God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2007



The context and focus of 1 Corinthians

In 1 Corinthians we find:

      • The words pneuma – ‘spirit’ and pneumatikos – ‘spiritual’ are used more than in any other New Testament book except the Acts of the Apostles.
      • Almost half of the New Testament occurrences of ‘sarkikos’ – ‘carnal’ or ‘fleshy’.
      • The words ‘wisdom’ and wise’ are used more than in any other New Testament book.
      • The only occurrences of the word moria - ‘foolishness’ in the New Testament.
      • A third of the New Testament uses of the word moros - ‘foolish’. [More than any other book.]
      • Over a third of the New Testament uses of the word asthenes – weak, or weakness. [More than any other book.]

These statistics reflect the lack of true spirituality in the Corinthian church. This lack was evident in their attitudes to human wisdom and human power, in their self-perception, in their relationships with each other, in their moral choices, in their church meetings, and in their attitude to and use of spiritual gifts.

Right from the start Paul addresses this lack of true spirituality in the Corinthian church, bringing up one point after another in which this lack is evident, and trying to get them to the point where their zeal is focused in the right place and driven by the right motives. What he says about these earlier issues contributes to what he says when he spends three chapters addressing their wrong perceptions and misuse of spiritual gifts.

Chapter 1

They lack no ‘gift’ [Greek text does not have the word ‘spiritual’], but they are full of divisions. Paul confronts these divisions which he later says are indications that they are not spiritual. He refers to their lack of unity, their one-up-manship, their quarrels, their boasting, their seeking for signs on the one hand or wisdom on the other, and their glorying in their so-called wisdom, and brings them down to the bottom line that they themselves were of no account when Christ saved them, and that all the spiritual good they have including ‘wisdom’, is solely in Christ. Because Christ is their sole and entire spiritual good, there is no place for boasting, and, by inference, no place for divisions.

Chapter 2

Paul attests that his preaching was a demonstration of the Spirit’s power [2:4] not of human wisdom or powerful human oratory, and that the content of his preaching was the truth about Christ revealed by the Spirit [2:6-10]. He then went on to explain that those who believe in Christ know God and know spiritual truth because they have been taught by the Holy Spirit whom they have received [2:11-16]. Paul emphasises the inadequacy and irrelevance of human wisdom, human understanding and human eloquence. Again, by locating the wisdom of God in the gospel he preached, and which is revealed by God’s Spirit in that freely given gospel, Paul outlaws their exaltation and arrogance regarding their own ‘wisdom’.

Chapter 3

Paul rebukes the Corinthians because they are not ‘spiritual’. Their lives do not demonstrate the evidence of the work of the indwelling Spirit. This is evident in the jealously, quarrelling, divisions, self-conceit and boasting which was destroying the church, God’s sacred temple. In this context Paul warns them against such worldly foolishness that exalts human wisdom, and strongly cautions them to be careful about what they preach and teach. Rather than exalting in human wisdom Paul again tells them that Christ is everything: they belong to Christ, therefore everything is theirs – there is no need to line themselves up with individual men of note. [Note: the word used for ‘jealousy’ is zelotai – which is related to the words used for ‘desiring’ spiritual gifts in Ch 12 & 14, and for ‘envying’ in Ch 13. Both here and in these chapters it refers to a strong desire to have something that someone else has got, and therefore creates divisions.]

Chapter 4

Paul commands them not to go beyond what is written, and not to boast about themselves or other humans, because anything they have is something they have received. They were so arrogant [‘puffed up’ - the word is used twice - 18,19] that they saw themselves superior to Paul. He was sending Timothy to them, and hoped to soon come himself, to find out how they were talking and what ‘power’ they had. [He has already told them that the only valid power is Christ himself [ 1:24 ] proclaimed in the gospel by the power of the Spirit of God [2:4,5]. It would seem that the reference to how they were ‘talking’ [Greek: ‘I will know the word of the puffed up ones’] and whether or not what they said had any valid power, could be a reference to the problems concerning use of spiritual gifts later in the letter. It is certainly clear that some of their problems and their lack of spirituality are related to what they are saying. [In both verse 19 and 20 the word used is ‘logos’ – which refers not to the physical act of speaking but to the expression of one’s thoughts. Paul, then, wants to find out the ‘content’ of all their talking.]


5 – 10

Paul here deals with practical life issues – incest, taking other Christians to court, sexual immorality, questions about marriage, food offered to idols, a wrong understanding of Christian freedom – to correct either error or misunderstanding in these areas. The fact that the first three were present is an indicator of the fundamental lack of true spirituality and true spiritual understanding in the church.

Chapter 11

Addresses practical issues regarding how things should be done when they come together. Some of the points that needed addressing demonstrated a lack of real spirituality.



Paul addresses their misuse of spiritual gifts.

Chapter 15

Discussion of belief in the resurrection of Christ, and of believers. It is possible that this has some connection with what Paul stated in 12:3. Denial of the resurrection is in fact denial of the deity of Christ [Romans 1:4; 10:9]. If they were denying Christ’s resurrection, then all their claims to be Christians, and their claims to have gifts of the Spirit, are empty.


About Holy Spirit baptism: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13

In 1 Corinthians 12:13 baptism by the Spirit is clearly defined. Paul states:

‘For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’

These verses teach us:

      • Every member of the body of Christ has been baptized into that body by the Holy Spirit. This means that every genuine believer in Christ has, at the point of entry into the body of Christ, been baptized by [in or with] the Holy Spirit. In fact, the baptism of the Spirit is the mode of entry into the body of Christ. To ask a Christian ‘have you been baptised with the Spirit?’ is the same as asking them if they are a Christian.
      • There is no basis for distinguishing between Christians on the basis of the baptism of the Spirit, for all believers are baptized by the Spirit.
      • There is nothing in this passage that suggests a need for this Spirit baptism to be confirmed by the presence of any ‘spiritual gift’. There is nothing to suggest that ‘speaking in tongues’ is the initial evidence of either salvation or Spirit baptism. It simply is not in the passage.
      • There is no difference between baptism in the Spirit, baptism by the Spirit, and baptism with the Spirit. The Greek preposition en translates as either.
      • This baptism of the Spirit has happened equally to all, irrespective of who they are, what their prior religious background is, and what their social status is. It, like every work of God, is a great equalizer.
      • As a companion of, indeed as a central part of its meaning, this baptism into the body of Christ by the Spirit, believers are also ‘all given the one Spirit to drink’ – which speaks of the one Spirit who indwells all believers. This divine indwelling is described at length by Jesus in John 14 to 16, and referred to by Jesus in his prayer in John 17. This twofold mutual indwelling is the deep and simple meaning of Christ’s promise of what would happen when the Holy Spirit was sent from him and the Father: ‘On that day you will know that … you are in me, and I am in you’ [John 14:20].
      • It is the same spiritual truth that is elsewhere similarly described:

‘You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ [Galatians 3:26-28].

‘Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.’ [Colossians 3:11]

Paul mentions all of this in this context to stress the essential unity and interdependence of believers. Rather than Holy Spirit baptism being a point of division between believers – the haves and the have nots – it is, correctly understood, that which binds all believers together into one body in a relationship of mutual support and dependence. In the context of the Corinthian church, where spiritual gifts had become a point of division and pride within the body of Christ, Paul’s reminder is pertinent.

About miracles, signs and wonders in 1 Corinthians:

      • There are no reports of specific ‘miracles’ or ‘signs’ of any kind actually being done.
      • The word ‘wonder’ is not used in this letter.
      • The Jews’ demand for ‘signs’ is placed in contrast to the preaching of the Gospel of Christ [ 1:22 ]. It is seen as a negative thing.
      • Speaking in languages is described as a ‘sign’ of God’s judgment for unbelieving Jews, not for the church [ 14:21 -22].
      • The ability to work miracles [dunamis] is listed as a gift from God [ 12:10 ,29].

These four instances are the only times the words ‘sign’ and ‘miracle’ are used in this letter.


About spirits and demons in 1 Corinthians:

      • In 10:20 ,21 Paul refers to ‘devils’ [KJV] or ‘demons’ [NIV] – daimonion. Here Paul is referring to the demons who are worshipped in idol worship, and the wrongness of Christians participating in such worship by eating the meat known to have been offered in these pagan sacrifices.
      • The only possible reference to ‘spirits’ is in 12:10 ‘discerning of spirits’. It is not contextually necessary for this to be a reference to non-human spirits; it is far more likely to be a reference to human spirits. [Paul uses the word ‘spirit’ to refer to the human spirit 16 times in this letter. Nowhere else in this letter does it have the meaning of evil spirits. In fact, nowhere in Paul’s letters does he use ‘spirit’ to clearly refer to evil spirit beings other than Satan himself. There are a small number of occasions where Paul’s reference to ‘spirits’ could refer either to the human spirits of those who were teaching false doctrines or to evil spirits behind false teaching.]
      • There is no reference either to demon possession or to casting out of demons.


About ‘spiritual gifts’ in 1 Corinthians

The words used:

The word used for ‘gift’ in 1 Corinthians is charisma [plural – charismata]. It means ‘a gift of grace’ with the emphasis on grace on the part of the giver. Neither the giving, nor the thing given, is related to any merit on the part of the recipient. It is freely [uncaused, unearned, undeserved] bestowed. Etymologically, the word is related to joy: chairo – I rejoice … chara … joy, rejoicing … charis – grace … charizomai … I bestow a favour [I cause joy] … charisma … the thing freely bestowed or given, that generates joy because it was not earned, deserved or merited.

[This word – charisma - is used only 17 times in the New Testament [16 in Paul’s letters; 1 in 1 Peter]. Of these, 9 clearly refer to what the church commonly calls ‘spiritual gifts’, and 2 may or may not be intended to refer to ‘spiritual gifts’. One passage [Ephesians 4] normally considered to be about spiritual gifts does not use this word.]

The terms ‘spiritual gifts’ and ‘spiritual gift’ do not occur in 1 Corinthians in the Greek text: Paul refers (1) to ‘gifts’ without the word ‘spiritual’ and (2) to ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituals’ without the word ‘gifts’.

1 Corinthians 1:7:

In the Greek New Testament 1 Corinthians 1:7 does not contain the word ‘spiritual’; it simply reads ‘you lack in no gift’. Although this is commonly understood to refer to ‘spiritual gifts’, the context does not necessitate this meaning. Similarly, the context does not necessitate the interpretative insertion of ‘spiritual’ into some English translations. Some may wish to use verse 5 as confirmation that the context is about ‘spiritual gifts’. In the Greek text verse 5 simply says ‘because in everything you have been enriched in [or by] him, in all word [logos] and in all knowledge.’ In the Greek text the word ‘your’ is not before ‘speech’ and ‘knowledge’ as it is in the NIV. According to the Greek text, they were ‘enriched in word and knowledge’ [Aorist tense] as or when the [not ‘our’ as in NIV] testimony of Christ was confirmed/established [Aorist tense] in them. It is as the result of this [Greek: hoste] that they lack no gift. This verse may or may not be about ‘spiritual gifts’ in the popular sense. It can just as readily mean that the Corinthians were enriched in Christ in or by the word and the knowledge of the gospel when they acknowledged the message of Christ. That ‘word’ and that ‘knowledge’ is a far greater ‘gift’ than any ‘spiritual gift’.

Obviously anyone approaching this verse from a Pentecostal, Charismatic or Third Wave perspective will automatically interpret this verse to be about ‘spiritual gifts’. Their theological perspective preconditions them to see the ‘word’ and the ‘knowledge’ as spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 7:7:

The context here is the question of a person’s marital status, specifically the concept of celibacy. Paul indicates that whatever one’s marital status is, it is a giftcharisma – from God. Similarly, in 7:17 , Paul states that ‘each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him’, where ‘assigned’ is the verb merizo which is related to merismos – gift or distribution. This is not commonly considered in discussions of ‘spiritual gifts’. [However, see Jesus’ comment on celibacy in Matthew 19:11-12. The ability to remain unmarried and not fall into sin is God-given.]


1 Corinthians 12 – 14: ‘spiritual gifts’

1 Corinthians 12 to 14 is the only place where the phrase ‘spiritual gifts’ [plural] occurs in the New Testament. It occurs here three times: 12:1; 14:1; 14:12 . But …

The phrase ‘spiritual gifts’ does not occur in the Greek text of the New Testament. In these verses in 1 Corinthians, where it appears in English translations, the Greek text simply uses the plural adjective ‘spirituals’ in a noun form ‘the spirituals’ – ton pneumatikon. [12:1 – Genitive plural], ta pnuematika [14:1 – Accusative, plural, neuter], or the noun ‘spirits’ [ 14:12 ]. In each case the word ‘gifts’ has been added by translators.


      • 1 Corinthians 12:1 reads as ‘now, concerning spiritual things’.
      • 14:1 reads as ‘pursue love and seek [or be zealous for or about] spiritual things, especially that you might prophesy’ [the word ‘gift’ does not occur anywhere in this verse]
      • 14:12 reads as ‘since you are eagerly seeking [or very zealous for] ‘spirits’ [spiritual things], seek to [or be zealous to] over-excel towards building up the church’.

We are so used to reading the term ‘spiritual gifts’ that this is all we can see when we read these verses.

1 Corinthians 12:1-3:

Paul prefaces his lengthy teaching about spiritual gifts with three points:

      • He does not want them to be ignorant about spiritual matters.
      • He mentions their pagan past in which they were led astray to mute idols [the word used – apago – is predominately used in contexts of being led away to destruction.]
      • He mentions the key role of the Holy Spirit in their conversion to Christ.

Although Paul does not specify what it is, there is something significant in his reference to their pagan past [he has mentioned this idolatrous/demonic past previously in this letter]. From the context we can safely infer that at least part of that significance here is a connection between ignorance concerning spiritual things and being led to destruction by idols. [It is relatively easy to access information about the widespread idolatry that characterized Corinth in the New Testament era. There is evidence that ‘speaking in tongues’ and ‘prophesying’ were involved in this pagan worship, and that women [prostitutes] played a key role in these religions. What we cannot say for sure is what specific aspects of their ignorance and their pagan past Paul has in mind in 12:1-2].

Similarly, Paul’s reason for writing verse 3 is not clear to us, even though for the original readers its significance must have been obvious. All we can do is ask a few questions:

      • Were they denying the real incarnation, in the same way as they were questioning the real resurrection?
      • Were the Corinthian Christians wrongly assuming that the spirit behind their former religious practices was the same as the Spirit who now empowered them with ‘spiritual gifts’?
      • Did these same people previously speak in tongues in their pagan worship? And if so, what connection were they making between that and their present speaking in tongues? Did they think they were the same thing?
      • Did they think their new spiritual gifts were to be used in the same way and for the same purpose as their ecstatic activities in their pagan worship?
      • Did their attitude to ‘spiritual gifts’ reflect their former beliefs in the multitude of pagan gods that were worshipped in Corinth – a belief system in which there were different gods for different aspects of nature and different activities? And that this supposed division of sources flowed on to create divisions in the church?
      • With this mindset that encouraged divisions, were they exalting the Spirit [the supposed giver of the gifts] and demoting Christ, making him inferior to the Spirit and creating a division in the trinity?

Whatever the answer, there was something wrong in their attitude to and understanding of spiritual gifts that caused Paul to write verse 3 in which he stresses belief in the real deity and incarnation of Christ. What he goes on to say in verses 4 to 6, could indicate that either or both of the last two questions listed above may identify the problem Paul was confronting.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6:

Throughout this letter Paul has rebuked his readers for the divisions and the personal arrogance that characterize them. Now what he has taught earlier becomes focused on and applied to the question of the source, role and use of spiritual gifts – an area in which the divisions and arrogance needed prolonged attention.

[1] The triune God – Father, Son and Spirit – is the one source of the gifts.

[2] This one source of the gifts is stressed by Paul in chapter 12; the unity of the body [the church] in which the gifts are used is also stressed. Whatever we conclude about the gifts, this passage forbids us to understand them as a cause or point of division within the church, but as something given by the one God to enhance the church which constitutes one body. The possession of a particular gift cannot and must not divide one believer from another.

[3] The ‘gifts’ are also called ‘service’ and ‘workings’. The meaning of these words is: (a) diakonia – service, ministry, function, office, commission; (b) energema [used only here in the NT] - working, operation. Paul is not here talking about three different functions, one for each person on the Trinity; he is talking at each point about the same ‘gifts’ given by the one God, but referring to them with different words. The fact that the ‘gifts’ are also referred to as ‘service’ or ‘ministry’ speaks against all personal, self-focused, and/or self-exalting use of the gifts. Service and ministry are essentially other-directed and other-focused.

[5] Obviously God gives a range of abilities and ministries to his people. That is quite evident and not disputed. However, in calling these abilities and ministries ‘spiritual gifts’ the church seems to have given them an attraction and significance that perhaps the scripture never intended. They are ‘gifts’, yes. They are also ‘service’ or ‘ministries’; they are also ‘workings’ or ‘operations’. They are not given to the individual for the individual; they are given to the individual to use [operate] in service of the body, the church.

1 Corinthians 12:6-11

[1] The gifts are here called ‘the manifestation of the Spirit’ [12:7; Greek: phanerosis – this word is used only here and in 2 Corinthians 4:2. It is a noun, related to the adjective phaneros, which means open, visible, known, and to the verb phaneroo, which means to make clear, visible or known. So ‘manifestation of the Spirit’ refers to some clear and evident expression or action generated by the Spirit.

[2] The purpose of the gifts is ‘the common good’ [12:7; the Greek = sumphero – literally means ‘bring together’; it is usually translated as profit, advantage, expedience. Its literal meaning ‘bring together’, along with its common usage as ‘profit’ or ‘expedient’, together speak against the Corinthians perspective on their spiritual gifts which was dividing the church and profiting individuals rather than benefiting and building up the church as a body.]

[3] The source of the gifts is the one Spirit [mentioned 6 times in these verses]

      • ‘manifestation of the Spirit’
      • ‘through the Spirit’
      • ‘by means of the same Spirit’
      • ‘by the same Spirit’
      • ‘by that one Spirit’
      • ‘all these are the work of one and the same Spirit’

[4] While stressing the source of all the gifts as the ‘one and the same Spirit’ Paul also stresses that the gifts are distributed among the believers; they are not all give to the same person. The gifts are given to ‘each’ [verses 7and 11] but ‘each’ does not have the same as ‘another’ [verses 8-10].

[5] The determining cause or reason why a particular gift is given to a particular person is the will of the Spirit – ‘just as he determines’ [ 12:11 ; Greek = boulomai = intend, determine, will, appoint, decree]. This outlaws any personal bragging about the particular gift one has received.

1 Corinthians 12:14-26

This long section emphasises the unity-in-diversity of the body, and the mutual interdependence of the various parts of the body. In the context of the Corinthian church this is yet another pointed message against their divisions, particularly the divisions and the self-exaltation over spiritual gifts.

The gift lists in 1 Corinthians 12

1 Corinthians 12:8-12

1 Corinthians 12:27-28

1 Corinthians 12:29-30

Message of wisdom

Message of knowledge










Gifts of healings

Gifts of healings

Gifts of healings

Workings of miracles


Work miracles

Distinguishing between spirits


Diversity of languages

Diversity of languages

Speak in languages

Interpretation of languages




Those able to help others




It is obvious that there is no such thing as a set list of ‘spiritual gifts’. Each of these lists differs from the others. They are also different from the lists in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4.

In the 1 Corinthians 12 lists we may note the following in the Greek text:

  • In the second list Paul specifies an order of importance that God has appointed :

First - proton – apostles

Second - deuteros – prophets

Third - tritos – teachers

After that – epeitah – miracles

After that epeitah – gifts of healings, helps, administration and different languages.

Paul is not here just making an arbitary list in no fixed order, but listing the order of importance of the gifts he mentions. The teaching gifts – apostle, prophet, and teacher, are ranked first, second and third. What he says in Chapter 14 contrasting the significance of prophecy and speaking in languages bears out this order of importance.

Note that in Paul’s list ‘languages’ rates lower than even the non-teaching, non-spectacular gifts of helps and administration.

  • The only ‘gift’ that is actually called ‘gift’ within these lists is healing: ‘gifts of healings’ in the Greek text. Note the plural of both ‘gifts’ and ‘healings’ rather than ‘healing’ singular, in each of the three lists above. Paul does not say, for instance in the list in verse 29, ‘Are all healers?’ or ‘Do all heal?’ either of which would follow the patterns used in reference to other gifts; nor does he ask ‘Do all have the gift of healing?’ What he says is ‘Do all have gifts of healings?’ [Greek text.] We must ask: Why does he refer to healing this way in each of these lists? Why did he break the pattern for this particular gift? [Could it be that the church has misunderstood the way God administered healing? Could it be the actual healings that were the gift, not an ability to heal miraculously?].
  • The ‘gift’ of miracle working is variously called ‘workings of miracles’, ‘miracles’ and ‘work miracles’ in the Greek text. It would seem that the focus is on the miracle, not the person through whom the miracle is performed. Note also that these Corinthian lists are the only lists of gifts in which the ability to work miracles occurs.
  • The gift of ‘faith’ is listed only in 1 Corinthian 12:9.
  • Healing is listed only in the three Corinthian gift lists.
  • Paul makes a definite point that individual people do not have all the gifts, and that there is no gift that is given to every individual. Not one gift is possessed by all the people; and no one person possesses all the gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:31

There is ambiguity built into this verse. As the NIV footnote points out, the Greek verb form can be translated as either

[1] indicative [statement of fact]: you are zealous for the greater gifts, or

[2] imperative [command]: be zealous for the greater gifts.

The first is by way of rebuke – they are zealous for the attention grabbing gifts, and should not be.

The second is an encouragement – be zealous to have the more important gifts – that is, the teaching gifts, not the sign gifts.

In either case the message is directed at overcoming the divisive attitude to and use of the gifts that was creating problems in the church at Corinth . It would certainly be in keeping with the preceding chapters for this to be understood as a rebuke [see note on Chapter 3 above]. It would also be in keeping with the end of 12:31 – ‘and now I will show you the most excellent way’ [Greek: ‘a more excellent/pre-eminent/transcendent way’. The word means ‘thrown beyond’ – that is, beyond all others. ‘You are coveting the greater gifts, but here’s a far superior way ..’ ]

Whatever Paul’s meaning in the first half of the verse, he clearly states in the second half that there is something exceedingly better than being zealous for the gifts.

1 Corinthians 13

In verses 1-3 Paul suggests the extreme application of some ‘gifts’. Each of these suggestions is prefaced with the conjunction ean – ‘if’. [There is another ‘if’ – ei – which means something like our English ‘since’ – that is ‘if such and such …’ meaning ‘since such and such is true …’ But that is not the word Paul chose. ‘ean’ prefaces something indefinite or uncertain – a possibility, a conjecture.] He is not saying he or anyone has actually done any of these [if he had done one of them he would not be alive!], he is suggesting a scenario in which he imagines himself as excelling in these suggested extreme application of gifts, but not having love. These extreme, imagined, expressions of gifts are:

      • Speak in the language of men and of angels [gift of languages]
      • Have the gift of prophecy and can understand all mysteries and all knowledge [teaching gifts]
      • Have faith that can move mountains [gift of faith]
      • Give all I possess to the poor [gift of helps]
      • Surrender my body to the flames [martyrdom – not elsewhere mentioned as a gift].

Notice how Paul has pushed the gifts he mentions to an extreme application:

      • Not only tongues of men [which the regular speaking in tongues was], but also of angels.
      • Not only the gift of prophecy or knowledge, but of all mysteries, and all knowledge [which no man can claim this side of eternity].
      • Not only faith, but faith that can move mountains.
      • Not just a gift of mercy or helps, but giving away all I possess.
      • Not just the gift of service, but serving to the extreme of dying for the sake of the gospel.

Paul is not at all suggesting he or anyone can, does or should do all of this; rather he paints an imaginary picture of one person so incredibly gifted that that one person does all of the above. Great gifts, some spectacular gifts, some from the top three gifts, and extreme use of these gifts by this one imagined person, but, Paul says, without love, it is all nothing. Great and spectacular though they are, and great and spectacular though their imagined use is, and incredible as it would be if these were all be exercised by one person – it would all count for nothing. Such a person who possessed them and used them even to this extent is nothing, and gains nothing. Without love he is just an empty noise. The gifts are given. They say nothing about a person’s true spirituality. They say nothing about a person’s eternal impact in the body of Christ. They say nothing about a person’s obedience to Christ.

[Note about ‘tongues of angels’: some understand this to mean a special kind of speaking in tongues in which one uses the language of angels. There is no other verse in the Bible that gives one any authority to understand this verse that way. When the Bible refers to speaking in languages it is to languages of men that can be either understood [Acts 2] translated [1 Corinthians 12-14]. In any case, whenever angels have appeared on earth, they have spoken in the languages of men, and when John saw them engaged in worship in heaven, they worshipped in a language that he recorded – the language of men. There is no biblical report of men hearing angels speak in any language other than the languages of men.]

Notice what Paul says about love, and how it contrasts it with the attention-grabbing, arrogant attitude that Paul is rebuking in these Christians, both generally and in relation to the gifts:

      • Love is patient – it is there for the long haul, and it is there all the time.
      • Love is kind – it does not put others down in order to promote itself.
      • Love does not envy – zeloo – it does not desire or covet what another person has.
      • Love does not boast – it doesn’t brag about its more spectacular gift.
      • Love is not puffed up – it isn’t inflated about itself or its own particular gifts.
      • Love is not rude – it doesn’t behave in an unbecoming manner, destroying the unity of the body of Christ by its abuse and misuse of the gifts.
      • Love is not self-seeking – like those who were clamouring to have the more obvious gifts and exercising them in a self-centred way, or like those gluttonizing at the Lord’s supper.
      • Love is not easily angered – it is not easily stirred up or provoked [remember, there were many divisions in this church, and the way they exalted some gifts was generating further divisions].
      • Love does not keep records of wrongs [remember, they were taking each other to court]
      • Love does not delight in evil [remember, they were tolerating immorality]
      • Love always protects [NIV] ‘puts a roof over’ [Greek] – always bears with the other, or covers the other with silence – a bit different from the self-promoting attitude of the Corinthians which put others down.
      • Love always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In contrast to the gifts themselves Paul states:

      • Love never fails – it is there to the end and will be there beyond the end.

He then says:

      • Prophecies ‘will cease’ [NIV] – katargethesetai [future tense – it will happen; indicative mood – statement of fact; passive voice – the ceasing will be the result of an outside influence acting upon the prophecies] from katargeo – to render useless, to abolish, to cause to cease.
      • Tongues [speaking in languages] ‘will be stilled’ [NIV] – pausontai [future tense – it will happen; indicative mood – statement of fact; middle voice – they will cease in and off themselves, not by an outside agent] from pauo – quit, desist, cease, come to an end.
      • Knowledge ‘will pass away’ [NIV] – kaargethesetai [identical word and form to the verb used re prophecies]

It is important to note that the NIV has completely inverted Paul’s choice of voice in the above three statements. In the NIV translation the action relating to tongues has been translated as passive voice, while in the Greek it is the only one that is not passive; the two that are passive voice in the Greek, the verbs relating to prophecies and knowledge, are not translated as passive by the NIV, but as either middle or active, depending on how one understands the English usage. Again, it is rather puzzling why the translators have chosen to make this change.

The voice of these verbs is of particular significance for the following reasons:

[1] Paul states that tongues will cease [middle voice] – which means in and of themselves, without any outside influence causing that. He doesn’t mention tongues again in this particular argument. Some teachers suggest this passing away coincides with the completion of the written word, others suggest it coincides with the Roman rout and dispersion of the Jews in AD70. Those who take the latter view see tongues as a sign specifically to unbelieving Jews.

[2] Paul states that both prophecy and knowledge [which are both teaching gifts involving the proclamation of God’s truth] will be brought to an end [passive voice] by someone or something apart from themselves. They will not just fade out, like tongues; rather, something will be done to them that brings them to an end, and renders them useless.

[3] Paul then contrasts the present state to the future state when this deliberate abolition of ‘prophecies’ and ‘knowledge’ will occur.

The present - now

The future - then

‘we know in part and we prophesy in part’ [verse 9]

I shall know fully, even as I am fully known [verse 12]

Imperfect [verse 10]

Perfect [verse 10]

We see but a poor reflection as in a mirror

We see face to face [verse 12]

This contrast between the present and the future is, Paul reasons, similar to the contrast between the way a child thinks and understands, and the way an adult thinks and understands [verse 11].

His point is:

      • Tongues are going to cease in and of themselves. They are simply going to fade out.
      • Prophecy and knowledge [the preaching, teaching gifts] will one day be rendered useless.
      • Something that gives perfection of knowledge will occur that will bring this abolition of teaching about – ‘when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears’ [verse 10 NIV].

Note that the NIV has again altered the voice of this verb in verse 10, which is again the same word [identical in every grammatical aspect] used to refer to knowledge and prophecy in verse 8 – katargethesetai – future, indicative, passive – which should be translated ‘will be brought to an end’. It doesn’t just ‘disappear’ it will be brought to an end, abolished, by something acting upon it from the outside.

The pertinent question is, what is this event that renders the teaching gifts - prophecy and knowledge - obsolete, that abolishes them forever?

Two answers are suggested:

[1] The completion of the written word.

[2] The return of Christ.

Of these the second is recommended for the following reasons:

[1] The completion of the written word does not stop the need for the exercise of the teaching gifts. This is clear in Ephesians 4 where all the teaching gifts are mentioned as keeping the church strong in the presence of false teaching. In addition, the scripture as a whole commands people to teach and disciples of Christ to learn. It would contradict this strong emphasis to suggest that the teaching gifts would be bought to an end by the completion of the written Word.

[2] Paul states that when ‘perfection’ comes, we will know fully, and see ‘face to face’. This does not automatically occur with the completion of the written Word. But it does occur with the return of Christ [see 1 John 3:2]. At that day we will see him as he really is and where he really is, seated on the throne, Lord of glory.

[3] From the Apostles’ perspective their teaching, along with the Old Testament – ‘the prophets’, constitutes the word of God. Although at the time Paul wrote to the Corinthians not all of the apostolic teaching had been committed to writing, the apostles, in their teaching, were putting that Word in place. The sign gifts were confirmation of their teaching, and it is the sign gifts, that ceased when the apostolic message no longer needed this visible confirmation.

About spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:1-12

Having extolled the superiority of love in contrast to both the teaching gifts and speaking in tongues, Paul introduces his discussion of the difference between ‘prophecy’ and ‘tongues’ with two commands:

[1] ‘Follow the way of love’. Greek text: dioko = track down, earnestly pursue, eagerly strive for. The word occurs 44 times in the New Testament, of these 30 are translated ‘persecute’. It refers to a highly committed, one-eyed pursuit. We are to be totally committed to loving – in the same way Saul/Paul before his conversion was totally committed to destroying the name of Jesus, in the same way an athlete has a one-eyed focus on his sole goal of winning the prize. Because love is greater than the exercise of the gifts, the expression and exercise of love should be our goal.

[2] Having said that, Paul also says ‘eagerly desire’ – zeloo – ‘spiritual gifts’, or if we choose not to understand the word ‘spiritual’ to refer to ‘gifts’, ‘be eager for spiritual things’, especially to prophesy. Although he has disparaged even the teaching gift of prophecy in contrast to the superiority, necessity and centrality of love, he still encourages them to be eager [zealous] for the gift of prophecy.

[3] He then contrasts prophecy and tongues, to impress them with the comparative uselessness of speaking in languages that are not known by those gathered together in the church meeting.

The one who speaks in languages

Does not speak to men, but to God [2] [because God is the only one present who understands what is said.]

No one understands [2]

He utters mysteries in his spirit [or by the Spirit] [2]

Edifies himself [4]

Okay [5] [but see what he says later]

Lesser, unless the language is interpreted so church is edified [5]

Of no good to church unless accompanied by a message that is able to be understood [6]

Just like a musical instrument played without distinct notes [7]

Just like a trumpet trying to call soldiers to battle but not sounding a clear note [8]

Words not intelligible, no one can understand; just speaking into the air [9]

The languages of the world do mean something, but if I can’t understand them they mean nothing and are like listening to a foreigner [10-11]

The one who prophesies

Speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, comfort [3]

Edifies the church [4]

Better [5]

Greater [5]

Is the only thing that can make tongues ‘good’ [revelation, knowledge, prophecy] [6]

Emphasis is on the value ‘prophecy’ has in building, encouraging and comforting the church.

In the above, note that the ‘tongues’ are referred to as ‘all sorts of languages in the world’, and all with ‘meaning’, and listening to them is compared to listening to ‘a foreigner’. These verses [10,11] prohibit the understanding that ‘tongues’ are something other than human languages.

[4] On the basis of this contrast Paul states that, given that they are anxious for ‘spiritual gifts’ [Greek = ‘spirits’], they should try to excel in gifts that build up the church. [Greek: to the building up of the church seek that you may excel/increase/superabound/have more of. The word ‘gifts’ is not repeated in the second half of the verse.]

The way Paul speaks here could very well indicate that he is not speaking primarily to individuals about the use of their gifts, but to the church about its attitude to the gifts – that they, as a church, were making too much of speaking in tongues and too little of teaching gifts. Rather than concentrating on a gift that is useless for the church the church should be concentrating on and anxious for the exercise of those gifts that strengthen the church.

For Paul, that is the important thing - the strengthening, encouragement and comforting of the church so that the church will be ‘edified’. This, Paul says, cannot be done by speaking in a foreign language unless there is someone there who can interpret what is said into the local language, turning the meaningless and unhelpful babble into revelation, wisdom, prophecy and teaching that will edify the church. On the other hand ‘prophecy’ –representative of the teaching gifts - can be understood by all, and therefore builds up the church through what is taught.

When Paul says that a person speaking in tongues ‘edifies himself’ he is not doing this to express his approval of uninterpreted tongues, but to point out the contrast of such a use of tongues and the use for which the Holy Spirit gave the gifts, that is, the edification of the church. As we have already seen, the gifts are not given for personal application; nor do they have any purpose outside of the context of community. They have significance, they only serve, if directed towards other believers. They are meaningless in isolation.

About spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:12-20

Because the goal is not spiritual gifts in themselves, but the edification of the church, Paul lays down some principles for the Corinthian church in their attitude to spiritual gifts, particularly tongues and prophecy, in the church:

[Note: ‘prophecy’ must be given its biblical meaning: the proclamation of the word of God to the contemporary generation. Historically it is evident that ‘prophecy’, while having a predictive element, consisted in restating the word of God revealed in the past and recalling the people to faith and obedience to that word; generally the predictive element in prophecy consisted in announcing the judgment of God which would surely follow if genuine repentance did not issue in the requisite faith and obedience. To limit ‘prophecy’ to either [1] predictions of the future, or [2] to personal messages about personal details, cannot be supported by the Bible. In fact to class the latter as ‘prophecy’ or ‘words of knowledge’ or ‘revelations’ has no solid Biblical support.]

[1] If anyone speaks in a language he should pray that he may interpret [ 14:13 ].

[2] This is because of the general principle of worship, that both the mind and the spirit of those present are to be involved and engaged – whether it is in prayer, or in singing, or in praise [14:14-17].

[3] Those present cannot be edified if their minds/understanding are not engaged [ 14:16 ,17].

[4] It is better to speak five intelligible words than ten thousand in a language those present do not understand. [14:18-19]

[5] To focus on and exalt speaking in languages above the teaching gifts is to demonstrate immaturity of thought [ 14:20 ].

[In verse 18-19 Paul expresses his thankfulness that he speaks in languages more than all of them. He doesn’t say why he is thankful for this, or in what context he speaks in languages. This raises the question: if he didn’t speak in languages ‘in the church’ where did he do so? Was it in private devotions, as some contemporary Christians believe? Or was it in evangelism among people whose native language God enabled him to speak? There is no evidence in the New Testament that ‘tongues’ was ever a private, devotional thing, unless one reads it into this passage. In fact private use of tongues is in direct contradiction to the revealed use and purpose of the gifts. In the next section Paul teaches that ‘tongues’ are a sign to unbelievers – which could hardly be the case if tongues were intended for private devotions.]

About spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:20-25

Paul then quotes two verses from Isaiah 28 which are part of a message of judgment on Ephraim, the idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel , anticipating the successful attack of the Assyrians. These Isaiah verses mention ‘strange tongues’. The Assyrians deported the whole population of the northern kingdom and relocated them in foreign lands. The reason for this judgment was the fundamental unbelief of the nation; as a whole the nation had forsaken the living God and embraced idols. On the basis of these verses Paul concludes:

[1] Contrary to the use of them in the Corinthian church, ‘tongues’ are a sign for unbelievers, not for believers [ 14:22 ]. George Gardiner, The Corinthian Catastrophe, limits this to unbelieving Jews. There is some merit in this suggestion, as it was the Jews who demanded ‘signs’ [several times in the Gospels, plus 1 Corinthians 1:22 ].

Note: from this verse it is clear that Paul does not see tongues as something that is done in private for private spiritual purposes. The purpose of tongues is to be a sign to others who are present, specifically to unbelievers who are present.

On the day of Pentecost those who heard the believers speaking in tongues were unbelieving Jews. Their response to the tongues was amazement, perplexity, and ridicule. It was not until Peter addressed the crowd in the common language that some were convicted and believed. In the Isaiah prophecy quoted by Paul, note the final part of the quote: ‘but even then they will not listen to me.’ The occurrence of speaking in tongues is not an evidence of God’s blessing on a church [or an individual] but and expression of God’s judgment on unbelievers. To have the word of God spoken, and not be able understand it, is to be beyond the reach of that word, to have incurred the extreme expression of God’s judgment.

[Consider God’s word to Isaiah:

‘Go and tell this people:
“Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.”
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.’

When Isaiah asked ‘For how long …?’ the Lord replied:

‘Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined an ravaged,
until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken …’ [Isaiah 6:9-12]

When the disciples asked the Lord Jesus why he spoke in parables he quoted the first section of these verses [Matthew 13:10-15; Mark 4:10-12]. To hear and understand the word of God is to be blessed indeed [Matthew 13:16 ]; to hear the word of God and not understand is to confirm one’s condemnation [John 8:43 -47].

Tongues are not for the enjoyment of the church. Uninterpreted, they are not even directed towards the church. Uninterpreted, they are aimed at unbelievers as a symbol of God’s judgment. We might ask ‘Why would God do such a thing? Why would he deliberately withhold understanding from people? If we do, we must ask the same question of Jesus Christ concerning his parables.

Perhaps we can gain insight from the prophecy of Amos, where he said:

‘ “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it’.’ [Amos 8:11]

Upon people who have repeatedly rejected the Lord and his word, God imposes this dread outcome: he withholds his word. Thus, when Jesus spoke in parables to the Jews of his day, this was an expression of God’s judgment upon them. And when the word of God was spoken in foreign languages by the apostles and a small number of early Christians, this was also by way of judgment. Thus in Acts 2 Peter explained the tongues speaking as ‘This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel … ‘, then, having preached in the common language about who Jesus really is [Acts 2:22 -36], ‘with many words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”’ [Acts 2:40-41].

[2] Prophecy is for believers not unbelievers [ 14:22 ], that is, understandable proclamation of the Word of God is for believers. As already seen in previous verses in this chapter, tongues [without interpretation] do not edify the church. The gift that is for the church and that strengthens the church is prophecy – the proclamation of the word of God. The Corinthian church seems to have reversed this priority, making much of speaking in foreign languages in the church and giving the proclaimed word minimal significance.

[3] Paul then describes the reactions of unbelievers to use of these two gifts in the church: On the one hand, if an unbeliever [Greek apistos – a person without faith], or ‘some who do not understand [Greek: idiotes – an unlearned, ignorant person] comes into a church gathering where ‘everyone’ is speaking in [uninterpreted] languages, they won’t understand a thing; they will simply think the believers are crazy On the other hand, if an unbeliever, or someone who doesn’t understand, comes in when the word of God is being proclaimed [when people are prophesying] that person could well be convicted of sin and come to repentance and faith because of the truth of God that was clearly taught [14:23-25].

It could thus be argued that while tongues simply promotes ridicule or confirms people in their unbelief, the proclamation of the word in the common language builds the church in two ways: firstly by strengthening and encouraging the believers and secondly by adding to their number those who are convicted by the proclaimed word.

About spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Paul now brings his discussion of spiritual gifts to a close, by giving the following instructions relating to church gatherings:

[1] Whatever is done must be done with the purpose of strengthening the church [ 14:26 ]

[2] If someone speaks in a language, no more than three must speak, only one at a time, and only if there is someone there to interpret what is said, that is to verbally translate the language spoken into the common language. [ 14:27 ]

[Note: the intended effect of interpreted languages is similar to the effect of prophecy – ‘the strengthening of the church’. Interpretation effectively makes speaking in languages equivalent to a teaching gift, that is, it turns it into proclamation of the word of God. We must keep in mind here that speaking in languages in Acts 2 had specific content: ‘the wonders of God’.]

[3] No one must speak aloud in a foreign language unless someone interprets. [ 14:28 ]

[4] Up to three ‘prophets’ should speak, everyone else should carefully weigh what they say [ 14:29 ]. If a ‘revelation’ comes to another, the first should sit down, allowing the next person to stand up and speak.

[Notes: (a) the fact that what is spoken must be carefully weighed by those listening outlaws the contemporary concept that words of prophecy, words of knowledge, words or wisdom, or revelations, are automatically direct words from God with power and authority similar to the written word. The messages spoken by those with the gift of prophecy, teaching, etc, are and remain the words of men, and are liable to error. (b) It is clear from the context that ‘prophecy’ and ‘revelation’ refer to the same thing. (c) It is also clear that the purpose and impact of prophecy is instruction and encouragement.

[5] The reported disorder must be replaced by order [ 14:33 , 40].

[6] In the exercise of spiritual gifts the person is to remain in control; the gifts do not control him/her; rather he/she controls the use of the gifts – those speaking in languages have the responsibility of remaining in control and not speaking in languages when there is no interpreter, also, when someone else is speaking in a language, and also, when three have already spoken in a language [14:27-28; similarly, those ‘prophesying’ are to be in control of their ‘spirits’ [14:32].

[7] Paul’s final comment: their priority should be ‘prophecy’ – this is what they should be zealous for in their churches. They should not stop people speaking in languages, but should, both in prophecy, and in allowing tongues, make sure everything is done decently and in order [which he has defined in verses 27- 32].

[Note: Paul’s ‘do not forbid speaking in tongues’ causes some people to believe that it is wrong to criticize speaking in tongues today, or to state that contemporary tongues are out of place. Paul’s instruction, however, was given in the era in which the gift of languages, along with the other sign gifts, was still present in the church. Obviously while these gifts were still being given it was wrong to forbid their use.]


About speaking in tongues:

[1] Apart from the mention in Mark 16 and the three instances in Acts, 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 contains the only other references to speaking in tongues in the entire New Testament. There is no further mention of ‘speaking in tongues’ in the New Testament beyond this point. [It is thought that 1 Corinthians was written in AD55.]

[1a] The wording of 12:10 suggests two interesting facts about ‘speaking in tongues’: first, that it is ‘languages’ that is the gift, not ‘speaking’ in languages; second, that more than one language is given to an individual person. The Greek text simply has ‘to another [singular] kinds [plural] of languages [plural].’ The word ‘speaking’ is not in text.

[2] Why some people deduce that the word ‘tongue’ in 1 Corinthians 14 refers to an esoteric non-human language, or even to something that is not a language at all, is entirely puzzling. Indeed the only place in the New Testament where such a practice could be possibly be inferred, is where Jesus prohibited praying like the babbling pagans [Matthew 6:7]; in which case if this is what the Corinthians were doing then Paul would have banned it also, rather than okay it on the condition that an interpreter was present. Obviously what the Corinthians were doing was not senseless babble. It was using languages that could be interpreted.

[3] The requirement of an interpreter is a clear indication that the Corinthian tongues were human languages. If it is indeed real human languages then all the current supposed ‘angelic’ languages or ‘God-languages’ are out of order, and many Christians are deceived, and in fact disobedient to Christ’s commands both here and in Matthew 6:7.

[4] Given that Corinth was a cosmopolitan city with people from many different dialects and languages, and given that it was also a place of worship of up to 140 different pagan ‘gods’, there could well be some way, unknown to us, in which this and other problems in the Corinthian church were specifically related to these two factors. There are certainly references in this letter to these pagan religions. There is also evidence in non-biblical writings that ‘speaking in tongues’ was practised in the religions of Corinth .


About healing

1 Corinthians 12 is the only place in the New Testament where the ‘gift of healing’ is mentioned, and it is termed ‘gifts of healings’. The terms ‘healer’ and ‘faith healer’ do not occur in this letter or anywhere else in the New Testament. The only other specific references to miraculous healing are in the Gospels and Acts [where healings were done by Jesus and the apostles, plus Philip, Stephen and Ananias]. Other reference to healing is found in Hebrews 12:13, where it does not refer to physical healing at all; James 5:16, where elders are to pray for a sick person’s healing; and 1 Peter 2:24 ‘by his stripes ye were healed’ – where the reference is clearly to spiritual healing, and has no reference to any gift of healing by which a person is miraculously empowered to heal.

The words in the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 12:9 beg attention: ‘to another [singular] gifts [plural] of healings [plural]’. This raises the question: does Paul by this choice of words mean to infer that it is the actual healings done through the person that are the gifts, and not, as is commonly understood, that this person has the gift [singular] of healing [singular]?



1 Cor 1:5

NIV: ‘in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge’

Greek: ‘in all things you have been enriched in him, in every word and all knowledge’. ‘all your speaking’ in the NIV translates the Greek ‘logos’. The key meaning of logos is not the act of speaking but the content of that spoken – the thought expressed.

Given that logos essentially refers to verbal expression of meaningful content that makes known one’s thoughts it is neither reasonable nor textually logical to see this verse as a reference to speaking in tongues.

1 Cor 1:7


The word ‘spiritual’ is not in the Greek text. It simply reads ‘you do not lack any gift’.

Why translators insert ‘spiritual’ is puzzling. It would appear to be an interpretative insertion.

1 Cor 1:22 semeion

‘Jews demand miraculous signs’

[The word ‘miraculous’ is not in the Greek text.]

Viewed as a negative thing that keeps them from seeing Christ.

1 Cr 2:10-16

This passage speaks about the Spirit of God, which the believer has received, teaching the believer so that the believer understands the truths about God and salvation which the unregenerate man cannot understand.

Indwelling Spirit

1 Cor 3:16

God’s Spirit lives in you

Indwelling Spirit

1 Cor 6:19

… your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit … received from God

Indwelling Spirit

1 Cor 7:7


Speaking of Paul’s ‘gift’ of celibacy


1 Cor 7:17


‘… as the God hath distributed … so let him walk’

Verb related to merismos – gift. Context: situation in life.

1 Cor 12:1

The word ‘gifts’ is not in the Greek text. Paul says: ‘Now about the spirituals – [ton pneumatikon] ‘ [the definite article followed by a plural adjective - which would normally be translated ‘the spiritual things’ . Translators have added the word ‘gifts’, probably because various God-given abilities are under discussion later.


1 Cor 12:2

‘when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols’

Reference to their pagan past in which they had been seduced by idols. Question: why does Paul refer to this? Possibly because he sees some similarities between it and the way they were being seduced into misuse of spiritual gifts.

1 Cor 12:4-11

charisma x 2


energema = workings [only here – v6,10 - in NT]

Verses 4-6

Different kinds of gifts – but the same Spirit

Different kinds of service – but the same Lord

Different kinds of working – but the same God

Verses 7-10: Various manifestations [visible evidence, display, exhibition] of the Spirit – ‘for the common good’ [that is, not for individual good].

These manifestations of the Spirit are listed as:

Message of wisdom – [sophia]

Message of knowledge [gnosis]


Gifts [plural] of healings [plural in the Gk]

Miraculous powers [Gk ‘workings of miracles’]


Distinguishing between spirits

Speaking in different kinds of languages [‘speaking in’ is not in the Greek text]

Interpretation of languages


[6] ‘the same God works’ – present participle

[7] ‘is given’ – present passive indicative

[8] ‘is given’ – present, passive indicative

[11] ‘gives’ = ‘distributing’ – present participle

Unity stressed: reference is made to the one or the same God or Spirit 7 times

In these verses ‘gifts’ ‘service’ and ‘working’ are parallel concepts, each referring to the one reality. If they are not then we also have to create a division in the trinity, as three different words are used to refer to the source of these gifts.

The triune God is involved, not just the Spirit of God. We are prevented from making that kind of division in the trinity which puts exclusive focus on the Spirit in the area of so-called ‘spiritual gifts’. Having made that clear, Paul then proceeds to describe his list of ‘manifestations’ of the Spirit.

Note that only ‘healings’ is prefaced by the words ‘gifts of’ .

Emphasis is on the one God/Spirit who gives the different manifestations of the one Spirit, not on the manifestations.

T he strong stress on the fact that all these abilities are given by the one God could have something to do with the heritage of the Corinthians in which many idols were acknowledged, each with differing areas of influence? [See 12:2] Or, it could be simply because the Corinthians were assessing each other on the basis of which ‘gift’ they possessed? [12:21-31]

1 Cor 12:12 -26

Emphasis on the unity in diversity of the body of Christ

No mention of ‘tongues’, miracles or any other ‘spiritual gift’ in this section.

‘… we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body … and were all given the one Spirit to drink’

Reference to baptism by/in the Spirit. Note: ‘all’ into ‘one body’. Whoever is in the body of Christ has been baptized by/in the Spirit. [Aorist Passive] ‘all given the one Spirit’ [Aorist Passive]

Stress is on unity.

1 Cor 12:27 -31

charisma x 3


God has set, placed or appointed [Aorist Tense] in the church:

[1] apostles [accusative case]

[2] prophets [accusative case]

[3] teachers [accusative case]

[4] workers [accusative case] of miracles

[5] gifts [chaismata - accusative case] of healings [genitive case]

[6] helps [accusative case]

[7] governments [accusative case] [the word ‘gifts’ not in Greek]

[8] kinds (the word is the word for race, nation, family, kindred) [accusative case] of languages [genitive case]

Note the source of these appointments is ‘God’ not specifically the ‘Spirit’.

Note that the only one in this list which is actually called a ‘gift’ (charismata) is ‘healings’. ‘Healings’ alone is called ‘gifts’: twice here and once in verse 9.

Paul did not say ‘God has placed ‘healers’ in the church’ but ‘gifts of healings’. Interesting!

When Paul questions whether or not they all have the same role or ability, again the only role/ability that is called ‘gifts’ ‘is healings’.

To interpret verse 31 as a rebuke would tie in with Paul’s earlier strong stress on the unity of the source of the gifts, and of the body (the church) in which they are placed.

Verse 31 can correctly be translated either in the indicative mood: you are eagerly seeking the greater gifts, or the imperative mood ‘Eagerly seek the greater gifts’. Given that at the end of the verse Paul states that he will show them a more excellent way, it seems reasonable to assume that what he intended to say in the first half of the verse was in the form of a rebuke, accusing them of being anxious to have the more spectacular ‘gifts’, with the inference that they were despising the other manifestations and works of God that were neither miraculous nor spectacular.

1 Cor 13:1-3

‘If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels ‘

Tongues of men – obviously human languages.

Various interpretations of ‘tongues of angels’:

- ecstatic utterings [?]

- superior languages – because angels are superior to men [?]

- human languages – because angels always spoke in the language of men when they appeared to men

Or maybe Paul is just using a figure of speech that would include every possible or imaginable language, in order to magnify the superiority of love.

The things conditioned by the ‘if’ are all potentially attention grabbing and spectacular.

The last two – giving away all your possessions, or giving your body to be burned - are not commonly considered ‘spiritual gifts’.

Note that Paul is not saying that anyone does all of these, he is putting forth an extreme conjecture, not an actual fact: that even if a person were to do all of these extreme things, without love it is all nothing.

Gift of prophecy – the word ‘gift’ is not in the Greek text – ‘if I have prophecy’

Also reference to wisdom, ‘knowledge’ and ‘faith’ and giving to the poor and martyrdom

1 Cor 13:4-7

Description of ‘love’.

Note that ‘love’ is defined by describing what it is not; these negative descriptions highlight the mindset which was being displayed by those causing divisions in the church by their use of and attitude to certain ‘gifts’.

1 Cor 13:8-13

Prophecies will failkatargethesontai [future, indicative, passive]

Tongues will be stilledpausontai [future, indicative, middle]

Knowledge will fail - katargethesetai [future, indicative, passive]

Pauo – to cause to cease, to restrain, to prohibit

Katargeo – to render useless or unproductive, to bring to an end, to annul, to cancel, to abrogate, to destroy

[Middle voice = something done by the subject to or of itself;

Passive voice = something done to the subject by an outside party]

Significance of tense and voice:

Prophecies and knowledge – will be brought to an end, cancelled, annulled, by another party [by God, one assumes; or it could be by the acquisition of greater knowledge, which will abrogate the knowledge we thought we had, and prove erroneous the prophecies which we uttered!] In other words the knowledge and the content of prophecies is ‘in part’, and is constantly being replaced by clearer understanding as the Holy Spirit teaches us from the written Word.]

Tongues – will be stilled or cease, in and of themselves.

There is validation here for the Cessationist teaching that the sign-gift of speaking in tongues was not intended to continue beyond the apostolic age; and that the teaching gifts of ‘knowledge’ and ‘prophecy’ would also cease either [1] with the passing of the apostles and the completion of the written word, or [2] only when we see Christ at the end of the age.

The much later identification of the gospels and apostolic letters as ‘canonical’ has really nothing to do with this question, as they were already written by the time the apostles died.

1 Cor 14:1

The words ‘gifts’ and ‘gift’ are not in the Greek text of this verse anywhere at all.

The verse appears to instruct people to desire ‘prophecy’ whatever ‘prophecy’ means – which he explains in part soon.

Greek: ‘Follow love [track love down], seek [be zealous for] the spirituals, but much more [rather] that you may prophecy’.

Paul teaches them to be zealous for spiritual things, especially for the ability to proclaim God’s word.

1 Cor 14:2-12

Speaking in languages and prophesying contrasted.

Note: the word ‘unknown’ [see KJV] is not in the Greek text in verse 2.


Does not speak to men, but to God [2]

No one understands [2]

He utters mysteries in his spirit [or by the Spirit] [2]

Edifies himself [4]

Okay [5]

Lesser, unless the language is interpreted so church is edified [5]

Of no good to church unless accompanied by a message that is able to be understood [6]

Just like a musical instrument played without distinct notes [7]

Just like a trumpet trying to call soldiers to battle but not sounding a clear note [8]

Words not intelligible, no one can understand; just speaking into the air [9]

The languages of the world do mean something, but if I can’t understand them they mean nothing [10-11]


Speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, comfort [3]

Edifies the church [4]

Better [5]

Greater [5]

Is the only thing that can make tongues ‘good’ [revelation, knowledge, prophecy – which we assume in this context means interpretation of the language] [6]

Emphasis is on the value ‘prophecy’ has in building, encouraging and comforting the church.

The person speaking in ‘tongues’ edifies himself. This could be taken to infer that what he actually understands what he is talking about and is therefore instructed by it, but this interpretation is nullified by 14:13 -14 where it is clear that this person’s understanding is not engaged. Far more likely, Paul means that the person speaking in languages builds himself up, and that this self-focused, self-promoting use of the gift of languages is contrary to the church-directed purpose that God embedded in the gifts.

1 Cor 14:12

NIV: ‘Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church’. The word ‘gifts’ does not occur in the Greek text. Nor the word ‘spiritual’. The Greek text reads ‘spirits’.

The literal meaning of verse 12 is ‘since you are zealous of spirits, be zealous that you might excel in building up the church’, that is, since you have spiritual zeal, be zealous to excel in building up the church.’

The obvious context here is gatherings of the believers. There is nothing in this section about private worship or private speaking in languages.

If I pray with my spirit, but my mind is not engaged, what is it??? [Greek: ti oun estin]

1 Cor 14:13

If you speak in a language you should pray for the ability to interpret what you are saying. [Because the gifts are given for the benefit of the church, not the individual.]

1 Cor 14:14 -17

If you pray or sing or praise in a language your ‘spirit’ is engaged but not your mind. The ideal thing is to engage both your spirit and your mind – that is in a language both you and the others around you understand – then those around you can affirm your prayers with their ‘amens’ and be edified by your thanksgiving.

Others are not edified if someone prays or sings or gives thanks in a language.

1 Cor 14:18 -19

Paul thanks God that he speaks in languages more than any of them.

But he affirms that in the church [in the meetings of believers] he would rather speak five words in a language that all understand, than ten thousand words in a foreign language.

Greek: ‘five words with my mind’

[It is common to infer from this that Paul is contrasting ‘in the church’ to private worship; this is not necessarily the case; he could be contrasting ‘in the church’ [that is, in the company of believers] with ‘evangelising people of a different language by speaking their language’ or with ‘speaking to groups of unbelieving Jews’; the latter is probable in the light of his teaching in the next section.]

[Does Paul mean that he speaks in languages more than they do, or that he speaks in more languages than they do????]

We must not automatically and thoughtlessly assume that the opposite of ‘in the church’ is ‘in private devotions’.

1 Cor 14:20 -22


‘Stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults’ [20].

Infers it is infantile to be focused on speaking in languages, and to misunderstand the gift of languages and its purpose. Maturity of understanding sees the gift of languages differently from the self-focused, self-pleasing Corinthians, as Paul goes on to explain.

Reference to Isaiah 28:11-12 where God prophesied that he would speak to Israel ‘with foreign lips and strange tongues’ – Paul concludes from this that communications in foreign languages ‘are a sign … for unbelievers’, that is for unbelieving Jews as indicated in this prophecy.

[George Gardiner in The Corinthian Catastrophe, makes a great deal of this.] In the context of the Isaiah prophecy the obvious conclusion is that the inability or refusal to understand the spoken message is an indication of God’s devastating judgment that has fallen on the unbelieving Jews because of their consistent rejection of his word [see Isaiah 28:9-14] – in a manner similar to Christ’s speaking in parables precisely so that they would not understand [see Matthew 13:10-15].

This is quite contrary to the perception that ‘tongues’ are a sign for the church, or for the individual, that he/she is ‘baptized by the Spirit’ or, in some groups, is a believer, or, has attained a higher level of spirituality – has arrived spiritually.

1 Cor 14:23

If everyone in the church assembly is speaking in [uninterpreted] languages and unlearned or unbelieving people come in they will say you are mad.

This is referring to someone coming in who does not understand either [1] the languages being spoken, or [2] God’s purpose in giving the ability to speak in languages.

1 Cor 14:24

If unlearned or unbelieving people come in while every one is ‘prophesying’ – that is proclaiming God’s word in the common language, they are convicted and judged by all. The ‘convicted’ and ‘judged’ are in the present tense, passive mood. It is not that these people will be convicted and judged, but that they are convicted and judged in an effective way, by virtue of the fact that they are actually hearing God’s truth in understandable words.

Prophesying is obviously the proclamation of God’s truth by which people are convicted [see John 16:8-11]. This is the on-going work of the Spirit of God as the Word of God is proclaimed by the people of God.

1 Cor 14:25

The word of God spoken in understandable languages lays bare his heart. This will lead to him fall before God in worship, acknowledging that God is surely in the church and its message.

1 Cor 14:26

Mild rebuke: ‘everyone has’.

Reminder that all contributions [hymn, word of instruction, revelation, tongue, interpretation] must be done for the strengthening of the church, not as a personal spiritual exercise even in the context of a corporate spiritual experience.


1 Cor 14:27 -28

Instructions about use of languages in church gatherings – limited to three at the most, and then only if there is an interpreter. Purpose is the strengthening of the church through what is communicated, not because of any supposed euphoric excitement generated by the fact that someone was ‘speaking in a language’. [Note that interpretation is not here referred to as a spiritual gift.]

If there is no interpreter ‘the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God’. [He should not be heard speaking in languages.]

Whatever is going on here it is not ecstatic confusion. Everything is to be under deliberate control. The whole point is communication of God’s truth. Ecstasy, euphoria or warm fuzzies get no mention.

Note: the person is in full control of the gift, not vice versa. Nor is the expression of the gift dependent on pre-conditioning by mechanical or psychological means.

Everything said has to be carefully weighed … it is not to be automatically accepted. This instruction clearly denies any supernatural source or nature of these prophecies and revelations. They are obviously fallible humans proclaiming and teaching God’s truth to the best of their ability and knowledge, but subject to error.

[There are three groups Paul commands to be ‘silent’: people who can speak in tongues, but there is no interpreter present; a person who is giving a message, when someone else wants a turn to speak a message; and women in the church.]

1 Cor 14:29 -33

About the use of ‘prophecy’. To be limited in number; in order; aimed at instruction and encouragement of everyone; controlled by the prophet; not confusion. ‘revelation’ is mentioned in the discussion of ‘prophecy’ so can be assumed to be of the same nature as prophecy.

‘spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets’ – Greek – hupotasso – a very strong word. [Used also in verse 34 re women – ‘be in submission’.] This is the word used to convey the subjection of the demons to Christ, the subjection of all things to Christ, the believer’s submission to God, etc.

1 Cor 14:39 -40

Be eager to ‘prophesy’ – speak God’s word in the local language, but don’t stop people speaking in other languages. But be sure to do things in order [as already described].

Paul gives the command not to forbid people to speak in languages at the time when the sign gifts had not yet ceased.