Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


1 Corinthians 12:28

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

And God hath set - That is, has appointed, constituted, ordained. He has established these various orders or ranks in the church. The apostle, having illustrated the main idea that God had conferred various endowments on the members of the church, proceeds here to specify particularly what he meant, and to refer more directly to the various ranks which existed in the church.

Some in the church - The word “some,” in this place ὅυς housseems to mean rather whom, “and whom God hath placed in the church,” or, they whom God hath constituted in the church in the manner above mentioned are, first, apostles, etc.

First, apostles - In the first rank or order; or as superior in honor and in office. He has given them the highest authority in the church; he has more signally endowed them and qualified them than he has others.

Secondarily, prophets - As second in regard to endowments and importance. For the meaning of the word “prophets,” see the note on Romans 12:6.

Thirdly, teachers - As occupying the third station in point of importance and valuable endowments. On the meaning of this word, and the nature of this office, see the note on Romans 12:7.

After that, miracles - Power. ( δυνάμεις dunameis). Those who had the power of working miracles; referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:10.

Then gifts of healing - The power of healing those who were sick; see note on 1 Corinthians 12:9; compare James 5:14-15.

Helps - ( ἀντιλήμψεις antilēmpseis). This word occurs no where else in the New Testament. It is derived from ἀντιλαμβάνω antilambanōand denotes properly, “aid, assistance, help;” and then those who render aid, assistance, or help; helpers. Who they were is not known. They might have been those to whom was entrusted the care of the poor, and the sick, and strangers, widows, and orphans, etc.; that is, those who performed the office of deacons. Or they may have been those who attended on the apostles to aid them in their work, such as Paul refers to in Romans 16:3. “Greet Priscilla, and Aquilla, my “helpers” in Christ Jesus;” and in 1 Corinthians 12:9,” Salute Urbane our helper in Christ;” see note on Romans 16:3. It is not possible, perhaps, to determine the precise meaning of the word, or the nature of the office which they discharged; but the word means, in general, those who in any way aided or rendered assistance in the church, and may refer to the temporal affairs of the church, to the care of the poor, the distribution of charity and alms, or to the instruction of the ignorant, or to aid rendered directly to the apostles. There is no evidence that it refers to a distinct and “permanent” office in the church; but may refer to aid rendered by any class in any way. Probably many persons were profitably and usefully employed in various ways as aids in promoting the temporal or spiritual welfare of the church.

Governments - ( κυβερνήσεις kubernēseis). This word is derived from κυβεριάω kuberiaō“to govern;” and is usually applied to the government or “steering” of a ship. The word occurs no where else in the New Testament, though the word κυβερνήτης kubernētēs(“governor”) occurs in Acts 27:11, rendered “master,” and in Revelation 18:17, rendered “shipmaster.” It is not easy to determine what particular office or function is here intended. Doddridge, in accordance with Amyraut, supposes that distinct offices may not be here referred to, but that the same persons may be denoted in these expressions as being distinguished in various ways; that is, that the same persons were called helpers in reference to their skill in aiding those who were in distress, and governments in regard to their talent for doing business, and their ability in presiding in councils for deliberation, and in directing the affairs of the church.

There is no reason to think that the terms here used referred to permanent and established ranks and orders in the ministry and in the church; or in permanent offices which were to continue to all times as an essential part of its organization. It is certain that the “order” of “apostles” has ceased, and also the “order” of “miracles,” and the order of “healings,” and of “diversity of tongues.” And it is certain that in the use of these terms of office, the apostle does not affirm that they would be permanent, and essential to the very existence of the church; and from the passage before us, therefore, it cannot be argued that there was to be an order of men in the church who were to be called “helps,” or “governments.” The truth probably was, that the circumstances of the primitive churches required the aid of many persons in various capacities which might not be needful or proper in other times and circumstances.

Whether, therefore, this is to be regarded as a permanent arrangement that there should be “governments” in the church, or an order of men entrusted with the sole office of governing, is to be learned not from this passage, but from other parts of the New Testament. Lightfoot contends that the word which is used here and translated “governments” does not refer to the power of ruling, but to a person endued with a deep and comprehensive mind, one who is wise and prudent; and in this view Mesheim, Macknight, and Horsley coincide. Calvin refers it to the elders to whom the exercise of discipline was entrusted. Grotius understands it of the pastors Ephesians 4:1, or of the elders who presided over particular churches; Romans 12:8. Locke supposes that they were the same as those who had the power of discerning spirits. The simple idea, however, is that of ruling, or exercising government; but whether this refers to a permanent office, or to the fact that some were specially qualified by their wisdom and prudence, and in virtue of this usually regulated or directed the affairs of the church by giving counsel, etc., or whether they were “selected” and appointed for this purpose for a time; or whether it refers to the same persons who might also have exercised other functions, and this in addition, cannot be determined from the passage before us. All that is clear is, that there were those who administered government in the church. But the passage does not determine the form, or manner; nor does it prove - whatever may be true - that such an office was to be permanent in the church.

(There can be little doubt that the κυβερνησεις kubernēseisor governments, refer to offices of rule and authority in the church. Two things, therefore, are plain from this text:

1. That in the primitive church there were rulers distinct from the people or church members, to whom these were bound to yield obedience.

2. That these rulers were appointed of God. “God set them in the church.” As to the question of “permanence,” on which our author thinks this passage affirms nothing: a distinction must be made between these offices which were obviously of an extraordinary kind, and which therefore must cease; and those of an ordinary kind, which are essential to the edification of the church in all ages. “The universal commission which the apostles received from their Master to make disciples of all nations, could not be permanent as to the extent of it, because it was their practice to ordain elders in every city, and because the course of human affairs required, that after Christianity was established, the teachers of it should officiate in particular places. The infallible guidance of the Spirit was not promised in the same measure to succeeding teachers. But being, in their case, vouched by the power of working miracles, it directed the Christians of their day, to submit implicitly to their injunctions and directions; and it warrants the Christian world, in all ages, to receive with entire confidence, that system of faith and morality which they were authorised to deliver in the name of Christ. But as all protestants hold that this system was completed when the canon of scripture was closed - it is admitted by them, that a great part of the apostolical powers ceased with those to whom Jesus first committed them.

Amongst the “ordinary” functions belonging to their office as teachers, are to be ranked not only preaching the word, and dispensing the sacraments, but also that rule and government over Christians as such, which is implied in the idea of the church as a society” - Hill‘s Lectures, vol. ii, p. 479. Now, though these extraordinary offices and functions have ceased with the age of the apostles, and of miraculous influence; it by no means follows, that the ordinary offices of teaching and ruling have ceased also. What was plainly of a “peculiar kind,” and could not possibly be “imitated” after the withdrawment of miraculous power, is quite distinct from that which, not depending on such power, is suited to the condition of the church always. Proceeding on any other principle, we should find it impossible to argue at all on what ought to be the constitution of the church, from any hints we find in the New Testament. What is extraordinary cannot be permanent, but what is ordinary must be so. See the supplementary note on 1 Corinthians 5:4.)

Diversities of tongues - Those endowed with the power of speaking various languages; see the note on 1 Corinthians 12:10.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Contempt, hatred, envy, and strife, are very unnatural in Christians. It is like the members of the same body being without concern for one another, or quarrelling with each other. The proud, contentious spirit that prevailed, as to spiritual gifts, was thus condemned. The offices and gifts, or favours, dispensed by the Holy Spirit, are noticed. Chief ministers; persons enabled to interpret Scripture; those who laboured in word and doctrine; those who had power to heal diseases; such as helped the sick and weak; such as disposed of the money given in charity by the church, and managed the affairs of the church; and such as could speak divers languages. What holds the last and lowest rank in this list, is the power to speak languages; how vain, if a man does so merely to amuse or to exalt himself! See the distribution of these gifts, not to every one alike, ver. 29,30. This were to make the church all one, as if the body were all ear, or all eye. The Spirit distributes to every one as he will. We must be content though we are lower and less than others. We must not despise others, if we have greater gifts. How blessed the Christian church, if all the members did their duty! Instead of coveting the highest stations, or the most splendid gifts, let us leave the appointment of his instruments to God, and those in whom he works by his providence. Remember, those will not be approved hereafter who seek the chief places, but those who are most faithful to the trust placed in them, and most diligent in their Master's work.
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

God hath set some in the Church - As God has made evident distinctions among the members of the human body, so that some occupy a more eminent place than others, so has he in the Church. And to prove this, the apostle numerates the principal offices, and in the order in which they should stand.

First, apostles - Αποστολους, from απο from, and στελλο, I send; to send from one person to another, and from one place to another. Persons immediately designated by Christ, and sent by him to preach the Gospel to all mankind.

Secondarily, prophets - Προφητας, from προ, before, and φημι, I speak; a person who, under Divine inspiration, predicts future events; but the word is often applied to these who preach the Gospel. See on 1 Corinthians 12:8; (note).

Thirdly, teachers - Διδασκαλους, from διδασκω, I teach; persons whose chief business it was to instruct the people in the elements of the Christian religion, and their duty to each other. See on Romans 8:8; (note).

Miracles - Δυναμεις· Persons endued with miraculous gifts, such as those mentioned Mark 16:17, Mark 16:18; casting out devils, speaking with new tongues, etc. See on 1 Corinthians 12:8; (note), and at the end of the chapter, ( 1 Corinthians 12:31; (note))

Gifts of healings - Χαρισματα ιαματων· Such as laying hands upon the sick, and healing them, Mark 16:18; which, as being one of the most beneficent miraculous powers, was most frequently conceded. See on 1 Corinthians 12:8; (note).

Helps - Αντιληψεις . Dr. Lightfoot conjectures that these were the apostles' helpers; persons who accompanied them, baptized those who were converted by them, and were sent by them to such places as they could not attend to, being otherwise employed.

The Levites are termed by the Talmudists helps of the priests. The word occurs Luke 1:54; Romans 8:26.

Governments - Κυβερνησεις . Dr. Lightfoot contends that this word does not refer to the power of ruling, but to the case of a person endued with a deep and comprehensive mind, who is profoundly wise and prudent; and he thinks that it implies the same as discernment of spirits, 1 Corinthians 12:8; (note). He has given several proofs of this use of the word in the Septuagint.

Diversities of tongues - Γενη γλωσσων· Kinds of tongues; that is, different kinds. The power to speak, on all necessary occasions, languages which they had not learned. See on 1 Corinthians 12:8; (note).

Ellen G. White
The Acts of the Apostles, 92

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-12. AA 92.1

Solemn are the responsibilities resting upon those who are called to act as leaders in the church of God on earth. In the days of the theocracy, when Moses was endeavoring to carry alone burdens so heavy that he would soon have worn away under them, he was counseled by Jethro to plan for a wise distribution of responsibilities. “Be thou for the people to Godward,” Jethro advised, “that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: and thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.” Jethro further advised that men be appointed to act as “rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” These were to be “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness.” They were to “judge the people at all seasons,” thus relieving Moses of the wearing responsibility of giving consideration to many minor matters that could be dealt with wisely by consecrated helpers. AA 92.2

The time and strength of those who in the providence of God have been placed in leading positions of responsibility in the church, should be spent in dealing with the weightier matters demanding special wisdom and largeness of heart. It is not in the order of God that such men should be appealed to for the adjustment of minor matters that others are well qualified to handle. “Every great matter they shall bring unto thee,” Jethro proposed to Moses, “but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace.” AA 93.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 29

The same spirit led the management of the publishing house at Battle Creek to take every step within its power to gain control of the literary products it handled, and this resulted in cutting off a fair royalty income to authors of the books published by the house. In this way the income of the publishing house was enhanced. It was argued that those in positions of management in the publishing house were in a better position to understand the needs of the cause, and know how to use profits which came from literature, than were the individual authors. The authors, they felt, might fall short in proper stewardship of royalty incomes. In several communications, Ellen White, writing to those in positions of management, pointed out that selfishness motivated such plans. Counsel in this area is found in Testimonies for the Church 7:176-180. TM xxix.1

The influence of selfish, grasping methods and the exercise of “kingly power,” as Ellen G. White termed it, were contagious. Elder Olsen, president of the General Conference, in his hope that he could stay the evil work of such influences, made available to the ministers of the church many of the messages of counsel which came to him and other leaders in Battle Creek during this critical period. These messages, published in pamphlet form, were sent out as special instruction to ministers and workers. They were often prefaced by an earnest statement signed by the president of the General Conference or by the Committee. In Elder Olsen's introduction to the second of these numbered pamphlets, written about 1892, he states: TM xxix.2

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