What Does It Mean to Have the Mind of Christ?


Many Bible readers are interested to know more about Paul’s phrase “the mind of Christ.” Some readers find the phrase confusing, so they desire a basic explanation of it. Others, who know that the phrase has been the subject of a lot of unorthodox teaching, seek clarification regarding its interpretation and application.

The phrase “the mind of Christ” refers to the ability that believers have to discern and understand Jesus’ thoughts as they are revealed by the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul teaches that unbelievers don’t have this ability, but believers in Christ do.

What is the meaning of the Greek words behind the phrase “mind of Christ?” How has the mind of Christ? Who doesn’t? What is the application of the phrase for Christians? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.

Jesus Christ crucifixion
What does the Greek word “mind” mean? See below

What is the mind of Christ?

1 Corinthians 2:16 reads, “‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” All major English translations render the phrase the same way: “we have the mind of Christ” (ESV, CSB, KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, NLT).

EnglishGreek
weGreek: hemeis; meaning: third-person plural person pronoun
haveGreek: echomen; meaning: to possess
the mindGreek: nous; meaning: mind, understanding, reason
of ChristGreek: Christou; meaning: Anointed One; the Messiah, the Christ

In the KJV and NKJV, the word nous is translated as “understanding” in 1 Corinthians 14:14, 15, and 19.

When Paul writes, “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” he is referring to Isaiah 40:13, “Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel?” The implied answer in the context of Isaiah’s question is “no one.” Paul has a different application for the Christians at Corinth.

One commentator writes that the mind of Christ “is God’s profound wisdom regarding salvation through a crucified Messiah which was hidden but is now revealed by the Holy Spirit. In keeping with earlier uses of the first-person plural pronoun in such statements, we here does refer to apostles specifically, but also to other believers for they receive the message of God wisdom.” [1]

Another scholar writes that believers have the mind of Christ and “are able to assess and evaluate reality. Still, there is no reason to boast about knowing Christ’s mind, since believers lack any native capacity for discerning the mind of the Lord. They know the Lord’s thoughts only through the Holy Spirit.” [2]

Christian cross
Where did the apostles write down the Spirit’s revelation? See below

Who has the mind of Christ?

Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit reveals truth to people. No one can discover truth about God on their own. If a person knows a truth about God, it’s because the Holy Spirit disclosed or allowed the revelation.

Paul writes, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:10-11).

Who did Paul mean when he wrote “we” imparted truth? Paul explains that the Spirit has revealed truth about God to the apostles (i.e. “we”). The apostles taught and preached what the Spirit revealed to them, and they wrote it down.

Who wrote the New Testament? Apostles, or co-workers of theirs, wrote all 27 books of the New Testament. For example, Mark wasn’t an apostle, but he was Peter’s biographer, so his Gospel also fits Paul’s description. When the Holy Spirit illuminates God’s Word to people, divine revelation occurs.

Paul writes, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:12-13).

Who will accept what the Spirit has revealed? Next, Paul contrasts the “natural” person and the “spiritual” person. The natural person is a non-Christian. The spiritual person is a Christian. The natural person can’t understand the Holy Spirit, but the spiritual person can.

Paul writes, “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. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one” (1 Cor. 2:14-15).

The German Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote, “Nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures. All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in Scripture, they do not understand or really know any of it.”

How are Christians able to discern the Spirit’s revelation about God? The Holy Spirit indwells believers, which enables them to interpret and understand truth about God. The Holy Spirit also inspired and guided the writers of the New Testament, so what is recorded and read in those 27 books is truth about God.

mind of Christ
What does the Bible say about the mind? See below

What is Paul’s application for having the mind of Christ?

Because the Spirit reveals biblically-based truth about God to believers who are able to understand the disclosure, Christians aren’t ignorant of God. Isaiah may have asked the question about who has understood the Lord rhetorically, but Paul didn’t. He asks and answers the question.

“‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ'” (1 Cor. 2:16). “We” refers to believers. What believers know isn’t contrary to Scripture or additional revelation of divine truth, but the ability to comprehend and apply what the Spirit has revealed.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones refers to this application when he writes, “We must never separate the Spirit and the Word. The Spirit speaks to us through the Word; so we should always doubt and query any supposed revelation that is not entirely consistent with the Word of God.”

5 Bible verses about the mind

  • Romans 8:5-6, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
  • Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
  • Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
  • Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
  • Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

5 Bible verses about the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture

  • 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”
  • John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
  • 2 Peter 1:21, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
  • John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
  • Ephesians 3:5, “Which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”

“If you do not understand a book by a departed writer you are unable to ask him his meaning, but the Spirit, who inspired Holy Scripture, lives forever, and He delights to open the Word to those who seek His instruction.” – Charles Spurgeon

References:
[1] The First Letter to the Corinthians by Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner. PNTC. p. 138.
[2] 1 Corinthians by Thomas Schreiner. TNTC. p. 86.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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