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1 Corinthians 12:1-31 – One Body, Many Members


The Corinthians have divided themselves not only around loyalty to certain leaders, around understandings of ethical behavior, and around social status, but also around spiritual gifts such as gifts for prophecy, speaking in tongues, performing miracles, and so on. Paul uses the metaphor of one body with many members to argue that everyone, regardless of specific giftedness, is indispensible to the whole.


Rank and status apparently matter to the Corinthians in every arena of their common life. They compare and boast in their affiliation to leaders, in their knowledge, and in their spiritual gifts. Paul acknowledges the variety of gifts and proclaims that one Spirit inspires all of them. Furthermore, spiritual gifts are "for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7). The theme of the common good will continue through chapter 14 where Paul gives instructions for orderly worship so that all may be edified by any display of church members' gifts.

The guiding metaphor of the chapter is one body with many members. The unity of the church is as real as a body's unity, even though the body, like the church, is made up of different members. Both in 1 Corinthians 12 and in Romans 12, Paul uses this body-and-members imagery for the church.

The ranking of offices given in 1 Corinthians 12:27 may be merely chronological. First came the apostles, those who had followed Jesus during his earthly ministry along with one (the apostle Paul) who was called by the risen Christ. Then, as the apostles preached, the Spirit inspired Christian prophets, then teachers, and so on. Alternatively, the list could be hierarchical, inscribing more importance to the role of apostle than to any other roles. Either way, Paul concludes the section by pointing to "a still more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31) which, as 1 Corinthians 13 will show, does not have comparisons with others at its center, but instead is characterized by love for others.

1 Corinthians 12:1-31

Spiritual Gifts

12Now concerning spiritual gifts,* brothers and sisters,* I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

One Body with Many Members

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

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