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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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1 Corinthians 12

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:1. 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.

Verse 2

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:2. 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.

Verse 3

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:3. 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.

Both Judaism and heathenism were full of expectations of a future teacher and deliverer; and to this person, especially among the Jews, the Spirit in all the prophets gave witness. This was the Anointed One, the Messiah who was manifested in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; and him the Jews rejected, though he proved his Divine mission both by his doctrines and his miracles. But as he did not come as they fancied he would-as a mighty secular conqueror, they not only rejected but blasphemed him; and persons among them professing to be spiritual men, and under the influence of the Spirit of God, did so. But as the Holy Spirit, through all the law and the prophets gave Testimony to the Messiah, and as Jesus proved himself to be the Christ both by his miracles and doctrines, no man under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit could say to him anethema-thou art a deceiver, and a person worthy of death, c., as the Jews did: therefore the Jews were no longer under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. This appears to be the meaning of the apostle in this place. No man speaking by the Spirit, &c.

And that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord — Nor can we demonstrate this person to be the Messiah and the Saviour 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.

Verse 4

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:4. There are diversities of gifts — χαρισματωνυ Gracious endowments, leading to miraculous results; such as the gift of prophecy, speaking different tongues, &c. And these all came by the extraordinary influences of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 5

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:5. 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, c. the qualifications for such offices, as well as the appointments themselves, coming immediately from the one Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 6

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:6. 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, c., the healing of different diseases, raising the dead, &c.: 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.

In the three preceding verses we find more than an indirect reference to the doctrine of the sacred Trinity.

GIFTS are attributed to the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:4.

ADMINISTRATIONS to the Lord Jesus, 1 Corinthians 12:5.

OPERATIONS to God the Father, 1 Corinthians 12:6.

He who may think this fanciful must account for the very evident distinctions here in some more satisfactory way.

Verse 7

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:7. 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.

Verse 8

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:8. 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, much may be seen in Lightfoot, Whitby, Pearce, and others. 1 Corinthians 12:8-10

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, c., 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, c., and especially the mystical sense or meaning of the Old Testament, with all its types, rites, ceremonies, c., &c.

3. By faith, 1 Corinthians 12:9, we are to understand that miraculous faith by which they could remove mountains, 1 Corinthians 13:2 or a peculiar impulse, as Dr: Whitby calls it, that came upon the apostles when any difficult matter was to be performed, which inwardly assured them that God's power would assist them in the performance of it. Others think that justifying faith, received by means of Gospel teaching, is what is intended.

4. Gifts of healing simply refers to the power which at particular times the apostles received from the Holy Spirit to cure diseases; a power which was not always resident in them; for Paul could not cure Timothy, nor remove his own thorn in the flesh; because it was given only on extraordinary occasions, though perhaps more generally than many others.

5. The working of miracles, ενεργηματα δυναμεων, 1 Corinthians 12:10. This seems to refer to the same class as the operations, ενεργηματων, 1 Corinthians 12:6, as the words are the same; and to signify those powers by which they were enabled at particular times to work miraculously on others; ejecting demons, inflicting punishments or judgments, as in the cases mentioned under 1 Corinthians 12:6. It is a hendyadis for mighty operations.

6. Prophecy. This seems to import two things: 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, c. and St. Paul's foretelling his own shipwreck on Malta, Acts 27:25, c. And 2dly, as implying the faculty of teaching or expounding the Scriptures, which is also a common acceptation of the word.

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.

8. Divers kinds of tongues. γενη γλωσσων, Different languages, which they had never learned, and which God gave them for the immediate instruction of people of different countries who attended their ministry.

9. Interpretation of tongues. It was necessary that while one was speaking the deep things of God in a company where several were present who did not understand, though the majority did, there should be a person who could immediately interpret what was said to that part of the congregation that did not understand the language. This power to interpret was also an immediate gift of God's Spirit, and is classed here among the miracles.

Verse 11

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:11. 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.

Verse 12

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:12. 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, &c. It cannot be supposed that Christ is composed of many members, &c., and therefore the term Church must be understood, unless we suppose, which is not improbable, that the term ο χριστος, Christ, is used to express the Church, or whole body of Christian believers.

Verse 13

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:13. For by one Spirit are we all baptized, c.] 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, &c.: 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.

On this verse there is a great profusion of various readings, which may be found in Griesbach, but cannot be conveniently noticed here.

Verse 14

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:14. For the body is not one member — The mystical body, the Church, as well as the natural body, is composed of many members.

Verse 15

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:15. If the foot shall say, c.] 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.

Verse 21

Verse 21. 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 honours 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: Tempore, quo in homine non, ut nunc emnia in unum consentiebant, sed singulis membris suum cuique consilium, suus sermo fuerat, indignatas reliquas partes, sua cura, suo labore ac ministerio ventri omnia quaeri; ventrem, in medio quietum, nihil aliud, quam datis voluptatibus frui. Conspirasse inde, ne manus ad os cibum ferrent, nec os acciperet datum, nec dentes conficerent. Hac ira, dum ventrem fame domare vellent, ipsa una membra totumque corpus ad extremam tabem venisse. lnde apparuisse, ventris quoque haud segne ministerium esse: nec magis ali, quam alere eum, reddentem in omnes corporis partes hunc, quo vivimus vigemusque, divisum pariter in venas maturum, confecto cibo, sanquinem. T. Livii, Histor. lib. ii. cap. 32. "In that time in which the different parts of the human body were not in a state of unity as they now are, but each member had its separate office and distinct language, they all became discontented, because whatever was procured by their care, labour, and industry, was spent on the belly; while this, lying at ease in the midst of the body, did nothing but enjoy whatever was provided for it. They therefore conspired among themselves, and agreed that the hands should not convey food to the mouth, that the mouth should not receive what was offered to it, and that the teeth should not masticate whatever was brought to the mouth. Acting on this principle of revenge, and hoping to reduce the belly by famine, all the members, and the whole body itself, were at length brought into the last stage of a consumption. It then plainly appeared that the belly itself did no small service; that it contributed not less to their nourishment than they did to its support, distributing to every part that from which they derived life and vigour; for by properly concocting the food, the pure blood derived from it was conveyed by the arteries to every member."

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. 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 12:14-31

Verse 22

Verse 22. Those members - which seem to be more feeble — These, and the less honourable 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 honourable; 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 defence, on the proper performance of whose functions life so immediately depends.

Verse 24

Verse 24. 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.

Verse 25

Verse 25. 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 defence of the system.

Verse 26

Verse 26. And whether one member suffer — As there is a mutual exertion for the general defence, so there is a mutual sympathy. If the eye, the hand, the foot, c., 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.

Verse 27

Verse 27. Now ye are the body of Christ — The apostle, having finished his apologue, comes to his application.

As the members in the human body, so the different members of the mystical body of Christ. All are intended by him to have the same relation to each other; to be mutually subservient to each other; to mourn for and rejoice with each other. He has also made each necessary to the beauty, proportion, strength, and perfection of the whole. Not one is useless; not one unnecessary. Paul, Apollos, Kephas, &c., with all their variety of gifts and graces, are for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, Ephesians 4:12. Hence no teacher should be exalted above or opposed to an other. As the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee, so luminous Apollos cannot say to laborious Paul, I can build up and preserve the Church without thee. The foot planted on the ground to support the whole fabric, and the hands that swing at liberty, and the eye that is continually taking in near and distant prospects, are all equally serviceable to the whole, and mutually helpful to and dependent on each other. So also are the different ministers and members of the Church of Christ.

From a general acquaintance with various ministers of Christ, and a knowledge of their different talents and endowments manifested either by their preaching or writings, and with the aid of a little fancy, we could here make out a sort of correspondency between their services and the uses of the different members of the human body. We could call one eye, because of his acute observation of men and things, and penetration into cases of conscience and Divine mysteries. Another hand, from his laborious exertions in the Church. Another foot, from his industrious travels to spread abroad the knowledge of Christ crucified: and so of others. But this does not appear to be any part of the apostle's plan.

Verse 28

Verse 28. 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 note on 1 Corinthians 12:8.

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. Romans 8:8; Romans 8:8.

Miracles — δυναμεις. Persons endued with miraculous gifts, such as those mentioned Mark 16:17, Mark 16:18; casting out devils, speaking with new tongues, c. See note on 1 Corinthians 12:8, 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 note on 1 Corinthians 12:8.

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.

The Levites are termed by the Talmudists helps of the priests. The word occurs Luke 1:54; Romans 8:26.

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, where see the 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 note on 1 Corinthians 12:8.

Verse 29

Verse 29. Are all apostles, c.] That is: All are not apostles, all are not prophets, c. 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.

Verse 31

Verse 1 Corinthians 12:31. 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.

Some think that this verse should be read affirmatively, Ye earnestly contend about the best gifts; but I show unto you a more excellent way; i.e. get your hearts filled with love to God and man-love, which is the principle of obedience, which works no ill to its neighbour, and which is the fulfilling of the law. This is a likely reading, for there were certainly more contentions in the Church of Corinth about the gifts than about the graces of the Spirit.

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.

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.

4. Mr. Quesnel observes on these passages that there are three sorts of gifts necessary to the forming Christ's mystical body. 1. Gifts of power, for the working of miracles, in reference to the Father. 2. Gifts of labour and ministry, for the exercise of government and other offices, with respect to the SonSong of Solomon 3:0. Gifts of knowledge, for the instruction of the people, with relation to the Holy Ghost.

The FATHER is the principle and end of all created power; let us then ultimately refer all things to him.

The SON is the Institutor and Head of all the hierarchical ministries; let us depend upon him.

The HOLY GHOST is the fountain and fulness of all spiritual graces; let us desire and use them only in and by him.

There is nothing good, nothing profitable to salvation, unless it be done in the power of God communicated by Christ Jesus, and in that holiness of heart which is produced by his SPIRIT. Pastors are only the instruments of God, the depositaries of the authority of Christ, and the channels by whom the love and graces of the Spirit are conveyed. Let these act as receiving all from God by Christ, through the Holy Ghost; and let the Church receive them as the ambassadors of the Almighty.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/1-corinthians-12.html. 1832.
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