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1 Corinthians 12

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

[To avoid confusion in our classification of the subjects handled, we have called this section a response, but it is such as to information received, rather than as to questions asked. In the early church the Spirit of God, fulfilling the predictions of prophecy (Joel 2:28 ff.; Acts 2:17-21), and the promise of the Lord (Mark 16:17-18; Acts 8:7), beginning on the day of Pentecost, endowed certain members with miraculous gifts. These were needful in that day: 1. They aided the evangelists and missionaries to propagate the faith in new fields with greater speed. 2. They assured weak converts that God was indeed in that church for which they had abandoned their former religions. 3. They edified the church, and gave it that body of perfect revealed truth which has been preserved and made permanent in the New Testament. But as different gifts were bestowed on different individuals, some of them became a source of pride and envy. Some who had showy gifts made a boastful display of them, and thus vaunted themselves as superior to those who had powers of a less dazzling nature; and those who had the humbler gifts envied the more richly endowed. To correct all this, Paul wrote the three chapters which follow.] Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

Verse 2

Ye know that when ye were Gentiles ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led.

Verse 3

Wherefore I make known unto you, that no man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema [devoted to destruction, hence accursed]; and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit. [The previous idolatrous life of the Corinthians left them not only ignorant as to the ways of God’s Spirit, but also tended to mislead them. Paul therefore begins their instruction with the elementary principles which concern inspiration and revelation; thus: 1. An idol reveals no truth; it is dumb. 2. Idols are many, but God is one. 3. The pretended revelations and oracles of idols or idol priests and other impostors, may be tested by what their authors say of Jesus, for they will speak evil of him. 4. The true prophets and revealers may also be so tested. They will assert the claims of Jesus, which no man is moved to do save by the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:2-3; 1 John 2:22; 1 John 5:1). Treating these four points in their order, we need to note that: 1. Dumb idols were often made to speak by priests concealed in or behind them, who made use of speaking-tubes which led to the parted lips of the idol. Hence, converts from paganism needed to be reminded that idols were indeed dumb, as a safeguard against such fraud. No spiritual truth came from the oracles of idols. 2. As each realm of nature had its god, idolaters were drawn about from shrine to shrine and temple to temple, seeking one blessing from one god to-day, and another blessing from another god to-morrow. Hence, saturated as they were with polytheism, diverse gifts were with them instinctively associated with diverse gods. But the diverse gifts of Christianity were not to be attributed to different deities, or even to different subordinate spiritual beings, such as angels, etc., for they were all from one God, as Paul affirms in this chapter, reasserting it ten times in the next ten verses by way of emphasis. 3. Elymas affords a picture of one pretending to speak oracles--a false prophet. 4. The conflict between Paul and Elymas shows the blasphemy of the false and the confession of the true prophet (Acts 13:6-12). The oracle of Delphi was near by, and contentions between idolatry and Christianity were, we may be sure, matters of daily occurrence in Corinth, and the ideas of new converts would be easily confused. The third verse shows that the test of a teacher is not his apostolic succession, but the soundness of his doctrine--comp. Galatians 1:8]

Verse 4

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

Verse 5

And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord.

Verse 6

And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all. [Though the gifts were the immediate impartation of the Spirit, yet it was a mistake to think that the Spirit acted as an independent deity in this giving. Hence Paul begins by showing that all the Godhead participated in the bestowal, and that each sustained his own relation to these miraculous manifestations. In relation to the Spirit, they were, as we have seen, gifts; in relation to Jesus, they were means whereby he ministered to the church (Ephesians 4:11-12; Romans 12:6-7; 1 Peter 4:10-11), and to the world through the church (Mark 16:20); in relation to the Father, they were workings, or manifestations of power, whereby he sanctioned the church and kingdom of Jesus as proceeding from himself, approved by him, and part of his universal field of operation-- John 8:28-29; John 14:10-11]

Verse 7

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. [Each of the gifted ones had some power which manifested that the Spirit of God was with him, and this power was not given to him for his own profit, but for the good of the church and of the world.]

Verse 8

For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit:

Verse 9

to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit;

Verse 10

and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits: to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues:

Verse 11

but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will. [Paul here sets forth fully the diversity of the gifts, but checks any tendency to boastful comparison by showing that the gifts emanate from a common source, and are operated by a common will, and are bestowed according to the pleasure of the Spirit, and not because of any inferiority or superiority on the part of the recipients. The nine gifts spoken of may be described as follows: 1. The "word of wisdom" was the ability to reveal divine truth which was possessed by the apostles and partially by prophets. 2. The "word of knowledge" was the ability to teach the truth thus revealed. Paul emphasizes that the second gift was as much a work of the Spirit as the first. 3. Faith, in this connection, is more than that which comes by hearing. It is that energy of faith which carries with it divine power (Matthew 17:19-20; 1 Corinthians 13:2). 4. "Gifts of healing" was the power to supernaturally restore the sick (Acts 5:15-16; James 5:14-15). This gift may have been separated from the one next named, because some had their miraculous power limited to this field. 5. "Workings of miracles" was larger than the one which preceded it, for it included acts of judgment as well as mercy. It was exercised by Paul in striking Elymas blind, and by Peter in the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira. Paul here names healing first, possibly because those who are called upon to exercise God’s mercy stand higher in his esteem than those who execute his judgment, for pagans and unbelievers have often been used by him to mete out punishment. But in 1 Corinthians 12:28 he reverses the order, for the greater includes the less. 6. The "gift of prophecy" enabled one to speak the truth under the unerring guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament this gift was a very important one; but in the New, the "word of wisdom," which embraced all the larger scope of prophecy, seems to have been mainly confined to the apostles, and so we find New Testament prophets merely foretelling things of a temporary or personal nature, as in the case of Agabus (Acts 11:28; Acts 21:9-11). 7. "Discernings of spirits" was the power to recognize the difference between the utterances of genuine inspiration and those of a demoniacal or an unaided human spirit. 8. There has been much dispute as to what is meant by "kinds of tongues." Some modern commentators have attempted to show that the gift of tongues mentioned in the Epistles was entirely different from the ability to speak foreign languages manifested on the day of Pentecost. The weakness of those who take this position is fully exposed by Hodge in loco. Speaking with tongues was not an incoherent, meaningless jargon uttered by the speaker in ecstatic rhapsody, nor was it "spiritual language unknown to man, uttered in ecstasy." The second chapter of the Book of Acts shows us clearly what it was, and the New Testament never explains it as being anything less or different. 9. "Interpretation of tongues" was the ability to interpret what was said by the one who spoke with tongues. The gifts of speaking and interpreting were sometimes given to the same person (1 Corinthians 14:13), and sometimes to different persons.]

Verse 12

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. [Paul here strikes a fatal blow at that pride which animated those who held superior gifts. Can there be pride in one member of the body, as to the other members of which it is only an organic part? But all Christians, no matter how they differ in gifts, are parts of the body of Christ. Jesus illustrated the organic unity between himself and the church under the figure of the vine and the branches; and the apostles, carrying the figure forward so as to include the unity existing between Christians, spoke of Christ as the head and the church as the body, or Christ as the building and the church as the stones. All organism supposes both unity and diversity.]

Verse 13

For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit. [Paul here proves the unity of the church by the method of its creation. One Spirit, acting through the apostles and all other evangelists and ministers (1 Thessalonians 1:5), had begotten people of different races and nationalities and conditions (John 3:5), and had caused them to be baptized into the one church, and had bestowed itself upon them after they had been thus baptized (Acts 2:38). Thus it had made them one organism. Paul speaks of the bestowal of the Spirit under the figure of the living water used by Jesus (John 7:37). As the spirit of a man keeps up the organic unity of the body, so the Spirit of God had vivified and organized the church.]

Verse 14

For the body is not one member, but many.

Verse 15

If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body.

Verse 16

And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. [This passage exposes the folly of those who were belittling themselves in the presence of their fellow-Christians. Being in the church, they were organically united to the entire church body. If they felt that their inferiority in gifts excluded them, they were not thereby excluded. Their false views and false assertions did not alter their true condition. Paul associates the members of action (foot and hand) and the members of sensation (eye and ear), and represents each as complaining against the other, because men are apt to be envious and to disparage themselves as to those who have superior gifts similar to their own. We are not envious of those whose gifts are dissimilar. It is the foot and not the eye that envies the hand.]

Verse 17

If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

Verse 18

But now [(as things actually are)] hath God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased him.

Verse 19

And if they were all one member, where were the body?

Verse 20

But now they are many members, but one body. [The necessity for diversity is here shown. If all the church were teachers, who could be taught? If all were healers, who could receive healing? If all were preachers, who could listen? The glory of an organism is its diversity, and the more diverse its functions, the higher it ranks in the scale of life.]

Verse 21

And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. [The interdependence of the members is here shown. If, as we have seen above, the humbly envious one felt as if he were not included in the church, the proudly superior member felt as if the humbler one should be excluded. Here we find the eye and hand associated contrary to the usage in verses 15 and 16. Those who are puffed up with some great gift do not see the need of any other gifts save their own. But they tolerate those who have their gift in less degree, for such form a background to show off their excellencies. We have seen vain singers who esteemed the preaching as of very little importance, and vice versa. Paul continues to discuss this interdependence.]

Verse 22

Nay, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary:

Verse 23

and those parts of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness;

Verse 24

whereas our comely parts have no need: but God tempered the body together, giving more abundant honor to that part which lacked;

Verse 25

that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

Verse 26

And whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Verse 27

Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof. [The hands and face have no need of adornment, but the rest of the body, being less comely, is made beautiful with clothing, so that a state of equilibrium is established, and the whole body is acceptable to the indwelling Spirit as its home. If any part of the body lacks in beauty, the attention of the whole body is drawn to it, and employed to better its condition. Moreover, the parts suffer or rejoice as a whole. Now, God intends that the church shall look upon itself as such an organic whole, and shall feel this lively concern for each of those who lack, feeling that the lack of one is the lack of all. "When a thorn," says Chrysostom, "enters the heel, the whole body feels and is concerned: the back bends, the fore part of the body contracts itself, the hands come forward and draw out the thorn, the head stoops, the eyes regard the affected member with intense gaze, When the head is crowned, the whole man feels honored, the mouth expresses and the eyes look gladness."]

Verse 28

And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of hearings, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues.

Verse 29

Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?

Verse 30

have all gifts of hearings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? [Paul here completes his analogy by showing that the gifts bestowed upon individuals in the church are as diverse and variant as the faculties bestowed upon the various members of the body. As the apostle has named nine spiritual gifts, so he here names nine positions in the church. These may be defined thus: 1. The "apostles" were those who possessed plenary inspiration. They could at all times and on all subjects declare the will of God. 2. "Prophets" had occasional inspiration, which was then usually of a very limited nature. 3. "Teachers" were uninspired men that were gifted in teaching and explaining the historic truths of the gospel and the doctrinal truths which came through inspiration, for those having prophetic gifts did not always fully understand the import of their own words (1 Peter 1:11-12). 4 and 5. Those who worked miracles and had the gift of healing have been spoken of above. 6. "Helps" means the same as helpers. In our land domestic and other helpers are often provincially called "help." It here refers to those who had a sympathetic nature or a generous spirit, etc. (Romans 12:8). 7. "Governments." This refers to those possessing powers of leadership and organization, those having administrative ability, such as the elders. 8 and 9. "Divers kinds of tongues" and the power to interpret the same, have already been described. These appear to have been ranked first in importance by the Corinthians, because most showy, and they are here placed last by the apostles because they added but little to edification, and were of small practical value.]

Verse 31

But desire earnestly the greater gifts. [Though these powers were bestowed as gifts by the Spirit, yet they were not bestowed blindly. They were apt to be conferred upon those who strove to be worthy of them.] And moreover a most excellent way show I unto you. [This may mean that I show you a most excellent way to attain unto the best gifts; or, I show you a way of love to which all may attain, and which far exceeds any gift or position. This way of love will be fully described in the next chapter.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/1-corinthians-12.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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