Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 12:1-6
12 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
Paul turns his attention to the topic of “spiritual gifts” in Chapter 12. The first few verses, which we will cover here, represent an introduction to the topic. There is something to consider, in the fact that Paul addresses unity, a purge of unrepentant evil, sexual immorality, idol worship, head coverings, and Holy Communion before he begins touching on the topic of the supernatural. However, now that we are here, let’s start with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary and verse 1:
(1) Now concerning spiritual gifts.—Again the sequence of the topics treated of is probably decided by the subjects contained in the letter from Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 8:1), and the Apostle replies to inquiries regarding the comparative value and importance of certain spiritual gifts. In this early age the Church was full of the divine energy of spiritual youth. From the indwelling Spirit of God resulted certain marvellous “gifts,” some of which ceased with the apostolic age—some of which seem to have lingered for centuries, even to our own day—declaring themselves intermittently in times of profound religious awakening. The party spirit with which the Corinthian Church seems to have been saturated naturally led to diverse views as to the relative importance of certain of these gifts—some were unduly exalted, some unduly depreciated. The truth that these gifts are valuable as evidence of the indwelling Spirit, and so far as they could be useful for the Church, was forgotten. The Apostle reserves for consideration in more detail (see 1 Corinthians 13:0) the special gift of tongues, which was, perhaps, the gift most exaggerated and most misunderstood at Corinth, and deals in this chapter with the subject of spiritual gifts generally. The subject of the chapter is The Source, Object, and Value of Spiritual Gifts, and the chapter may be thus subdivided:—
1 Corinthians 12:1-3. The confession of Christ as Lord is the true evidence of the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:4-11. The gifts of the Spirit are diverse in character, but the origin is the same.
1 Corinthians 12:12-30. The analogy of the human body shows that the spiritual Body (the Church) is not a collection of independent parts, but a living organism consisting of mutually interdependent members.
I would not have you ignorant.—Better, Ido not wish you to be ignorant.
Ellicott states a belief that the order of topics addressed in this book relate to the order of topics provided to Paul in the letter to which this Epistle is a response. That is certainly possible, though we do not know for certain. Ellicott also includes in its note for this verse a breakdown of the topics covered by the rest of Chapter 12, which you might find useful going forward.
Proceeding to verse 2, we’ll look at The Pulpit Commentaries next.
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; Psalms 115:5; Psalms 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.”
If you get a chance, it sounds as though a trip to the Museo Borbonico might be worth your time, assuming of course that the statue mentioned still resides there. It is interesting and adds some depth of understanding, to know that the inanimate idols were made to appears as though they spoke.
Paul clarifies here though that the Holy Spirit does not work in the same manner. It will not contradict itself in the same manner that an idol might have done Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries then in 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, 1 Samuel 10:11; 1 Samuel 18:10; 1Sa 19:23, 1 Samuel 19:24, 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.”)
The Corinthians were facing a situation where people, who appeared to be led by the Holy Spirit, were saying things that seemed contradictory to Christian teaching. Paul instructs them here on how to recognize when those utterances are false.
The note above provides a list of possibility for what may have been going on in the Church at this time. The underlying point from Paul is that God will not contradict Himself. If one person appears to be speaking for God, and another person “in the Spirit” directly contradicts that person, then Paul clarifies that one of them is wrong – because they are all serving the same God. Continuing through the end of the section, in Ellicott:
(4-6) NOW there are diversities of gifts.—Although conversion is identical in every case, yet afterwards there are spiritual gifts which vary according to individual capacity and character, but they all come from the one Spirit. There are varieties of ministration in which those spiritual gifts are employed, and (not “but” in the Greek) the same Lord is served by these varied ministries; there are varieties of operations resulting from these gifts and ministrations, but it is the same God who works them all in all cases. We have here a clear indication of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity—the HOLY SPIRIT, the direct source of spiritual gifts; the SON, the one in whose service these gifts are to be used as ministers; the FATHER, the one supreme origin of all powers thus bestowed in diverse manners by the one Spirit, and for diverse purposes in the ministering to the One Son. Thus, underlying this passage is the vivid realisation of the Trinity in unity, and unity in Trinity of the Divine Nature.
Paul reiterates and clarifies in verses 4 through 6. Different gifts and differing service are all empowered by the same Lord, therefore, they are working together and in harmony, not in discord. If discord emerges, therefore, it means that someone is out of step with the Lord.
In the next section of verses, Paul lists gifts of the Spirit, and the discussion of those gifts will carry through the rest of Chapter 12 all the way through Chapter 14.