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Calvin's Commentaries 
The First Epistle to the Corinthians
(Volume XX)


1 Corinthians 12:1-7 
1. Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
1. Porro de spiritualibus, fratres, nolo vos ignorare.
2. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.
2. Scitis, quum Gentes eratis, qualiter simulacra muta, prout ducebamini, sequuti sitis.
3. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed; and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
3. Quamobrem notum vobis facio, quod nemo in Spiritu Dei loquens, dicit anathema Iesum: et nemo potest dicere Dominum Iesum, nisi per Spiritum sanctum.
4. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
4. Divisiones autem donorum sunt, sed unus Spiritus.
5. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
5. Et divisiones ministeriorum aunt, sed unus Dominus.
6. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
6. Et divisiones facultatum sunt, sed Deus unus, qui operatur omnia in omnibus.
7. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
7. Unicuique autem datur manifestatio Spiritus ad utilitatem.

1. Now concerning spiritual things. He goes on to correct another fault. As the Corinthians abused the gifts of God for ostentation and show, and love was little, if at all, regarded, he shows them for what purpose believers are adorned by God with spiritual gifts — for the edification of their brethren. This proposition, however, he divides into two parts; for, in the first place, he teaches, that God is the author of those gifts, and, secondly, having established this, he reasons as to their design. He proves from their own experience, that those things in which they gloried, are bestowed upon men through the exercise of God’s favor; for he reminds them how ignorant they were, and stupid, and destitute of all spiritual light, previously to God’s calling them. Hence it appears, that they had been furnished with them — not by nature, but through God’s unmerited benignity.

As to the words; when he says — I would not that ye should be ignorant, we must supply the expression — as to what is right, or as to what is your duty, or some similar expression; and by spiritual things he means spiritual gifts, as to which we shall have occasion to see afterwards. In what follows there is a twofold reading; for some manuscripts have simply o[ti others add o[te. The former means because — assigning a reason: the latter means when; and this latter reading suits much better. But besides this diversity, the construction is in other respects confused; but still, the meaning is evident. Literally, it is this — Ye know, that when ye were Gentiles, after dumb idols, according as ye were led, following. I have, however, faithfully given Paul’s meaning. By dumb idols he means — having neither feeling nor motion.

Let us learn from this passage how great is the blindness of the human mind: when it is without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, inasmuch as it stands in amazement at dumb idols, and cannot rise higher in searching after God; nay more, it is led by Satan as if it were a brute. He makes use of the term Gentiles here, in the same sense as in Ephesians 2:12.

Ye were at one time Gentiles, says he, without God,
strangers to the hope of salvation, etc.

Perhaps, too, he reasons by way of contrast. What if they should now show themselves to be less submissive to God, after his having taken them under his care, to be governed by his word and Spirit, than they formerly discovered themselves to be forward and compliant, in following the suggestions of Satan!

3. Wherefore I give you to know. Having admonished them from their own experience, he sets before them a general doctrine, which he deduces from it; for what the Corinthians had experienced in themselves is common to all mankind — to wander on in error, previously to their being brought back, through the kindness of God, into the way of truth. Hence it is necessary that we should be directed by the Spirit of God, or we shall wander on for ever. From this, too, it follows, that all things that pertain to the true knowledge of God, are the gifts of the Holy Spirit,. He at the same time derives an argument from opposite causes to opposite effects. No one, speaking by the Spirit of God, can revile Christ; so, on the other hand, no one can speak well of Christ, but by the Spirit of Christ. To say that Jesus is accursed is utter blasphemy against him. To say that Jesus is the Lord, is to speak of him in honorable terms and with reverence, and to extol his majesty.

Here it is asked — “As the wicked sometimes speak of Christ in honorable and magnificent terms, is this an indication that they have the Spirit of God?” I answer — “They undoubtedly have, so far as that effect is concerned; but the gift of regeneration is one thing, and the gift of bare intelligence, with which Judas himself was endowed, when he preached the gospel, is quite another.” Hence, too, we perceive how great our weakness is, as we cannot so much as move our tongue for the celebration of God’s praise, unless it be governed by his Spirit. Of this the Scripture, also, frequently reminds us, and the saints everywhere acknowledge that unless the Lord open their mouths, they are not fit to be the heralds of his praise. Among others, Isaiah says — I am a man of unclean lips, etc. (Isaiah 6:5.)

4. Now there are diversities of gifts. The symmetry of the Church consists, so to speak, of a manifold unity, that is, when the variety of gifts is directed to the same object, as in music there are different sounds, but suited to each other with such an adaptation, as to produce concord. Hence it is befitting that there should be a distinction of gifts as well as of offices, and yet all harmonize in one. Paul, accordingly, in the 12th chapter of Romans, commends this variety, that no one may, by rashly intruding himself into another’s place, confound the distinction which the Lord has established. Hence he orders every one to be contented with his own gifts, and cultivate the particular department that has been assigned to him. He prohibits them from going beyond their own limits by a foolish ambition. In fine, he exhorts that every one should consider how much has been given him, what measure has been allotted to him, and to what he has been called. Here, on the other hand, he orders every one to bring what he has to the common heap, and not keep back the gifts of God in the way of enjoying every one his own, apart from the others, but aim unitedly at the edification of all in common. In both passages, he brings forward the similitude of the human body, but, as may be observed, on different accounts. The sum of what he states amounts to this — that gifts are not distributed thus variously among believers, in order that they may be used apart, but that in the division there is a unity, inasmuch as one Spirit is the source of all those gifts, one God is the Lord of all administrations, and the author of all exercises of power. Now God, who is the beginning, ought also to be the end.

One Spirit. This passage ought to be carefully observed in opposition to fanatics, who think that the name Spirit means nothing essential, but merely the gifts or actions of divine power. Here, however, Paul plainly testifies, that there is one essential power of God, whence all his works proceed. The term Spirit, it is true, is sometimes transferred by metonymy to the gifts themselves. Hence we read of the Spirit of knowledge — of judgment — of fortitude — of modesty. Paul, however, here plainly testifies that judgment, and knowledge, and gentleness, and all other gifts, proceed from one source. For it is the office of the Holy Spirit to put forth and exercise the power of God by conferring these gifts upon men, and distributing them among them.

One Lord. The ancients made use of this testimony in opposition to the Arians, for the purpose of maintaining a Trinity of persons. For there is mention made here of the Spirit, secondly of the Lord, and lastly of God, and to these Three, one and the same operation is ascribed. Thus, by the name Lord, they understood Christ. But for my part, though I have no objection to its being understood in this way, I perceive, at the same time, that it is a weak argument for stopping the mouths of Arians; for there is a correspondence between the word administrations and the word Lord. The administrations, says Paul, are different, but there is only one God whom we must serve, whatever administration we discharge. This antithesis, then, shows what is the simple meaning, so that to confine it to Christ is rather forced.

6. One God that worketh. Where we use the word powers the Greek term is ejnergh>mata, a term which contains an allusion to the verb worketh, as in Latin effectus (an effect) corresponds with the verb effectus (to effect.) Paul’s meaning is, that although believers may be endowed with different powers, they all take their rise from one and the same power on the part of God. Hence the expression employed here — worketh all things in all — does not refer to the general providence of God, but to the liberality that he exercises towards us, in bestowing upon every one some gift. The sum is this — that there is nothing in mankind that is good or praiseworthy but what comes from God alone. Hence it is out of place here to agitate the question — in what manner God acts in Satan and in reprobates.

7. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man. He now points out the purpose for which God has appointed his gifts, for he does not confer them upon us in vain, nor does he intend that they shall serve the purpose of ostentation. Hence we must inquire as to the purpose for which they are conferred. As to this Paul answers — (with a view to utility) — pro<v to< sumferon; that is, that the Church may receive advantage thereby. The manifestation of the Spirit may be taken in a passive as well as in an active sense — in a passive sense, because wherever there is prophecy, or knowledge, or any other gift, the Spirit of God does there manifest himself — in an active sense, because the Spirit of God, when he enriches us with any gift, unlocks his treasures, for the purpose of manifesting to us those things that would otherwise have been concealed and shut up. The second interpretation suits better. The view taken by Chrysostom is rather harsh and forced — that this term is used, because unbelievers do not recognize God, except by visible miracles.

1 Corinthians 12:8-13
8. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
8. Huic quidem per Spiritum datur sermo sapientiae, alteri datur sermo cognitionis, secundum eundem Spiritum.
9. To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
9. Alii fides in eodem Spiritu, alii dona sanationum in codera Spritu.
10. To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
10. Alii facultates potentiarum, alii autem prophetia, alii autem discretiones spirituum, alii genera linguarum, alii interpretatio linguarum.
11. But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
11. Porroomnia haec efficit unus et idem Spiritus, distribuens seorsum cuique prout vult.

8. To one is given. He now subjoins an enumeration, or, in other words, specifies particular kinds — not indeed all of them, but such as are sufficient for his present purpose. “Believers,” says he, “are endowed with different gifts, but let every one acknowledge, that he is indebted for whatever he has to the Spirit of God, for he pours forth his gifts as the sun scatters his rays in every direction. As to the difference between these gifts, knowledge (or understanding) and wisdom are taken in different senses in the Scriptures, but here I take them in the way of less and greater, as in Colossians 2:3, where they are also joined together, when Paul says, that in Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge, therefore, in my opinion, means acquaintance with sacred things — Wisdom, on the other hand, means the perfection of it. Sometimes prudence is put, as it were, in the middle place between these two, and in that case it denotes skill in applying knowledge to some useful purpose. They are, it is true, very nearly allied; but still you observe a difference when they are put together. Let us then take knowledge as meaning ordinary information, and wisdom, as including revelations that are of a more secret and sublime order.

The term faith is employed here to mean a special faith, as we shall afterwards see from the context. A special faith is of such a kind as does not apprehend Christ wholly, for redemption, righteousness, and sanctification, but only in so far as miracles are performed in his name. Judas had a faith of this kind, and he wrought miracles too by means of it. Chrysostom distinguishes it in a somewhat different manner, calling it the faith of miracles, not of doctrines. This, however, does not differ much from the interpretation previously mentioned. By the gift of healings every one knows what is meant.

As to the workings of powers, or, as some render it, the operations of influences, there is more occasion for doubt. I am inclined, however, to think, that what is meant is the influence which is exercised against devils, and also against hypocrites. When, therefore, Christ and his Apostles by authority restrained devils, or put them to flight, that was ejne>rghma, (powerful working,) and, in like manner, when Paul smote the sorcerer with blindness, (Acts 13:11,) and when Peter struck Ananias and Sapphira dead upon the spot with a single word. The gifts of healing and of miracles, therefore, serve to manifest the goodness of God, but this last, his severity for the destruction of Satan.

By prophecy, I understand the singular and choice endowment of unfolding the secret will of God, so that a Prophet is a messenger, as it were, between God and man. My reason for taking this view will be explained more fully afterwards.

The discerning of spirits, was a clearness of perception in forming a judgment as to those who professed to be something. (Acts 5:36.) I speak not of that natural wisdom, by which we are regulated in judging. It was a special illumination, with which some were endowed by the gift of God. The use of it was this that they might not be imposed upon by masks, of mere pretences, but might by that spiritual judgment distinguish, as by a particular mark, the true ministers of Christ from the false.

There was a difference between the knowledge of tongues, and the interpretation of them, for those who were endowed with the former were, in many cases, not acquainted with the language of the nation with which they had to deal. The interpreters rendered foreign tongues into the native language. These endowments they did not at that time acquire by labor or study, but were put in possession of them by a wonderful revelation of the Spirit.

11. One and the same spirit distributing. Hence it follows that those act amiss who, having no concern as to participation, break asunder that holy harmony, that is fitly adjusted in all its parts, only when under the guidance of the same Spirit, all conspire toward one and the same object. He again calls the Corinthians to unity, by reminding them that all have derived from one fountain whatever they possess, while he instructs them, at the same time, that no one has so much as to have enough within himself, so as not to require help from others. For this is what he means by these words — distributing to every one severally as he willeth. The Spirit of God, therefore, distributes them among us, in order that we may make all contribute to the common advantage. To no one does he give all, lest any one, satisfied with his particular portion, should separate himself from others, and live solely for himself. The same idea is intended in the adverb severally, as it is of great importance to understand accurately that diversity by which God unites us mutually to one another. Now, when will is ascribed to the Spirit, and that, too, in connection with power, we may conclude from this, that the Spirit is truly and properly God.