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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
1 Corinthians 12

 

 

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Verse 1

1 Corinthians 12:1. Now concerning spiritual gifts,(1) brethren, I would not have you ignorant.


Verses 1-3

First principle:—‘Recognition of “Jesus as the Lord” is an unfailing test of the reality of spiritual gifts.’

This is stated both negatively and positively.

Ver. 3. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking in (or ‘by’) the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema(3) (see Romans 9:3; Galatians 1:8-9); and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit. It is not of ordinary utterances that this is said, or could be; for many that have not the Spirit of Christ, and are none of His, are ready enough to call Jesus “Lord” (Matthew 7:22), while some who in their inmost souls adore Him may, like Peter, in a moment of temptation, come near to cursing Him. It is of divinely inspired utterances that this is said. For such to curse Christ would amount to a deliberate and reckless denial of Him—this, says the apostle, is impossible. But equally certain is it that that inspiration which recognises and bows to Him as Lord, can have no other than a Divine source—can proceed only from the Holy Ghost. See 1 John 4:1-3, where the same sentiment is repeated in a slightly different and more expanded form. We have a remarkable illustration of this statement in a case where no inspiration is supposed to exist. We refer to the celebrated letter of Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan (about A.D. 110), during a persecution of the Christians which that emperor had ordered—in which Pliny asks instructions how to proceed against those accused of being Christians. In this letter, that eminent man explains in detail how he had already acted in this difficult matter. When some who were brought before him denied that they were or ever had been Christians, he tested them by making them perform acts of worship to the gods and the emperor’s own image; and as a last test, he ordered them to curse Christ, which (he was told) none who were real Christians could be made to do; and if they were prepared eyen to do that, he thought they might be safely dismissed.


Verse 2

1 Corinthians 12:2. Ye know that when(2) ye were Gentiles (heathen), ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led:—‘As for your gods, they were “dumb idols” which, whatever crafty priests and interested statesmen might say, never uttered a word to their votaries. Our worship, as children of Israel, imperfect as it was, was intelligent; yours was blind and senseless: we, when we hearkened to our prophets, were listening to the voice of the living God; ye were imposed upon by your “blind guides” at [their will. No wonder, then, that in the exercise of spiritual gifts some confusion should arise among you, and some instruction should be needed how to use them. Accordingly, under three general principles such instruction is now given.

χ1Co 12:4-6

Second principle:—‘Spiritual gifts, though diverse in character, have one Divine source.’

Ver. 4. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit—to whose peculiar department it belongs, in the economy of grace, to impart all spiritual gifts.

Ver. 5. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord (Jesus)—to whom, as the Church’s Head, it belongs to institute such ministries and appoint the men to discharge them (Ephesians 4:11).

Ver. 6. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all—as the absolute Fountain of all good, with whom, by eternal arrangement, all the functions of the Son and of the Spirit are regarded as originating. The systematic precision of these statements—as to the way in which the operations of grace for behoof of the Church are distributed among the Persons of the one Godhead, is eminently noteworthy.


Verses 7-10

Third principle:—‘All spiritual gifts are imparted for the common benefit of the body of Christ.’

Ver. 7. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit—whatever may be his special gift—to profit withal—for the common good.

Ver. 8. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit. The former of these (according to New Testament usage, including that of our apostle), appears to mean the ability to open up Divine truth in its deeper principles; the latter, the aptitude to apply it to the affairs of life (see Colossians 2:3).

Ver. 9. to another faith in (or ‘by’) the same Spirit—not the faith which saves, for that is common to all Christians, and is the root of every Christian grace, but that faith which “removes mountains” (1 Corinthians 13:2; Matthew 17:20); that faith which, in the confident assurance that the effect would follow, had but to give the word of command, and be straightway obeyed—and to another gifts of healings in (or ‘by’) the one Spirit—healings in various forms (Mark 16:18; James 5:14).

and to another . . . prophecy—uttering by inspiration the mind of God about things past, present, or future; and to another discernings of spirits—the gift of laying bare the secrets of others’ hearts (Acts 5:3; Acts 5:9); but here, perhaps, meaning the gift of penetrating to the heart and mind of persons professing to speak by inspiration, and discovering whether they were actuated by the Spirit of God, or by an evil spirit, or by their own inflated spirit (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 John 4:1; 1 Kings 22:19-25).

to another divers kinds of tongues—real languages, unknown to themselves (Acts 2:4; Acts 2:7-8); and to another the interpretation of tongues—the power of interpreting to the audience that unknown tongue.

Note.—Three distinct kinds of gifts are here enumerated—embracing probably all the supernatural endowments of the primitive Church, though not professedly with that view. And though the attempts that have been made to show that there is here a systematic arrangement of these gifts seem quite forced, there are some features common to them all, and some which are peculiar to one or two of them. They all suppose utterance in the gifted, directly or indirectly. “Wisdom” and “knowledge,” though in their own nature internal, behoved—as gifts intended for edification—to find utterance; and so they are termed “the word of wisdom,” and “the word of knowledge.” The “faith” meant here gives the word of command. As for “healings” and “workings of miracles,” they were exercised in the way of something spoken to the objects of them. Then “prophecy,” “tongues,” and “interpretation of tongues,” were of course uttered; while “discernings of spirits” came forth in audible expression (Acts 5:3; Acts 5:9).

Note further, that spiritual edification was the direct object of three of those gifts—“wisdom,” “knowledge,” and “prophecy;that other three were designed to attest the presence of God with the gifted person, or the Divine authority of His message—“faith,” “healings,” and “workings of miracles.” As for “tongues, and” interpretation of tongues,” they had a somewhat analogous object; while “discernings of spirits” was a sort of crowning gift. But all were Divine in their source, as is now to be emphatically repeated.


Verse 11

1 Corinthians 12:11. but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will—and if so, to set one gift above another, in a spirit of rivalry among their possessors, how offensive must that be! Now follows a graphic illustration of this.


Verse 12

1 Corinthians 12:12. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body,(1) being many, are one body; so also is Christ—who with the Church is an organic whole.


Verse 13

1 Corinthians 12:13. For in (or ‘by’) one Spirit were we all baptised into one body. . . and were all made to drink of(1) one Spirit. The figure of “drinking” of the Spirit may have been suggested by the allusion to their water baptism at the time of their conversion; only that was external, whereas the thing here meant by the figure is internal, and in that view of it such language was familiar in the Old Testament (Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 55:1).


Verse 15

1 Corinthians 12:15. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?(1)


Verse 17

1 Corinthians 12:17. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If ... hearing, then where were the smelling? How preposterous then this rivalry between different gifts of the one Spirit, different functions of the one body of Christ!


Verse 18

1 Corinthians 12:18. But nowas the case standshath God set the members . . . even as it hath pleased him—each in his own place, each with his own function, and all of the Lord’s sovereign arrangement for His own wise ends.


Verses 19-21

1 Corinthians 12:19-21. And if they were all one member, etc. As in 1 Corinthians 12:15-16, the rebuke seems to be for envying the gifts of the more eminent, so here the rebuke is addressed to the more gifted for despising those of lesser gifts—the “eye” as compared with the “hand,” the “head” with the “feet.”


Verse 22

1 Corinthians 12:22. Nay, much rather those members . . . which seem . . . more feeble, are necessary—even more than eyes, hands, feet.


Verse 23

1 Corinthians 12:23. and those... we think less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour—in covering and care—and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness—to protect them from unjust disparagement in relation to other parts of the body.


Verses 24-26

1 Corinthians 12:24-26. whereas our comely parts have no need, etc. The language, it will be observed, is studiously so framed as to apply equally to the natural and the spiritual body.


Verse 27

1 Corinthians 12:27. Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof—and so what is true of the natural is analogously true of the spiritual body.

From the foregoing general statements the apostle now returns, in conclusion, to the specific gifts before enumerated, for the purpose of pressing the lessons he had been inculcating.


Verse 28

1 Corinthians 12:28. And God hath set some in the church, first (some to be) apostles, secondly prophets—the prophets of the New Testament (not of the Old Testament), on whose functions see on 1 Corinthians 12:10. They came in order next to the apostles (see Ephesians 2:20). It was at the word of these inspired utterers of the mind and will of God that some of the most important movements of the apostolic Church were adopted (as may be seen in Acts 13:1-4; 1 Timothy 4:14).

helps, governmentsi.e. persons to ‘help,’ and persons to ‘govern.’—diverse kinds of tongues—including (as is plain from 1 Corinthians 12:30) the “interpretation” of them.

Note.—On comparing this list with that in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, it will be seen that here we have both the gifts and the gifted; there the gifts only: also, two gifts in the first list—“faith and discerning of spirits”—are omitted in the second; whereas in the second list there are two which are wanting in the first—“helps,” “governments.” This shows how little completeness and systematic arrangement were aimed at. Nor are permanent offices and temporary functions nicely separated: indeed, in the first list they are not distinguished at all, and but faintly in the second. And though a certain descending scale is observable—from the primary offices to the inferior—yet since they are followed by diversified forms of supernatural energy, there is no reason to suppose that anything more was intended than a rapid allusion to the gifts exuberantly manifested in their church.

That “helps” mean the Diaconate, and “governments” mean the “ruling” as distinguished from the “teaching” ministers, we cannot think; for—besides that if this had been intended, it could have been expressed more simply, as elsewhere—if we refer to the corresponding and more precise statement in Ephesians 4:11, it would be difficult in it to find a place for those offices. Any and every kind of “helping” and “governing” needed in the Church seems to be the things in view. In fine, all the supernatural endowments of the early Church will be found to have their counterpart in the ordinary work of the Church of Christ, modified according to circumstances; while the Spirit of all grace—whose supernatural manifestations in the early Church were mainly designed to give it a startling and resistless impulse—is still in and with the Church, and according to the promise of its Head, will abide with it for ever.


Verse 29-30

1 Corinthians 12:29-30. Are all apostles, etc. If not, then why suppose that all possess and were intended to exercise every gift, or imagine that this would benefit the Church?


Verse 31

1 Corinthians 12:31. But desire earnestly the greater(1) gifts—referring to those mentioned in chap. 14, which were such as tended to edify both the audience and the gifted themselves, in preference to those which merely evinced supernatural power. But ere this comes to be formally handled, an episode on something incomparably “greater” than even these “greater gifts” is here introduced, an episode of surpassing grandeur—the way of LOVE. (That chap. 13 is strictly parenthetical, is plain from the first verse of chap. 14, which links itself on, not to 13, but to 1 Corinthians 12:31, as its immediate sequel.)—and a still more excellent way shew I unto you.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/1-corinthians-12.html. 1879-90.

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