by Richard D. Draper
Paul asked the question, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” The Apostle’s thought here aligns with a Greek proverb, “Like is known only by like” (Plato, Leg. 4.716c). Therefore, Paul’s statement should not be construed as addressing the issue of human duality—the tension between body and spirit and where the seat of thought or mind are—but rather to express, as one scholar put it, “our common experience of personal reality. At the human level, I alone know what I am thinking, and no one else, unless I choose to reveal my thoughts in the form of words. So also only God knows what God is about” (Gordon D. Fee, First Epistle of the Corinthians [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987], 112). Humans left to their own devices can never know God’s mind and will. The Spirit, however, being one with God and being able to fathom the mind of God, can reveal “the things of God” to the loving, righteous soul. Again, Paul’s words underscore the need for continuous revelation.
The natural man, uninspired by the Spirit of God, simply cannot understand the things of God, and so he dismisses them as complete nonsense. Indeed, he cannot know them. The force of Paul’s phase is the absolute inability of the natural man to understand spiritual things. It is not because God has precluded him, but, tragically, because the natural man has incarcerated himself in a realm (the present world order where spiritual things cannot, no matter how hard he or others may try, be understood. The simple truth is that no one who is carnal or natural can understand, let alone see, God (see D&C 67:10). The reason is, as Paul states “because they are spiritually discerned.” The Greek verb he uses (anakrinō), means to carefully study a question, to examine, discern. It was also used in a legal context with the sense of to conduct a judicial hearing. The word “discern” works well because it carries the idea of being able to make appropriate ‘judgments’ about what God is doing in the world. The things of God, therefore, can only be judged— that is, examined or discerned—by those who possess the Spirit of God. Paul is well aware that the very essence of spirituality and the key that unlocks the door to understanding the things of God is love, especially love directed toward him (2:9). To those who fully love, the Father is willing to reveal the mysteries of his kingdom (see D&C 6:7, 11; 42:61–65), or as Paul describes them, “the deep things of God” (2:10).
Richard D. Draper
Adapted from Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes, Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, BYU Studies, 2010).