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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Corinthians 12

Introduction

PAUL’S EIGHTH RESPONSE: AS TO EXERCISES OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS, 1 Corinthians 12:1 to 1 Corinthians 14:40.

This triad of chapters on spiritual gifts (twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth) must, in order to be properly comprehended, be read as one piece. In the whole St. Paul speaks of these gifts with reverence, but not with that jubilation which probably many a Corinthian would have expected. It might at first be supposed that inspired persons would, of course, be right; that the divine endowment would secure its own rightful exercise. But if it is a God who bestows, man, who receives and exercises, is a feeble free-agent; and the divine wisdom leaves the freedom undiminished. The danger of error was supplemented by the superintendence of a master apostle, as shown in this triad of chapters. Where no such superintendence exists, the incapacity of the human to harmonize with the supernatural is likely to end in morbid and ungraceful results. The fulness of the Spirit at the pentecost overcame and ruled the human. In the latter day, of which the pentecost may be a type, the harmony between the divine Spirit and the human soul may be so perfected, that the unison may be complete and completely beautiful. Man may then realize his own highest earthly ideal. In this first of the three chapters, as Paul sees that the Corinthians most valued the showier gifts, as that of tongues, so he directs them to a valuation according to utility. As they were liable to be made a matter of emulation, strife, and of erratic straying from the truth and from the Church, so he struggles to make them a means of binding the Church in a body. And then he is prepared to show, in the next chapter, that there is one gift within the reach of all, to which all other gifts are inferior the GIFT of LOVE. The third chapter is occupied in cautions and regulations against the disorderly use of gifts.

Verse 1

1. Of gifts their true place and value, 1 Corinthians 12:1-46.12.31.

a. The source of these varied gifts, the One Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:1-46.12.11 .

1. Now As there is no reference in this triad of chapters to any inquiries made by the Corinthians, it is probable that this piece is based on information.

Ignorant As just-converted Gentiles, with their ideas of Christian morality but imperfectly shaped, little acquainted with the Old Scriptures, and the New not as yet having been fully written, it is no wonder the Corinthians were ignorant. Paul seeks here to efface from their minds some traces of their old polytheism by impressing them with the truth that all their variety of gifts is from one Spirit, the Infinite Unity. Ten times in thirteen verses does he trace their varied gifts to one Spirit.

Verse 2

2. Carried away Literally, ye were led as ye happened, (by your priests,) to idols that were voiceless. They were bandied about among a multitude of dead and dumb gods, knowing nothing of the living, speaking One.

Verse 3

3. Jesus accursed The pagans who blasphemed Christ, and the persecuting emperors who required Christians to blaspheme Christ, were under dumb idols, adverse to the one Spirit.

Say From the heart and in truth.

Holy Ghost Unless the Holy Spirit give the power, Christ can neither be truly received nor savingly confessed.

Verse 4

4. Diversities of gifts Which Paul will soon enumerate.

Same Spirit Do not, as of old, suppose that one man is inspired by Apollo to prophesy; another by Minerva to utter the word of wisdom; another by the Muses to give forth a psalm or pour forth the utterances of tongues. All these, then, are the various breathings from one Power.

Verse 5

5. Differences of administrations Different Church offices, duties, or exercises, in which the gifts were employed.

Verse 6

6. Operations Better, in-workings. Divine operations within the soul, whereby the exercises referred to were wrought. The apostle having thus enforced the unity of origin, now (1 Corinthians 12:7-46.12.10) analyzes the variety of gifts, in order still more emphatically (1 Corinthians 12:11-46.12.13) to trace them all to one Source.

Verse 7

7. Manifestation The exhibition in the exercise.

To profit Utility is made the test of the rank and value of the gift, as in 1 Corinthians 13:19 more fully.

The gifts here mentioned have been variously classified, but not in the order of their mention by the apostle. We propose a classification into gifts of mind, of voice, and of action; thought, word, and deed. Under mind, are gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, discerning of spirits, and interpretation; under gifts of voice or utterance, prophecy and tongues; under gifts of action, healing and working of miracles.

Verse 8

8. Word of wisdom… knowledge Our knowledge is the amount we know; that is, the mass of facts and principles embraced in our memory. Or, wisdom is the capacity for applying our knowledge in judgments or practice. The word of knowledge would draw from the stores laid up in the mind of the Christ-history and the Old Testament records, with the whole mass of Christian truths. Wisdom would unfold itself in profound maxims, and sagacious counsels, plans, and courses of conduct.

Verse 9

9. Faith Chrysostom and the current of modern commentators understand the faith of miracles, which can remove mountains. 1 Corinthians 13:2. But that is included in the working of miracles itself, in 1 Corinthians 12:10. Hodge comes nearest to the truth: “Such a faith as enabled men to become confessors and martyrs, and which is so fully illustrated in Hebrews 11:33-58.11.40. This is something as truly wonderful as the gift of miracles.” Or, as we should express it, that realization of divine realities by which a powerful and heroic Christian character is formed, shown in maintaining truth resistlessly, and suffering for it unshrinkingly. St. Stephen, both in his contests with gainsayers and his martyrdom, was a striking specimen. Thus there is the faith of miracles and the faith of heroism.

Healing See note Acts 3:4. Healing, though usually included under miracles, is placed by itself, inasmuch as there were those endowed with the power for this only.

Verse 10

10. Working of miracles Literally, the in-working (by God in the man) of powers, that is, supernatural or miraculous powers.

Prophecy Inspired preaching; either predicting the future, unfolding mysterious truth, or searching the secrets of men’s hearts and characters, 1 Corinthians 14:24-46.14.25.

Discerning of spirits The power of detecting the hypocrite, as Peter did Ananias; of distinguishing true and false gifts; of recognising genuine inspiration. Traces of this power, more or less active, by spiritual sympathy with true inspiration pervading the body of the Church, enabled it to select the right books for the New Testament canon. The pretensions of modern criticism to decide whether one or another book belongs to the canon are often arrogant. On the original pentecostal miracle of tongues, see our note Acts 2:4. In that primal miracle we suppose every individual heard the self-same word each in his own language. But later, as indicated in that note, by decline, only those understanding the one language miraculously spoken took the meaning; later still, a specially inspired interpreter was necessary; and finally, perhaps, the utterance lost all language form, was unintelligible to the utterer himself, being only the emotional vocal outflow of fervent religious emotion. See notes on 1 Corinthians 14:1-46.14.19. Thus there were various kinds of tongues.

Interpretation of tongues. See notes 1 Corinthians 14:27.

Verse 11

11. One… Spirit Let there be no strife or rivalry between the possessors of different gifts; but let all in unison trace them up to one source, and exercise them in harmony.

Dividing It was not that these exercises were a spontaneous welling up of religious excitement, and assuming these forms, but a definite, divine assignment to each individual of his particular charism.

As he will Wills.

Verses 12-26

b. The various gifts should harmonize the Church into one body, 1 Corinthians 12:12-46.12.26 .

The semblance between the human body and the body politic or social is so striking, and pregnant with so many lessons of loyalty, peace, and patriotism, that it has been popular in all ages. The apologue of Menenius Agrippa, as given by Livy in the early history of Rome, is memorable in literature. The common people, wearied with the tyranny of the aristocracy, and determined no longer to feed its greediness, had seceded from Rome, when Menenius related to them how the limbs of the human body rebelled against the lazy belly, and refused to work for it any longer until want of nourishment and digestion taught them that the refusing to feed the centre was to starve the whole. Applied to the sacred organism, the Church, Paul here uses the same parable to soothe the rivalries between the different possessors of charisms.

Verse 13

13. One Spirit As the vital principle organizes and holds in shapely unity the various elements of a living body, so does the one Spirit organize, vivify, and unify the body of the Church. That same divine One holds alike the various charisms in harmony and the body in unity.

Baptized The descent of the pentecostal Spirit, like the outpouring of baptismal water, consecrated its subjects into the living Church. So the same spiritual outpouring sanctifies the members into one holy Church.

Jews or Gentiles Whether formerly worshippers of Jehovah or of dumb idols.

Bond or free Irrespective of rank or condition of life. The slave is enlarged into spiritual freedom; the freeman is bound, and yet ennobled, into the service of Christ.

Drink into one Spirit Into is omitted by the best authorities. In John 7:37 the Spirit is compared to water which is drank. So that in the first part of the verse the Spirit is applied to us, and in this part we drink the Spirit.

Verse 14

14. Body… many The apostle varies the phases of the body to meet the complaints of the different cavillers. There were the weaker members met in 14-20, and the stronger in 21-27. The former would have all equal and essentially identical. But this would destroy the variety of members in the body. The whole body cannot be one limb.

Verse 15

15. No one must think he does not belong to the Church because he is a supporter, and not an executive, of the Church; any more than a foot shall claim that it is not of the body because it is not the hand.

Verse 16

16. No one must claim that he is not sharer of the Church because he is only a hearer and not an overseer, any more than the ear is excluded from the body because it is not the eye.

Verse 17

17. Whole body If all are clergy where are the laity? If all are captains where are the privates?

Verse 18

18. Now hath God This variety in unity is established by God. Men are variously endowed to perform different parts in the social organization; and when any part refuses its allotment, it first deranges the system and then destroys itself.

Pleased him For it is wonderful to observe how the whole system of nature is an organism in which the unity exists, lives, works, and prospers, by the harmonious working of the individuals.

Verse 19

19. One member All reduced to a monotonous sameness.

Body The entire organism would lose its power of operation.

Verses 20-21

20-21. Thus far St. Paul has sought to convince the members envious of others’ superiority. He now seeks to humble the arrogant in their dealings with the humble class.

Verse 21

21. The overseer, the eye, cannot dispense with the worker, the hand. The official, the head, cannot spare the membership, the feet.

Verse 22

22. Nay, much more The ruled can do without the rulers even better than the vice versa. It is for the ruled that the rulers exist. And often, in some way or other, the ruled are the real rulers. Just as the humblest parts of the human system really rule the rest.

More feeble The most delicate nerves and fibres are most necessary to vitality.

Verse 23

23. Less honourable The digestive and reproductive systems in the human frame, while, strange as is the problem, propriety shrinks from naming them, are still the objects of our most earnest care. In the apologue of Menenius Agrippa it was the belly that was the aristocracy. The sexual passion, as a sentiment or as an appetite, rules a large share of human life.

Uncomely… comeliness We make an ornament of that dress which was originally a mere cover; a cover for comfort or for modesty. It is marvellous to note how small a share of the human system propriety allows to be uncovered.

Verse 24

24. Comely… no need The ruling parts of the body in active life, the head, the hands, and sometimes the feet, need no concealments nor ornamental dress.

Tempered Adjusted.

Verse 25

25. No schism Paul suggests here the application of the apologue to the schisms between the rival possessors of charisms.

Verse 26

26. One… all… suffer So wonderfully is our nervous system diffused through the body that every part sympathizes with every other part, and the whole with any one part.

All… rejoice Joy, like pain, experienced in one part becomes the joy of the whole. A striking illustration of the oneness of a true Christian Church.

Verse 27

c. Of this figurative body, the Church is the literal counterpart, 1 Corinthians 12:27-46.12.31 .

27. Now ye, the Corinthian Church, are the literal of this body, being as ye are the body of Christ.

Verse 28

28. God hath set As all are inspired from one Spirit, (1 Corinthians 12:1-46.12.13,) so all are set by God.

First Paul traces the first three in order of rank, the remainder miscellaneously.

Apostles Men who had seen Christ, like the twelve (note on Luke 1:2) and like Paul, who were personally commissioned by him, and endowed with plenary powers.

Prophets Note 1 Corinthians 5:10.

Teachers Perhaps catechists. Note Luke 1:4. Persons, like Luke himself, profoundly interested in the Christian history, and qualified to educate the young Christian in its first principles. Notes on Luke 1:1-42.1.4.

Miracles Paul now leaves the officials and takes up the gifts that were not confined to ranks but distributed miscellaneously.

Healings Note on 1 Corinthians 12:9.

Helps Assistants or aids to official men in the subordinate parts of their duties; as deacons and curates. Something like this Mark, Timothy, and Titus were to Paul in his travels.

Governments Superintendents over any department; such are stewards and class leaders in John Wesley’s system.

Tongues Though an order of rank is not, probably, extended through the whole list, yet as apostles are placed first, as if in honour, so tongues are placed last, probably as least.

Verse 31

31. Covet Earnestly desire and aim at.

Best gifts Namely, not tongues, but prophecy, the word of knowledge, of wisdom, and others that profited the Church. For though they be the gift of God, they are given to those who are qualified by faith, prayer, piety, and culture.

More excellent way Than the attainment of, or the aiming at, spiritual gifts. Said comparatively; for the main purpose of Paul’s vivid portraiture of love, in the next chapter, is to show the superiority of that one grace of love permanently in the Church, over the transient charisms which were but the temporary stagings while the structure was being built.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-corinthians-12.html. 1874-1909.