1 Corinthians 2:14
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
Explanation and Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:14
This verse means that without the Holy Spirit, people cannot understand scripture.
This verse is a famous Calvinist proof text that is used to support their belief that a person cannot receive Jesus unless God’s grace first allows them to do so. To Calvinists, this verse means that man is too depraved to understand scripture. The reason why the Calvinist interpretation is important to non-Calvinists is that the Calvinist interpretation has now permeated and confused non-Calvinists and so many interpretations are muddled hybrids of Paul’s intended meaning.
Because of this widespread confusion, it is now common to hear or read that this verse means that the Christian manual cannot be accepted or understood by the unsaved or the lost. According to the Calvinists, man, as he is born, can naturally read, understand and accept as truth the messages in the books offered by the false religions of the world. In contrast, the Calvinists believe people are born incapable of understanding Christian scripture unless you have been chosen by God and given the ability to accept the word of scripture. If you are chosen, God will change the nature of your being so that you can respond to the message of God. If you are not chosen, you will remain unable your entire life to understand scripture. You have no control over whether or not you are chosen.
Calvinists believe the focus of this verse is the contrast between a saved and unsaved person. The pure non-Calvinist interpretation is that it focuses on the difference between mere human wisdom that is gained from education and the teachings of the world, and divine revelation that only comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to indwell within us.
Breaking Down the Key Parts of 1 Corinthians 2:14
#1 “The person without the Spirit…”
Calvinists argue this refers to a lost or unsaved person. The accurate non-Calvinist interpretation is that this refers to a Christian who is carnal, animalistic, or corrupt. In some translations, this part of the verse reads “the natural man.” Paul is talking to Christians that are “babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1) or immature Christians. He speaks to these Christians saying he has fed them with milk and not meat because they are carnal and not yet able (1 Corinthians 3:2) just as infants must first be fed milk before they are mature enough to eat solid food.
#2 “…does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God…”
There are various things that are given to us, such as all scripture (the Bible). Someone who does not have the Spirit dwelling within him or her rejects what the Bible says.
#3 “but considers them foolishness,…”
God’s message was foolish from the perspective of those who were carnal. These people relied on their education, determining that the preachings of the Apostles were inconsistent with what they had previously been taught and should be ignored. They expected the Messiah to be a great king, not someone who would live such a humble life and die such a despised death, where, in their mind, He could not even save Himself on the cross.
#4 “…and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
There are two levels of understanding that are needed to understand God’s word: an intellectual understanding and a spiritual understanding. Not all of scripture is clear or plain to all, but those parts of it that are necessary for salvation are so clear that even the uneducated could read and understand it. For the rest of scripture, it is necessary to have the illuminating Spirit of God in us – we need to be mature Christians – for us to understand it.
Expert Overview of 1 Corinthians
Biblical Translations of 1 Corinthians 2:14
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.
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.
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.
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.