Paul’s strong repudiation of the wisdom of the world may give the impression that he is opposed to any kind of wisdom. To draw this conclusion would be to misread Paul. In 1 Corinthians 2:6, he points out that his message is one of wisdom. In 2:7, he even goes further and states that he speaks of the hidden and secret wisdom of God. However, Paul makes it clear that the wisdom about which he writes is markedly different than the wisdom the Corinthians seek. His is not a wisdom of this world or the type of wisdom that the rulers of the world espouse. What, then, is the content of Paul’s wisdom?Paul does not unpack his understanding of the wisdom of God in this passage, but the observant reader would already know that Paul’s wisdom is the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18). Herein lies Paul’s irony and sarcasm.
The Corinthians prided themselves on not only being wise (sophoi), but also mature (teleioi). As Richard B. Hays writes, “We have already seen that sophia is one of the slogan-words of the Corinthians, and in 2:6 we encounter another one: ‘the mature’ (teleioi).” Therefore, the choice of Paul’s word, teleioi, in 2:6 was most likely due to the Corinthian self-designation as oi teleioi. Paul’s words, from this point of view, are not only incisive, but also drip with ironic sarcasm. In essence, he states that if the Corinthians were truly mature, they would understand the wisdom of God, since he is writing to the mature (2:6). The very fact that they do not comprehend the wisdom of the cross as evidenced in their actions suggests that they are actually immature, the very opposite of what they think they are! In 1 Corinthians 3:1, Paul will make this point explicit.
There is one caveat at this juncture. Paul is not teaching some sort of spiritual elitism, where some have special wisdom and others lack it. Quite the contrary, Paul argues that this type of spiritual elitism is the problem among the Corinthians. There are too many divisions. The message of the cross or the wisdom of God does not create divisions, but unity. To put it another way, a crucified messiah does not allow any room for elitism, a point that all Christian groups need to heed. The wisdom of God is best seen in a unified body (1 Corinthians 12) and love (1 Corinthians 13).
Part of the reason for the difficulty of understanding the wisdom of God is because God’s wisdom is eschatological in nature, that is, his wisdom is not based on this world, but the world that Christ has ushered in through his death and resurrection. There are a number of indicators that favor this eschatological reading. First, in 2:6 and 2:8 Paul speaks of the wisdom and rulers of “this age.” It is important to bear in mind that “this age” presupposes “that age,” especially within a Jewish apocalyptic framework.
Second, he states that rulers of this world are coming to nothing (katargeo). Paul uses this verb in eight other places in 1 Corinthians: 1:28, 2:6, 6:13, 13:8, 13:10, 13:11, 15:24, 15:26. Of these verses, only one verse does not fit into an eschatological framework (6:13). Paul’s point, then, is that the old age will come to an end and give way to a new age. 2 Corinthians 5:17 is a good example of this type of theological reasoning: “If anyone is in Christ – new creation; the old things pass away, and behold new things emerge.” Finally, he speaks of glory as the final lot believers. Admittedly, Paul does not give a full teaching on how glory is connected to his eschatological framework in this context, but he does so in other letters. For Paul the new age is consummated in glory (Romans 8:17, 8:30; Corinthians 3:18). In short, because God has ushered in a new world, we need a new worldview with the cross of Christ at its center.
At this point, Paul address how we come to know the wisdom of God. He gives two answers; one is negative and the other positive. His first point is that it is humanly impossible to come to the wisdom of God. He quotes a passage of scripture, as he is wont to do with Greek verb grapho, “it is written” (gegraptai): no eye, no ear, or heart has conceived of what God would do. Paul’s theological thrust is clear; however, there are questions concerning whence Paul has taken this quote.
A conflation of Isaiah 64:3 and 65:17 is a good guess and Clement, an early church father, seems to suggest this in 1 Clement 34:8. Hays, however, offers an alternate source as he points out that the Gospel of Thomas 17 has similar wording: “Jesus said: I shall give you what no eye has seen and no ear has heard and no hand has touched and (what) has not entered into the heart of man.” His point is that the text of Thomas may bear witness to an independent tradition. In the end, it is best to admit ignorance.
Now that Paul has established that man cannot come to know God unaided, starting in 2:11 he offers an analogy of the process of understanding the wisdom of God. His argument is that like knows like. Just as only an individual knows his or her own thoughts, so only God alone knows his thoughts. For this reason, only God can disclose himself to us. More specifically, Paul states since we have received the spirit of God we are able to know the wisdom of God. The implication of this is that if a person does not understand the wisdom of God, namely, the message of the cross, then that person does not have the spirit of God. True knowledge of the cross does not come through clever arguments or rhetorical eloquence, but through God’s self-revelation through his spirit.
1 Corinthians 1:15 may pose some difficulties of interpretation, because on the surface it seems as if Paul is saying that the Christian is not subject to anyone. However, we need to read this verse within context. If we do this, Paul is saying that because the Christian has the spirit of God, he is able to see the world through the vantage point of the cross of Christ, but the world cannot judge or even understand the Christian correctly, because the message of the cross is utter foolishness to the world. This interpretation accords well with what Paul has been saying all along. The cross renders the wisdom of the world to be foolishness. Therefore, the good news of this passage is that we have the mind of Christ through the spirit of God.
The implications of this passage are broad. First of all, it shows us what Christian maturity is and is not. It is not esoteric knowledge, worldly wisdom or standing, but the understanding and application of the cross of the Christ, as Paul will show throughout the letter. Second, Paul reminds us how a person can grow in the wisdom of God – reliance on the Spirit of God. We would do well to remember this point in conducting any ministry. The message of Christ is so paradoxical and the cross as a way of life so counter-intuitive that only God can persuade us of its wisdom. In a word, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we cannot grow in the knowledge of God. This is certainly why Paul came to Corinth with the determination to know nothing except Christ crucified.
 See: 1 Corinthians 1:21, 24, 30. These verses speak of the wisdom of God.
 Most likely the rules (archontes) refers to human rulers in power, rather than spiritual beings as in Ephesians 6:12. Contextual clues points to earthly rulers, since they are the ones singled out as the ones who crucified Jesus. See: Gordon Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 103-1-4.
 It is important to note that these letters were read to a group in one sitting probably by a close companion of Paul, who was well versed in Paul’s theology. See: Ben Witherington III. Conflict and Community in Corinth, 44-48.
 For a good discussion on the use of irony, see: Richard B. Hays. First Corinthians, 40.
 Richard B. Hays. First Corinthians, 42.
 For a succinct discussion on teleioi and Greco-Roman Mystery cults, see: Anthony Thiselton. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 232-233. His basic point is that the occurrence of certain terminologies in various mystery religions have little significance, because Paul employs these words in a different context.
 Richard B. Hays. First Corinthians, 44-45.Tags: 1 Corinthians, Commentary, history, Paul, Theology