Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:27–31 The “greater gifts” for the church

1 Corinthians 12:27–31

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

Because we Americans are prone to think individually, it does not occur to us that the personal pronoun “you” — as in “Now you are the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27) — is plural. The English pronoun “you” is ambiguous as to whether it is singular or plural, but the Greek forms are crystal clear. The clause “you are the body of Christ” is obviously a metaphor that bridges the gap between the example of the human body (1 Cor. 12:12–26) and the church.

Paul previously argued against the exaltation of certain gifts but seems to reverse himself in 1 Cor. 12:28 by introducing a ranking of gifts. The critical difference is that some of the Corinthians were exalting spiritual gifts that could be misused to exalt the individual within the group, but the gifts Paul puts first are those whose value is measured by their benefit to others.[1]

It was an essential requirement for apostles to have seen the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 9:1, Acts 1:8). The church does not raise up its apostles but responds to their witness as those sent by the Lord. Apostles “had no successors, and Paul uses the term in this sense in 12:28.”[2] Those today who allow the word “apostle” to be applied to them are not using the word in its biblical sense.

In considering what follows, make use of the helpful insight that in speaking we are actually doing something — asking questions, issuing commands, requesting help, expressing feelings — and linguistic philosophers call this a speech-act. Thiselton usefully distinguishes the roles of prophets and teachers by using the speech-act concept:

Prophets perform speech-acts of announcement, proclamation, judgment, challenge, comfort, support, or encouragement, whereas teachers perform speech-acts of transmission, communicative explanation, interpretation of texts, establishment of creeds, [and] exposition of meaning and implication.[3]

It seems clear that the speech-acts of prophets focus on immediate application, while those of teachers focus on “retaining, passing on and interpreting the congregation’s foundation traditions.”[4] Contemporary preaching combines both.

Most interpreters and translators see verse 31 as a transitional verse that connects Paul’s conclusion about gifts and his long tribute to the supremacy of love in the life of those indwelled by the Spirit. First, he commands believers to earnestly desire the expression in the church of “the greater gifts,” which are those given to build up others. That is the ideal prelude to his coming remarks about love.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permis



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 598–99.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1015.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1017.

[4] James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998) 582.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!