The Spirit, the Law, and Judgment

cloudThe Spirit, the Law, and Judgment

By Rev. Rousas John Rushdoony

 A central text with respect to the doctrine of the Spirit is 1st Corinthians 2:12-16:Pentecost3

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.

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.

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.

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

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

The word translated as judgeth and judged in v. 15, and asAAG discerned in v. 14, is anakrino. It means to examine, discern, judge, and it can have reference as in I Corinthians 6:2 to a court of law, although it is there in noun form. As Paul uses it here, every facet of the meaning is in focus. It is part of the theological foundation for his rebuke to the church at Corinth. All believers have the power of the Holy Ghost; Paul is not here speaking of individuals nor only of church officers. In I Corinthians 6:2, Paul uses another form of the same word, krino: the saints are called to judge and govern the world.

Orr and Walther render anakrino as investigate, i.e., investigate in a spiritual manner, but they suggest also “judicially examine.”60 For Lenski, it means “investigate and value aright.”61

Grosheide renders it judge and stresses all things. The Spirit-possessed man is both able and permitted to judge all things. Because the Spirit Himself searches and judges all things, so too can the Spirit-controlled man.62

According to Hodge, “to judge here means to discern, to appreciate, and to pass judgment upon…the right of private judgment in matters of religion is inseparable from the indwelling of the Spirit. Those who can see, have the right to see.”63 Calvin’s comment on v. 15 stated in part:

reaching out to God“But the spiritual man judgeth all things. Having stripped of all authority man’s carnal judgment, he now teaches, that the spiritual alone are fit judges as to this matter, inasmuch as God is known only by his Spirit, and it is his peculiar province to distinguish between his own things and those of others, to approve of what is his own, and to make void all things else. The meaning, then, is this; “Away with all the discernment of the flesh as to this matter! It is the spiritual man alone that has such a firm and solid acquaintance with the mysteries of God, as to distinguish without fail between truth and falsehood–between the doctrine of God and the contrivances of man, so as not to fall into mistake. He, on the other hand, is judged by no man because the assurance of faith is not subject to men, as though they could make it totter at their nod, it being superior even to angels themselves.” Observe, that this prerogative is not ascribed to the man as an individual, but to the word of God, which the spiritual follow in judging, and which is truly dictated to them by God with true discernment. Where that is afforded, a man’s persuasion is placed beyond the range of human judgment. Observe, farther, the word rendered judged: by which the Apostle intimates, that we are not merely enlightened by the Lord to perceive the truth, but are also endowed with a spirit of discrimination, so as not to hang in doubt between truth and falsehood, but are able to determine what we ought to shun and what to follow.”64

Calvin’s emphasis is not on the individual’s power of judgment but on the necessity of judgment in the Spirit and in faithfulness to the word of God. The prerogative in judgment belongs to God; hence, the spiritual man is the man who is faithful to the whole word of God in and by the Spirit of God. We must note that Paul was writing to a church with serious moral problems; he was thus placing no confidence in private or ecclesiastical judgment as such. He rebukes not only the guilty individuals but the entire congregation for their moral indifference to the problem. Instead of mourning over sin, the congregation was “puffed up” or inflated with pride over their ostensible freedom from the law of God (I Cor. 5:1-2). Hence, Paul stresses the faithful preaching of the cross (i.e., of Christ’s atonement and therefore of the meaning of God’s law and grace) as the source of power (I Cor. 1:18). The problem at Corinth was “fornication.” A man had married “his father’s wife” (I Cor. 5:1), i.e., his step-mother, whom his father had apparently divorced. Hodge ably summarized the situation:

“The offense was that a man had married his step-mother. His father’s wife is a Scriptural paraphrase for step-mother, Lev. 18:8. That it was a case of marriage is to be inferred from the uniform use of the phrase to have a woman in the New Testament, which always means, to marry. (Matt. 14:4, 22, 28; I Cor. 7:2, 29.) Besides, although the connection continued, the offence is spoken of as past, vs. 2.3. Such a marriage Paul says was unheard of among the Gentiles, that is, it was regarded by them with abhorrence. Cicero, pro Cluent, 5,6, speaks of such a connection as an incredible crime, and as, with one exception, unheard of. It is probable from I Cor. 5:7, 12, that the father of the offender was still alive. The crime, however, was not adultery, but incest; for otherwise the apostle would not have spoken of it as an unheard of offense, and made the atrocity of it to arise out of the relation of the woman to the offender’s father. We have here therefore a clear recognition of the perpetual obligation of the Levitical law concerning marriage. The Scriptures are a perfect rule of duty; and, therefore, if they do not prohibit marriage between near relatives, such marriages are not sins in the sight of God. To deny, therefore, the permanency of the law recorded in Lev. 18, is not only to go contrary to the authority of the apostle, but also to teach that there is for the Christians no such crime as incest.”65

Hodge’s comment is of particular interest, because, in his day, Hodge, as against Thornwell, took a weaker view of the force of Biblical law. His comment makes notable our theological waywardness in the intervening years. Three texts in the law in particular speak of the offense cited by St. Paul:

Lev. 18:8. The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness.

Deut. 22:30. A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor discover his father’s skirt.

Deut. 27:20. Cursed be he that lieth with his father’s wife; because he uncovereth his father’s skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen.

To ‘discover or uncover his father’s skirt’ has reference to a metaphor for marriage, i.e., to cover a woman with the skirt, as in Ruth 3:9. The uncovering refers to the invasion of a sexual relationship and union. How God regards this offense is seen by its citation as one of four kinds of sexual sin under the special curse of God: sexual relations with a step-mother; bestiality; incest with a sister; and cohabitation with a mother-in-law (Deut. 27:20-23).66

We see thus that St. Paul is emphatically making clear the connection between the Holy Spirit, the law of God, and the spiritual man. Thus, where the Holy Spirit is at work, the law of God is the delight of the spiritual man, and, where men resist or despise the Spirit, they resist and despise the law given by that Spirit.

The spirit of the world” is the spirit of resistance to the every word of God (Matt. 4:4). Fallen man is ready to deal with God on man’s terms, to make God a partner, or an ally, but never lord. The church becomes an instrument of the fall when it insists on treating Christ as savior, but not as lord, and sees God as the source of grace, but not law. When we receive the Spirit of God, however, we “know the things that are freely given to us of God” (v. 12). These gifts are His revelations of Himself in His enscriptured word and in His incarnate Word. It is the totality of “the wisdom of God” (v. 7). To reject the totality of that revelation is to reject wisdom; it is to reject God. We cannot receive God on our terms, only on His terms.

In v. 13, Paul says that the things he and the other apostles spoke they taught, not “in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” As Hodge rightly saw, Paul here teaches “verbal inspiration.” The apostles spoke with more than human wisdom, and more than redeemed man’s wisdom. “Paul’s direct assertion is that the words which he used, were taught by the Holy Ghost.”67

The apostles explained the doctrines taught by the Spirit in the words of the Spirit: they combined spiritual things with Spirit-given words, i.e., “comparing (or bringing together) spiritual things with spiritual (words).” In so doing, the apostles knew that the unredeemed man will not receive “the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (v. 14). Thus, it is not only “Christ crucified” (I Cor. 1:23) which is a stumbling block and foolishness to the unregenerate, but all preaching, because the Spirit-given word is declared to men who are dead to the Spirit’s meaning, self-blinded by sin. The essence of true preaching is this, that we proclaim the Spirit-given word to men in the confidence that He who gave the word will give the hearing; so to preach means that we have no confidence in our power, and all confidence in the power of the Holy Ghost.

Now we come again to v. 15. The word anakrino is used again by St. Paul in I Corinthians 4:4; he rejects the judgments passed on him by men in Corinth, and all self-judgment, because “he that judgeth me is the Lord.” We have thus a contrast: I Corinthians 2:15 says that the man who is in the Spirit judges all things, and I Corinthians 4:2-4 insists on the sole validity of God’s judgment. The two are not contradictory. I Corinthians 2:15 has parallels in Proverbs 25:5, I Thessalonians 5:21, and I John 4:1. God alone is the Judge, and all our judgments must be in terms of His law-word (Rom. 2:1-3). The Spirit works in us to enable us, as our Lord requires, to “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

The Spirit gives us another mind, “the mind of Christ” (v. 16). Paul cites here (and in Romans 11:34) Isaiah 40:13, “Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD (Yahweh), or being his counsellor hath taught him?” The Spirit, Jehovah, and Christ are plainly equated. Hodge therefore stated, “We have the mind of Christ, therefore, means we have the mind of Jehovah.”68

Calvin is more specific as to the reference, i.e., who “we” are:

“But we have the mind of Christ. It is uncertain whether he speaks of believers universally, or of ministers exclusively. Either of these meanings will suit sufficiently well with the context, though I prefer to view it as referring more particularly to himself and other faithful ministers. He says, then, that the servants of the Lord are taught by the paramount authority of the Spirit, what is farthest removed from the judgment of the flesh, that they may speak fearlessly as from the mouth of the Lord,–which gift flows out afterwards by degrees to the whole Church.”69

Paul is asserting his authority as an apostle who is inspired of the Holy Ghost as he writes to command the Corinthians, because he has “the mind of Christ.” However, in his commentary on the same verse from Isaiah in Romans 11:34, Paul makes a more general application to all believers, according to Calvin. Man, inspired of the Spirit, can know the word of God, but not the secret things of God. Calvin noted:

“This caution, however, is not to be so applied as to weaken the certainty of faith, which proceeds not from the acumen of the human mind, but solely from the illumination of the Spirit; for Paul himself in another place, after having testified that all the mysteries of God far exceed the comprehension of our minds, immediately subjoins that the faithful understand the mind of the Lord, because they have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which has been given them by God, by whom they are instructed as to his goodness, which otherwise would be incomprehensible to them.”70

In commenting on the text of Isaiah 40:13 itself, Calvin stressed the transcendence of God, and the necessity of our submission to Him. “Consequently, as we ought to contrast the power of God with our weakness, so our insolence ought to be repressed by his incomparable wisdom.”71

In brief, while the Holy Spirit raises us up to great understanding and power, this understanding and power is always and totally in submission to the triune God and His word. Insofar as we are in strict conformity to the mind of the Lord as expressed in His every law-word and made known to us by the Holy Ghost, we are beyond the ability of the unregenerate to assess, discern, or judge. The unregenerate man lives in a very limited world. The central part of reality is closed to him, and he is self-blinded to it. The redeemed man thus is beyond the ken of all such. In terms of the law-word of God, and by the light of the Holy Spirit, the redeemed man has the key to the investigation, judgment, and rule of, and over all things, but he himself can be discerned and judged by no man.


Excerpt from Systematic Theology Vol. I: by Rousas John Rushdoony; pgs. 357-361.

60. William F. Orr and James Arthur Walther: I Corinthians. The Anchor Bible. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976). p. 258.

61. R.C.H. Lenski: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians. (Columbia, Ohio: Wartburg Press, (1937) 1946). p. 117.

62. F. W. Grosheid: Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans (1953) 1955). p. 74.

63. Charles Hodge: An Exposition to the First Epistle of Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, Mich-igan: Eerdmans, 1950 reprint). p. 44.

64. John Calvin: Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1948). p. 117.

65. Hodge, op. cit., p. 81f.

66. P. C. Craigie: The Book of Deuteronomy. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1976). p. 333.

67. Hodge, op. cit., p. 41.

68. Ibid., p. 47.

69. Calvin, op. cit., p. 119f.

70. John Calvin: Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1948). p. 446.

71. John Calvin: Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Vol. III. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, (1948), 1957). p. 218f.

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