Text in red are my additions.
Brief summary of the chapter: He declareth that his preaching, 1. though it bring not excellency of speech, or of 4a. human wisdom, yet consisteth in the 4b-5 power of God, and so far excelleth 6. the wisdom of this world, and 9. human sense, as that 14. the natural man cannot understand it.
1 Cor 2:1. And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
1 Cor 2:2. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
1 Cor 2:3. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
1 Cor 2:4. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstrations of the Spirit and of power:
1 Cor 2:5. That you faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Synopsis of the chapter. He proceeds to exalt the spiritual wisdom of Christ above all natural and animal wisdom. Therefore he says:
1. That he knew and preached nothing but Christ crucified; and that not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power.
2. Nevertheless in verse 5 he says that he speaks wisdom among them that are perfect, wisdom hidden from the world, which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, but which the Spirit of God alone has revealed.
3. He shows in verse 14 that the natural man does not perceive the things which are of God, but the spiritual man perceives and judges all things.
2:1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom (see 1:17). The Apostle here descends from the general to the particular. In other words: I said in the preceding chapter that God in preaching the Gospel willed not to use the wisdom of the wise in this world, but rejected it and scorned it, but willed by the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe; and therefore He chose not many noble or wise to spread the Gospel, but the low-born and untaught Apostles. From this I infer and say “And I;” i.e., and so I as one of the number of Apostles, who, according to the election and will of God, did not use eloquence and worldly wisdom, was unwilling to use those means, and I came to you not in excellency but in simplicity of speech and wisdom. Related texts: Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 1:12, 11:6
“As a matter of fact, Paul gloried in his oratorical inadequacy, and in the sincere limitations on his skills as a speaker. It was an integral part of his insight, not that such gifts and skills are not to be valued or cultivated, but that they are not what ultimately matters in proclaiming the Gospel” (PAUL, HIS LETTERS AND HIS THEOLOGY, by Stanley B. Morrow, pg 54). In fact, The letters of St Paul often exhibit fine rhetorical skills, a point brought home repeatedly by Raymond F. Collins in his COMMENTARY ON 1 CORINTHIANS. I would point out that for St Paul faith comes by hearing the preaching (Rom 10:14-18. See also 1 Cor 15:1-2, 11; Eph 3:7-11;Col 1:3-8; 1 Thess 1:5-10; 2:13), but Paul’s letters were written for those who already possessed faith. Perhaps what St Paul considered inappropriate as a basis for bringing unbelievers to faith (e.g., rhetoric in the foundational preaching) he considered appropriate as a tool for keeping believers free from error, heresy, and sin. It goes without saying that rhetorical deceits would still be eschewed by him.
2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified (see Gal 3:1, and 6:14). Mark the word determined: it is as if he said, I did not think of, I did not value any knowledge save that which is of Jesus crucified, our Savior, and, therefore, I so bore myself among you, as if I knew nothing of human wisdom, although I have much acquaintance with it, for on other occasions I can quote the Greek poets; but with you I kept it back, that like the others I might merely preach with all simplicity Christ crucified. Not that I did not preach the other mysteries of the faith, but I especially taught you and impressed on you that we must glory in the Cross of Christ only, and hope from it for our righteousness and salvation, and, as Anselm says, must imitate the cross and crucify our vices. For in Christ crucified it is easy to see, besides other things, that Christ chose and embraced these three, viz., utmost pain, the greatest poverty or nakedness, and the lowest depths of shame. Christ by His pains crucified and taught us to crucify the lust of the flesh; by His poverty He crucified the lust of the eyes or avarice; and by His shame He crucified the pride of life. These are the three heads of the world’s sin, and the source of all sins (see 1 John 2:16, and also what St Paul said of the Cross in 1:23)
2:3 And I was with you in weakness: that is, anxieties, tribulation, and persecution; and in fear and much trembling, because of the hostility of persecuting Jews and Gentiles. St Chrysostom and Anselm remark that the Apostle in his Second Epistle (11:30 and 12:5, 9-10), and elsewhere, gives the name of weakness to the anxiety he suffered from dangers, plots, exile, daily terrors, calumnies, and hatreds. And also, that Paul suffered great anxieties and persecutions at Corinth, is evident in that he needed to be strengthened against them by Christ in a vision (Acts 18:9). Moreover, shortly afterwards some Jews there stirred up a taunt against Paul, and dragged him to the judgment-seat of Gallio, the deputy of Achaia, and publicly eat Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, before him.
2:4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (see Acts 1:8; 2 Cor 12:12; 1 Thess 1:5. Speech (λογος=Logos) denotes his private and familiar conversation as contrasted with his public preaching. St Thomas and the Glossa distinguished the two words in this way; so does Seneca, who, in Epistle 38 says: “Conversation, because it makes an impression on the mind by little and little, is of immense force. Speeches prepared and delivered to a large assembly have more vehemence but less familiarity.” St Paul’s conversation, then, as well as his preaching, was not with entcing words (i.e., apt to persuade) of man’s wisdom. In such the orators and philosophers at Corinth surpassed St Paul. Paul, however, had to make the Corinthians believe a new wisdom by a new mode of speech and action, and in this he excelled all orators and philosophers, viz., in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Sp Sulpicius testifies that St Martin once said that “the kingdom is not founded on eloquence but on faith.” St Augustine, too, in his Sermon 1, about those coming to grace, says: “We do not try to persuade you with thundering words and flowery phrases, nor by any rhetorical skill, nor by eloquence darkened by the speeches such as the world uses, but we preach Christ crucified.” And in lib. ii. c. ii, against Felicianus, he says: “I will never rely on wisdom of words, lest the Cross of Christ be shorn of its power; but I am content to rely on the authority of the Scriptures, and I am more anxious to obey simplicity than presumption.”
This, then, was the demonstration of the Apostles, viz., to show (1) burning zeal and a spirit giving forth wisdom and revealing secrets not human but Divine, so that the hearers might perceive plainly that the Holy Spirit was speaking by their mouth; (2) great powers, that is prodigies and miracles. Therefore Origen (lib. i. contra Celsum) says: “Our mode of teaching has its own proper demonstration, which is more Divine than that of the Greeks, and which is called by the Apostle, ‘demonstration of the Spirit and power.’ The Spirit lends faith to those things which are said about Christ in the Prophets; and the power is seen in the miracles which we believe to have been wrought.” Origen here understands the work of the Spirit somewhat differently, but his explanation is not so much to the point as the one given above. For, as Œcumenius says, “The demonstration which comes by works and signs is surer than that which depends on words.” This was the Apostolical mode of preaching, and a far more effectual way than that which modern preachers put before themselves for imitation. Their style was not adorned, clouded over, and tainted with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. So will Apostolic men go forth, and their words, like fiery arrows, will pierce men’s hearts, ad like hammers break in pieces the rocks. Listen to St Jerome (Epistle 2 to Nepotianus): “Let not the applause of the congregation be aroused y your teaching in church, but by their groanings. Let the tears of the hearers be the proofs of your success.” This spirit, as well as the fruit of preaching, must be obtained by prayer to God. Hence Origen (Contra Celsum, li. vi), in quoting these same words of the Apostle, says: “What else is the meaning of these words but that it is not enough that what we say is true and fit to stir the hearts of men? the teacher must have a certain power given from above, and hiss words require the energy of Divine grace, as David says, ‘The Lord shall give the word to those that preach with much power'” (Psalm 62, Vulgate).
2:5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (see 1:18; Rom 1:16). Our preaching is to be of the kind just mentioned, so that your faith, i.e., your conversion to the faith of Christ, may not be attributed to human wisdom and eloquence but to the power and working of God. Your faith must be based on God’s wisdom not on man’s (Anselm and others)