Identification of the
“Natural,” “Spiritual,” and “Carnal” Man
Categories of Mankind in I Corinthians 2:14-
By Bill Fallon -
The letter of 1st Corinthians was written by Paul to the church which he had established
there during his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18:1-
The Bible, in some contexts, divides mankind into two groups; believers and unbelievers (I John 5:12). Here and in some other passages, God further divides the believing group into those who are obedient believers and those who are disobedient believers.
I Corinthians 2:
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
Natural, (ψυχικός -
Spiritual, (πνευματικός -
Carnal, (σαρκκιός -
These three words encompass not only the motivating factors in the Christian’s service to God (Gal. 5:16,17), but also the triune nature of man; body, soul, and spirit (I Thessalonians 5:23).
Observations from the text:
The Natural Man
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. (2:14).
The Spiritual Man
He who is spiritual judges all things
yet he himself is [rightly] judged by no one (2:15).
The spiritual man is implied to have the mind of Christ (2:16). Cf. Philippians 2:3 where the mind of Christ is manifested in humility, service and obedience.
The spiritual man is contrasted to the natural man in 2:14 and to the carnal man in 3:1.
The Carnal Man
The carnal man is described as:
a babe in Christ, (although he has been born) (3:1), brethren (3:1),
unable to receive solid food (3:2),
showing a behavior of envy, strife, divisions (3:3),
having a party spirit, looking to certain men, not Jesus (3:4).
The natural man, by definition, has “soul” or “life” but is unsaved as v.14 implies that he does not have the Spirit of God (Rom.8:9; James 3:14,15; Jude 18,19). He may be educated, kind, and even religious but the spiritual content of Scripture is absolutely hidden from him (I Cor. 2:14; II Cor. 4:4). This fact should cause us to evaluate our evangelistic methods.
The spiritual man appears to be saved and obedient to God’s Holy Spirit. He would probably be walking in the Spirit and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 22, 23),(Rom. 8:16; 9:1).
The carnal man has been born again (John 3:5, 7, 16) but is not responsive to or
obedient to God’s Holy Spirit. He is heeding the desires of the flesh (Rom. 8:5,
7, 8; Gal. 6:8) and, in that state, cannot please God. He will be reaping the unpleasant
result of his sowing (Gal. 6:7) and he will be receiving otherwise unnecessary discipline
from his loving father (Heb. 12:5-
The Bible gives us two basic categories of mankind; The believer who has everlasting
life and the unbeliever who does not have life and is condemned already (1 John 5:12;
John 3:18, 36). Elsewhere, as in the considered passage, the believer group is sub-
The Bible also speaks of the “perfect” (mature or complete) believer (I Cor. 2:6;
II Tim. 3:17; Heb. 5:14, “of full age;” Heb. 13:21; James 1:4, 3:2). This seems to
refer to the spiritual man who is consistently Spirit-
Please see Hebrews 5:
11 Of whom (Messiah vs. 5-
12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Our society has created a mentality that says, “Entertain me, but don’t make me think
and don’t compel me to grow.” These Christians who never graduate from spiritual
kindergarten must be the heartbreak of every dedicated Pastor. There is more than
a passing similarity between the believer who refuses to grow and the lukewarm believer
of Revelation 3:14-
We are exhorted to be filled (passive voice: lit. be being filled) with the Spirit
(Eph. 5:18) and to walk in the spirit (Gal. 5:16-
Filled: (πληρόω -
Luke 2:42, filled with wisdom
John 12:6, sorrow has filled your heart
Acts 5:3, Satan has filled thine heart to lie
Acts 5:17, filled with indignation
Acts 13:45, filled with envy
Acts 13:52, filled with joy
Walk: (περιπατέω -
Eternal life is a free gift (Rom. 6:23) received by believing in Jesus to save us
(John 3:16). Then as we choose to obey God’s Holy Spirit He will bear the fruit of
the Spirit in our lives (Gal. 5:22, 23). We decide whom we will serve (Rom. 6:16)
and will reap the results of our decision (Gal. 6:7-
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