By Bruce Edwards, Jr.
Introduction to 1 Cor. 12
The apostle Paul begins 1 Corinthians 12 by pointing out to the brethren there what spiritual gifts are not. Erdman expresses the undoubted rationale behind Paul’s discourse on the charismata, “These supernatural endowments were being regarded by the Corinthian Christians as ends in themselves. They were being displayed for the pride and gratification of their possessors. The most surprising of the gifts and not the most useful were the most highly prized, and the exercise of these gifts was resulting in envy and vanity and division.”(1) Paul makes a deliberate contrast between the work of the Spirit and what they were familiar with in their former heathen celebrations. “. . . the Corinthian Christians were inclined to believe that the more one was deprived of reason and self-consciousness, the more truly was he under the power and control of the Spirit of God.”(2) The “frenzied ecstasy” of pagan cult worship is a vivid contrast with worship directed by and toward the true and living God. Being “seized” as in their prior manner of worship was the very opposite of being possessed of spiritual gifts. No one under the direction of the Spirit can utter language that will dishonor Christ and conversely only those truly led by Him can say that Jesus is Lord (vs. 3). It is significant to note that the apostle’s stress is always upon the rational, intelligible exercise of the gifts of the Spirit.
From this editorial introduction, Paul proceeds to point out the source and purpose of such gifts in the church. It should be noted that in vs. 4 Paul strategically substitutes “charismata” in place of what undoubtedly was the Corinthians’ favorite designation for the gifts pneumatika. Oh how “spiritual” these brethren felt when they egocentrically exercised their gifts. As F. D. Bruner has pointed out, there was evidently the tendency for the Corinthian church to see the Spirit’s work not in only in a particular way (being “carried away,” vs. 2) but also in a particular way (speaking in “tongues,” ch. 14).(3) Just as there are different gifts but the same Spirit, different types of service but the same Lord, and different manifestations of power but the same God-so are the abilities and gifts of each member to be seen. The gifts were not bestowed for their exotic appeal or to elevate the possessor above another, but for the common good of the whole assembly (vs. 7). The apostle’s emphasis throughout chapters 12-14 is upon the mutual edification of all, the whole assembly. When a brother begins to think of his gift as the most important or worse yet, that he himself is the most important saint in that community, then division is inevitable. This is the very thing Paul is seeking to correct and which is an insight into the problem of the Lord’s supper observance at Corinth (1 Cor. 11). The gifts were never granted for “private devotion” for the individual but that all the saints might “profit withal.”
Gifts of Revelation
In vss. 8-11 of 1 Cor. 12, Paul provides a catalogue of nine gifts which serve to illustrate the theme he began in vss. 1-7. There are varieties of gifts, but they all proceed from one source, the Spirit; consequently no one should feel either superior or inferior, realizing that “all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as He will” (vs. 11). In granting the gifts, God’s sovereign will is involved and each member has his own indispensable function (vss. 12-31) for the progress of the church. Conspicuously prominent at the top of the apostle’s list are the gifts associated with intelligible and thoughtful utterance. Equally conspicuous at the bottom of the list are the gifts of tongues and interpretation. How surprised and unsettled his readers must have been, seeing their most prized and sought after gifts at the very end of Paul’s catalogue. However, this is but a preliminary by the apostle of a more severe attack upon and expose of the Corinthians’ improper priorities regarding the gifts in chapter 14.
The first two gifts listed may properly be designated “gifts of revelation,” in that they entail the unusual and supernatural ability to utter truth and then explain its application. On the surface, it appears a difficult task to distinguish between “wisdom” and “knowledge”; Paul, however, clearly has in mind not one gift, but two and thus we are constrained to discover the difference between them. The uncertainty of Biblical scholars regarding the difference between the two terms is somewhat vivid proof that no one possesses such gifts today. The term for wisdom here is sophia and it occurs 51 times in the New Testament. The term for knowledge is gnosis which occurs 29 times in the New Testament. The terms are used together only three times: 1 Cor. 12:8, Rom. 11:33 and Col. 2:3. The latter two instances, however, afford us little assistance in ascertaining a distinction between the two. We are obliged then to turn within 1 Corinthians itself to get an insight into possible differences.
“Wisdom” is one of the recurring motifs in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. Lenski, focusing on 1 Cor. 1:30, contrasts the wisdom of God, “consisting of all the gracious, heavenly, and efficacious thoughts of God embodied in Christ Jesus for the enlightenment of our souls” with “fleshly, worldly, and mere human wisdom, 1:20, 2:5, 6, 13; 3:19; 2 Cor. 1:12.”(4) The wisdom that was embodied in Christ (Col. 2:3) consists also in the gospel-the message announced by His apostles. God’s wisdom then, consisting “not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth” (1 Cor. 2:13), involves the whole scope of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. If “wisdom” is thus the revelation of God’s eternal plan, it is not improbable that “knowledge” then deals with an elaboration of that data. Robertson suggests the contrast is between “speech full of God’s wisdom” and “insight” into that revelation.(5) Eph. 1:8 is a fair parallel: “. . , which He made known to us in all wisdom and prudence.” “Prudence” in this text is phronesis which is understanding or insight. The implication is that “wisdom” involves a revelation of factual material regarding the will of God and that “prudence” or knowledge involves an appreciation for and understanding of its application. We may surmise that the “word of wisdom” at Corinth entailed the revelation of spiritual data relative to the establishment and maintenance of the church, while the “word of knowledge” entailed the explanation, application, and implication of the “word of wisdom.” Perhaps it is proper to visualize the relationship between these two gifts as that existing between tongues and interpretation.
A plausible example may be found in the preaching of the apostle Peter. On the day of Pentecost, he announced, “Repent ye and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto Him” (Acts 2:38, 39). Despite this rather clear declaration of the universality of the gospel, Peter evidently did not understand the implication of his words: he excluded Gentiles. It took a rooftop vision to convince him otherwise (Acts 10:9-16; 34, 35). Hence, one may possess the “word of wisdom” as a gift and still be in need of the “word of knowledge.”
Thus the two gifts complement each other and their linking in the apostle’s list is readily understood. Conceivably the exercise of the gifts was as closely aligned as that of tongues and interpretation. In any event the value and purpose of the two gifts in the Divine economy is apparent for the early church. Each was essential to the growth and stability of the first century community of faith.
Truth Magazine XVIII: 5, pp. 73-74
December 5, 1974