1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.
2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.
4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
and I (v.1) — Paul is pointing out his consistency with what he said at the end of chapter 1.
testimony (v.1) — There is a difference of opinion among theologians (and Bible versions) whether this should be “testimony” or “mystery.”
Among the ancient Greeks “the mysteries” were religious rites and ceremonies practised by secret societies into which any one who so desired might be received. Those who were initiated into these “mysteries” became possessors of certain knowledge, which was not imparted to the uninitiated, and were called “the perfected.” Cp. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 where the apostle has these “mysteries in mind and presents the Gospel in contrast thereto; here “the perfected” are, of course, the believers, who alone can perceive the things revealed.
Therefore, to Paul the mystery of the Gospel was “made known, unveiled, or made to be understood,” and he proclaimed the mystery that was hidden from the beginning but which was definitely revealed to him — the minister ordained of God and sent to the Gentiles. — Greene, pages 93-94.
Paul is saying that he did not use superior language — language which would render the preaching of the cross and the shed blood secondary to the demonstration of his own wisdom and ability. His preaching was not that of one skilled in the fashionable argumentation of the day in which he lived, and the reason he did not use the ability he possessed was “that no flesh should glory” in the presence of God. Paul was jealous for the message of the cross, and he determined not to preach anything nor act in any way that would detract from that message. — Greene, pages 92-93.
crucified (v.2) — tense indicates a past action with continuing results
The point of verse 2 is that Paul did not judge it to be right to preach anything beyond “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” the very thing that was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling-block to the Jews. There are differing views (below) as to why this was.
He did not mean to say and did not actually say that he only and always wanted to speak exclusively of the cross or the crucifixion of our Lord. What he did say was this, that he did not want to please the beauty-and-wisdom-loving Corinthians in any way either by his method or message, and that he did not even wish to beautify Jesus as the attractive Man of which mankind can be proud, but as the obnixious, detestible, loathsome, offensive crucified one, in order that thus he may get fully in line with God’s election just described of the base things of the world. The preceding context gives the key to this misapprehended passage. — Bultema, page 14.
The condition of the Corinthians led Paul to determine that among them (note the words “among you”) he could not go into the ramifactions, i.e., all that the cross had accomplished for us, but rather would stay close to the basis of this glorious message: “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
Corinth was the “fun capital” of the world, and its inhabitants had a tendency to be immature. This is why Paul, as he indicates in 1 Corinthians 2:6-7, could not teach them the glories of the mystery. It was better to show them mainly how Christ had paid the full penalty for their sins, and their responsiblities to Him and each other in the light of that fact.
But while he preached only “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” to the congregation as a whole, he did “speak wisdom” to those among them who were spiritually mature, but he hastens to explain, “not the wisdom of this world” (v.6). — Stam, pages 58-59.
fear (v.3) — Acts 18:9-10
demonstration (v.4) = proof (not exhibition)