1 Corinthians 2 – True Wisdom the Gift of God & The City of Corinth When Paul Was There

Finger Pointing Up

1 The Corinth Canal
The Corinth Canal, carrying ship traffic between the western Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Sea, is about 2.5 miles east of the city, cutting through the Isthmus of Corinth that connects the Peloponnesian peninsula to the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former an island.
The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level; no locks are employed. It is 4.0 miles in length and only 70 feet wide at its base, making it impassable for most modern ships.

It now has little economic importance.

The canal was mooted in classical times and an abortive effort was made to build it in the 1st century A.D.

Construction finally got underway in 1881 but was hampered by geological and financial problems that bankrupted the original builders. It was completed in 1893, but due to the canal’s narrowness, navigational problems and periodic closures to repair landslips from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic anticipated by its operators.

It is now used mainly for tourist traffic.

Today, as well as through out the history of time, valuable gifts were usually only given to important people, such as kings and queens.  They certainly weren’t given to children, let alone babies.

Yet, Jesus, even as a baby was a king so tomorrow we’ll look at…

1 Corinthians 2
True Wisdom the Gift of God

1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

“When I came to you” – on his initial trip to Corinth 51 A.D.

“With excellency of speech or of wisdom” – perhaps Apollos had influenced the Corinthians in such a way that they were placing undue emphasis on eloquence and intellectual ability.

2 For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

“Not to know anything…save Jesus Christ” – Paul resolved to make Christ the sole subject of his teaching and preaching while he was with them.

3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

“Not with enticing words of man’s wisdom” – this does not give preachers a license to neglect study and preparation.  Paul’s letters reveal a great deal of knowledge in many areas of learning and his eloquence is apparent in his address before the Areopagus.

Paul’s point is that unless the Holy Spirit works in a listener’s heart, the wisdom and eloquence of a preacher are ineffective.  Paul’s confidence as a preacher did not rest on intellectual and oratorical ability, as did that of the Greek orators.

“Demonstration” – the Greek word is used of producing proofs in an argument in court.  Paul’s preaching was marked by the convincing demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinth is a major
Corinth is a major road hub. The A7 toll motorway for Tripoli and Kalamata, (and Sparta via A71 toll), branches off the A8/European route E94 toll motorway from Athens at Corinth.
Corinth is the main entry point to the Peloponnesian peninsula, the southernmost area of continental Greece.

5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

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 nought:

“Perfect” – wise, developed Christians; contrast the “babes” mentioned in 3:1 (see Heb 5:13-6:3).

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

“Mystery” – the mystery, or secret, was once hidden but is now known because God has revealed it to His people.  To unbelievers it is still hidden.

“Unto out glory” – God’s wisdom will cause every believer to share eventually in Christ’s glory.

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

“Princes of the world” – rulers of this age, such as the chief priests, Pilate and Herod Antipas, and the politicians, the Pope and certain evangelists of this age.

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.

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

3 The city
The city has been connected to the Proastiakos, the Athens suburban rail network, since 2005, when the new Corinth railway station was completed.

“Spirit searcheth all things” not in order to know them, for He knows all things.  Instead He comprehends the depth of God’s nature and His plans of grace; so He is fully competent to make the revelation claimed here.

11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

“Spirit of the world” – the spirit of human wisdom as alienated from God – the attitude of the sinful nature.

13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

4 The city was largely
The city was largely destroyed in the earthquakes of 365 and 375, followed by Alaric’s invasion in 396.
The city was rebuilt after these disasters on a monumental scale, but covered a much smaller area than previously.

Four churches were located in the city proper, another on the citadel of the Acrocorinth, and a monumental basilica at the port of Lechaion.

“Which the Holy Ghost teacheth” – the message Paul proclaimed was expressed in words given by the Holy Spirit.  Thus spiritual truth was aptly combined with fitting spiritual words.

14 But 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.

2:14-3:4 – this passage explains why many fail to apprehend true wisdom.  It is because such wisdom is perceived by the spiritual (mature) Christian.  The Corinthians, however, were worldly (infant) believers and the proof of the immaturity was their division over human leaders.

“Natural man” – described in Jude 19 as one who is “sensual”.  The non-Christian is basically dominated by the merely physical, worldly or natural life.  Because he does not possess the Holy Spirit, he is not equipped to receive appreciatively truth that comes from the Spirit.  Such a person needs the new birth (Jn 3:1-8; Tit 3:5-6).

15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

“Is judged of no man” – one who does not have the Spirit is not qualified to judge the spiritual person.  Thus believers ware not rightfully subject to the opinions of unbelievers.

16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

The City of Corinth When Paul Was There

When Paul arrived in 51 CE, the Corinth he saw was little more than 100 years old, but was five times as large as Athens and the capital of the province.

5 Roman imperial
Roman imperial ruins: the spring of Peirene.
The arched openings led to bowls carved in the rock where water collected.

Ancient Corinth, the original Corinth, founded in the 10th Century B.C., had been the richest port and the largest city in ancient Greece.

Strategically located guarding the narrow isthmus that connects the Peloponnesus (as southern Greece is called) to the mainland, it was a powerful commercial center near two seaports only 4 miles apart.

Lechaeum, the western harbor in the Corinthian Gulf was the trading port to Italy and Sicily, and Cenchreae, the eastern harbor in the Saronic Gulf, was the port for the eastern Mediterranean countries.

Periander (ca. 625-585 BCE) had constructed a five foot wide rock-cut tract (Gk. diolkos) for wheeling small ships and their unloaded cargo from one gulf to the other.

By 400 B.C., a double wall ran from the city to Lechaeum to protect a two mile rock paved street, about 40 feet wide, leading to the port.

When Rome demanded the dissolution of the Achaian League, Corinth, the leader, resisted and so Lucius Mummius, the Roman consul, leveled the city in 146 B.C., killed the men and sold the women and children into slavery. Some of the wealthier families escaped to the island of Delos.

For the next 100 years, only a handful of squatters occupied the site. Julius Caesar refounded the city as a colony in 44 B.C., named it Colonia Laus Julia Corinthiensis and populated it with conscripted Italian, Greek, Syrian, Egyptian and Judean freed slaves. New Corinth, as Ancient Corinth, thrived.

6 The Acrocorinth
The Acrocorinth, the acropolis of the ancient city, was heavily fortified during the Middle Ages. Nothing is left of the fabled temple to Aphrodite, but remains of the medieval fortifications, which were built on earlier foundations, may still be seen from the western side.

“Within just a few years, new Corinth’s settlers’ enormously profitable commerce at this crossroads of the nations had brought thousands more eager settlers from all over the Mediterranean and enormous personal wealth to a local ruling class of self-made women and men.” [Horsley and Silberman, The Message and the Kingdom, p. 163].

The wealthy Greek families who had fled to Delos also returned.

Commentators usually assume that Corinth was an especially licentious city, a reputation it seems to have had in ancient times. Indeed, one of the Greek verbs for fornicate was korinthiazomai, a word derived from the city’s name.

Apparently this estimation was based on Strabo’s report of 1,000 sacred prostitutes in the temple of Aphrodite on the Acrocorinth, an 1886-foot hill that rises above the city to the south.

Recent scholars point out, however, that the charge was more likely an Athenian slander against the pre-146 B.C. city since sacred prostitution was a Middle East custom, not a Greek one.

7 Little remains
Little remains of the ancient city of Corinth.

No doubt Corinth, like other large port cities, had plenty of prostitutes to service the sailors, but they were not sacred.

Paul Settles Down

It’s easy to see why Paul chose Corinth as headquarters for his mission to the west.

The city was young, dynamic, and not hidebound by tradition, a mix of dislocated individuals without strong ethnic identities seeking to shed their former low status by achieving social honor and material success.

Paul was not intimidated by a big, bustling, cosmopolitan hub city, with no dominant religious or intellectual tradition, for Corinth shared many characteristics with Tarsus, his home town, and Syrian Antioch, his home church city.

The heart of the city, the forum, was filled with temples and shrines to the emperor and various members of his family, built alongside temples to the older Greek gods such as Apollo.

Apollo’s son, Asklepios, the god of healing, had a shrine there as well as at Epidaurus, the ancient site of miracle healings, about 50 miles southeast.

8 These ruined arches
These ruined arches and entryways to shops on what was once the agora call on the tourist’s imagination to see the gleaming buildings, complete with statuary, they once were.

Luke’s account of Paul’s stay in Corinth is found in Acts 18:1-18. According to the story, after some initial success in the synagogue, but with considerable conflict, he decides to concentrate on the non-Jews, apparently with significant success.

He settles in and stays for 18 months, working as a tentmaker and living with fellow tentmakers, Aquila and his wife Pricilla (Prisca in his letters), two of the Jews expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius in a general expulsion.

His success may have led to his being dragged before Gallio, the Roman proconsul, by the local Jews for heresy. Gallio dismisses the charge as a purely intra-Jewish affair.

Soon afterwards Paul leaves, accompanied by Aquila and Pricilla, bound for Antioch, but on the way they stop over in Ephesus.


Today, the Corinth Canal had been cut through the isthmus since Paul crossed over. Even Periander had envisioned the canal, but lacking the technology, he settled for the marble tramway.

9 Temple of Apollo
Temple of Apollo, Ancient Corinth.

At the time, it was also thought that Poseidon, god of the sea, opposed joining the Aegean and the Adriatic.

Others dreamed of constructing the canal, including Julius Caesar, because it saved 200 miles of sailing around the Peloponnesus, but it was Nero who actually attempted it in 66 CE.

Included in his workforce were 6,000 young Jewish slaves recently captured by Vespasian in Galilee, where the Jewish war had begun.

His attempt was soon abandoned on the belief that if the seas where connected, the more northerly Adriatic, mistakenly thought to be higher, would flood the more southern Aegean.

A French company, which began the work in 1881 where Nero’s crew had stopped, completed the canal in 1893.

What finally killed ancient Corinth was the earthquakes, but it has been extensively excavated.

The museum contains many intriguing artifacts found there, e.g., a room of items used in healing ceremonies and a room of sculptures, including the beautiful Corinth sphinx and a portrait of the young Nero.

…why the Magi brought gifts to baby Jesus.

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