1 Corinthians 12 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of 1 Corinthians 12)

Verse 1

[1] Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

Now concerning spiritual gifts — The abundance of these in the churches of Greece strongly refuted the idle learning of the Greek philosophers. But the Corinthians did not use them wisely, which occasioned St. Paul's writing concerning them. He describes, 1. The unity of the body, 1 Corinthians 12:1-27: 2. The variety of members and offices, 1 Corinthians 12:27-30: 3. The way of exercising gifts rightly, namely, by love, 1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 13:1. throughout: and adds, 4. A comparison of several gifts with each other, in the 1 Corinthians 14:1. fourteenth chapter.

Verse 2

[2] Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

Ye were heathens — Therefore, whatever gifts ye have received, it is from the free grace of God.

Carried away — By a blind credulity.

After dumb idols — The blind to the dumb; idols of wood and stone, unable to speak themselves, and much more to open your mouths, as God has done.

As ye were led — By the subtlety of your priests.

Verse 3

[3] Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

Therefore — Since the heathen idols cannot speak themselves, much less give spiritual gifts to others, these must necessarily be among Christians only.

As no one speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed — That is, as none who does this, (which all the Jews and heathens did,) speaketh by the Spirit of God - Is actuated by that Spirit, so as to speak with tongues, heal diseases, or cast out devils.

So no one can say, Jesus is the Lord — None can receive him as such; for, in the scripture language, to say, or to believe, implies an experimental assurance.

But by the Holy Ghost — The sum is, None have the Holy Spirit but Christians: all Christians have this Spirit.

Verse 4

[4] Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit — Divers streams, but all from one fountain. This verse speaks of the Holy Ghost, the next of Christ, the sixth of God the Father. The apostle treats of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:7, etc.; of Christ, 1 Corinthians 12:12, etc.; of God, 1 Corinthians 12:28, etc.

Verse 5

[5] And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

Administrations — Offices. But the same Lord appoints them all.

Verse 6

[6] And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

Operations — Effects produced. This word is of a larger extent than either of the former. But it is the same God who worketh all these effects in all the persons concerned.

Verse 7

[7] But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

The manifestation — The gift whereby the Spirit manifests itself.

Is given to each — For the profit of the whole body.

Verse 8

[8] For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

The word of wisdom — A power of understanding and explaining the manifold wisdom of God in the grand scheme of gospel salvation.

The word of knowledge — Perhaps an extraordinary ability to understand and explain the Old Testament types and prophecies.

Verse 9

[9] To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;

Faith may here mean an extraordinary trust in God under the most difficult or dangerous circumstances. The gift of healing need not be wholly confined to the healing diseases with a word or a touch. It may exert itself also, though in a lower degree, where natural remedies are applied; and it may often be this, not superior skill, which makes some physicians more successful than others. And thus it may be with regard to other gifts likewise. As, after the golden shields were lost, the king of Judah put brazen in their place, so, after the pure gifts were lost, the power of God exerts itself in a more covert manner, under human studies and helps; and that the more plentifully, according as there is the more room given for it.

Verse 10

[10] To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

The working of other miracles. Prophecy — Foretelling things to come.

The discerning — Whether men be of an upright spirit or no; whether they have natural or supernatural gifts for offices in the church; and whether they who profess to speak by inspiration speak from a divine, a natural, or a diabolical spirit.

Verse 11

[11] But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

As he willeth — The Greek word does not so much imply arbitrary pleasure, as a determination founded on wise counsel.

Verse 12

[12] For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

So is Christ — That is, the body of Christ, the church.

Verse 13

[13] For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

For by that one Spirit, which we received in baptism, we are all united in one body.

Whether Jews or gentiles — Who are at the greatest distance from each other by nature.

Whether slaves or freemen — Who are at the greatest distance by law and custom.

We have all drank of one Spirit — In that cup, received by faith, we all imbibed one Spirit, who first inspired, and still preserves, the life of God in our souls.

Verse 15

[15] If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

The foot is elegantly introduced as speaking of the hand; the ear, of the eye; each, of a part that has some resemblance to it. So among men each is apt to compare himself with those whose gifts some way resemble his own, rather than with those who are at a distance, either above or beneath him.

Is it therefore not of the body — Is the inference good? Perhaps the foot may represent private Christians; the hand, officers in the church; the eye, teachers; the ear, hearers.

Verse 16

[16] And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

The ear — A less noble part.

The eye — The most noble.

Verse 18

[18] But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

As it hath pleased him — With the most exquisite wisdom and goodness.

Verse 20

[20] But now are they many members, yet but one body.

But one body — And it is a necessary consequence of this unity, that the several members need one another.

Verse 21

[21] And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

Nor the head — The highest part of all.

To the foot — The very lowest.

Verse 22

[22] Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

The members which appear to be weaker — Being of a more delicate and tender structure; perhaps the brains and bowels, or the veins, arteries, and other minute channels in the body.

Verse 23

[23] And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

We surround with more abundant honour — By so carefully covering them.

More abundant comeliness — By the help of dress.

Verse 24

[24] For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

Giving more abundant honour to that which lacked — As being cared for and served by the noblest parts.

Verse 27

[27] Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

Now ye — Corinthians.

Are the body and members of Christ — part of them, I mean, not the whole body.

Verse 28

[28] And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

First apostles — Who plant the gospel in the heathen nations.

Secondly prophets — Who either foretel things to come, or speak by extra-ordinary inspiration, for the edification of the church.

Thirdly teachers — Who precede even those that work miracles. Under prophets and teachers are comprised evangelists and pastors, Ephesians 4:11.

Helps, governments — It does not appear that these mean distinct offices: rather, any persons might be called helps, from a peculiar dexterity in helping the distressed; and governments, from a peculiar talent for governing or presiding in assemblies.

Verse 31

[31] But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

Ye covet earnestly the best gifts — And they are worth your pursuit, though but few of you can attain them. But there is a far more excellent gift than all these; and one which all may, yea, must attain or perish.