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.