by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Such is his love of sin, that he never will be brought to see their beauty except by the agency of the Holy Spirit. “For wickedness perverts the judgment, and makes people err with respect to practical principles; so that no one can be wise and judicious who is not good.” Aristotle, as quoted by Bloomfield.

They are spiritually discerned - That is, they are perceived by the aid of the Holy Spirit enlightening the mind and influencing the heart.

(The expression ψυχικὸς ἄνθρωπος psuchikos anthrōposhas given rise to much controversy. Frequent attempts have been made to explain it, merely of the animal or sensual man. If this be the true sense, the doctrine of human depravity, in as far at least as this text may be supposed to bear upon it, is greatly invalidated. The apostle would seem to affirm only, that individuals, addicted to the gross indulgences of sense, are incapable of discerning and appreciating spiritual things. Thus, a large exception would be made in favor of all those who might be styled intellectual and moral persons, living above the inferior appetites, and directing their faculties to the candid investigation of truth. That the phrase, however, is to be explained of the natural or “unregenerate” man, whether distinguished for intellectual refinement, and external regard to morals, or degraded by animal indulgence, will appear evident from an examination of the passage.

The word in dispute comes from ψυχή psuchēwhich though it primarily signify the breath or animal life, is by no means confined to that sense, but sometimes embraces the mind or soul “as distinguished both from man‘s body and from his πνεῦμα pneumaor spirit, breathed into him immediately by God” - See Parkhurst‘s Greek Lexicon. The etymology of the word does not necessarily require us, then, to translate it “sensual.” The context therefore alone must determine the matter. Now the “natural man” is there opposed to the spiritual man, the ψυχικὸς psuchikosto the πνευματικὸς pneumatikosand if the latter be explained of “him who is enlightened by the Holy Spirit” - who is regenerate - the former must be explained of him who is not enlightened by that Spirit, who is still in a state of nature; and will thus embrace a class far more numerous than the merely sensual part of mankind.

Farther; the general scope of the passage demands this view. The Corinthians entertained an excessive fondness for human learning and wisdom. They loved philosophical disquisition and oratorical display, and may therefore have been impatient of the “enticing words” of Paul. To correct their mistaken taste, the apostle asserts and proves the utter insufficiency of human wisdom, either to discover spiritual things, or to appreciate them when discovered. He exclaims “where is the ‹wise‘? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” 1 Corinthians 1:17, 1 Corinthians 1:31. Now it would be strange indeed, if in bringing his argument to a conclusion, he should simply assert, that “sensual” people were incapable of spiritual discernment. So lame and impotent a conclusion is not to be attributed to the apostle. The disputed phrase, therefore, must be understood of all unregenerate persons, however free from gross sin, or eminent in intellectual attainment. Indeed it is the “proud wisdom” of the world, and not its sensuality, that the apostle? throughout has chiefly in view. Add to all this; that the simplicity of the gospel has “in reality” met with more bitter opposition and pointed scorn, from people of worldly wisdom, than from people of the sensual class. Of the former, is it especially true that they have counted the gospel “foolishness” and contemptuously rejected its message.

Of this natural man it is affirmed that he cannot know the things of the Spirit of God. He can know them “speculatively,” and may enlarge on them with great accuracy and beauty, but he cannot know them so as to approve and receive. Allowing the incapacity to be moral, not natural or physical, that is to say, it arises from “disinclination or perversion of will:” still the spiritual perception is affected by the fall, and whether that be directly or indirectly through the will, matters not, “as far as the fact is concerned.” It remains the same. The mind of man, when applied to spiritual subjects, does not now have the same discernment that it originally had, and as our author remarks, if it is ever brought to perceive their beauty, it must be by the agency of the Spirit. (See the supplementary note on Romans 8:7.)

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
God has revealed true wisdom to us by his Spirit. Here is a proof of the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, 2Pe 1:21. In proof of the Divinity of the Holy Ghost, observe, that he knows all things, and he searches all things, even the deep things of God. No one can know the things of God, but his Holy Spirit, who is one with the Father and the Son, and who makes known Divine mysteries to his church. This is most clear testimony, both to the real Godhead and the distinct person of the Holy Spirit. The apostles were not guided by worldly principles. They had the revelation of these things from the Spirit of God, and the saving impression of them from the same Spirit. These things they declared in plain, simple language, taught by the Holy Spirit, totally different from the affected oratory or enticing words of man's wisdom. The natural man, the wise man of the world, receives not the things of the Spirit of God. The pride of carnal reasoning is really as much opposed to spirituality, as the basest sensuality. The sanctified mind discerns the real beauties of holiness, but the power of discerning and judging about common and natural things is not lost. But the carnal man is a stranger to the principles, and pleasures, and actings of the Divine life. The spiritual man only, is the person to whom God gives the knowledge of his will. How little have any known of the mind of God by natural power! And the apostles were enabled by his Spirit to make known his mind. In the Holy Scriptures, the mind of Christ, and the mind of God in Christ, are fully made known to us. It is the great privilege of Christians, that they have the mind of Christ revealed to them by his Spirit. They experience his sanctifying power in their hearts, and bring forth good fruits in their lives.
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, 585

Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. The carnal mind cannot comprehend these mysteries. If questioners and doubters continue to follow the great deceiver, the impressions and convictions of God's Spirit will grow less and less, the promptings of Satan more frequent, until the mind will fully submit to his control. Then that which appears to these bewildered minds as foolishness will be the power of God, and that which God regards as foolishness will be to them the strength of wisdom. 4T 585.1

One of the great evils which has attended the quest of knowledge, the investigations of science, is that those who engage in these researches too often lose sight of the divine character of pure and unadulterated religion. The worldly-wise have attempted to explain upon scientific principles the influence of the Spirit of God upon the heart. The least advance in this direction will lead the soul into the mazes of skepticism. The religion of the Bible is simply the mystery of godliness; no human mind can fully understand it, and it is utterly incomprehensible to the unregenerate heart. 4T 585.2

The Son of God compared the operations of the Holy Spirit to the wind, which “bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.” Again, we read in the Sacred Record that the world's Redeemer rejoiced in spirit and said: “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” 4T 585.3

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Ellen G. White
Christ's Object Lessons, 106

And today men are eagerly seeking for earthly treasure. Their minds are filled with selfish, ambitious thoughts. For the sake of gaining worldly riches, honor, or power, they place the maxims, traditions, and requirements of men above the requirements of God. From them the treasures of His word are hidden. COL 106.1

“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” 1 Corinthians 2:14. COL 106.2

“If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4. COL 106.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, 524

Abraham's unquestioning obedience was one of the most striking instances of faith and reliance upon God to be found in the Sacred Record. With only the naked promise that his descendants should possess Canaan, without the least outward evidence, he followed on where God should lead, fully and sincerely complying with the conditions on his part, and confident that the Lord would faithfully perform His word. The patriarch went wherever God indicated his duty; he passed through wildernesses without terror; he went among idolatrous nations, with the one thought: “God has spoken; I am obeying His voice; He will guide, He will protect me.” 4T 524.1

Just such faith and confidence as Abraham had the messengers of God need today. But many whom the Lord could use will not move onward, hearing and obeying the one Voice above all others. The connection with kindred and friends, the former habits and associations, too often have so great an influence upon God's servants that He can give them but little instruction, can communicate to them but little knowledge of His purposes; and often after a time He sets them aside and calls others in their place, whom He proves and tests in the same manner. The Lord would do much more for His servants if they were wholly consecrated to Him, esteeming His service above the ties of kindred and all other earthly associations. 4T 524.2

Ministers of the gospel have a sacred work. They have a solemn message of warning to bear to the world—a message which will be a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. They are God's messengers to man, and they should never lose sight of their mission or of their responsibilities. They are not like worldlings; they cannot be like them. If they would be true to God they must maintain their separate, holy character. If they cease to connect with heaven they are in greater danger than others and can exert a stronger influence in the wrong direction, for Satan has his eye constantly upon them, waiting for some weakness to be developed whereby he may make a successful attack. And how he triumphs when he succeeds; for when one who is an ambassador for Christ is off his watch, through him the great adversary may secure many souls to himself. 4T 524.3

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