1 Corinthians 12:27-31

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 12:27-31

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way.


Having made the analogy about anatomy, Paul now returns to the topic of gifts and function, within the Church. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(27) Now.—We have here in general terms the application of the foregoing illustration, the detailed application of which follows in 1 Corinthians 12:28. The Apostles were those selected by our Lord Himself, or afterwards elected by them to join that body. (On prophets and teachers, see 1 Corinthians 12:10.) The teachers were probably a junior order of instructors. (See Acts 13:1Ephesians 4:11.) The enumeration of the gifts here corresponds with that previously given in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10, with the exception of the mention here of “helps” and “governments,” and the omission of “interpretation of tongues” and “discernment of spirit.” Possibly, therefore, the words inserted here are only another designation of the same thing. The “helps” being the aid required for those who heard tongues in order to the understanding them, and the “governments” being the due regulation of the acceptance of certain spiritual powers and rejection of others.

Having completed the analogy, Paul uses “now” to remind us that he was making a larger point. As the note above lets us know, Paul is returning our attention back to what he said previously in 1 Cor. 12:8-10:

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

The Church had been treating some gifts as better or more important than others, and the purpose of the last several verses has tbeen to correct this treatment. Continuing, from the note in The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 12:28

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 6:3Acts 6:4). The word occurs in 2 Macc 8:19; Ecc 11:1-10 :12, and the corresponding verb in Act 20:35; 1 Timothy 6:2Luke 1:54; see Romans 16:3Governments. 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.

1 Corinthians 12:29

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.”

We get a sense here that the discussion of spiritual gifts, and church office, are linked. Paul discusses the various corporate offices within the Church in verse 28, alongside some of the spiritual gifts. The broader point from Paul seems to be that while not everyone is gifted in the same way, or working in the same office, everyone has an important role that should be treated as important (just as the eye should treat the hand or foot as important, and vice versa.) Collectively, the Church is one body, and every part of it suffers together when injured and rejoices together when things go well. Returning to Ellicott to finish Chapter 12 and this section of verses:

(31) But covet oarnestly,—Better, But earnestly seek the better gifts. All this argument is not meant to check ardour and to damp enthusiasm. The Spirit divideth to every man as He wills, but He wills to give to each the best gift that each desires and is capable of receiving. The receptivity which comes with earnest and practical desire is in the case of each individual the determining cause as to what gift the Spirit will give. The last sentence, “And yet show I unto you a more excellent way,” ought to form the opening clause of the next chapter. The “more excellent way” is not some gift to be desired to the exclusion of the other gifts, but a more excellent way of striving for those gifts. You are not to strive for any one gift because it is more highly esteemed, or because it is more apparently useful, or because it is more easily attained. That which will consecrate every struggle for attainment and every gift when attained is LOVE.

The verse, and the note, indicate that it is possible to receive more spiritual gifts as one progresses in the faith. Paul encourages the readers to do so. We’ll give a bit of a spoiler here and tell you that Paul specifically wants the Church to pursue the gift of prophesy.

14 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 

Prophesy = προφητεύω prophēteúō, prof-ate-yoo’-o; from G4396; to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration, exercise the prophetic office:—prophesy.

You might wonder if there is a difference between prophecy and prophesy. From vocabulary.com:


prophecy is a prediction or an utterance from a prophet inspired by his god. It entered English before 1200 with two spellings: prophecie and prophesie. It was borrowed from the Old French prophetie/prophecie/prophesie, which originated in Late Latin and Greek.

Some psychological professionals swear by the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy.What are your thoughts on how Egypt relates to biblical prophecy?To think that such a rodent has these abilities of prophecy!

To prophesy is to predict something or to utter something inspired by one’s god. It pops up in English in about 1350 as prophecien and prophesien, coming through the Old French prophecier.

But we want to know why you do not prophesy like other prophets, especially on the political situation of Nigeria or at the beginning of the year?I prophesy that the GOP will lie right through its teeth in 50 years and take credit for the “Affordable Health Care” law.”Ryan Seacrest will be mine someday,” prophesied 17-year-old Courtney Penry of Missouri City, Texas, when American Idol auditions touched down in Austin.

Until 1700, the noun and the verb were spelled the same. However, the differentiated spelling may be disappearing already. Garner’s Modern American Usage notes that prophesy for prophecy is at stage 3 of language change: it’s common even among educated speakers and writers.


There you go. Clear as mud. Rest assured, we will return to the discussion in Chapter 14, but first we will cover the famous “love chapter” of the Bible, read at innumerable weddings – 1 Corinthians 13.