1 Corinthians 12


The apostle proceeds to the question of the Corinthians

concerning spiritual gifts, 1.

He calls to their remembrance their former state, and how they

were brought out of it, 2, 3.

Shows that there are diversities of gifts which proceed from

the Spirit, 4.

Diversities of administrations which proceed from the Lord

Jesus, 5.

And diversities of operations which proceed from God, 6.

What these gifts are, and how they are dispensed, 7-11.

Christ is the Head, and the Church his members; and this is

pointed out under the similitude of the human body, 12, 13.

The relation which the members of the body have to each other;

and how necessary their mutual support, 14-26.

The members in the Church, or spiritual body, and their

respective offices, 27-30.

We should earnestly covet the best gifts, 31.


Verse 1. Now concerning spiritual gifts] This was a subject

about which they appear to have written to the apostle, and

concerning which there were probably some contentions among them.

The words περιτωνπνευματικων may as well be translated

concerning spiritual persons, as spiritual gifts; and indeed the

former agrees much better with the context.

I would not have you ignorant.] I wish you fully to know

whence all such gifts come, and for what end they are given, that

each person may serve the Church in the capacity in which God has

placed him, that there may be no misunderstandings and no schism

in the body.

Verse 2. Ye were Gentiles] Previously to your conversion to

the Christian faith; ye were heathens, carried away, not guided by

reason or truth, but hurried by your passions into a senseless

worship, the chief part of which was calculated only to excite and

gratify animal propensities.

Dumb idols] Though often supplicated, could never return an

answer; so that not only the image could not speak, but the god or

demon pretended to be represented by it could not speak: a full

proof that an idol was nothing in the world.

Verse 3. No man speaking by the Spirit of God] It was granted

on all hands that there could be no religion without Divine

inspiration, because God alone, could make his will known to men:

hence heathenism pretended to this inspiration; Judaism had it in

the law and the prophets; and it was the very essence of the

Christian religion. The heathen priests and priestesses pretended

to receive, by inspiration from their god, the answers which they

gave to their votaries. And as far as the people believed their

pretensions, so far they were led by their teaching.

Both Judaism and heathenism were full of expectations of a

future teacher and deliverer; and to this person, especially among

the Jews, the Spirit in all the prophets gave witness. This was

the Anointed One, the Messiah who was manifested in the person of

Jesus of Nazareth; and him the Jews rejected, though he proved his

Divine mission both by his doctrines and his miracles. But as he

did not come as they fancied he would-as a mighty secular

conqueror, they not only rejected but blasphemed him; and persons

among them professing to be spiritual men, and under the influence

of the Spirit of God, did so. But as the Holy Spirit, through all

the law and the prophets gave Testimony to the Messiah, and as

Jesus proved himself to be the Christ both by his miracles and

doctrines, no man under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit could

say to him anethema-thou art a deceiver, and a person worthy of

death, &c., as the Jews did: therefore the Jews were no longer

under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. This appears to be

the meaning of the apostle in this place. No man speaking by the

Spirit, &c.

And that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord] Nor can we

demonstrate this person to be the Messiah and the Saviour of men,

but by the Holy Ghost, enabling us to speak with divers tongues,

to work miracles; he attesting the truth of our doctrines to them

that hear, by enlightening their minds, changing their hearts,

and filling them with the peace and love of God.

Verse 4. There are diversities of gifts] χαρισματωνυ Gracious

endowments, leading to miraculous results; such as the gift of

prophecy, speaking different tongues, &c. And these all came by

the extraordinary influences of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 5. Differences of administrations] διακονιων. Various

offices in the Church, such as apostle, prophet, and teacher;

under which were probably included bishop or presbyter, pastor,

deacon, &c.; the qualifications for such offices, as well as the

appointments themselves, coming immediately from the one Lord

Jesus Christ.

Verse 6. Diversities of operations] ενεργηματων. Miraculous

influences exerted on others; such as the expulsion of demons,

inflicting extraordinary punishments, as in the case of Ananias

and Sapphira, Elymas the sorcerer, &c., the healing of different

diseases, raising the dead, &c.: all these proceeded from God the

Father, as the fountain of all goodness and power, and the

immediate dispenser of every good and perfect gift.

In the three preceding verses we find more than an indirect

reference to the doctrine of the sacred Trinity.

GIFTS are attributed to the Holy Spirit, 1Co 12:4.

ADMINISTRATIONS to the Lord Jesus, 1Co 12:5.

OPERATIONS to God the Father, 1Co 12:6.

He who may think this fanciful must account for the very evident

distinctions here in some more satisfactory way.

Verse 7. The manifestation of the Spirit] φανερωσιςτου

πνευματος. This is variably understood by the fathers; some of

them rendering φανερωσις by illumination, others demonstration,

and others operation. The apostle's meaning seems to be this:

Whatever gifts God has bestowed, or in what various ways soever

the Spirit of God may have manifested himself, it is all for the

common benefit of the Church. God has given no gift to any man

for his own private advantage, or exclusive profit. He has it for

the benefit of others as well as for his own salvation.

Verse 8. Word of wisdom] In all these places I consider that

the proper translation of λογος is doctrine, as in many other

places of the New Testament. It is very difficult to say what is

intended here by the different kinds of gifts mentioned by the

apostle: they were probably all supernatural, and were necessary

at that time only for the benefit of the Church. On the 8th, 9th,

and 10th verses, much may be seen in Lightfoot, Whitby, Pearce,

and others. 1Co 12:8-10

By doctrine of wisdom we may understand, as Bp. Pearce and Dr.

Whitby observe, the mystery of our redemption, in which the wisdom

of God was most eminently conspicuous: see 1Co 2:7, 10; and which

is called the manifold wisdom of God, Eph 3:10. Christ, the

great teacher of it, is called the wisdom of God, 1Co 1:24; and

in him are said to be contained all the treasures of wisdom and

knowledge, Col 2:3. The apostles to whom this doctrine was

committed are called σοφοι, wise men; (Mt 23:34;) and they are

said to teach this Gospel according to the wisdom given them,

2Pe 3:15.

2. By the doctrine of knowledge we may understand either a

knowledge of the types, &c., in the Old Testament; or what are

termed mysteries; the calling of the Gentiles, the recalling of

the Jews, the mystery of iniquity, of the beast, &c., and

especially the mystical sense or meaning of the Old Testament,

with all its types, rites, ceremonies, &c., &c.

3. By faith, 1Co 12:9, we are to understand that miraculous

faith by which they could remove mountains, 1Co 13:2; or a

peculiar impulse, as Dr: Whitby calls it, that came upon the

apostles when any difficult matter was to be performed, which

inwardly assured them that God's power would assist them in the

performance of it. Others think that justifying faith, received

by means of Gospel teaching, is what is intended.

4. Gifts of healing simply refers to the power which at

particular times the apostles received from the Holy Spirit to

cure diseases; a power which was not always resident in them; for

Paul could not cure Timothy, nor remove his own thorn in the

flesh; because it was given only on extraordinary occasions,

though perhaps more generally than many others.

5. The working of miracles, ενεργηματαδυναμεων, 1Co 12:10.

This seems to refer to the same class as the operations,

ενεργηματων, 1Co 12:6, as the words are the same; and to

signify those powers by which they were enabled at particular

times to work miraculously on others; ejecting demons, inflicting

punishments or judgments, as in the cases mentioned under

1Co 12:6. It is a hendyadis for mighty operations.

6. Prophecy. This seems to import two things: 1st, the

predicting future events, such as then particularly concerned the

state of the Church and the apostles; as the dearth foretold by

Agabus, Ac 11:28;

and the binding of St. Paul, and delivering him to the Romans,

Ac 21:10, &c.;

and St. Paul's foretelling his own shipwreck on Malta, Ac 27:25,

&c. And 2dly, as implying the faculty of teaching or expounding

the Scriptures, which is also a common acceptation of the word.

7. Discerning of spirits. A gift by which the person so

privileged could discern a false miracle from a true one; or a

pretender to inspiration from him who was made really partaker of

the Holy Ghost. It probably extended also to the discernment of

false professors from true ones, as appears in Peter in the case of

Ananias and his wife.

8. Divers kinds of tongues. γενηγλωσσων, Different languages,

which they had never learned, and which God gave them for the

immediate instruction of people of different countries who

attended their ministry.

9. Interpretation of tongues. It was necessary that while one

was speaking the deep things of God in a company where several

were present who did not understand, though the majority did,

there should be a person who could immediately interpret what was

said to that part of the congregation that did not understand the

language. This power to interpret was also an immediate gift of

God's Spirit, and is classed here among the miracles.

Verse 11. But all these worketh that one and the self-same

Spirit] All these gifts are miraculously bestowed; they cannot

be acquitted by human art or industry, the different languages

excepted; but they were given in such a way, and in such

circumstances, as sufficiently proved that they also were

miraculous gifts.

Verse 12. For as the body is one] Though the human body have

many members, and though it be composed of a great variety of

parts, yet it is but one entire system; every part and member

being necessary to the integrity or completeness of the whole.

So also is Christ.] That is, So is the Church the body of

Christ, being composed of the different officers already

mentioned, and especially those enumerated, 1Co 12:28,

apostles, prophets, teachers, &c. It cannot be supposed that

Christ is composed of many members, &c., and therefore the term

Church must be understood, unless we suppose, which is not

improbable, that the term οχριστος, Christ, is used to express

the Church, or whole body of Christian believers.

Verse 13. For by one Spirit are we all baptized, &c.] As the

body of man, though composed of many members, is informed and

influenced by one soul; so the Church of Christ, which is his

body, though composed of many members, is informed and influenced

by one Spirit, the Holy Ghost; actuating and working by his

spiritual body, as the human soul does in the body of man.

To drink into one Spirit.] We are to understand being made

partakers of the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost agreeably to

the words of our Lord, Joh 7:37, &c.:

If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink: this he spake

of the Spirit which they that believed on him should receive.

On this verse there is a great profusion of various readings,

which may be found in Griesbach, but cannot be conveniently

noticed here.

Verse 14. For the body is not one member] The mystical body,

the Church, as well as the natural body, is composed of many


Verse 15. If the foot shall say, &c.] As all the members of

the body are necessarily dependent on each other, and minister to

the general support of the system, so is it in the Church. All

the private members are intimately connected among themselves, and

also with their pastors; without which union no Church can subsist.

Verse 21. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need

of thee] The apostle goes on, with his principal object in view,

to show that the gifts and graces with which their different

teachers were endowed were all necessary for their salvation, and

should be collectively used; for not one of them was unnecessary,

nor could they dispense with the least of them; the body of Christ

needed the whole for its nourishment and support. The famous

apologue of Menenius Agrippa, related by Livy, will serve to

illustrate the apostle's reasoning: the Roman people, getting into

a state of insurrection and rebellion against the nobility, under

pretext that the great men not only had all the honours but all

the emoluments of the nation, while they were obliged to bear all

the burdens, and suffer all the privations; they then in riotous

assemblage left their homes and went to Mount Aventine. Matters

were at last brought to such an issue, that the senators and great

men were obliged to fly from the city, and the public peace was on

the point of being utterly ruined: it was then thought expedient

to send Menenius Agrippa to them, who was high in their esteem,

having vanquished the Sabines and Samnites, and had the first

triumph at Rome. This great general, who was as eloquent as he was

valiant, went to the Mons Sacer, to which the insurgents had

retired, and thus addressed them: Tempore, quo in homine non, ut

nunc emnia in unum consentiebant, sed singulis membris suum cuique

consilium, suus sermo fuerat, indignatas reliquas partes, sua

cura, suo labore ac ministerio ventri omnia quaeri; ventrem, in

medio quietum, nihil aliud, quam datis voluptatibus frui.

Conspirasse inde, ne manus ad os cibum ferrent, nec os acciperet

datum, nec dentes conficerent. Hac ira, dum ventrem fame domare

vellent, ipsa una membra totumque corpus ad extremam tabem

venisse. lnde apparuisse, ventris quoque haud segne ministerium

esse: nec magis ali, quam alere eum, reddentem in omnes corporis

partes hunc, quo vivimus vigemusque, divisum pariter in venas

maturum, confecto cibo, sanquinem. T. Livii, Histor. lib. ii.

cap. 32. "In that time in which the different parts of the human

body were not in a state of unity as they now are, but each member

had its separate office and distinct language, they all became

discontented, because whatever was procured by their care, labour,

and industry, was spent on the belly; while this, lying at ease in

the midst of the body, did nothing but enjoy whatever was provided

for it. They therefore conspired among themselves, and agreed

that the hands should not convey food to the mouth, that the mouth

should not receive what was offered to it, and that the teeth

should not masticate whatever was brought to the mouth. Acting on

this principle of revenge, and hoping to reduce the belly by

famine, all the members, and the whole body itself, were at length

brought into the last stage of a consumption. It then plainly

appeared that the belly itself did no small service; that it

contributed not less to their nourishment than they did to its

support, distributing to every part that from which they derived

life and vigour; for by properly concocting the food, the pure

blood derived from it was conveyed by the arteries to every


This sensible comparison produced the desired effect; the

people were persuaded that the senators were as necessary to their

existence as they were to that of the senators, and that it

required the strictest union and mutual support of high and low

to preserve the body politic. This transaction took place about

500 years before the Christian era, and was handed down by

unbroken tradition to the time of Titus Livius, from whom I have

taken it, who died in the year of our Lord 17, about forty years

before St. Paul wrote this epistle. As his works were well known

and universally read among the Romans in the time of the apostle,

it is very probable that St. Paul had this famous apologue in view

when he wrote from the 14th verse to the end of the chapter.

1Co 12:14-31

Verse 22. Those members-which seem to be more feeble] These,

and the less honourable and uncomely, mentioned in the next

verses, seem to mean the principal viscera, such as the heart,

lungs, stomach, and intestinal canal. These, when compared with

the arms and limbs, are comparatively weak; and some of them,

considered in themselves, uncomely and less honourable; yet these

are more essential to life than any of the others. A man may lose

an eye by accident, and an arm or a leg may be amputated, and yet

the body live and be vigorous; but let the stomach, heart, lungs,

or any of the viscera be removed, and life becomes necessarily

extinct. Hence these parts are not only covered, but the parts in

which they are lodged are surrounded, ornamented, and fortified

for their preservation and defence, on the proper performance of

whose functions life so immediately depends.

Verse 24. For our comely parts have no need] It would be easy

to go into great detail in giving an anatomical description of the

different members and parts to which the apostle refers, but it

would not probably answer the end of general edification; and to

explain every allusion made by the apostle, would require a

minuteness of description which would not be tolerated except in a

treatise on the anatomy of the human body. My readers will

therefore excuse my entering into this detail.

Verse 25. That there should be no schism in the body] That

there should be no unnecessary and independent part in the whole

human machine, and that every part should contribute something to

the general proportion, symmetry, and beauty of the body. So

completely has God tempered the whole together, that not the

smallest visible part can be removed from the body without not

only injuring its proportions, but producing deformity. Hence the

members have the same care one for another. The eyes and ears

watch for the general safety of the whole; and they are placed in

the head, like sentinels in a tower, that they may perceive the

first approach of a foe, and give warning. The hands immediately

on an attack exert themselves to defend the head and the body; and

the limbs are swift to carry off the body from dangers against

which resistance would be vain. Even the heart takes alarm from

both the eyes and the ears; and when an attack is made on the

body, every external muscle becomes inflated and contracts itself,

that, by thus collecting and concentrating its force, it may the

more effectually resist the assailants, and contribute to the

defence of the system.

Verse 26. And whether one member suffer] As there is a mutual

exertion for the general defence, so there is a mutual sympathy.

If the eye, the hand, the foot, &c., be injured, the whole man

grieves; and if by clothing, or any thing else, any particular

member or part is adorned, strengthened, or better secured, it

gives a general pleasure to the whole man.

Verse 27. Now ye are the body of Christ] The apostle, having

finished his apologue, comes to his application.

As the members in the human body, so the different members of

the mystical body of Christ. All are intended by him to have the

same relation to each other; to be mutually subservient to each

other; to mourn for and rejoice with each other. He has also made

each necessary to the beauty, proportion, strength, and perfection

of the whole. Not one is useless; not one unnecessary. Paul,

Apollos, Kephas, &c., with all their variety of gifts and graces,

are for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the

ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, Eph 4:12.

Hence no teacher should be exalted above or opposed to an other.

As the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee, so

luminous Apollos cannot say to laborious Paul, I can build up and

preserve the Church without thee. The foot planted on the ground

to support the whole fabric, and the hands that swing at liberty,

and the eye that is continually taking in near and distant

prospects, are all equally serviceable to the whole, and mutually

helpful to and dependent on each other. So also are the different

ministers and members of the Church of Christ.

From a general acquaintance with various ministers of Christ,

and a knowledge of their different talents and endowments

manifested either by their preaching or writings, and with the aid

of a little fancy, we could here make out a sort of correspondency

between their services and the uses of the different members of

the human body. We could call one eye, because of his acute

observation of men and things, and penetration into cases of

conscience and Divine mysteries. Another hand, from his laborious

exertions in the Church. Another foot, from his industrious

travels to spread abroad the knowledge of Christ crucified: and so

of others. But this does not appear to be any part of the

apostle's plan.

Verse 28. God hath set some in the Church] As God has made

evident distinctions among the members of the human body, so that

some occupy a more eminent place than others, so has he in the

Church. And to prove this, the apostle numerates the principal

offices, and in the order in which they should stand.

First, apostles] αποστολους, from απο from, and στελλο

I send; to send from one person to another, and from one

place to another. Persons immediately designated by Christ, and

sent by him to preach the Gospel to all mankind.

Secondarily, prophets] προφητας, from προ, before, and

φημι, I speak; a person who, under Divine inspiration, predicts

future events; but the word is often applied to these who preach

the Gospel. See Clarke on 1Co 12:8.

Thirdly, teachers] διδασκαλους, from διδασκω, I teach;

persons whose chief business it was to instruct the people in the

elements of the Christian religion, and their duty to each other.

See Clarke on Ro 8:8.

Miracles] δυναμεις. Persons endued with miraculous gifts,

such as those mentioned Mr 16:17, 18; casting out devils,

speaking with new tongues, &c. See Clarke on 1Co 12:8, and at the end

of the chapter. See Clarke on 1Co 12:31

Gifts of healings] χαρισματαιαματων. Such as laying hands

upon the sick, and healing them, Mr 16:18; which, as being one of

the most beneficent miraculous powers, was most frequently

conceded. See Clarke on 1Co 12:8.

Helps] αντιληψεις. Dr. Lightfoot conjectures that these were

the apostles' helpers; persons who accompanied them, baptized

those who were converted by them, and were sent by them to such

places as they could not attend to, being otherwise employed.

The Levites are termed by the Talmudists helps of the priests.

The word occurs Lu 1:54; Ro 8:26.

Governments] κυβερνησεις. Dr. Lightfoot contends that this

word does not refer to the power of ruling, but to the case of a

person endued with a deep and comprehensive mind, who is

profoundly wise and prudent; and he thinks that it implies the

same as discernment of spirits, 1Co 12:8, where see the note.

He has given several proofs of this use of the word in the


Diversities of tongues.] γενηγλωσσων. Kinds of tongues; that

is, different kinds. The power to speak, on all necessary

occasions, languages which they had not learned.

See Clarke on 1Co 12:8.

Verse 29. Are all apostles, &c.] That is: All are not

apostles, all are not prophets, &c.; God has distributed his

various gifts among various persons, each of whom is necessary for

the complete edification of the body of Christ. On these subjects

see the notes on 1Co 12:7-10.

Verse 31. But covet earnestly] To covet signifies to desire

earnestly. This disposition towards heavenly things is highly

laudable; towards earthly things, is deeply criminal. A man may

possess the best of all these gifts, and yet be deficient in what

is essentially necessary to his salvation, for he may be without

that love or charity which the apostle here calls the more

excellent way, and which he proceeds in the next chapter to


Some think that this verse should be read affirmatively, Ye

earnestly contend about the best gifts; but I show unto you a more

excellent way; i.e. get your hearts filled with love to God and

man-love, which is the principle of obedience, which works no ill

to its neighbour, and which is the fulfilling of the law. This is

a likely reading, for there were certainly more contentions in the

Church of Corinth about the gifts than about the graces of the


1. AFTER all that has been said on the different offices

mentioned by the apostle in the preceding chapter, there are some

of them which perhaps are not understood. I confess I scarcely

know what to make of those which we translate helps and

governments. Bishop Pearce, who could neither see Church

government nor state government in these words, expresses himself

thus: "These two words, after all that the commentators say about

them, I do not understand; and in no other part of the New

Testament is either of them, in any sense, mentioned as the gift

of the Spirit; especially it is observable that in 1Co 12:29, 30,

where the gifts of the Spirit are again enumerated, no notice is

taken of any thing like them, while all the other several parts

are exactly enumerated. Perhaps these words were put in the

margin to explain δυναμεις, miracles or powers; some taking the

meaning to be helps, assistances, as in 2Co 12:9; others to be

κυβερνησεις, governments, as in Ro 8:38; and from being

marginal explanations, they might have been at last incorporated

with the text." It must, however, be acknowledged that the

omission of these words is not countenanced by any MS. or version.

One thing we may fully know, that there are some men who are

peculiarly qualified for governing by either providence or grace;

and that there are others who can neither govern nor direct, but

are good helpers. These characters I have often seen in different

places in the Church of God.

2. In three several places in this chapter the apostle sums up

the gifts of the Spirit. Dr. Lightfoot thinks they answer to each

other in the following order, which the reader will take on his


Verses 8, 9, and 10.

Is given

The word of Wisdom;

The word of Knowledge.

Ver. 9. Faith;

Gifts of Healing.

Ver. 10. Working of Miracles;


Discerning of Spirits;

Divers kinds of Tongues;

Interpretation of Tongues.

Verse 28.

God hath set some


Secondly, PROPHETS;

Thirdly, TEACHERS;

After that, MIRACLES;




Divers kinds of TONGUES.

Verses 29, and 30.

Are all





Ver. 30. Gifts of Healing.

Speak with Tongues;


If the reader think that this is the best way of explaining

these different gifts and offices, he will adopt it; and he will

in that case consider, 1. That the word or doctrine of wisdom

comes from the apostles. 2. The doctrine of knowledge, from the

prophets. 3. Faith, by means of the teachers. 4. That working

of miracles includes the gifts of healing. 5. That to prophecy,

signifying preaching, which it frequently does, helps is a

parallel. 6. That discernment of spirits is the same with

governments, which Dr. Lightfoot supposes to imply a deeply

comprehensive, wise, and prudent mind. 7. As to the gift of

tongues, there is no variation in either of the three places.

3. It is strange that in this enumeration only three distinct

officers in the Church should be mentioned; viz. apostles,

prophets, and teachers. We do not know that miracles, gifts of

healing, helps, governments, and diversity of tongues, were

exclusive offices; for it is probable that apostles, prophets, and

teachers wrought miracles occasionally, and spoke with divers

tongues. However, in all this enumeration, where the apostle gives

us all the officers and gifts necessary for the constitution of a

Church, we find not one word of bishops, presbyters, or deacons;

much less of the various officers and offices which the Christian

Church at present exhibits. Perhaps the bishops are included

under the apostles, the presbyters under the prophets, and the

deacons under the teachers. As to the other ecclesiastical

officers with which the Romish Church teems, they may seek them

who are determined to find them, any where out of the New


4. Mr. Quesnel observes on these passages that there are three

sorts of gifts necessary to the forming Christ's mystical body.

1. Gifts of power, for the working of miracles, in reference to

the Father. 2. Gifts of labour and ministry, for the exercise of

government and other offices, with respect to the Son. 3. Gifts

of knowledge, for the instruction of the people, with relation to

the Holy Ghost.

The FATHER is the principle and end of all created power; let

us then ultimately refer all things to him.

The SON is the Institutor and Head of all the hierarchical

ministries; let us depend upon him.

The HOLY GHOST is the fountain and fulness of all spiritual

graces; let us desire and use them only in and by him.

There is nothing good, nothing profitable to salvation, unless

it be done in the power of God communicated by Christ Jesus, and

in that holiness of heart which is produced by his SPIRIT.

Pastors are only the instruments of God, the depositaries of the

authority of Christ, and the channels by whom the love and graces

of the Spirit are conveyed. Let these act as receiving all from

God by Christ, through the Holy Ghost; and let the Church receive

them as the ambassadors of the Almighty.

Copyright information for Clarke