Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 12

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

Ch. 12:1 11. Spiritual Gifts; their origin and character

“We have often to remind ourselves that this Epistle was addressed to a Church in a state of faction. One cause of rivalry was the merits of their respective teachers; another was the endowments of various kinds given to the members of the Church.” Robertson. This and the next two chapters are concerned with the great outpouring of spiritual energy which followed the preaching of the Gospel. St Paul deals with it in his usual manner. He characteristically lays down broad principles in this and the next chapter before he proceeds to the details of ch. 14. He is specially solicitous to do so here because of the danger, so often since experienced in the Church (see ch. 14:32), of the belief that a condition of great spiritual exaltation absolved men from the necessity of consulting their reason. The Apostle teaches that spiritual gifts are no less to be restrained in their exercise by considerations of decency, of order, of what is due to others, than gifts of a more ordinary kind. Therefore he takes occasion to shew ( vv . 1 11) that all gifts proceed from one source, and that miraculous powers are no more gifts of the Spirit than some others not supposed to be miraculous, and then ( vv . 12 30) that neither he who possesses them has any right to despise him who does not, nor he who does not possess them to envy him who does, since ‘each has his own proper gift of God.’ He goes on further (ch. 13) to point out the ‘more excellent way’ of love, and finally, in ch. 14, proceeds to lay down the regulations necessary for the preservation of order in the Christian assemblies.

1 . concerning spiritual gifts] Rather (1) spiritual persons , or better (2) spiritual matters, agencies . The word gifts is not in the original.

I would not have you ignorant ] See note on ch. 10:1.

2 . that ye were Gentiles ] Most modern editors read ‘that when ye were Gentiles’ here. The similarity of ὅτε and ὅτι , and the fact that the introduction of the former produces an unfinished construction, may have led to its omission. But if omitted we should be driven to the conclusion that the Corinthian Church was an exclusively Gentile community, which would contradict Acts 18:8 , Acts 18:13 , and possibly ch. 8 and 10:1 11 (where see notes).

unto these dumb idols ] Literally, ‘unto the dumb idols.’ The word dumb (see note on next verse) draws attention to the contrast between the voiceless idol and the delusive utterances of its pretended priests or priestesses, as at Delphi, Dodona and elsewhere. Cf. for the expression Habakkuk 2:18 , Habakkuk 2:10 . Also Psalms 115:5 ; Wisd. 13:17 19; Baruch 6:8.

3 . Wherefore ] The connection of thought is as follows. When you were heathen you were carried hither and thither by the pretended utterances of your gods, and believed whatever they might tell you. But now you must no longer be the sport of circumstances. There are certain fundamental principles by which you may try the utterances of those who would teach you. Cf. an extremely similar passage in 1 John 4:1-3 . This caution was very necessary in the infant Church. In spite of the warnings of St Paul and St John, many were entrapped by the blasphemous ravings of men like Simon Magus, Menander and the Ophites (or Naassenes, worshippers of the serpent), as we learn from the writings of Irenaeus and Hippolytus. Cf. 1 John 2:19 .

by the Spirit of God ] Literally, in the Spirit; i.e. inspired by Him.

accursed ] Margin (and Greek), anathema . See note on ch. 16:22.

that Jesus is the Lord ] Perhaps, Jesus Is Lord , or Lord Jesus .

but by the Holy Ghost ] Literally, in the Holy Ghost (or Spirit ), see above. Not a single true word can be spoken but by the agency of the Spirit of God. As far as the confession that Jesus is Lord goes, he who makes it is under the influence of the Holy Ghost. It is remarkable that St Paul has in mind in this passage those who deny the Divinity of Christ; St John, in the similar passage just quoted, the sects, which arose afterwards, who denied His Humanity .

4 gifts ] χαρίσματα , ch. 7:7, special powers vouchsafed by God, In addition to the ordinary ‘fruit of the Spirit,’ Galatians 5:22 , which last was within the reach of every Christian who would use ordinary diligence. Cf. Romans 12:6-8 , 1 Peter 4:10 , 1 Peter 4:11 , where the same word is used as here.

but the same Spirit ] The unity of the source is strongly insisted upon, to put an end to the mutual jealousy of the Corinthians. And it is remarkable that each person in the Blessed Trinity is introduced to emphasize the argument, and in contrary order (as Estius remarks), in order to lead us step by step to the One Source of all. First the Spirit, Who bestows the ‘gifts’ on the believer. Next the Lord, to Whom men render service in His Church. Lastly God the Father, from Whom all proceeds, Whose are all the works which are done to Him and in His Name. Cf. ch. 3:7, 9, 23, 8:6.

5 . differences ] The Greek word is the same in vv . 4, 5, 6. It is used in the Septuagint (1 Chronicles 26:1 ; 1 Chronicles 8:14 ; Ezra 6:18 ) of the divisions or courses of the Priests and Levites.

administrations ] Rather, as margin, ministeries , i.e. services rendered to Christ and His members by His disciples. Wiclif’s rendering is, and dyuerse seruyces ther ben, but it is al oo Lord .

6 . operations ] ἐνεργήματα . Worchyngis , Wiclif. Calvin renders facultas , but explains this to mean effectus . The Apostle here is speaking of active power ( ἐνέργεια ), not latent as in 1:18 (where see note). The influences to which he now refers are actually at work, and producing results, in obedience to an impulse received from Him. Cf. Romans 7:5 and St Matthew 14:2 .

all in all ] i.e. “every one of them in every person on whom they are bestowed.” So ch. 15:28; Ephesians 1:23 ; Colossians 3:11 .

7 . to profit withal ] God’s object is ever the well-being of man. If man is to become one spirit with God (ch. 6:17), his object must be the same. See notes on ch. 6:12, 8:1, 9 13, 10:23.

8 . the word of wisdom ] Rather, discourse of wisdom , i.e. discourse characterized by and disseminating wisdom. See note on ch. 2:7. I have ventured to regard wisdom as the direct effect of intuition, knowledge as the result of a process. See ch. 8:1. This was the view taken by St Paul’s contemporary Philo, and by the Gnostics who immediately succeeded him. Wisdom, according to Philo, was the highest of the Divine attributes, and human wisdom a reflection of the Divine. Wisdom, according to the Gnostics, was an Æon or emanation from Divinity; Gnosis or knowledge the process whereby man attained to the comprehension of things Divine. Clement of Alexandria, however, reverses the definition. Knowledge, according to him, comes directly from God, wisdom is the result of teaching. Stromata vii: 10. St Chrysostom takes the view which has been taken above.

the word of knowledge ] See last note. See also ch. 13:2, where knowledge is distinguished from the perception of mysteries. For other interpretations consult Alford’s note.

9 . faith ] Not the rudimentary principle which was the essential condition of all Christian life, but that higher realization of things Divine which enables a man to remove mountains (St Matthew 17:20 ; ch. 13:2).

the gifts of healing ] As in St Mark 16:18 ; Acts 3:7 , Acts 3:8 , Acts 3:5 :15, Acts 3:16 , Acts 3:9 :34, Acts 3:19 :11, Acts 3:12 ; St James 5:14 , James 5:15 .

10 . the working of miracles ] Literally, effects produced by the active exercise of powers , as in Acts 5:1-11 , Acts 9:40 , Acts 13:11 , Acts 16:18 .

prophecy ] See note on ch. 14:1.

discerning of spirits ] Wiclif, knowynge . Tyndale, judgement . This word is derived from the verb translated discern in ch. 11:29, where see note. Here it signifies the faculty of forming a correct judgment on the utterances of spirits. Cf. 1 John 4:1 . The word only occurs here and in Romans 14:1 and Hebrews 5:14 . In the former place, it is rendered by an adjective, ‘doubtful’; literally, discerning of disputations ; in the latter by a verb.

divers kinds of tongues ] These were either (1) outpourings of prayer and praise in a language unknown to the speaker or (2) (as Dean Alford in loc .) in a language not ordinarily intelligible to any man. The gift of tongues may possibly have included both (see notes on ch. 14). But it is impossible with Acts 2:9-11 before us, and bearing in mind the fact adduced by Bishop Wordsworth in his commentary on that passage, that we never hear of any one of the Apostles sitting down to learn a foreign language, whereas with all other missionaries this is generally the first thing of which we are told to exclude the idea of foreign languages here. “Qui multis gentibus annunciaturus erat, multarum linguarum acceperat gratiam.” Jerome.

to another the interpretation of tongues ] See ch. 14:5, 13, 26, 27.

11 . but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit ] This consideration absolutely excludes all boasting, all possibility of setting up one gift as essentially superior to another. It is worthy of remark that what is predicated of God in v . 6, is here predicated of His Spirit. The word translated worketh is the same in both places. “The Spirit worketh, not is worked. He worketh as He will, not as He is bidden.” St Chrysostom.

dividing to every man severally as he will ] Cf. Hebrews 2:4 .

12 31. Comparison of the Unity of the Body and the Unity of the Christian Church

12 . For as the body is one, and hath many members ] This simile is a very common one. It is used on several occasions by the Apostle. See Romans 12:4 , Romans 12:5 ; Ephesians 4:16 , Ephesians 4:5 :30; Colossians 2:19 . It was even familiar to Gentile minds from the well-known apologue of Menenius Agrippa in Livy xi. 32. Cf. Shakespeare, Coriolanus , Act i. Sc. 1. For other examples see Alford in loc . The point here is somewhat different. The unity of the body in the fable above-mentioned centres in the idea of the body politic. In the Christian scheme the unity is found in Christ, of Whose life all His members partake.

so also is Christ ] The Apostle, like Christ Himself in the parable of the Vine in St John 15:0 (as also in ch. 17), identifies His members with Himself. The life they live (Galatians 2:20 ) is no longer theirs but His. They have put on the new man (2 Corinthians 5:17 ; Ephesians 4:24 ; Colossians 3:10 ), the second Adam (ch. 15:45, 47) Who was created afresh in the Image of God. And the result is the identification of themselves with Him. So that they are His Body (Ephesians 1:23 ), as filled with Him, Who filleth all things.

13 . For by one Spirit ] Literally, in one Spirit , i.e. in virtue of His operation.

are we all baptized ] Literally, were we all baptized . All is the work of the Holy Spirit the first arresting of the thoughts and awakening the dormant instincts of the spirit of man, the gradual process whereby conviction is produced and strengthened, until at last the inquirer formally enrolls himself as a member of the Church of Christ, ‘which is His Body,’ Ephesians 1:23 , and becomes entitled to all the privileges which belong to the members of that body. Cf. St John 3:3-5 , and notes on ch. 1:5.

into one body ] “Does baptism teach of a difference between Christians? Does it not rather teach that all the baptized are baptized into one body?” Robertson.

whether we be Jews or Gentiles ] Literally, as margin, Greeks . Cf. Galatians 3:28 ; Ephesians 2:12-17 ; Colossians 3:11 . The Gospel of Christ was intended to abolish all national animosities, and to unite all men in one brotherhood, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

whether we be bond or free ] See notes on ch. 7:21, 22.

and have been all made to drink into one Spirit ] The word into is omitted in many MSS. Some would translate, as in ch. 3:6, 7, watered . Such is St Chrysostom’s interpretation. The usual signification of the word is to give to drink , as in ch. 3:2, and St Matthew 10:42 . But the aorist tense here, as well as the unusually large number of various readings, seems to lead to the conclusion that the reference is to Baptism (St Chrysostom refers it to Confirmation), and not, as the words would seem at first sight to imply, to the Holy Communion. If this be the case, they refer to the altered condition of him who has entered into fellowship with Christ. Henceforward the Holy Spirit becomes an abiding possession with him, guaranteed by the Christian covenant (see St John 3:3-5 , as above, and 4:14, 7:38, 39, 14:16, 17, 15:26, 16:7, and cf. St Matthew 3:11 ) so long as he himself is willing to be bound by the terms of that covenant. This change of relation to God, involving as it does a change of habits, dispositions, tempers, nature , in fact, is called in Scripture the new birth .

14 . For the body is not one member, but many ] The same leading idea is kept in view the diversity of functions, offices, gifts, but the unity of the body. No more complete or apposite illustration could be given. The body is one thing , animated by one soul , belonging to one being , yet with an infinity of various parts, each contributing by their action to the fulfilment of one and the same purpose , the life and usefulness of the man.

17 . If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? ] “Observe here the difference between the Christian doctrine of unity and equality, and the world’s idea of levelling all to one standard. The intention of God with respect to the body is not that the rude hand should have the delicacy of the eye, or the foot have the power of the brain.” Robertson. “To desire such an equality as this,” says Calvin, “would produce a confusion which would bring about immediate ruin.” The duty of each is to do his work in the place in which God has set him, with a proper consideration for the rights and the needs of his brother Christians who occupy other positions in the world. “If each man,” continues Robertson, “had the spirit of self-surrender, the spirit of the Cross, it would not matter to himself whether he were doing the work of the main-spring or of one of the inferior parts.”

18 . But now hath God set ] Literally, But now (that is, as the case stands ) God placed , i.e. at creation.

as it hath pleased him ] Literally, as He willed . See last note. St Paul would have us draw the inference that our own peculiar disposition and talents are appointed us by God, that we may perform the special work in the world for which we were designed. We are not therefore to repine because we do not possess the qualifications which we see possessed by others, but to endeavour to make the best possible use of the gifts we have.

19 . if they were all one member, where were the body? ] The Christian Church, as St Paul continually teaches, was a body ; that is, an organism which contained a vast number and variety of parts, each one with its own special function. But if all had the same purpose and work, the body would cease to exist.

22 . Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary ] The more feeble parts of the body, those, that is, which are most delicate, least able to take care of themselves, are by no means the least valuable. The eye or the brain, for instance, are more necessary to the well-being of the body than other stronger and ruder organs.

23 . and those members of the body, which we think to be lets honourable, upon these we bestow (literally, these we surround with ) more abundant honour ] i.e. by our admission that they are necessary to us. “The meanest trades are those with which we can least dispense. A nation may exist without an astronomer or philosopher, but the day-labourer is essential to the existence of man.” Robertson.

and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness ] Those parts which we are accustomed, from their ‘uncomeliness’ (rather, perhaps, unseemliness , since the word here used conveys an idea of shame), to conceal by clothing, do nevertheless perform nearly all the most important and necessary functions of the body.

24 . tempered ] So Wiclif. Disposed , Tyndale. Temperavit , Vulgate. Literally, mingled together .

25 . schism ] i.e. discordance of aims and interests. See notes on 1:10, 11:18. God had specially provided against this by giving to those who occupy the less honourable and ornamental positions in society the compensation of being the most indispensable portions of it. The ‘comely parts’ the wealthy, the refined, the cultivated, the intellectual obtain honour and respect by the very nature of their gifts. God has signified His Will that due honour and respect should be paid to those to whom it is not instinctively felt to be owing, by so ordering society that we cannot do without them. But our class distinctions and jealousies, our conflicts between capital and labour, shew how little Christians have realized this obvious truth.

but that the members should have the same care one for another ] All wars, insurrections, conflicts between class and class, arise from forgetfulness of the fact that the interests of all mankind are identical. Nor can this forgetfulness be charged upon one nation or one class of society. “The spirit and the law of the Life of Christ is to be that of every member of the Church, and the law of the Life of Christ is that of sympathy. How little, during the eighteen hundred years, have the hearts of men been got to beat together! Nor can we say that this is the fault of the capitalists and the masters only. It is the fault of the servants and dependents also.” Robertson.

26 . And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it ] This is a matter of the most ordinary experience in the human body. A pain in any portion, even the most remote from the seats of life, affects the whole. A glance at history will shew us that it is the same with the body politic. Whatever is physically, morally, or spiritually injurious to any one portion of society, or of the Church of Christ, is sure in the long run to produce injury, moral and spiritual deterioration to the rest.

or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it ] St Chrysostom eloquently remarks here, “Is the head crowned? All the man is glorified. Do the lips speak? The eyes also laugh and rejoice.” This part of the verse is as true as the former. Whatever tends to exalt the character and purify the aims of any one class in society, is sure in a greater or less degree to affect every other. If the one thought is calculated to alarm us by calling our attention to the infinite mischief which may be wrought by one act of thoughtlessness or selfishness, it is an immense encouragement to be reminded by the other that no work for good, undertaken from unselfish motives and carried out in an unselfish spirit, can possibly be without effect.

27 . Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular ] We here return to the proposition of vv . 12, 13, rendered more definite and intelligible by what has since been said. The Apostle now says (1) that collectively, Christians are the body of Christ, individually they are His members; (2) that of these members each has its several office ( v . 28); and (3) that none of these offices is common to the whole Christian body, but each belongs only to those to whom it has been assigned ( vv . 29, 30).

28 . God hath set ] Literally, placed , i.e. when He founded the Church. See verse 18, of which this is the application.

first apostles ] The Apostles, the founders and rulers of the Church, were first placed in their responsible office. St Matthew 10:1 ; St Mark 3:13 , Mark 3:14 ; Mark 6:7 ; St Luke 9:1 . The call of other disciples to a less responsible post is recorded in St Luke 10:1 . Cf. also Ephesians 4:11 .

secondarily prophets ] Secondarily , i.e. in the second rank in the Church. It may however be translated secondly . Prophets were those who by special gifts of inspiration (see ch. 14:1, and note) enlightened the Church on the mysteries of the faith.

thirdly teachers ] Those who with more ordinary gifts, by the exercise of the reason and judgment, expounded the oracles of God. St Chrysostom remarks that they taught with less authority than the prophets, because what they said was more their own, and less directly from God.

miracles ] Literally, powers , or faculties ( virtutes , Vulgate). See note on ch. 1:18. Here it no doubt includes miracles. See ch. 4:19, 20, 5:4 and notes.

helps ] Helpyngis , Wiclif; helpers , Tyndale. The best commentators are agreed in explaining this to mean the assistance of various kinds which Christians are able to render to each other, such as succouring the needy, tending the sick, teaching the ignorant, and the like. See Acts 20:35 , where the verb from which this word is derived is rendered support (i.e. ‘the weak’). Stanley, however, would regard it as supplying the omission of words which occur in the similar list in vv . 9, 10, and refer it to the help given to him who speaks with tongues by interpretation . See v . 30.

governments ] Governailis , Wiclif; governors , Tyndale; gubernationes , Vulgate. This would naturally mean the powers which fit a man for the higher positions in the Church. But Stanley (1) for the reason above assigned, as well as (2) from its position and (3) from the fact that it is employed in the Septuagint (Proverbs 1:5 , Proverbs 11:14 , Proverbs 20:18 , and 24:6), as the rendering of a Hebrew word signifying wise foresight , would refer it to the discerning of spirits. But the Hebrew word is derived from a word signifying a rope, and the proper signification of the word, as of the word here used, is the steersman’s art, the art of guiding aright the vessel of Church or State.

diversities of tongues ] See note on v . 10. “Seest thou where he hath set this gift, and how he everywhere assigns it the last rank?” St Chrysostom.

29 . Are all apostles? ] The common priesthood of every Christian (1 Peter 2:5 , 1 Peter 2:9 ) no more precludes the existence of special offices of authority in the Christian Church than the common priesthood of the Jewish people (Exodus 19:6 ) precluded the existence of a special order of men appointed to minister to God in holy things. The Apostle appeals to it as a notorious fact that all were not apostles or prophets, but only those who were called to those offices. Accordingly there is scarcely any sect of Christians which has not set apart a body of men to minister in holy things and to expound the word of God. “Were all teachers,” says Estius, “where were the learners?” The question here, however, is, rather of gifts than of the offices to which those gifts lead.

31 . But covet earnestly ] So Tyndale. Sue , Wiclif. Sectamini , Calvin. Perhaps, desire eagerly . Literally, be envious , or Jealous of . Aemulamini , Vulg. Cf. Acts 7:9 , Acts 17:5 , and ch. 13:4. It is translated zealously affect in Galatians 4:17 , Galatians 4:18 . It perhaps implies an indirect rebuke of the envy felt by many Corinthians for those who possessed the best gifts. It is as though St Paul had said, “if you are envious at all, be envious for the gifts , not of those who have received them.”

the best gifts ] Some copies read the greater gifts (see note on v . 4). The best gifts were (see ch. 14.) those which were most calculated to promote the edification of the Church. But they were also precisely those (see next chapter and Galatians 5:22 ), which so far from being peculiar to the individual, were within the reach of all Christians alike.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.