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11:2-14:40 Word of the Cross-Basis for the Church's Worship|
Notes taken from Concorida Commentary - 1 Corinthians by Gregory J. Lockwood
11:2-16 Women’s Head-Coverings|
11:2-6 Headship and Head-Coverings|
|Even though the Corinthians are far from perfect, Paul commends them for faithfully keeping the traditions he handed down to them (11:2). Yet Paul also must call them to account in several areas: head coverings (11:3-16), lax attitude toward the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), unbalanced attitude towards spiritual gifts (12:1-14:33), the role of women in worship (14:34-40), and their failure to understand the implications of Christ’s resurrection (15:1-58).
The customs of that time concerning women were apparently similar to modern Islam. Even moderate Islamic women keep their heads covered.
First of all, Paul is not laying out rules about specific practices for all places and all times. When Paul does lay out a universal and permanent rule for practice he often refers to a direct command from God, as in 14:37, or to the teaching or practice “in every church” or “in all the churches”, as in 4:17; 7:17; 14:33. Rather, he is establishing the universal and permanent principle that men and women at worship should conduct themselves modestly and sensibly (1 Tim 2:9; cf. Pet 3:1-6), in keeping with the customs of the day. Similarly, Jesus laid down a new, permanent principle in that his disciples should love one another (Jn 13:34) and, in keeping with the custom of the day, held up the practice of foot washing (Jn 13:3-17) as an example of showing love. But he did not command the specific practice of foot washing for all times. The binding principle of love is expressed in many different ways.
God created men and women different and society uses certain conventions to recognize those differences. Apparently some of the women were dressing more like men (by not wearing head coverings) and were therefore blurring these differences. Paul addresses the issue by laying down the principle of headship. He uses three parallel phrases (11:3):
The head of every man is Christ,
the head of the woman is the man,
the head of Christ is God.
Since they are in parallel, all three clauses must be interpreted in relation to each other.
Before the 1960’s there was never a question that “headship” meant “authority over”. Since them some have postulated that “headship” means “source,” as in the source of a river. But in Eph 5:22-24, Paul uses the same “headship” language and adds to it: “Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also [let] the wives [be subject] to their husbands in everything.”
But Paul’s idea of authority is not one of harsh subjugation. Authority for Paul is the responsibility for loving, self-sacrificing service. In Eph Paul continues by saying that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up in death for her (Eph 5:25). When headship is performed with an attitude of loving service, no one will feel demeaned. Following Paul’s line of reasoning, it is no more demeaning for a woman to be subject to man than for Christ to be subject to God the Father. There is a difference between essence and role. Men and women are essentially the same, as are Christ and God. But each has a different role within the relationship. For any team to function effectively there must be a recognized leader and those who are willing to follow that lead. The same is true for pastors and congregational members.
Now, in 11:4-6, Paul spells out the implications of the headship principle for public worship in Corinth. Each person praying or prophesying should show proper reverence to his/her head. It is possible that some of the men of the congregation were pulling up their togas over their heads as they prayed in imitation of pagan priests. Men should not cover their heads because they were made in the “image and glory of God” (11:7). Because man is created in God’s image, he represents his Maker in ruling creation (Gen 1:26-28; 2:15-24). To cover his head would dishonor Christ, who is his true head. Man’s being is derived from God and women’s image is derived from man (order of creation) (Gen 2:21-23). (Notice that the order of creation can be looked at as going from lowest to highest, from physical elements to higher orders, from dirt to plants to man. Looked at in this way, the woman is the highest.)
If a woman prayed or prophesied with her hair uncovered, she dishonored the man set in authority over her (father or husband, or perhaps pastor or deacon). Not only were women covering their heads a custom of that day, but Paul may have wanted to avoid some people equating Christian women with women in the idol-temples who participated in the rites with long, loose, uncovered hair.
If women want to flaunt their liberty, then Paul says (11:5b-6) he wishes they would go the whole way and get it all cut off and shaved. His argument is similar to Gal 5:12 where the Judaizers were advocating circumcision. There Paul says they should go the whole way also and have themselves castrated. If anyone wishes to blur the lines of the sexes given by God, he should leave no doubt in his intentions. On the other hand, if it is shameful for a woman to uncover her head (there is no doubt that it was in Paul’s day) then she should accept and glory in her femininity (11:7) and wear a head covering.
Paul’s arguments are based on the customs of his day. So are they really relevant for all people in all cultures? Based on 11:13-16, to some extent, it seems that hairstyles do reflect natural law, the innate ordering which God built into creation.
11:7-16 The Orders of Creation and Redemption|
11:7-10 The Order of Creation|
|Why should women keep their heads covered and why should men not keep theirs covered (11:2-6)? The answer is found in the order of creation recorded in Gen 1-2. Man should not have his head covered out of respect for God because he is “the image and glory of God” (11:7). A comparison with today may be helpful. If a man is wearing a hat and he comes into the presence of someone important or a woman, it is considered disrespectful if the hat is not removed. Another example is that out of respect all hats are removed when the national anthem is sung.
The expression “image of God” (Ge 1:27; 1Cor 11:7) refers to man being the representative of God, particularly in his authority over the creation (Gen 1:28-30; 9:6-7). Man in his authority relation to creation and his wife, images the dominion of God over the creation…and the headship of Christ over his church. Man, as the artwork of God, brings glory to his Artist.
In Paul’s discussion of women, he speaks of their relationship with men and not with God. They too are created in God’s image, but that is not his focus here. As man is to bring glory to his head, so a woman is to bring glory to her head, man. By attaching herself to him and being his helper, she honors her husband. Notice where “glory for/to her” in 11:15 is the antithesis to “disgrace for/to him” in 11:14.
Paul gives two reasons why the woman is man’s glory. First she has her origin in him; she was sculpted from Adam’s rib (Gen 2:22-23). And second, woman was created for man as his helper (Gen 2:18). This original ordering of creation has ongoing significance for the relationship between the sexes. The man’s priority in the order of creation lays on him the responsibility of leadership, while the woman is to be helpful (Gen 2:18), submissive, supportive, and complementary. [Feminists argue that any role distinctions between men and women are due only to the fall. But as we see here, Paul argues from creation and not from the fall. Men and women are created by God as equals but with different roles that provide order.]
In 11:10 the apostle simply calls the head-covering an “authority.” He means that it is a symbol of or a sign of authority. In other words, the head-covering is a symbol of womanly dignity. In the orient the head-covering is the power, the honor and the dignity of the woman. When a woman’s head-covering disappears, so does her authority and dignity.
A curious phrase in 11:10 is “for the sake of angels.” Some have suggested that this refers to bishops or clergy, but the NT almost always uses this term to refer to supernatural beings. And the way it is presented it speaks of good angels and not bad angels. The best suggestion is that holy angels are present at Christian worship (see Ps 137:1). If the women of Corinth thought little of offending men, they should consider that their departure from the created order also offends angels, who never fail to carry out their role of benefiting the saints (Heb 1:14) in the created order.
11:11-12 The Order of Redemption “in the Lord”|
|In 11:11-12 Paul makes an important qualification concerning headship and submission in order that he not be misunderstood. Women are not inferior creatures. While the order of creation leads to distinctive roles, men and women are interdependent. Neither can exist without the other. “In the Lord” there is full baptismal equality (11:11; Gal 3:28). Said in the language of Christian dogmatics, in the order of redemption there is equality and unity.
Some modern commentators try and place the order of creation and the order of redemption in opposition to each other. Or they say that redemption overrides creation. But Paul sees the two as complementary. Paul illustrates this with an example (11:11-12). Women originally came from man, but ever since then man comes from a woman. They are interdependent on each other. And both men and women owe their existence to God (11:12). He is the ultimate source of life of everything and everyone.
11: 13-16 What Nature Teaches|
|Paul now returns to the order of creation. Paul uses a rhetorical question where he expects the answer to be no. Normally the words “to pray” do not have an object. But the addition of “to God” in 11:13 reminds the Corinthians that in prayer they come before the almighty and holy God. In his presence they should show due decorum.
By the expression “nature itself” (11:14) Paul means “the natural and instinctive sense of right and wrong that God has implanted in us.” This sense has been implanted since creation, although since the fall, it is not always reliable. Although there have been variations over the centuries and cultures, humans have generally and instinctively known that long hair is a more glorious covering for women that for man and that short hair is more acceptable for men. Old paintings and sculptures bear this out. Some OT stipulations require uncut beards and hair, but these are the exception and not the rule. By naturally covering a women’s head with hair, God is indicating that she should be appropriately covered at worship (see also 1 Cor 11:2-6).
Paul has said all he wants to on this matter. If anyone wishes to argue about it, he has nothing more to say. What he has said is the practice of all the “churches of God” (11:16). If one disagrees then he is at odds with God.
11:17-34 The Lord’s Supper|
11:17-22 Abuses at the Communal Meal|
|Paul now moves on to another topic in which he has no praise for the Corinthians. Their behavior in the communal meal which was held in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper was totally unacceptable. In coming together there are divisions among them. Not the same divisions described in 1:10-12, but two groups, the “haves” and the “have-nots” (11:21).
Paul’s first word on the matter is cautious (11:18). He knows that not everyone is guilty of such arrogant behavior. Such behavior can happen in the church as it does in the world because all people are of the world. But God makes good come from evil and so with such behavior it can be seen that some are true believers and some are not (11:19). This is part of God’s eschatological plan and judgment.
Based on their behavior, Paul can only conclude that they have lost all sight of what the Lord’s Supper is all about, that it is a sacred testament and a gracious gift. Apparently the wealthy could not wait for the day labors and slaves. They ate and drank so freely that before the laborers arrived, some had become drunk.
It is also likely that the wealthy were physically separated from the poor. The wealthy probably dined with the host while everyone else ate in the courtyard. This would be similar to Roman culture and so the culture was setting the agenda for the church’s practice. In our day where material prosperity is important and money talks, this speaks to us as well. God has a special place in his heart for the poor. God chose the lowly and despised of this world (1:27-29).
11:23-26 The Words of Institution|
|Paul’s main theme here is remembrance. By their actions of the pre-sacrament meal, we see that the Corinthians are in need of having their memories jogged. They are not there to gorge themselves and humiliate the “have-nots.” They are there to remember Jesus and proclaim his death until he returns.
11:23 The Lord Took Bread
Paul begins with an emphatic “I.” What he is about to tell them he has personally received from the Lord. Twice Paul speaks of “the Lord.” This is the Lord’s Supper. The Lord gives the direction of his Supper.
How did Paul receive the Lord’s directives? Either he received it from the other apostles or he received a direct revelation from Jesus (such as in Gal 1:12).
The CC translates this as “the night in which he was handed over” (11:23). This might mean his betrayal. But Paul uses “handed over” in other places (e.g., Ro 4:25; 8:32) and his usage there strongly suggests that Paul did not have Judas in mind but God. His usage is similar to Is 53:6 which says, “He was handed over for our sins,” and Is 53:12b, “And he bore the sins of many, and because of their sins, he was handed over.” Jesus was handed over as part of God’s plan of salvation for the world. Jesus acted in obedience to his Father’s will. Jesus’ words and actions on the first Maundy Thursday stand out in sharp contrast to that of the actions of the Corinthians.
At the Passover meal Jesus took a loaf of unleavened bread, gave thanks, broke it and distributed it. It is reminiscent of the meal he hosted for the five thousand (Mk 6:41).
11:24 “This is My Body”
Jesus’ words are clear, “This [bread] is my body, which is for you.” The bread is no longer simply bread and the wine is no longer simply wine. The true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are under the bread and wine (SC VI 2). With the bread we also receive the body. Because of the Sacramental union, the bread and body are not two distinct substances (as in the theory of consubstantiation). The sacramental bread conveys the Lord’s body given in sacrifice “for you” (11:24). The preposition “for” is regularly used in contexts which speak of Christ’s vicarious atonement. It is a highly visible and tangible form of the Gospel. It confers on the believer the benefits of Christ’s vicarious suffering and death.
Jesus then commands to “keep doing this” (11:24, 25). In this way the Sacrament will be like the Passover meal celebrated every year by Israel. That meal reminded Israel of the Lord’s redemption of his people. By participating in that meal, every generation of Israelites received the benefits of that saving act. Eating the Lord’s Supper reminded Christians of the greater act of redemption that Jesus accomplished. But this is not just a symbolic act either. In it Christ truly comes to us in the bread and wine. This kind of remembering then requires faith in the words of Jesus. All of this seems like foolishness to the world, but it is actually the power of God to save.
11:24, 25 “In My Memory”
The background to the phrase “in my memory” (11:24, 25) is undoubtedly “remembrance/memorial” of the original Passover account (Ex 12:14; 13:9). For the people of Israel, this remembering was much more than recollecting past events. It was something that became very real for them. For them it was an event that happened “today” (e.g., Deut 9:1; 15:15; 26:17; etc.). This involves Israel’s sense of their nation as one corporate personality, with past, present, and future generations all bound together as one people sharing the same blessed redemption. This is especially true in Deut 5:2-4. In the same way the Communion is a sign that keeps the past vividly present. And it is the words of Christ that make it real and effective “for you.” Through the words of Christ, Golgotha becomes a real event here and now. And so this meal is much more than remembering a past even, a dead man. It is a meal where he who was dead, but is now alive presents himself among his followers in the Holy Communion.
11:25 The Lord Took the Cup
The blessing and distribution of the cup seems to have happened some time later “after the supper” (11:25). This was probably the third cup or the cup of blessing (see Just’s commentary on Luke to see how the Supper fit in with the Passover Seder). Matthew and Mark’s versions of the cup parallel more closely the saying over the bread. Paul and Luke emphasize more the new testament that was sealed and ratified by the blood of Christ. The new testament supersedes the old testament which was ratified by the blood of oxen (Ex 24:8). The blood of Christ confers on each believer the gift of the new testament, the forgiveness of sins.
11:26 “You Proclaim the Death of the Lord until He Comes”
Given the circumstances of the Last Supper and the gifts it bestows, it is totally inappropriate for the Corinthians to be divided, uncaring and drunk. Rather when they gather for the Meal they should remember that Jesus gave the Meal to his church as he was being handed over by the Father to win the forgiveness of their sins.
The Eucharist is an acted out sermon or acted out proclamation of the death that it commemorates. When the laity participates in the Supper, the laity preaches a sermon. The Sacrament is the pulpit of the laity.
The Christian life occurs during an interim period, between Christ’s death and his second coming. So the Supper not only looks backwards to Christ’s death, but it also looks forwards to the eschatological banquet. It is a foretaste of the feast to come. The Corinthians, thinking that they were in heaven on earth, treated the Lord’s Supper as if it were the eschatological feast. They had nothing to look forward to.
Christians are like OT Israel on their way through the desert; they are on the way with their loins girded and lamps burning. As people of the Way, Christians are challenged to express their faith (that Christ has come to them offering them forgiveness in the Sacrament) in loving service to others, especially to the church’s needier members (11:21).
11:27-34 Unworthy Reception of the Sacrament|
|The strong conjunction “so” links this paragraph with the previous account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26).
11:27 Eating Unworthily
Paul proceeds with a warning of the dire consequences of unworthy eating. By unworthy eating, Paul has in minded the type of behavior he described in 11:20-22 and 11:29-30. Many of the Corinthians were sinning against faith and love. They were sinning against faith by not discerning the body and blood of the Lord (11:29-30). And they were sinning against love by considering the poor and needy (11:20-22).
Sinning against the Lord’s body and blood was like killing Jesus again (Heb 6:6). Unworthy eating and drinking is like trampling the Lord under foot (cf. Heb 6:29).
The last part of 11:27 makes clear that by eating and drinking the Sacrament the communicant orally receives the Christ’s body and blood. There is a sacramental union.
Since Christ’s body and blood are present, whether one believes it or not, it is received. If one does not recognize and receive in faith (spiritual eating) Christ’s body and blood, one does not eat worthily and draws upon himself God’s judgment (11:29-30). The fact that Christ’s body and blood are present does rest upon faith or the person who receives it, but upon the words of Christ
Because an unworthy recipient receives Christ’s body and blood to his harm (11:27-30), the church discriminates who may receive the Sacrament. Since this is the Lord’s Supper, it must be administered according to his institution and instructions. Christ preached to [and ate with] all kinds of people, but he ate the Sacrament only with his disciples.
Failure to “Discern the Body” Is Unworthy Eating (11:27, 29)
The key to communing in a worthy manner is the ability and willingness to “discern the body” (11:29). It consists of repentance and faith. These move in two directions at the same time, repentance towards God and towards one’s fellow communicants, vertical and horizontal. One who communes worthily recognizes the need to preserve unity between themselves and [God and] their fellow communicants.
The traditional view of “body” is that it refers to Christ’s physical body. The only references to “the body” in this chapter are references to Christ’s sacramental body. There is a tight relationship between the three verses 11:27, 28, and 29. The problem is stated in 11:27; the remedy for the problem is found in the exhortation in 11:28; and 11:29 states the reason why Christians must heed the exhortation in 11:28 and so avoid committing the grievous sin described in 11:27. The cohesiveness of Paul’s argument in 11:27-29 requires that “body” must refer to the sacramental body of Christ in 11:29 as well as in 11:27.
Paul does not give explicit instructions that pastors should determine who should go to the Supper, but he himself, the apostle, exercises that control. His example serves as a model for all pastors who are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1). In ch. 11 Paul does not forbid anyone from taking communion, but he does tell them to change (since they are causing divisions) before they do. If they do not, it is a logical next step to stop their communion if divisions still exist.
Divisions within the Local Congregation
Those who are causing divisions in the congregation can be excluded from the Lord’s Supper. The Supper is for the unity and oneness of the congregation. How can communion continue while divisions exist?
Difference between Denominations
[It would seem apparent that if communion should be withheld for those who cause divisions within the congregation then] communion should also be withheld from those denominations which cause divisions through unbiblical teachings. Looking at 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks out on matters of morality (ch. 5), pagan worship (ch. 8) and worship practices (chs. 11-14). It is inconceivable that Paul might say, “Think what you like about these issues. Disagree with me and still come to the Lord’s Supper.” Paul does not tolerate doctrinal diversity. Unity in apostolic doctrine is appropriate and necessary among those who commune together at the Lord’s Supper.
11:28 “Let a Person Examine Himself”
There is a need to examine oneself so that one does not receive God’s judgment. And God’s judgment comes as a result of not discerning the body of Christ.
There are three dimensions to examining oneself.
1) First, do you believe that the Christ’s crucified and risen body and blood are really present in the Sacrament? Do you trust Christ’s word that it is?
2) Do you believe that there are benefits (forgiveness of sins) in eating the Supper? If so, do you desire them? Do you realize you are a sinner and need forgiveness?
3) Do you recognize the unity of the body of Christ (the church) and wish to preserve that unity by removing anything that is causing divisions?
By examining oneself, Paul does not mean that one need be perfect or sinless before he can partake of the Sacrament. On the contrary, one is worthy of eating the Sacrament only when one recognizes his sin, his unworthiness, and his need for the forgiveness Christ offers in the Meal.
Should the Sacrament Be Offered to Children?
The Lutheran church has traditionally used 11:28 (“examine himself”) as the basis for not offering Holy Communion to children. To examine oneself is not the same thing as to believe or have faith. It requires intellectual discernment (1 Jn 4:1). Who is the audience when Paul told them to examine themselves? He is speaking to the adults of the congregation at Corinth. And yet, Luther does not forbid the Sacrament from being given to children, those who heartily and in a Christian spirit desire it.
11:29 The body and the Church
The word “for” connects 11:29 (judgment) back to 11:28 (examine oneself). In examining, one must recognize the “body.” The body refers to the “greatness of the things that lie before them.” The holy things are not to be despised or trifled with.
Some believe that body refers to the church, since the overt sin of the church was a rift between the prosperous and the poor in connection with the sacramental celebration. This interpretation does not do justice to the immediate context of the Words of Institution and the “little hooks” which connect the two texts. A case can be made that besides the primary reference to Christ’s physical body, the body may secondarily refer to the church.
11:30 Many are Ill
Because a large number of Corinthians had fallen ill and died despite the presence of some who had the gift of healing (12:9), Paul interpreted this to mean God’s judgment was falling on them for not discerning the Lord’s body. The medicine of immortality, designed to heal, instead brought harm and death to those who despised it. This judgment may have been a one time warning for the church. To despise the Lord’s Supper will have consequences whether or not they come in the same way or not.
11:31-32 God’s Discipline “So That We Will Not Be Condemned”
Paul speaks of God’s judgment on the Christian as discipline. In other words, don’t despair of God’s grace. He is acting like a loving father, disciplining us to bring us to our senses and to keep us from being condemned like the rest of the unbelieving world (cf. Heb 12:5-7, 10).
Paul concludes by saying that this self-centered behavior at the agape meal must stop. It is ruining the whole evening, including the Lord’s Supper. Instead of bringing and displaying unity, they brought upon themselves God’s displeasure and judgment. By what Paul says, we see a clear distinction between the agape meal and the Lord’s Supper.
There were other matters that Paul needed to discuss with them, but they were apparently of lesser importance. He will talk to them about them when he comes, although he’s not sure when that will be (16:5-8).
12:1-3 Holy Spirit Inspires the Confession of Jesus as Lord|
|In chapter 12 Paul deals with another problem affecting the congregation’s worship: their ignorance concerning spiritual gifts. His efforts to correct their misguided thinking will occupy the next three chapters (12-14). First he will lay the ground work presenting a broad theology of the role of spiritual gifts (chapter 12) and then stress the need to use each gift in love (chapter 13). Finally in chapter 14 he will confront directly the abuse of the gift of tongues.
The formula “now concerning” indicates that again Paul is taking up an item from the Corinthians’ prior letter to him. There is no quote from that letter, but it appears that Paul wishes to correct some misunderstandings about spiritual gifts.
The church at Corinth lacked no spiritual gifts (1:7). But they tended to have pride in their gifts as if their own human effort produced them. And they exalted certain spiritual gifts above others. The very term “spiritual gifts” should have been a reminder that the gifts were indeed gifts from God’s Spirit.
Not long ago the Corinthians were “Gentiles,” pagans who worshipped dumb idols (12:2). The OT often speaks of idols being deaf and dumb in contrast to “the living and true God.” Even though these idols were nothing, behind them were demonic forces (demonstrated in 10:19-22). And once snared, these demonic forces led away their captives for execution.
The exact situation of cursing Jesus (12:3) is not known. Perhaps some of the more “liberated” Christians joined the temple worship meal and became drunk and joined their heathen associates in cursing Jesus. It later became known that true Christians would never curse Jesus. So that became a method of finding who really was a Christian. During the time of persecution, those who refused to curse Jesus and worship the emperor were executed. Whether one cursed or confessed Jesus became a matter of life and death.
Where the Holy Spirit is present Jesus will not be cursed but will be confessed as Lord. The Holy Spirit’s chief role is to glorify Jesus (Jn 16:14). In fact only by the Spirit’s power can anyone call Jesus Lord. Those who lack the Holy Spirit are totally unable to understand the things of God. The gift of calling Jesus Lord is the gift that all believers have in common. It is the gift given to all who have been reborn of the water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5). Luther states clearly the doctrine of the Holy Spirit: “I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel. …” [So also does the Nicene Creed, where the Holy Spirit is confessed to be “the Lord and giver of life.”]
The confession of Jesus as Lord is at the heart of the Christian confession of faith. In the Greco-Roman world Christians confessed Jesus to be “the Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev 17:14).
The first three verses provide the proper framework and perspective for the discussion of spiritual gifts.
12:4-11 Varieties of Gifts from the One and the Same Spirit|
|The Corinthians have a variety of “spiritual things” (12:1). These spiritual things are called “gifts of grace” (12:4). This is a gentle reminder that the spiritual things that they have have not been merited but are indeed underserved gifts from God the Holy Spirit. God had given these gifts to build up the church not to impress others. Paul uses the term “gifts of grace” in a broad way throughout his epistles. The following are listed as gifts of grace by Paul: salvation (Ro 5:25-16; 6:23; 11:29), encouragement (Ro 1:11), celibacy or married life (1 Cor 7:7), the gift that helps a pastor fulfill his office (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). All Christians, not just pastors, have gifts (1 Cor 1:7; cf. 1 Pet 4:10).
What is Paul emphasizing here? Is he emphasizing the variety of gifts or the one Spirit? He is stressing both, with a center of gravity falling each time on the second clause: “the same Spirit,” “the same Lord,” “the same God.” If this is the case then there is a parallel in Eph 4:1-6. There he speaks of the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3), in one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, and one God and Father. Then he goes on to mention a variety of gifts of God’s grace (Eph 4:7-11). He gave these gifts for unity of faith, for growing up, and for being built up as one body (Eph 4:13-16).
Paul mentions gifts of “grace,” “services,” and “workings.” In each of these ways, the triune God gives, serves, and works through Christians. Even though God is united and indivisible, each person of the trinity plays a prominent role in these gifts. The Holy Spirit takes a prominent role in bestowing gifts of grace, spiritual gifts. The Lord Jesus, who came to serve and not be served, is the one who inspires Christian service. God the Father, who is always at work in sustaining his creation, is the one who continues to work in the life of the Christian. The glory for the congregation’s giftedness belongs to the triune God alone.
This is a Trinitarian passage. Other Pauline passages in which the trinity is mentioned by the same names and in the same order (Spirit, Lord, God) are: 2 Cor 13:14 and Eph 4:4-6.
With the theological foundation in place – gifts come from the triune God – Paul moves from general principles to specific gifts and their role in the body of Christ. But first he lays down his thesis in 12:7: this variety of gifts are all given by the same Spirit and are designed to serve the common good. The whole church is to benefit from and be edified by these gifts. There is no room for divisiveness, jealousy, and looking down on others as the Corinthian’s were doing. These gifts are not given because of personal accomplishments. All of these gifts are “being given” by God for the church.
Paul begins with the gifts of wisdom and knowledge (12:8). God’s wisdom and knowledge are found in the Gospel of Christ crucified, the theme of 1:18-2:16. Paul may have started with these gifts because they may have been the most common gifts in the church. Wisdom is probably the application of the Christian faith to life, while knowledge probably was telling the basics of the Christian faith, which itself imparts knowledge (cf. Gal 4:9).
The gift of faith (12:9) must be a special gift besides saving faith since all believers have faith. An example of such faith might be the Syro-Phoenician woman (“O woman, great is your faith,” Mt 15:28) in contrast to the disciples whose faith was weak. This faith maybe spectacular or it may be quiet. It is always strong, patient, and steadfast trust in God and his word.
Next is the “gracious gifts of healings” (12:9). Since healings is plural, there may have been several different kinds of healing. Jesus’ message was accompanied by healings. His healings were both compassionate and signs of salvation. Apostolic preaching was also powerfully confirmed with healings. The ministry of Paul and Barnabas also included healings.
Are these healings found in the church today? Some gifts (such as apostleship) were given only during the foundational period of the church. The writing of the Scriptures also ended during this foundational period. So, some believe that the gifts of healing and tongues were given for this same period but ended thereafter. None of the healing ministries today exhibit the same six characteristics that Jesus and the apostles did.
A couple of examples are given where Paul could have healed someone (Phil 2:25-27; 2 Tim 4:20) but didn’t. Paul also did not heal himself (2 Cor 12:9). Had the gift faded? The gift was given not to keep Christians healthy, but as a sign that the gospel was the divine truth.
On the other hand, few Christians would say that God does not perform miracles today. God sometimes goes beyond the natural healings of doctors.
One might view the Lord’s Supper as a healing gift. Jesus is not only the Savior of souls, but is also the good Physician. He came to save the whole person. As Jesus preaching was accompanied by miracles, so the church’s preaching is accompanied by the sacraments. As Jesus’ healings pointed toward complete eschatological healing of body and soul, so the sacraments also point to the future redemption of body and soul.
Others were given “workings of miraculous powers” (12:10). This may have included exorcisms and other spiritual power. Jesus healed with power, healing occurred when the power went out from him. Jesus gave his twelve apostles power over unclean spirits. The gifts of healing and miraculous power may have overlapped each other. In Acts 10:38, those oppressed by the devil were healed.
Others were endowed with the gift of prophecy (12:10). This is the gift of the reception and imparting of special revelation. It is paired with the gift of “discerning of spirits” (12:10). This is the ability to distinguish between true and false prophecies, as demonstrated by 1 Jn 4:1-3. The true prophets’ confession of faith glorifies the Christ. In these prophets the Spirit of God dwells. In false prophets the spirit of the antichrist dwells.
Next comes the gifts of speaking in tongues and interpreting or translating tongues-speaking (12:10). Whether speaking in tongues means speaking in other known languages, as in Acts 2, or speaking in ecstatic utterance is debatable. And the question may be asked, why Paul leaves these gifts last? Is it because it is the gift that is causing problems or because the Corinthians have blown up the possession of this gift beyond reason, placing too much value to it? In ch. 14 Paul places a lesser value on this gift. Whatever the case, the gift of tongues also needed an interpreter. Otherwise the church could not be edified with this gift.
All of these gifts derive from the same source, the Holy Spirit (12:11). They are intended not for individual glorification, but for the building up of the church. And it is the Holy Spirit who decides what gifts to give to what people. The Spirit “blows where he wills” (Jn 3:8; cf. Ps 135:6).
Excursus: Spiritual Gifts in 1 Corinthians|
Paul ties Spiritual gifts (gifts of grace) to God’s grace in Jesus Christ (the Gospel). Both are unmerited gifts from God. The grace of the Gospel continually supplies and sustains the gifts of grace. Grace is a power from the Holy Spirit and it is constantly being given to believers. It is by grace that the Holy Spirit enables the heart and mouth to say “Jesus is Lord” (12:3). The same Spirit also gives gifts of grace for the common good of the body of Christ (12:7-11). Each Christian is given grace in his Baptism (12:13) and is called in life to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). In addition God has seen fit to bestow extraordinary gifts upon particular Christians. All gifts, whether mundane or extraordinary, are given for service to others. All are given the edification of the church (14:26). When used properly, the gifts of grace (including God’s word) strengthen the individual and the whole church and promote health and harmony.
The Nature of the Individual Gifts|
The variety of gifts listed in Ro 12, 1 Cor 12, and Eph. 4 are more illustrative than exhaustive. God’s gifts include talents, abilities, and people.
The Extraordinary Gifts: Prophecy and Tongues|
|A key text for understanding what Paul means by prophecy is 1 Cor 14:29-30. Here it is clear that prophesy is the prophet’s message that comes from revelation. This is the same as the OT prophets who saw (seer) and were caught into God’s council and received God’s word and then communicated it. The past, present, and future were opened up before them. They called the people to repent of past sins, to apply God’s word to today, and they spoke prophetically of the future. They were both forth-tellers and foretellers of God’s Word. They were entrusted with the powerful Word of God which creatively accomplishes what it says (Is 55:10-11).
There is a distinction between prophecy and preaching. Prophecy takes a new revelation from God and makes it known. Preaching takes what is already known and proclaims and disseminates it.
The Fading of Prophecy in the Early Church|
|Prophecy was part of the apostolic age which provided the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20). Even in the OT, prophecy was not a continuous institution. Sometimes there were many prophets and sometimes there were none.
The revelation God made known through his prophets was written down as the Word of God. This Word is even more reliable than first hand experience (2 Pet 1:19-21) [because it comes from God himself]. 1 Pet 1:8-12 explains how the Holy Spirit inspired the prophecies of Christ so that future Christians would believe. All that is necessary for salvation is in the Scriptures. Rev 22:19 warns anyone who adds or takes away from it.
|The Nature and Function of the Gift of Tongues
An important criterion for Paul concerning spiritual gifts was: “Let all things be done for edification” (14:26). Going by that, Paul sees prophecy as being more important than tongues. This does not mean that Paul thought that tongues were of no value. He allowed some to speak in tongues as long as they also had an interpreter.
The Nature and Purpose of Tongues in Acts
The great miracle on the day of Pentecost was the ability given to the apostles to speak in other known human languages, so that everyone there could hear the good news spoken to them in their own native languages. The gift had two purposes. 1) It demonstrated that the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen was for every nation. 2) It was a word of judgment for those who did not believe, for those who claimed the disciples were drunk (Acts 2:13). Multiple languages came into being when God brought judgment on the earth at the tower of Babel. The Gospel reunites humanity-except for those who reject it.
The Nature and Purpose of Tongues in 1 Corinthians
The Corinthians’ Gift Understood as Ecstatic Utterance
Most NT scholarship since the 1970s has accepted the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians as being different than Acts. It has been viewed as the gift of ecstatic utterance and not the gift of the ability to speak in foreign languages.
The Corinthians’ Gift Understood as Speaking Foreign Languages
There two great obstacles to understanding this as ecstatic utterance. First, Paul uses the same terminology that Luke uses in Acts 2. They both use the common Greek term for natural human language. The verb “to interpret” simply means to translate. Second, Paul uses Isaiah to describe the nature and purpose of the Corinthians’ gift (Is 28:11, quoted in 1 Cor 14:21). There Isaiah is speaking of the foreign language of the Assyrians. The ability to speak in languages unknown to the speaker is the interpretation that stood through the Reformation.
A Supernatural Endowment with Facility in Foreign Languages
It is important to note that the ability to speak in foreign languages was not a natural one, but a supernatural gift given by the Spirit in order to promote the Gospel (12:4-11). It was amazing at Pentecost and it was amazing in Corinth. This gift conveyed the Gospel in different languages and it brought divine judgment to those who said, “You are crazy.”
The Modern Practice of Glossolalia
If tongues are a supernatural facility in normal human language then the modern tongues phenomenon is not the NT gift.
Spiritual Gifts Today|
|At least one of the gifts that is in two of Paul’s lists is no longer needed today: the gift of apostleship. The foundational work of the apostle is done. It was a unique and unrepeatable ministry. The same may apply to gifts like prophecy and tongues. All the prophecy necessary for salvation has been made. The point that the Gospel is for all nations and that those who reject it are under God’s judgment has been made. Other signs and wonders of the apostolic age (miraculous healings and powers) may have been intended simply to confirm the apostolic message (cf. 2 Cor 12:12).
The spectacular gifts mentioned above may not have faded away (Scripture is not specific about them), but neither are they for all people at all times (as some claim). Another approach would say that the Spirit may add or take away gifts at any time for the benefit of the church. Has he enabled people to be hymn writers, poets, composers, architects, writers, broadcasters, etc.? The Spirit’s gifts may increase or decrease as is the Spirit’s will and the needs of the church.
Paul’s concern that the language of worship be intelligible to the hearers has a timeless relevance. It is to benefit and edify the entire congregation.
The Spirit and His Gifts Are Given in Baptism (1 Cor 12:13)|
|The Pentecostal denomination teaches a second spiritual experience after Baptism. Rest assured that “water” Baptism is a baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit gives all his good gifts in Baptism. When you were baptized the words of the Father to the Son apply to you: “This is my beloved son[/daughter], with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:16-17). Faith is also given in Baptism and it is faith that receives the Holy Spirit again and again. Before Baptism there is one spirit that lives within us, our own. But after Baptism there are two spirits, our own and the Spirit of the living God. His presence means we have all the resources we need for living the Christian life fruitfully and for faithfully performing the Christian mission God assigns to each of us.
12:12-26 The Analogy of the Body|
|The rest of ch. 12 is about the body of Christ. Previously he has spoken of the gifts given by the Spirit, which are to be used to build up the church. Now he reminds them of their Baptism in the Spirit (12:13). This Baptism has united them into one and the same body, the body of Christ (12:13).
12:12-13 Baptized into One Body|
|The image of the body and its members for the unity of the church was a favorite of Paul’s. The unity of the church is in its members Baptism into the body and their reception of the Lord’s body and blood.
Just as the human body is a single entity made up of many parts, “so also is Christ” (12:12), which is short for “so also is the church, which is the body of Christ.” The unity of the many is their common Baptism “with one Spirit into one body” (12:13). The unity of Baptism transcends all divisions. The word “all” is used twice and the word “one” is used three times in 12:13. There is only one baptism and in it all who are baptized receive the Holy Spirit. There is no second baptism as Pentecostals claim. That doctrine is divisive. It leads to arrogance and inferiority. Here Paul stresses the unity of all.
“The heaping of ‘alls’ upon ‘one’s’ in this important text (1 Cor 12:13) should instruct event the most obdurate in Corinth that all Christians have been baptized in and by the one Spirit into the one body of Christ, giving them all the one indrinking of the Spirit, making them, all of them, one” (F.D. Bruner).
12:14-20 “Inferior” Members of the One Body|
|In the next section Paul emphasizes that every part of the body, no matter how insignificant it may seem, has a vital role in the healthy functioning of the whole.
Paul presents an imaginary conversation among the parts of the body. Some parts are depressed over their lowly status or the drudgery of their work. They are tempted to discontinue their faithful service to the body. But all the body parts are needed. And in fact, God has set each individual part in the body “just as he wished” (12:18). God has given each a distinctive function that will support the whole. Every member cannot have the same function, and therefore there must be higher and lower gifts. The body is like a choir where each singer has an assigned and vital role in producing a pleasing result. [Not everyone is a lead singer, yet every singer, no matter how small their part might be, is important.]
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