Overused today, the English term ‘spiritual’ is virtually meaningless. To some, it is synonymous with religion. To be religious is to be spiritual. To others, it refers to things that are not of this physical universe, things and beings that are supernatural, otherworldly, noncorporeal, invisible, and timeless.

In popular preaching, one who is “spiritual” can peer into the “spirit realm” where, supposedly, physicality, visibility, and time do not exist. It is not just an alternate reality, but a higher realm of which our physical existence is but a pale imitation.

And according to this perspective, the truly “spiritual” man or woman perceives the true realities that lie behind the things we see with our eyes and hear with our ears. But is this understanding of “spirituality” biblical?


The Greek term commonly rendered “spiritual” is used sparingly in the New Testament (pneumatikos), occurring only 26 times in the Greek text, and in only one instance is it found outside of Paul’s letters. Of the remaining cases, 16 are found in 1 Corinthians, and not coincidentally.

One group at Corinth pointed to their extensive use of the gift of tongues as evidence of their “spirituality.” Paul responded by presenting what true spirituality is, namely, the recognition of the significance of Christ crucified.

The Greek term pneumatikos is an adjective that refers to things that pertain to or belong to the spirit. Whether “spirit” refers to the Spirit of God or something else must be determined from the context.

And in the case of 1 Corinthians, Paul is referring to the Spirit of God, not to our human “spirits” or “spiritual natures”:

  • (1 Corinthians 2:10-14) – “But to us, God revealed them through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man save the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, the things of God no one knows save the Spirit of God. But we received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God, which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teaches, combining spiritual things with spiritual words. Now, the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot know them because they are spiritually judged… But he that is spiritual judges all things, and he himself is judged of no man.

Thus, the man who is “spiritual” has “received the Spirit of God.” Our problem stems from how we have come to use the term. If we could remove all mystical aspects and metaphysical speculation from its application, we would come to a clearer understanding of the Apostle’s point.

When he complains that “I could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal” – the adjective is in the plural number and masculine gender. That is, he is referring to “spiritual men.”

If we rendered it “Spirit people” we would better understand the intended sense. Believers are identified by their possession of the Spirit, which is why Paul is so surprised that the Corinthians are behaving as though they have not received it.


To be a “natural man” is to be without the Spirit of God. A man or woman who has received the Spirit is, by definition, a man or woman of the Spirit and ought to act accordingly. So, what does the Spirit of God teach His people?

  • Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews, scandal, to Gentiles, folly. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

To a devout and patriotic Jew, a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. The very idea that Yahweh would allow His anointed king to be crucified by Rome was scandalous. And by scriptural definition, any man who is left “hanging on a tree” is under the curse of God – (Deuteronomy 27:26, Galatians 3:10).

To the Gentile, the very suggestion that the answer to humanity’s plight is the shameful execution of a powerless man for sedition against the world’s mightiest empire is sheer nonsense.

Yet it is by the public crucifixion of His son that God has achieved victory over sin, death, and Satan. Therefore, the proclamation of a “crucified Messiah” is the “wisdom and power of God,” an event that was all too physical, occurred on the earth, within history and time, and was certainly visible to the naked eye.

Thus, when Paul first arrived in Corinth, he did not use eloquent speech or the philosophical wisdom of this age. Instead, in his human weaknesses, he proclaimed Christ crucified - (“For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”).

And here, Paul defines the “wisdom and power of God,” CHRIST CRUCIFIED. And by the “power of God,” he does not mean great miraculous displays of “signs and wonders.” He came to the Corinthians “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling,” yet his very scandalous and foolish proclamation of “Christ crucified” became the power of God that brought salvation to the Corinthians.

In contrast, the “rulers of this age” did not understand genuine wisdom or spirituality since if they had, they would not have “crucified the Lord of glory” and thereby sealed their own doom.

By the “rulers of this age,” Paul means the nonhuman entities he elsewhere labels “principalities, the powers, the world-rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies.”

And presumably, at least according to popular interpretations, otherworldly creatures are not subject to the restraints of time, visibility, or physicality. Nonetheless, they were incapable of comprehending what God did through the execution of His Son.

Thus, the problem is NOT life under the restraints of time or our corporeal nature, but sin. Power, spirituality, and wisdom are found in “Christ crucified.” And nowhere does the Bible teach that the Spirit of God is incompatible with HIS creation. It is sin that separates men from His presence, not their physical natures or subjection to time. We each have a spirit, but it does follow logically or biblically that our spirits are incompatible with our physical bodies.

A faith that denies or denigrates the good creation of God is NOT biblical, NOT Christian, and certainly NOT “spiritual.” He created the entire universe and called ALL OF IT “good!” Adam’s problem was not his embodied state, but his disobedience to God. Death and bondage entered the Cosmos because of sin.

Christians who strive to peer into the “spirit realm” to gain insight into the nature and purposes of God are looking in all the wrong places.  Instead, they need to look to Jesus, the Savior who died a genuine human death on a Roman cross, and who also was buried and raised bodily from the dead on the third day.

The truly spiritual man or woman understands that Jesus of Nazareth is the very center of God’s redemptive plan and power, an understanding that is beyond the comprehension of the “wisdom” of this age.


Suffering Servant

Revolt Against the Son