the natural man

A Facebook post from Michael Faber (reprinted with his permission):

The biggest problem I have with Calvinism is that it does not rest on a solid exegetical foundation of Scripture. Too many of the texts that Calvinists use just don’t mean what Calvinists claim they do.

The most obvious (to me) is 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, “14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.”

The Calvinist wishes to say that the “Natural man” is unregenerate, and thus cannot understand the gospel until they are “spiritual”, and this is why regeneration must precede faith. And just reading these verses, I can see why one might think this is the case.

But Exegesis demands that we read more than these verses, but see what the context tells us.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Paul is addressing immaturity among the Corinthians, who are seeking to be superior to others by which disciple they follow (Peter, Apollos, etc.). Their error comes from how non-Christians around them interacted with the philosophers and philosophies that were so prominent in Corinth. One would follow this philosopher and this philosophy, and have a reason why his philosopher was superior to others. Another would have follow another philosopher and claim the same thing.

Well, the Corinthians were bringing this into the Church and doing the same thing, and Paul is calling them out, showing that the gospel is foolish to the world, and thus wouldn’t work like the world’s philosophy.

And Paul points out in 2:1 that he didn’t come with wisdom and fancy words, but preaching Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Then, in verse 6, Paul says that there is a “wisdom spoken of among the mature.” The verse starts with the Greek word “de”, which is a weak conjunction that often is translated “but” or “yet.” It can introduce contrast, and in this case it does. The gospel was preached without wisdom, but what is spoken of among the mature IS spoken in wisdom. Thus, it would appear the we are talking about something other than the gospel. This is our first clue that this may be the case.

Paul then goes into a discussion of this wisdom spoken of among the mature, saying that it comes from the deep things of God and such, and then we come to the verses in question.

So, we have to ask what are these “things of the Spirit of God” that the “Natural man” cannot receive, but that the spiritual an is able to appraise?

It would appear that Paul is speaking of this “wisdom spoken of among the mature”, and thus the “natural man” would be one who is immature, not one who is unsaved.

Fortunately, Paul goes on to make this very clear in chapter 3:

“3 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,”

Notice first that Paul could not address the Corinthians as “spiritual people.” They were not yet able to appraise all things.

And then Paul goes into an analogy, saying that the Corinthians were “infants in Christ.” (“In Christ” is important, here, as they were saved, and Paul is addressing saved people.) Paul then begins to speak about “milk” and “solid food.” So, what is apparent is that Paul is distinguishing between two things that he has taught. We have this distinguished for us in 2:1 and 2:6, the “milk” being the gospel, preached without wisdom, and the “solid food” being the “wisdom spoken of among the mature.”

It makes sense that when Paul was there previously, that they would be able to receive the milk (gospel), but not the solid food (wisdom spoken of among the mature), but then Paul shocks the Corinthians by telling them that they are STILL NOT ABLE to receive the solid food.

These are clearly saved Corinthians, and yet they are unable to receive the things spoken of in 2:14, and clearly were unable to appraise all things from 2:15. So, we first must conclude that the “things of the Spirit” in 2:14 cannot include the gospel, as the saved Corinthians (who obviously received the gospel) could not receive those things.

And we could even discuss whether Paul is identifying the Corinthians as “natural men”, having called them “carnal”, and stating that they are unable to receive what the “natural men” cannot receive. This point isn’t necessary to show that 2:14 cannot include the gospel, but would further support the idea that the “things of the Spirit of God” from 2:14 cannot include the gospel.

Thus, we must conclude that the Calvinist cannot use 1 Cor 2:14-15 to claim that regeneration is necessary before one can receive the gospel.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Calvinism, Human Nature, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to the natural man

  1. Greg Perry says:

    Wonderful insight. It seems almost daily that more and more of my notes attached to verses in Logos are prefaced with, “As Chris Fisher says: …”

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