Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:26-33, Order through controlled speech

1 Corinthians 14:26-33

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two or at the most three should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Paul concludes his long attempt (1 Corinthians 12-14) to correct the chaotic gatherings of the church in Roman Corinth. As he did in the matter of eating food offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:23-11:1) and issues about marriage (1 Cor. 7), he will conclude with exact instructions. The structure of Pauls argument will prove to be important in making our interpretation of a controversial section concerning women and speaking out.

David Garland presents an insight into Pauls thinking: Openness to the Spirit and to individual expression of spiritual gifts is not to become a pretext for chaos. Paul does not see tongues or prophecy as a solo performance.[1] Paul has demonstrated the priority of prophecy over tongues due to its value in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:1-25). With those thoughts in mind, here is Garlands outline[2] (slightly adapted):

Overarching principle (14:26): Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

1. Restraints concerning speaking in tongues (14:27-28)

2. Restraints concerning prophecy and discernment (14:29-36)

a. Restraints on the number of prophets speaking and others discerning (14:29)

b. Restraints on a prophet speaking (14:30-33a)

c. Restraints on wives in discerning (14:33b-36)

3. Injunction (14:37-38) [Read it and heed it!]

4. Encouragement of prophecy and tongues (14:39)

5. Concluding statement of general principles for worship gatherings: all things must be done in decency and order.

The way to interpret the general principle in verse 26 is to understand that whenever the church comes together the various words and actions (everything) must build up the church, no matter what combination of spiritual powers are expressed. Though we are not totally sure what was going wrong with the expression of grace-gifts, Gordon Fee says, [Pauls] antidote is to offer guidelines for regulation that, taken together, suggest orderliness, self-control, and concern for others.[3] In other words, love for others has been joined by communal order. Order is a major theme in the final chapters of 1 Corinthians.

Before we go further, it is probably time to say that the second half of chapter 14 is sometimes interpreted as an effort on Pauls part to put women in their place, which place, those interpreters believe, was to be in subjection to their husbands or to men. Another group interprets this section as Pauls attempt to take away the freedom to express manifestations of the Spirit, especially tongues. We do not believe either of these interpretations represents Pauls teaching, though each has a grain of truth. Some correction was needed in the behavior of women in the Corinthian church and to the expression of tongues there, but Pauls solution lay in bringing about controlled speech that was ordered to build up the community.[4] As we will see — partly in tomorrows lesson — Paul was not trying to end either speech by women or tongues in the gathered church.

In verses 27-28, Paul introduces restrictions on the expression of tongues in the assembled church. The limits are self-explanatory. Once again, it is likely that the someone who must put the tongues into intelligible words is the one who spoke them in the first place. Otherwise, how would they know to remain silent (keep quiet v. 28) because no interpreter was present? This type of self-control was part of the order that Paul insisted on.

Verse 28 is the first appearance of the Greek verb sigao, which means a. say nothing, keep still, keep silent . . . . b. stop speaking, become silent.[5] Garland says, The NIV obscures the fact that the verb [Greek sigao] occurs three times in a row by translating it keep quiet in 14:28, should stop in 14:30, and remain silent in 14:34.[6] This hidden repetition adds to the case for Pauls imposition of controlled speech to bring order within the assembled church; he calls in turn on tongues-speakers (14:28), prophecy-speakers (14:30), and women (14:34). The exact role of these women will be described in the next post.

It is apparent that Paul opens the valve more fully for prophecy (verse 29) than he did for tongues (verse 28); no upper limit is placed on the number of prophecy-speakers. However, the others should weigh carefully what is said (verse 29). The Greek verb is significant to this passage; the Greek verb diakrino means to differentiate or to distinguish between.[7] As they hear prophetic speech, the others are to distinguish between speech that is God-given and consistent with the gospel of Christ and speech that is self-generated, self-interested or erroneous. Anthony Thiselton explains: The authentic is to be sifted from the inauthentic or spurious, in light of the OT scriptures, the gospel of Christ, the traditions of all the churches, and critical reflections. Nowhere does Paul hint that preaching or prophecy achieves a privileged status which places them above critical reflection.[8] No one in church can switch off their mind!

Verse 30 gives us the first instance where someone speaking must become silent; one prophet must give way to another if a revelation comes to someone. When this discipline occurs, everyone may be instructed and encouraged (verse 31).

There is an unexpected and important connection between 1 Cor. 14:32 (concerning the prophets) and 1 Cor. 14:34 (concerning women). The connection lies in the important Greek verb hypotasso, which here means to subordinate oneself, to be subjected, to place oneself under control.[9] The prophets are expected to keep their speech in control, and, as we will see, so are the women.

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

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 655.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 65556.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 688.

[4] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1132.

[5] BDAG-3, sigao, say nothing, q.v.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 671, footnote 30.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1140.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1140.

[9] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1144.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:1-12, Intelligible speech is one form of love

1 Corinthians 14:1-12

1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

The entire Bible passage we are considering today picks up the theme of self-sacrificing love from chapter 13 and applies it in terms of building up other believers during gatherings of the church. Further, verses 1-5 deal with the use of spiritual gifts for the service of others, and verses 6-12 declare the profitless nature of unintelligible noises as far as a fellow Christian (the other) is concerned.[1] Paul continually contrasts prophecy (which builds up) with tongues (which manifests as unintelligible noise).

Remember that we previously defined the grace-gift of tongues as the specific work of the Holy Spirit in actualizing inarticulate yearnings directed toward God from the depths of the heart of the believer. Also, we have said that tongues — often called glossolalia because that term combines the Greek words for tongue and speak — is not just one thing but a set of behaviors that bear a family resemblance.

Paul emphasizes the grace-gift of prophecy in 1 Cor. 14:1 because of its crucial role in building up or edifying the church, a fact that he plainly states in verse 4. Bear in mind that the term “prophecy,” as used in the New Testament, seldom means foretelling future events; verse 4 says the gift is for [other believers] strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

Tongues are meant for God, not for other believers (1 Cor. 14:2), because no one except God understands them. David Garland says, “Tongues constitute communion with God, not communication with others.”[2] As such, they are better suited to private worship than to the public meetings of the church.

Verse 5 contains unexpected issues. In the first place, NIV’s translation (“I would like every one of you to speak in tongues”) runs headlong into 1 Cor. 12:29-30, where Paul stresses that the Holy Spirit is the one who alone decides how the grace-gifts are distributed. Anthony Thiselton analyzes the Greek verb theloand prefers the alternate meaning “take pleasure in.” Using this meaning he translates: “I take pleasure in all of you speaking in tongues, but I would rather that you prophesy.”[3] Second, it is probable that the one who interprets is not someone [else] (NIV, NRSV, ESV, NLT) but means that the one who spoke also interprets (NET, HCSB, CEB, KJV) in accordance with 1 Cor. 14:13. The NET Bible eliminates “someone [else]” by saying, “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets so that the church may be strengthened” (1 Cor. 14:5b).

Now that we have addressed some of the issues with verse 5, the really important thing is Paul’s statement that “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues.” The clear reason is that prophecy edifies or builds up the church while an unintelligible utterance does not.

Starting with verse 6, Paul gives hypothetical examples showing that unintelligible sounds benefit no one. The vocabulary of benefit or usefulness is just another way of carrying on the theme of building up the church. The first example is a visit in which Paul envisions himself speaking in tongues; he concludes such a visit is without value to the hearers unless he adds communication they can understand (1 Cor. 14:6).

Paul’s second example involves the pipe or the harp. Unless these instruments are used in such a way as to produce different notes a pattern of distinct sound frequencies — they will only make noise, not a melody (1 Cor. 14:7). This leads to the third example, a trumpet used for signaling troop actions; its sounds do not produce action if they are indistinct. Paul’s final example involves the example of a tongues-speaking Corinthian whose unintelligible words simply vanish into the air, not making any impact on the hearers (1 Cor. 14:9). This reminds us of the gladiator in 1 Cor. 9:26 who missed his blow and simply struck empty air or perhaps was shadow-boxing all along!

Could there be a hint of humor in all this? After noting that garbled speech is the stuff of comedy, Garland summarizes an ancient story: “Lucius turns into a donkey after drinking a magic potion. He tries to free himself from a band of thieves who had commandeered him by invoking the name of the emperor when Roman troops approached. He brayed O with sonorous fluency, but he could not enunciate the word Caesar. The resultant discordant donkey braying caused him to be flayed.”[4] The story is still funny after two thousand years.

But one unfortunate result at Corinth of using unintelligible tongues in worship was no laughing matter. Languages in the world (1 Cor. 14:10) have meaning, but with tongues no earthly lexicon could decipher their meaning.[5] The results is that those believers who do not understand are each made foreigner (1 Cor. 14:11) to the speaker. Garland explains: “Paul’s critique of tongues implies that it does more than simply create frustration; it erects barriers of alienation — the sick feeling that one does not belong. What is worse, these feelings are awakened in a place where one is supposed to feel at home: the community of believers.”[6] The cure is expression of gifts that build up the church (1 Cor. 14:12) when believers are gathered.

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

 


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1074.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 633.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1081 and 1097. See also Mark 12:38 for a similar usage.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 637, citing Metamorphoses by Apuleius.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 636.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 637.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, If you dont have love; [+ The nature of “tongues”]

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

If you dont have love Part 1

We have said that chapter 12 introduces the grace-gifts (manifestations) the Holy Spirit has given to every Christian according to the Spirits own choice of their distribution. In chapter 13, Paul takes on the daunting challenge of putting the grace-gifts into perspective for a church that is exaggerating their use in worship. Then, in chapter 14, Paul explains how the grace-gifts may be used in worship in such a way that the church is built up rather than falling into the trap of self-exaltation and division.

Even the least informed observer will conclude that chapter 13 is about love, but this obvious fact leads only to more questions: “What is love?” and “What is Paul saying about love?” The Greek noun agapeoccurs ten times in the chapter. This word is rare in Greek literature and finds its dominant use in the New Testament. For that reason, we look to the New Testament to determine its meaning in this context.

Anthony Thiselton explains: Love (agape) denotes above all a stance or attitude which shows itself in acts of will as regard, respect, and concern for the welfare of the other. It is therefore profoundly Christological, for the cross is the paradigm case of the act of will and stance which places welfare of others above the interests of the self.[1] (emphasis original). David Garland adds that this love for others is the check on the exercise of the gifts for personal gratification.[2]

When we explained chapter 12, we deferred a discussion of different kinds of tongues (1 Cor. 12:10) until this point. Note carefully that kinds of tongues — often called glossolalia because that term combines the Greek words for tongue and speak — is not just one thing but a set of behaviors that bear a family resemblance.

In discussing the grace-gift of tongues, we should begin by saying that this use of the word tongue is metaphorical. Obviously, everyone has a physical tongue, so the word refers to some type of spiritual activity involving the tongue. But what? Thiselton cautions that, in answering this question, It is almost universally agreed that reference to modern Pentecostal and charismatic phenomena cannot be used as a means of interpreting Paul and Corinth.[3] In other words, we cannot interpret the past by studying the present. That is backwards!

A few proposals about the nature of tongues

Some have thought tongues to be angelic speech, but not only does Paul distinguish tongues of men and of angels (1 Cor. 13:1), but he also says tongues will pass away (1 Cor. 13:8), which seems an unlikely thing to say for the tongues of angels. If tongues were heavenly speech, there would be no reason for them to pass away.

Others have suggested tongues to be the miraculous power to speak unlearned foreign languages. Presumably that would be useful in evangelizing other peoples. But Thiselton points out, If there were any hint of this use, Paul could not have said the person who speaks in a tongue speaks not to people but to God (14:2), let alone, the person who speaks in a tongue builds up only himself/herself [1 Cor. 14:4].[4] Further, Paul never says anything about such an evangelistic use and, instead, deals with the presence of tongues in the context of Christian worship. Paul makes a point of saying that tongues are an intrinsically noncommunicative form of utterance (1 Cor. 13:1; 14:2, 4, 79, 1617, 23).[5]

Still others propose ecstatic speech as the nature of tongues. However, this idea has drawn heavy criticism, not least because the term ecstasy has not been defined in terms that can be verified in the New Testament. Parallels in the wider Greco-Roman world are unconvincing.

So, where does that leave us? Thiselton suggests a connection with Romans 8:26, which says: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. He explains that what Paul refers to as tongues in First Corinthians 1214 is the specific work of the Holy Spirit in actualizing inarticulate yearnings directed toward God from the depths of the heart of the believer.[6] These unintelligible yearnings can be understood by God but not by others.

Thiselton adds that these yearnings can express a longing for the [final] completion of redemption to take place, prompted by the Spirit through Christ to God, like all authentic Christian prayer.[7] Expressing another description, Thiselton explains, Tongues may then be viewed as the language of the unconscious because it is unintelligible (unless it is interpreted) not only to others but also to the speaker.[8] Garland suggests this might indeed be one kind of tongue and observes: Tongues, from this perspective, are a sign of weakness, not spiritual superiority. . . . As a token of our weakness, it explains why tongues will end (1 Cor. 13:8).[9]

If you don’t have love – part 2

Look back at verses 1-3 and the way Paul has structured his argument. These verses have several elements that need clarification. First, Paul uses the language of probability, suggesting actions that may or may not occur. Greek grammar expert Daniel Wallace says that verses 1-3 all follow the same pattern; Paul argues from an actual case to a hypothetical case.[10] In verse 1, we know that Paul spoke in tongues, but he did not speak in the tongues of angels. In verse 2, the actual-to-hypothetical pattern is more obvious. Paul did have the gift of prophecy, but, Wallace argues, to understand all mysteries and have all knowledge would have made Paul omniscient, like God. Obviously, that result is out of the question!

Another crucial element of Pauls argument is that even if he could do both the actual actions and the hypothetical ones as well, unless they were done with love for others, they would count for nothing before God!

The phrase resounding gong (1 Cor. 13:1) is likely a reference to resonating acoustic bronze jars used to project the voices of actors.[11] These were placed around the edges of stone theaters and amphitheaters to catch the sound of the actors voices and echo the sounds again. But hearing these echoes was not the same as hearing the original voices. Paul says that even the tongues of angels would just be an echo without love.

Garland provides a fine summary of these three verses when he says, Spiritual gifts minus love equal zero.[12]

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

 


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1035.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 606.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 979.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 97677.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 978, quoting L.T. Johnson.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 985

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 985.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 988.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 586.

[10] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 471.

[11] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1036.

[12] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 614.

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 congregations foundation traditions.[4] Contemporary preaching combines both.

Most interpreters and translators see verse 31 as a transitional verse that connects Pauls 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) 59899.

[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.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:12-20 Gods choice about gifts must prevail

1 Corinthians 12:12-20

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Paul began his letter to the Corinthians by expressive his anguish over divisions in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 1:10-13). Throughout the letter he has appealed for unity and the love necessary to sustain it. He continues that theme in our passage by using a metaphor the believers in Roman Corinth would understand: the human body and its various parts.

The Corinthians would have found this metaphor familiar in two ways. First, Corinth had an important temple of Asclepios, the god of healing. The Corinth Archaeological Museum contains a large number of terra-cotta models of heads, hands, feet, arms, legs, eyes, ears, and every part of the body . . . [created] in prayer or in thanks for restoration of health.[1] Second, the Corinthians would have understood language about the body and its parts as language traditionally used to argue for unity on the basis of a hierarchical political structure.[2] (emphasis original). Since ancient political writers used this metaphor to appeal for unity within a city or larger group of people, Paul did the same.

Several times in our study of 1 Corinthians, we have looked at the organization of Pauls argument to help us understand it better. David Garland shows that the literary structure for this weeks biblical text fits a pattern of ABBA, meaning that the verses labeled A complement each other, as do the verses labeled B. In this case that looks like this:

A The body as one but with many members (12:12-14)

B The inescapable diversity of members within the body (12:15-20)

B The inescapable interdependence of members of the body (12:21-26)

A The differing functions within the body (12:27-31)[3]

Today we will cover the first AB of the pattern. Concerning verse 12, Thiselton argues that the grammar puts greatest emphasis on Christ, next most emphasis on the unity of the one body, and third most emphasis on the plurality of the parts of the body.[4] Garland supports this idea by saying, Unity dominates diversity and makes diversity genuinely meaningful and constructive.[5] Keep in mind that the metaphor involves the human body, but the way that metaphor was understood in Roman Corinth involved unity within a hierarchical structure. The one at the top of the hierarchy is plainly Christ the Lord.

Gordon Fee explains Pauls point in 1 Cor. 12:13 by saying: What makes the Corinthians one is their common experience of the Spirit . . . . The Spirit is essentially what distinguishes the believer from the nonbeliever (2:10-14).[6] Since Romans 8:9 also makes it abundantly clear that having the Holy Spirit is the difference between being a Christian or an unbeliever, we get some clarity on the baptism referred to in verse 13. This cannot be a reference to water baptism because those who trust in Christ do not do so while being baptized in water. Instead, baptism in this verse is a metaphor for the immersion in the Spirit that happens to all, whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free (1 Cor. 12:13), at the moment of salvation.

Paul again changes metaphor in the clause we were all given the one Spirit to drink (1 Cor. 12:13b). The Greek verb can mean drink or even refer to being watered, saturated or drenched in the Spirit[7] as it does in 1 Cor. 3:6-8.

Since 1 Cor. 12:13 is the only place in the New Testament where the biblical text expressly speaks of baptism in/by the Spirit, it has unfortunately been used by some Christian groups to support the idea of a Spirit-experience at some time after salvation. Thiselton explains why this idea is wrongheaded: Any theology that might imply that this one baptism in 13a in which believers were baptized by [or in] one Spirit might mark off some postconversion experience or status enjoyed only by some Christians attacks and undermines Pauls entire argument and emphasis.[8] (emphasis original).

Verse 14 strikes a blow against anyone who would try to exalt one spiritual gift as the sole mark of spirituality. It also ties the need for diverse gifts to the created order. Garland aptly states: One person alone, no matter how gifted, cannot play a Beethoven symphony, act a Shakespearian tragedy, or compete against another team. The same is true in the church.[9]

1 Cor. 12:18 shows us that God is the one who has placed the parts of the body into their harmonious arrangement, and he does not need any help from those who think they have a better design. It was Gods creative choice to have the body consist of many parts, not just one (1 Cor. 12:19). But those many parts work together to function as a single body (1 Cor. 12:20).

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

 


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 7.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 992.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 589.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 996.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 590, quoting M.L. Soards.

[6] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 603.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1000-01.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 997-98.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 589.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 Gifts point to the Spirit, not to us

1 Corinthians 12:8-11

8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

This section of Pauls argument actually begins with verse 7, a verse we first discussed in the previous post: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. After making this summary statement, Paul enumerates some of the gifts (1 Cor. 12:8-10). Some believe that Paul puts the gift of tongues last to counter an overemphasis on it in Corinth, but others think not. Either way, it is plain that Pauls list only includes gifts that can be seen publicly. Anthony Thiselton explains: The Spirit is at work where the public manifestation serves the common advantage of others, and not merely self-affirmation, self-fulfillment, or individual status.[1]

We will proceed mainly with brief statements about the nature of certain gifts in the list; a diversity of opinion exists about many of them. One reason for these differences of opinion is that many have tried to impose on First Corinthians certain dualistic categories like natural and supernatural that did not take on their current meaning until about 1700.[2] What does that statement mean? In the world of the first century, Christians rightly considered God to be involved in all aspects of life, both the natural and supernatural, as we might call them today. But, in our contemporary culture, many people take the term natural to mean something occurring in nature or produced by nature, without any thought of Gods involvement. If you look up the term supernatural in a modern dictionary, its primary meaning is relating to existence outside the natural world and we find no mention of God or his power until definitions three and four.[3]

An example of these dualistic categories could be schools. Our contemporary public schools avoid mention of God and generally offer natural explanations within every subject area. A school in Roman Corinth would have been baffled by the idea that God or the gods could be left out of any subject. Healing and sickness are also topics where many today might look for a solely natural explanation or treatment, but the citizens of Roman Corinth would never have discounted the involvement of God or the gods. These ideas affect how a commentator approaches the grace-gift of healing (1 Cor. 12:9) or that of performance of miracles (1 Cor. 12:10), among others. We must start with the viewpoint of Roman Corinth to understand what Paul would have meant in a message to the people living there.

We begin the gifts-list with the phrase message of wisdom (1 Cor. 12:8). The Christians in Roman Corinth had been accustomed to understand wisdom in terms of Greek philosophy, but Paul has already scorned human wisdom in comparison to the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18-2:5). Thiselton explains what Paul meant by wisdom: Wisdom, in this context, becomes an evaluation of realities in the light of Gods grace and the cross of Christ. . . . Wisdom relates to building up the community for the common advantage of all through appropriation of the power and lifestyle of Christ.[4]

The phrase message of knowledge is more difficult to explain. It seems reasonable to think that the knowledge in view here is that which God has revealed through Christ. This knowledge would be essential to living a life in imitation of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).

To another the Spirit gives faith, and this cannot be a reference to saving faith, because that is something every Christian must have to become a Christian. David Garland rightly reminds us that Internal trust in God results in external results.[5] Since faith is a response to what God has said or done, perhaps the Spirit gives particular boldness to some to lead the way in implementing what God has said.

The phrase gifts of healing (1 Cor. 12:9b) would probably be more understandable when rendered as various kinds of healing (Thiselton). Thiselton correctly adds, The kinds may appear to include sudden or gradual, physical or mental, [and] the use of medicine or more direct divine agency.[6] Thiselton includes a well-worded Anglican statement which warns us against thinking it is sinful for a Christian to be ill and against making the person seeking healing believe that their own faith is the determining factor in a favorable outcome. Christianity does not advocate some magical process that always results in healing.

Verse 10 is a real bear! The first gift is translated by most English versions as miraculous powers and that is certainly one possibility for Greek words that mean deeds of power or powerful deeds. Thiselton explains, The text leaves open whether these powers or deeds of power are restricted to the miraculous or simply may include the miraculous where otherwise they would not be effective ones.[7] God certainly works miracles; the question is whether the acts accomplished through this gifted person must always be so awesome as to be translated as miraculous.

Next in verse 10 we have the gift of prophecy, a much debated term. Again, we follow Thiselton, who summarizes by saying: Prophecy, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, combines pastoral insight into the needs of persons, communities and situations with the ability to address these with a God-given [message] . . . leading to challenge or comfort, judgment or consolation, but ultimately building up the addresses.[8] This can mean, as it does in our church, a sermon. Thiselton points out that few churches appear to test or challenge preaching from the pulpit as was probably the case in Roman Corinth. Discussion within small groups allows for such testing today.

Our extended discussion of tongues and their interpretation will wait until 1 Corinthians 14. We will note here only that tongues is a gift plainly not given to all or demanded as proof of salvation (1 Cor. 12:10b).

Pauls list of gifts given by the Holy Spirit was not intended to be exhaustive. But the ones he does list are not available for anyone to claim; they are distributed according to the desire of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11). For the strong to exalt themselves over others by claiming a gift of the Holy Spirit — possibly one they were not given — is a presumptuous act. We can hope that someone with the gift of wisdom told them what result their audacity would bring.

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

 


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 936.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 946.

[3] supernatural, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2011) q.v.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 93940.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 581.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 948.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 953.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 964.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 Paul’s synopsis

1 Corinthians 12:4-7

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Compare 1 Corinthians 12:1 with 12:4, paying attention to the word translated gift.

Now about the gifts (pneumatikos) of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Cor. 12:1)

There are different kinds of gifts (charisma), but the same Spirit distributes them. (1 Cor. 12:4)

The Greek word translated gifts of the Spirit in verse 1 (pneumatikos) means having to do with the divine Spirit. It could be a reference to either spiritual things or spiritual persons. The English versions have translated pneumatikos in a more specific manner in 1 Cor. 12:1 due to the context beginning in verses 4-6, where Paul begins his extensive argument about spiritual gifts. But this contextual translation obscures the fact that Paul has changed words and uses the Greek noun charisma in verse 4, meaning that which is freely and graciously given.[1] This word is closely related to the Greek noun charis, which is usually translated grace. Gods grace has come to us through Christ crucified.

So, what is the point? Some of the Corinthian believers — and some believers today — want to focus attention on themselves as spiritual by using the spectacular gift they have been given as proof of their supremacy over others. Paul is saying that emphasis is all wrong! God gave them this spiritual ability as a free gift, a grace-gift, not as their due. All honor should go to the gift-giver, not to the gift-holder.

It is easy to spot the deliberate parallels in 1 Cor. 12:4-6. Note, for example, the phrases different kinds and the same that occur in each verse. This heavy use of parallel phrasing focuses the mind on the few differences between the verses.

One such difference is the progression Spirit . . . Lord . . . God, a clear reference to the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus and God the Father. In short, the entire Trinity is involved in providing spiritual gifts for the good of the church. Further, the Father, the Son and the Spirit are all different, but they are totally unified in their actions. Even the Corinthians should have gotten the hint that the variety of spiritual gifts should operate in unity and not division.

Another progression is the sequence kinds of gifts . . . kinds of service . . . kinds of working. At first glance, these phrases seem to focus on the gifting, service or work carried out by each believer, but that misses the point. We have already noted that the gifts are apportioned by the Spirit (verse 4) as a matter of God’s grace or kindness. The different types of service are all designed to honor the same Lord (verse 5). The phrase kinds of working (verse 6) speaks not only of work but of bringing about results[2], and Paul attributes this working to the same God who produces all of them in everyone (1 Cor. 12:6b, NET). So, there is much more emphasis on what God is doing than initially comes to our attention.

Another difference stands out in the parallel phrasing of verses 4-6; it is the phrase in all of them and in everyone (1 Cor. 12:6).Thiselton explains that in verses 4-6 Paul is succinctly introducing his coming argument in 1 Cor. 12:7-30.[3] So, it is vital right at the start to say that every single Christian has been gifted by the Holy Spirit. This leaves no room to claim — as some were doing in Roman Corinth and as some are doing today— that only those with certain gifts, notably tongues, could be considered spiritual.

If taking personal credit is a warped attitude about spiritual gifts, what can we say about the right attitude. Thiselton gives us a treasure when he says, Jean-Jacques Suurmond sums up this issue well: It is not so much a matter of having a gift, as of being a gift.[4] That comes close to expressing all that Paul is saying about a Christ-centered life in First Corinthians!

Now it should be clearly stated that since God has graciously gifted you as a Christian with a specific spiritual gift, he is expecting results. You are a steward of all that God has given you, and a day has been set for your stewardship to be evaluated. Since your gift is given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7), it is clear what the evaluation will entail. Heads up!

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

[1] BDAG-3, charisma, gift, q.v.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 933.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 929.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 902.