Adam Clarke Commentary
1 Corinthians 12
The apostle proceeds to the question of the Corinthians concerning spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:1. He calls to their remembrance their former state, and how they were brought out of it, 1 Corinthians 12:2, 1 Corinthians 12:3. Shows that there are diversities of gifts which proceed from the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:4. Diversities of administrations which proceed from the Lord Jesus, 1 Corinthians 12:5. And diversities of operations which proceed from God, 1 Corinthians 12:6. What these gifts are, and how they are dispensed, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. Christ is the Head, and the Church his members; and this is pointed out under the similitude of the human body, 1 Corinthians 12:12, 1 Corinthians 12:13. The relation which the members of the body have to each other; and how necessary their mutual support, 1 Corinthians 12:14-26. The members in the Church, or spiritual body, and their respective offices, 1 Corinthians 12:27-30. We should earnestly covet the best gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:31.
Now concerning spiritual gifts - This was a subject about which they appear to have written to the apostle, and concerning which there were probably some contentions among them. The words περι των πνευματικων may as well be translated concerning spiritual persons, as spiritual gifts; and indeed the former agrees much better with the context.
I would not have you ignorant - I wish you fully to know whence all such gifts come, and for what end they are given, that each person may serve the Church in the capacity in which God has placed him, that there may be no misunderstandings and no schism in the body.
Ye were Gentiles - Previously to your conversion to the Christian faith; ye were heathens, carried away, not guided by reason or truth, but hurried by your passions into a senseless worship, the chief part of which was calculated only to excite and gratify animal propensities.
Dumb idols - Though often supplicated, could never return an answer; so that not only the image could not speak, but the god or demon pretended to be represented by it could not speak: a full proof that an idol was nothing in the world.
No man speaking by the Spirit of God - It was granted on all hands that there could be no religion without Divine inspiration, because God alone, could make his will known to men: hence heathenism pretended to this inspiration; Judaism had it in the law and the prophets; and it was the very essence of the Christian religion. The heathen priests and priestesses pretended to receive, by inspiration from their god, the answers which they gave to their votaries. And as far as the people believed their pretensions, so far they were led by their teaching.
And that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord - Nor can we demonstrate this person to be the Messiah and the Savior of men, but by the Holy Ghost, enabling us to speak with divers tongues, to work miracles; he attesting the truth of our doctrines to them that hear, by enlightening their minds, changing their hearts, and filling them with the peace and love of God.
There are diversities of gifts - Χαρισματων· Gracious endowments, leading to miraculous results; such as the gift of prophecy, speaking different tongues, etc. And these all came by the extraordinary influences of the Holy Spirit.
Differences of administrations - Διακονιων· Various offices in the Church, such as apostle, prophet, and teacher; under which were probably included bishop or presbyter, pastor, deacon, etc.; the qualifications for such offices, as well as the appointments themselves, coming immediately from the one Lord Jesus Christ.
Diversities of operations - Ενεργηματων· Miraculous influences exerted on others; such as the expulsion of demons, inflicting extraordinary punishments, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, Elymas the sorcerer, etc., the healing of different diseases, raising the dead, etc.: all these proceeded from God the Father, as the fountain of all goodness and power, and the immediate dispenser of every good and perfect gift.
Gifts are attributed to the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:4.
He who may think this fanciful must account for the very evident distinctions here in some more satisfactory way.
The manifestation of the Spirit - Φανερωσις του Πνευματος . This is variably understood by the fathers; some of them rendering φανερωσις by illumination, others demonstration, and others operation. The apostle‘s meaning seems to be this: Whatever gifts God has bestowed, or in what various ways soever the Spirit of God may have manifested himself, it is all for the common benefit of the Church. God has given no gift to any man for his own private advantage, or exclusive profit. He has it for the benefit of others as well as for his own salvation.
Word of wisdom - In all these places I consider that the proper translation of λογος is doctrine, as in many other places of the New Testament. It is very difficult to say what is intended here by the different kinds of gifts mentioned by the apostle: they were probably all supernatural, and were necessary at that time only for the benefit of the Church. On the 8th, 9th, and 10th verses (1 Corinthians 12:8-10), much may be seen in Lightfoot, Whitby, Pearce, and others.
1.By doctrine of wisdom we may understand, as Bp. Pearce and Dr. Whitby observe, the mystery of our redemption, in which the wisdom of God was most eminently conspicuous: see 1 Corinthians 2:7, 1 Corinthians 2:10; and which is called the manifold wisdom of God, Ephesians 3:10. Christ, the great teacher of it, is called the wisdom of God, 1 Corinthians 1:24; and in him are said to be contained all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Colossians 2:3. The apostles to whom this doctrine was committed are called σοφοι , wise men; (Matthew 23:34); and they are said to teach this Gospel according to the wisdom given them, 2 Peter 3:15.
2.By the doctrine of knowledge we may understand either a knowledge of the types, etc., in the Old Testament; or what are termed mysteries; the calling of the Gentiles, the recalling of the Jews, the mystery of iniquity, of the beast, etc., and especially the mystical sense or meaning of the Old Testament, with all its types, rites, ceremonies, etc., etc.
1st, the predicting future events, such as then particularly concerned the state of the Church and the apostles; as the dearth foretold by Agabus, Acts 11:28; and the binding of St. Paul, and delivering him to the Romans, Acts 21:10, etc.; and St. Paul‘s foretelling his own shipwreck on Malta, Acts 27:25, etc. And
7.Discerning of spirits. A gift by which the person so privileged could discern a false miracle from a true one; or a pretender to inspiration from him who was made really partaker of the Holy Ghost. It probably extended also to the discernment of false professors from true ones, as appears in Peter in the case of Ananias and his wife.
But all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit - All these gifts are miraculously bestowed; they cannot be acquitted by human art or industry, the different languages excepted; but they were given in such a way, and in such circumstances, as sufficiently proved that they also were miraculous gifts.
For as the body is one - Though the human body have many members, and though it be composed of a great variety of parts, yet it is but one entire system; every part and member being necessary to the integrity or completeness of the whole.
So also is Christ - That is, So is the Church the body of Christ, being composed of the different officers already mentioned, and especially those enumerated, 1 Corinthians 12:28, apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. It cannot be supposed that Christ is composed of many members, etc., and therefore the term Church must be understood, unless we suppose, which is not improbable, that the term Ὁ Χριστος , Christ, is used to express the Church, or whole body of Christian believers.
For by one Spirit are we all baptized, etc. - As the body of man, though composed of many members, is informed and influenced by one soul; so the Church of Christ, which is his body, though composed of many members, is informed and influenced by one Spirit, the Holy Ghost; actuating and working by his spiritual body, as the human soul does in the body of man.
To drink into one Spirit - We are to understand being made partakers of the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost agreeably to the words of our Lord, John 7:37, etc.: If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink: this he spake of the Spirit which they that believed on him should receive.
For the body is not one member - The mystical body, the Church, as well as the natural body, is composed of many members.
If the foot shall say, etc. - As all the members of the body are necessarily dependent on each other, and minister to the general support of the system, so is it in the Church. All the private members are intimately connected among themselves, and also with their pastors; without which union no Church can subsist.
And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee - The apostle goes on, with his principal object in view, to show that the gifts and graces with which their different teachers were endowed were all necessary for their salvation, and should be collectively used; for not one of them was unnecessary, nor could they dispense with the least of them; the body of Christ needed the whole for its nourishment and support. The famous apologue of Menenius Agrippa, related by Livy, will serve to illustrate the apostle‘s reasoning: the Roman people, getting into a state of insurrection and rebellion against the nobility, under pretext that the great men not only had all the honors but all the emoluments of the nation, while they were obliged to bear all the burdens, and suffer all the privations; they then in riotous assemblage left their homes and went to Mount Aventine. Matters were at last brought to such an issue, that the senators and great men were obliged to fly from the city, and the public peace was on the point of being utterly ruined: it was then thought expedient to send Menenius Agrippa to them, who was high in their esteem, having vanquished the Sabines and Samnites, and had the first triumph at Rome. This great general, who was as eloquent as he was valiant, went to the Mons Sacer, to which the insurgents had retired, and thus addressed them:
This sensible comparison produced the desired effect; the people were persuaded that the senators were as necessary to their existence as they were to that of the senators, and that it required the strictest union and mutual support of high and low to preserve the body politic. This transaction took place about 500 years before the Christian era, and was handed down by unbroken tradition to the time of Titus Livius, from whom I have taken it, who died in the year of our Lord 17, about forty years before St. Paul wrote this epistle. As his works were well known and universally read among the Romans in the time of the apostle, it is very probable that St. Paul had this famous apologue in view when he wrote from the 14th verse to the end of the chapter.
Those members - which seem to be more feeble - These, and the less honorable and uncomely, mentioned in the next verses, seem to mean the principal viscera, such as the heart, lungs, stomach, and intestinal canal. These, when compared with the arms and limbs, are comparatively weak; and some of them, considered in themselves, uncomely and less honorable; yet these are more essential to life than any of the others. A man may lose an eye by accident, and an arm or a leg may be amputated, and yet the body live and be vigorous; but let the stomach, heart, lungs, or any of the viscera be removed, and life becomes necessarily extinct. Hence these parts are not only covered, but the parts in which they are lodged are surrounded, ornamented, and fortified for their preservation and defense, on the proper performance of whose functions life so immediately depends.
For our comely parts have no need - It would be easy to go into great detail in giving an anatomical description of the different members and parts to which the apostle refers, but it would not probably answer the end of general edification; and to explain every allusion made by the apostle, would require a minuteness of description which would not be tolerated except in a treatise on the anatomy of the human body. My readers will therefore excuse my entering into this detail.
That there should be no schism in the body - That there should be no unnecessary and independent part in the whole human machine, and that every part should contribute something to the general proportion, symmetry, and beauty of the body. So completely has God tempered the whole together, that not the smallest visible part can be removed from the body without not only injuring its proportions, but producing deformity. Hence the members have the same care one for another. The eyes and ears watch for the general safety of the whole; and they are placed in the head, like sentinels in a tower, that they may perceive the first approach of a foe, and give warning. The hands immediately on an attack exert themselves to defend the head and the body; and the limbs are swift to carry off the body from dangers against which resistance would be vain. Even the heart takes alarm from both the eyes and the ears; and when an attack is made on the body, every external muscle becomes inflated and contracts itself, that, by thus collecting and concentrating its force, it may the more effectually resist the assailants, and contribute to the defense of the system.
And whether one member suffer - As there is a mutual exertion for the general defense, so there is a mutual sympathy. If the eye, the hand, the foot, etc., be injured, the whole man grieves; and if by clothing, or any thing else, any particular member or part is adorned, strengthened, or better secured, it gives a general pleasure to the whole man.
Now ye are the body of Christ - The apostle, having finished his apologue, comes to his application.
God hath set some in the Church - As God has made evident distinctions among the members of the human body, so that some occupy a more eminent place than others, so has he in the Church. And to prove this, the apostle numerates the principal offices, and in the order in which they should stand.
First, apostles - Αποστολους , from απο from, and στελλο, I send; to send from one person to another, and from one place to another. Persons immediately designated by Christ, and sent by him to preach the Gospel to all mankind.
Secondarily, prophets - Προφητας , from προ , before, and φημι , I speak; a person who, under Divine inspiration, predicts future events; but the word is often applied to these who preach the Gospel. See on 1 Corinthians 12:8 (note).
Thirdly, teachers - Διδασκαλους , from διδασκω , I teach; persons whose chief business it was to instruct the people in the elements of the Christian religion, and their duty to each other. See on Romans 8:8 (note).
Miracles - Δυναμεις· Persons endued with miraculous gifts, such as those mentioned Mark 16:17, Mark 16:18; casting out devils, speaking with new tongues, etc. See on 1 Corinthians 12:8 (note), and at the end of the chapter, (1 Corinthians 12:31 (note))
Gifts of healings - Χαρισματα ιαματων· Such as laying hands upon the sick, and healing them, Mark 16:18; which, as being one of the most beneficent miraculous powers, was most frequently conceded. See on 1 Corinthians 12:8 (note).
Helps - Αντιληψεις . Dr. Lightfoot conjectures that these were the apostles‘ helpers; persons who accompanied them, baptized those who were converted by them, and were sent by them to such places as they could not attend to, being otherwise employed.
Governments - Κυβερνησεις . Dr. Lightfoot contends that this word does not refer to the power of ruling, but to the case of a person endued with a deep and comprehensive mind, who is profoundly wise and prudent; and he thinks that it implies the same as discernment of spirits, 1 Corinthians 12:8 (note). He has given several proofs of this use of the word in the Septuagint.
Diversities of tongues - Γενη γλωσσων· Kinds of tongues; that is, different kinds. The power to speak, on all necessary occasions, languages which they had not learned. See on 1 Corinthians 12:8 (note).
Are all apostles, etc. - That is: All are not apostles, all are not prophets, etc.; God has distributed his various gifts among various persons, each of whom is necessary for the complete edification of the body of Christ. On these subjects see the notes on 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 (note).
But covet earnestly - To covet signifies to desire earnestly. This disposition towards heavenly things is highly laudable; towards earthly things, is deeply criminal. A man may possess the best of all these gifts, and yet be deficient in what is essentially necessary to his salvation, for he may be without that love or charity which the apostle here calls the more excellent way, and which he proceeds in the next chapter to describe.
1.After all that has been said on the different offices mentioned by the apostle in the preceding chapter, there are some of them which perhaps are not understood. I confess I scarcely know what to make of those which we translate helps and governments. Bishop Pearce, who could neither see Church government nor state government in these words, expresses himself thus: “These two words, after all that the commentators say about them, I do not understand; and in no other part of the New Testament is either of them, in any sense, mentioned as the gift of the Spirit; especially it is observable that in 1 Corinthians 12:29, 1 Corinthians 12:30, where the gifts of the Spirit are again enumerated, no notice is taken of any thing like them, while all the other several parts are exactly enumerated. Perhaps these words were put in the margin to explain δυναμεις , miracles or powers; some taking the meaning to be helps, assistances, as in 2 Corinthians 12:9; others to be κυβερνησεις , governments, as in Romans 8:38; and from being marginal explanations, they might have been at last incorporated with the text.” It must, however, be acknowledged that the omission of these words is not countenanced by any MS. or version. One thing we may fully know, that there are some men who are peculiarly qualified for governing by either providence or grace; and that there are others who can neither govern nor direct, but are good helpers. These characters I have often seen in different places in the Church of God.
2.In three several places in this chapter the apostle sums up the gifts of the Spirit. Dr. Lightfoot thinks they answer to each other in the following order, which the reader will take on his authority.
Verses 8, 9, and 10
1 Corinthians 12:8.
1 Corinthians 12:9.
1 Corinthians 12:10.
Working of Miracles;
1 Corinthians 12:28.
God hath set some
Verses 29, and 30
1 Corinthians 12:29.
Are all Apostles;
1 Corinthians 12:30.
Gifts of Healing.
If the reader think that this is the best way of explaining these different gifts and offices, he will adopt it; and he will in that case consider,
1.That the word or doctrine of wisdom comes from the apostles.
3.It is strange that in this enumeration only three distinct officers in the Church should be mentioned; viz. apostles, prophets, and teachers. We do not know that miracles, gifts of healing, helps, governments, and diversity of tongues, were exclusive offices; for it is probable that apostles, prophets, and teachers wrought miracles occasionally, and spoke with divers tongues. However, in all this enumeration, where the apostle gives us all the officers and gifts necessary for the constitution of a Church, we find not one word of bishops, presbyters, or deacons; much less of the various officers and offices which the Christian Church at present exhibits. Perhaps the bishops are included under the apostles, the presbyters under the prophets, and the deacons under the teachers. As to the other ecclesiastical officers with which the Romish Church teems, they may seek them who are determined to find them, any where out of the New Testament.
1.Gifts of power, for the working of miracles, in reference to the Father.
The Father is the principle and end of all created power; let us then ultimately refer all things to him.
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