1 Corinthians 12 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

1 Corinthians 12
Pulpit Commentary
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
Verses 1-11. - On spiritual gifts in general. Verse 1. - Now concerning spiritual gifts; rather, things spiritual. The context, however, shows that St. Paul is thinking almost exclusively of the gifts (charismata) of the Spirit. I would not have you ignorant (see 1 Corinthians 10:1). The Corinthians had doubtless inquired in their letter as to the views of the apostle on this important and difficult subject.
Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.
Verse 2. - That ye were Gentiles. The undoubted reading is, that when ye were Gentiles. The sentence is then in form an anacoluthon; in other words, it is not grammatically finished. The ancients were much less particular about these small matters of precision and symmetry than the moderns; and writers who are deeply moved by their subject, and hurried along by the strength of their feelings, often fall into these unfinished constructions (see Romans 2:17-21; Romans 15:25-27; Galatians 2:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, etc., in the Greek). Dumb idols. This characteristic of idols (Habakkuk 2:18; Psalm 115:5; Psalm 135:16) is fixed upon to show that their "oracles" were mere falsity and pretence. We find an illustration of the epithet in the statue of Isis at Pompeii, where the ruined temple shows the secret stair by which the priest mounted to the back of the statue; and the head of the statue (preserved in the Museo Borbonico) shows the tube which went from the back of the head to the parted lips. Through this tube the priest concealed behind the statue spoke the answers of Isis. Even as ye were led; rather, howsoever ye might be led, as in the Revised Version. The Greek phrase shows that, under the oracular guidance of dumb idols, the Gentiles had been, as it were, drifted hither and thither "as the winds listed."
Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Verse 3. - Wherefore. Their previous condition of Gentile ignorance rendered it necessary to instruct them fully respecting the nature and discrimination of the charisms of the Spirit. By the Spirit of God; rather, in the Spirit; i.e. in the state of spiritual exaltation and ecstasy. The phrase is a Hebrew one to describe inspiration. Jesus accursed. It may well seem amazing that the Corinthians should need instructing that such awful language could not be uttered by any one speaking "in the Spirit of God." It is evident, however, that such expressions had been uttered by persons who were, or seemed to be, carried away by the impassioned impulse which led to "glossolaly." (It is better to use this technical word in order to dissipate the cloud of strange misconceptions as to the true nature of this charism.) So terrible an outrage on the conscience of Christians could never have passed unchecked and unpunished, except from the obvious inability of the young community to grapple with the new and perplexing phenomena of an "inspiration" which appeared to destroy the personal control of those possessed by it. Among Jewish converts glossolaly was regarded as a form of that wild mantle "inspiration" of which we find some traces in Jewish history (1 Samuel 10:10, 11; 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Samuel 19:23, 24, etc.), and which was alluded to in the very name Nabo, which implied a boiling energy. Among Gentile converts the glossolaly would be classed with the overmastering influences of which they read, or which they witnessed, in the Sibyls, the Pythian priestesses, and the wild orgiastic devotees of Eastern cults. They would not like to call any one to task for things spoken in a condition which they regarded as wholly supernatural. As to the speakers,

(1) some of them, not being sincere, might have really fallen under the influence of impulses which were earthly and demonish, not Divine;

(2) others, not duly controlling their own genuine impulse, may have been liable to the uncontrolled sway of utterances for which they were at the moment irresponsible;

(3) or again, being incapable of reasoned expression, they may have audibly expressed vague Gnostic doubts as to the identity of the "Jesus" who was crucified and the Divine Word; or

(4) they may have been entangled in Jewish perplexities rising from Deuteronomy 21:23, "He that is hanged" (which was also the expression applied by Jews to the crucified) "is accursed of God;" or finally,

(5) by some strange abuse of the true principle expressed by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:16, they may have asserted in this fearful form their emancipation from the acknowledgment of Jesus "after the flesh." Similar phenomena - the same intrusions into worship of downright blasphemy or of blasphemous familiarity - have constantly recurred at times of overwhelming spiritual excitement, as for instance m the adherents of the "everlasting gospel" in the thirteenth century, and in various movements of our own day. Is accursed; rather, is anathema. The word corresponds to the Hebrew cherem, which means "a ban," and "what is devoted or set apart by a ban;" and to the Latin sacer, which means not only "sacred," set apart by holy consecration, but also "devoted to destruction." No man can say that Jesus is [the] Lord, but by [in] the Holy Ghost. It involved a strong rebuke to the illuminati, who professed a profound spiritual insight, to tell them that no man could make the simple, humble confession of the divinity of Jesus (for "Lord" is here an equivalent of the Hebrew "Jehovah") except by the same inspiration as that which they so terribly abused. There is a very similar passage in 1 John 1:2; but there the "test" of the inspiration is a confession of the humanity of Jesus as against Gnostics, who treated his human life as purely phantasmal. Here the test is the confession of his divinity as against Jews and Gentiles. (For a parallel passage, see Matthew 16:17, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee.")
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
Verse 4. - Diversities. This word is used in each of these verses. Gifts; charismata; endowments imparted by the Holy Spirit. The word is rendered "free gift" in Romans 5:13. The same Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are not uniform, but display diversity in unity Just as the sunlight playing on different surfaces produces a multiplicity of gleams and colours, so the Holy Spirit manifests his presence variously, and even sometimes with sharp contrasts, in different individualities.
And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
Verse 5. - Administrations. Different individuals render different services, and even apply the same gifts in different ways, as we see in Romans 12:6-8. The same Lord. Who, as Head of the Church, directs all ministries and assigns all functions.
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
Verse 6. - Operations. Manifestations of Divine power. The same God which worketh all in all. God is the Source of all gifts in all men. He is the Sun of the whole universe, and always in the meridian; and from him, as the Father of lights, flows every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). It will be seen that this is one of the many passages which teach with perfect clearness the doctrine of the Trinity in unity. All in all (for this expression, see ch. 15:28; Ephesians 1:23). There are very similar passages descriptive of the diversity in unity of God's dispensations, in Ephesians 4:4-6, 11, 12; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
Verse 7. - To profit withal. With reference, that is, to the general profit.
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
Verse 8. - The word of wisdom... the word of knowledge. In modern usage, "knowledge" is the learning which we by use and effort acquire; "wisdom" is the insight which gradually dawns upon us from thought and experience. In the language of the New Testament, the distinction between the two words is not so clearly marked, but" wisdom" seems to belong more to the human spirit, and "knowledge "to the intellect. The "discourse of wisdom" would be that which sets forth the truth of the gospel persuasively to work conversion (1 Corinthians 2:6, 7); the "discourse of knowledge" would be that which enters into the speculative and theoretical elaboration of systematic theology. The first might find its illustration in the 'Imitatio Christi;' the second in the 'Summa Theologiae.'
To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
Verse 9. - To another. Various attempts have been made to classify the gifts thus enumerated, as:

1. Intellectual.

(1) The word of wisdom;

(2) the word of knowledge.

2. Pertaining to exalted faith (tides miraculosa).

(1) Healings;

(2) miracles;

(3) preaching;

(4) discrimination of spirits.


(1) Tongues; and

(2) their interpretation.

These attempts are not very successful. St. Paul probably uses the phrases "to one" and "to another" (α}λλῳ δὲ... ἑτέρῳ δὲ) merely for variety of style (as in Hebrews 11:35, 36), with no very definite classification in view, as he does not mention all the charisma (see ver. 28). Faith. Faith in its highest energy, as a supernatural power; the faith that removes mountains (Matthew 17:19, 20). The gifts of healing. Not, that is, by medical knowledge, but by supernatural power (Mark 16:18; Acts 5:15, 16; James 5:14, 15).
To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
Verse 10. - The working of miracles; literally, active, efficacy of powers; such as "the signs of an apostle," to which St. Paul himself appealed in 2 Corinthians 12:12, which included "wonders and mighty powers" (comp. Romans 15:18). Prophecy. Not "prediction," but elevated and inspired discourse; the power of preaching to edification. Discerning of spirits; rather, discernings, or powers to discriminate between true and false spirits. It was necessary in those days of intense enthusiasm and spiritual awakenment to "test the spirits, whether they be of God" (1 John 4:1). There were such things as "deceitful spirits" which spoke "doctrines of devils" (l Timothy 4:1; Revelation 2:1, 2; see 1 Corinthians 14:29). Divers kinds of tongues. There is no need for the word "divers." The particular variety of the ecstatic, and often entirely unintelligible, utterance known as "the tongue" differed with the individuality or temperament of the speaker. Recent lines of research, by that historical method which can alone furnish correct results, have led to the conclusion that, whatever may be thought of the "tongues" on the day of Pentecost (which is a separate question), the "tongue" spoken of (for the most part with relative disparagement) by St. Paul as a charism of the Spirit was closely analogous to that wild, rapt, unconscious, uncontrollable utterance which, with varying details, has always occurred in the religious movements which stir the human soul to its utmost depths. The attempts to explain the word "tongues" as meaning "foreign languages," or "the primeval language," or "poetic and unusual phraseology," etc., are baseless and exploded. The notion that by this gift the early Christians knew languages which they had never acquired, is not only opposed to the entire analogy of God's dealings, but to every allusion in the New Testament (except a prima facie but untenable view of the meaning of Acts 2:4) and to every tradition and statement of early Christian history. The apostles (so far as we have any record of their missionary work in the New Testament) had not the slightest need to acquire foreign languages. Since Palestine was at this epoch bilingual, they could all speak Aramaic and Greek, and therefore could address Jews and Gentiles throughout the civilized world. Every single allusion which St. Paul makes to this subject excludes the possibility of the supposition of a miracle so utterly useless and meaningless, so subversive of every psychological consideration, and so alien from the analogy of all God's methods, as the talking in unacquired foreign languages by persons who did not understand them. The interpretation of tongues. Sometimes, but not always (1 Corinthians 14:13), the speaker, on relapsing from his ecstasy, was able to express his outburst of unintelligible soliloquy in the form of reasoned thought When he was unable to do so, St. Paul ordains that another should convey in ordinary language the impressions left by the inspired rhapsody (1 Corinthians 14:27-29).
But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
Verse 11. - One and the selfsame Spirit. The unity of the source from which all the charisms flowed ought to have excluded the possibility of a boastful comparison of gifts, arid all depreciation of those gifts which, because they were less dazzling, were deemed inferior. St. Paul afterwards shows that the less dazzling might be infinitely the more valuable for purposes of spiritual edification.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
Verses 12-31. - The Church compared to a body and its members. Verse 12. - As the body is one, and hath many members. To this favourite image St. Paul reverts several times (Romans 12:4, 5; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 2:19). It is probable that he was familiar with the image from the fable of Menenius Agrippa, who had used it as a plea for civil unity (Liv., 2:32). So also is Christ. Christ and the Church form one body, of which Christ is the Head; one Vine, of which Christians are the branches (John 15.); one building, of which Christians are the living stones.
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
Verse 13. - By one Spirit; rather, in one Spirit. The diffusion of one spirit is the clement of unity. Are we all baptized; rather, we were all baptized. Whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free. Moreover, as these were national and social differences, they were all obliterated by baptism, which made us all equal members of one holy brotherhood (Galatians 3:28). Have been all made to drink into one Spirit. The word "into" is probably spurious. We have all been given to drink of one Spirit, which is as the outpouring of living water (Acts 10:45; John 7:37).
For the body is not one member, but many.
If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
Verse 15. - If the foot shall say, etc. So Seneca says, "What if the hands should wish to injure the feet, or the eyes the hands? As all the members agree together because it is the interest of the whole that each should be kept safe, so men spare their fellow men because we are born for heaven, and society cannot be saved except by the love and protection of its elements" ('De Ira,' 2:31). And Marcus Aurelius: "We have been born for mutual help, like the feet, like the hands, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. To act in opposition to cue another is therefore contrary to nature" ('Enchir.,' 2:1). And Pope —

"What if the foot, ordained the dust to tread,
Or hand, to toil, aspired to be the head?
What if the head, the eye, or ear repined
To serve mere engines to the ruling mind?
Just as absurd for any part to claim
To be another, in this general frame," etc.
And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
Verse 17. - If the whole body were an eye, etc. In the body there is between the members an identity of common interest and a perfection of separate functions. All are not equal in strength and delicacy, but each is happy, and each is necessary to the well being of all. There could be no better image of the ideal relation of Christians to each other and to the Church.
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
Verse 18. - As it hath pleased him. Not arbitrarily, but in furtherance of one wise and beneficent design, so that each may be honoured and indispensable, and therefore contented in its own sphere.
And if they were all one member, where were the body?
Verse 19. - And if they were all one member, where were the body? The interests of the individual must never overshadow those of the Church. In the Church, as in the body, the hypertrophy or the atrophy of any one member is injurious, not only to itself, but to the whole.
But now are they many members, yet but one body.
And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
Verse 21. - I have no need of thee. A rebuke to the pride of those who thought their own gifts to be exclusively valuable.
Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
Verse 22. - Are necessary. This is the point of the fable of the belly and the members.
And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
Verse 23. - Which we think to be less honourable. The shelter and ornament of clothing are used to cover those parts of the body which are conventionally regarded as the least seemly. The whole of this illustration is meant to show that rich and poor, great and small, high and low, gifted and ungifted, have all their own separate and indispensable functions, and no class of Christians can wisely disparage or forego the aid derived from other and different classes. The unity of the members in one body corresponds to "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" which should prevail in the Church.
For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
Verse 25. - No schism in the Body. What is exclusively called "schism" is not necessarily such. There may be difference of fold in the one flock. There may be no real discord or dissension, though there may be varieties of ecclesiastical government. Unity, as the whole argument shows, does not demand the existence of uniformity. That the members should have the same care one for another. Thus the early believers "were of one heart and of one soul;" and the moment that a complaint arose that one of the weakest and smallest interests was neglected, the supposed neglect was amply remedied (Acts 4:32; Acts 6:1-6).
And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
Verse 26. - Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, etc. St. Chrysostom illustrates this verse by saying that if a thorn runs into the heel, the whole body feels it and is troubled; and that, on the ether hand, if the head is garlanded, the whole man is glorified.
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
Verse 27. - Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. Each Church is a sort of microcosm of the whole Church. St. Paul does not mean that the Corinthian Church is a member in the body of all the Churches, but that each Corinthian Christian is a member of the Church.
And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
Verse 28. - Hath set; rather, appointed. First apostles. Apart from the twelve (Luke 6:13) and Paul and Barnabas, the name was in a lower sense extended to leading and eminent Christians, especially to those who had taken part in founding or ruling Churches (Romans 16:7). Prophets. Wise spiritual preachers. It is instructive to note that St. Paul places the gifts of wisdom and knowledge which these preachers require above those which we are apt to regard as exclusively miraculous. The "wonders" stood in a lower, not in a higher, position when compared with the ordinary gifts of grace. Teachers. Those who have the minor gifts of instruction and exposition (Acts 13:1). Helps. All the services rendered by the power of active sympathy; by the work of deacons, sisters of mercy, etc. (Acts 6:3, 4). The word occurs in 2 Macc. 8:19; Ecclus. 11:12, and the corresponding verb in Acts 20:35; 1 Timothy 6:2; Luke 1:54; see Romans 16:3. Governments. Powers of leading and organization. Diversities [kinds] of tongues. Ranked as last in value. They are emotional gifts, which had only a very subordinate part in the work of edification, and are, therefore, placed below the gifts of knowledge, of power, and of practical life, which sum up the previous enumeration.
Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
Verse 29. - Are all apostles? etc. It is God's providence which "has appointed divers orders in his Church," and has "ordained and constituted the services of angels and of men in a wonderful order."
Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.
Verse 31. - Covet earnestly; literally, be zealous for, strongly desire. That which we aim at we usually attain; and we should aim at that which really is, not at that which seems, the most splendid charism. And yet show I unto you a more excellent way. The "more excellent way" is the way of love, which he sets forth in the next chapter, and which lies open to all Christians without distinction. The verse means either, "And further" (besides bidding you aim at the better gifts), "I show you one supreme way of attaining them;" or, "And I show you a still more eminent way." I bid you desire the best gifts, and further show you a truly royal road (viam maxime vialem), a road par excellence, which leads to their attainment. The way of love would lead to them, and it was itself the best of them. "All the way to heaven lies through heaven, and the path to heaven is heaven."

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