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Some have taken 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 to suggest that the way Paul preached in Athens (Acts 17:16–31) was a mistake, and that by the time he arrived at Corinth, Paul himself had recognized his error. In the passage before us he tells us how he “resolved to know nothing” while he was with them “except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” So away with the quasi-philosophical preaching of the Areopagus address in Acts 17. Just stick to the simple Gospel.
There are good reasons for rejecting this false reading:
(1) This is not the natural reading of Acts. As you work your way through that book, you do not stumble upon some flag or other that warns you that at this point Paul goofs. This false interpretation is achieved by putting together an unnatural reading of Acts with a false reading of 1 Corinthians 2.
(2) The theology of the Areopagus address is in fact very much in line with the theology of Paul expressed in Romans.
(3) The Greek text at the end of Acts 17 does not say that “a few men” believed, as if this were a dismissive or condemning assessment, but that “certain people” believed. This expression is in line with other summaries in Acts.
(4) In Athens Paul had already been preaching not only in the synagogue to biblically literate folk, but to people in the marketplace who were biblically illiterate (Acts 17:17). What he had been preaching was “the good news” (Acts 17:18), the Gospel.
(5) Transparently Paul was cut off in Acts 17 before he was finished. He had set up the framework in which alone the Gospel is coherent: one transcendent God, sovereign, providential, personal; creation; fall into idolatry; the flow of redemptive history; final judgment. He was moving into Jesus’s resurrection, and more, when he was interrupted.
(6) Paul was not a rookie. He had been through twenty years of tough ministry (read 2 Cor. 11), much of it before pagan biblical illiterates. To suppose that on this occasion he panicked and trimmed the Gospel is ridiculous.
(7) Acts 17 shows that Paul thinks “worldviewishly.” Even after 1 Corinthians 2, Paul still thinks worldviewishly: 2 Corinthians 10:5 finds him still striving to bring “every thought” into submission to Christ—and the context shows this refers not simply to isolated thoughts but to entire worldviews.
(8) 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 does not cast Paul’s resolution to preach nothing but the cross against the background of Athens (as if he were confessing he had failed there), but against the background of Corinth, which loved eloquence and rhetoric above substance. The apostle does not succumb to mere oratory: he resolves to stick with “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Sometimes bad theology breeds reactionary bad theology. Because Roman Catholicism has gradually added more titles and myths to Mary, Protestants have sometimes reacted by remaining silent about her astonishing character. Neither approach fares very well when tested by this passage (Luke 1:39–80) and a few others we shall have occasion to think about.
Catholics have added titles such as “Mother of God” and “Queen of Heaven” to Mary, neither of which is found in the Bible. The view that Mary was immaculately conceived (and was therefore born sinless), and that she, like Enoch, was transported to heaven bodily, thereby escaping death, are equally unsupported. The latter became a dogma for Roman Catholics as recently as 1950. According to news reports, the current Pope is weighing whether he should establish, as something that must be confessed, another title conservative Catholics apply to Mary, viz. “Co-Redemptrix.”
But Luke’s witness points in another direction. In Mary’s song (1:46-55), traditionally called the Magnificat (from the Latin word for magnifies: “My soul magnifies [NIV—glorifies] the Lord”), Jesus’s mother says that her spirit rejoices in “God my Savior”—which certainly sounds as if she thought of herself as needing a Savior, which would be odd for one immaculately conceived. Indeed, a rapid scan of the Gospels discloses that during Jesus’s ministry, Mary had no special access to her famous son, sometimes failed to understand the nature of his mission (e.g., 2:48–50), and never helped someone obtain some favor from Jesus that he or she could not otherwise obtain. Indeed, the unanimous testimony of Scripture is that people should come to Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), Jesus says—not, “Come to my mother.” He alone is the true mediator between God and human beings.
Nevertheless, Mary is wholly admirable, a model of many virtues (as is also, e.g., Joseph in Gen. 37–50). She accepts her astonishing role with submissiveness and equanimity, considering what it must have initially done to her reputation (1:34–38). Elizabeth twice calls her “blessed” (1:42, 45), i.e., approved by God; the supernatural recognition of the superiority of Mary’s Son over Elizabeth’s son (1:41–45) was doubtless one of the things that Mary pondered in her heart (2:19). But none of this goes to Mary’s head: she herself recognizes that her “blessedness” is not based on intrinsic superiority, but on God’s (the “Mighty One’s”) mindfulness of her “humble state” and his choice to do “great things” for her (1:48–49). Her focus in the Magnificat, as ours must be, is on the faithfulness of God in bringing about the deliverance so long promised (1:50–55).
48:1 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty1 appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance2 to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”
8 When Israel saw Joseph's sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). 15 And he blessed Joseph and said,
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,
16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;
and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
and let them grow into a multitude3 in the midst of the earth.”
17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude4 of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying,
“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying,
‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’”
Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope5 that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be1 a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us2 from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
14:1 “Man who is born of a woman
is few of days and full of trouble.
2 He comes out like a flower and withers;
he flees like a shadow and continues not.
3 And do you open your eyes on such a one
and bring me into judgment with you?
4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
There is not one.
5 Since his days are determined,
and the number of his months is with you,
and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass,
6 look away from him and leave him alone,1
that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day.
7 “For there is hope for a tree,
if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
8 Though its root grow old in the earth,
and its stump die in the soil,
9 yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put out branches like a young plant.
10 But a man dies and is laid low;
man breathes his last, and where is he?
11 As waters fail from a lake
and a river wastes away and dries up,
12 so a man lies down and rises not again;
till the heavens are no more he will not awake
or be roused out of his sleep.
13 Oh that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath be past,
that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
14 If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my service I would wait,
till my renewal2 should come.
15 You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands.
16 For then you would number my steps;
you would not keep watch over my sin;
17 my transgression would be sealed up in a bag,
and you would cover over my iniquity.
18 “But the mountain falls and crumbles away,
and the rock is removed from its place;
19 the waters wear away the stones;
the torrents wash away the soil of the earth;
so you destroy the hope of man.
20 You prevail forever against him, and he passes;
you change his countenance, and send him away.
21 His sons come to honor, and he does not know it;
they are brought low, and he perceives it not.
22 He feels only the pain of his own body,
and he mourns only for himself.”
2:1 And I, when I came to you, brothers,1 did not come proclaiming to you the testimony2 of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men3 but in the power of God.
6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.4
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. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.