1 Corinthians 12:12-27


Though the reading for the day does not include verses 22-25 we have included them to fill out the thought.

We shall follow the paragraphing used by the New International Version: Verses 12-13; 14-20; 21-26; 27.

The Corinthian congregation was suffering from disunity.  Evidently the individual members had become puffed up because of the special gifts which the Holy Spirit had granted them.  But Paul does not begin to speak of the actual situation in Corinth until chapter 14:26.

From 12:12 to 14:25 we have instruction.  Today's text falls into that section.  Paul is instructing the members of the congregation and beautiful instruction it is.  No more apt illustration of unity in diversity can be found in everyday living than the human body.  We constantly have ourselves and those living around us as living illustrations of what the church ought to be.  But when we compare what Paul says to the church we find that we fall very short of what God wills.  Actually, therefore, the text for today amounts to the second use of the Law.  It shows us our many sins of disunity.  If our bodies would act the way the church acts, life would become unlivable.

1 Corinthians 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 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.

Verse 12 contains all the main points which will be covered in verses 13-26. And verse 27 summarizes what has been said in these verses.

Brunner: Just as a wide variety of organs and limbs in a single body does not endanger the body's unity so it is, Paul argues, with the variety of spiritual gifts in the single Christ.  There is no necessary contradiction between many gifts and a single Christ, but in fact there exists a fine congruence as the natural analogy of the body serves to illustrate.

In the illustrative part of the sentence we have  "one body -- many members . . . many members -- one body."  Unity and diversity are not a contradiction but a harmonious whole.  And then comes the application.  We would have expected Paul to say:  "so also the Church"  but he says  "so also Christ."

Lenski: Here Christ and the Church are combined as constituting a unit, just as the human body is a unit. The mystical union of Christ, he in us, and we in him, as little dissolves his personality as it dissolves our personalities.
Franzmann: The fact that Paul says 'Christ' shows how close the tie between Christ and His Church is.

Verse 13 explains what was stated in verse 12. Note that forms of  "one"  are used three times and that  "all"  appears twice. Paul means himself and all Christians. Note that  "one"  is used of the Spirit twice and of the body once. In verse 27 Paul will say  "you are the body of Christ."  The body of Christ and all Christians. The one Spirit caused that one body.

Verse 13 is quite similar to Galatians 3:26-28. The mystical union of Christ and the Church transcends ethnic, social and sexual differences. The Holy Spirit caused the unity of the Church through the means of grace, especially baptism. Paul had already mentioned baptism at 6:11. It is the same baptism as that mentioned in John 3:5.

The American Translation by Beck translates  "to form one body."  That is a very attractive translation.

Lenski considers the final  "and"  in verse 13 as epexegetical:  "As in so many instances 'and' introduces a new statement which is intended to help us understand what the preceding statement really conveys."  He means that  "all of us were made to drink one "  explains what it means to be baptized in one Spirit. This, of course, is figurative language, if baptism is referred to. In that case we have the same figure as that which is used in John 4:14 and 7:37-39.

Franzmann was of the opinion that the last part of verse 13 is to be understood literally, not figuratively. We consider Lenski's interpretation preferable. In any case note that we have two passive verbs. The Spirit is the active agent to cause us to form one body with Christ. The article of justification is the cause of the marvelous unity of the Church.

1 Corinthians 12:14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say,  "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,"  it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say,  "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,"  it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Morris remarks on verse 14: Diversity is not an accidental attribute of the body. It is of its very essence. No one member is to be equated with the body. It takes many members to make up one body.

Bruner: With the church's unity as signified by baptism, Paul can now give his attention to the other side of the truth of organic unity -- variety.
Lenski: It forms the theme for all that follows. It contains the two basic facts that must be understood when spiritual gifts are considered. One of these facts deals with the body, the other with the members.

Verses 15 and 16 are similar in construction and thought. The New International Version renders both 15 and 16 with a  "should . . . would"  construction. We consider that correct. It is reminiscent of the classical future less vivid construction. It's the closest we can come to a contrary to fact condition in the future.

Bengel: The foot is elegantly introduced speaking of the hand; the ear, of the eye; one part of the other most resembling it. For so among men, each usually compares himself with those whose gifts are most like his own, rather than with those far superior or far inferior.
Kretzmann: The function of each organ and each member is definitely fixed, and therefore the foot or ear does not sever itself from the body by distinguishing itself from hand or eye; its foolish argument leaves it exactly where it was before. Note: The obvious duty here inculcated is that of contentment. Dissatisfaction with the particular gift of grace, with the particular status in the Church that any person has and occupies, is rebellion against the will of God, against the rule of the Lord of the Church; it is disloyalty toward Him and distrust of His wisdom.
Lenski: Their complaining is not only useless, it is foolish. For the body simply cannot be one member, of necessity it is many, verse 14. These self-disparagements indicate a spurious humility, perhaps even envy, which should be eradicated. Although Paul states the proposition only in the negative form, the positive counterpart is implied. The foot should be happy that as a member of the body it is able to serve as a foot in carrying the body from place to place; the ear and all the other members should do likewise. Instead of complaint all should voice satisfaction; instead of self-disparagement self-appreciation -- both combined with gratitude. So also all the members of the Church.

Verses 17-20 form a unit in this paragraph. Verses 17b and 19 contain contrary to fact conditions. Verses 18 and 20 state the situation as God ordained it and, therefore, as it is. It would be contrary to fact to maintain that the body is entirely eye or ear. It would be contrary to fact to maintain that all the members are one member. By His creative act God has placed the members in one body. And, therefore, we have diversity (many members) in unity (one body). Man cannot change God's creative order.

Kretzmann: No member of the body is able to perform all the functions which are within the sphere of the body, they are mutually interdependent. Pride, therefore, is just as reprehensible in the Church as discontent.
Morris: The incongruity of the exaggerated reverence the Corinthians had for one or other of the members is brought out by a rhetorical question in verses 17 and 19. No matter how important any one member may be, there can be no body formed from it alone. This emphatic reiteration of the theme of unity in diversity concludes this part of the discussion.
Lenski on verse 18: Do any of us presume to find fault with what God thus did? Does envy, false humility, self-disparagement, or whatever else may blind us, lead us to think that we can improve on God's act? (On verse 19) Dissatisfaction would end in self-abolishment. (On verse 20) Without difficulty Paul's statements can be applied to the spiritual body of Christ. Each member of the Church has his gifts and his functions. Blessed is he who joyfully accepts what the Spirit has done, and therefore rids himself of all dissatisfaction. Note how 'even as he did will' in verse 18 is the counterpart of 'even as he wills' in verse 11.
Bengel: According to verse 18, we ought not to require other deeper reasons for things beyond the will of God.

1 Corinthians 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand,  "I don't need you!"  And the head cannot say to the feet,  "I don't need you!"  22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Morris: In verses 15ff Paul has been dealing with the humbler members of the church, who felt that their lack of the spectacular gifts might well put them out of the body.  Now he looks at the other side of the same situation. Evidently those who possessed the great gifts looked down on their less gifted brethren.  In their lofty eminence they thought that they could manage well enough without the unimportant contributions of lowly people. Whenever we begin to think about our own importance in the Christian Church, the possibility of really Christian work is gone.
Lenski: Where is proud disdain most apt to occur in the body of the Church?  Where we see dissimilarity.  I am inclined to disdain those who are not in my class, whose gifts and whose position seem to be much below mine. When speaking about this disdain Paul lets the eye and head speak.

What cannot possibly happen between members of the human body all too often goes on in the Church.

Are verses 22, 23 and 24a speaking of three classes of parts, or of two classes? There is difference of opinion.

The point is that verse 22 is a stark contrast to what is said in verse 21. Those members of the body which seem  (so to us, but not actually so) weaker are, in fact, indispensable.  Blue-collar workers may seem to be less necessary than philosophers in a given culture, but in actual fact the reverse is the truth.  They are indispensable.  The point is: not what appears to us but what is actually the case.

This whole section is for serious self-examination.  Lenski rightly points out that nowhere here does Paul identify parts of the body with individuals in the church.  That would amount to allegory.

In verse 24 the intended sense is:  "And those parts of the body which we rightly consider less honorable, on these we cloth the greater honor."  Verse 22 spoke of what we mistakenly think. Verse 23 speaks of what we rightly think.

Lenski: We ourselves supply the deficiency in natural honor of the second group by means of clothing; but the natural lack of decency of the third group is not made good by us at all -- these indecent parts have their abundant decency.  This consists in the natural feeling of shame, in the nature of modesty, which they inspire.

That is very true.  Even married people show great modesty (or should do so) with reference to the spouse's genitals than with reference to the face or hand.  This verse enunciates and stresses the special care which the lesser members should receive.

Franzmann: Jesus' concern for the 'little ones' in His church in Matthew 18:5 and 10:14, is reflected in Paul's words here.  He is protecting the less brilliantly endowed members of the church against the disregard and contempt of the Corinthian admiration society.  The analogy of the body's less honorable members enables Paul to make two points; God, Creator and Redeemer, has put them where they are, and He has made them an indispensable part of the whole organism.

Verse 25 implies that there was harmony before.  This is an important application. Divisions are not inherent in Christianity.  They develop in the visible Christian Church.

Today's English Version translates:  "And so there is no division in the body, but all its different parts have the same concern for one another."

Brunner: Every part of the body needs every other part.  The various parts are not in fierce competition with each other but are in rich supplementation of each other for the sake of the whole and hence for the sake of God who has himself, placed each in its appropriate place.
Lenski: The opposite of schism is only unity and peace.  But here God's purpose is that the members may all have the same deep concern for each other.  God's purpose is indeed fulfilled in the human body, but in the Church much is yet to be desired.

The last part of verse 25 cannot be rendered literally.  Verse 26 gives us two examples of what is meant in verse 25.  If one member suffers all members suffer. If one member is honored, all members rejoice.

Morris: Paul does not speak of sharing in the honor, but in the rejoicing.  His choice of words emphasizes the impossibility of rivalry within the body.
Lenski: Paul's analogy vividly illustrates how unnatural, abnormal, unreasonable, outrageous it is for the members of the spiritual body of Christ to act in contravention of the very constitution of their own body.

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Kretzmann: Here Paul states that the entire passage is to be applied to the Christian congregation:  You are the body of Christ, and members severally; toward Christ you have the relation of a body, toward one another you have the relation of members.  Therefore the lessons of the discontent of the less noble members, of the pride of the more seemly members, and of the mutual care and solicitude of the members in general should be heeded in the church.
Morris: All that Paul has been saying refers to them, because they are members  'in particular.'

This entire passage leaves us with a feeling of awe in two areas:

  1. What a wonderful creation of God is the human body!

  2. How much the Lord Jesus forgives Christians daily for the lack of Christian unity, harmony and cooperation in the visible Church!


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 34-37. Used with permission.

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