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IX. On Spiritual Gifts. Chaps. 12-14.
We have here one of the richest and most interesting parts of our Epistle. These chapters are to us like a revelation of the power of that spiritual movement which went forth from Pentecost, and of the wonderful spiritual efflorescence which at the outset signalized the new creation due to the power of the gospel.
The link which connects this passage with the two preceding is certainly the common idea of public worship; this comes out particularly in chap. 14, where the apostle treats of the exercise of spiritual gifts in the assemblies of the Church; now that chapter is the conclusion to which the two previous ones point. At the same time there is progress from the two subjects, treated in chap. 11 to this third: the first, that of chap. 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 (the demeanour of women in the assemblies), was of a more external nature; the second, chap. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (the abuses in the Holy Supper), already went much deeper. The passage chaps. 12-14 comes to what is more vital in the worship of the Church; the subject in question is the Holy Spirit Himself and His Divine manifestations. The Spirit, in the Christian community, may be compared to the nervous fluid in the human body. Thus it is that the apostle advances from the external to the internal.
What general idea ought we to form of the spiritual forces treated in this passage? We mean those new powers which in the apostle's writings often bear the name χαρίσματα , gifts of grace, which the Holy Spirit developed within the Church, and about which we have already stated our view, 1 Corinthians 1:7. The term χάρισμα indicates rather their origin, the word πνευματικά ( 1Co 14:1 ) their essence. But for that very reason the former of these expressions has a wider meaning: for it may denote in general everything we owe to the Divine favour.
The Church is the body of Christ, the apostle tells us ( 1Co 12:27 ), that is to say, the organ which the glorified Christ since His departure has created on the earth to realize His design and carry out His purposes, as He formerly did by means of His body, strictly so called, when He was here below. This glorified Christ Himself dwells in believers by His Spirit, who thereby become His active members; and the action which He carries out through them proceeds from the extraordinary forces which He communicates to them. But these new powers may have their point of attachment in natural talents. It is even most frequently the case that the operation of the Spirit fits in to natural aptitudes; He impresses on them a higher direction, a new bent to the service of God, and He exalts their power by consecrating them to this sublime object.
But so long as the spiritual man, who possesses any of these gifts, has not reached absolute holiness, his personal consecration, and consequently that of his gift, remains still imperfect. Hence arises the possibility of the deterioration of the spiritual forces, either in their use or in their inward essence, by selfishness, pride, vanity, hypocrisy, falsehood, jealousy, or hatred. Was not this what the apostle himself, 2 Corinthians 7:1, called defilement of the Spirit?
Now this is exactly what happened at Corinth, and in the most serious manner. The members wished to shine, to take the lead, to surpass one another by means of those spiritual manifestations; they sought those particularly which took the most surprising forms, and they disdained those which, though less showy, were yet the most practical and useful. In this we recognise thoroughly the Greek mind, which turns everything to amusement, even things the most serious; those children everlastingly, ἀεὶ παῖδες , as one of their own has called them; comp. 1 Corinthians 16:21.
The principal error which misled the Corinthians and produced their spiritual ignorance ( 1Co 12:1 ) on this subject, seems to have consisted in this: they imagined that the more the influence of the Divine Spirit deprived a man of his self-consciousness and threw him into an ecstasy, the more powerful was that influence and the more sublime the state to which it raised the man; whereas the more the inspired person retained his self-possession, the less did his inspiration partake of a Divine character. From this point of view, the teacher was far beneath the prophet, and the prophet beneath him who spoke in tongues. Their rule was: the more πνεῦμα ( Spirit), the less νοῦς ( intelligence). This judgment accorded with Greek and even Jewish prejudices (see Heinrici, pp. 352-357). Plato said in the Phaedrus: “It is by madness (the exaltation due to inspiration) that the greatest of blessings come to us;” and in the Timaeus he says: “No one in possession of his understanding has reached Divine and true exaltation.” The numerous sayings of Philo expressing the same thought are well known; and certain sayings of the Old Testament regarding the influence of the Spirit, when it took hold of the prophets, may have given countenance to such an interpretation; comp. Numbers 24:4 (Balaam); Amos 3:8; Hosea 9:7, etc.
How was it possible to set about the disciplining of such forces, which, from their very origin, a Divine impulse, seemed to escape from the control of the intellectual judgment and to defy all rule? The Pythia obeys only the god who subjects her to his will; the inspired one is above all remark and admonition: The Spirit impels me; what answer can be made to that? The task which the apostle now undertakes is the most difficult and delicate of all that were imposed on him by the state of the Corinthian Church. He has to bank in the most impetuous of torrents. He will require, it is easy to see, all his wisdom and dexterity, and will require to put forth more than ever the apostolic gift which has been conferred on him for the government of the Church.
He begins, in chap. 12, by ascending to the loftiest principles which govern this mysterious and profound region. In chap. 13 he points out to the Corinthians the beneficent genius under whose patronage spiritual gifts should always be placed to exercise a salutary influence, viz. love. After having thus paved the way for the result he desires to reach, he passes, in chap. 14, to the practical treatment of the subject, and lays down some precise and even finical rules for the advantageous exercise of these gifts, particularly those of prophecy and speaking in tongues. After the principles developed in chap. 12 and 13, these rules do not seem to be imposed by authority; they spring, as it were, of themselves from the conscience of the Church, now sufficiently enlightened.
Chrysostom complained even in his day of the obscurity of these chapters; he explained it by the fact that the circumstances to which this whole treatment applied no longer existed in the Churches of his time. We are still further removed from the apostolic age and from the extraordinary manifestations which characterized it. But the living forces of which the apostle speaks are not entirely withdrawn from the Church, they ought to accompany it to the end of its earthly career ( 1Co 13:10-12 ). They appear only in another form, so that the study to which we now proceed will not have a merely archaeological interest, but is capable of assuming a present and practical value for every believer and especially for every pastor.
The efforts of certain critics (Baur, Räbiger, etc.) to connect the following discussion, in one way or another, with the opposition between the different parties which divided the Church of Corinth ( 1Co 1:12 ), have not issued in any probable result. The text offers no data fitted to favour the hypotheses made in this direction.
I. General Survey of the Domain of Spiritual Gifts. Chap. 12.
In the first three verses of this chapter, the apostle sets himself to mark out rigorously the domain of which he is about to treat, distinguishing it strictly from the analogous, but alien, religious manifestations, with which it might be confounded, and uniting by a common bond all the various manifestations which belong to it.
Vv. 1-3. “Now as to spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. 2. Ye know that when ye were Gentiles, ye were carried away unto dumb idols, even as ye were driven. 3. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God sayeth: Jesus accursed! and that no man can say: Jesus Lord! but by the Holy Spirit.”
The δέ seems to me, as to Edwards, to have the adversative sense: “For the rest, I shall set them in order by word of mouth, there is nothing pressing (v. 34); but in what concerns spiritual gifts, I would not have you left longer in ignorance; I must instruct you at once.” The form περί , as to, presents this subject as one expected by the readers. This preposition might depend directly on the verb ἀγνοεῖν : “that you should be in ignorance touching...” But it is more natural to take it in the same sense as 1Co 7:1 and 1 Corinthians 8:1, as a sort of title, and to understand the regimen of ἀγνοεῖν : “in regard to such things.” The address: brethren, is not only intended to excite the attention of the readers on entering on this new and important subject; it is also meant to soften the humiliation there might be in the expression: I would not have you ignorant.
Should we take the word πνευματικῶν in the masculine sense: spiritual men, the inspired, or in the neuter sense: spiritual gifts? Most modern critics (Hofmann, Ewald, Hilgenfeld, Reuss, Holsten, Heinrici) decide for the first sense, because, as Holsten says, it was rather about the part and the right of the inspired in the assemblies, that Paul had been asked, than about the inspirations themselves. Heinrici rests his view on 1 Corinthians 14:37: “If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual. ” These reasons seem to me far from decisive. With the parallel quoted by this last may be contrasted 1 Corinthians 14:1: “Desire spiritual gifts” ( τὰ πνευματικά ), which is much more conclusive; and to the argument advanced by Holsten, the common - sense answer is, that it was much more natural and wise to estimate the gifts in themselves independently of the persons than to do inversely. I think, therefore, with the ancient commentators and with Meyer that the neuter sense is preferable. As to the idea of Baur, Wieseler, and others, who restrict the application of the term to the gift of tongues or to those who possessed it, the view seems rather arbitrary. The apostle does not deal specially with this gift till chap. 14 In chaps. 12 and 13 he speaks of all the gifts in general, and, particularly in the verses which immediately follow, he marks off the whole domain of the pneumatic forces with which he is about to deal.
The expression: I would not have you ignorant, alludes to the mysterious side of the subject, and to its complete novelty to men recently converted.
Vv. 2. Of the three readings given in the note, the first, that of the T. R. ( ὅτι alone), is not admissible; would it not be superfluous to say to Corinthian readers, “Ye know that ye were Gentiles”? Holsten answers that the emphasis is not on the predicate Gentiles, but on the explanatory appendix: carried away to idols. Certainly; but even taking this fact into account, the expression retains something offensive. And especially the construction would be so simple in this sense that it would be impossible to account for the origin of the variants. The reading of K and some Fathers ( ὅτε alone, when) is not sufficiently supported. And the meaning to which it leads: “Ye know how ( ὡς ), when ye were Gentiles, ye were carried...,” cannot, as we shall see, be admitted. The true reading is that which has representatives in the three families, and by means of which the other two are most easily explained: ὅτι ὅτε , that when: “ye know that, when ye were Gentiles...” The ὅτι has been confounded with the ὅτε in the one set; the opposite confusion has taken place in the other. This reading no doubt demands that we give to the participle ἀπαγόμενοι , carried away, the force of a finite verb, understanding an ἦτε , ye were; but this word is easily taken from the ἦτε which immediately precedes. Comp. the similar ellipsis Colossians 3:17, and the examples quoted by Meyer in classic Greek. Heinrici, following Buttmann, prefers, as Bengel had already done, to regard the ὡς as a repetition of the preceding ὅτι , in a slightly different form: “Ye know that, when ye were Gentiles, how, I say, ye were carried away...” But, first of all, the interruption contained in the words: “when ye were Gentiles,” is too short to occasion such a repetition; then the proposition: ὡς ἂν ἤγεσθε , is evidently, as is indicated by its very position between the πρὸς ...and the ἀπαγόμενοι , a parenthetical clause. For if the participle ἀπαγόμενοι were taken as qualifying ἤγεσθε , it would be superfluous in meaning and awkward in form. The πρὸς τὰ εἴδωλα , to idols, is the regimen of ἀπαγόμενοι ( ἦτε ): “Ye were carried away to idols...” This forcible term calls up the idea of a whirlwind of impure blasts, to the power of which the Corinthians were formerly given up. There is opposition between the two prepositions ἀπό and πρός : “ far from the true God, toward the objects of a deceptive worship.” These objects were idols, a word in which are combined the ideas of a false divinity and a material statue. This last was regarded as penetrated with the power of the god whose image it was. These inspirations did not proceed from the idols, but they led to them. The epithet is put after the substantive: “the idols, the dumb,” so as to bring out vividly this quality, and so the unworthy character of the worship of these false gods incapable of acting or speaking, and consequently of communicating to the worshipper a Divine inspiration. The parenthetical proposition ὡς ἂν ἤγεσθε , as ye were driven, serves to qualify the ἀπαγόμενοι , ye were carried away. We must beware of reading, as Erasmus, Heinrici, and others do, with some documents of secondary importance, ἀνήγεσθε in a single word: quomodo ascendebatis (Augustine). Not only is the idea of ascending unrelated to the context, but especially we thereby lose the meaning of the particle ἄν , which gives precisely the key to these difficult words. This particle, which contains the notion of contingency, indicates that those breathings were every moment changing their direction, and depended on a capricious will. It has been supposed that Paul had in view the influence of the priests, whose passive instruments the Gentiles were in their worship. Does it not rather follow from 1Co 10:20 that he is thinking of a diabolical influence exercised by the evil spirits, the authors of idolatry? Now, the fatal storm carried the blinded Gentile, with a whole procession, to the temple of Jupiter; again, it was to the altars of Mars or Venus, always to give them over to one or other of their deified passions; comp. Eph 2:2 ; 2 Timothy 2:26. To the interesting passage of Athenagoras quoted by Meyer, Edwards adds that of Justin (Revelation 1:5; Revelation 1:5): μάστιγι δαιμόνων φαύλων ἐξελαυνόμενοι , “chased with the scourge of evil demons.”
Vv. 3. With this diabolical, capricious, and blind impulse, Paul contrasts the new breath with which the Holy Spirit penetrates the Church, a breath which has a fixed and glorious object, the Lord Jesus, and which, acting on the depths of the consciousness, gives rise to a new utterance in him who is animated by it. Heinrici, following Griesbach and Storr, thinks that the apostle means here to defend the gift of tongues against its detractors. After alluding to the oracles and deceptions of heathen priests, in 1 Corinthians 12:2, he now passes, they hold, to the effects of Christian inspiration, which, while offering some analogy to these heathen manifestations, ought yet to be carefully distinguished from them. No doubt the discourses in tongues are unintelligible, and there might be a fear of their containing some blasphemy against Jesus Christ. But this fear may be dismissed, for the Holy Spirit can inspire with nothing which is contrary to the glory of the Lord Jesus.
It is impossible not to feel the very artificial and forced character of this connection between 1 Corinthians 12:2-3. Besides, we shall see that in this whole section, chaps. 12-14, Paul is speaking, not to exalt the gift of tongues, but, on the contrary, to combat the exaggerated value given to it. This introduction, 1 Corinthians 12:1-3, is still quite general, and has no special relation to the gift of speaking in tongues. De Wette seems to me to have apprehended the context better: “As Gentiles, you acted without consciousness and without personal judgment; but now, as Christians, the time is come for your knowing how to regulate yourselves; and hence I make known to you the true principle by which you ought to judge all manifestations of this kind.” But this transition is not enough. We must go more to the root of the matter, and not confine ourselves to the contrast between the blind passivity of the heathen state and the full personal consciousness of the Christian state. For this characteristic of superiority would apply only imperfectly to the gift of tongues, the exercise of which excludes the use of the faculty of the νοῦς , the understanding ( 1Co 14:14 ). The real transition seems to me rather to be this: “In your former heathen state you had no experience whatever similar to that which you now have in the Church. The dumb idols, to the worship of which you let yourself be carried, did not communicate powers similar to those which the Spirit now communicates to you. Consequently, novices as you are in this domain, you need a guiding thread to prevent you from going astray: This is why I instruct you....” (Comp. Meyer.)
The first thing needed by a Church so inexperienced in this domain was to know how far it extended, in other words, what was the true character of the Divine influence; who was truly inspired and who was not. The apostle answers this first question by two maxims, the one negative, exclusive; the other positive, affirmative. The character of Divine inspiration does not depend on the form which the discourse takes, but on its tendency. Whether it be a prophecy, a tongue, or a doctrine, matters little; every utterance which amounts to saying: Jesus be accursed! is not Divinely inspired; every utterance which amounts to saying: Jesus Lord! is Divinely inspired. It should be remarked that Paul here says Jesus, and not Christ. His concern is with the historical person who lived on the earth under the name of Jesus. It is with Him that all true inspiration is bound up; it is from Him that all carnal or diabolical inspiration turns away. Jesus had said: “Father, all Thine is Mine, and all Mine is Thine” ( Joh 17:10 ), and “The Spirit of truth shall glorify Me; He shall take of Mine and show it unto you.” No utterance whatever, degrading the man who is called Jesus, however eloquent and powerful, emanates from Divine inspiration. Every utterance glorifying the man Jesus, however weak and unpretending, proceeds from the breath from on high. According to the Greco-Lats., the Byz., and the T. R., we should read: ἀνάθεμα ᾿Ιησοῦν ( sayeth that Jesus is accursed), and κύριον ᾿Ιησοῦν ( sayeth that Jesus is the Lord). According to the Alex. and the Peschito, the word Jesus is in the nominative: ἀνάθεμα ᾿Ιησοῦς and κύριος ᾿Ιησοῦς ; it is each time an exclamation: Jesus accursed! Jesus Lord! Clearly this second reading is the only possible one. Exclamation, much more than cold logical statement, is the language of inspired discourse, the characteristic of which is enthusiasm. In classical Greek the word ἀνάθεμα is synonymous with ἀνάθημα , and denotes every object consecrated to deity. But in the LXX. and in the New Testament it takes a particular sense, denoting an object consecrated to God in order to its destruction, a being devoted to be cursed (Deuteronomy 7:26; Joshua 7:13, etc.; Gal 1:8 ); while ἀνάθημα preserves the meaning of offering sensu bono; comp. Luke 21:5.
But to whom in the Christian Church can the apostle attribute the language: Jesus accursed! It has been supposed as is still done by Holsten that the apostle here refers to discourses hostile to Jesus which were heard from the lips of Jews or even from those of unbelieving Gentiles, who treated Jesus as an impostor, and saw in His ignominious and cruel death a token of the Divine curse. Comp. 1 Corinthians 1:23: to the Jews a stumbling-block. There might thus be found in this passage the three great religious domains of the time, heathenism ( 1Co 12:2 ), Judaism (1 Corinthians 12:3 a), and Christianity (1 Corinthians 12:3 b). But the construction of the sentence does not lend itself to such parallelism. And the question arises, How could the Church of Corinth have been tempted to ascribe such discourses to Divine inspiration? Besides, we have to do here with discourses uttered in the assemblies of the Church; and how would men have been allowed to speak publicly in the Church who were not Christians? One would rather suppose, as Heinrici seems to do, that this first purely negative rule is not meant by the apostle to apply to any real case, and that he has put it down only the better to bring out the idea of the second by way of contrast. But neither is this explanation admissible; for these two criteria are so placed in relation to one another, that the real application of the one implies also that of the other. Must we then believe that Paul admits the possibility of such discourses within the Church itself? When Heinrici declares this supposition absurd, does he transport himself adequately into the midst of the powerful fermentation of religious ideas then called forth by the gospel? In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, the apostle speaks of teachers newly arrived at Corinth, who preached another Jesus than the one he had preached, and who raised a different spirit from that which the Church had received. It was therefore not only another doctrine, but also another breath, a new principle of inspiration, which these people brought with them. In our Epistle itself, 1 Corinthians 16:22, he speaks of certain persons who love not Jesus Christ, and whom he devotes to anathema when the Lord shall come. These utterances would appear very severe, if they were not a sort of return for the anathema which these people threw in the face of Jesus Christ. How was this possible in a Christian Church? We must observe, first of all, the term Jesus, denoting the historical and earthly person of our Lord, and bear in mind that from the earliest times there were people who, offended at the idea of the ignominious punishment of the cross, and the unheard -of abasement of the Son of God, thought they must set up a distinction between the man Jesus and the true Christ. The first had been, according to them, a pious Jew. A heavenly being, the true Christ, had chosen him to serve as His organ while He acted here below as the Saviour of humanity. But this Christ from above had parted from Jesus before the Passion, and left the latter to suffer and die alone. It is easy to see how, from this point of view, one might curse the crucified one who appeared to have been cursed of God on the cross, and that without thinking he was cursing the true Saviour and Christ, and while remaining without scruple a member of the Church. We know the name of a man who positively taught the doctrine we speak of. He was a Jew-Christian, named Cerinthus, very much attached to the law like the adversaries of Paul at Corinth; and it is curious to hear a Father of the Church, Epiphanius, affirm that the First Epistle to the Corinthians was written against this person. We shall not go so far. We would only use the example to show what strange conceptions might arise at this period when Christian doctrine was yet in process of formation, and when all the ideas awakened by the gospel were seething within the Church. To the example of Cerinthus we can add that of the Ophites, or serpent-worshippers, who existed before the end of the first century, and who, according to Origen ( Contra Celsum), asked those who wished to enter their churches to curse Jesus. In stating this first negative criterion, the apostle therefore means to say to the Corinthians: However ecstatic in form, or profound in matter, may be a spiritual manifestation, tongue, prophecy, or doctrine, if it tends to degrade jesus, to make Him an impostor or a man worthy of the Divine wrath, if it does violence in any way to His holiness, you may be sure the inspiring breath of such a discourse is not that of God's Spirit. Such is the decisive standard which the prophets, for example, are summoned to use when they sit in judgment on one another ( 1Co 14:29 ).
After drawing the line fitted to set aside all that presents itself as Christian inspiration without being so in fact, the apostle points out the characteristic common to all those manifestations to which the quality of a true inspiration can and should be accorded, whatever may be the form in which they show themselves. To proclaim Jesus as the Lord; such is the mark of every Divinely inspired Christian discourse. Such a discourse is a cry of adoration, an act of homage by which the historical person who bore the name of Jesus, notwithstanding His shame and bloody death, is raised by the inspired one to the Divine throne, and celebrated as the Being who exercises universal sovereignty; such is the force of the title κύριος , Lord; comp. Philippians 2:9-11. It might be objected to the apostle that there are professions of faith in Jesus Christ which are purely intellectual, orthodox sermons which are devoid of the breath of the Spirit. But this objection has no force whatever in the context, especially with the reading κύριος ᾿Ιησοῦς (nominatives), which we have adopted, and which makes these words an exclamation. Such a cry of the heart does not in the least resemble a cold logical affirmation. We might object, with more show of reason, the exclamation of the demons who cried out on seeing Jesus: “Thou art the Holy One of God.” But this emotion of fear and this particular insight might well be, even in those beings, an effect of the Spirit's influence; comp. James 2:19. It is the Holy Spirit who gives to an intelligent spirit the discernment of the holiness of Jesus. Thus, however simple, however elementary in matter a Christian discourse may be, however calm, however sober in form, if its result is to place on the head of Jesus the crown of Lord, it is the product of the Divine Spirit, as well as the most extraordinary manifestation which can take place in a Christian assembly.
The field of Divine inspirations is thus marked off by a line of demarcation which every believer can apply. The apostle now explains the relation which those various manifestations of the Christian Spirit, that are embraced in it, sustain to one another. He first expounds the idea, that however various those manifestations may be in their outward form, they are one in their principle and end ( 1Co 12:4-12 ).
Vv. 4-6. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5. And there are differences of administrations, and the same Lord. 6. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.”
Paul here mentions three principal diversities to which correspond three principles of unity which in reality form only one.
We already know what he understands by gifts, χαρίσματα ; they are the creative powers which God communicates to believers when their new activity expands under the influence of the life of Christ. The principal of these gifts will be enumerated 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.
The term διαίρεσις , translated diversity, strictly signifies apportionment, distribution; this is its meaning in the LXX. and in profane Greek (see Heinrici); comp. the participle διαιροῦν , distributing, in 1 Corinthians 12:11. But as the apportioning of these gifts by the Spirit is not made arbitrarily, and as it rests on a real diversity between the individuals as well as between the powers themselves, the word may be rendered by the term diversity, like μερισμός , Hebrews 2:4 [ distribution, Marg R. V.]. We shall see how carefully the various kinds and species of gifts will be distinguished in the enumeration 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.
All these varieties of gifts have one and the same principle: the Spirit who produces them when He comes to dwell in believers.
2. The unity of spiritual forces in their diversity. Vers. 4-12.
The first and most profound diversity which strikes the mind as it contemplates the display of Divine power within the Church, is the difference between the Divine gifts, ministries, and operations. More than this: in each of these three principal classes there is seen to be a subordinate variety of kinds and species. But these principal and secondary diversities all proceed from one and the same principle, and all tend consequently to one and the same end: 1 Corinthians 12:4-6.
Vv. 5. But there exists in the Church a second kind of Divine manifestations; charges, namely, or ministries, διακονίαι . This word denotes, not like the preceding, inward aptitudes, but external offices, with which certain individuals are put in charge. There are different kinds of them; some may be related to the whole Church, like the apostolate or the office of evangelist (missionary); others to a particular community, and that either with a view to the spiritual life, as the episcopate, or with a view to different kinds of temporal helps, such as the numerous branches of the diaconate; under these offices even there must have existed functions of an inferior order relating to those material services which were called for by the holding of assemblies and of the agapae, etc. What was the relation of these charges to the gifts? Probably certain of them, the highest, rested on a spiritual gift which the community had recognised and ordained to a regular function; others, the inferior ones, were mere offices committed to individuals by the Church.
As there are gifts which, by their very nature, cannot become the basis of an office (speaking in tongues or prophecy, for example), and others which may easily be transformed into a regular function (the gift of teaching, for example), so there are also offices of a wholly external kind, management of material affairs, for example, which are scarcely related to any gift, while others, like the apostolate, have for their foundation a special gift or a whole combination of gifts. These varied offices have, like the gifts, their principle of unity; but this principle is, so to speak, before, not behind them. As the various gifts rest on one and the same principle, the Spirit, so the offices tend to one and the same end, the Lord, by whose authority and for whose service they act. To connect the two propositions of this verse, instead of δέ , but, Paul here says καί , and, no doubt to join this second principle of unity to the preceding, the Spirit, mentioned 1 Corinthians 12:4.
Vv. 6. A third kind of varied manifestations: manifold operations due to the exercise both of those gifts and those offices. The term ἐνεργήματα , operations, denotes the powers realized in acts; the real effects Divinely produced either in the world of body or of mind, as often as the gift or the office comes into action. Thus, in a believer, the Holy Spirit has developed the gift of preaching. Recognising this gift, the Church has committed to him the preacher's office, with a view to the service of Christ; its ἐνέργημα , operation, will be the good discourse delivered by him, and the edification thereby effected in the hearts of his hearers. Another has the gift of healing; this gift cannot, from its nature, take the form of a regular office; but it will be displayed in healing operations; restored health will be its ἐνέργημα in each case.
These varied effects have also their principle of unity. It is God who, after producing the gifts by the Spirit, and establishing the offices for the service of the Lord, Himself produces every good result of the gifts and offices; comp. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7.
Τὰ πάντα , all things: according to the context, the gifts of every kind, and the offices of every kind, as well as the endlessly varied beneficent effects which result from both. ᾿Εν πᾶσιν , in all; in those who work and in those on whom the effect is produced.
Paul here returns to the δέ , but, to pass to the second proposition. He wishes thereby strongly to contrast the supreme principle of unity, which embraces in it the two preceding, the Spirit and the Lord, with the boundless variety of gifts, ministries, and operations distributed among the members of the Church.
After this general survey of the Divine unity which controls the three great forms of activity and their manifold varieties, the apostle comes to the one which it is most important for him to regulate in the given circumstances, viz. gifts. And before showing how rich in number they are, he reminds them of the common principle which produces them, and points to the common end which unites them, the common advantage ( 1Co 12:7 ). Then he states them in all their variety, each time repeating the one principle from which they proceed ( 1Co 12:8-12 ).
Vv. 7. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each man for the common advantage.”
Each receives an aptitude from the Spirit, but not for himself; what each possesses is intended for the good of all.
The genitive τοῦ πνεύματος , of the Spirit, cannot be, as Meyer and others will have it, an objective complement, as if it were the Spirit who was manifested by the gift. From the fact that in 2Co 4:2 the word ἡ φανέρωσις has an objective complement ( of the truth), it does not follow that it should be the same here; the two notions of truth and Spirit are very different. Paul does not mean that what belongs to the Spirit is revealed by the exercise of gifts, but that He manifests Himself by communicating them. And as the Spirit is one ( 1Co 12:4 ), it follows that all the gifts, however different, must tend to a common end, the good of the whole, and not to the selfish satisfaction of the individual on whom they are bestowed. With the dative ἑκάστῳ , to each, which is placed first, there is connected grammatically and logically the whole following enumeration of the gifts, or, as has been said, the presents which the bridegroom makes to the bride.
Vv. 8-10. “For to the one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to the other the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9. to another faith by the same Spirit; to the other the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10. to the other the workings of miracles; to the other prophecy; to the other discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to the other the interpretation of tongues.”
Most moderns think it impossible to discover any psychological or logical order in the following enumeration, and think even that there is no force to be ascribed in this respect to the change of the pronoun ἄλλῳ into ἑτέρῳ (once in 1 Corinthians 12:9, a second time in 1Co 12:10 ). Meyer is not of this opinion, and rightly, as it seems to me; for there is nothing arbitrary in Paul's style, and everybody knows that ἄλλος expresses a difference of individual, but ἕτερος a difference of quality. Thus we have the expression in Greek ἕτερος γίνεσθαι , to become other, to change one's opinion, while ἄλλος γίνεσθαι , to become a different individual, would have no meaning. It cannot therefore be without an object that Paul has twice introduced in this enumeration the stronger adjective instead of the weaker. Before the first ἑτέρῳ , to a different, we find the indication of two gifts, which, as has always been remarked, relate principally to the faculty of intelligence, and thus form a first homogeneous group. It is easy to understand the reason why Paul assigns to it at this stage the first place. We shall see that the Corinthians were disposed to regard the most extraordinary manifestations, the most ecstatic, as much more really Divine than those which leave man in full possession of his reason. Now the apostle places these very manifestations in the foreground to sweep away this false judgment.
The two terms wisdom and knowledge have been very variously distinguished. According to Neander and others, wisdom has a practical character, and knowledge indicates something more speculative; according to Bengel, inversely. This last view is evidently false; gnosis (knowledge) bears of course on theory. But no more can Neander's view be maintained in the face of chap. 1, where the term sophia, wisdom, is applied to the profounder exposition of the mysteries embraced in the Divine plan ( 1Co 2:6 seq.). Hofmann understands wisdom as applying to the general view of the whole domain of spiritual life, and knowledge as referring to profound insight into certain particular points in this domain. Heinrici takes wisdom as the simple knowledge of salvation (as it is explained, for example, by the catechism), knowledge as the reasoned understanding of the gospel, as it is given in a course of dogmatic. According to Edwards, gnosis is a degree of Christian knowledge inferior to wisdom, which is the prerogative of mature Christians. There is a measure of truth in these different points of view, but there is something arbitrary about them all. If we start from the meaning of the two substantives, as it seems to follow from the form of the two Greek terminations ( σις and ια ), we shall rather see in gnosis a notion of effort, investigation, discovery (comp. 1 Corinthians 13:2, where this term is connected with the idea of knowing all mysteries), and in sophia, on the contrary, the idea of a calm possession of truth already acquired, as well as of its practical applications. Gnosis makes the teacher; wisdom, the preacher and pastor. When corrupted, the former becomes gnosticism, the speculation of the intellectualist; the latter, dead orthodoxy.
It should be remarked, with Hofmann, that the apostle speaks neither of wisdom nor of knowledge in themselves, but of a word, discourse of wisdom or of knowledge; for he seizes the gift in action at the moment when it is to serve the edification of the Church.
The use of the two different prepositions διά , by means of, and κατά , according to the standard of, applied, the former to wisdom, the latter to knowledge, is not arbitrary. Knowledge advances by means of subjective and deliberate study, which, if it is not to deviate from the straight line of Divine truth, must be carried on according to the light of the Spirit; whereas the edifying discourses of wisdom are produced in the heart by the Spirit, agreeably to the wants of the given situation. Moreover, Eph 4:11 shows how the two gifts, as well as the two offices connected with them ( pastor and teacher), are in close affinity.
Vv. 9. If we hold that the substitution of ἑτέρῳ for ἄλλῳ is not accidental, the gifts which follow should have a different character from the two preceding, and this new character ought to reappear identically in the five gifts enumerated down to the following ἑτέρῳ (end of 1Co 12:10 ). Now it is easy to prove that it is so. The two preceding gifts were exercised in virtue of a communication of light; the following five proceed from a communication of force, in other words, from an influence of the spirit, no longer specially on the understanding, but on the will. By faith the apostle certainly does not understand saving faith in general; for this is not a special gift, it is the portion of all Christians. Faith is the root of the Christian life, not one of its fruits. We see clearly from the passage 1Co 13:2 that the apostle distinguishes between faith in general and faith as a particular gift. As such, it is the possession of salvation taking the character of assurance in God, of heroic daring, resolutely attacking and surmounting all the obstacles which are opposed to the work of God in a given situation. “Father, I know that Thou hearest me always!” Such is the cry of this faith which removes mountains, and of which the history of the Church affords so many examples; witness a Francke, a Wilberforce, a George Müller, and so many others. It is to this gift the saying of Jesus, Mat 17:20-21 refers. The preposition ἐν , in or by, indicates that the force of this confidence rests on the Holy Spirit's indwelling in the soul.
There follow the gifts of healings, which are closely connected with faith thus understood, for they have as their basis confidence in the power of God applied to disease. here there is not only a confident prayer; there is a command given in the consciousness of complete harmony with the will of God, such as the: “Rise, and walk,” of St. Peter ( Act 3:6 ). The substantives gifts and healings are put in the plural as relating to the different classes of sicknesses to be healed.
Vv. 10. The miraculous operations, ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων , have a very natural connection with the two previous gifts. Paul has in view the power of working all sorts of miracles other than simple cures, corresponding to the wants of the different situations in which the servant of Christ may be placed: resurrections from the dead, the driving out of demons, judgments inflicted on unfaithful Christians or adversaries, such as Ananias or Elymas, deliverances like that of Paul at Malta.
The reading δυνάμεως , of power, has no probability.
The MSS. A B read ἐν τῷ ἑνί , in the one Spirit, instead of ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ , in the same Spirit; this reading more forcibly contrasts the unity of the power with the diversity of the effects. But in French we cannot say the one without adding the same.
The place here occupied by the gift of prophecy seems at the first glance somewhat strange. As a gift of speech, it seems as if it should rather be joined to the first group ( 1Co 12:8 ); but it is only so in appearance. The prophet, according to 1 Corinthians 14:3, effects by his utterances “edification, comfort, consolation.” This gift therefore belongs to the group of gifts which have the will as their agent, and make use of it to put forth a power. It is miracle in the form of speech. As Hofmann says, “Prophecy does not proceed from a resolution or reflection of the prophet's own, but from a power independent of him, which masters his mind and makes him speak in order to act on others.” It proceeds from a revelation regarding the present state, course, and future of the kingdom of God. In transmitting this revelation to the Church, the prophet endeavours to stimulate it and to raise it to the height of his theme. It is in the spiritual domain an effect analogous to that which is produced on the sick man by the: “Rise and walk,” pronounced by him who has the gift of healing.
But vanity may easily become master of the exercise of this gift, and the prophet allow himself to mingle elements drawn from his own stock with the contents of the revelation received; he may even, without suspecting it, yield to an inspiration of diabolic origin. Hence the exercise of this gift ought to be subjected to control, and to come under the judgment of other persons capable of distinguishing, if need be, the human from the Divine. This judgment, which the apostle calls διάκρισις πνευμάτων , discernment of spirits, seems to have been usually exercised, according to 1 Corinthians 14:29, by other prophets. It is attributed, 1 John 4:1, to the Church in general. St. Paul has given the fundamental direction to guide this judgment in 1 Corinthians 12:3. The criterion which John gives, 1 Corinthians 12:2-3, is at bottom identical with that of Paul.
The plural διακρίσεις , discernments, in five Mjj., may be accepted; it is the most difficult reading. It is to be regarded as referring to all the particular cases. By the plural πνευμάτων , of spirits, Paul would indicate the breathings of the Spirit, which take effect suddenly on the prophets of the Church.
Vv. 10 b. It is certainly not without reason that the pronoun ἑτέρῳ reappears here. The gift of tongues and that of their interpretation form, in the apostle's eyes, a new category. And the character of this third group is easily distinguished. If in the first we find the influence of the Spirit on the powers of the understanding, in the second on the forces of the will, it is very clear that in the third we have the influence of the same Spirit on the feelings. The passage 1Co 14:14-16 proves that he who speaks in tongues addresses God under the overpowering influence of profound emotion, which causes him to pray, sing, or give thanks in an ecstatic language unintelligible to every one who does not share the same emotion, and to which his own understanding, his νοῦς , remains a stranger. It is then his feelings, and his feelings only, which are in activity, to the exclusion of his understanding and will, which are inactive. The man who speaks thus has indeed no intention whatever of acting on those who hear him. The sounds he gives forth are the immediate expression of what he feels: “He speaks to God, and not to men” (chap. 1Co 14:2 ).
From the third century down to modern times, the prevalent idea in the Church has been that the gift of tongues was the power of preaching the gospel to different peoples, to each in its own tongue, without having learned it. This gift, it was thought, explained the rapid propagation of the gospel. Irenaeus, who, in the second century, speaks of this gift, and speaks of it as a phenomenon still existing in his time, does not express himself very clearly about its nature. He says ( Adv. Hoer. 5:6. 1), “that he has heard many brethren in the churches possessing prophetical gifts and speaking in tongues of all sorts by the Spirit ( παντοδαπαῖς λαλούντων διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος γλώσσαις ), bringing to the light the hidden things of men, and expounding the mysteries of God.” This expression: tongues of all sorts, does not enlighten us sufficiently as to his view. But the opinion of Origen ( ad Rom 1:13 ) and his school is evident. The following, for example, is how Chrysostom, giving himself up to his imagination, describes the fact: “Immediately one made his voice be heard in the language of the Persians, another in that of the Romans; another in that of the Indians; another in some other tongue.” Similarly Theodoret: “Often a man who knew only the Greek tongue, after another had spoken in the language of the Scythians or Thracians, gave the hearers the translation of his discourse” (see Meyer). The narrative of Pentecost (Acts 2:0) seemed to point in this direction. Certainly we are not sufficiently acquainted with the hidden powers of the human soul, nor the mysterious relation of external language to inward speaking, to affirm the impossibility of such a phenomenon arising from the influence of the Holy Spirit in the depths of the soul. But with what view would a gift so extraordinary have been bestowed? With Greek and Latin, two languages which it was not so difficult to learn, one could make himself understood everywhere. And supposing the gift were intended to help mission work, of what use could it be in a Church like that of Corinth? Is it possible to conceive behaviour more strange on the part of a Greek of this Church than his setting himself to speak all at once in Arabic, or Chinese, or Hindustani, to express the lively emotions with which the gospel filled his heart? In Mark 16:9-20, a passage which, though unauthentic, undoubtedly contains authentic materials, we find the oldest name of this gift uttered by Jesus Himself, and the simplicity of which seems to guarantee its exactness. It is the expression: to speak in new tongues ( γλώσσαις καιναῖς λαλεῖν ). This expression does not suit the nature of the gift, as it was afterwards understood in the Church. Tongues really existing among other peoples would not be new tongues: instead of καιναῖς we ought to have had ξέναις or ἀλλοτρίαις . Finally, in this sense, how is it possible to explain the term γένη γλωσσῶν , kinds or species of tongues? It is impossible to suppose that the apostle is thinking of the distinction of human tongues into Semitic, Turanian, Indo-Germanic families! Besides, this interpretation is now generally abandoned. As to the account of the second chapter of the Acts which gave rise to it, it seems to me that 1Co 12:11 allows another explanation of the mysterious phenomenon related in that chapter.
After Ernesti, Bleek substituted the following for the old interpretation. The term γλῶσσα , tongue, is frequently employed by Greek grammarians to denote certain expressions rarely or anciently used, archaisms or provincial idioms. Accordingly, Bleek thinks that speaking in a tongue denotes discourses mixed with expressions of this kind. He also compares the relation between the Christian who spoke in a tongue and his interpreter to the relation of the προφήτης to the μάντις , in consulting the oracles. The prophet was the translator of the enigmatical answer ( lingua secreta) which the god put into the mouth of the latter ( the inspired). Heinrici appropriates this explanation, and supports it by new and important examples, taken not only from the literary, but also from the religious language of the Greeks. He mentions, in particular, that according to Diodorus, the act of rendering oracles in an obscure and Sibylline style was called ἐνθεάζειν κατὰ γλῶσσαν , to speak inspiredly in a tongue.
But it is impossible to imagine why, in a community composed of traders, artisans, sailors, etc., the most profound emotions of the saved soul should have found expression either in ancient and unusual words, or by means of compositions formed of wholly new terms. It is still less intelligible how this labour of reminiscence or creation could have taken place in a state wherein the influence of feeling controlled that of the understanding ( 1Co 14:14 ).
A third explanation takes the word tongue in the phrase γλώσσαις λαλεῖν in its literal sense: to speak while moving the tongue so as to utter sounds of which the speaker is neither master, nor conscious. Such, with certain shades of difference, is the meaning adopted by Eichhorn, Baur, Meyer. With the term tongue thus understood there have been compared the expressions of St. Paul in the Romans; “the Spirit who prays in us with unutterable groanings,” or who cries by the mouth of the child of God: “ Abba, Father! ” (Romans 8:26; Rom 8:15 ). Some sentences of chap. 14 of our Epistle might suit this meaning. But others are absolutely opposed to it. How in this sense are we to explain the plural γλώσσαις λαλεῖν , to speak in tongues, especially when only one person is in question, as in 1Co 12:6 ? Even in our passage the term γένη γλωσσῶν , kinds of tongues, cannot be so explained naturally. A speaking by a motion of the tongue divided into several categories! And can it be supposed that the apostle himself rejoiced and thanked God because he possessed such a faculty more than any of the Corinthians ( 1Co 14:18-19 )?
The gift of speaking in tongues must therefore have been something more elevated. Paul seems to compare it, 1 Corinthians 13:1, to the language of angels. As the bird by its song expresses the full joy of life in the absolute freedom of existence, so the transport to which the new experiences of the Christian life, of the peace of salvation, of the contemplation of the God of love, of the hope of glory, at times lifted the hearts of believers, was sometimes manifested of a sudden in an extraordinary language of which we can no longer form an idea. Sometimes it was an ardent supplication ( the unutterable groanings of the Spirit), asking of God the full realization of His purposes of love ( Rom 8:26 ); sometimes it was the cry of the spirit of adoption: “Abba, Father!” ( Rom 8:14 ), finding vent in the form of joyful thanksgiving; sometimes it was a Psalmsinging, celebrating the ineffable gift of salvation in tones inspired with heavenly sweetness, music rather than language properly so called ( 1Co 14:7 ). To explain such a phenomenon it is not necessary to have recourse, as Holsten has, to the contrast between the gospel and the miseries of the time, the tyranny of the emperors, the avarice of the proconsuls, the chains of slavery, the despair of poverty, the satiety of wealth. The contrast which thus created new tongues within the Church was more of a spiritual and moral nature; it was the contrast between peace and remorse, holiness and impurity, the hope of perfect life and the fear of annihilation, the possession of God and life without God.
Such emotions, expressed in this mysterious language, the immediate creation of the Spirit, could only be understood by the man whom the Spirit put in communion with those who experienced them. And as such a man, while sharing those emotions, was nevertheless not wholly controlled by them, he preserved the power of giving account of the Divine object which gave rise to them, and so of expounding the same feelings in distinct words. This is what the apostle calls interpretation, ἑρμηνεία , which also depended on a special gift. Is there here an allusion to the technical use made of the word ἑρμηνεία in religious language, to denote the interpretation of the oracles of the Pythia (comp. Heinrici)? This is neither impossible nor necessary. As prophecy had for its auxiliary διάκρισις , discernment, because its contents fell into the category of the true or the false, so speaking in a tongue was accompanied by interpretation, which simply made its contents intelligible to the Church, the danger of error not existing, so to speak, in a form of utterance which was only the unreflecting manifestation of a feeling.
It cannot be by accident that the apostle here gives the last place to the gifts of tongues and of interpretation. Throughout this whole passage he speaks from the standpoint of the common advantage ( 1Co 12:7 ). If therefore he puts first the word of wisdom and of knowledge, it is because he regards them as the best fitted to impart to the Church solid and lasting edification. If he places after them gifts capable of producing a powerful effect, whether in the way of healing or comfort, it is because after the former they are the most useful; finally, in the last rank comes the gift which is only a matter of emotion without positive result.
On the relation between the gift of tongues as it existed at Corinth, and its first manifestation on the day of Pentecost, we shall not be able to pronounce till after the study of chap. 14; see at the end of that chapter.
Such was the wealth of gifts which the Holy Spirit had produced in the Church of Corinth in the days of its first love. But what Paul wished to bring out here was their unity controlling all this diversity; he had mentioned it after each gift; and now once again he enunciates it more expressly at the close of the complete enumeration, 1 Corinthians 12:11.
Vv. 11. “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.”
That one: in opposition to the plurality of believers; the same: in opposition to the diversity of gifts.
The partic. διαιροῦν , dividing, has no expressed object; the emphasis is on the act of dividing. With the adj. ἰδίᾳ , we must understand the subst. μοίρᾳ .
By the words: as He will, the apostle does not ascribe to the Spirit a capricious and fantastic mode of procedure. The good pleasure of God is never exercised except in perfect harmony with all the perfections of His character, His wisdom, goodness, righteousness. The analogous phrase, 1 Corinthians 15:38, shows how entirely the notion of arbitrariness is excluded, in the apostle's view, from the idea of the Divine pleasure. One may compare in some respects Matthew 25:15. The deliberate will ( βούλεσθαι ), here ascribed to the Holy Spirit, seems to me to imply His personality, as the act of giving supposes His Divinity. The words: to every man as He will, are undoubtedly intended to sweep away, from the more gifted of the Corinthians, every feeling of self-merit, and, from the less favoured, every tendency to discontentment. It will be seen that this double intention is precisely what inspires the following passage ( 1Co 12:13-30 ). But, first of all, 1Co 12:12 serves by a figure to bring out again the fundamental thought of the passage, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.
Vv. 12. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, but all the members of the body, being many, are one body: so is it with the Christ.”
The apostle has just stated a Divine fact, which is the secret of the Church's life: the unity of the Divine force, which animates it in the variety of its manifestations. This principle is realized, first, from the standpoint of the Divine influence in general, in the triple diversity of gifts, offices, and effects produced ( 1Co 12:4-6 ); then from the special viewpoint of the Spirit's influence, in the variety of gifts ( 1Co 12:7-11 ). In 1Co 12:12 Paul renders palpable the harmony of this diversity with the unity which produces and governs it, by comparing it with what is nearest us, our own body. What is the human body? One and the same life spreading out into a plurality of functions each attached to one of the members of the organism, and labouring for its preservation and wellbeing. The last words: So it is with the Christ, present a difficulty. It seems as if we should have: So it is with the Church. Must we, with Grotius, de Wette, Heinrici, understand by the Christ the Church itself, or, with Rückert, the ideal Christ? These two meanings cannot be justified: the former because Paul, if that had been his idea, would have expressed himself more clearly; the latter, because it contains a notion foreign to the mind of the apostle. In general, commentators are agreed in applying the word: the Christ, to the personal glorified Christ, seeking, however, in various ways to comprehend the Church under the idea of His person; Chrysostom, Meyer saying: as head of the body, He fills and controls it throughout; Hofmann, Edwards regard Christ as the personal ego of the organism; Holsten thinks that the Christ denotes the Spirit, who generally, in Paul's view, is identical, according to Holsten, with Christ's glorified person. This last meaning is false, as well as the affirmation on which it rests. The Spirit is not identified either by Paul, or John, or any biblical writer, with the person of the Christ. The interpretations of Meyer and Hofmann are undoubtedly well founded, but it seems to me that the exact expression of Paul's idea is rather this: The term the Christ here denotes the whole spiritual economy of which He is the principle in opposition to the natural economy to which the human body belongs. Similarly it might be said, in describing a law of natural humanity: “It is so in Adam,” or in instancing a law of the Jewish economy: “It was so in Abraham.” It is a way of forcibly calling to mind the unity of the personal principle on which an economy rests, and which forms, as it were, its permanent substance. In the first half of the following verse the apostle applies to the Church this figure taken from the human body.
Vv. 13a. “And indeed, by being baptized by one Spirit, we have all become one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free.”
The καὶ γάρ , and indeed, relates to the last words of the foregoing verse: So is it with the Christ, the demonstration of which it announces.
The καί indicates a second fact analogous to the preceding; the γάρ shows that this fact justifies the comparison between the human body and what is done in Christ.
How different were both the religious condition ( Jews, Gentiles) and the social condition ( bond, free) of all those members of the Church of Corinth! By the same Spirit, into which they had all been baptized, they now find themselves fused, as it were, into one spiritual body, that is to say, into a society all whose members are moved by the same breath of life.
The ἐν ( in or by one Spirit) denotes the means, and the εἰς ( into one body) the result attained. When we think of the distance which at that period separated Jews from Gentiles, slaves from freemen, we measure the power of the principle of union which had filled up those gulfs. All those men so diverse in their antecedents, when once they go forth regenerated from baptism, form thenceforth only one new man in Christ ( Eph 2:15 ).
But if diversity of gifts is resolved into unity by the fusion of all the individuals into one spiritual whole, the converse is also true. In Christ, as well as in the human body, unity must spread out into diversity. Such is the new idea to which the apostle passes from the second part of 1 Corinthians 12:13. On the understanding of this transition depends the understanding of the chapter as a whole. Thus far the apostle has explained how, notwithstanding their varied multiplicity, the gifts are one in virtue of their common principle, the Holy Spirit, and their sole destination, not the private advantage of their possessor, but the profit of the whole ( 1Co 12:7 ). Nevertheless this unity of principle and aim should not injure the manifestation of their diversity; they are and should remain different, as to the form in which they show themselves and their mode of action. And it is this other aspect of the truth, the necessary complement of the former, which is developed in the rest of the chapter.
Vers. 13b, 14. “And were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14. For also the body is not one member, but many.”
The reading is not εἰς ἓν πνεῦμα , but ἓν πνεῦμα without εἰς . This accusative is the qualifying substantive of the verb to make to drink; comp. the same construction 1 Corinthians 3:2.
The καί , and, contains the transition which we have just mentioned. And what clearly proves that we pass here to the idea of the diversity of gifts is the καὶ γάρ , for also, at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 12:14, a verse which is evidently meant to explain this diversity by that of the members of the body. This passage to the new idea (diversity) is also that which will enable us to apprehend the true meaning of the second proposition of 1 Corinthians 12:13. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Osiander, Neander, Heinrici find in it the idea of the Holy Supper. They have been led to this view by the mention of baptism in the first part of the verse, as well as by the term ἐποτίσθημεν , we were made to drink, which seems to allude to the cup in the sacrament. But the expression to drink the Holy Spirit in the Supper is absolutely foreign to the language of Scripture. It is of the blood of Christ that the believer partakes when he uses the cup. Then in this sense the aor. ἐποτίσθημεν would not find a natural explanation, for the sacramental act is ever being repeated anew.
Or is it baptism that is still in question, as is held by Chrysostom, Bengel, de Wette, Meyer, Edwards? But the figure of drinking, or being made to drink ( ποτισθῆναι ), is as foreign to the form of the baptismal rite, as that of plunging, being bathed ( βαπτισθῆναι ), is naturally associated with it. Besides, the καί , and, indicates a new fact. If the second proposition served only to reaffirm in another form the idea of the first, there would be an asyndeton. The new fact in the mind of the apostle seems to me to be the communication of the gifts of the Spirit which accompanied the laying on of hands after baptism; comp. Acts 8:17; Acts 19:6 ( Act 10:45-46 ). By baptism the believer is bathed in the Spirit as the source of new life; by the act which follows, the Spirit enters into him as the principle of certain particular gifts and of the personal activity which will flow from them. The believer is first plunged, bathed, in order to die to himself and live to God ( Rom 6:3-5 ); then he is made to drink, saturated with new forces, that he may be able to serve the body of which he has become a member. Such are the two sides of his relation to the Holy Spirit. Holsten seems to me to have understood this passage nearly as I have done. It is easy to see how this thought forms the transition from the idea of the unity of the body to that of the diversity of gifts. After having been bathed in the same common life, they all come forth from it with the different gifts communicated to them by the Spirit.
Vv. 14. The apostle impresses this idea by taking up again the figure of the body which he had used to describe the unity of the Church; to this end it is enough for him to reverse the figure. In 1 Corinthians 12:12: many members, but one body; in 1 Corinthians 12:14: one body, but many members.
This notion of the diversity of members is explained 1 Corinthians 12:15-26, and applied to the Church 1 Corinthians 12:27-30.
Vv. 15-17. “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it not, in spite of that, of the body? 16. If the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it not, in spite of that, of the body? 17. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?”
The foot and the ear speak here as less conspicuous and favoured members than the hand and the eye, which represent the most highly valued gifts.
Many take the last proposition of 1Co 12:15-16 as an affirmation in the form of two negatives which destroy one another: “It does not come about, therefore, that the foot is not of the body.” But it is more natural to regard it, with Erasmus, Calvin, de Wette, etc., as a question in the sense of a reductio ad absurdum. The doubling of the negative οὐ is caused by the παρὰ τοῦτο , in spite of that: “Is it not in spite thereof...is it not of the body?”
The meaning ordinarily given to παρά is because of (see Meyer, Edwards). But I do not think that this meaning occurs elsewhere in the New Testament. Why not understand simply: passing alongside of that, that is to say: in spite of that; comp. Romans 1:26; Romans 11:24. Meyer, Hofmann, and others understand by τοῦτο , that, the erroneous affirmation of the foot and the ear: “What these members say wrongly does not prevent them from being of the body.” But it is more natural to refer it to the fact itself of the inferiority of the foot and the ear. “In spite of this inferiority, are not these members really of the body?” Comp. Holsten.
The object of this exposition is manifest. The Corinthians were disposed to exaggerate the value of certain gifts, which, from their extraordinary character, were fitted to strike the senses, in particular of the gift of speaking in tongues. From this prejudice there followed two evils: On the one hand, those who did not possess such gifts kept aloof discontented and discouraged, and the Church was deprived of their services, which might have been very needful; on the other, those who possessed the gifts, took pleasure in displaying them in the assemblies, so as to prevent the less brilliant gifts from filling the place which should have been reserved for them. It is to these two defects that the apostle successively applies the figure of the part played by the members in the human body; to the former, in the passage 15-17; to the latter, in the passage 18-26. Though the application of all the figures to spiritual gifts is transparent, it is nevertheless true that everything the apostle says has already literal verity in relation to the members of the human body.
Vv. 17. This verse is more easily connected in the second sense of the word τοῦτο . If, from the fact that the foot is not the hand, etc., it followed that it did not form part of the body, the admirable variety of the senses would be excluded, and the perfection of the human organism destroyed.
There now follows the counterpart: what Divine wisdom has done in answer to the senseless talk of the foot and the ear.
Vv. 18-20. “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him. 19. But if they were all one member, where were the body? 20. But now are there many members and one body.”
The reality ( νυνί , now) contrasting ( δέ , but) with the condemned supposition.
A fine paronomasia, no doubt intentional, in θεός and ἔθετο . The high dignity of each member appears from the thought that it is God Himself who has placed it in the body, and placed it where it is best (the foot at the lower extremity of the body, the ear concealed at the side of the head, and not in view like the hand or the eye). Divine understanding has presided over this whole arrangement; inorganic matter nowhere invades this privileged domain of the human body.
Vv. 19 expresses once more the idea of 1 Corinthians 12:17: “If God had acted otherwise, what would have become of the body?” Instead of this admirable organism, we should have a being endowed with a single sense, as is found, for example, in the lowest grade of animalism.
Then 1Co 12:20 resumes the exposition of the actual fact, as God has willed it. The νῦν δέ is the repetition of the νυνὶ δέ of 1 Corinthians 12:18. God has not managed things so awkwardly. He has instituted a plurality of members, without however destroying the unity of the body.
The application is obvious at a glance: If the Spirit manifests Himself in certain members only in less extraordinary or less eminent forms than in others, it does not follow that they should put themselves outside the common life, and bury away their gift, like the wicked servant of the parable, who received only one talent.
The apostle now turns, on the other hand, to those who have received the most eminent gifts ( 1Co 12:21-26 ).
Vv. 21, 22. “But 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. 22. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.”
The δέ , but, is sufficiently supported by the documents. As in 1Co 12:18 Paul had contrasted God's doing with the saying of the foot and the ear, he here contrasts with God's doing the saying of the eye or the head. The eye, privileged as it is by its eminent function and noble position in the body, cannot dispense with the inferior members, the hand, for example, without which it could not appropriate the objects which seem to it desirable. The same is the case with the head in relation to the feet. The head is named here, not as representing the Christ, but as uniting all the organs whose functions are most essential to life. What would the ear, the tongue, the nose, the palate do, if the feet were not at their service?
Vv. 22. Nay more, the instant we reflect, we are convinced of the absolute necessity of the members which seem to play an altogether secondary part, more secondary even than the hand or the feet. These weak parts are no doubt the sensitive organs which are protected by their position in the body, the lungs and stomach, for example, on which, above all, the life and health of the whole body depend.
The πολλῷ μᾶλλον has a logical ( much rather) and not a quantitative sense ( much more).
Hence it follows that the gifts and offices which have a modest appearance are necessary, no less than the others, to the prosperity of the whole.
Vers. 23, 24a. “And the 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. 24a. Whereas our comely parts have no need.”
Paul here appeals to a fact of natural instinct in man. Καί : and moreover. There is a gradation from the ἀσθενέστερα , more feeble, to the ἀτιμότερα and ἀσχήμονα , less honourable and uncomely. These less honourable members are the arms, the throat, the breast, the belly, the legs, all the parts of the body on which chiefly the cares of the toilet are lavished.
The apostle pushes the comparison to the utmost. The second καί signifies: and even. Hofmann makes the ἡμῶν , our, dependent not on ἀσχήμονα , but on εὐσχημοσύνην ἔχει : “derive from us greater comeliness;” and similarly in 1Co 12:24 he makes the ἡμῶν depend on χρείαν ἔχει : “Those which are comely of themselves have no need of us to make them such.” This commentator sometimes seems to amuse himself with exegetical feats rather than to speak seriously. The ἡμῶν is added to the two adjectives ἀσχήμονα and εὐσχήμονα to express the solidarity which exists between the comeliness of one part of the body and that of our whole person. The shame of one of our members is ours. What the apostle wished thereby to impress on the proud Corinthians was, that it pertains to the honour of the whole Church that those who are charged with the humblest functions and the least prominent services should be the objects of the greatest marks of respect; we should say, if we dared so to paraphrase: To the brother serving in the agape, the best portion! To the brother who sweeps the floor, the most honourable place beside the president!
Vv. 24a. But, as to functions which of themselves honour those who fill them, there is nothing to add to this intrinsic honour. They resemble the beautiful parts of the body, which would be wronged were they covered. Transparent as the meaning of this parable is applied to the Church, the apostle does not go beyond the figure, as we still find in what follows.
Vers. 24b, 25. “But God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that which lacked: 25. that there should be no schism in the body; but that all the members should have the same care one for another.”
The δέ , but, seems to me to be well explained by Holsten: “But as to this contrast which meets the eyes of men God gives the solution of it by the end which He had in view in creating it.” God has intermingled feeble members with strong in the human body, comely parts with others not comely, that the latter might be the objects of particular care and attention on the part of the others, and that thus the body might not present the spectacle of two orders of members, the one glorious and the other despicable, which would destroy the harmony of the whole and would even impair the favourable effect produced by the first. God has thus succeeded in making every member have an interest in the comely and honourable appearance of all the others. Love on their part thus becomes a matter of rightly understood self-interest. The singular σχίσμα , schism, is certainly the true reading; the plural σχίσματα , schisms, has been substituted for it, because it was thought there was an allusion here to the divisions in the Church of Corinth. There must not be the contrast between parts beautiful and ugly, glorious and vile, in the masterpiece of creation. The τὸ αὐτὸ μεριμνᾶν signifies: to have a common care, to be all concerned about one result. This common end is the harmonious beauty of the whole.
By adding ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων , one for another, the apostle means that all should be watchful for the honour of all in order to the dignity of the whole. Those members which are of themselves less honourable thus turn out to be the objects of the special interest of all, that there may be procured for them the nobility which they had not naturally. For this end it is that God has established between them all such a close solidarity. And indeed, as the following verse says, there is between them an instinctive sympathy of satisfaction or shame which impels each to provide for the honour of all.
Vv. 26. “And whether one member suffer, all the other members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the others rejoice with it.”
Καί : and really. “This mutual care cannot be wanting for the body, for in fact...” The shame or contempt which overtakes one of the members of the body exercises a depressing influence on the condition of all the others. The honour, on the contrary, rendered to one, to the head, for example, when it is crowned, or to this or that other part of the body when it is brilliantly adorned, reacts on the attitude of the whole body, which erects itself and takes on a princely bearing. The application of these figures was self-evident: If gifts inferior in appearance are despised and checked, the state of the whole Church cannot fail to feel it. The honour which the most eminent gifts receive in such circumstances will not be of good quality. It cannot subserve the honour of the whole body, except in so far as the least of its members shares in it. It is clear that the special applications of all these figures must have been self-evident to the minds of the Corinthians. And so the apostle does not enunciate them; he contents himself with a wholly general application, which he gives in 1 Corinthians 12:27-30. The idea is summarily indicated in 1 Corinthians 12:27.
Vv. 27. “Now ye are a body of Christ, and members in particular.”
This verse gives the reason why the parable of the human body may be applied to the readers. They are a body of Christ, not the body of Christ; the apostle takes care not to put the article exactly as in 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Ye are a temple of God.”
The body of Christ is the whole Church; but for that very reason every particular Church shares in that dignity. Christ, dwelling in it, governs it by His Spirit, and gives it the organic forms fitted to manifest its action.
In virtue of this character belonging to the Church of Corinth, each Corinthian is to it what each member is to the body. The term μέλη , members, should not be applied to the particular Churches in their relation to the Church as a whole, as has been thought by several commentators ancient and modern. For this we should have to understand ὑμεῖς , ye, of Christians in general, which is not natural; and would not this idea be out of place in the context? The word μέλη , members, applies to all the individuals composing the Church of Corinth. The term expresses their plurality, and the restrictive word ἐκ μέρους , in particular, their qualitative diversity. Each has only a part in the life of the whole, that which accrues to him in virtue of his individual gifts; comp. the ἐκ μέρους , in part, 1 Corinthians 13:9-10; 1 Corinthians 13:12. No member, consequently, may call himself the whole, and claim to absorb for his own advantage the fulness of ecclesiastical activity, as Paul proceeds to point out in the following enumeration, 1 Corinthians 12:28-30. Each one, therefore, has need of his brethren. Side by side with his gift, there should be room for the exercise of the gifts of all the rest. The reading of D Vulg. ἐκ μέλους , members taken from the member, seems to allude to Christ's being Himself, as the head, one of the members ( 1Co 12:21 ); but it is evident that in 1Co 12:21 the word head is taken in another sense.
In the three following verses we find two successive enumerations of those gifts and offices which form the counterpart of the organs and members of the body. The aim of the first, 1 Corinthians 12:28, is to affirm the dignity of all those gifts and offices as being willed and given by God Himself independently of the sort of hierarchy which He has thought good to establish among them. All have their part to play, and no one ought to be excluded, if the whole is to prosper. This idea corresponds to that of the passage 18-26, where Paul had shown that all the members of the body, even those apparently most inferior, are entitled and bound to discharge their function for the good of the whole. The second enumeration, 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, has a wholly different bearing. The idea which inspires it is this: The gifts and offices have been Divinely distributed; no member unites them all in himself. Every brother then, even should he possess the most exalted function, needs the gifts and offices of all his brethren; no one consequently should presume to hinder the exercise of those gifts which he does not himself possess. This second idea exactly corresponds to that of the passage 15-17, regarding the need which the most highly endowed members of the body have of the services of all the rest. 1Co 12:28-30 are therefore the application of the whole passage 1 Corinthians 12:14-26, where the apostle develops the necessity of the diversity of the members in the unity of the human body; only in the application the order of the two ideas developed in the parable is reversed: the necessity of the part and the honour to be given to the inferior gifts and offices, developed in the second place in the parable ( 1Co 12:18-26 ), takes the first in application ( 1Co 12:28 ); and the need which all, even the most eminent gifts, have of all the rest, expounded in the first place in regard to the members of the body ( 1Co 12:14-17 ), takes the second place in the application ( 1Co 12:29-30 ).
Vv. 28. “And God hath set some in the Church...first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, kinds of tongues.”
The phrase ἔθετο ὁ θεός , God hath set, identical with that in 1 Corinthians 12:18, shows the correspondence between the idea of 1Co 12:28 and that of the passage 1 Corinthians 12:18-26. Edwards acutely observes, that if in Eph 4:11 Paul uses the word ἔδωκε , gave, it is because in that passage he wishes to bring out the wealth of Christ's gifts, while here he is rather thinking of the sovereignty of Divine power.
In beginning this proposition, the apostle had first in view a simple enumeration, in which all the functions about to follow should be placed on the same footing. Hence the οὓς μέν , some, which should have been followed by οὓς δέ , others; comp. Ephesians 4:11. But, on reaching the first term of the enumeration, his feeling of the inequality of these gifts and offices causes a modification in the expression of his thought, and instead of the simple term apostles, which was to have begun the enumeration, he suddenly introduces, by means of the adverb firstly, followed by secondly, thirdly, etc., the notion of subordination. The apostle had a special reason for reminding this Church, in which liberty was degenerating into licence, of the deference due to the apostolate, and then to the prophetic and teaching offices, those three excellent gifts, to which that of speaking in tongues was childishly preferred. It is from this modification introduced into the original thought that the inaccuracy pointed out has arisen. Hofmann has denied any change of construction. He makes of the whole 1 Corinthians 12:28 a parenthetical proposition, the principal being found in 1 Corinthians 12:29: “And those whom God has set as apostles, as prophets, as teachers...( 1Co 12:29 ), are not however all apostles, all prophets, all teachers,” that is to say: “they do not however each combine all these offices.” But by this unnatural construction the μέν becomes superfluous, and the substitution of the idea of rank ( firstly, etc.) for the simple enumeration becomes incomprehensible, not to speak of the strangeness of the question in itself. The apostle here returns to the general viewpoint of 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, where the gifts and offices were combined; he intermingles them in the following enumeration.
The regimen ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ , in the Church, shows that the circle here embraced in the view of the apostle is larger than that referred to, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, by the enumeration of the gifts prevailing at Corinth. The apostolate could not have figured in this narrow circle, either as an office, or still less as an office belonging to the Church universal. Now Paul, as we have just said, had good reasons for mentioning here the first rank assigned by God to the office of apostle, and hence he rises from the idea of the Corinthian community to that of the whole Christian community. The πρῶτον , firstly, combines the two notions of time and dignity, which are in this case closely connected; for the Church sprang, as it were, from the apostolate which founded it, and which remains to the end its highest guide. But the notion of superiority certainly outweighs that of anteriority, the secondly and thirdly which follow being incapable of application to time. Paul here includes in the apostolate the ministry of those men who, like James, Barnabas, Silas, took part in founding the Church, and even the evangelists or missionaries (Timothy, Titus, etc.) who are separately mentioned, Ephesians 4:11; comp. Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14; Romans 16:7. Is it not possible that in speaking in 1Co 12:21 of the head as a member of the body, the apostolate was already in his mind?
The prophets are those whose office it is to receive the new revelations which God thinks good to grant to the Church at certain times. We shall see, chap. 14, that every prophetic discourse rests on an immediate revelation, the contents of which are communicated at the moment to the Church. These revelations were intended to enlighten the faithful as to the gravity of the present and imminent situation of the Church, and to enkindle the courage and Christian hope of its members. The prophets of the first age, like the apostles, do not seem to have been permanently attached to a special Church. Like the apostolate, the ministry of the prophets had a universal character, though they might settle for a time in a particular Church (Acts 13:1; Act 15:32 ). In several passages (Ephesians 2:20; Eph 3:5 ) they are almost identified with the apostles, with whom they shared the task of founding the Church. If all prophets were not apostles, on the other hand the prophetic gift seems to have been bound to the apostolate. In the Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, the prophets still exercise an itinerant ministry, going from Church to Church to edify the faithful.
The teachers, mentioned in the third place, were men who had the gift of calmly and consecutively expounding saving truth, and of applying it to the practical life of the Church. If the prophet may be compared to the traveller who discovers new countries, the teacher is like the geographer who combines the scattered results of these discoveries and gives a methodical statement of them. This ministry must have been more local than that of the prophets; for, Ephesians 4:11, it is closely connected with that of pastors, which was decidedly parochial ( Act 20:28 ). But we learn from this very passage that the two functions were not identical. It was only gradually, though already in the course of the apostolic age, that the ministry of teaching ( doctorate, διδασκαλία ) was combined and fused, as it were, with the care of souls (the pastorate, the ποιμήν ). The passage 1Ti 5:17 indicates the beginning of this fusion; and the part taken by the angel in the Churches of the Apocalypse marks its completion. Hence it is that the latter is made responsible for the state of the Church. If the gift of prophecy still remains in our day in the lively view and powerful expression of the truths of salvation, the doctorate has its sphere in the complete and orderly teaching of these truths, religious or theological.
The apostolate combines the two sides of gift and office, both raised to their highest power. In prophecy, the side of gift evidently outweighs that of office; in teaching the reverse. This is what has rendered the latter more suited to remain with the lapse of time as a regular function.
There follow two pairs of activities, in the first of which only the gift - element is found, while in the second there is little more than the element of office. And first the gift of miracles, literally: powers, then gifts of healing. For these two expressions we refer to 1 Corinthians 12:10, where the workings of miracles evidently correspond to our δυνάμεις , miraculous virtues. The persons on whom these gifts are bestowed, not having any importance in themselves, do not count, so to speak; this is why the abstract expressions powers and gifts of healing are substituted for those which denote the individuals themselves, used in the preceding grades. For the same reason the apostle now substitutes for the adverbs expressly indicating rank, which had been used at the beginning, the vaguer terms: after that, then..., till he ends with simple enumeration. The reading εἶτα , then, in the Byz. (before χαρίσματα ), is certainly preferable to the ἔπειτα , after that, of the other two families; comp. 1 Corinthians 15:23-24. The εἶτα is a softened continuation of the preceding ἔπειτα ; it distinguishes less forcibly than the latter. In proportion as we come down in the scale, the subordination becomes less distinct.
To this pair of gifts there succeeds a pair in which the notion of office is evidently the ruling one. For the offices in question are more or less external. The word ἀντιλήψεις , helps, comes from the verb ἀντιλαμβάνεσθαι , which strictly signifies: to take a burden on oneself (the middle) instead of another ( ἀντι ); comp. Acts 20:35; Romans 8:26. This term therefore denotes the various kinds of relief which the Church sought to procure for all sufferers, widows and orphans, the indigent, sick, strangers, travellers, etc. These various functions were afterwards united in the ecclesiastical diaconate, male and female. How could it enter the mind of some exegetes to apply the term to the interpretation of tongues! The κυβερνήσεις , governments or administrations, no doubt denote the various kinds of superintendence needed for the external good order of the assemblies and of the worship of the Church. It was necessary to find and furnish the places of meeting, etc....This all required what we should nowadays call committees, with their presidents. The various tasks were probably divided among the presbyters or elders, whose ministry was as yet distinct from that of the teachers. Only gradually was the function of teaching assigned to those who were already charged with such external management. Comp. the passage already quoted, 1 Timothy 5:17, as well as 1 Corinthians 3:2; and Titus 1:9, where Paul insists that the elder be capable of teaching and refuting those who oppose sound doctrine. We cannot deny ourselves the pleasure of quoting here M. Renan's beautiful remarks on this whole passage ( Saint Paul, p. 410): “These functions: care of the suffering, the administration of the poor man's pence, mutual assistance, are enumerated by Paul in the last place, and as humble matters. But his piercing eye can here too see the truth: ‘Take note,’ says he, ‘our least noble members are precisely the most honoured.’ ‘Prophets, speakers of tongues, teachers, you shall pass away. Deacons, devoted widows, administrators of the goods of the Church, you shall remain; you build for eternity.’”
The apostle closes this enumeration with the gift of tongues, including in it here the gift of interpretation. On the expression: kinds of tongues, see on 1 Corinthians 12:10. The last place assigned to this gift in a list which, from the beginning, had taken a hierarchical character, can only have, whatever Meyer may say to the contrary, one object, viz. to reduce as far as possible the importance to be attached to it.
The apostle started from the highest ministry in which gift and office appear combined and in their highest potency. Thence he passed through the various grades of gradual disjunction of gifts and offices, to their widest separation, which appears in governments and administrations (as offices) on the one hand, and in speaking in tongues (as a gift) on the other. It is obvious that the classification in our passage has an ecclesiastical character, and is no longer taken, like that of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, from the psychological viewpoint. This is the reason why prophecy here occupies a wholly different place from that which it has in the first list. As we have often said, there is nothing arbitrary in Paul's writings, even where he seems to enumerate at random. The principle of order which he follows here is that of the importance of the gifts and offices, not their intrinsic nature.
It is God, then, who has set in the Church all the different gifts and offices, and who has established among them a decreasing scale of value. The apostle does not state the conclusion from this fact, which was sufficiently apparent from what had been said in regard to the members set in the body by the hand of God. The result is this: No one should consider himself as useless, or be so considered by the Church, because he is less brilliantly endowed than this or that other. Now he passes to a new enumeration in the form of questions, to which the previous affirmation naturally gives rise: God Himself set these gifts in the Church. And how did He do it? Did He give them all to all? By no means, for that would have been to make every member a sort of whole body, consequently to render it independent of all the rest, and so destroy the body itself. God would not have individuals possessing all the gifts because He would not have any one in a position to be self-sufficient; He so ordered things that the brethren should all need one another. Thus are explained the following questions:
Vv. 29, 30. “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all powers? 30. Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” God has given to believers a certain spiritual endowment ( 1Co 12:28 ); but side by side with this endowment He has left a blank in each of them, and so a want which does not allow him to separate himself from the rest. It is obvious that the questions are put so as to lead to the result which was expressed in regard to the members of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:14-17. No individual ought to pose as self-sufficient. The body, as a whole, only exists on the condition that each member needs all the rest. The questions, all beginning with μή , all expect a negative answer: “All are not, however, apostles?” None of those, therefore, who are not such, will be able to dispense with the brethren whom God has made apostles. And if this is true regarding apostles and prophets, it is also true in regard to all other gifts and offices.
It is unnecessary to understand ἔχουσιν before δυνάμεις , powers. This substantive may very well be the predicate of the subject. The power of working miracles is identified with its possessor ( 1Co 12:28 ).
Helps and governments are omitted in this second list, probably because they did not greatly excite the ambition of believers.
It follows, therefore, from this application to the Church, 1 Corinthians 12:27-30: (1) that no one ought to regard himself as being unnecessary to the whole, since he has been placed there with his gift by God Himself ( 1Co 12:28 ); (2) and consequently, also, that no one ought to consider himself as possessed of self-sufficiency or as combining in himself all that is necessary for the life of the Church of which he is a member ( 1Co 12:29-30 ).
From these general principles the apostle might pass immediately to the practical applications he has in view. But, before entering on this subject, which will be treated in chap. 14, he here inserts a meditation on the fundamental disposition of the Christian life, charity without which all gifts, whatever they may be, become useless, but which, on the other hand, gives them all their true consecration and alone assures their effectual and beneficent exercise (chap. 13). To our 1 Corinthians 12:31, which forms the transition to this episode, there obviously corresponds chap. 1 Corinthians 14:1, whereby the apostle returns from this digression to his principal subject.
Vv. 31. “But covet earnestly the best gifts, and moreover I will show you a supremely excellent way.”
Theodoret has taken the first proposition interrogatively. In that case it would contain a rebuke, either in the sense: “Are you careful to seek the most useful gifts? No, you seek the most brilliant;” or in this: “Do you seek the greatest gifts (the most brilliant)? Yes, and it is your sin.” But neither of these meanings harmonizes with the following proposition. It leads us to take the first clause as an exhortation resulting from the application, 1 Corinthians 12:27-30: “All gifts are useful and in their place; you are right in seeking them. But ( δέ ) let this search be especially after those by which you can contribute most to the edificaof the whole.” The δέ is rather adversative, as de Wette thinks, and as is proved by Edwards against Meyer. Holsten rightly remarks that the adjective ought to be detached from the substantive: “Seek gifts, and the best ones.” The reading of the received text κρείττονα , better, which is that of the Greco-Lats. and Byz., seems to me preferable to the Alex. reading: μείζονα , greater. This is taken, probably, from the passages 1Co 13:13 and 1 Corinthians 14:5, which have been mistaken for parallels to this. The adjective κρείττων , strictly more powerful and so more useful, is evidently taken here in this second meaning: the gifts most capable of producing the common edification. The word μείζων would have the same meaning, but less naturally.
By these better gifts, there have been understood faith, hope, and charity ( 1Co 13:13 ), but wrongly. Never, in Paul's language, are the gifts, which are the means of Christian activity, confounded with the virtues which are the very elements of life. The sequel will show that Paul has especially in view prophecy and teaching.
It is asked how he can stir up believers to seek gifts. Does not the very term gifts imply that they are received, not acquired by labour? Must we with Reuss see here an insoluble contradiction between the two elements of Paul's view: Divine gift and human pursuit? But first the pursuit can take place in the way of prayer, an act which agrees easily with the notion of gift. Then the gift may exist in the believer as a germ in a natural talent which it is his mission to cultivate, but which he may also leave buried. No doubt there were among the Corinthians more prophets and teachers potentially than really. Love for the Church would have developed those gifts; but they were decaying in consequence of the false direction which the new life had taken. See this idea of ζηλοῦν , covet, taken up again in the second part of 1 Corinthians 14:1. At the moment when he was about to develop it, all at once Paul stops, seized with the need of expressing a feeling which has for a long time filled his heart in view of the spiritual state of this Church. What does he mean by speaking of a supremely excellent way, which he proceeds to describe? Is it the normal way of attaining to the possession of the most desirable gifts? The way would thus be the true mode of the ζηλοῦν . Or is it the way in a more general sense, the way of holiness and salvation, in opposition to gifts which of themselves cannot sanctify and save? Commentators are divided between the two meanings. The former seems at first better to suit the context; it is adopted by Chrysostom, Meyer, Osiander, de Wette, Edwards, and yet the latter is alone really admissible, as has been clearly seen by Tertullian, Estius, Olshausen, Rückert, Hofmann, Holsten. This appears from the relation between our verse and that by which it is resumed, 1 Corinthians 14:1. There we find clearly expressed the idea of a contrast between seeking love and coveting gifts. Consequently, in the apostle's view, love is by no means mentioned here as a means of succeeding in the pursuit of gifts, but as a virtue to be sought first of all and for itself. Meyer and Edwards object that this meaning would have required ἀλλά , but (Meyer), or ὅμως , nevertheless (Edwards), instead of ἔτι , moreover; but wrongly. The apostle rises from the encouragement to seek gifts to another recommendation, viz. to walk ( ὁδός ) in charity. The καὶ ἔτι , and moreover, suits this meaning: “Seek gifts, and, moreover, I will now describe a way which is still better than the exercise of gifts, even the best, that whereby alone the possession and exercise of gifts will truly become a blessing.” I find in Holsten nearly the same thought thus expressed: “Paul shows that above all gifts and the aspiration after them, there is a higher way open to the Christian love. The Corinthians find therein the true standard by which to appreciate the value of this aspiration and of its satisfaction.” It would be possible to connect ἔτι with καθ᾿ ὑπερβόλην ; but in this way we only form a pleonasm; ἔτι is naturally joined with the verb: “And moreover I have to show you...” Comp. Acts 2:26. The form καθ᾿ ὑπερβόλην , in superabundance, excellently, is somewhat frequent in Paul's writings: sometimes it relates to the verb (2 Corinthians 1:8; Gal 1:13 ); sometimes it qualifies the adjective or the substantive it accompanies; so Romans 8:13 ( καθ᾿ ὑπερβ . ἁμαρτωλός ), and perhaps 2 Corinthians 4:17. Here, applying it to the verb, with Grotius and Ewald, we should be brought to the meaning: “And to give superabundance of clearness or certainty, I again point out to you the true way.” But first this meaning would attach to the false explanation of the word way, which we have set aside; and in any case, the indication of the way would not be in the least superfluous, for Paul gives it a whole chapter. The idea of superabundance or excellence therefore qualifies the way itself. The supremely excellent way whereby the Christian ought to seek to attain the end of life is charity. Reuss explains: “A supreme rule which is to guide you in your judgment.” The explanation is grammatically correct; but the way designates not the rule for judging gifts, but love itself, which should guide the use of them.
The present δείκνυμι , I show, simply announces what Paul is about to do in the following passage (in reply to Edwards).
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Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany