Notes on 1 Corinthians 12

Notes on 1 Corinthians 12

Note: I’m using a loose phonetic transliteration of Greek terms throughout. This is just intended to give the reader some guidance as to pronunciation.

For reference information on the Greek words cited, see 1 Corinthians 12-14: Greek Terms. Draft translation is from my Totally Free Bible Version project, and is just a draft.


1-3: Character of God’s Spirit

1Now brothers and sisters, I don’t want you to be ignorant about spirituality.

This could also be translated “spiritual matters.”? The neuter and masculine forms are identical. A number of commetators agree, but very few translations. I also prefer this translation in the first verse of chapter 14, where I haven’t been able to find anyone that agrees with me. Nonetheless I believe quite strongly that “gifts” is not correct in either place. I’ll discuss 14:1 more in my notes on that chapter.

2You know that when you were gentiles, you were led here and there by idols that could not speak.

Greek: aphona = without voice or without meaning. Ties to 14:10 which uses the same term.

3So I’m letting you know that nobody speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed” and nobody can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

This should not be taken as a magical formula, but rather as the introduction to Paul’s idea of discerning spiritual things.

Greek anaqhma (anathema) = cursed

Paul is here primarily creating categories rather than providing a test. The test is coming up in chapters 13 & 14 as Paul discusses the use of the gifts.


The following section describes the variety of gifts and emphasizes that all gifts come from the same spirit. It is more a continuation of the statement of the problem than of the solution. The “phanerosis”? of the spirit is not how one discerns between the Holy Spirit and false spirits. Rather, it is the visible part of the action of the invisible Spirit. Paul is simply emphasizing what is seen in order to develop his concept of discernment.

A Variety of Everything, but One Spirit

4There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

Greek carismata (charismata) = gifts. See “Greek Terms” on both carisma and pneumatiko” (pneumatikos).

5And there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

Greek diakonia (diakonia) = service

6And there are different kinds of activities, but the same God who accomplishes everything in everyone.

Greek energhma (energêma) = activity

7The visible action of the Spirit is given to each one for the common good.

Greek fanerwsi” (phanerosis) = bringing to light or disclosure. This is normally translated as “manifestation.” I’ve chosen “visible action” as a translation. This is the action that can be seen, but not the sign that distinguishes the action of the Holy Spirit from that of another spirit or from the absence of spirit.

8To one is given the a message of wisdom, but to another a message of knowledge by the same Spirit.

Greek logo” (logos) = word, message, with emphasis on underlying thought

I think it would be better not to regard these gifts as a single word or small number of words heard through revelation as it is often used. Doubtless God can speak through that means, but this would be better thought of as a gifting of understanding or wisdom to the person, while the revelation of one word, or any number of words is covered by the gift of prophecy.

One problem that comes through misunderstanding this type of revelation is that some treat words of knowledge as a sort of “prophecy lite” in which we can claim to have received revelation and spoken without undertaken the duty or burden of a prophet. It would be better to see all speech which claims its source in God as prophecy, no matter how the revelation is received.

9To another faith by the same Spirit, but to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit.

10To another is given the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another recognition of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another interpretation of tongues.

11But one and the same Spirit accomplishes all of these things, dividing them up as He wills.

CEV: “11But it is the Spirit who does all this and decides which gifts to give to each of us.”?

Emphasis is again placed on the “one”? spirit and on the spirit’s choice. We still have not seen any development of the idea of discernment or of ranking the spirits.

The body metaphor is commonly seen as illustrating how the various gifts are to work together in the church. I would suggest that instead, Paul is using the necessity of the various gifts as an illustration of how the body should work together. Part of the intention is correction of how the Corinthian believers regard and use the gifts, but the larger issue at hand is believers who claim different levels of spirituality for whatever reason. Paul is here building a basis for discernment and for unity of the church, whatever the source of divisions may be.


The Body Metaphor

The topic here is unity. As the body has many parts, differing in apparent honor, yet all necessary, so the church has many members with a variety of gifts, and all need to work together.

12Because just as the body is one but has many parts, and all the body’s parts are one body, so it is with Christ.

13For you were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether you were Jews or gentiles, slaves or free before, and all of you have drunk of one Spirit.

Note that when Paul discusses who is brought into the body it is not their gifts that he emphasizes but their physical and spiritual origin. All, no matter where they came from become one body.

Verses 12-26 deal with our starting point, rather than with our gifts.

“Drink of one spirit”? means that though we come from diverse backgrounds we become one body with one spirit and collectively receive the gifts necessary for the body.

I recommend reading the latter part of this chapter from the CEV for an overview: 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

14For the body is also not one part, but many.

15If the foot should say, “Because I am not the hand, I am not part of the body, that wouldn’t make it not a part of the body, would it?

16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not part of the body, that wouldn’t mean it was not part of the body, would it?”

17If all the body was an I, what would happen to hearing? If the whole body was hearing, what about smell?

18But now God has placed each of the parts one by one in the body in just the way he wanted to.

19But if all were one part, where would the body be?

20But now there are many parts, but one body.

21The eye can’t say to the hand, “I have no need of you!” or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you!”

22But the parts of the body that are weaker are so much more necessary,

23And the ones that are thought of no honor are treated with even greater honor, and those that are least attractive are given greater attractiveness,

24but our more respectable parts don’t need this honor. But God has so arranged the body so that those parts that lack it get greater honor.

25He does this so that there might not be any factions in the body but that the various parts might care for one another as themselves.

Verse 25 declares part of the purpose of the whole. This will be expanded in 13 and 14.

26And if one part suffers, all the parts suffer along with it. If one part is given special glory, all the parts rejoice with it.


Nobody has All Gifts

In the background here is the idea that nobody is independent, nobody is purely spiritual so as to be able to ignore the rest of the body. Those who claim all offices and all gifts should take note. I do not regard it as impossible for God to call someone to all the offices at once, though I regard it as extremely unlikely. One person carrying all the gifts or all the offices contradicts the way in which god wants to work with his church.

27Now you are the body of Christ, and members of it.

28And God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, help and guidance, varieties of tongues.

Greek tiqhmi (tithemi) = put or placed

Here Paul reintroduces the topic of gifts, these members, who come in from different backgrounds and with different spiritual standing are brought into the unity of the body, and then God appoints

I prefer the translation “placed” as opposed to “appointed” in verse 28, because it emphasizes that it is God who is bringing together the gifts. Due to the nature of Paul’s criticism, I believe that some members of the body in Corinth were determining their level of spiritual maturity by the level of their gifts. Paul is saying here that God brought people of all different ranks and stations, whether spiritual or temporal, and then that God put certain gifts in the body as he chose. The level of gifts should be divorced from the level of spirituality.

29Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all work miracles, do they?

30Not all have gifts of healing, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all interpret, do they?

The mixture of ministries, activities and gifts is intentional, showing that none of these lists are intended to be exhaustive.

These questions again emphasize the God-given nature of the gifts. If gifts were indicative of spiritual stature, then one would expect all those of a particular spiritual stature to attain certain “higher” gifts. But if the gifts are given by God as needed by the church, then this would not be the case. So not everyone gets any particular gift, but all are gifted as needed.

31But you are seeking the better gifts.

Compare NRSV: “31. But strive for the greater gifts.” This translates as an imperative, rather than indicative, which is the majority view. However, I disagree.

Paul is not suggesting that they should strive for the greater gifts. There is a certain amount of sarcasm. Paul has just shown no ranking of gifts. He has detached gifts from spiritual standing. He has detached all the visible activities of the Spirit from spiritual standing. What exactly could he mean by “Strive for the greater gifts”? In fact he is pointing out that despite the fact that God gives these according to his will, and that they are there according to the need of the body and not according to various peoples’ spiritual standing, the Corinthian believers are striving for them. So now Paul has to show them how to truly discern spirituality.

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