1 Corinthians 12:1 (NASB) Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.
1 Corinthians 12:1 (SBL Greek Text) Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν, ἀδελφοί, οὐ θέλω ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν.
Today’s post will feature the English and underlying Greek texts of 1 Corinthians 12:1. The Apostle Paul is writing his first letter to a troubled church that is in need of order, instruction and answers. Corinth was a cultural center of Greco-Roman influence in a region known as “Macedonia”. The map below highlights where Corinth is located relative to Macedonia, as seen in the center of the following picture:
The point of today’s post is to briefly study 1 Corinthians 12:1 in both English and Greek. I have color coded each text above so as to make the study accessible to all audiences. We will first make some observations about the text itself, and then conclude with some practical applications for the reader.
So what are “spiritual gifts”?
Paul clearly was writing with a pastoral heart as he points his readers to consider the subject of “spiritual gifts”. He begins 1 Corinthians 12:1 with the transitional phrase “now concerning”(Περὶ δὲ) (note: in the English text of 1 Corinthians 12:1, the reader may note above that I color coded various words – having done so to make our observations accessible to all readers). Paul is literally concerned that his readers (and by extension, us) understands what he is going to write. Throughout Paul’s letter we find Paul using this transitional phrase “now concerning” in addressing other issues, such as human relationships and marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1; 7:25; 7:37); idols and debatable issues (1 Corinthians 8:1) and closing remarks to his readers (1 Corinthians 16:1; 16:12).
By pointing his readers to the matter of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1, we then focus our attention on the two words in the text: “spiritual gifts“. Our English translations supplied “gifts” as a way of clarifying the word “spiritual”, due to the fact that in the Greek text, there is no corresponding blue word (see the above text). The underlying Greek text has the noun “τῶν πνευματικῶν“, which could be translated “the spirituals”. The noun has the definite article “τῶν“, which in our English language would be translated “the”.
In Greek, one of the main functions of the definite article is to specify or “make definite” the noun to which it is connected. Identifying the endings of nouns in the Greek is helpful since the definite article will be attached or will modify its respective noun. As we can see, the definite article “τῶν” has the same ending “ῶν” as its corresponding noun “πνευματικῶν” (pnoo-mat-i-kon). This particular ending is often times used in situations where the author is specifying his particular point.
Whenever we combine this observation about the noun’s ending with what we noted earlier about the definite article as “specifying” the noun, we can see that Paul wants to make sure that his readers and us understand “the spirituals” (i.e τῶν πνευματικῶν).
So what tells us that the noun and its attendant definite article “τῶν πνευματικῶν” is proper to translate as “spiritual gifts“? One of the most important rules when studying the Bible in Greek, Hebrew or English is this: “context is king”. Whenever we travel down a few verses to 1 Corinthians 12:4, we discover the main point that Paul is making in the chapter: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Per the context of 1 Corinthians 12:1-4, translators have rightly concluded that it is appropriate to insert, by implication, the notion of “spiritual gifts” or what we could also render as “spiritual enablements of grace”.
Life practical applications
Paul did not want to fill his reader’s heads with information. He was aiming for transformation. He clearly was concerned that they “get” what he was writing. The urgency with which he writes concerning the spiritual gifts ought to prompt us to gain a better understanding of them. This entails understanding how the Lord has gifted or “graced” us as Christians. Every person who has trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and Treasure has the responsibility to find out how it is the Spirit of God has so gifted them. Christians are given supernatural abilities by God to be a blessing to others. There is no such thing as “plain vanilla Christians” or “some having gifts and other not having them”. Every Christian needs to know what their role is in God’s overall purpose for their lives and the life of His church in this 21st century world.