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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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1 Corinthians 12

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Spiritual Gifts

This chapter is a continuation of Paul’s answers to questions asked in a letter he had received from the Corinthians. "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me..." (7:1). Paul already has given answers on the subjects of marriage (chapter seven), liberties (chapters eight, nine, and ten), headship (11:2-16), and the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34). He now continues by speaking on the subject of spiritual gifts. His answers to this important subject extend from the beginning of chapter twelve through chapter fourteen.

Verse 1

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren: The Greek term de translated "now" in the King James Version is better translated "but." In the last sentence of chapter eleven concerning the Lord’s Supper, Paul says, "...And the rest will I set in order when I come." Then he moves forward by saying, "But concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant." Additional matters about the Lord’s Supper could wait until his return to Corinth; however, their ignorance about "spiritual gifts" could not wait.

In the King James Version, the term "gifts" is in italics indicating that it is not found in the Greek text. The proper rendering has the term "spiritual" in the plural ("spirituals") without the term "gift" (see the word-for-word translation of the Diaglott); however, inserting the term does no violence to the text because in verse 4 Paul uses the term to show that this is actually the subject he intends to address.

There is much controversy over whether the term "spiritual" (pneumatikos) is neuter or masculine. The term is defined as something "produced by the sole power of God himself without natural instrumentality, supernatural" (Thayer 523-2-4152). Paul refers to "special endowments of supernatural energy, such as prophecy and speaking with tongues" (Vincent, Vol. III 254). Many consider this "supernatural" to be masculine because verses 2, 3, and 7 refer to people. Possibly this is the reason the Diaglott translates the word "spiritual persons" (masculine gender). It seems better, however, to understand the term "spiritual" as neuter because of the context of this and the next two chapters; therefore, the Nestle Greek Text translates the word "spiritual matters" and Bratcher translates it as "spiritual things" (115). The word "spiritual" (pneumatikos) means "spiritual things or matter (in contrast to earthly things)...spiritual gifts...The genitive here may also be masculine (referring to) those who possess spiritual gifts (as in) 14:1" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 685).

(Paul is speaking) concerning spiritual things (gifts, powers),...not ’spiritual persons’ (he continues by adding) not the status of the persons spiritually endowed, but the operations of the Spirit who endows them are in question (The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. II 885).

These supernatural matters (spiritual gifts) were both temporary and necessary during the infancy of the church because at the time the revealed truth was incomplete. Later in this letter, Paul says, "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away" (13:9-10). "That which is perfect" is the complete word of God. It became complete after Jesus ascended to the Father, and the Holy Spirit told the apostles and other writers what to say and write. Jesus says,

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:26).

As a way of proving that their messages were actually from God and not from man, the apostles were able to confirm these new messages by the use of supernatural powers--"spiritual gifts" or miracles. These powers came to the apostles when the Holy Spirit came upon them in Acts:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (2:1-4).

Other people (such as those in 1:7) also received some of these "gifts" by the apostles’ laying their hands upon them:

Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:14-19).

I would not have you ignorant: See 10:1 for explanation.

Verse 2

Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

Ye know that ye were Gentiles: The words "Ye know" (eido) refer to instinctive knowledge in contrast to acquired knowledge. These Corinthians are now Christians, but they instinctively know the spiritual state that they were in before their conversion. In referring to their past existence as "Gentiles," Paul is referring to a time in their past well-known to them. He is merely reminding them of their helpless former condition. He did the same thing with those in Ephesus (Ephesians 2:11) by contrasting their former state with their present condition.

carried away unto these dumb idols: When the Corinthians were in a heathenistic state, they were "carried away" (apago); they were "led astray to idols" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 79). Paul is saying, "You were seized by powerful forces (or, impulses)" (Bratcher 115).

Paul says the Corinthians were led away unto "dumb idols" (aphonos eidolon), idols that cannot speak, indicating they were "powerless, ineffective, dead, nonexistent" (Bratcher 115). Paul then speaks of these idols as being "nothing" as he did in 1 Corinthians 8:4.

(These) dumb idols were often made to speak by priests concealed in or behind them, who made use of speaking-tubes which led to the parted lips of the idol. Hence, converts from paganism needed to be reminded that idols were indeed dumb, as a safeguard against such fraud (McGarvey 120-121).

Spiritual truths come only from the Lord and never from the idols:

What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him (Habakkuk 2:18-20:).

As people were led astray by these "idols" (or fraudulent priests) during the infancy of the church, many today are still being deceived by false teachers claiming to have the same powers and gifts of the Holy Spirit as the apostles did. Every person today must be careful not to be misled by pious words and references to the Holy Spirit as being proof that a person is actually under the power of the Holy Spirit. We must try the spirits to see if they are true. This test is governed by the written word of God. When men teach the written word, they are teaching truth; however, when they teach words not found in the written word, they are teaching error. The Apostle John says, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).

The "dumb idols" in this verse are described by the Psalmist:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat (Psalms 115:4-7).

even as ye were led: The repetition of "even as ye were led" indicates the helplessness and indefiniteness of this act. They previously were helpless by being "carried away to this (idol) worship just as they were led, that is, they were controlled by an influence which they could not understand or resist" (Hodge 240).

Verse 3

Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

Paul is now warning the Corinthians not to fall into the same trap that they did before their conversion when they were misled by the "dumb idols." They were now facing the same dangers of being misled by those with false claims of being filled with the Spirit. The Corinthians had to distinguish who and what messages to believe. They had to be careful that they were not deceived as they were earlier by the fraudulent priests speaking through the idols. Paul, therefore, speaks of the "Spirit of God," who speaks through inspired men, in contrast to the "dumb idols," in the previous verse, which do not speak at all. The Corinthians became confused about whom these inspired men were; therefore, Paul explains ways to make this determination before entering into the study of the actual gifts themselves.

Wherefore I give you to understand: The word "Wherefore" (dio) links verses 1, 2, and 3 together and draws a conclusion from what has been said. In verse 1, Paul says, "I would not have you ignorant"; therefore, he explains the truth to them on this subject. In verse 2, Paul speaks of the Corinthians’ experiences in their pre-Christian life; now he speaks of events in their Christian life that he wants them to understand.

The word "understand" (gnorizo) refers to acquired knowledge in contrast to the verb (eido) translated "you know" in verse 2, which indicates instinctive knowledge. The message presented in this verse is that the "dumb idols" would lead the Corinthians away from God, but the Holy Spirit would not because His words are true.

that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost: Paul gives the Corinthians the criteria to use in testing what is truth and what is error. Bloomfield quotes MacKnight as saying, "The Apostle adds this, to teach the Corinthians how to distinguish the inspirations of God from those evil spirits" (Vol. VI 555). Making the distinction between truth and error is critical because a person will always follow the one to whom he belongs. "What you are is revealed by whom you follow and whom you worship" (Zodhiates 41). If we follow idols, we are of the idols; however, if we follow God, through obedience to the messages received from the Holy Spirit, we are of God.

Paul is here giving an example of using his criteria to determine what is truth and what is error by referring to two possible statements that could be said of Jesus. The first is a negative statement saying Jesus is "accursed," and the second is a positive statement saying Jesus is Lord. The false teachers would speak against Christ; however, those being led by the Holy Spirit would never speak against Him, only in favor of Him. Jesus says,

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you (John 16:13-14).

What a person sincerely declares concerning Jesus indicates whether he is filled with the Holy Spirit or with Satan’s spirit.

The term "accursed" (anathema) denotes something devoted to destruction for God’s honor. For example, the city of Jericho was "accursed" and, therefore, destroyed for God’s honor (Joshua 6:17). The Jews often spoke this blasphemous language against Jesus, and this is the reason that Paul and other apostles turned to the Gentiles:

But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed (Acts 13:45-48).

The Corinthians had to be especially careful in deciding whom to believe because of the many false magicians who traveled through their city. Lightfoot says,

Many Jews that were magicians, exorcists, conjurors, wandered up and down, who boasted that they were endued with the Holy Ghost, taught much and did miracles; and yet called our Lord Jesus anathema. ’But be ye certain (saith the apostle) that these men neither speak, nor act, nor are acted by the Spirit of God: For no man, speaking by the Spirit of God, calleth Jesus accursed’ (Vol. IV 252).

Paul concludes verse 3 on a positive note by saying that when a person says that "Jesus is the Lord," this knowledge comes only "by the Holy Ghost." "By the Holy Ghost" literally means "in the Holy Ghost" or "in the Spirit." This verse has no reference to the gift of speaking in tongues. Instead, Paul is speaking of things revealed by the Holy Spirit to inspired men.

Paul says, "...no man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." The term "say" (legoo) means,

...to proclaim intelligently that Jesus is Lord...this refers to that initial confession of faith in the person of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Lord, that is ’unto salvation’ (Zodhiates 58).

This is the same confession referred to by John, "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God" (1 John 4:2). The words "no man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" do not mean that it is impossible to utter the words "Jesus is Lord" unless the person is under divine influence of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 7:21-23); instead, it refers to his true belief and confession. His belief in Jesus as Lord comes from the Holy Spirit. Peter demonstrates this fact in Matthew when he confesses Jesus as Christ:

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven (16:16-17).

Today, the Holy Spirit speaks through the word of God. The criteria we use to determine truth and error are the scriptures. In other words, all things we say and do religiously must be found in the scriptures; if they are not, they do not come from the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches this truth by saying, "But though we (apostles), or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8).

Verses 4-6

Diversity of Gifts

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

In verses 2 and 3, Paul offers a solution to the Corinthians’ problems of distinguishing between truth and error. Now he continues by speaking positively about the spiritual gifts.

The term "diversities" in verses 4 and 6, as well as the term translated "differences" in verse 5 and "dividing" in verse 11, is translated from the Greek word diairesis, meaning "distinction" and suggesting "a distinction arising from a different distribution to different persons" (Thayer 137-1-1243). Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich say it refers to "allotments of spiritual gifts" (182). Possibly Paul has reference to the nine different gifts (enumerated in verses 8-10) given by the Holy Spirit. We should understand, however, that Paul is not dividing these nine gifts under the heading of "gifts," "administrations," and "operations"; instead he is speaking of all nine gifts under the three headings. In these verses he gives three characteristics of gifts and shows that all are for the purpose of building up the church.

1. "gifts" (charisma)--"Gifts" is from the Greek word that the English term "charismatic" is derived. It means "a gift (freely and graciously given), a favor bestowed" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 887).

(Gifts) denotes extraordinary powers, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the church of Christ, the reception of which is because of the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit (Thayer 667-1-5486).

Paul says that these "gifts" or "powers" are distributed by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the church.

2. "administrations" (diakonia)--This Greek term from which we get the English word "deacon" is defined and is better translated as "service." The gifts referred to by administrations in this passage are not referring to different gifts but to different ways they are used. These are given by the Lord Jesus Christ. The gifts are not given for private use or glorification; instead, they are for the purpose of discharging service or of serving Christ by building up His church.

3. "operations" (energema)--This term from which we get the English word "energy" is also translated "working" in verse 10. The word "operations" means "activity that calls forth miracles" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 265). It is God who actually gives all of these "operations" or abilities to perform miracles.

The words "all in all" in verse 6 indicate that every gift distributed to every person was the work of God; and, therefore, all accomplishments coming from the gifts are attributed to God alone and not to individual Christians. The words "all in all," in reference to God, are used later in this letter:

And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all (15:28).

In verses 4-6, Paul points out three important characteristics of spiritual gifts. First, in verse 4, we find the method of reception. Spiritual "gifts" (charisma) are free gifts from the Holy Spirit. They are not earned or bought with money. Secondly, in verse 5, Paul mentions the purpose of the gifts (diakonia) is to be of service to the Lord. Spiritual gifts are never performed for the person blessed with the gifts, but instead they are executed to be used in service to the Lord. Thirdly, in verse 6, Paul informs us that the spiritual gifts (energema), referring to the effect of the working of God the Father, proceed from God and are divinely powerful.

Thus we have God the Father, the first Source and Operator of all spiritual influence in all: God the Son, the Ordainer in His Church of all ministries by which this influence may be legitimately brought out for edification: God the Holy Ghost, dwelling and working in the church, and effectuating in each man such measure of gift as He see fit (Alford, Vol. II 577).

The purpose of Paul’s words in verses 4-6 is to teach the Corinthians that they should not despise or be arrogant against another brother’s gift because all nine gifts come from the same Spirit, all originate from the same God, and all are for the purpose of serving the same Christ.

Verse 7

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

The emphasis of the teaching in verses 4-6 is to show the unity of the origin and purpose of the spiritual gifts. Now, with this and the following verses, Paul emphasizes the unity found in their use. All spiritual gifts are for one purpose, and that is to profit the church.

The word "manifestation" (phanerosis) means "disclosure," (or an) "announcement, the open proclamation of the truth" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 861). The word "manifestation" is "a verbal noun, indicating that these gifts become the instruments of conveying the knowledge of salvation to the people of God" (Zodhiates 99).

The words "to profit" (sumphero) mean "advantage" (Thayer 597-2-4851). This Greek word is a compound word made up of the conjunction sun, meaning together, and phero, meaning to bring (Strong #4851). The indication is that the purpose of spiritual gifts was to bring together the church as a body (compare the analogy of the physical body in verses 14-17).

The gifts spoken of in verses 4-6 and enumerated in verses 8-10 are not achieved from the ability of man; instead, they " (are) given" to them from the Holy Spirit--not to give the recipients something to boast of, as the Corinthians were doing, but for the purpose of profiting others. The Revised Standard Version renders "for the common good."

The words "every man" do not imply that every Christian has been given special miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit but that "every man" who is a recipient of spiritual gifts received them from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit dwells in all believers as the body of Christ; however, the special gifts were distributed only to the ones of His choosing. He gave one gift to one person and another to another person; however, they are all important.

This same principle, though not miraculous in nature, is still found today. Within the church we have many members with different talents and abilities; however, we must understand that whatever ability we may possess was given by God and must be used in His service. One Christian must never regard himself better than another simply because he possesses one particular gift because all gifts come from the same source and for the same purpose.

Verses 8-10

Nine Spiritual Gifts Enumerated

For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

In these three verses, Paul names nine gifts that are called by three different names in verses 4-6: 1. charisma ("gifts"), 2. diakonia ("administrations"), and 3. energema ("operations"). In these verses these gifts are mentioned as coming from the "Spirit" because He is the one actually imparting the gifts. We must understand, however, that imparting the gifts is done by the instruction of God and with the approval of Christ. The Holy Spirit does not act independently from the will of the Father and the Son.

In all three of these verses, the King James Version renders that these different gifts are given "by" the same Spirit. In the Greek, however, there are actually three prepositions used (two in verse 8 and one in verse 9). Verse 8 says, "to one is given by (dia) (or "through") the Spirit the word of wisdom...." The word "’through’ represents the instrumentality, the power to accomplish" (Vine 168). In other words, the Holy Spirit is the source who brought the gifts. "...to another the word of knowledge by (kata) (or "according to" indicating the "measure of accomplishment") the same Spirit (Vine 168). Verse 9 says, "To another faith by (en) (or ’in’ which Vine says is the element in which the accomplishment is effected," 168) the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by (en) "in" or "in agreement" with the same Spirit."

Sometimes commentators attempt to use these three prepositions as an excuse to divide the gifts into categories. Others divide the gifts into categories based on the two terms heteros and allos, which are translated "another" in verses 8 and 9. Whether Paul intends for these gifts to be categorized or not, the main thought summed up in verse 11 teaches that all the gifts (divided or not) were given by the same Spirit.

1. one is given...word of wisdom (logos sophia)--Paul says the "word of wisdom" is given by or through the Spirit. The verb "is given" (didotai) is in the present indicative, implying "it is being given." This gift refers to the intelligent utterance of God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom about the gospel is presently being given to the apostles by the Holy Spirit. The wisdom itself is in the words spoken. It also involves "the power of expressing, so as to be communicable to others" (Cambridge Greek Testament 179).

This gift gave the capability of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ when the Spirit told the speaker what to say. This "gift" is "the ability to discourse eloquently of this wisdom" (Thayer 582-1-4678). Paul refers to this gift earlier when he says, "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory" (2:7). This gift is attributed "to the apostles, because they unfolded, in a divine clearness, the whole mystery of the most deep wisdom of God concerning Christ, and the salvation of man" (Lightfoot, Vol. IV 253).

The gift called "the word of wisdom" is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to the apostles about the Holy Spirit coming to them:

Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you (John 14:17) (compare also John 15:26-27; John 16:13-15).

2. to another the word of knowledge (logos gnosis)--The word "another" (allos) means "another of the same kind" (Zodhiates 133). The term "knowledge" means "intelligence (and) understanding" (Thayer 119-2-1108). Generally the words "wisdom" and "knowledge" are synonyms; however, as used here in reference to special gifts, they are different. Possibly, this gift is given to the prophets and refers to having understanding or insight of things to come. This intelligence was received from the apostles; the apostles received their knowledge from the Holy Spirit (see "word of wisdom" mentioned above). This gift is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:2; 1 Corinthians 13:9 and is mentioned as vanishing away in 1 Corinthians 13:8.

3. to another faith (pistis)--The word "another" (heteros) is not the same as allos (another) in verse 8. Here the word refers to quality or "another of a different kind. It’s the word from which heterogeneous is derived--the opposite of homogeneous. We drink homogenized milk. That means milk whose consistency is the same in every part. Heterogeneous means ’of varying consistency’" (Zodhiates 139).

The implication found in this word is the person to whom the Holy Spirit would give the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, and interpretation of tongues would be of one kind or quality; and the person to whom the gift of "faith" (as well as "divers kinds of tongues") would be given is of a different quality.

This "faith" is not the same "faith" essential to every person before becoming a Christian; instead it refers to the higher realization of divine things, which enables a man to remove mountains (indicating that nothing is impossible). Paul says,

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing (13:2).

4. gifts of healing (charisma iama)--The word "healing" in the Greek is actually plural because there are many kinds of healing because of there being many kinds of diseases. The gifts of healing are mentioned many times in the scriptures (Mark 16:18; Acts 3:8-8; Acts 5:15-16; Acts 9:34), and they enable the person to heal diseases. Paul possesses this gift as mentioned in Acts: "So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them" (19:12).

5. the working of miracles (energema dunamis)--All gifts mentioned are miraculous in nature; however, this gift refers to the outcome produced by the exercise of extraordinary powers. The actions produced are things that would have been otherwise impossible to accomplish; for example, expulsions of demons and raising the dead, taking up serpents, drinking deadly things without harm. It also includes the gift of healing as mentioned above; however, this gift also "included acts of judgment as well as mercy. It was exercised by Paul in striking Elymas blind, and by Peter in the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira" (McGarvey 122).

The word "working" (energema) means "operation" (Thayer 215-2-1755), and "miracles" (dunamis) mean "the power of performing miracles" (Thayer 159-2-1411). Therefore, this gift may include the capability of imparting the power of working a particular miracle to others. One example of this situation is the case of Simon who attempted to buy this power with money.

And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:18-19).

6. prophecy (propheteia)--Prophecy is not restricted to prediction of future events only, but it can refer to repeating spiritual truths received from God without error. No doubt the gift of "prophecy" refers to the things the Holy Spirit will teach and bring to their remembrance. Jesus says,

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:26).

This gift is appreciated more when we remember that the written New Testament was not in existence at this time. Upon the completion of the New Testament, this gift "passed away" (see 13:8-9).

7. discerning of spirits (diakrisis)--The term "discerning" means "distinguishing (or) judging" (Thayer 139-1-1253); therefore, this gift signifies the idea of forming a correct judgment on the utterances of spirits. It is the capability of discriminating between the spirits--to know which spirits are true and which are false teachers.

John possibly refers to this gift in a non-miraculous way when he says, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Trying the spirits is done by comparing the spoken word to the scriptures. In the days of the apostles, however, the scriptures were not written in a complete form; therefore, this gift was given to some for the same purpose. This capability was extremely important because Jesus says that "false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect" (Mark 13:22). The gift of "discerning of spirits" is mentioned later in this letter where Paul instructs, "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge" (14:29).

8. divers kinds of tongues (genos glossa)--There is no word in the Greek language for "divers." The word "kinds" means "the aggregate of many individuals of the same nature, kind, sort, (or) species" (Thayer 114-1-1085).

The word translated "tongues" is defined as "language used by a particular people in distinction from that of other nations" (Thayer 118-2-1100). This gift includes the power of speaking in various languages in order to teach and to confirm the truth. Paul refers to it again when he says, "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not..." (14:22).

’Divers kinds of tongues’ was not mere gibberish or jargon like the modern ’tongues’ but in a real language that could be understood by one familiar with that tongue as was seen on the great Day of Pentecost when people who spoke different languages were present (Robertson, Vol. 4 170).

Being able to speak in any foreign language allowed preachers of the gospel to preach the wonderful riches of God immediately upon entering a country. They did not have to wait until they had time to learn the language. Luke records an incident where this gift was used and hearers understood them:

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? (Acts 2:4-8)

Hodge gives several facts to prove that "tongues" refer to intelligible languages. These facts are worthy of note and are as follows:

a. That which was spoken with tongues was intelligible to those who understood foreign languages, as appears from Acts 2:11.

b. What was uttered were articulate sounds, the vehicle of prayer, praise, and, thanksgiving (14:14-17).

c. They were edifying, and therefore intelligible to him who uttered them (14:4, 16).

d. Though intelligible in themselves, and to the speaker, they were unintelligible to others, that is, to those not acquainted with the language used; and consequently unsuited for an ordinary Christian assembly....The speaker might understand what he said, but others were not profited (14:2, 19).

e. The illustration employed in 1 Corinthians 14:7; 1 Corinthians 14:11, from musical instruments and from the case of foreigners, requires the common interpretation. Paul admits that the sounds uttered were ’not without signification,’ verse 10. His complaint is that a man who speaks in an unknown tongue is to him a foreigner (verse 11). This illustration supposes the sounds were uttered to whom they were addressed.

f. The common interpretation is also consistent with the fact that the gift of interpretation was distinct from that of speaking with tongues. If a man could speak a foreign language, why could he not interpret it? Simply, because it was not his gift. What he said in that foreign language, he said under the guidance of the Spirit; had he attempted to interpret it without the gift of interpretation, he would be speaking of himself, and not ’as the Spirit gave him utterance.’ In the one case he was the organ of the Holy Ghost; in the other he was not (Hodge 249-250).

That "divers kinds of tongues" do not refer to ecstatic utterances made during a highly emotional state is obvious from Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians: "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (14:33).

9. "interpretation of tongues" (hermeneia glossa)--This is the God-given ability to translate the "divers kinds of tongues" just mentioned. It is the ability to translate from one language to another. Without this gift, the "divers kinds of tongues" would have been useless; and no one could have benefitted. It should also be noted that, on some occasions, but not all, the same person would be given both the capability of "speaking in tongues" and "interpretation of tongues" (4:13).

Miraculous gifts were given for a special purpose and only for a restricted time. During the apostolic age, the written word of God was incomplete. Temporary gifts, therefore, were given to confirm the teaching of inspired men.

Attempts to renew them (miraculous gifts) have been deceptive. The professed possession of them is attractive, and imparts a glamour to a so-called ’Movement’ which claims these powers. Those who are led by the Holy Spirit will ever test things by the teaching of Scripture (Vine 169).

Verse 11

But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit: Verse 6 indicates that the spiritual gifts come from God; however, this verse states that the gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, showing that they both are working in unity with each other. All nine of the above mentioned gifts are distributed by the same "Spirit" as He sees fit.

dividing to every man severally as he will: When the Spirit divides (diaireo) these gifts, He "worketh" (energeo) within the person to perform the power. The fact that all gifts are given by the "selfsame Spirit" is reason enough for the Corinthians not to be conceited or contentious with one another over the different gifts possessed. All of the "gifts," though individual, form one unit.

Preserving Unity In The Church

In verses 12-30, Paul compares the unity that should be found in the church in Corinth regarding spiritual gifts to that of the members of the physical body.

Verse 12

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: Paul now affirms his teaching in verses 4-11 with an analogy. The purpose of this analogy is to teach members of the body of Christ (the church) not to be in competition with one another over gifts or works in the church. This comparison is commonly found in the scriptures (Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 4:16; Ephesians 5:30; Colossians 2:19). The comparison here is to one physical body being one unit, though it is made up of many members. The correlation is that as the body has many members yet works in unity so the one Spirit can assign many different gifts to different Christians, and they can still work together in one spiritual body.

Paul strengthens the idea of unity by repeating the concept of "one body" three times. He opens this verse by saying: "For as the body is one...(and then makes reference to) "...all the members of that one body, being many, are one body."

so also is Christ: The words "so also is Christ" in the Greek is "so also is the Christ." The words "so also" present the comparison. "The Christ" found here refers to the church. "The Christ" is mentioned instead of the church because just as Christ is one component so also is the church. The statement "the Christ" works well here because the "body" of Christ is actually referred to as the church. Paul says,

And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23).

Verse 13

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free: The word "For" (gar) adds this verse as a second explanation to the teaching found in verses 4-11, proving that the followers of Christ are united in one body, even though they may have different abilities.

The words "by one Spirit" literally mean "in one Spirit." Paul is not teaching Holy Spirit baptism. Holy Spirit baptism was promised to the apostles according to the book of Acts. "For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1:5). This baptism, received only by the apostles, enabled them to perform miraculous powers on the day of Pentecost. No one else in Acts 2 was able to work miracles on that or any other day unless the apostles laid hands on them to give them the abilities. "And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money" (Acts 8:18).

This same ability was given to Timothy by Paul’s laying hands on him. "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6). The book of Acts records only two incidents of Holy Spirit baptism, first, the apostles in Acts 2:1-4 and secondly, the household of Cornelius in Acts 10:44 to Acts 11:18.

The baptism to which Paul refers to is the "one baptism" mentioned in Ephesians 4:4-5: "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism." This baptism is water baptism mentioned in Acts 10:47 that all the Corinthians participated in (1:14-16). This baptism is the one baptism that puts a person "into one body," that is, into one church, the church of Christ. Paul’s message is that all people (Jews, Gentiles, bond, or free) who are baptized in one Spirit are baptized into one body; therefore, they are united with one another and become one in Christ. Thus, there is no reason for them to be jealous of one another over special abilities given them by God.

The expression "in one Spirit" refers to the instructions given by the Holy Spirit. No one can know the will of God about baptism unless he is influenced by the Holy Spirit. This influence occurs when a person hears God’s word, which was delivered by the Holy Spirit to the apostles. This same idea is spoken of by Paul in his Galatian letter:

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

(See verse 3 for further explanation of "by the Spirit.")

Zodhiates explains well the expression "in one Spirit" by saying:

We are in the Spirit of God. We are enveloped by it. Even as we are said to be ’in Christ,’ so are we said to be ’in the Spirit.’ That’s the circle of the redeemed. The idea here is that even if we have varying gifts, we are still ’in the Spirit’ in the Body of Christ. The difference in our gifts should in no way cause us to despise or to elevate certain ones. Each gift has a specific purpose to accomplish that is necessary to the well-being of the whole body (141).

The "one body" indicates there is only one church. This one church is united as a result of the Holy Spirit’s revealing to the apostles the wisdom of God and then the apostles’ delivering it to the Jews and Gentiles. Through obedience to the Holy Spirit, we are "all baptized into one body." Regardless of what special gift people may have, they all received it from the same source: the Holy Spirit. No one in the one church is superior to any other Christian because of a special gift he has.

It is important that we understand that there is only one church in spite of all of the man-made divisions in the church. The words found in verses 14-31 make no sense if there is a plurality of churches. The teaching is based on the fact that "we all" (plural) are baptized into "one body" (singular) or one church.

and have been all made to drink into one Spirit: The word "into" is not in the original; therefore, Paul says, "all (are) made to drink one Spirit." This expression is figurative referring to receiving one Spirit. Some writers believe that this expression refers to partaking of the cup of blessing in the Lord’s Supper. However, the verb phrase "have been made to drink" is in the aorist tense indicating that this is a one time event and not a repeated event. Most likely Paul has reference to receiving the Holy Spirit in baptism. Because of the Corinthians’ obedience to the gospel in baptism, they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit--not the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit Himself as promised in Acts where Peter says, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (2:38).

Special attention should be given to the words "all" and "one." These two words indicate unity of "all" people who receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, being members of one body, the church.

Verse 14

For the body is not one member, but many.

The word "For" ties this verse with "we all" in verse 13 and explains that Paul is speaking of the local church. Paul is saying the church is one, but it is made up of many "members" (melos) or many "limbs" (Thayer 397-1-3196). This truth is seen by comparing the physical body to the church. The physical body is one, but it is made up of many "limbs." The same is true of the church. At that time, the Corinthian church had many members with various gifts given by God. They were not to be concerned about which gift they had been given or even whether they had been given a gift at all. The less desired gifts were just as important as the most coveted ones. They needed to realize that every gift was necessary just as every part of the physical body is necessary.

Verses 15-16

If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

In verses 15 and 16, Paul gives examples of the physical body to show the Corinthians how absurd their reasoning is when they contend that they are not part of the united body because they do not have a special gift.

The King James Version renders these two verses as questions, but they probably should be statements. Lenski translates, "Suppose the foot shall say: Because I am not a hand (therefore) I am not part of the body; not for this reason is it not part of the body" (520). Just because the foot says that it is not of the body because it is not the hand does not make this true. The foot and the hand have different responsibilities, but both are essential to the united body. The same type of relationship is presented between the "ear" and the "eye." The "foot" is not the "hand," and the "ear" is not the "eye", and neither should they try to be. They all have their particular work and should limit themselves to that work.

Paul’s desire is for the Corinthians to consider these examples and understand how absurd they are when they complain about not having certain gifts. The brother who has the "gift of healing" should not consider himself as a lesser part of the church because he cannot speak in "tongues"; however, at the same time, the brother with the "gift of healing" should not attempt to speak in "tongues."

The great lesson is that various members of Christ’s spiritual body have many various talents, perform many different services, some (in the eyes of men) receiving distinctions and honors; but no member of the holy body should be envious of any other. All are necessary; all are genuinely a part of the sacred whole (Coffman 204).

Verses 17-20

If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.

The analogy between the physical body and the spiritual body in verse 17 proves that the work of each member of the body of Christ is essential. If the entire body were an eye, there would be no hearing; and if the entire body were hearing, there would be no smelling. For the body to be complete, it must have all of its parts working. Likewise, the existence of the church depends upon members’ performing their different abilities. This passage is speaking of miraculous abilities. Paul is teaching that if all the members were given the gift of "tongues," there would be no "interpreter." If they were all given the gift of "prophecy," there would be no one with the "gift of healing. All of these gifts were necessary.

Even though this context does refer to spiritual gifts, the same teaching applies to non-miraculous abilities. For example, if every member of a congregation were a teacher and there were no song leaders, the church would be incomplete. Likewise, if every member were a leader in prayer but none could teach, the service would be incomplete. The fact is that all the abilities are necessary; therefore, no member should belittle himself or covet another’s ability. Everyone should work with the ability that God has given.

The words "But now" (nun de) at the beginning of verse 18 mean "but as things are" or "but in fact" (Cambridge Greek Testament 184). The fact is that God placed every limb in the body as He desired at creation.

The word "set" (tithemi) in verse 18 is translated "ordained" in the passage telling about Jesus’ choosing his followers:

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you (John 15:16).

Similarly, the Lord chooses the work of each member of the physical body. The same idea is presented about members of the spiritual body, the church. For this reason alone, we should never question or complain about our particular ability and work within the church.

In verse 19, Paul applies the reasoning of verse 17 to every member of the body. Paul says that if the Corinthians had created the physical body, they would have made all members the same; then there could be no body. The many parts work together to carry out the functions of the body.

Verse 20 is a repetition of verse 12: as God formed the body, it consists of many members, but it is still only one body. The application of these words to the members of the church is obvious. Every spiritual activity of every member of the church is necessary. These abilities were given them by God; therefore, they should never criticize themselves or others.

Verses 21-26

And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

In verses 15-16, Paul indicates that members were complaining about their own abilities; however, in verses 21-26 Paul implies that members with superior gifts were degrading members with lesser gifts. The "eye" and the "head" were considered to be superior to the "hand" and the "feet"; however, all four were necessary for the physical body to function correctly.

In verse 22, Paul says the more feeble are "necessary" (anagkaios) or "indispensable" (Thayer 36-1-316). The "eye" and the "head" may be considered more important, but they cannot do the work of the "hand" and the "feet"; therefore, the body would suffer without these lesser members.

The members referred to in verse 23 that we think to be "less honorable" (atimos) and "uncomely" (askemon) are the members that have "less esteem" (Thayer 83-2-820) and are "indecent (or) unseemly" in comparison to other body parts. These are the members upon which we are to "bestow more abundant honor" (perissoteros time); we are to look upon them with "superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon" honor and external beauty (Thayer 506-1-4053).

Verse 23 teaches that we should bestow honor upon those members whom we may consider to be inferior to us. The less-esteemed church member is to be given more attention, not less. This action will often strengthen the member and, therefore, the church. The "comely" (euschemon) or the member with the "elegant figure" has no need of extra attention and honor. Paul places emphasis upon "God" as being the creator who "tempered" (sugkerannumi) or "united" (Thayer 592-3-4786) the body together in such a way that more abundant honor is given to the part that is lacking.

This principle should also be applied to spiritual gifts being given to various members of the church by God as He saw fit (verse 18). As He intended the limbs of the physical body to work together, He also expects members of the church to work together. They are to use their gifts to the best of their ability, as found in verse 25, so that there should be no "schism" (schisma) or "division" (Thayer 610-1-4978) in the body. Instead of division, the physical body is to "have the same care one for another." Likewise, instead of having contention with one another, members in Corinth blessed with spiritual gifts should bestow the same care and concern for one member as for another. When a member of the physical body suffers, the entire body suffers with it; or when one member is honored, the entire body rejoices with it. The same is to be true in the church. When a brother in Christ suffers or is honored, the rest are to suffer or rejoice with him.

Verses 27-30

Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?

Paul now returns to the teaching of verses 12 and 13 and makes application of everything that has been said of the physical body to the Corinthians as the spiritual body. The term "particular" (meros) means "severally (or) individually" (Thayer 401-1-3313). Individual members make up the unity of the one body.

Collectively, Christians are the body of Christ; individually they are members. Each church (congregation) is referred to as the body of Christ in the same way the church is referred to as the "temple of God." Paul says, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (3:16).

In the same way, Paul names different members of the physical body in verses 14-17; he now names different members of the spiritual body (verse 28). The different members of the physical body were placed in the body as it "pleased" God (verse 18); likewise, members of the spiritual body were placed in the church as it pleased Him.

In verse 28, Paul says, "God hath set some in the church...." The words "hath set" (tithemi) literally mean to "place" and "to make for one’s self or for one’s use" (Thayer 623-2-5087). God places different members in the church for Himself, to do the work as He chooses, as it pleases Him (see verse 18). He places them in the church with "assigned functions" (Cambridge Greek Testament 186).

In verse 28, Paul enumerates different members of the church. The first three are people and the last five are functions; however, as indicated in verses 29 and 30, the five functions or gifts refer to the people capable of performing these gifts. Paul is not just naming these gifts or offices but is giving "an arrangement in order of rank" (Expositor’s Greek Testament 188).

first apostles: God set the "apostles" (apostolos) first in the church. They were the top rank in the church during its infancy and were the first teachers of the gospel of Christ.

secondarily prophets: The "prophets" (prophetes) were the second in rank in the church. Just as the apostles had special gifts of inspiration that enabled them to preach the gospel of Christ, so did the prophets. At times they were combined with the apostles. "That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour" (2 Peter 3:2).

The Apostle John says, "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her" (Revelation 18:20).

thirdly teachers: The third in rank in the church were "teachers" (didaskalos) whose purpose was to spread the message of Christ. These teachers were "those who in the religious assemblies of Christians undertook the work of teaching, with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit" (Thayer 144-1-1320). However, there is nothing here to suggest that these teachers were actually inspired. These were the ministers of a congregation who continued to teach in the absence of the apostles and prophets and who were taught what to teach by the apostles and prophets.

The same is true today--teachers teach the message that was delivered by the apostles and prophets and recorded in the New Testament.

after that miracles: The word "after" means "thereafter" miracles (epeita dunamis). Paul is referring to people who perform miracles (see verse 10) as the next class of people whom God set in the church. This function seems to be an occasional manifestation of spiritual powers.

then gifts of healings: "Gifts of healing" (see verse 9) appear to be a special instance of miracles just mentioned. This miraculous gift was added to the church to prove new messages were from God.

helps: "Helps" (antilepsis) is found only here in the New Testament and indicates "aid" (Thayer 50-2-484). In the Greek Old Testament, this term refers to "helps" given directly from God. It appears that there were some members who served in a lesser capacity to the apostles, prophets, and teachers who were there to help in any way possible. Possibly an implication is made to deacons, who have a very important role in the church.

governments: "Governments" (kubernesis) is found only here in the New Testament. It seems to indicate people who serve in a governmental function in dealing with different individuals. The same idea is mentioned by Paul when he says, "Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness" (Romans 12:8). It seems very possible that "governments" refer to the same class of people referred to in verse 10 as being "discerners of spirits"; they were wise enough, through God’s word, to understand when truth or when error was preached. Possibly this word is an implication about elders.

diversities of tongues: "Diversities of tongues" were added to the church to prove new messages were from God. This special gift is the same as mentioned in verse 10 as "kinds of tongues" (see comments in verse 10). Special note should be given to the location of this gift. It is listed last of eight because this was the one gift the Corinthians appeared to covet more than any other.

The rhetorical questions asked in verses 29 and 30 are all answered with a definite NO! All in the church are not apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. They do not all have the same gifts or the same working ability. However, they should do their best with the ability given them by God.

Verse 31

But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

This verse belongs to the teaching in chapter thirteen about "charity." It serves well with this chapter, however, to lead to the great subject of love discussed in chapter thirteen.

To "covet earnestly" (zeloo) means "to desire earnestly, pursue" (Thayer 271-2-2206). Paul is saying, "If they are going to be envious at all, be envious for the ’best gifts’ and not of the people who have received them." The "best gifts" refer to those mentioned in chapter fourteen as the ones that promoted edification of the church. They especially involve "love" or "charity" as discussed in chapter thirteen. Paul says, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (13:13).

Paul concludes this chapter by saying that he is showing them a more excellent way of possessing the greatest gift, which is love.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/1-corinthians-12.html. 1993-2022.
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