The Mind of Christ

faulkner_silver“Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.”

William Faulkner, from Light in August

What does it mean to “read someone’s mind?” It’s more than just guessing facts.  Like long married couples exchanging glances with a smile, it’s knowing the other person because you understand their essence.

So how go we gain the mind of Christ? In 1 Corinthians 2:6–16, Paul emphasizes the essential role of the Spirit for understanding spiritual things and the wisdom of God. He says that the natural person, who has only “the spirit of the world”, considers the truths of the Spirit of God to be folly. Christians, however, understand the things of God’s Spirit because they have “the mind of Christ”. They have an intimate relationship.

The Spirit of God is the only way to know the things of God. His plans and wisdom will remain foolish and offensive to people who do not have the Holy Spirit or “the mind of Christ” to reveal them. The Spirit is the unique means of comprehending God’s ways, but it is not equivalent to the Greek concept of knowledge for the Holy Spirit is a Person, not an idea. To know God’s wisdom is to know God Himself through His Spirit.


1 Corinthians 2:6–16

6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
9 But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things 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 know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 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. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Digging Deeper: Spiritual

Several New Testament words are built from the word “pneuma”, which means “wind” or “breath” in its basic sense. Because of the connection of breath and life, “pneuma” also came to mean “life” or “spirit” in the sense that the pneuma inhabits the body and animates it.

In Hellenistic thought, the meaning of pneuma also came to include the divine spirit, perhaps because the visible effects of the unseen wind were thought to be divine actions. Whatever the initial connection, though, Greek thought eventually contrasted the divine pneuma and the human psychē (“self,” “soul”). Although this line of thought developed in several directions, the basic idea is that the divine pneuma either supplements or supplants the normal human self to enable it to perceive higher spiritual things. Thus, by the time of the New Testament, the initial sense of pneumatikos (“spiritual”) indicated the presence of the divine pneuma in Hellenistic thought and the Holy Spirit in a Christian sense. The New Testament does not envision a “spiritual” person (pneumatikos) without the presence and enablement of the Holy Spirit (pneuma).

“Spiritual” things are a frequent topic in 1 Corinthians, and pneumatikos occurs 11 times in the book. The most straightforward instances occurs when Paul later mentions “spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:1; 14:1). Along similar lines, the possibility of Spirit-enabled insight and knowledge forms the backdrop of 1 Corinthians 2:13–15, which assumes that the normal person cannot perceive higher spiritual things without help because those higher things are “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Paul then scolds the Corinthian believers because he “could not address you as spiritual (pneumatikois) people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1).

Paul also uses pnuematikos at several points when he argues for the ability of spiritual reality to affect the natural realm. For instance, he argues that “material things” (i.e., support and financial help) are a result of “sowing spiritual things” (1 Cor 9:11). He also interprets God’s physical provision for Israel following the exodus (i.e., water and manna, see Exod 16:15) as the spiritual provision of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:3–4). Future spiritual reality is another element of Paul’s thought in 1 Corinthians. He argues that just as there is a natural body, each person will have a “spiritual body” after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:44–46).

Paul’s sense of spiritual reality is quite specific compared to the vague and undefined meaning we attach to it today. We see this in Paul’s statement that, “If anyone thinks he is a prophet, or spiritual (pneumatikos), he should acknowledge that the things that I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).

Derek R. Brown and E. Tod Twist, 1 Corinthians, ed. John D. Barry and Douglas Mangum, Lexham Bible Guide (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013), 1 Co 2:6–16.