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1 Corinthians 12

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

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Verse 1

1 Corinthians 12:1.— The Corinthians seem to have inquired of St. Paul, what order of precedency and preference men were to have with respect to their spiritual gifts; nay, if we may guess by his answer, the question they seem more particularly to have proposed was, whether those who had the gift of tongues ought not to take place, and speak first, and be first heardin their meetings? Concerning this there appears to have been some strife, maligning, and disorder among them, as may be collected from 1 Corinthians 12:21-25; 1Co 13:4-5 1 Corinthians 14:40. To this St. Paul answers in 1 Corinthians 12-14. First, that they had been all heathen idolaters, and so, being deniers of Christ, were in that state none of them spiritual; but that now, being Christians, and owning Jesus to be the Lord, in an experimental sense, (which could not be done without the Spirit of God) they were all πνευματικοι, spiritual, and so there was no reason for one to undervalue another; as if he were not spiritual as well as himself, 1 Corinthians 12:1-3. Secondly, that though there be a diversity of gifts, yet they are all by the same Spirit; from the same Lord, and the same God; working them all in every one according to his good pleasure: so that in this respect also there is no difference or precedency; no occasion for any one's being puffed up, or affecting priority, upon account of his gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Thirdly, That the diversity of gifts is forthe use and benefit of the church, which is Christ's body, wherein the members, as in the natural body, of meaner functions, are as much parts, and as necessary in their use to the good of the whole, and therefore to be honoured as much as any other. The union they have as members in the same body, should make them all equally share in each other's good and evil; should give them a mutual esteem and concern one for another; and should leave no room for contests or divisions among them about their gifts, or the honour and place due to them on that account, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Fourthly, That though gifts have their excellence and use, and those who have them may be zealous in the use of them, yet the true and sure way for a man to excel and be preferred above others, is, by enlarginghimselfinChristianlove,andexcellinginthat,withoutwhichaChristian,with all his spiritual gifts, is nothing, ch. 13. Fifthly, In the comparison of spiritual gifts, he gives those the precedency which edify most, and in particular prefers prophesying to tongues. See ch. 14.

Concerning spiritual gifts. Mr. Locke would render this, as to spiritual men, or men assisted and actuated by the Spirit; and we are warranted, he says, in this version, by a like use of the word in several places of St. Paul's epistles; as ch. 1Co 2:15 and 1Co 14:37 of this epistle, and Galatians 6:1. And the context obliges us so to understand it; for if we will have it mean gifts, and not persons, the sense and coherence of the first three verses will be very hard to make out. Besides, there is evidence enough, in several parts of it, that the subject of St. Paul's discourse here is, πνευματικοι, "persons endowed with spiritual gifts," contending for precedency, in consideration of their gifts; (see 1 Corinthians 12:13.) and to what else does he say, ch. 1 Corinthians 14:5. Greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues? Others, however, suppose, that if the second and third verses are read in a parenthesis, the connection of the first with the fourth verse will prove that the addition of gifts is very proper. The church of Corinth was foolishly elated by spiritual pride, which St. Paul endeavoured to mortify and humble; and, in applying his remedy, he begins with reckoning up those various graces, the credit of which they had abused by their indulgence of this unhappy temper. See Locke and Doddridge.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 12:3. No man, speaking by the Spirit—calleth Jesus accursed. "No man that is inspired by the Spirit of God, can speak evil of Jesus; and no man cometh to him, and heartily owns him for his Lord, except God draweth him by his Spirit," which he is willing to do for all. Some think that these words refer in general to the tests put on Christiansbytheirpersecutors,thattheyshouldnotonly deny, but likewise blaspheme Christ: others think, that they rather refer to the Jews, who, while they uttered blasphemies against Christ themselves, and endeavoured to extort them from his disciples, pretended to the gifts of the Spirit, and undertook to cast out devils. Such a caution might therefore be very useful. See 1 John 4:1-3. St. Chrysostom well observes, that the phrase of saying that Jesus is the Lord, or the Messiah, must be supposed to proceed from true faith in him; and the expression is used to import a man's being a true Christian, because such strong temptations lay against professing Christ under that character, that they who maintained this doctrine must have been true believers, though there might have been a few exceptions. This seems as plain a proof as could be desired, that true faith is the work of the Spirit of God upon the heart. See Owen on the Spirit, p. 3 and Doddridge's third Letter to the Author of Christianity not founded on Argument, p. 34. &c.

Verse 5

1 Corinthians 12:5. Differences of administrations. Diversities of offices. These offices are reckoned up, 1 Corinthians 12:28, &c. The calling them administrations, or offices, was a gentle manner of reminding the Corinthians of the great design of these gifts; and so, of reproving those who perverted them to contrary purposes. See Doddridge and Benson.

Verse 6

1 Corinthians 12:6. Of operations. What these were, we learn from 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. They are very properly called ενεργηματα, in-workings, because they were above all human power. Men of themselves could do none of them at all; but it was God, as the Apostle tells us here, who, in these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, did all that was done: it was the effect of his immediate operation, as St. Paul assures us in that parallel place, Php 2:13 in which chapter, 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1Co 12:14 we find that the Philippians stood a little in need of the same advice which St. Paul presses here at large upon the Corinthians.

Verse 7

1 Corinthians 12:7. But or Now.

Verse 8

1 Corinthians 12:8. The word of wisdom. Lord Barrington, Dr. Benson, and many others, understand by the word of wisdom, that extensive plan of Christianity which was revealed to the apostles by the Holy Spirit; and by the word of knowledge, an extraordinaryability to understand and explain the Old Testament, and especially its prophesies. See Miscel. Sacr. essay 1: p. 39 and Benson's Propagation of Christianity, vol. 1: p. 40. &c. where the reader will find a large and minute detail of these spiritual gifts: concerning which we may observe, with a candid expositor, that there are, perhaps, few texts in the New Testament more difficult than some in this and the 14th chapter, relating to the extraordinary gifts thenin the church, which were at that time so well known as to need no explication; and it is a noble instance of the genuine simplicity and modestyof the Apostle, that he did not expatiate on so grand a subject with any unnecessary parade.

Verse 9

1 Corinthians 12:9. Faith by the same Spirit. In the following chapter, where these gifts are again mentioned, the Apostle explains the nature of the faith here reckoned among the gifts of the Spirit, by calling it a faith which could remove mountains, or such a faith as was attended with a power of controlling nature; alluding to that want of faith with which Jesus upbraids his disciples, where he says, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove." Matthew 17:20. The two next gifts, of healing and working miracles, 1Co 12:10 are two species of the foregoing genus. By healing is meant, that salutary assistance administered to the sick, in a solemn office of the church, as directed by St. James 5:14. Is any sick among you, let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith, that is, the faith mentioned just before, shall save the sick, &c. By working miracles is meant, a more extemporaneous use of the same power, though less confined in its objects. The gifts of healing, χαρισματα ιαματων, properly express gifts belonging to the church as such; and the working of miracles ενεργηματα δυναμεων, implies virtue residing in or immediately given to, the individual or particular agent. Besides, we may observe that gifts of healing was a less degree of miraculous power than the working of miracles, and is expressly intimated so to be, 1 Corinthians 12:28.

Verse 10

1 Corinthians 12:10. Prophesy. This plainly signifies, foretelling the future fortunes of the church, to the comfort and edification of the assembly, as St. Paul expresses it, ch. 1Co 14:3 and the effects generally attending the act of prophesy in a little time assumed its name. But the proper sense of prophesy, and that in which it is here to be understood, is the foretelling things to come. See on Romans 12:6. The next gift is the discerning of Spirits. The reputation attending the exercise of these extraordinary endowments would be a strong temptation to impostors to mimic and bely their powers, as we see it was in the case of Simon the magician. It graciously pleased the HolySpirit, therefore, amid the bounty of these gifts, to bestow one, whose property it was to bring all the others to the test, by the virtue which the possessor of it had of distinguishing between true and false inspiration, where accidental ambiguity, or designed imposture, had made the matter doubtful or suspected. See Barrington, Benson, and on ch. 1 Corinthians 14:28.

Verse 11

1 Corinthians 12:11. But all these worketh, &c.— But one and the same Spirit effecteth all these things, distributing to each man in particular, according to his will. Heylin.

Verse 13

1 Corinthians 12:13. For by one Spirit, &c.— "For all of us, who are endued with the gifts and graces of one and the self-same Spirit, (1 Corinthians 12:11.) are thereby incorporated into one spiritual body, according to what was signified by our being baptized with water, and that without any preference of one to another, whether we be Jewish or Gentile believers, and whatever our civil station be in the world, whether that of masters, or servants, and bond-slaves: for we are all one in Christ Jesus, alike entitled to all the privileges and benefits of his church, as Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29.) And we have all been nourished and refreshed by further participations of that one divine Spirit, who invigorates, strengthens, and comforts us, and causes us to be of one heart and soul in things pertaining to God, according to what is signified by our visible Communion with Christ, and with each other, as one body, in our drinking of the cup of blessing at the Lord's supper." See ch. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17.

Verse 15

1 Corinthians 12:15. Is it therefore not of the body? It is not for that reason no part of the body. Bengelius and Wetstein.

Verse 17

1 Corinthians 12:17. If the whole body were an eye. The Apostle by this intends probably to insinuate, that were there no other gifts in the church but those which they so much extolled in some of their teachers, it would be of very great disadvantage to the body. See Doddridge and Benson.

Verse 22

1 Corinthians 12:22. Nay, much more those members, &c.— Some think that in the words which seem to be more feeble, St. Paul refers to the brains and bowels, which are very tender, and liable to many disorders. Others understand it of the least muscular parts, veins, arteries, and other minute channels in the body, the least obstruction in some of which would be fatal. If more feeble be put for less noble, it suggests a very obviousandimportantsense,relatingtothechannelsnaturehasprovided for throwing off the dregs, which, dishonourable as they may seem, are so necessary, that if they be obstructed, intense torment and inevitable death must ensue. Doddridge.

Verse 23

1 Corinthians 12:23. Which we think to be less honourable. It seems as if he had said, "The face, in which the image of God is particularly stamped, we leave uncovered; but as for those parts which decency or custom teach us to conceal, we contrive not only to cover, but also, as far as we conveniently can, to adorn by covering." The force of the original in the next clause is, These are surrounded with more abundant honour. See Doddridge and Elsner.

Verse 27

1 Corinthians 12:27. Now ye are the body of Christ. Dr. Heylin renders this, Thus ye are the body of Christ; each being a particular member, which God has placed in the church; (1 Corinthians 12:28.) as, first, apostles, &c. Others read it, Ye are in some sort the body and members of Christ,—aliquatenus,—in part, not, as our version, in particular. See Castalio.

Verse 28

1 Corinthians 12:28. God hath set some, &c.— "As God hath placed some members in more eminent stations in the body, so also some Christians in the church. He hath placed in the first rank Apostles, who are honoured with an office of the higher distinction, and furnished with endowments peculiar to themselves. In the 2nd place are ranked prophets, whose business it is to foretel future events, or to speak by immediate interpretation, for the edification of the church. In the 3rd, teachers of a more ordinary kind; afterwards those who are endued, upon some particular occasion, with miraculous powers; then the gifts of healing diseases, by anointing the sick with oil, and praying for their recovery. Besides these, he has endowed some with such extraordinaryactivity and sagacity, as may fit them to be helpers in the management of charities: others are qualified by their prudence to be appointed to governments, that by their advice the affairs of societies may be steered and conducted in the safest and happiest manner. There are also wonderful operations, whereby men are taught different kinds of tongues, which they had never learned by any human methods." Monsieur Amyraut is of opinion, that the persons might possess manyof these gifts, and sustain several of these characters, who did not fill stated distinct offices; and might be called helpers, in reference to their great dexterity and readiness to help those who were in distress; and governments, in regard to that genius for business, sagacityin judging the circumstances of affairs, and natural authority in the councils and resolutions of societies, which rendered them fit to preside on such occasions. See Doddridge, Barrington, Benson, and Markland.

Verse 29

1 Corinthians 12:29. Are all Apostles? It appears that this invidious temper was not extirpated from among the Corinthians, even by this just and lively expostulation: for Clemens Romanus, writing to them many years after, complains of its continued prevalence, as leading them to neglect a due regard for those presbyters who were fixed by the divine direction among them, and to throw them out of their episcopal office. See his epistle to the Corinthians, sect. 44.

Verse 31

1 Corinthians 12:31. But covet earnestly the best gifts. But ye contend earnestly about the best gifts. "Ye contend one with another whose particular gift is best, and most preferable; but I will shew you a more excellent way; namely, mutual good-will, affection, and charity;" or, in one word, LOVE. That this is the Apostle's meaning is plain, in that there was an emulation among them, and a strife for precedency, on account of the several gifts they had, which made them in their assemblies desire to be heard first. This was the fault which the Apostle was here correcting, and it is not likelyhe should exhort them all promiscuously to seek the principal and most eminent gifts, at the end of a discourse wherein he had been demonstrating to them, by the example of the human body, that there ought to be diversities of gifts and functions in the church; but that there ought to be no schism, emulation, or contest among them upon account of the exercises of those gifts; that they were all useful in their places, and no member was atall to be the less honoured or valued for the gift he had, though it were not one of the first rank. And in this sense the word ζηλουν is taken in the next chapter, 1Co 12:4 where St. Paul, pursuing the same argument, exhorts them to mutual love, good-will, affection, and charity, which he assures them is preferable to any gifts whatever. Besides, to what purpose should he exhort them to covet earnestly the best gifts, when the obtaining of this or that gift did not at all lie in their desires or endeavours, the Apostle having just before told them, 1Co 12:11 that the Spirit divides those gifts to every man severally, as he will, and those to whom he wrote had their allotment already?—He might as reasonably, according to his own doctrine in this very chapter, bid the foot covet to be the hand, or the ear to be the eye. Let it be remembered, therefore, to rectify this, that St. Paul says, 1Co 12:17 of this chapter, If the whole body were the eye, where were the hearing, &c. This great writer is not used to cross his own design, or contradict his own reasoning.

Inferences.—We thankfully acknowledge thy goodness, Sovereign Disposer of all Events, that we have not been led on, after the example of our Pagan ancestors, to the vain worship of dumb, of stupid idols; but have been taught from our infancy to adore the living Jehovah. May we, in the most solemn and consistent manner, say, that Jesus is the Lord; and while our actions speak our regard to him as such, may it appear that all our hearts are under the influences of the Spirit of God, by which alone men are brought to that divine temper, 1 Corinthians 12:2-3.

We should frequently reflect upon those glorious attestations, which were given to the truth of our holy religion, by that diversity of gifts and operations, with which its first teachers were furnished and adorned; thankfully receiving their testimony, and thereby setting to our seal that God is true. A view to that great design, in which all these wonderful things centre, should engage us to study more and more an union of heart with all, who in every place call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In him Greeks and barbarians, bond and free, are united; all therefore should unanimously seek his glory; and while his name is blasphemed by the ignorant and malicious, who cannot bear the purity of that religion which he teaches, may it be so defended by us, as at the same time to be exemplified and adorned, 1 Corinthians 12:4-14.

The wisdom and goodness of God, as displayed in the formation of the human body, is a subject which well deserves our attentive reflection, and humble acknowledgment. All its several parts are useful to the whole, and the most noble cannot upbraid the meanest as an incumbrance. Each has reason to rejoice in its own situation, as well as in the addition of all the rest; and were the lowest place made higher than it is, it would become useless and burdensome. The same divine wisdom is visible, and ought to be acknowledged, in the subordination appointed in civil societies, and in the Church of Christ.
Let no man, therefore, be discouraged at the low station wherein he is fixed! but rather let all acquiesce in the wise and gracious disposal of the supreme Lord, and apply themselves to their proper functions. Let each member consider all the rest with pleasure, and rejoice with thankfulness in the health and vigour of the other parts, making the proper use of them, and communicating in return its proper services; or, if any be weak, let all strengthen it. And, upon the whole, so far as we can prevent it, let there be no schism in the body: Alas! that there should be so many breaches and contentions. While we sincerely lament them, we should each, in his place, endeavour to heal them, and unite in a sympathizing care one of another. So shall we, in the remotest consequences, best consult our own interest and honour, 1 Corinthians 12:15-25.

Blessed be God, that he hath in his church given not only Apostles and prophets, but also pastors and teachers. Adored be that bounty with which he has scattered down his gifts, whether ordinary or extraordinary, on the children of men. May we use them, not to the purposes of ostentation, but of edification; and may we be truly desirous of those whereby we may bear most of the image of Christ, and best promote the great design for which he visited our world, and was pleased to unite his church unto himself, and its several members to each other, in such dear and invaluable bonds.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The church of Corinth was greatly enriched in spiritual gifts, and these had been sadly abused, and made the occasion of much pride and contention. The Apostle therefore leads them to consider the author, nature, design, and use of the extraordinary powers which were given them.

1. He reminds them, for their humiliation, of their former state. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led, hurried on blindfold to worship these senseless stocks and stones. Wherefore I give you to understand, now that God hath brought you out of darkness into his marvellous light, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed, it being a sure proof that both the Jewish exorcists and the heathen diviners who pretend to such inspiration, blaspheme him from whom the Spirit proceeds, are lyars, and of their father the devil; and, on the other hand, no man can say that Jesus is the Christ, but by the Spirit of God: to discover his all-sufficiency for the work of redemption, and his suitableness to every necessity of our souls, we need a divine illumination: and though we may confess him to be the Christ with our lips, ye we can never experimentally know him to be our anointed Saviour, till it please God to reveal his Son in us. And all the miracles which are wrought in confirmation of this truth, are by the power of the Holy Ghost, who intends thereby to glorify Christ. Let a man pretend to what he will; if he does not know and love the Lord Jesus, he must be destitute of the Spirit; but if he does, then, however low his gifts may be, he has an assured interest in the Saviour.

2. He directs them in the proper use of the spiritual gifts which they enjoyed. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit, who bestows them in all their variety on private Christians, or ministers; and there are differences of administrations, of offices and services, some superior to others; but the same Lord appoints to each his employment, and they act under his authority. And there are diversities of operations, and miraculous powers; but it is the same Lord which worketh all in all, by whose mighty energy alone they are performed. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal; whatever gifts or powers that manifest the presence and energy of the Holy Ghost, he is endowed with, they are designed to promote the edification of the body of Christ, and to advance his glory. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, a clear understanding of the great doctrines of the Gospel, and ability to express them with judgment and eloquence; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit, an insight into the types and prophesies of the Old Testament, and a readiness to explain and apply them. To another, faith by the same Spirit, that supernatural courage which Christ promised to infuse into his disciples, Matthew 10:19-20. Luk 21:15 for the purpose of enabling them to preach the Gospel, not only in the presence of kings and magistrates, but before the most enraged enemies; and also that firm persuasion of the power and veracity of God, which led many of the spiritual men, without hesitation, to attempt the working of miracles, when they felt an inward impulse to do so. See Mat 17:20. 1 Corinthians 13:2. To another the gifts of healing, by the same Spirit, all manner of bodily diseases, by a word or touch instantaneously. To another the working of miracles, in mercy or judgment, (See Acts 5:10.) To another, prophesy, or the power of foretelling future events; to another, the discerning of Spirits, under what influence, divine or diabolical, men act, what are their real designs and qualifications, and who are fit to be publicly employed in the church; to another, divers kinds of tongues, so as to understand and speak fluently languages which he had never learnt; to another, the interpretation of tongues, the ability of rendering with exactness and propriety a foreign tongue, which the congregation may not understand, into their own native language. But all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally, as he will. Note; (1.) The Holy Ghost is a divine person; he acted with sovereignty in the distribution of his supernatural gifts; and in energy and operation is one with the Father and the Son. (2.) All our gifts are bestowed for service, not to advance our own honour and interest, but the glory of God and the salvation of men's souls.

2nd, The Apostle represents the union subsisting between genuine believers, who partake of the several gifts and graces of the Spirit, under the similitude of a human body consisting of many members: it is but one, though composed of various parts, which have each their particular function for the good of the whole. So also is the mystical body of Christ: though consisting of different persons, with different gifts, and appointed to different stations, yet all who are vitally united to him compose but one spiritual body, into which all, whether Jews or Gentiles, who have been baptized with water and the Holy Ghost, are by faith incorporated, and are nourished by that one divine Spirit which resides in all his fulness in Christ, and is from him diffused through the several members, who thereby maintain communion with the exalted Head. Now in the natural body, (1.) Each member constitutes a part of the whole, and the meanest are needful: the foot and the ear, though less useful perhaps than the hand and eye, are yet equally parts of the body. The meanest believer is dear to the Saviour, and regarded by him as a member of his body. (2.) There is a beauty in the variety of the different members: if the body were all eye or all ear, it would be defective and monstrous. Thus the diversity of offices and gifts in the church displays a beautiful symmetry. (3.) As in the body natural God gives, as he pleases, to every member its proper office; so, in the body mystical, the Lord appoints to each his station, and furnishes him with gifts, which he is bound to receive with thankfulness, to use with diligence, and neither to murmur against the Giver, nor envy the superiority of others. (4.) Every member of the body contributes to the good of the whole. The eye wants the hand, the head the feet,—even the feeblest members are necessary. Thus do those who are in the most exalted stations in the church need the inferior members, and must not despise them as insignificant or useless. (5.) In the body we shew peculiar regard to our uncomely parts, covering them with proper cloathing, which our comely parts do not need; and thus hath God ordered it, that we should give more abundant honour to the part which lacketh. In like manner ought the more eminent in gifts and abilities in the church to hide the infirmities of their weaker brethren; not to reproach or despise them, but treat them with kindness and regard, and desire to make them appear in the most respectable manner. (6.) In the body the suffering of one member gives pain to the whole, and all the members share in the honour conferred on any particular part: such a mutual sympathy prevents all schism in the body, and obliges the members to have the same care one for another. The like fellow-feeling should every Christian have for his brother: we should tenderly sympathize with the afflicted in body or soul; and their temporal or spiritual prosperity, far from being the occasion of our envy, should be matter of our sincerest joy. All coldness and distance is as unnatural as a schism between the members, and should be shunned as the most dangerous evil.

3rdly, The Apostle particularly applies the case in hand. Now ye are the mystical body of Christ, and members in particular, each being a part of the whole. And God, in infinite wisdom and with admirable propriety, hath set some in the church in one office, and some in another, appointing one to a higher, another to a lower station. In the first rank stand the Apostles, who received their commission immediately from Christ himself: secondly, prophets, who are endued with the gift of foretelling future events: thirdly, teachers, who labour in the word and doctrine, and are the ordinary ministers of the Gospel: after that, miracles, which some are endued with the power of working: then gifts of healing the sick: helps, such as are assistant to the superior ministers: governments, those who preside over the affairs of the church: others are endued with diversities of tongues, the ability to speak or interpret them. Are all Apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? No. Each has his appointed station and peculiar gifts; wherein the highest are not to be envied, nor the lowest to be despised. But covet earnestly the best gifts. It may be regarded as his advice; or it may be read as an assertion, ye do covet the best gifts, and blameably desire to excel in these extra-ordinary endowments; or as an interrogation, Do ye covet earnestly the best gifts? and envy each other's superior attainments? Yet shew I unto you a more excellent way: a spirit of love, which prompts to every good word and work for the glory of God and the profit of men's souls, is far better and more desirable than the most shining gifts. Note; (1.) Gifts, when valued because of the esteem which they procure us, more than for their use to the souls of men, prove the most fatal snares to the soul. (2.) One spark of Godlike charity, or genuine love, is infinitely preferable to all the glare of the most eminent titles or abilities.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/1-corinthians-12.html. 1801-1803.
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