1 Corinthians 12 Study Notes


12:1-3 Allegiance to Jesus as “exclusive Lord” is made possible only through the working of the Holy Spirit. Pagan Gentiles enticed and led astray by mute idols in ceremonial procession could profess Jesus as one of many deities or else curse him as a fraud, but never could they abandon their false gods and devote themselves to Jesus unless the Spirit of God made it possible.

12:4-11a The Spirit according to his will distributes a diversity of gifts to the body for its common benefit. Verses 4-6 and the beginning of v. 11 have a variety of wordplays that frame this section.

12:4-6 The same triune God brings about a variety of gifts and manifests diverse ministries within the corporate body. The different gifts . . . ministries, and activities within the unified church reflect the essential unity and unified work of the persons of the Godhead (vv. 6,11,24,27-28)—the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God.

12:7-10 Each manifestation of the Spirit in a believer is given by God for the mutual benefit of the whole body of believers (cp. vv. 12-31). “Manifestation of the Spirit” refers to gifts, ministries, and activities made possible by the Spirit’s enabling power (vv. 8-10). Similar lists of spiritual gifts are given in v. 28; Rm 12:6-8; Eph 4:11; and 1Pt 4:10-11.

12:11 The phrase one and the same Spirit is active in all these refers to the Spirit’s supernatural working through a diversity of gifted people to produce one cohesive relationship (cp. v. 7, “for the common good”).

12:12 Christ is compressed language for “the body of Christ,” the church (cp. vv. 27-28).

12:13 Through the work of the one Spirit, individual believers become identified as one body of Christ (i.e., as the unified church). All believers are baptized into one body and are given one Spirit to drink.

12:14-20 Paul tackles the problem of self-deprecation for believers who view themselves as less useful to the corporate body.


Greek pronunciation [SOH mah]
CSB translation body
Uses in 1 Corinthians 46
Uses in the NT 142
Focus passage 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

The Greek noun soma means body and usually refers to the physical element of a person’s existence. The soma needs to be clothed (Mt 6:25), can be killed (Mt 10:28), can be thrown into hell (Mt 5:29-30), can experience resuscitation (Ac 9:40), and will experience resurrection (1Co 15:35-44; see Mt 27:52; Jn 2:19-21). Paul often referred to the soma as the vehicle for sinful actions (Rm 1:24; 6:6,12; 8:10,13; 1Co 6:18), but he also used the term figuratively. In Rm 12 the church is “one body in Christ” (v. 5); in 1Co 12 the church is the body of Christ (v. 27); in Ephesians and Colossians, the church is the body with Christ as its head (Eph 1:22-23; 5:23; Col 1:18; 2:19).

The disunity among the believers in Corinth forced Paul to deal with this problem by expanding at length on the body metaphor. Believers in the church are the individual parts that make up Christ’s body. All parts of Christ’s body must work together for the body to function properly.

12:15-16 Paul personified body parts as speakers to express the absurdity of envy and self-deprecation among members of the physical human body. Some Corinthians apparently fell into grading the gifts, attaching importance to public, showy gifts (such as the gift of utterance), and relative unimportance to less observable gifts.

12:17 A body reduced to just one member would be grotesque and useless.

12:18 The dispersion and diversification of gifts is no accident. God himself has given them just as he wanted.

12:19-20 Many parts, but one body encapsulates our identity as individuals enfolded into the corporate body of Christ.

12:21-22 Counter to Corinthian misperceptions, the weaker body parts are indispensable.

12:23-26 We clothe unrespectable parts (private areas) of the human body, which we regard as less honorable, thus according them greater respect. Similarly, God has arranged the body of Christ in such a way that the “less honorable” members are accorded “greater honor.” Humility is a pinnacle value in the kingdom of God (Mt 18:3).

12:27 Individual members becomes key in chap. 13 (cp. ek merous, translated “in part” at 13:9; “partial” at 13:10; “in part” at 13:12). It occurs nowhere else in the NT.

12:28 Church here refers not just to the local body of believers at Corinth but to the universal church, composed of all believers everywhere and from every age. God has appointed emphasizes that no one can justly appoint themselves to positions within the body. The appointments are God’s prerogative alone. First . . . second . . . third gives us a glimpse at the priority of roles during the early church era. All members are equal, but no church would ever have been founded apart from the Lord’s appointed apostles.

12:29-30 In a series of rhetorical questions, Paul emphasizes that no gift is normative.

12:31a Paul concludes by exhorting the Corinthian church to emphasize the greater gifts that have more direct edification for the assembled body.

12:31b-13:3 And I will show you an even better way introduces the discussion about the relationship of love to the exercise of gifts within the corporate body. Paul uses three hyperboles to show that gifts without love are pointless.

12:31b Paul established the preeminence of love (13:1-13) when exercising gifts.