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Commentary On Corinthians Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

1 Corinthians 12:14-27

14. For the body is not one member, but many.

14. Etenim corpus non est unum membrum, sed multa.

15. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

15. Si dixerit pes: Quoniam non sum manus, non sum ex corpore: an propterea non est ex corpore?

16. And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

16. Et si dixerit auris: Quia non sum oculus, non sum ex corpore: an propterea non est ex corpore?

17. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

17. Si toturn corpus oculus, ubi auditus? si totum auditus, ubi olfactus?

18. But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

18. Nunc vero Deus posuit merebra, unumquodque ipsorum in corpore prout voluit.

19. And if they were all one member, where were the body?

19. Quodsi essent omnia unum membrum, ubi corpus?

20. But now are they many members, yet but one body.

20. At nunc multa quidem membra, unum autem corpus.

21. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

21. Nec potest oculus dicere manui: Ego to opus non habeo. Nec rursum caput pedibus: Vobis opus non habeo.

22. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

22. Quin potius, quae infirmiora corporis membra videntur esse, necessaria sunt:

23. And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

23. Et quae iudicamus viliora esse in corpore, his abundantiorem honorem circumdamus: et quae minus honesta sunt in nobis, plus decoris habent.

24. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

24. Quae autem decora sunt in nobis, non habent opus, sed Deus contemperavit corpus, tribuens henorem abundantiorem opus habenti,

25. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

25. Ut ne dissidium esset in corpore, sed ut membra alia pro aliis invicem eandem sollicitudinem ha beant.

26. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

26. Et sive patitur unum membrum, compatiuntur omnia membra: sive glorificatur unum membrum, congaudent omnia membra.

27. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

27. Vos autem estis corpus Christi, et membra ex parte.

15. This is a bringing out still farther (epexergasia) of the preceding statement, or in other words, an exposition of it, with some amplification, with the view of placing in a clearer light, what he had previously stated in a few words. Now all this accords with the apologue of Menenius Agrippa. |Should a dissension break out in the body, so that the feet would refuse to discharge their office to the rest of the body, and the belly in like manner, and the eyes, and the hands, what would be the effect? Would not the result be -- the destruction of the whole body?| At the same time Paul here insists more particularly on this one point -- that each member ought to rest satisfied with its own place and station, and not envy the others, for he institutes a comparison between the more distinguished members, and those that have less dignity. For the eye has a more honorable place in the body than the hand, and the hand than the foot But if our hands were, from a feeling of envy, to refuse to discharge their office, would nature endure this? Would the hand be listened to, when wishing to be separated from the body?

To be not of the body, means here -- to have no communication with the other members, but to live for itself, and to seek only its own advantage. |Would it then,| says Paul, |be allowable for the hand to refuse to do its office to the other members, on the ground of its bearing envy to the eyes?| These things are said of the natural body, but they must be applied to the members of the Church, lest ambition or misdirected emulation and envy should be the occasion of bad feeling among us, so as to lead one that occupies an inferior station to grudge to afford his services to those above him.

17. If the whole body were an eye He sets aside a foolish aiming at equality, by showing the impossibility of it. |If all the members,| says he, |desire the honor that belongs to the eye, the consequence will be, that the whole body will perish; for it is impossible that the body should remain safe and sound, if the members have not different functions, and a mutual correspondence between them. Hence equality interferes with the welfare of the body, because it produces a confusion that entails present ruin. What madness, then, would it be, should one member, instead of giving way to another, conspire for its own ruin and that of the body!|

18. But now God hath placed. Here we have another argument, taken from the appointment of God. |It has pleased God, that the body should consist of various members, and that the members should be endowed with various offices and gifts. That member, therefore, which will not rest satisfied with its own station, will wage war with God after the manner of the giants. Let us, therefore, be subject to the arrangement which God has appointed, that we may not, to no purpose, resist his will.|

19. If all were one member He means, that God has not acted at random, or without good reason, in assigning different gifts to the members of the body; but because it was necessary that it should be so, for the preservation of the body; for if this symmetry were taken away, there would be utter confusion and derangement. Hence we ought to submit ourselves the more carefully to the providence of God, which has so suitably arranged everything for our common advantage. One member is taken here to mean a mass, that is all of one shape, and not distinguished by any variety; for if God were to fashion our body into a mass of this kind, it would be a useless heap.

20. Many members -- one body He repeats this the oftener, because the stress of the whole question lies here -- that the unity of the body is of such a nature as cannot be maintained but by a diversity of members; and that, while the members differ from each other in offices and functions, it is in such a way as to have a mutual connection with each other for the preservation of the one body. Hence no body can retain its standing without a diversified symmetry of the members, that we may know to consult public as well as private advantage, by discharging, every one, the duty of his own station.

21. And the eye cannot say to the hand Hitherto he has been showing, what is the office of the less honorable members -- to discharge their duty to the body, and not envy the more distinguished members. Now, on the other hand, he enjoins it upon the more honorable members, not to despise the inferior members, which they cannot dispense with. The eye excels the hand, and yet cannot despise it, or insult over it, as though it were useless; and he draws an argument from utility, to show that it ought to be thus -- |Those members, that are less esteemed, are the more necessary: hence, with a view to the safety of the body, they must not be despised.| He makes use of the term weaker here, to mean despised, as in another passage, when he says that he glories in his infirmities, (2 Corinthians 12:9,) he expresses, under this term, those things which rendered him contemptible and abject.

23. Which are less honorable. Here we have a second argument -- that the dishonor of one member turns out to the common disgrace of the whole body, as appears from the care that we take to cover the parts that are less honorable. |Those parts that are comely,| says he, |do not require adventitious ornament; but the parts that involve shame, or are less comely, are cared for by us with greater concern. Why so? but because their shame would be the common disgrace of the whole body.| To invest with honor is to put on a covering for the sake of ornament, in order that those members may be honorably concealed, which would involve shame if uncovered.

24. But God hath tempered the body together He again repeats, what he had stated once before, (1 Corinthians 12:18,) but more explicitly, -- that God has appointed this symmetry, and that with a view to the advantage of the whole body, because it cannot otherwise maintain its standing. |For whence comes it, that all the members are of their own accord concerned for the honor of a less comely member, and agree together to conceal its shame? This inclination has been implanted in them by God, because without this adjustment a schism in the body would quickly break out. Hence it appears that the body is not merely shattered, and the order of nature perverted, but the authority of God is openly set at naught, whenever any one assumes more than belongs to him.|

26. Whether one member suffers |Such a measure of fellow-feeling.| (sumpatheia,) says he, |is to be seen in the human body, that, if any inconvenience is felt by any member, all the others grieve along with it, and, on the other hand, rejoice along with it, in its prosperity. Hence there is no room there for envy or contempt.| To be honored, here, is taken in a large sense, as meaning, to be in prosperity and happiness. Nothing, however, is better fitted to promote harmony than this community of interest, when every one feels that, by the prosperity of others, he is proportionally enriched, and, by their penury, impoverished.

27. But ye are the body of Christ Hence what has been said respecting the nature and condition of the human body must be applied to us; for we are not a mere civil society, but, being ingrafted into Christ's body, are truly members one of another. Whatever, therefore, any one of us has, let him know that it has been given him for the edification of his brethren in common; and let him, accordingly, bring it forward, and not keep it back -- buried, as it were, within himself, or make use of it as his own. Let not the man, who is endowed with superior gifts, be puffed up with pride, and despise others; but let him consider that there is nothing so diminutive as to be of no use -- as, in truth, even the least among the pious brings forth fruit, according to his slender capacity, so that there is no useless member in the Church. Let not those who are not endowed with so much honor, envy those above them, or refuse to do their duty to them, but let them maintain the station in which they have been placed. Let there be mutual affection, mutual fellow-feeling, (sumpatheia,) mutual concern. Let us have a regard to the common advantage, in order that we may not destroy the Church by malignity, or envy, or pride, or any disagreement; but may, on the contrary, every one of us, strive to the utmost of his power to preserve it. Here is a large subject, and a magnificent one; but I content myself with having pointed out the way in which the above similitude must be applied to the Church.

Members severally. Chrysostom is of opinion, that this clause is added, because the Corinthians were not the universal Church; but this appears to me rather forced. I have sometimes thought that it was expressive of impropriety, as the Latins say Quodammodo, (in a manner.) When, however, I view the whole matter more narrowly, I am rather disposed to refer it to that division of members of which he had made mention. They are then members severally, according as each one has had his portion and definite work assigned him. The context itself leads us to this meaning. In this way severally, and as a whole, will be opposite terms.

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