Chapters 12-14 deals with the problem of speaking in tongues and prophesying in such a way that they disrupt the liturgy. Like the treatment of idol meat in chapters 8-10, these chapters have a tri-partite structure. Put simply we could say the structure is as follows:

12 spiritual gifts in the one body of Christ

13 love is the greatest of the gifts

14 directions for the use of the gifts in worship, especially tongues.

In 12:1-3 Paul states that all who believe Jesus is Lord are empowered by the Holy Spirit. The contrast between believers and unbelievers in vv1-3 is really a contrast between the Corinthians to whom Paul is writing and their past as pagans.

The Variety and Unity of the Charisms/Gifts (12:4-11)

In v4ff what is translated as ‘gifts’ in our English translation is ‘charism’ in the Greek. That is what a charism is, a gift of God’s grace to us. In vv4-6 Paul builds up his argument for unity in this way:

            4 Different gifts                                                        same Spirit

            5 Different ways of serving                                        same Lord

            6 Many different forms of activity                               same God

Because God works in a different way in everybody, everybody in the Church is different. The Church is not made up of clones. Note in v7 that these gifts/charisms of the Spirit are for the common good. These are not the seven gifts of the Spirit that the bishop prays will fall on children during Confirmation. The seven gifts of the Spirit in Confirmation are to help us live as an adult Christian. They are for the spiritual well-being of the recipient, the charisms of the Spirit mentioned here by Paul are for the good of the community/Church. The same will be stated in Eph 4:12. The following is part of the bishop’s prayer during Confirmation for the outpouring of the seven gifts, (I have put the seven gifts in italics): “Give them the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of right judgment and courage, the Spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the Spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.” Note this wording. In vv8-10 Paul lists nine charisms or gifts of the Spirit which are for the good of the whole community. While Paul has them listed in a different order, the following is an easier way to memorize and group them.

Charisms in 1 Cor 12:8-10

            3 Word Gifts                            tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy

            3 Power Gifts                         faith, healing, miracles

            3 Revelation Gifts                      wisdom, knowledge, discernment


In 1 Cor 7:7 Paul includes marriage and celibacy as charisms (charism is the word he uses in Greek).

You might ask “Do we not all have faith?” Yes we do. The gift of faith mentioned above is a special gift of faith for particular actions, faith in miracles etc. V11 rules out any ground for boasting because of one’s charism. It is the Spirit who decides who will receive which charism. The Corinthian Church is portrayed as a charismatic Church. The entire Church is charismatic. Paul accepts this as normal in the Church and expects the readers of this letter to also accept it as normal. How does the charismatic Corinthian Church differ from the Church of today?

It is news to some people in class that the gift of tongues and speaking in tongues is practiced today. It is mostly in charismatic prayer groups where this gift and some of the other gifts mentioned by Paul are practiced. When I was studying in Rome there was a very powerful prayer meeting for the English language group on Sunday afternoons. Before I attended it I was told of someone of a different native language from a different part of the world speaking in tongues one afternoon and the prayer was recognized by those from Ireland. It was Gaelic! The person praying knew no Irish. The following quotation from Fr Pat Collins’ book Prayer in Practice is interesting.

“I attended an extraordinary prayer meeting on a Thursday evening. From the outset a special anointing of the Spirit was upon it. At one point early in the proceedings a woman gave a powerful utterance in tongues. Subsequently we were told by Cardinal Ó Fiach’s secretary, a nun who had once ministered in Africa, that the woman had recited parts of the litany of Loreto in Swahili. Apparently, she had repeated the phrase, ‘Mary is Queen of Peace’ a number of times.”

Again in charismatic prayer groups the gifts of knowledge and wisdom are exercised. When we go to the doctor usually two things happen; the doctor makes a diagnosis and then gives us a prescription. When praying for inner healing (emotional, rational and spiritual healing) in a charismatic prayer group something similar happens. The person with the word of knowledge helps to pinpoint the root causes that need to be healed and the person with the word of wisdom helps to give the prescription.

The Vatican II Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, (Apostolicam Actuositatem 3) has the following to say on these nine charisms and the ministry of lay people:

“The Holy Spirit sanctifies the People of God through the ministry and the sacraments. However, for the exercise of the apostolate he gives the faithful special gifts besides (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7), ‘allotting them to each one as he wills’ (1 Cor. 12:11), so that each and all, putting at the service of others the grace received may be ‘as good stewards of God’s varied gifts,’ (1 Pet. 4:10), for the building up of the whole body in charity (cf Eph. 4:16). From the reception of these charisms, even the most ordinary ones, there arises for each of the faithful the right and duty of exercising them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the development of the Church, of exercising them in the freedom of the Holy Spirit who ‘breathes where he wills’ (Jn.3:8), and at the same time in communion with his brothers in Christ, and with his pastors especially. It is for the pastors to pass judgment on the authenticity and good use of these gifts, not certainly with a view to quenching the Spirit but to testing everything and keeping what is good (cf 1 Th. 5:12, 19, 21).”

The Body of Christ (12:12-26)

Paul continues teaching about the gifts/charisms being given by the one Spirit using the analogy of the human body. When Paul was wandering around Corinth he saw the shrine to Asclepios, the pagan god of healing, and saw depictions of body parts on the wall that had been healed, an arm, a leg and so on. You might ask how could there be healings in a pagan shrine. An engineer by the name of Vitruvius, a contemporary of Jesus, has left us descriptions of these healing shrines and said you need two things for them, clean air and pure water, and if you provide these most people will be healed and you can give the credit to the god. As Paul wandered around this pagan shrine in Corinth, he obviously saw that a hand on its own looks weird, a leg on its own looks weird so Paul wrote about the unity of the body in 12:12-26. There is the unity of an army by commands but commands have no place in the Christian community, we belong to each other in a very fundamental way. When Paul speaks of the Church as the body of Christ, he is not talking of coordination, but that we are interdependent. Anything that stresses independence is unchristian. The difference between our perception and Paul is that for Paul unity was obvious and diversity was problematic, but for us diversity is obvious and unity is problematic. Notice that when Paul discusses the Body of Christ he does so in terms of charisms which are for the service of one another. Many parts make up a single body (v12, 20 20 see also Rom 12:5) and so also it is with Christ. Notice that he does not say so also with the Church, but so also with Christ. Since his conversion Paul was conscious of the Church being the Body of Christ (“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, Acts 9:5). The reason for this unity is given in v13. At baptism we were baptized in the Spirit into one body. Now therefore there is no division between Jews and Greeks, slaves and freemen (v13). In Gal 3:28 Paul also says there is now also no longer male or female. The interdependence of the body is emphasized in vv 15-17.

V21 makes it clear that no one can look down on anybody else. In fact, it the weakest parts of the body (v22ff) that are the most indispensable ones. Not only are they indispensable but God has so arranged the body that greater honor be given to the weaker parts. Those who regard themselves as superior are called to conversion when reading this part of the Paul’s letter.

More Charisms (12:27-31)

Paul now shows how what he has just written above applies to the Church. In v28 he says there are apostles, prophets, teachers, and then Paul lists other gifts. It does seem as if the first three are hierarchical, i.e. in order of authority and importance but it could also be that this is the order in which these ministries developed in Paul’s churches. Firstly came apostles, and then prophets began to emerge, followed by teachers. The gift of prophecy is second in the list and the gift of tongues is last. It seems that Paul regards prophecy as a higher gift than tongues (14:5,31).

In 12:8-10 nine different charisms were enumerated. Here in v28 eight charisms are listed beginning with apostleship. If you compare this list in vv 28-30 with the list in vv8-10 you will notice that the lists are different. The list in vv28-30 has added charisms not mentioned in vv8-10 and omitted some of those in vv8-10. The new charisms mentioned in vv28-30 are apostles, teachers, helpers and administrators. Yes, administration of the Church is a charism according to Paul! Vv28-30 omit wisdom, knowledge, faith and discernment. Reading vv8-10 and vv28-30 we have a list of thirteen charisms and you might also want to add marriage and celibacy from 7:7:

            Word Gifts                 tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy

            Power Gifts                 faith, healing, miracles

            Revelation Gifts                      wisdom, knowledge, discernment

            Ministers                     apostles, teachers, helpers, administrators


Read Eph 4:11 where there are another three gifts not mentioned here. What are they? Having read 1 Cor 12, should we open ourselves to more powerful manifestations of the Spirit? Also read Rom 12:6-8.