Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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1 CORINTHIANS - Chapter 12

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1 Corinthians 12

Supplemental Commentary:

V:  THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS  12, 1 -- 14, 40

The essential gift of the Holy Spirit is what we call grace, i.e., a sharing in the divine life.  God's life is the knowledge and love of Himself.  Now we know and love God indirectly in His creatures, especially in man who is created to His image and likeness; but this grace gives us now the power of knowing and loving God directly.  This gift which can in some way be identified with the love of our neighbor is described in 13.  But besides this internal gift of the Spirit, and as a proof of its bestowal, the Holy Spirit also gave external miraculous favors which form the central theme of this section.  These were promised by Christ (Mark 16, 17 f) and first distributed on Pentecost day (Acts 2).  These are unmerited, supernatural and passing gifts, granted for the general good of the Church.  (a) They are unmerited, given by the Spirit, who divides to everyone according as he will (12, 11),  and found possibly even in one who has not charity which is necessary for merit (13).  (b) They are passing inasmuch as God may remove the special favor through no fault of ours whereas sanctifying grace is habitual.  It seems from what follows that one or more of these gifts was possessed with a certain stability so that one would be considered a prophet, another possessed of various tongues, etc.  Yet there could be change (14, 1.13).  The gifts are passing also inasmuch as they have been more or less common according to the needs of the Church; most extensive in the first days, rare today.  Origen notices their decline in his day (early 3rd cent.).  (c) They are granted for the general good of the Church, the Body of Christ (12, 4-31; Eph. 4, 12).  Paul, therefore, values them in proportion to their utility to the Christian community (14).  Although they do not directly bring special benefit to the recipient spiritually, nevertheless they can be a source of spiritual profit to the possessor (14, 4).  (d) These gifts are supernatural in their cause.  The effect in some cases is clearly beyond  human powers.  In other cases while the effect may not be above the ability of man, it does elevate the particular individual above his natural limitations.  As in other cases of the supernatural, so also here the gift is frequently given to one who already has an extraordinary natural aptitude.

It is not possible or necessary for us now to make a clear distinction between all of the various gifts.  Some names may be practically synonymous.  One person may possess simultaneously several gifts.  An attempt is made here to group the gifts in order of importance.

(1) Gifts of knowledge for Christian instruction.  (a) Apostle: (12, 28; Eph. 4, 11; Rom. 16, 7); a missionary; the title is not limited to the Twelve and Paul who have it in a restricted sense.  (b) Prophet: (12, 28) one who speaks for God and with His authority.  Among the revelations they received were sometimes future events (Acts 11, 27 f; 21, 10 ff).  They exhorted and strengthened (Acts 15, 32), edified, encouraged and consoled (14, 3), and read men's hearts (14, 24 f).  This gift was given to some extent to women (11, 5; Acts 21, 9).  (c) Evangelist: (distinct from the sacred writers) probably one appointed to strengthen new churches, but not to found them (Acts 21, 8; 2 Tim. 4, 5).  (d) Teacher: probably an inspired catechist (Rom. 12, 7; Eph. 4, 11; 1 Tim. 4, 13.16).  (e) Exhorter: a preacher with special powers of appear for good living (Rom. 12, 8; 1 Tim. 4, 13; Acts 4, 36).  (f) Utterance of wisdom: for explaining high religious speculation (12, 8).  (g) Utterance of knowledge: for explaining elementary truths by human analogy (12, 8).  These last two gifts were probably possessed in varying degrees by those mentioned before, e.g., the prophet probably had the utterance of wisdom, and the teacher the utterance of knowledge.

(2) Gifts of organization.  (a) Pastor: grace for the office of presbyter-bishop "to rule the Church" (Eph. 4, 11; Acts 20, 28).  This gift is not to be confused with the power conferred only by Sacred Orders.  (b) President: a head of a group of presbyter-bishops, or an organizer of charities or other works (Rom. 12, 8; 1 Thess. 5, 12; 1 Tim. 5, 17).  (c) Ministry: helper in Church organization (16, 15; Rom. 12, 7).

(3) Gifts of  miracles.  (a) Faith: a supernatural instinct, founded on the theological virtue of faith, to know that God in a given case will miraculously manifest His power (12, 9; 13, 2; Matt. 17, 19).  (b) The working of miracles: the general gift of miracles (12, 10.28).  (c) The gift of healing: limited to cures (12, 9.30).

(4) Gifts of service.  (a) Almsgiver: one who received supernatural tact in service of the poor with simplicity of intention (Rom. 12, 8).  (b) Showers of mercy: who assisted the unfortunate, sick, and prisoners "with cheerfulness" (Rom. 12, 8).  (c) Services of help (12, 28): similar to the two previous gifts.  (d) Administrator: probably an organizer of charities (12, 28).

(5) Gifts connected with prayer.  To show the universality of the Christian faith and its ultimate purpose of praising God, the power to pray in tongues unknown naturally was frequently given as a sign of the reception of grace at baptism.  Some had the gift of kinds of tongues, others the interpretation of these tongues, others both (14; Acts 2, 5-11; 10, 46; etc.).

1.  Their Distribution  12, 1-31

12, 1-26:  A Principle of Discrimination.    1 f.  Service of dumb idols is irrational, but Christian service must be intelligent.    3.  Not all that is marvelous is supernatural.  There are various tests of the supernatural but a basic one is that of faith.  If a man directly curses Jesus, or does it indirectly by denying His doctrine as false, he has not the gift of God; but one who sincerely confesses the divinity of Jesus and therefore holds all His teachings as true must have his gift by union with the Holy Spirit.  Anathema is a Greek word meaning "set up," and was applied to the offerings hung up in the temples (cf. Luke 21, 5).  In the Septuagint it was used of persons and things given over to destruction by God and for God.  In the New Testament it is used of the objects of divine malediction.

12-26:  While St. Paul develops this doctrine of the organic nature of Christian society in connection with the supernatural gifts, it applies with equal force to the various natural gifts which God has given for the benefit of all.  As the hand does not seek to harm the eye in the body, so in society there is no place for unethical competition.  But as the hand protects the eye and the eye warns the hand of harm, so in society, which is the body of Christ, there should be a holy rivalry to make the best use of one's talents for the benefit of all.  Although the talents are different, all are necessary; and each should be satisfied to use whatever God has given him, be it small or great, to the best advantage of all.    22.  The heart and lungs are weak in themselves, yet most necessary; so also a member of society who appears weak may be filling an important role.    23 f.  If a part of the body is deformed or ugly it is not needlessly exposed but receives greater attention so as to remove or cover the unsightliness, so in the body of Christ charitable care should be given to the less honorable members.    25 f.  Any repression of talents hurts society, development of talents makes it prosper.

12, 27-31:  Christ's Mystical Body.    27.  Cf. Eph. 4, 1-16.    28-31.  This is the application of 12-26 to the role of the supernatural gifts in the Church, the body of Christ.  The order of the gifts mentioned here and elsewhere in the New Testament is given in the introduction to this section.


Confraternity Bible:

A Principle of Discrimination  1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.  2 You know that when you were Gentiles, you went to dumb idols according as you were led.  3 Wherefore I give you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God says "Anathema" to Jesus.  And no one can say "Jesus is Lord," except in the Holy Spirit.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all.  7 Now the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit.  8 To one through the Spirit is given the utterance of wisdom; and to another the utterance of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith, in the same Spirit; to another the gift of healing, in the one Spirit; 10 to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another the distinguishing of spirits; to another various kinds of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues.  11 But all these things are the work of one and the same Spirit, who allots to everyone according as he will.

12 For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, many as they are, form one body, so also is it with Christ.

13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slave or free; and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.  14 For the body is not one member, but many.  15 If the foot says, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?  16 And if the ear says, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing?  If the whole body were hearing, where would be the smelling?  18 But as it is, God has set the members, each of them, in the body as he willed.  19 Now if they were all one member, where would the body be?  20 But as it is, there are indeed many members, yet but one body.  21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I do not need thy help"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."  22 Nay, much rather, those that seem the more feeble members of the body are more necessary; 23 and those that we think the less honorable members of the body, we surround with more abundant honor, and our uncomely parts receive a more abundant comeliness, 24 whereas our comely parts have no need of it.  But God has so tempered the body together in due portion as to give more abundant honor where it was lacking; 25 that there may be no disunion in the body, but that the members may have care for one another.  26 And if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with it, or if one member glories, all the members rejoice with it.

Christ's Mystical Body  27 Now you are the body of Christ, member for member.  28 And God indeed has placed some in the Church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, services of help, power of administration, and the speaking of various tongues.  29 Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  30 Are all workers of miracles?  Do all have the gift of healing?  Do all speak with tongues?  Do all interpret?  31 Yet strive after the greater gifts.