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Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
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CHAPTER 12

1Co 12:1-31. The Use and the Abuse of Spiritual Gifts, Especially Prophesying and Tongues.

This is the second subject for correction in the Corinthian assemblies: the "first" was discussed (1Co 11:18-34).

1. spiritual gifts—the signs of the Spirit's continued efficacious presence in the Church, which is Christ's body, the complement of His incarnation, as the body is the complement of the head. By the love which pervades the whole, the gifts of the several members, forming reciprocal complements to each other, tend to the one object of perfecting the body of Christ. The ordinary and permanent gifts are comprehended together with the extraordinary, without distinction specified, as both alike flow from the divine indwelling Spirit of life. The extraordinary gifts, so far from making professors more peculiarly saints than in our day, did not always even prove that such persons were in a safe state at all (Mt 7:22). They were needed at first in the Church: (1) as a pledge to Christians themselves who had just passed over from Judaism or heathendom, that God was in the Church; (2) for the propagation of Christianity in the world; (3) for the edification of the Church. Now that we have the whole written New Testament (which they had not) and Christianity established as the result of the miracles, we need no further miracle to attest the truth. So the pillar of cloud which guided the Israelites was withdrawn when they were sufficiently assured of the Divine Presence, the manifestation of God's glory being thenceforward enclosed in the Most Holy Place [Archbishop Whately]. Paul sets forth in order: (1). The unity of the body (1Co 12:1-27). (2). The variety of its members and functions (1Co 12:27-30). (3). The grand principle for the right exercise of the gifts, namely, love (1Co 12:31; 1Co 13:1-13). (4) The comparison of the gifts with one another (1Co 14:1-40).

I would not have you ignorant—with all your boasts of "knowledge" at Corinth. If ignorant now, it will be your own fault, not mine (1Co 14:38).

2. (Eph 2:11).

that ye were—The best manuscripts read, "That WHEN ye were"; thus "ye were" must be supplied before "carried away"—Ye were blindly transported hither and thither at the will of your false guides.

these dumb idolsGreek, "the idols which are dumb"; contrasted with the living God who "speaks" in the believer by His Spirit (1Co 12:3, &c.). This gives the reason why the Corinthians needed instruction as to spiritual gifts, namely, their past heathen state, wherein they had no experience of intelligent spiritual powers. When blind, ye went to the dumb.

as ye were led—The Greek is, rather, "as ye might (happen to) be led," namely, on different occasions. The heathen oracles led their votaries at random, without any definite principle.

3. The negative and positive criteria of inspiration by the Spirit—the rejection or confession of Jesus as Lord [Alford] (1Jo 4:2; 5:1). Paul gives a test of truth against the Gentiles; John, against the false prophets.

by the Spirit—rather, as Greek, "IN the Spirit"; that being the power pervading him, and the element in which he speaks [Alford], (Mt 16:17; Joh 15:26).

of God … Holy—The same Spirit is called at one time "the Spirit of God"; at another, "the HOLY Ghost," or "Holy Spirit." Infinite Holiness is almost synonymous with Godhead.

speaking … say—"Speak" implies the act of utterance; "say" refers to that which is uttered. Here, "say" means a spiritual and believing confession of Him.

Jesus—not an abstract doctrine, but the historical, living God-man (Ro 10:9).

accursed—as the Jews and Gentiles treated Him (Ga 3:13). Compare "to curse Christ" in the heathen Pliny's letter [Epistles, 10.97]. The spiritual man feels Him to be the Source of all blessings (Eph 1:3) and to be severed from Him is to be accursed (Ro 9:3).

Lord—acknowledging himself as His servant (Isa 26:13). "Lord" is the Septuagint translation for the incommunicable Hebrew name Jehovah.

4. diversities of gifts—that is, varieties of spiritual endowments peculiar to the several members of the Church: compare "dividing to every man severally" (1Co 12:11).

same Spirit—The Holy Trinity appears here: the Holy Spirit in this verse; Christ in 1Co 12:5; and the Father in 1Co 12:6. The terms "gifts," "administrations," and "operations," respectively correspond to the Divine Three. The Spirit is treated of in 1Co 12:7, &c.; the Lord, in 1Co 12:12, &c.; God, in 1Co 12:28. (Compare Eph 4:4-6).

5, 6. "Gifts" (1Co 12:4), "administrations" (the various functions and services performed by those having the gifts, compare 1Co 12:28), and "operations" (the actual effects resulting from both the former, through the universally operative power of the one Father who is "above all, through all, and in us all"), form an ascending climax [Henderson, Inspiration].

same Lord—whom the Spirit glorifies by these ministrations [Bengel].

6. operations—(Compare 1Co 12:10).

same God … worketh—by His Spirit working (1Co 12:11).

all in all—all of them (the "gifts") in all the persons (who possess them).

7. But—Though all the gifts flow from the one God, Lord, and Spirit, the "manifestation" by which the Spirit acts (as He is hidden in Himself), varies in each individual.

to every manto each of the members of the Church severally.

to profit withalwith a view to the profit of the whole body.

8-10. Three classes of gifts are distinguished by a distinct Greek word for "another" (a distinct class), marking the three several genera: allo marks the species, hetero the genera (compare Greek, 1Co 15:39-41). I. Gifts of intellect, namely, (1) wisdom; (2) knowledge. II. Gifts dependent on a special faith, namely, that of miracles (Mt 17:20): (1) healings; (2) workings of miracles; (3) prophecy of future events; (4) discerning of spirits, or the divinely given faculty of distinguishing between those really inspired, and those who pretended to inspiration. III. Gifts referring to the tongues: (1) diverse kinds of tongues; (2) interpretation of tongues. The catalogue in 1Co 12:28 is not meant strictly to harmonize with the one here, though there are some particulars in which they correspond. The three genera are summarily referred to by single instances of each in 1Co 13:8. The first genus refers more to believers; the second, to unbelievers.

by … by … by—The first in Greek is, "By means of," or "through the operation of"; the second is, "according to" the disposing of (compare 1Co 12:11); the third is, "in," that is, under the influence of (so the Greek, Mt 22:43; Lu 2:27).

word of wisdom—the ready utterance of (for imparting to others, Eph 6:19) wisdom, namely, new revelations of the divine wisdom in redemption, as contrasted with human philosophy (1Co 1:24; 2:6, 7; Eph 1:8; 3:10; Col 2:3).

word of knowledge—ready utterance supernaturally imparted of truths ALREADY REVEALED (in this it is distinguished from "the word of wisdom," which related to NEW revelations). Compare 1Co 14:6, where "revelation" (answering to "wisdom" here) is distinguished from "knowledge" [Henderson]. Wisdom or revelation belonged to the "prophets"; knowledge, to the "teachers." Wisdom penetrates deeper than knowledge. Knowledge relates to things that are to be done. Wisdom, to things eternal: hence, wisdom is not, like knowledge, said to "pass away" (1Co 13:8), [Bengel].

9. faith—not of doctrines, but of miracles: confidence in God, by the impulse of His Spirit, that He would enable them to perform any required miracle (compare 1Co 13:2; Mr 11:23; Jas 5:15). Its nature, or principle, is the same as that of saving faith, namely, reliance on God; the producing cause, also, in the same,' namely, a power altogether supernatural (Eph 1:19, 20). But the objects of faith differ respectively. Hence, we see, saving faith does not save by its instrinsic merit, but by the merits of Him who is the object of it.

healingGreek plural, "healings"; referring to different kinds of disease which need different kinds of healing (Mt 10:1).

10. working of miracles—As "healings" are miracles, those here meant must refer to miracles of special and extraordinary POWER (so the Greek for "miracles" means); for example, healings might be effected by human skill in course of time; but the raising of the dead, the infliction of death by a word, the innocuous use of poisons, &c., are miracles of special power. Compare Mr 6:5; Ac 19:11.

prophecy—Here, probably, not in the wider sense of public teaching by the Spirit (1Co 11:4, 5; 14:1-5, 22-39); but, as its position between "miracles" and a "discerning of spirits" implies, the inspired disclosure of the future (Ac 11:27, 28; 21:11; 1Ti 1:18), [Henderson]. It depends on "faith" (1Co 12:9; Ro 12:6). The prophets ranked next to the apostles (1Co 12:28; Eph 3:5; 4:11). As prophecy is part of the whole scheme of redemption, an inspired insight into the obscurer parts of the existing Scriptures, was the necessary preparation for the miraculous foresight of the future.

discerning of spirits—discerning between the operation of God's Spirit, and the evil spirit, or unaided human spirit (1Co 14:29; compare 1Ti 4:1; 1Jo 4:1).

kinds of tongues—the power of speaking various languages: also a spiritual language unknown to man, uttered in ecstasy (1Co 14:2-12). This is marked as a distinct genus in the Greek, "To another and a different class."

interpretation of tongues—(1Co 14:13, 26, 27).

11. as he will—(1Co 12:18; Heb 2:4).

12, 13. Unity, not unvarying uniformity, is the law of God in the world of grace, as in that of nature. As the many members of the body compose an organic whole and none can be dispensed with as needless, so those variously gifted by the Spirit, compose a spiritual organic whole, the body of Christ, into which all are baptized by the one Spirit.

of that one body—Most of the oldest manuscripts omit "one."

so also is Christ—that is, the whole Christ, the head and body. So Ps 18:50, "His anointed (Messiah or Christ), David (the antitypical David) and His seed."

13. by … Spirit … baptized—literally, "in"; in virtue of; through. The designed effect of baptism, which is realized when not frustrated by the unfaithfulness of man.

Gentiles—literally, "Greeks."

all made to drink into one Spirit—The oldest manuscripts read, "Made to drink of one Spirit," omitting "into" (Joh 7:37). There is an indirect allusion to the Lord's Supper, as there is a direct allusion to baptism in the beginning of the verse. So the "Spirit, the water, and the blood" (1Jo 5:8), similarly combine the two outward signs with the inward things signified, the Spirit's grace.

are … have been—rather as Greek, "were … were" (the past tense).

14. Translate, "For the body also." The analogy of the body, not consisting exclusively of one, but of many members, illustrates the mutual dependence of the various members in the one body, the Church. The well-known fable of the belly and the other members, spoken by Menenius Agrippa, to the seceding commons [Livy, 2.32], was probably before Paul's mind, stored as it was with classical literature.

15. The humbler members ought not to disparage themselves, or to be disparaged by others more noble (1Co 12:21, 22).

foot … hand—The humble speaks of the more honorable member which most nearly resembles itself: so the "ear" of the "eye" (the nobler and more commanding member, Nu 10:31), (1Co 12:16). As in life each compares himself with those whom he approaches nearest in gifts, not those far superior. The foot and hand represent men of active life; the ear and eye, those of contemplative life.

17. Superior as the eye is, it would not do if it were the sole member to the exclusion of the rest.

18. now—as the case really is.

every one—each severally.

19. where were the body—which, by its very idea, "hath many members" (1Co 12:12, 14), [Alford].

20. now—as the case really is: in contrast to the supposition (1Co 12:19; compare 1Co 12:18).

many members—mutually dependent.

21. The higher cannot dispense with the lower members.

22. more feeble—more susceptible of injury: for example, the brain, the belly, the eye. Their very feebleness, so far from doing away with the need for them, calls forth our greater care for their preservation, as being felt "necessary."

23. less honourable—"We think" the feet and the belly "less honorable," though not really so in the nature of things.

bestow … honourputting shoes on (Margin) the feet, and clothes to cover the belly.

uncomely parts—the secret parts: the poorest, though unclad in the rest of the body, cover these.

24. tempered … together—on the principle of mutual compensation.

to that part which lacked—to the deficient part [Alford], (1Co 12:23).

25. no schism—(compare 1Co 12:21)—no disunion; referring to the "divisions" noticed (1Co 11:18).

care one for another—that is, in behalf of one another.

26. And—Accordingly.

all … suffer with it—"When a thorn enters the heel, the whole body feels it, and is concerned: the back bends, the belly and thighs contract themselves, the hands come forward and draw out the thorn, the head stoops, and the eyes regard the affected member with intense gaze" [Chrysostom].

rejoice with it—"When the head is crowned, the whole man feels honored, the mouth expresses, and the eyes look, gladness" [Chrysostom].

27. members in particular—that is, severally members of it. Each church is in miniature what the whole aggregate of churches is collectively, "the body of Christ" (compare 1Co 3:16): and its individual components are members, every one in his assigned place.

28. set … in the church—as He has "set the members … in the body" (1Co 12:18).

first apostles—above even the prophets. Not merely the Twelve, but others are so called, for example, Barnabas, &c. (Ro 16:7).

teachers—who taught, for the most part, truths already revealed; whereas the prophets made new revelations and spoke all their prophesyings under the Spirit's influence. As the teachers had the "word of knowledge," so the prophets "the word of wisdom" (1Co 12:8). Under "teachers" are included "evangelists and pastors."

miracles—literally, "powers" (1Co 12:10): ranked below "teachers," as the function of teaching is more edifying, though less dazzling than working miracles.

helps, governments—lower and higher departments of "ministrations" (1Co 12:5); as instances of the former, deacons whose office it was to help in the relief of the poor, and in baptizing and preaching, subordinate to higher ministers (Ac 6:1-10; 8:5-17); also, others who helped with their time and means, in the Lord's cause (compare 1Co 13:13; Nu 11:17). The Americans similarly use "helps" for "helpers." And, as instances of the latter, presbyters, or bishops, whose office it was to govern the Church (1Ti 5:17; Heb 13:17, 24). These officers, though now ordinary and permanent, were originally specially endowed with the Spirit for their office, whence they are here classified with other functions of an inspired character. Government (literally, "guiding the helm" of affairs), as being occupied with external things, notwithstanding the outward status it gives, is ranked by the Spirit with the lower functions. Compare "He that giveth" (answering to "helps")—"he that ruleth" (answering to "governments") (Ro 12:8). Translate, literally, "Helpings, governings" [Alford].

diversities of tongues—(1Co 12:10). "Divers kinds of tongues."

29. Are all?—Surely not.

31. covet earnestlyGreek, "emulously desire." Not in the spirit of discontented "coveting." The Spirit "divides to every man severally as He will" (1Co 12:1); but this does not prevent men earnestly seeking, by prayer and watchfulness, and cultivation of their faculties, the greatest gifts. Beza explains, "Hold in the highest estimation"; which accords with the distinction in his view (1Co 14:1) between "follow after charity—zealously esteem spiritual gifts"; also with (1Co 12:11, 18) the sovereign will with which the Spirit distributes the gifts, precluding individuals from desiring gifts not vouchsafed to them. But see on 1Co 14:1.

the best gifts—Most of the oldest manuscripts read, "the greatest gifts."

and yetGreek, "and moreover." Besides recommending your zealous desire for the greatest gifts, I am about to show you a something still more excellent (literally, "a way most way-like") to desire, "the way of love" (compare 1Co 14:1). This love, or "charity," includes both "faith" and "hope" (1Co 13:7), and bears the same fruits (1Co 13:1-13) as the ordinary and permanent fruits of the Spirit (Ga 5:22-24). Thus "long-suffering," compare 1Co 12:4; "faith," 1Co 12:7; "joy," 1Co 12:6; "meekness," 1Co 12:5; "goodness," 1Co 12:5; "gentleness," 1Co 12:4 (the Greek is the same for "is kind"). It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and consists in love to God, on account of God's love in Christ to us, and as a consequence, love to man, especially to the brethren in Christ (Ro 5:5; 15:30). This is more to be desired than gifts (Lu 10:20).

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