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Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible Barnes' Notes
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ bnb/ 1-corinthians-12.html. 1870.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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This chapter commences a new subject, the discussion of which continues to the close of the 1 Corinthians 14:0. The general subject is that of spiritual endowments, or the right mode of exercising their spiritual gifts, and the degree of honor which was due to those who had been distinguished by God by the special influences of his Spirit. It is evident that many in the church at Corinth had been thus favored; and it is evident that they had greatly abused these endowments, and that those who were thus favored had claimed a precedency of honor above those who had been less distinguished. It is not improbable that they had in their letter to Paul (see the note at 1 Corinthians 7:1), requested his counsel on this subject, and asked him to teach them what measure of honor should be given to those who had been thus endowed. This subject, as it was of importance not only for them, but for the church at large in all future times, he proceeds to discuss in this, and the two following chapters; and this discussion closes the second part of the Epistle; see the Introduction. The general scope of these chapters is this:
(1) He shows that all those endowments were conferred by the Holy Spirit, and were all for the use of the church; that the church was one, but that there was a necessity for diversified operations in that church; and that, therefore, no one should value himself on that gift above his brother, and no one should feel himself dishonored because he had not been thus favored. All filled important places in the church, just as the various members and parts of the human system were necessary for its symmetry, action and health; and all therefore, should be willing to occupy the place which God had assigned them, 1 Corinthians 12:0.
(2) In 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 he recommends love, or charity, as of more value than all other spiritual gifts put together, and therefore recommends that that should be especially the object of their desire.
(3) In 1 Corinthians 14:0 he gives particular rules about the proper exercise of spiritual gifts in their public assemblies.
This chapter, therefore, is occupied in stating and illustrating the position that all spiritual gifts are conferred by the Holy Spirit, and that no one should so value himself on this gift as to despise those who had not been thus endowed; and that no one who had not thus been favored should be dejected, or regard himself as dishonored. This statement is illustrated in the following manner:
(1) Paul states the importance of the subject, 1 Corinthians 12:1.
(2) He reminds them that they were formerly in a state of ignorance, sin, and idolatry, 1 Corinthians 12:2.
(3) He states one mark of being under the influence of the Spirit of God - that is, that it would lead them to acknowledge and honor Jesus Christ. If the Spirit by which they were influenced led them to this, it was proof that it was the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:3. If any “pretenders” to inspiration were in the habit of speaking disrespectfully of Jesus Christ, or of calling him “accursed,” it proved that they were not under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
(4) There were “diversities” in the operations of the Spirit, but however various were these operations, they all proceeded from the same agent, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. All were not, therefore, to expect precisely the same influences or operations; nor were they to suppose that because there were various operations, that therefore they were not influenced by the Spirit of God.
(5) Paul states and illustrates the truth that the church is one, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. As the body is one, yet has many members, so is it with the church, 1 Corinthians 12:12. The body has many members, and no members in the body are useless, but all perform important parts, however unimportant they may seem to be; and no one member can say that it has no need of the others. So it is in the church, 1 Corinthians 12:13-27.
(6) This beautiful allegory, drawn from the functions of the various parts of the human body, Paul applies now to the church, and shows 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 that the same thing should be expected in the church of Christ. It followed, therefore, that those who were not as highly favored as others should not regard themselves as useless, and decline their station in the church. It followed also, that those who were in inferior stations should not envy those who had been more highly favored; and that those who were in more elevated stations, and who had been more signally favored, should not look down on those beneath them with contempt. It followed also, that they should regard themselves as one body; and love and cherish each other with constant Christian affection.
(7) Paul tells them that it was not improper to desire the highest endowments, but says that he will propose an object of desire to be preferred to these gifts - and that is love, 1 Corinthians 12:31.
Now concerning - it is now time that I should speak of spiritual endowments. He had no doubt been consulted in regard to them, and probably various questions had been proposed, which he now proceeded to answer.
Spiritual gifts - The word “gifts” is not in the original. The Greek refers to “spiritual” things in general, or to anything that is of a spiritual nature. The whole discussion, however, shows that he refers to the various endowments, gifts, or graces that had been bestowed in different degrees on the members of the church - including the distinctions in graces, and in degrees of office and rank, which had been made in the Christian church in general 1 Corinthians 12:0, as well as the extraordinary endowments of the gift of tongues which had been bestowed upon many, 1 Corinthians 14:0.
I would not have you ignorant - The subject is of so much importance that it demands particular attention and special care; compare the note at 1 Corinthians 10:1. I would not have you ignorant in regard to the nature of those endowments; the spirit with which they should be received; the rules to which they who are thus favored should be subjected; and the feelings and views which should be cherished in all the members of the church in regard to them. Nothing is of more importance in the church than the doctrine respecting the influences and endowments of the Holy Spirit.
Ye know ... - This verse is regarded by many as a parenthesis. But it is not necessary to suppose that it is so, or that it does not cohere with that which follows. The design seems to be to remind them of their former miserable condition as idolaters, in order to make them more sensible of their advantages as Christians, and that they might be led more highly to appreciate their present condition. Paul often refers Christians to their former condition, to excite in them gratitude for the mercies that God has conferred on them in the gospel; see the note at 1 Corinthians 6:11, compare Romans 6:17; Ephesians 2:11-12; Titus 3:3.
That ye were Gentiles - Heathen; worshippers of idols. The idea is, that they were pagans; that they had no knowledge of the true God, but were sunk in miserable superstition and idolatry.
Carried away - Led along; that is, deluded by your passions, deluded by your priests, deluded by your vain and splendid rites of worship. The whole system made an appeal to the senses, and “bore along” its votaries as if by a foreign and irresistible impulse. The word which is used ἀπαγόμενοι apagomenoi conveys properly the idea of being carried into bondage, or being led to punishment, and refers here doubtless to the strong means which had been used by crafty politicians and priests in their former state to delude and deceive them.
Unto these dumb idols - These idols which could not speak - an attribute which is often given to them, to show the folly of worshipping them; Psalms 115:5; Psalms 135:15; Habakkuk 2:18-19. The ancient priests and politicians deluded the people with the notion that oracles were uttered by the idols whom they worshipped, and thus they maintained the belief in their divinity. The idea of Patti here seems to be:
(1) That their idols never could have uttered the oracles which were ascribed to them, and consequently that they had been deluded.
(2) That these idols could never have endowed them with such spiritual privileges as they now had, and consequently that their present state was far preferable to their former condition.
Even as ye were led - Were led by the priests in the temples of the idols. They were under strong delusions and the arts of cunning and unprincipled people. The idea is, that they had been under a strong infatuation, and were entirely at the control of their spiritual leaders - a description remarkably applicable now to all forms of imposture in the world, No system of paganism consults the freedom and independence of the mind of man; but it is everywhere characterized as a system of “power,” and not of “thought;” and all its arrangements are made to secure that power without an intelligent assent of the understanding and the heart.
Wherefore I give you to understand - I make known to you. The force of this expression is, “I give you this rule to distinguish,” or by which you may know what influences and operations are from God. The design of the passage is, to give them some simple general guide by which they could at once recognize the operations of the Spirit of God, and determine whether they who claimed to be under that operation were really so. That rule was, that all who were truly influenced by the Holy Spirit would be disposed to acknowledge and to know Jesus Christ; and where this disposition existed, it was of itself a clear demonstration that it was the operation of the Spirit of God. The same rule substantially is given by John 1 John 4:2, by which to test the nature of the spirit by which people profess to be influenced. “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God,” compare also the note to Matthew 16:17.
That no man - No one οἰδεὶς oideis. It may refer to a man, or to demons, or to those who pretended to be under inspiration of any kind. And it may refer to the Jews who may have pretended to be under the influence of God’s Spirit. and who yet anathematized and cursed the name of Jesus. Or it may be intended simply as a general rule; meaning that “if anyone,” whoever he might be, should blaspheme the name of Jesus, whatever were his pretensions, whether professing to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit among the Jews, or to be inspired among the Gentiles, it was full proof that he was an impostor. The argument is, that the Holy Spirit in all instances would do honor to Jesus Christ, and would prompt all who were under his influence to love and reverence his name.
Speaking by the Spirit of God - Under the influence of inspiration.
Calleth - Says, or would say; that is, no such one would use the language of anathema in regard to him.
Accursed - Margin, “Anathema” (ἀνάθημα anathēma); see the Acts 23:14 note; Romans 9:3 note; compare 1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 1:8-9. The word is one of execration, or cursing; and means, that no one under the influence of the Holy Spirit could curse the name of Jesus, or denounce him as execrable and as an impostor. The effect of the influences of the Spirit would be in all instances to inspire reverence for his name and work. It is probable that the Jews were here principally intended, since there is a bitterness and severity in the language which accords with all their expressions of feeling toward Jesus of Nazareth. It is possible, also, and indeed probable, that the priests and priestesses of the pagan gods who pretended to be under the influence of inspiration might denounce the name of Jesus, because they would all be opposed to the purity of his religion.
And that no man can say ... - That is, that it cannot occur, or even happen, that anyone will acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah who is not influenced by the Holy Spirit. The meaning is, not that no one has physical ability to say that Jesus is Lord unless aided by the Holy Spirit, since all people can say this; but that no one will be disposed heartily to say it; no one will acknowledge him as their Lord; it can never happen that anyone will confess him as the true Messiah who has not been brought to this state by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
Is the Lord - Is the Messiah; or shall acknowledge him as their Lord.
But by the Holy Ghost - Unless he is influenced by the Holy Spirit. This is a very important verse, not only in regard to the particular subject under consideration in the time of Paul, but also in its practical bearing at present. We may learn from it:
(1) That it is a proof that any man is under the influence of the Holy Spirit who is heartily disposed to honor the name and work of Jesus Christ.
(2) Those forms and modes of religion; those religious opinions and practices, will be most in accordance with the designs of the Spirit of God, which do most to honor the name and work of Jesus Christ.
(3) It is true that no man will ever cherish a proper regard for Jesus Christ, nor love his name and work, unless he is influenced by the Holy Spirit. No man loves the name and work of the Redeemer by following simply the inclinations of his own corrupt heart. In all instances of those who have been brought to a willingness to honor him, it has been by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
(4) If any man, in any way, is disposed to disparage the work of Christ, to speak lightly of his person or his name; or holds doctrines that infringe on the fulness of the truth respecting his divine nature, his purity, his atonement, it is proof that he is not under the influence of the Spirit of God. Just in proportion as he shall disparage that work or name, just in that proportion does he give evidence that he is not influenced by the Divine Spirit; but by proud reason, or by imagination, or by a heart that is not reconciled to God.
(5) All true religion is the production of the Holy Spirit. For religion consists essentially in a willingness to honor, and love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ; and where that exists, it is produced by the Holy Spirit.
(6) The influence of the Holy Spirit should be cherished. To grieve away that Spirit is to drive all proper knowledge of the Redeemer from the soul; to do this is to leave the heart to coldness, and darkness, and barrenness, and spiritual death.
Now there are diversities of gifts - There are different endowments conferred on Christians. For the meaning of the word “gifts,” see the note at Romans 1:11; compare Romans 5:15-16; Romans 6:23; Romans 11:29; Rom 12:6; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 7:7.
But the same Spirit - Produced by the same Spirit - the Holy Spirit. What those diversities of gifts are, the apostle enumerates in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. The design for which he refers to these various endowments is evidently to show those whom he addressed, that since they are all produced by the same Holy Spirit, have all the same divine origin, and are all intended to answer some important purpose and end in the Christian church, that, therefore, none are to be despised; nor is one man to regard himself as authorized to treat another with contempt. The Spirit has divided and conferred those gifts according to his sovereign will; and his arrangements should be regarded with submission, and the favors which he confers should be received with thankfulness. That the Holy Spirit - the third person of the adorable Trinity - is here intended by the word “Spirit,” seems to be manifest on the face of the passage, and has been the received interpretation of the church until it was called in question by some recent German commentators, at the head of whom was Eichhorn. It is not the design of these notes to go into an examination of questions of criticism, such as an inquiry like this would involve. Nor is it necessary. Some of the arguments by which the common interpretation is defended are the following:
(1) It is the obvious interpretation. It is that which occurs to the great mass of readers, as the true and correct exposition.
(2) It accords with the usual meaning of the word Spirit. No other intelligible sense can be given to the word here. To say, with Eichhorn, that it means “nature,” that there are the same natural endowments, though cultivated in various measures by art and education, makes manifest nonsense, and is contrary to the whole structure and scope of the passage.
(3) It accords with all the other statements in the New Testament, where the endowments here referred to “wisdom,” “knowledge,” “faith,” “working of miracles,” etc., are traced to the Holy Spirit, and are regarded as his gift.
(4) The harmony, the concinnity of the passage is destroyed by supposing that it refers to anything else than the Holy Spirit. In this verse the agency of the Spirit is recognized, and his operations on the mind referred to; in the next verse the agency of the Son of God (see the note on the verse) is referred to; and in the following verse, the agency of God - evidently the Father - is brought into view; and thus the entire passage 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 presents a connected view of the operations performed by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the work of redemption. To deny that this verse refers to the Holy Spirit is to break up the harmony of the whole passage, and to render it in no small degree unmeaning. But if this refers to the Holy Spirit, then it is an unanswerable argument for his personality, and for his being on an equality with the Father and the Son.
Of administrations - Margin, “Ministries.” The word properly denotes “ministries;” so that there are different ranks and grades in the ministries which Christ has appointed, to wit, those specified in 1Co 12:9-10, 1 Corinthians 12:28.
But the same Lord - This refers evidently to the Lord Jesus, by whom these various orders of ministers were appointed, and under whose control they are; see the note at Acts 1:24; compare Ephesians 4:5. The term “Lord,” when it stands by itself in the New Testament, usually refers to the Lord Jesus, the name by which he was commonly known by the disciples; see John 20:25. The fact also that this stands between the mention of the work of the Spirit 1 Corinthians 12:4 and the work of God 1 Corinthians 12:6, and the fact that to the Lord Jesus appertained the appointment of these various grades of officers in the church (compare Matthew 10:1 ff, and Luke 10:1 ff), is further proof that this refers to him. The design of the verse is, to show that all these offices had their appointment from him; and that since all were his appointment, and all were necessary, no one should be proud of an elevated station; no one should be depressed, or feel himself degraded, because he had been designated to a more humble office.
Of operations - Of works; to wit, of miracles, such as God produces in the church, in the establishment and defense of his religion. There are different operations on the mind and heart; and different powers given to man, or different qualifications in building up and defending his cause. Or it may be, possibly, that Paul here refers to the works of God mainly for mere “illustration,” and by the word “operations” means the works which God has performed in creation and providence. His works are various. They are not all alike, though they come from the same hand. The sun, the moon, the stars, the earth are different; the trees of the forest, the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, the inhabitants of the deep are different; the flowers, and shrubs, and herbs are different from each other; yet. however much they may vary, they are formed by the same hand. are the productions of the same God, are to be regarded as proofs of the same wisdom and power. The same thing should be expected in his church; and we should anticipate that the endowments of its members would be various.
But it is the same God - The same Father; all these operations are produced by the same God. They should not, therefore, be undervalued or despised; nor should anyone be unduly elated, or pride himself on what has been conferred by God alone.
All in all - All these operations are to be traced to him. His agency is everywhere. It is as really seen in the insect’s wing as in the limbs of the mammoth; as really in the humblest violet as in the loftiest oak of the forest. All, therefore, should regard themselves as under his direction, and should submit to his arrangements. If people regard their endowments as the gift of God, they will be thankful for them, and they will not be disposed to despise or undervalue others who have been placed in a more humble condition and rank in the church.
But the manifestation of the Spirit - The word “manifestation” (φανέρωτις fanerōtis) means properly that which makes manifest, conspicuous, or plain; that which illustrates, or makes any thing seen or known. Thus, conduct manifests the state of the heart; and the actions are a manifestation, or “showing forth” of the real feelings. The idea here is, that there is given to those referred to, such gifts. endowments, or graces as shall “manifest” the work and nature of the Spirit’s operations on the mind; such endowments as the Spirit makes himself known by to people. All that he produces in the mind is a manifestation of his character and work, in the same way as the works of God in the visible creation are a manifestation of his perfections.
Is given to every man - To every man whose case is here under consideration. The idea is not at all that the manifestation of the Spirit is given to all people indiscriminately, to pagans, and infidels, and scoffers as well as to Christians. The apostle is discoursing only of those who are Christians, and his declaration should be confined to them alone. Whatever may be true of other people, this statement should be confined wholly to Christians, and means simply that the Spirit of God gives to each Christian such graces and endowments as he pleases; that he distributes his gifts to all, not equally, but in a manner which he shall choose; and that the design of this is, that all Christians should use his endowments for the common good. This passage, therefore, is very improperly adduced to prove that the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit are conferred alike on all people, and that pagans, and blasphemers, and sinners in general are under his enlightening influences. It has no reference to any such doctrine, but should be interpreted as referring solely to Christians, and the various endowments which are conferred on them.
To profit withal - (πρὸς τὸ συμθέρον pros to sumtheron). Unto profit; that is, for utility, or use; or to be an advantage to the church; for the common good of all. This does not mean that each one must cultivate and improve his graces and gifts, however true that may be, but that they are to be used for the common good of the church; they are bestowed “for utility,” or “profit;” they are conferred in such measures and in such a manner as are best adapted to be useful, and to do good. They are bestowed not on all equally, but in such a manner as shall best subserve the interests of piety and the church, and as shall tend harmoniously to carry on the great interests of religion, and further the welfare of the whole Christian body. The doctrine of this verse is, therefore:
It follows from this:
For to one is given - In order to show what endowments he refers to, the apostle here particularizes the various gifts which the Holy Spirit imparts in the church.
By the Spirit - By the Holy Spirit; by his agency on the mind and heart.
The word of wisdom - One he has endowed with wisdom, or has made distinguished for wise, and prudent, and comprehensive views of the scheme of redemption, and with a faculty of clearly explaining it to the apprehension of people. It is not certain that the apostle meant to say that this was the most important or most elevated endowment because he places it first in order. His design does not seem to be to observe the order of importance and value, but to state, as it occurred to him, the fact that these various endowments had been conferred on different people in the church. The sense is, that one man would be prominent and distinguished as a wise man - a prudent counsellor, instructor, and adviser.
To another the word of knowledge - Another would be distinguished for knowledge. He would be learned; would have a clear view of the plan of salvation, and of the doctrines and duties of religion. The same variety is observed in the ministry at all times. One man is eminent as a wise man; another as a man of intelligence and knowledge; and both may be equally useful in their place in the church.
By the same Spirit - All is to be traced to the same Spirit; all, therefore, may be really useful and necessary; and the one should not pride himself in his endowments above the other.
To another faith - Another shall he distinguished for simple confidence in God; and his endowment is also given by the same Spirit. Many of the most useful people in the church are distinguished mainly for their simple confidence in the promises of God; and often accomplish more by prayer and by their faith in God than others do who are distinguished for their wisdom and learning. Humble piety and reliance in the divine promises, and that measure of ardor, fearlessness, and zeal which result from such confidence; that belief that all obstacles must be and will be overcome that oppose the gospel; and that God will secure the advancement of his cause, will often do infinitely more in the promotion of his kingdom than the most splendid endowments of learning and talent. Indeed, if a man were disposed to do good on the widest scale possible, to do the utmost that he possibly could in saving people, he would best accomplish it by seeking simple “faith” in God’s aid and promises, and then under the influence of this, engage with ardor in doing what he could. Faith is one of the highest endowments of the Christian life; and yet, though all may obtain it, it is one of the rarest endowments. Perhaps by many it is despised, because it may be obtained by all; because it is a grace in which the poor and the humble may be as much distinguished as the man of splendid talents and profound learning.
To another the gifts of healing - See Mark 16:18. This was promised to the disciples of the Saviour; and in the early church was conferred on many; compare Acts 5:12, Acts 5:15-16; Acts 19:12. It would seem from this passage that the gift of healing was conferred on some in a more eminent degree than on others.
To another the working of miracles - Commentators have felt some perplexity in distinguishing this from what is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9, of the gift of healing. it is evident that the apostle there refers to the power of working miracles in healing inveterate and violent diseases. The expression used here, “working of miracles” (ἐνεργήματα δυναμέων energēmata dunameōn) refers probably to the more “extraordinary” and “unusual” kinds of miracles; to those which were regarded as in advance of the power of healing diseases. It is possible that it may denote what the Saviour had reference to in Mark 16:18, where he said they should take up serpents, and if they drank any deadly thing it should not hurt them; and possibly also to the power of raising up the dead. That this power was possessed by the apostles is well known; and it is possible that it was possessed by others also of the early Christians. It is clear from all this that there was a difference even among those who had the power of working miracles, and that this power was conferred in a more eminent degree on some than on others. Indeed, the “extraordinary” endowments conferred on the apostles and the early Christians, seem to have been regulated to a remarkable degree in accordance with the rule by which “ordinary” endowments are conferred upon people. Though all people have understanding, memory, imagination, bodily strength, etc., yet one has these in a more eminent degree than others; and one is characterized for the possession of one of those qualities more than for another. Yet all are bestowed by the same God. So it was in regard to the extraordinary endowments conferred on the early Christians; compare 1 Corinthians 14:0, especially 1 Corinthians 14:32.
To another prophecy; - See the note at Romans 12:6.
To another discerning of spirits - compare 1 John 4:1. This must refer to some power of searching into the secrets of the heart; of knowing what were a man’s purposes. views, and feelings. It may relate either to the power of determining by what spirit a man spoke who pretended to be inspired, whether he was truly inspired or whether he was an impostor; or it may refer to the power of seeing whether a man was sincere or not in his Christian profession That the apostles had this power, is apparent from the case of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-10, and from the case of Elymas, Acts 13:9-11. It is evident that where the gift of prophecy and inspiration was possessed, and where it would confer such advantages on those who possessed it, there would be many pretenders to it; and that it would be of vast importance to the infant church, in order to prevent imposition, that there should be a power in the church of detecting the imposture.
To another divers kinds of tongues - The power of speaking various languages; see Acts 2:4, Acts 2:7-11. This passage also seems to imply that the extraordinary endowments of the Holy Spirit were not conferred on all alike.
To another the interpretation of tongues - The power of interpreting foreign languages; or of interpreting the language which might be used by the “prophets” in their communications; see the note at 1 Corinthians 14:27. This was evidently a faculty different from the power of speaking a foreign language; and yet it might be equally useful. It would appear possible that some might have had the power of speaking foreign languages who were not themselves apprized of the meaning, and that interpreters were needful in order to express the sense to the hearers. Or it may have been that in a promiscuous assembly, or in an assembly made up of those who spoke different languages, a part might have understood what was uttered, and it was needful that an interpreter should explain it to the other portion; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 14:28.
But all these - All these various endowments.
Worketh - Produces. All these are to be traced to him.
That one and the self-same Spirit - The Holy Spirit, Acts 2:0. They were all, though so different in themselves, to be traced to the Holy Spirit, just as all the natural endowments of people - their strength, memory, judgment, etc. - though so various in themselves are to be traced to the same God.
Dividing to every man severally - Conferring on each one as he pleases. He confers on each one that which he sees to be best, and most wise, and proper.
As he will - As he chooses or as in his view seems best. Dr. Doddridge remarks, that this word does “not so much express arbitrary pleasure, as a determination founded on “wise” counsel.” It implies, however, that he does it as a sovereign; as he sees to be right and best. He distributes these favors as to him seems best adapted to promote the welfare of the whole church and to advance his cause. Some of the doctrines which are taught by this verse are the following:
(1) The Holy Spirit is a “person.” For, he acts as a person; distributes favors, confers endowments and special mercies “as he will.” This proves that he is, in some respects, distinguished from the Father and the Son. It would be absurd to say of an “attribute” of God, that it confers favors, and distributes the various endowments of speaking with tongues, and raising the dead. And if so, then the Holy Spirit is “not” an attribute of God.
(2) He is a sovereign. He gives to all as he pleases. In regard to spiritual endowments of the highest order, he deals with people as he does in the common endowments bestowed upon people, and as he does in temporal blessings. He does not bestow the same blessings on all, nor make all alike. He dispenses his favors by a rule which he has not made known, but which, we may be assured, is in accordance with wisdom and goodness. He wrongs no one; and he gives to all the favors which might be connected with eternal life.
(3) No man should be proud of his endowments. Whatever they may be, they are the gifts of God, bestowed by his sovereign will and mercy. But assuredly we should not be proud of that which is the mere “gift” of another, and which has been bestowed, not in consequence of any merit of ours, but according to his mere sovereign will.
(4) No man should be depressed, or should despise his own gifts, however humble they may be. In their own place, they may be as important as the higher endowments of others. That God has placed him where he is, or has given less splendid endowments than he has to others, is no fault of his. There is no crime in it; and he should, therefore, strive to improve his “one talent,” and to make himself useful in the rank where he is placed. And,
(5) No man should despise another because be is in a more bumble rank, or is less favored than himself. God has made the difference, and we should respect and honor his arrangements, and should show that “respect” and “honor” by regarding with kindness, and treating as fellow laborers with us, all who occupy a more humble rank than we do.
For as the body is one - The general sentiment which the apostle had been illustrating and enforcing was, that all the endowments which were possessed in the church were the work of the same Holy Spirit, and that they ought to be appropriately cherished and prized, as being all useful and valuable in their places. This sentiment he now illustrates 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 by a beautiful similitude taken from the mutual dependence of the various parts of the human body. The human body is one, and yet is composed of various members and parts that all unite harmoniously in one whole.
Being many - Or, although they are many; or while they are in some respects separate, and perform distinct and different functions, yet they all unite in one harmonious whole.
So also is Christ - The church is represented as the body of Christ 1 Corinthians 12:27, meaning that it is one, and that he sustains to it the relation of Head; compare Ephesians 1:22-23. As the “head” is the most important part of the body, it may be put for the whole body; and the name “Christ” here, the head of the church, is put for the whole body of which he is the head; and means here the Christian society, or the church. This figure, of a part for the whole, is one that is common in all languages; see the note at Romans 12:4-5.
For by one Spirit - That is, by the agency or operation of the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit, we have been united into one body. The idea here is the same as that presented above 1 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Corinthians 12:11, by which all the endowments of Christians are traced to the same Spirit. Paul here says, that that Spirit had so endowed them as to fit them to constitute one body, or to be united in one, and to perform the various duties which resulted from their union in the same Christian church. The idea of its having been done by one and the same Spirit is kept up and often presented, in order that the endowments conferred on them might be duly appreciated.
Are we all - Every member of the church, whatever may be his rank or talents, has received his endowments from the same Spirit.
Baptized into one body - Many suppose that there is reference here to the ordinance of baptism by water. But the connection seems rather to require us to understand it of the baptism of the Holy Spirit Matthew 3:11; and if so, it means, that by the agency of the Holy Spirit, they had all been suited, each to his appropriate place, to constitute the body of Christ - the church. If, however, it refers to the ordinance of baptism, as Bloomfield, Calvin, Doddridge, etc. suppose, then it means, that by the very profession of religion as made at baptism, by there being but one baptism Ephesians 4:5, they had all professedly become members of one and the same body. The former interpretation, however, seems to me best to suit the connection.
Whether we be Jews or Gentiles - There is no difference. All are on a level. In regard to the grand point, no distinction is made, whatever may have been our former condition of life.
Bond or free - It is evident that many who were slaves were converted to the Christian faith. Religion, however, regarded all as on a level; and conferred no favors on the free which it did not on the slave. It was one of the happy lessons of Christianity, that it taught people that in the great matters pertaining to their eternal interests they were on the same level. This doctrine would tend to secure, more than anything else could, the proper treatment of those who were in bondage, and of those who were in humble ranks of life. At the same time it would not diminish, but would increase their real respect for their masters, and for those who were above them, if they regarded them as fellow Christians, and destined to the same heaven; see the note at 1 Corinthians 7:22.
And have been all made to drink ... - This probably refers to their partaking together of the cup in the Lord’s Supper. The sense is, that by their drinking of the same cup commemorating the death of Christ, they had partaken of the same influences of the Holy Spirit, which descend alike on all who observe that ordinance in a proper manner. They had shown also, that they belonged to the same body, and were all united together; and that however various might be their graces and endowments, yet they all belonged to the same great family.
For the body ... - The body is made up of many members, which have various offices. So it is in the church. We are to expect the same variety there; and we are not to presume either that all will be alike, or that any member that God has placed there will be useless.
If the foot shall say ... - The same figure and illustration which Paul here uses occurs also in pagan writers. It occurs in the apologue which was used by Menenius Agrippa, as related by Livy (lib. 2: cap. 32), in which he attempted to repress a rebellion which had been excited against the nobles and senators, as useless and cumbersome to the state. Menenius, in order to show the folly of this, represents the different members of the body as conspiring against the stomach, as being inactive, and as refusing to labor, and consuming everything. The consequence of the conspiracy which the feet, and hands, and mouth entered into, was a universal wasting away of the whole frame for lack of the nutriment which would have been supplied from the stomach. Thus, he argued it would be by the conspiracy against the nobles, as being inactive, and as consuming all things. The representation had the desired effect, and quelled the rebellion. The same figure is used also by Aesop. The idea here is, that as the foot and the ear could not pretend that they were not parts of the body, and even not important, because they were not the eye, etc.; that is, were not more honorable parts of the body; so no Christian, however humble his endowments, could pretend that he was useless because he was not more highly gifted and did not occupy a more elevated rank.
If the whole body ... - The idea in this verse is, that all the parts of the body are useful in their proper place, and that it would be as absurd to require or expect that all the members of the church should have the same endowments, as it would be to attempt to make the body “all eye.” If all were the same; if all had the same endowments, important offices which are now secured by the other members would be unknown. All, therefore, are to be satisfied with their allotment; all are to be honored in their appropriate place.
Hath God set the members ... - God has formed the body, with its various members, as he saw would best conduce to the harmony and usefulness of all.
And if all were one member - If there were nothing but an eye, an ear, or a limb, there would be no body The idea which this seems intended to illustrate is, that if there was not variety of talent and endowment in the church, the church could not itself exist. If, for example, there were nothing but apostles, or prophets, or teachers; if there were none but those who spoke with tongues or could interpret them, the church could not exist. A variety of talents and attainments in their proper places is as useful as are the various members of the human body.
And the eye cannot say unto the hand ... - The hand in its place is as needful as the eye; and the feet as the head. Nay, the eye and the head could not perform their appropriate functions, or would be in a great measure useless but for the aid of the hands and feet. Each is useful in its proper place. So in the church. Those that are most talented and most richly endowed with gifts, cannot say to those less so, that there is no need of their aid. All are useful in their place. Nay, those who are most richly endowed could very imperfectly perform their duties without the aid and cooperation of those of more humble attainments.
Which seem to be more feeble - Weaker than the rest; which seem less able to bear fatigue and to encounter difficulties; which are more easily injured, and which become more easily affected with disease. It is possible that Paul may here refer to the brain, the lungs, the heart, etc., as more feeble in their structure, and more liable to disease than the hands and the feet, etc., and in reference to which disease is more dangerous and fatal.
Are more necessary - The sense seems to be this. A man can live though the parts and members of his body which are more strong were removed; but not if those parts which are more feeble. A man can live if his arm or his leg be amputated; but not if his brain, his lungs or his heart be removed. So that, although these parts are more feeble, and more easily injured, they are really more necessary to life, and therefore more useful than the more vigorous portions of the frame. Perhaps the idea is - and it is a beautiful thought - that those members of the church which are most retiring and feeble apparently which are concealed from public view, unnoticed and unknown - the humble. the meek, the peaceful, and the prayerful - are often more necessary to the true welfare of the church than those who are eminent for their talent and learning. And it is so. The church can better spare many a man, even in the ministry, who is learned, and eloquent, and popular, than some obscure and humble Christian, that is to the church what the heart and the lungs are to the life. the one is strong. vigorous, active, like the hands or the feet, and the church often depends on them; the other is feeble, concealed, yet vital, like the heart or the lungs. The vitality of the church could be continued though the man of talent and learning should be removed; as the body may live when the arm or the leg is amputated; but that vitality could not continue if the saint of humble and retiring piety, and of fervent prayerfulness, were removed, any more than the body can live when there is no heart and no lungs.
We bestow more abundant honour - Margin, “Put on.” The words rendered “abundant honor” here, refer to clothing. We bestow upon them more attention and honor then we do on the face that is deemed comely, and that is not covered and adorned as the other parts of the body are.
More abundant comeliness - We adorn and decorate the body with frivilous apparel. Those parts which decency requires us to conceal we not only cover, but we endeavor as far as we can to adorn them. The face in the mean time we leave uncovered. The idea is, that, in like manner, we should not despise or disregard those members of the church who are of lower rank, or who are less favored than others with spiritual endowments.
For our comely parts - The face, etc. “Have no need.” No need of clothing or ornament.
But God hath tempered the body together - Literally, “mingled” or mixed; that is, has made to coalesce, or strictly and closely joined. He has formed a strict union; he has made one part dependent on another, and necessary to the harmony and proper action of another. Every part is useful, and all are suited to the harmonious action of the whole. God has so arranged it, in order to produce harmony and equality in the body, that those parts which are less comely by nature should be more adorned and guarded by apparel.
Having given more abundant honour ... - By making it necessary that we should labor in order to procure for it the needful clothing; thus making it more the object of our attention and care. We thus bestow more abundant honor upon those parts of the body which a suitable protection from cold, and heat, and storms, and the sense of comeliness, requires us to clothe and conceal. The “more abundant honor,” therefore, refers to the greater attention, labor, and care which we bestow on those parts of the body.
That there should be no schism - Margin, “Division;” see note on 1 Corinthians 11:18. The sense here is, that the body might be united, and be one harmonious whole; that there should be no separate interests; and that all the parts should be equally necessary, and truly dependent on each other; and that no member should be regarded as separated from the others, or as needless to the welfare of all. The sense to be illustrated by this is, that no member of the church, however feeble, or illiterate, or obscure, should be despised or regarded as unnecessary or valueless; that all are needful in their places; and that it should not be supposed that they belonged to different bodies, or that they could not associate together, any more than the less honorable and comely parts of the body should be regarded as unworthy or unfit to be united to the parts that were deemed to be more beautiful or honorable.
Should have the same care - Should care for the same thing; should equally regard the interests of all, as we feel an equal interest in all the members and parts of the body, and desire the preservation, the healthy action, and the harmonious and regular movement of the whole. Whatever part of the body is affected with disease or pain, we feel a deep interest in its preservation and cure. The idea is, that no member of the church should be overlooked or despised; but that the whole church should feel a deep interest for, and exercise a constant solicitude over, all its members.
And whether one member suffer - One member, or part of the body.
All the members suffer with it - This, we all know, is the case with the body. A pain in the foot, the hand, or the head excites deep solicitude. The interest is not confined to the part affected; but we feel that we ourselves are affected, and that our body, as a whole, demands our care. The word “suffer” here refers to disease, or sickness. It is true also that not only we feel an “interest” in the part that is affected, but that disease in any one part tends to diffuse itself through, and to affect the whole frame. If not arrested, it is conveyed by the blood through all the members until life itself is destroyed. It is not by mere interest, then, or sympathy, but it is by the natural connection and the inevitable result that a diseased member tends to affect the whole frame. There is not, indeed, in the church the same “physical” connection and “physical” effect, but the union is really not less close and important, nor is it the less certain that the conduct of one member will affect all. It is implied here also, that we should feel a deep interest in the welfare of all the members of the body of Christ. If one is tempted or afflicted, the other members of the church should feel it, and “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil his law.” If one is poor, the others should aid him, and supply his needs; if one is persecuted and opposed for righteousness’ sake, the others should sympathize with him, and make common cause with him. In all things pertaining to religion and to their mutual welfare, they should feel that they have a common cause, and regard it as a privilege to aid one another. Nor should a man regard it as any more a burden and hardship to aid a poor or afflicted brother in the church, than it should be deemed a hardship that the head, and the heart, and the hands should sympathize when any other member of the body is diseased.
Or one member be honoured - If applied to the body, this means, if one member or part be regarded and treated with special care; be deemed honorable; or be in a sound, healthy, and vigorous condition. If applied to the church, it means, if one of its members should be favored with extraordinary endowments; or be raised to a station of honor and influence above his brethren.
All the members rejoice with it - That is, in the body, all the other members partake of the benefit and honor. If one member be sound and healthy, the benefit extends to all. If the hands, the feet, the heart, the lungs, the brain be in a healthy condition, the advantage is felt by all the members, and all derive advantage from it. So in the church. If one member is favored with remarkable talent, or is raised to a station of influence, and exerts his influence in the cause of Christ, all the members of the church partake of the benefit. It is for the common good; and all should rejoice in it. This consideration should repress envy at the elevation of others, and should lead all the members of a church to rejoice when God, by his direct agency, or by the arrangements of his providence, confers extraordinary endowments, or gives opportunity for extended usefulness to others.
Now ye - Ye Christians of Corinth, as a part of the whole church that has been redeemed.
Are the body of Christ - The allusion to the human body is here kept up. As all the members of the human body compose one body, having a common head, so it is with all the members and parts of the Christian church. The specific idea is, that Christ is the Head of the whole church; that he presides over all; and that all its members sustain to each other the relation of fellow-members in the same body, and are subject to the same head; compare the note at 1 Corinthians 11:3. The church is often called the body of Christ; Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:18, Colossians 1:24.
And members in particular - You are, as individuals, members of the body of Christ; or each individual is a member of that body.
And God hath set - That is, has appointed, constituted, ordained. He has established these various orders or ranks in the church. The apostle, having illustrated the main idea that God had conferred various endowments on the members of the church, proceeds here to specify particularly what he meant, and to refer more directly to the various ranks which existed in the church.
Some in the church - The word “some,” in this place ὅυς hous, seems to mean rather whom, “and whom God hath placed in the church,” or, they whom God hath constituted in the church in the manner above mentioned are, first, apostles, etc.
First, apostles - In the first rank or order; or as superior in honor and in office. He has given them the highest authority in the church; he has more signally endowed them and qualified them than he has others.
Secondarily, prophets - As second in regard to endowments and importance. For the meaning of the word “prophets,” see the note on Romans 12:6.
Thirdly, teachers - As occupying the third station in point of importance and valuable endowments. On the meaning of this word, and the nature of this office, see the note on Romans 12:7.
After that, miracles - Power. (δυνάμεις dunameis). Those who had the power of working miracles; referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:10.
Then gifts of healing - The power of healing those who were sick; see note on 1 Corinthians 12:9; compare James 5:14-15.
Helps - (ἀντιλήμψεις antilēmpseis). This word occurs no where else in the New Testament. It is derived from ἀντιλαμβάνω antilambanō, and denotes properly, “aid, assistance, help;” and then those who render aid, assistance, or help; helpers. Who they were is not known. They might have been those to whom was entrusted the care of the poor, and the sick, and strangers, widows, and orphans, etc.; that is, those who performed the office of deacons. Or they may have been those who attended on the apostles to aid them in their work, such as Paul refers to in Romans 16:3. “Greet Priscilla, and Aquilla, my “helpers” in Christ Jesus;” and in 1 Corinthians 12:9,” Salute Urbane our helper in Christ;” see note on Romans 16:3. It is not possible, perhaps, to determine the precise meaning of the word, or the nature of the office which they discharged; but the word means, in general, those who in any way aided or rendered assistance in the church, and may refer to the temporal affairs of the church, to the care of the poor, the distribution of charity and alms, or to the instruction of the ignorant, or to aid rendered directly to the apostles. There is no evidence that it refers to a distinct and “permanent” office in the church; but may refer to aid rendered by any class in any way. Probably many persons were profitably and usefully employed in various ways as aids in promoting the temporal or spiritual welfare of the church.
Governments - (κυβερνήσεις kubernēseis). This word is derived from κυβεριάω kuberiaō, “to govern;” and is usually applied to the government or “steering” of a ship. The word occurs no where else in the New Testament, though the word κυβερνήτης kubernētēs (“governor”) occurs in Acts 27:11, rendered “master,” and in Revelation 18:17, rendered “shipmaster.” It is not easy to determine what particular office or function is here intended. Doddridge, in accordance with Amyraut, supposes that distinct offices may not be here referred to, but that the same persons may be denoted in these expressions as being distinguished in various ways; that is, that the same persons were called helpers in reference to their skill in aiding those who were in distress, and governments in regard to their talent for doing business, and their ability in presiding in councils for deliberation, and in directing the affairs of the church.
There is no reason to think that the terms here used referred to permanent and established ranks and orders in the ministry and in the church; or in permanent offices which were to continue to all times as an essential part of its organization. It is certain that the “order” of “apostles” has ceased, and also the “order” of “miracles,” and the order of “healings,” and of “diversity of tongues.” And it is certain that in the use of these terms of office, the apostle does not affirm that they would be permanent, and essential to the very existence of the church; and from the passage before us, therefore, it cannot be argued that there was to be an order of men in the church who were to be called “helps,” or “governments.” The truth probably was, that the circumstances of the primitive churches required the aid of many persons in various capacities which might not be needful or proper in other times and circumstances.
Whether, therefore, this is to be regarded as a permanent arrangement that there should be “governments” in the church, or an order of men entrusted with the sole office of governing, is to be learned not from this passage, but from other parts of the New Testament. Lightfoot contends that the word which is used here and translated “governments” does not refer to the power of ruling, but to a person endued with a deep and comprehensive mind, one who is wise and prudent; and in this view Mesheim, Macknight, and Horsley coincide. Calvin refers it to the elders to whom the exercise of discipline was entrusted. Grotius understands it of the pastors Ephesians 4:1, or of the elders who presided over particular churches; Romans 12:8. Locke supposes that they were the same as those who had the power of discerning spirits. The simple idea, however, is that of ruling, or exercising government; but whether this refers to a permanent office, or to the fact that some were specially qualified by their wisdom and prudence, and in virtue of this usually regulated or directed the affairs of the church by giving counsel, etc., or whether they were “selected” and appointed for this purpose for a time; or whether it refers to the same persons who might also have exercised other functions, and this in addition, cannot be determined from the passage before us. All that is clear is, that there were those who administered government in the church. But the passage does not determine the form, or manner; nor does it prove - whatever may be true - that such an office was to be permanent in the church.
(There can be little doubt that the κυβερνησεις kubernēseis, or governments, refer to offices of rule and authority in the church. Two things, therefore, are plain from this text:
1. That in the primitive church there were rulers distinct from the people or church members, to whom these were bound to yield obedience.
2. That these rulers were appointed of God. “God set them in the church.” As to the question of “permanence,” on which our author thinks this passage affirms nothing: a distinction must be made between these offices which were obviously of an extraordinary kind, and which therefore must cease; and those of an ordinary kind, which are essential to the edification of the church in all ages. “The universal commission which the apostles received from their Master to make disciples of all nations, could not be permanent as to the extent of it, because it was their practice to ordain elders in every city, and because the course of human affairs required, that after Christianity was established, the teachers of it should officiate in particular places. The infallible guidance of the Spirit was not promised in the same measure to succeeding teachers. But being, in their case, vouched by the power of working miracles, it directed the Christians of their day, to submit implicitly to their injunctions and directions; and it warrants the Christian world, in all ages, to receive with entire confidence, that system of faith and morality which they were authorised to deliver in the name of Christ. But as all protestants hold that this system was completed when the canon of scripture was closed - it is admitted by them, that a great part of the apostolical powers ceased with those to whom Jesus first committed them.
Amongst the “ordinary” functions belonging to their office as teachers, are to be ranked not only preaching the word, and dispensing the sacraments, but also that rule and government over Christians as such, which is implied in the idea of the church as a society” - Hill’s Lectures, vol. ii, p. 479. Now, though these extraordinary offices and functions have ceased with the age of the apostles, and of miraculous influence; it by no means follows, that the ordinary offices of teaching and ruling have ceased also. What was plainly of a “peculiar kind,” and could not possibly be “imitated” after the withdrawment of miraculous power, is quite distinct from that which, not depending on such power, is suited to the condition of the church always. Proceeding on any other principle, we should find it impossible to argue at all on what ought to be the constitution of the church, from any hints we find in the New Testament. What is extraordinary cannot be permanent, but what is ordinary must be so. See the supplementary note on 1 Corinthians 5:4.)
Diversities of tongues - Those endowed with the power of speaking various languages; see the note on 1 Corinthians 12:10.
Are all apostles? ... - These questions imply, with strong emphasis, that it could not be, and ought not to be, that there should be perfect equality of endowment. It was not a matter of fact that all were equal, or that all were qualified for the offices which others sustained. Whether the arrangement was approved of or not, it was a simple matter of fact that some were qualified to perform offices which others were not; that some were endowed with the abilities requisite to the apostolic office, and others not; that some were endowed with prophetic gifts, and others were not; that some had the gift of healing, or the talent of speaking different languages, or of interpreting and that others had not.
But covet earnestly - Greek “Be zealous for” Ζηλοῦτε Zēloute. This word, however, may be either in the indicative mood (ye do covet earnestly), or in the imperative, as in our translation. Doddridge contends that it should be rendered in the indicative mood, for he says it seems to be a contradiction that after the apostle had been showing that these gifts were not at their own option, and that they ought not to emulate the gifts of another, or aspire to superiority, to undo all again, and give them such contrary advice. The same view is given by Locke, and so Macknight. The Syriac renders it, “Because you are zealous of the best gifts, I will show to you a more excellent way.” But there is no valid objection to the common translation in the imperative, and indeed the connection seems to demand it. Grotius renders it, “Pray to God that you may receive from him the best, that is, the most useful endowments.”
The sense seems to be this, “I have proved that all endowments in the church are produced by the Holy Spirit; and that he confers them as he pleases. I have been showing that no one should be proud or elated on account of extraordinary endowments; and that, on the other hand, no one should he depressed, or sad, or discontented, because he has a more humble rank. I have been endeavoring to repress and subdue the spirit of discontent, jealousy, and ambition; and to produce a willingness in all to occupy the station where God has placed you. But, I do not intend to deny that it is proper to desire the most useful endowments; that a man should wish to be brought under the influence of the Spirit, and qualified for eminent usefulness. I do not mean to say that it is wrong for a man to regard the higher gifts of the Spirit as valuable and desirable, if they may be obtained; nor that the spirit which seeks to excel in spiritual endowments and in usefulness, is improper.
Yet all cannot be apostles; all cannot be prophets. I would not have you, therefore, seek such offices, and manifest a spirit of ambition. I would seek to regulate the desire which I would not repress as improper; and in order to that, I would show you that, instead of aspiring to offices and extraordinary endowments which are beyond your grasp, there is a way, more truly valuable, that is open to you all, and where all may excel.” Paul thus endeavors to give a practicable and feasible turn to the whole subject, and further to repress the longings of ambition and the contentions of strife, by exciting emulation to obtain that which was accessible to them all, and “which, just in the proportion in which it was obtained,” would repress discontent, and strife, and ambition, and produce order, and peace, and contentedness with their endowments and their lot, the main thing which he was desirous of producing in this chapter. This, therefore, is one of the “happy turns” in which the writings of Paul abounds. He did not denounce their zeal as wicked. He did not attempt at once to repress it. He did not say that it was wrong to desire high endowments. But he showed them an endowment which was more valuable than all the others; which was accessible to all; and which, if possessed, would make them contented, and produce the harmonious operation of all the parts of the church. That endowment was love.
A more excellent way - See the next chapter. “I will show you a more excellent way of evincing your “zeal” than by aspiring to the place of apostles, prophets, or rulers, and that is by cultivating universal charity or love.”