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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 12

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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1 Corinthians 12:0


Decorum in Public Worship
(1 Corinthians 11:2-40)
Spiritual GiftsSpiritual Gifts: Unity in DiversityVariety of Spiritual GiftsGifts from the Holy SpiritSpiritual Gifts
1 Corinthians 12:1-31 Corinthians 12:1-111 Corinthians 12:1-31 Corinthians 12:11 Corinthians 12:1-3
1 Corinthians 12:2-3The Variety and the Unity of Gifts
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 1 Corinthians 12:4-111 Corinthians 12:4-111 Corinthians 12:4-11
One Body with Many MembersUnity and Diversity in One BodyThe Body Requires a Variety of MembersOne Body Many PartsThe Analogy of the Body
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a1 Corinthians 12:12-311 Corinthians 12:12-131 Corinthians 12:12-131 Corinthians 12:12-17
1 Corinthians 12:14-261 Corinthians 12:14-20
1 Corinthians 12:18-21
1 Corinthians 12:21-26
1 Corinthians 12:22-26
1 Corinthians 12:27-311 Corinthians 12:27-31a
1 Corinthians 12:27-30
1 Corinthians 12:31b

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

A. Chapters 11-14 form one literary unit which deals with gathered worship. There were many problems in the Corinthian house churches. Paul addresses many of these issues, which apparently the church had written to him about (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Corinthians 7:25; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 1 Corinthians 16:12). The issues related to gathered worship were:

1. how to pray and prophesy

a. man uncovered

b. woman covered

2. pride and abuse related to spiritual gifts

3. how to implement gifts into worship

a. tongue speakers and interpreters

b. singers

c. prophets

B. There are three tests related to spiritual gifts.

1. chapter 12 - do they motivate Christocentric unity?

2. chapter 13 - do they motivate love?

3. chapter 14 - do they build the body?

C. There are several lists of spiritual gifts in the NT (cf. Romans 12:0; Romans 1:0 Cor. 12-14; Ephesians 4:11; and 1 Peter 4:10-11). The lists are not the same, nor is the order of gifts the same. They are representative samples, not definitive lists. Some of the gifts function in gathered worship, but others focus outside corporate worship meetings.

The emphasis which Paul places on spiritual giftedness is surprising, but he says little about how one finds or identifies his/her gift. I am reluctant to affirm many of the "spiritual tests" that have been developed in our day. They test only for the gifts listed in the NT. Many of the gifts listed are not clearly defined (i.e., the gifts of leadership in Ephesians 4:11). The most helpful guide I have found in this area is the IVP booklet entitled Affirming the Will of God by Paul Little. The same Christian wisdom that helps us find God's will also helps us identify our effective gift for ministry.

1. pray specifically

2. ask mature Christians who know you what strengths they see in you

3. look for open doors of opportunity to try different areas

4. follow the desires of your heart


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why was there such a problem over spiritual gifts at Corinth?

2. When does the believer receive his/her spiritual gift? Does everyone have one?

Can one have more than one spiritual gift? Can one ever choose his/her gift?

3. What is the purpose of spiritual gifts?

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:1-3 1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:1 "Now concerning" This is a recurring phrase in 1 Corinthians that shows Paul is answering specific questions from the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Corinthians 7:25; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 1 Corinthians 16:12).

NASB, NKJV"spiritual gifts" NRSV (footnote)"spiritual persons" TEV"the gifts from the Holy Spirit" NJB"gifts of the Spirit"

The Greek term is a genitive plural of pneuma. This can refer to persons, gifts, or spiritualities (i.e., spiritual matters, cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1).


"brethren" Paul often uses "brethren" to signal a change of subjects. This first verse has three of Paul's contextual markers of a subject change: (1) now concerning; (2) brethren; and (3) I do not want you to be unaware. Chapters 11-14 deal with different aspects of gathered worship.

The messages that Paul sent to Corinth were so difficult that he often used "brethren" to remind them of their unity in God's family (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Corinthians 1:11, 1 Corinthians 1:26; 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 6:5, 1 Corinthians 6:8; 1 Corinthians 7:24, 1 Corinthians 7:29; 1 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 11:2, 1 Corinthians 11:33; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 14:6, 1 Corinthians 14:20, 1 Corinthians 14:26, 1 Corinthians 14:39; 1 Corinthians 15:1, 1 Corinthians 15:6, 1 Corinthians 15:50, 1 Corinthians 15:58; 1 Corinthians 16:11, 1 Corinthians 16:12, 1 Corinthians 16:15, 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 8:1, 2 Corinthians 8:23; 2 Corinthians 9:3, 2 Corinthians 9:5; 2 Corinthians 11:9; 2 Corinthians 13:11).

"'I do not want you to be unaware'" This is a recurrent phrase in Paul's writings (cf. Romans 1:13; Romans 11:25; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13). It was one of his ways of introducing a significant new topic.

1 Corinthians 12:2 "you were pagans" This is an imperfect indicative. These believers were once pagans, but now they must shed this mind-set and related activity. The church at Corinth was deeply influenced by (1) pagan worship practices and (2) Roman culture. Both were coloring the gospel in inappropriate ways.

NASB"you were led astray" NKJV"carried away. . .however you were led" NRSV"you were enticed and led astray" TEV"you were led astray in many ways" NJB"you were irresistibly drawn"

This phrase has two related verbals from the root "to lead." The first is a Periphrastic imperfective passive indicative and the second is a present passive participle, "you were and continue to be led."

The second term is also intensified by the preposition apo, which implies "to lead as a prisoner" (cf. Mark 14:44; Mark 15:16). These former pagans had been continuously controlled by the demonic in their worship practices (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:20) before their conversion.

"to mute idols" This refers to gods who could not speak or help (cf. Isaiah 46:5-7; Jeremiah 10:5; Habakkuk 2:18-19) in contrast to the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3 "no one speaking by the Spirit of God" This is a Hebrew idiom for inspiration (cf. 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:23-24). This reminds believers that not everyone who claims to speak for God does so. Every believer must evaluate those who claim to speak God's message (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:10; Deuteronomy 18:20-22; Matthew 7:0; 1 John 4:1-3).

NASB"Jesus is accursed" NKJV"calls Jesus accursed" NRSV"Let Jesus be accursed" TEV, NJB"a curse on Jesus"

This is a shocking statement. Why would anyone (except traditional Jews) who claims to speak for God say this? The term (i.e., anathema) itself had an OT background (i.e., Hebrew, herem). It related to the concept of Holy War, where a city was devoted to God and, therefore, it became holy. This meant that everything in it that breathed, human or animal, had to die (cf. Joshua 6:17; Joshua 7:12).

The theories of how this term was used in Corinth are

1. that it has a Jewish setting relating to the synagogue oaths (cf. Acts 26:11, i.e., later, rabbinical curse formulas were used to remove Christians from the synagogue). To remain a member one had to reject or curse Jesus of Nazareth.

2. that it has a Roman setting relating to Emperor worship where only Caesar could be called "Lord."

3. that it has a pagan worship setting where the curses were called on people by the use of a god's name. This could then be translated, "May Jesus curse ______" (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22).

4. that someone related the phrase to the theological concept of Jesus bearing the OT curse for us (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13).

5. Recent studies from Corinth (cf. footnote #1 p. 164 in Bruce Winter's After Paul Left Corinth) document the curse tablets found on the ancient acropolis at Corinth. Biblical scholars have assumed that a linking verb "is" should be provided in the phrase, "Jesus is accursed," but this archaeological evidence clearly shows that these first century Roman period curses from Corinth lack the verb (as do some of the curses in the LXX of Deuteronomy 22:15-20), as does 1 Corinthians 12:3. There is further archaeological evidence that Christians in first century Roman Corinth used curse formulas in burial curses (i.e., Byzantine period), found on Christian graves (J. H. Kent, The Inscriptions, 1926-50. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies, 1966, vol. 1 Corinthians 8:3, no. 644).

Some segments of the church were reverting to pagan curses in Jesus' name against other members of the church. Not only is the method a problem, but also the hateful motive. This is another example of the tension within this church. Paul wants them to build up the church, edify the church. They want to curse part of the church!


"Jesus is Lord" This was the early church's confession of faith (cf. both Romans 10:9-13 and Acts 2:21 quote Joel 2:33; also note Philippians 2:11). It was a way of affirming Jesus' deity and Messiahship.

"except by the Holy Spirit" The Holy Spirit's task is to convict the world of sin and draw people to Christ (cf. John 16:8-14). No fallen humans can turn to God or Christ unaided (cf. John 6:44, John 6:65). This is the mystery of a sovereign God who loves all humanity made in His image yet His covenant mandate is that they must respond (and continue to respond) in repentance, faith, obedience, service, and perseverance!

Verses 4-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6

NASB, NRSV "varieties" NKJV"diversities" TEV"different kinds" NJB"different"

This term means (1) to distribute or (2) variety (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4, 1 Corinthians 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:6). There is an obvious literary parallel between 1 Corinthians 12:4, 1 Corinthians 12:5, and 6, which unites the work of all three persons of the Trinity (see Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 2:10).

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 "Spirit. . .Lord. . .God" Note the action of the Trinity which emphasizes unity amidst diversity, not uniformity. The church is a group of gifted individuals. We need each other! Each one is important. Each one is gifted for ministry. The term "Trinity" is not a biblical term, but the concept is. See Special Topic: Trinity at 1 Corinthians 2:10.

1 Corinthians 12:4 "gifts" This is a different word than the one used in 1 Corinthians 12:1. This is the Greek term charisma. This is from the root term "chairô," which means to rejoice, or be full of joy (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:30; 1 Corinthians 13:6; 2 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 2 Corinthians 7:7, 2 Corinthians 7:9, 2 Corinthians 7:16 and the compound with sun in 1 Corinthians 12:26 and 1 Corinthians 13:6). From this develops several concepts.

1. chara - joy, rejoicing

2. charis - generous gift (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8:4, 2 Corinthians 8:6)

a. grace (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:10)

b. thanks (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:57)

3. charizomai

a. give generously

b. forgive (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:7-10; 2 Corinthians 12:13)

c. cancel a debt

4. charisma - a free gift (cf. Romans 5:15, Romans 5:16; Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 1:11) or divinely conferred adornment (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4, 1 Corinthians 12:9, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 12:30, 1 Corinthians 12:31)

God has freely gifted His church. The gifts are for building up and growing the body of Christ. In reality they are the work of Christ divided among His followers. Believers must unite their giftedness with love and cooperate with each other so that the church may win and disciple a lost world (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).

1 Corinthians 12:5 "ministries" This is the Greek term diakonos. It has several uses in the NT.

1. diakonos

a. a servant (cf. Matthew 20:28; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 23:11; John 2:5)

b. a minister/preacher (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 11:15[twice],23)

2. diakoneô

a. to serve (cf. 1 Peter 4:11)

b. deacon (cf. Romans 16:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 1 Timothy 3:10, 1 Timothy 3:13; also note Philippians 1:1)

c. administer (cf. Acts 6:2; 2 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 8:19, 2 Corinthians 8:20)

3. diakonia

a. rendering aid (cf. Acts 6:1; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 9:1, 2 Corinthians 9:12, 2 Corinthians 9:13)

b. ministry for the gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15; 2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 5:8; 2 Corinthians 6:3; 2 Corinthians 11:8)

c. a revelation from God (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:8, 2 Corinthians 3:9)

The key idea is serving and helping others in need (i.e., spiritual or physical). God equips His church to serve-serve themselves and serve a lost and needy world.

1 Corinthians 12:6

NASB"effects. . .works" NKJV"activities. . .works" NRSV"activities. . .activates" TEV"abilities. . .ability" NJB"activity. . .work"

This is a play on the term energçs from which we get the English term energy. Its basic meaning is to effectively accomplish a task. This sentence has the noun and the matching participle (present active). Paul used this term often in his Corinthian letters.

1. energçs, energeia, energeô, energçma, 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 9:6; 1 Corinthians 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Corinthians 16:9, 1 Corinthians 16:10; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 4:12

2. ergon and sunergeô, 1 Corinthians 3:13, 1 Corinthians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 3:15; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 1 Corinthians 16:10; 2 Corinthians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 11:15

God's work is effective work. It accomplishes its purpose. Believers are called to active service, but the energy and effectiveness is of God.

1 Corinthians 12:7

NASB"But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" NKJV"But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all" NRSV"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" TEV"The Spirit's presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all" NJB"The particular manifestation of the Spirit granted to each one is to be used for the general good"

This truth is so important for the life and ministry of the church.

1. Every believer has a freely-given grace gift given by the Spirit for ministry at salvation.

a. Every believer is important.

b. Every believer is gifted.

c. Every believer is a minister.

2. The purpose of God's gift is not the elevation of the individual, but for the health and growth of the whole body. We need each other!

This truth was desperately needed by the factious, arrogant, assertive believers at Corinth (and in every age). The "common good" or "profit" (sumpheron, cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 7:35; 1 Corinthians 10:33; 2 Corinthians 8:10) is for the body and not the individual. Believers must take personal responsibility to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (cf. Ephesians 4:2-3). This is so radically different from western individualism.


1 Corinthians 12:8

NASB, NKJV"word of wisdom. . .the word of knowledge" NRSV"the utterance of wisdom. . .the utterance of knowledge" TEV"a message full of wisdom. . .a message full of knowledge" NJB"the gift of utterance expressing wisdom. . .the gift of utterance expressing knowledge"

These are two different Greek terms, "wisdom" (i.e., sophia) and "knowledge" (i.e., gnôsis). They reflect the Hebrew distinction between "wisdom" and "knowledge." The first is practical and the second, more academic. The first relates to living the Christian life and the second to a proper explanation of Christian doctrine.

1 Corinthians 12:9 "faith" This refers not to saving faith like Mark 1:15; John 1:12, because the gifts are only given to believers, but to miracle working faith, which is made clear from 1 Corinthians 13:2 (cf. Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21).

"healing" This term (iaomai) is plural (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9,28,30), which is literally "gifts of cures." Healing is a gift from the Spirit in this context and a ministry of the "elders" in James 5:14. Physical healing was/is an evidence of the love and care of God and a sign of spiritual healing (i.e., forgiveness of sins, salvation). For the Jews there was a connection between sin and sickness, righteousness and health (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28). However, Job and Psalms 73:0 clarify the issue as does John 9:0. The mystery is why some are healed and some are not. One's faith cannot be the key ingredient, but God's will. It is never how much faith we exercise, but the object of our faith (faith the size of a mustard seed moves mountains, cf. Matthew 17:20).

Thank God for healing, healers, and caring churches!

1 Corinthians 12:10 "the effecting of miracles" This seems to be parallel to 1 Corinthians 12:9a (i.e., miracle-working faith). Since this is a list, they cannot be completely synonymous. The exact distinction is uncertain.

"prophecy" There are at least two ways to understand this term: (1) in the Corinthian letters this refers to sharing or proclaiming the gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1), (2) the book of Acts mentions prophets (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-28; 1 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 21:10, even prophetesses, 21:9).

The problem with this term is, how does the NT gift of prophecy relate to OT prophets? In the OT prophets are the writers of Scripture. In the NT this task is given to the original twelve Apostles and their helpers. As the term "apostle" is retained as an ongoing gift (cf. Ephesians 4:11), but with a changed task after the death of the Twelve, so too, the office of prophet. Inspiration has ceased, there is no further inspired Scripture (cf. Jude 1:20). New Testament prophets' primary task is proclamation of the gospel, but also a different task, possibly how to apply NT truths to current situations and needs. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NEW TESTAMENT PROPHECY at 1 Corinthians 14:1.


NASB"distinguishing of spirits" NKJV"discerning of spirits" NRSV"discernment of spirits" TEV"the ability to tell the difference between gifts that come from the Spirit and those that do not" NJB"the power of distinguishing spirits"

There are three sources of human giftedness: (1) by nature (i.e., natural talents); (2) by the Spirit; and (3) by the devil. This gift is the ability to differentiate among these sources (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 John 4:1-3).

"various kinds of tongues" This is the Greek term for "tongue" (i.e., glôssa). It was used in the OT as a synonym for "nation." In Greek it was used for speaking the language of a nation. This would imply that it had the connotation of a known human language. However, the need for an interpreter, which also is a spiritual gift, instead of a translator, along with Paul's fuller discussion in chapter 14, leads one to think this was an ecstatic utterance at Corinth.

Exactly how the "tongues" of Corinth are related to the tongues at Pentecost recorded in Acts is uncertain. The miracle in Acts 2:0 is of the ear (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 2:8, 1 Corinthians 2:11), not the tongue. The tongues experiences of Acts communicated the gospel directly to the Jews of the Diaspora who were present. It also functioned as a way to recognize the presence, power, and will of God for the inclusion of other groups, like the Samaritan (cf. Acts 8:0) and Cornelius, a Roman army officer (cf. Acts 10:0). The tongues in Acts were a sign to the believing Jews that God had opened the door for Gentiles to be included (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:8). Notice no need for an interpreter in Acts!

Tongues at Corinth are similar to the ecstatic speech of the Greek religions (e.g., Delphi). Corinthian tongues were apparently being misused or over-glorified (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1-33).

Tongues were a way for an individual believer to intimately commune with God, but without understanding. It is a valid gift (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:39), but it is not for all believers (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, which has a series of questions that expect a "no" answer). It is not a gift that proves one is saved or shows one is a spiritual person. Tongues plus interpretation was another means of communicating the gospel and its relevance.

"interpretation of tongues" Corinth was a cosmopolitan city, Roman in culture, Greek in geography. The city's location combined with the danger of sailing around the cape of Greece in the winter combined to make it a commercial crossroads of the eastern empire and the western empire. Every nationality would be in Corinth, but tongues needed a spiritual gift to communicate its message for the church, not just a translator. Tongues in Corinth was not a known language.

1 Corinthians 12:11 This verse emphasizes the truth that the Spirit gives to each believer a ministry gift (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Corinthians 12:18). Also, which gift is the Spirit's choice, not the believer's. There is no hierarchy of gifts. All the gifts are to serve the body of Christ, the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7). They are not merit badges, but servant towels.


Verses 12-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 12For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:12 This starts a new paragraph that uses the inter-relationships of the human body as a metaphor for the church (cf. Ephesians 4:4, Ephesians 4:16). It emphasizes unity amidst diversity. The focus is not on any part, but on the functioning whole; not the individual, but the family.

The OT and NT have a corporate emphasis (see Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 12:7). This is not meant to depreciate the fact that people become Christians on an individual basis, but that once one is a Christian, the focus is always the health, unity, and well-being of the whole!

1 Corinthians 12:13 "by one Spirit" This preposition (en) can mean "in," "with," or "by means of." Be careful of using Koine Greek prepositions to make doctrinal affirmations. This is parallel to Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 4:4.

The Spirit is the means by which God convicts people of sin, draws them to Christ, baptizes them into Christ, and forms Christ in them (cf. John 16:8-14). This is the age of the Spirit. His activity is the sign that the new age of righteousness has come. The gift is the Spirit and the Spirit gives gifts which reflect His task of revealing Christ, drawing the lost to Christ, and forming Christlikeness in believers.

"were all baptized into one body" Water baptism is a metaphor of a previous spiritual experience that occurred at conversion (cf. Ephesians 4:5). In several ways Ephesians 4:4-6 parallels this passage. This baptism refers to initial salvation, which incorporates believers into the body of Christ, the Church. The often-used contemporary phrase "the baptism of the Holy Spirit" is confusing because biblically it refers to one trusting Christ as savior, but it is used today of an empowering, yielding, later experience in the lives of believers. I do not deny the reality of this subsequent experience, but I prefer the term "Lordship experience." In reading the biographies of great Christians a pattern emerges: (1) trusting Christ; (2) trying to serve Him; (3) failing to produce lasting fruit; (4) frustration at personal efforts; (5) yielding to the need for God to do His own work; (6) empowering for ministry; and (7) all glory to God, not the human vessel.

"whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free" There are no more worldly human distinctions and barriers between those who trust Christ (cf. Joel 2:28 quoted by Peter in Acts 2:14-36; Galatians 3:27-28; Colossians 3:11). This truth surely asserts the equality of all human believers. However, it does not necessarily remove all distinctions. All believers are called, gifted servants, but a Christian may still be a slave.

This equality would have been shocking to Roman society in Corinth, where the man was the supreme authority over (1) his wife; (2) his children; and (3) his domestic slaves. There was a rigid social hierarchy. Paul's radical theology, based on Jesus' teachings and actions, was a drastic paradigm shift and shocking new worldview which had to be lived out in the fellowship of the church (cf. Ephesians 5:18-9). It is specifically in this area that the church at Corinth was deviant.

"we were all made to drink of one spirit" This term was used of irrigating water. It literally meant "saturated." This was interpreted as referring to the Lord's Supper by Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, but because of John 7:37-39 it may refer to the Spirit. It is a metaphor of unity and community brought about by one agent, the Spirit.

Both "baptized" and "made to drink" are aorist passive indicatives, which imply a finished work in past time. The tense and parallelism show they do not refer to Christian water baptism and the Lord's Supper, but one past complete event (i.e., conversion by the Spirit, i.e., the passive voice, or by Christ, cf. Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5, or by the Father, cf. Acts 2:33).

Verses 14-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:14-18 14For the body is not one member, but many. 15If the foot says, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16And if the ear says, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 Paul uses the physical body as an analogy to show the mutual relationship between the individual parts of the body necessary for the functioning of the whole. Each individual part is needed for the health and effectiveness of the whole.

1 Corinthians 12:14 This is the summary truth repeated several times in this chapter (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 1 Corinthians 12:14, 1 Corinthians 12:20, 1 Corinthians 12:25, 1 Corinthians 12:27).

1 Corinthians 12:15-16 "If. . .if" These are both third class conditional sentences, which denote potential action. These verses show the tension that existed between not only the factious groups, but their over-evaluation of certain spiritual gifts. All gifts are from God and He chooses which one for each believer (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:11, 1 Corinthians 12:18).

1 Corinthians 12:17, 1 Corinthians 12:19 "If. . .if" These are incomplete second class conditional sentences (i.e., no verb in 1 Corinthians 12:17 and no concluding clause in all three). The first part is false (i.e., the whole body is not an eye, 1 Corinthians 12:17; the whole body is not an ear, v, 17; and the whole body is not one member, 1 Corinthians 12:19, cf. A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament In Light of Historical Research, pp. 1015,1023 and Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 166).

1 Corinthians 12:18 "God has placed" This is an aorist middle indicative, which implies a complete and personal action. In 1 Corinthians 12:11 the Spirit is said to distribute the gifts. This is an obvious identification of the Spirit as divine! See Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 2:11.

"God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired" The reference is to creation but the analogy is to spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27). We don't choose; God places.

Verses 19-25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:19-25 19If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20But now there are many members, but one body. 21And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

1 Corinthians 12:22-24 "weaker. . .less honorable. . .less presentable. . .that member which lacked" This may refer to those parts of the human body which are covered by clothing. This discussion reveals that some of the less obvious, less culturally desired, less "showy" gifts were still necessary for a healthy, happy body. God/Spirit gave the gifts, all gifts are needed, all gifts have honor. See SPECIAL TOPIC: WEAKNESS at 2 Corinthians 12:9.

"abundant honor" This term is in both 1 Corinthians 12:23 and 24. See Special Topic at 2 Corinthians 2:7.

1 Corinthians 12:25 This verse expresses Paul's main point (i.e., a hina clause, purpose clause). The church is to be one, not divided. Believers are to care for one another (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7), not do their own thing!

The verbs are subjunctive, which introduces a contingency. This is what they should do, but there is some doubt about their doing it.

The term "care" usually means anxiety or worry (cf. Matthew 6:25, Matthew 6:27; Matthew 10:19; Matthew 13:22; 2 Corinthians 11:28; Philippians 4:6). It can also express legitimate concern, as in this text and 1 Corinthians 7:32, 1 Corinthians 7:33, 1 Corinthians 7:34 and Philippians 2:20.

"divisions" This is the Greek term schisma, from which we get the English term schism and schismatic. Paul has mentioned these "divisions" before (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 11:18). They are the basic problem in Corinth. The divisions were related to (1) certain leaders; (2) certain theological emphases; (3) Roman social standing; (4) magnification of certain gifts; or (5) residue of a pagan mind set.

Verse 26

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:26 26And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

1 Corinthians 12:26 "if. . .if" These are first class conditional sentences (eite with present indicative, cf. 2 Corinthians 1:6; with no verb, cf. Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1 Corinthians 8:5; 1 Corinthians 14:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10) which express Paul's desire as to how believers should treat each other (cf. Romans 12:15).

Verses 27-31

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:27-31a 27Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31But earnestly desire the greater gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:28 "God has appointed" This is an aorist middle indicative. This is theologically parallel to 1 Corinthians 12:18.

"church" See Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 1:2.

"apostles" The Greek term is from one of the Greek verbs "to send." It was used by the rabbis for someone sent as an official representative of another. In the Gospel of John it takes on the implication of Jesus the Messiah who was sent by God. The Sent One sends His followers (cf. John 20:21). See Special Topic: Send at 1 Corinthians 4:9.

Originally this referred to the Twelve, but later it was used of others: (1)Barnabas (cf. Acts 14:4, Acts 14:14); (2) Andronicus and Junia (cf. Romans 16:7); (3) Apollos (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:9); (4) James the half brother of Jesus (cf. Galatians 1:19); (5) Epaphroditus (cf. Philippians 2:25; (6 & 7) Silas and Timothy (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:6). The gift is mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 as an ongoing gift.

"prophets" See Special Topics: NT Prophecy at 1 Corinthians 14:1 and OT Prophecy at 1 Corinthians 12:10.

"teachers" This gift is mentioned in Acts 13:1 in combination with prophecy, but in Ephesians 4:11 it is linked with pastors. In 2 Timothy 1:11 Paul says he is a preacher, apostle, and a teacher. Here it seems to stand independent as it does in Romans 12:7. It is also discussed separately in James 3:1ff. This implies that these leadership gifts can be combined in different ways in different believers to meet the need of the church in that day or area. Each of these gifted leaders proclaimed the gospel, but with different emphases.

"miracles" Notice in 1 Corinthians 12:9 and 10 this gift is mentioned twice, here but once. Miracles were a way to confirm the gospel. They are prominent in the Gospels and Acts and mentioned in the Apostolic letters. They are still common in areas where the gospel is new.

"healings" This gift functions both to reveal the love of God and confirm the gospel. The question is not does God still heal, but why some and not others? James 5:13-18 give further guidelines about how this should be dealt with in a local church. In James it is a ministry of the local elders, not a spiritual gift.

NASB, NKJV"helps" NRSV"forms of assistance" TEV"power to. . .help others" NJB"helpful acts"

This term is used of "helpful deeds." It is a general term and may refer to the regular ministry of deacons (cf. Philippians 1:1 and M. R. Vincent, Word Studies, vol. 2, p. 793).

NASB, NKJV"administrations" NRSV"forms of leadership" TEV"those who are given the power. . .to direct them" NJB"the gifts of. . .guidance"

This term was originally used of a ship's pilot (cf. Acts 27:11; Revelation 18:17). It was used metaphorically for church leaders who function as guides. This is the ability to lead others to accomplish spiritual tasks.

A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In Greek New Testament, vol. 4, says that "helps" refers to the work of deacons helping the poor and sick and that "administrations" refers to the work of bishops/elders/pastors, pp. 173-174.

"various kinds of tongues" See 1 Corinthians 12:10.

1 Corinthians 12:29-30 This series of questions all begin with a negative particle (i.e., ), which denotes that the questions expect a "no" answer. This is an important passage in refuting the theological overstatement that "tongues" is a gift for every believer, a sort of confirming sign of salvation and/or a special mark of true spirituality. It is a valid gift, but not for everyone. The other extreme is to reject "tongues" as passing away in the Apostolic era. This is also a theological overstatement (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:39).

The whole point of this chapter is that there is one body, but many parts. No one part (i.e., gift) is pre-imminent.

1 Corinthians 12:31a

NASB, NIV"But earnestly desire the greater gifts" NKJV"But earnestly desire the best gifts" NRSV"But strive for the greater gifts" TEV"Set your hearts, then, on the more important gifts" NJB"Set your mind on the higher gifts"

This is either (1) a present active indicative (i.e., a statement of fact) or (2) a Present active imperative (i.e., a continuing command). W. Randolph Tate, Biblical Interpretation, prefers the indicative, "you are striving for the better gifts" as another of Paul's sarcastic comments (p. 22).

The second part of this verse should go with chapter 13. The greater gifts would refer to (1) faith, hope, and love of 1 Corinthians 13:13, with love being greatest or (2) the gifts which edify the whole body, 1 Corinthians 14:1ff, which would be preaching and teaching (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28).

This admonition seems to refer to the church as a whole, not the individual. Focusing on the individual is a common western predisposition. The focus of this chapter is corporate. The church should ask the Spirit for more of His giftedness (i.e., believers) that proclaims the gospel and builds up the body.


1. Ask God specifically to show you.

2. Ask other mature believers who know you what they think your gift might be.

3. Explore your natural desires.

4. Move in the direction of the best light you have and your desire.

5. Give it a try and look for personal contentment and spiritual fruit.

These are taken from a wonderful booklet by Paul Little, Affirming the Will of God, published by IVP. It gives Christian wisdom, not Scripture, on how to know God's will, which is analogous to how to know one's spiritual gift.

However, believers need to remember that the lists of gifts are not the same. Being able to name our gift is not as important as recognizing that we have one. Believers, all believers, are called and gifted to ministry (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12).

Verse 31

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:31-3 1 Corinthians 12:31And I show you a still more excellent way. 13:1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

1 Corinthians 12:31b "a still more excellent way" The term "excellent" is a Greek term made up of huper (i.e., over or beyond) and ballô (i.e., to throw). It is metaphorical for that which goes beyond. Paul uses this metaphor often in 2 Corinthians (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 9:14; 2 Corinthians 11:23; 2 Corinthians 12:7). See Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at 1 Corinthians 2:1.

The term "way" is an OT metaphor for godly lifestyle (cf. Deuteronomy 5:32-33; Deuteronomy 31:29; Psalms 27:11; Isaiah 35:8). OT faith, like NT faith, was not simply a correct creed (orthodoxy), but a life of obedience (orthopraxy). The title of the early church was "The Way" (cf. Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23; Acts 24:14, Acts 24:22). God's best is a life of self-giving love, modeled by Himself and His Son.

1 Corinthians 13:1 "If" This is a series of third class conditional sentences, which mean potential action, in 1 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Corinthians 13:2, and 3 (twice).

NASB, NKJV"I speak with the tongues of men and of angels" NRSV"I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels" TEV"I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels" NJB"though I command languages both human and angelic"

This is obviously a reference to the gift of tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 Corinthians 12:28-29, a gift which the Corinthian church magnified and Paul possessed (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1, 1 Corinthians 14:5, 1 Corinthians 14:6, 1 Corinthians 14:18-19).

Since I think that "tongues" in Acts were different from "tongues" in Corinth, this dual reference makes me wonder if possibly Paul also understood tongues to be human languages (i.e., Pentecost) and an ecstatic utterance (i.e., language of heaven). For sure, he affirms that a complete linguistic ability alone is inadequate unless energized by love! Christianity is more than a message; it is a person, a self-giving, loving, obedient person-Jesus.

"love" This is the Greek term agapç. It was one of several words for "love" in Classical Greek, but was used infrequently (i.e., the noun form). The early church seems to have chosen this term and infused it with a new Christian connotation (i.e., God and Christ's self-giving love, cf. 1 John 4:10) because of its use in the Septuagint (e.g., Genesis 22:2) and rabbinical Judaism. In the OT God's covenant love and loyalty to His promises and covenants was expressed by hesed. In many ways agapç expresses this concept of "covenant love" by paralleling it with "the Kingdom of God." It becomes the NT's term for God's character, which He wishes His followers to emulate (cf. 1 John 4:7-21).

Just a note about the relationship of agapç to philos. In some contexts there seems to be a distinction (cf. John 21:15-19). However, in Koine Greek they are regularly synonymous (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:5 and 5:20).


NASB, NRSV"a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" NKJV"as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal" TEV"no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell" NJB"a gong booming or a cymbal clashing"

Historically in the first century Roman world this was used by the cults of Dionysus and Cybele in worship to attract their deities. In the context of the Corinthian abuse it may mean metaphorically "a fanfare of trumpets" (cf. Matthew 6:2), which brought attention to a speaker as did men covering their hair in gathered worship or women uncovering their short hair in gathered worship (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:4-5).

The city of Corinth was known in the ancient world for its bronze ware. One use of this material was for "resonance enhancers" in theaters (cf. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p. 172).

Paul's parallelism shows the intensity of his feelings about spiritual activities without love.

1. "I have become a noisy gong" (perfect tense), 1 Corinthians 13:1

2. "I am nothing" (present tense), 1 Corinthians 13:2

3. "it profits me nothing" (present tense), 1 Corinthians 13:3

1 Corinthians 13:2 "gift of prophecy" In this book this term is best understood as "sharing the gospel message" (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:4, 1 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Corinthians 14:39). The first three terms of 1 Corinthians 13:2 relate to the gifts of wisdom and knowledge (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8). There was a problem in this area as Paul's negative statements of 1 Corinthians 1:17, 1 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Corinthians 1:20, 1 Corinthians 1:21, 1 Corinthians 1:22, 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 2:1, 1 Corinthians 2:4, 1 Corinthians 2:5, 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 3:19 show. Prophecy without love, as wisdom and knowledge without love, is not pleasing to God. Spiritual gifts can be used in appropriate ways.

For the concept of "prophecy" in the OT see Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 12:10 and NT prophecy at 1 Corinthians 14:1.

"and know all mysteries and all knowledge" Paul uses this in 1 Corinthians 4:1 for gospel truths and in 1 Corinthians 15:51 for the specific truths about the resurrection body. In this context this phrase seems to refer to knowledge in its every form, which the believers at Corinth were prizing and seeking. Even perfect knowledge without love is not pleasing to God. See Special Topic: The Mystery at 1 Corinthians 2:1.

"all faith" This refers to miracle-working faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:9, 1 Corinthians 12:28; Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21), but notice in Matthew 7:21-23 that miracle- working power without love does not please God or even know God.

For the concept of "faith" in the OT see Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 1:9 and NT at 1 Corinthians 2:4.

1 Corinthians 13:3

NASB"I give all my possessions" NKJV"I bestow all my goods" NRSV"I give away everything I have" TEV"I may give away everything I have" NJB"I should give away. . .all that I possess"

This implies the giving away of all that one has, personally, piece by piece (cf. John 13:26, John 13:27, John 13:30). This may be an allusion to Jesus' discussion with the rich young ruler (cf. Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30).

NASB, NKJV "to feed the poor" NRSV -omits phrase- TEV -omits phrase- NJB"to the poor"

This phrase is not in the Greek text, but is implied in the action of this verb.

NASB, NKJV, TEV, NJB"my body to be burned" NRSV"my body so that I may boast"

There are two manuscript options: "burned" (i.e., kauthçsomai) and "glory" (i.e., kauchçsômai) are both found in early Greek manuscripts and the early church fathers. The phrase, "that I may glory," has the strongest manuscript support (i.e., MSS P46, א, and B), but UBS4 is unable to make a decision between them. It is also a term used often by Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:24; Philippians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:4). Martyrdom by burning was unknown in the early church, but became more common in later persecutions (i.e., Nero and Domitian). Therefore, one can see how a later scribe might have changed "glory" to "burn."

For a full discussion of the textual variants see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, pp. 563-564. For the opposite opinion see The Expositor's Bible Commentary, p. 270 footnote.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/1-corinthians-12.html. 2021.
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