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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 12

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4063. A.D. 59.

The apostle, now proceeding to treat on spiritual gifts,

(1,) Introduces what he had to advance concerning them, by observing that, various as they are, they all proceed from the same sacred agent, and are intended for the edification of the same mystical body of Christ, in which all true Christians are united, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 .

(2,) He illustrates their union with, and mutual dependance upon, each other, as also the diversity of their gifts and duties, by an allusion to the human body, in which every member hath its particular place and use for the good of the whole, 1Co 12:14-30

(3,) He exhorts them to desire earnestly the best gifts, and yet to seek something more excellent than any of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:31 .

Verses 1-2

1 Corinthians 12:1-2. Now concerning spiritual gifts Miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, bestowed on many believers in those times, for their confirmation in the faith, and the conviction of infidels. The abundance of these gifts in the churches of Greece, strongly refuted the idle learning of the Greek philosophers. But the Corinthians did not use those gifts wisely, which occasioned the apostle’s writing concerning them. In doing this, after putting the brethren at Corinth in mind that before their conversion they were worshippers of idols, which, being themselves dumb, could not impart to their votaries the ability of speaking foreign languages, as Christ had done to many of his disciples; and after giving the Corinthians a rule by which they might judge correctly of every one who pretended to possess those gifts by divine inspiration, He, 1st, Speaks of the diversity of the gifts, which God by his Spirit had conferred on his church, of the various administrations and offices appointed by the same Lord, and of the different operations of Him that worketh all in all, 1 Corinthians 12:1 to 1 Corinthians 11:2 dly, He describes the unity of the body, with its various members, and their uses, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30. 3dly, Shows the way of exercising gifts rightly, namely, by love, 1Co 12:31 to 1 Corinthians 13:13. throughout; and adds, 4thly, A comparison of several gifts with each other in chap. 14. I would not have you ignorant Of the Author, nature, ends, and uses of these gifts. Ye know that ye were Gentiles Idolatrous heathen, and were then destitute of all spiritual gifts. Whatever gifts, therefore, ye possess, ye have received them from the free grace of God; carried away By a blind credulity; unto, and after, these dumb idols The blind to the dumb: idols of wood and stone, unable to speak themselves, and much more to open your mouths, as God has done; even as ye were led By the subtlety of your priests, or by some diabolical imposture, or pretended miracles.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 12:3. Wherefore Since it was so with you once, and it is otherwise now, this is a full demonstration of the truth of the Christian religion, through your faith in, and reception of, which, you received these gifts, which none of the heathen idols, blind, and dumb, and lifeless as they were, could possibly confer upon you. I give you to understand, that no man, speaking by the Spirit of God Who is endued with these spiritual gifts, or is at all inspired by the Holy Spirit; calleth Jesus accursed Pronounces him to be an impostor, and therefore justly punished with death. It seems that some, who pretended to be inspired, did this; probably the Jewish exorcists, together with the heathen priests and priestesses, who in their enthusiastic fits reviled Jesus. Now the apostle intended here to teach the Corinthians, that if any such persons were really inspired, that is, if they spake by any supernatural impulse, it certainly proceeded from evil spirits, and not from the Spirit of God, who never would move any one to speak in that manner of Jesus. By this the apostle cuts off all who spoke blasphemously and irreverently of Christ, whether Jews or heathen, from all pretences to the possession of spiritual gifts, or of any supernatural influence from the true God. These gifts and inspirations could only be found among true Christians. On the other hand, no man can say that Jesus is the Lord Can receive him as such; can think or speak reverently of him; can make profession of his name, when that profession would expose him to imprisonment and martyrdom; can worship him aright, and heartily acknowledge his divinity and lordship, (against which there was then the greatest opposition made,) so as to subject himself sincerely and entirely to his government: but by the Holy Ghost By his directing, renewing, and purifying influences. The sum is, None have the Holy Spirit but true Christians; true believers in, and disciples of, the Lord Jesus; and all such have the Spirit, at least in his enlightening and sanctifying graces.

Verses 4-6

1 Corinthians 12:4-6. Now there are diversities of gifts Χαρισματων , gifts of grace, both as to kind and degree; but the same Spirit Divers streams, but all from one fountain. This verse speaks of the Holy Ghost, the next of Christ, the sixth of God the Father. And there are differences of administrations Of offices or functions in the church, wherein those gifts are to be exercised, which are indeed but services, and therefore not fit fuel for pride; but the same Lord Appoints them all. Christ, who, as King of his church, instituted all these offices, prescribes the manner of executing them all; and calls one person to one kind of ministry, and another to another. And there are diversities of operations Ενεργηματων , of energies, or effects produced. The word is of a larger extent than either gifts or administrations, the two former words used: but it is the same God who worketh all these effects in all The persons concerned.

Verses 7-9

1 Corinthians 12:7-9. But the manifestation of the Spirit That ability to exercise some spiritual gift, whereby the Spirit manifests his presence with the person possessed of the gift; is given to every man That has it; to profit withal For the profit of the whole body; to edify the different members of the church, and to be only thus used, and not for the purposes of pride and division. For to one is given, by the immediate influence of the Spirit, the word of wisdom Ability to speak what is instructive and prudent, by way of information, counsel, caution, warning, encouragement, exhortation, &c., in any matters of duty or privilege: to another, the word of knowledge An acquaintance with, and ability to expound, the Holy Scriptures aright, and to understand and explain the mysteries of redemption and salvation. To another, faith Faith may here mean, 1st, An extraordinary trust in God, under the most difficult or dangerous circumstances; producing that supernatural courage which enabled our Lord’s apostles, and other disciples, to bear testimony to the gospel, not only in the presence of kings and magistrates, but before the most enraged enemies. In consequence of this gift, we find Peter and John speaking with such boldness before the chief priests and council, as astonished them, Acts 4:13; Acts 4:29. 2d, It signifies that firm persuasion of the power, love, and faithfulness of God, and confidence therein, which led the apostles to attempt and succeed in the performing of miraculous works, when they felt an inward impulse so to do. Of this faith Christ speaks Matthew 17:20; and Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:2. To another, the gifts of healing Power to heal various bodily diseases in an extraordinary way. In the original it is ιαματων , healings; in the plural, denoting the variety of diseases that were healed. This gift was promised by Christ, not only to the apostles and public teachers in the first church, but generally to those who should believe, Mark 16:18. Accordingly, many of the first Christians possessed it; and by exercising it, they not only confirmed the gospel, but they conciliated the good-will of the more considerate heathen, who could not but esteem the Christians when, in these miracles, they discerned the beneficent nature of their religion. The apostles, however, possessed these gifts in a more eminent degree, and exercised them in a superior manner. See Acts 5:15; Acts 19:12. It must be observed, however, that, in the exercise of this gift, none endued with it, not even the apostles, were permitted to act according to their own pleasure; but were always directed to the exercise of it by an impression on their minds from God; otherwise Paul would not have left Trophimus sick at Miletus; nor have suffered his beloved Timothy to labour under his infirmities; nor Epaphroditus to be sick nigh unto death. This gift, however, need not be wholly confined to the healing of diseases by a word or touch. It may exert itself, also, though in a lower degree, where natural remedies are applied. And it may often be this, and not superior skill, which makes some physicians more successful than others. And thus it may be with regard to other gifts likewise. “As, after the golden shields were lost,” says Bengelius, “the king of Judah put brazen ones in their place, so, after the pure gifts of the Spirit were lost, the power of God exerted (and still exerts) itself in a more covert manner, under human studies and helps: and that the more plentifully, according as there is the more room given for it.”

Verses 10-11

1 Corinthians 12:10-11. To another, the working of miracles That is, miracles of a different kind; such as taking up serpents, drinking any deadly draught without hurt, and especially casting out devils. But it may not be improper to observe here, that the original expression, ενεργηματα δυναμεων , here rendered the working of miracles, is translated by Dr. Macknight, the inworkings of powers, the former word being derived from ενεργεω , signifying not to work simply, but to work in another. And he thinks it is here intended to express the power which the apostles had of conferring the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost on those on whom they laid their hands: a power which was peculiar to the apostles, by which they were raised above all the other spiritual men, and by which they spread the gospel everywhere with the greatest success. To another, prophecy The foretelling of things to come. To another, the discerning of spirits That is, ability to discern whether professors of Christianity were of an upright spirit, or not; whether they had natural or supernatural gifts for offices in the church; and whether they who professed to speak by inspiration spoke from a divine, a natural, or diabolical spirit; and consequently to distinguish, with certainty, true doctrine from false. For, as there appeared very early among the professed disciples of Christ, false teachers, who, to gain credit to their errors, pretended to deliver them by inspiration, a gift of this kind was very necessary for preventing the faithful from being led away by them, especially in the first age, before the writings of the apostles and evangelists were generally spread abroad. Hence the caution, 1 John 4:1, Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are from God, because many false prophets are gone forth into the world. Again, the gift of discerning spirits was bestowed on some, to enable them, on certain occasions, to discover what passed in the minds of their enemies, that they might make it known for the benefit of the church; 1 Corinthians 14:25. Thus Peter knew the fraudulent purpose of Ananias and Sapphira, and Paul the malice of Elymas. But here it is to be observed, that neither the knowledge of what passed in the minds of enemies, nor the knowledge of the characters of private Christians, or of the qualifications of those who aspired after sacred offices, was bestowed as a habit. On most occasions, it seems, the rulers were left in these matters to guide themselves by their own sagacity, or by that ordinary illumination which they received from the Spirit of wisdom.

To another, divers kinds of tongues Ability to speak languages which they had not learned. This gift was one of the primary causes of the rapid growth of Christianity. For by it the preachers of the gospel were able, immediately on their coming into any country, to declare the wonderful things of God, without waiting till, in the ordinary course, they learned the language of the country. The persons who were endowed with this faculty, had not the knowledge of all languages communicated to them, but of such only as they had occasion for. This appears from 1 Corinthians 14:18, where the apostle told the Corinthians that he spake more foreign tongues than they all did. And even the languages which were given them, may not have been communicated to them all at once, but only as they had occasion for them. To another, the interpretation of tongues Ability to interpret into a language known, suppose into the common language of the place, that which others, suppose foreigners, or those to whom a language was given by inspiration, delivered in a tongue with which the hearers were not acquainted. From this being mentioned as a distinct gift from that of speaking foreign languages, Macknight infers, that not every one who understood the foreign language, in which an inspired teacher spake, was allowed to interpret what he spake. The only person, he thinks, permitted to do this, was the interpreter, endowed with an especial inspiration for that end. Because, “the doctrines of the gospel, being entirely different from all the ideas which the heathen had been accustomed to entertain on religious subjects, any interpretation of what was delivered by the Spirit in a foreign language, made without a supernatural direction, might have led the church into errror. Further, the faculty of interpreting foreign languages by inspiration was, in another respect, a gift very necessary in the first age; for the books of the Old Testament being written in Hebrew, a language not then understood by the vulgar, even in Judea, and the writings of the apostles and evangelists being all in the Greek tongue, on account of its emphasis and precision; and that tongue being nowhere spoken by the common people, except in Greece and some cities of the Lesser Asia, if there had not been in every church inspired interpreters, who could translate these divinely-inspired writings into the common language, they would have been, in a great measure, useless; especially at the beginning, when the knowledge of them was most wanted. Whereas every church having inspired interpreters of foreign languages commonly present in their religious assemblies, to translate the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into the language of the country, the common people, everywhere, had an opportunity of deriving from these writings all the knowledge and comfort they are fitted to yield. Such were the supernatural gifts with which the first preachers and ministers of the gospel were endowed; and by which they effectually and speedily established the gospel in the most populous and civilized provinces of the Roman empire.” And all these Diversities of gifts, the apostle adds, worketh that one and the self-same Spirit They all flow from one and the same fountain; dividing to every man severally, καθως βουλεται , as he willeth An expression which does not so much imply arbitrary pleasure, as a determination founded on wise counsel.

Verses 12-13

1 Corinthians 12:12-13. For as the human body is one, and yet hath many members For different offices; and all the members, though many, constitute but one body United in one well-regulated system; so also is Christ That is, mystically considered, namely, the whole church or society, of which Christ is the head: in which, though there are several members, having different gifts, yet they do not constitute several churches, but only one church, and therefore they should all use their gifts for the good of that one. For by one Spirit When it is indeed received by us; we are all baptized into one body Are constituted true members thereof, united to the head of that body by faith, and to all the other members thereof by love: we are pardoned, regenerated, and created anew, and so made members of the true, invisible, or spiritual church; whether we be Jews or Gentiles Who are at the greatest distance from each other by nature; whether we be bond or free Slaves or freemen, who are at the greatest distance from each other by law and custom: we have all been made to drink into one Spirit In other words, The religion we before professed, whether true or false; the rank which we now hold in life, whether high or low; makes no difference as to the grand point: our union with the body, and its various members, as well as with the head, is the same, and the same happy consequences follow from that union; we all imbibe the influences of the same Spirit, by which the divine life was at first produced, and is continually preserved in our souls.

Verses 14-20

1 Corinthians 12:14-20. For the body is not one member, but many All of which are necessary, that the various sorts of offices belonging to the body may be all performed: thus there must be different gifts and offices in the church of Christ, which all conduce to the advantage and perfection of the whole. If the foot One of inferior gifts and place; shall say, Because I am not the hand Do not appear in a more honourable place, and have not a more important office; I am not of the body I am separated from, or despised by it, in my low situation; is it therefore not of the body Is the inference good? Would it have reason on this account to represent or think itself an outcast? The foot here is elegantly introduced as speaking of the hand, the ear of the eye; each of a part that has some resemblance to it. So among men, each is apt to compare himself with those whose gifts some way resemble his own, rather than with those who are at a distance, either above or beneath him. Perhaps the foot may represent private Christians; the hand, active officers in the church; the eye, discerning teachers; and the ear, attentive hearers. If the whole body were an eye And a man could look, at will, through every pore; where were the hearing That important sense, which admits so much pleasing entertainment and improvement? And if the whole were hearing, where were the smelling A sense which, though less important than the former, is not destitute of its proper delight and its proper use. The sense is, If all the members of the church had the same gifts, though the most excellent, as seeing or hearing, what would become of the church? There must be different offices and gifts for different uses, and each ought to employ his gift, according to the nature of it, for the service of the whole. But now we see God The wise and great Creator; hath set the members in the body as it hath pleased him With the most exquisite wisdom and goodness. If they were all one member Or if the members were all of one form and use; where were the body How could it possibly subsist? But now they are many members Different from each other, possessed of different powers, and intended for different uses; yet but one harmonious, regular body Furnished for the various animal functions, and capable of a variety of sensations and actions. And it is a necessary consequence of this unity, that the several members need one another.

Verses 21-23

1 Corinthians 12:21-23. And the eye In its commanding station, and possessed as it is of light and discernment; cannot say to the hand Endowed with neither of these qualities, and the mere instrument of action; I have no need of thee For by the hand the whole body is maintained and fed, and the eye itself preserved and defended. Nor again the head Elevated as it is, and so admirably furnished with all the nerves and organs planted in it, cannot say to the feet The most distant and extreme parts, mean as their form and office seems; I have no need of you Since by them the head and all the other parts of the body are supported, and are removed from place to place. “The apostle mentions the two principal members of the body, the eye and the head, and affirms that they need the service of the inferior members, to teach such as hold the most honourable offices in the church not to despise those who are placed in the lowest stations: for as in the body, the hand needs the direction of the eye, and the eye the assistance of the hands, so in the church they who follow the active occupations of life, need the direction of the teachers. On the other hand, the teachers need to be supported by the labour of the active members.” Nay, those members which seem to be more feeble Because unable to endure external injury, such as the brain, the lungs, the heart, and bowels; or the veins, arteries, and other minute channels in the body; are more abundantly necessary For without them the animal functions can by no means be discharged, nor the body preserved in life and health. And likewise those members which we think to be less honourable Or graceful, on account of their place and use; upon these we bestow Greek, περιτιθεμεν , these we surround with more abundant honour By carefully covering them. And our uncomely parts have By virtue of the dress we put upon them; more abundant comeliness Than most of the rest. It is as if he had said, The face, on which the image of God is particularly stamped, we leave uncovered; but as for those parts which decency or custom teaches us to conceal, we contrive not only to cover, but also, as far as we conveniently can, to adorn by covering. “This observation, concerning the pains which we take in adorning or concealing the weak and uncomely members of our body, the apostle makes to teach the higher members of the church to advance the honour of the whole body, by concealing the weakness and imperfections of the lowest, and by setting off their gifts and graces, whatever they may be, to the best advantage, for the reason mentioned 1 Corinthians 12:25. And when such attention is paid to the inferior, by the superior members of the church, the inferior, laying aside all envy, should willingly suffer the superior members to recommend themselves to the esteem of the whole body, by the lustre and usefulness of their more excellent gifts.”

Verses 24-26

1 Corinthians 12:24-26. For our comely and graceful parts have no need Of being so adorned, as they appear to greater advantage uncovered; but God hath tempered the body together Συνεκερασε , hath attempered and united in just proportions the several parts thereof; having given To such as are naturally weak and without beauty; more abundant honour Through their greater efficacy in the nourishment and preservation of the body, and by causing them to be cared for and served by the noblest parts. That there should be no schism in the body No division of separate interests; but that the members should have the same care one for another As being each an important part of the whole. And whether one member suffer, all the members In consequence of their close union with, and dependance on each other, should suffer with it As losing the assistance of the disabled member, and concerned to remove the cause of its suffering. Or one member be honoured Clothed and gratified; all the members should rejoice with it Deriving advantage from its welfare, and the ornament of one part being looked upon as that of the whole. “By comparing schism in the church to schism in the body, we are taught that it consists in a natural want of affection in some of the members toward their fellow-members, whereby contentions and animosities are produced. Further, by showing that the members of the body are so united as to be necessary to each other’s existence, the apostle hath taught us that there should be no envy nor strife among the disciples of Christ; but that each, by the right exercise of his proper gift, should assist his neighbour, and rejoice when his welfare is promoted.”

Verse 27

1 Corinthians 12:27. Now ye Believers at Corinth; are the body of Christ A part of it, not the whole body; and members in particular That is, each believer is a particular member thereof, and ought to behave himself accordingly. This is the application of the foregoing allegory, which the apostle is thought by some to have formed on our Lord’s words, Matthew 25:35-45. As if he had said, Ye believers are formed into one church or body, of which Christ is the head, soul, and ruler. And in the application he signifies, that “what he had said concerning the order, the situation, and the offices of the members of the human body, the union which subsists among them, and the care which they have of each other, and concerning the perniciousness of dissensions among its members, was all applicable to the members of the church of Christ. They were therefore to attend to the things he had written, that there might be no envy among them, nor discontent, nor arrogant preferring of themselves before others, but that in peace and love they might all promote each other’s happiness.” Macknight.

Verses 28-31

1 Corinthians 12:28-31. And God hath set in the church first apostles Who planted the gospel in the heathen nations, being honoured with an office of the highest distinction, and furnished with endowments peculiar to themselves; secondly, prophets Who either foretold things to come, or spake by extraordinary inspiration for the edification of the church; thirdly, teachers Of an inferior class. Under prophets and teachers, are comprised evangelists and pastors. After that, miracles Persons endowed on some particular occasions with miraculous powers; then gifts of healing Diseases, by anointing the sick with oil, and praying for their recovery: the expression denotes the persons who possessed these gifts. Helps Or helpers, who, speaking by inspiration to the edification of the church, were fitted to assist the superior officers, and to help the faith and joy of others. Governments Or governors, the thing performed, as in the former clause, being put for the persons who performed it. The word κυβερνησεις , is properly the steering of a ship with skill by a pilot; and seems to be put here metaphorically for persons directing or managing affairs with judgment. It does not appear, however, that these two last expressions were intended by the apostle to signify distinct offices. Rather any persons might be called helps or helpers, from a particular dexterity in helping the distressed; and governors or governments, from a peculiar talent for governing or presiding in assemblies. Are all the members or ministers of the church apostles, &c. Seeing God has not given all sorts of gifts to one, but some to one, and others to another, that each one might stand in need of the others; therefore let none despise another, but all join together in employing their gifts for the common good of the church. But covet earnestly the best gifts For they are well worth your desire and pursuit, though but few of you can attain them; and yet I show you a more excellent way I point out unto you a more excellent gift than any or all of them, and one which all may, yea, must attain, or perish.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/1-corinthians-12.html. 1857.
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