Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:28-29


(From Biblia Illustrata, Vol. IV [1719]; quoted in Henry Eyster Jacobs, The Lutheran Commentary, Vol. VIII [1897], pp. 88-90.)

And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?

The apostles hold the chief place, as immediately called; as those who laid the foundations of the churches among the Gentiles (see Rev. 21:14); and as those who were led by the Holy Spirit, into all truth, and thus were absolutely infallible. In the second rank are placed the prophets, who taught concerning future or abstruse subjects, such as those in the Church at Antioch (Acts 11:27), Judas and Silas (Acts 14:32), Agabus (21:10), and the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). In the third rank are placed the teachers, who although they did not speak from immediate revelation, nevertheless were divinely endowed with a peculiar gift for teaching. If the question be asked why in this catalogue the Apostle omits the “evangelists and pastors,” who in Eph. 4:11 have the third and fourth places, while the “teachers” have the fifth place; the reason, I think, is that the evangelists are comprehended here, partly under the prophets and partly under the teachers, as, like Mark and Luke, they were divinely inspired, or were not. ... From this order, it is clear that there is a subordination of ministers of the Church; and, that it is of divine right, and necessary for the harmonious constitution of the mystical body, and differs in ranks of dignity, [Johann] Huelsemann proves: 1. From the word “hath set,” which is employed equally concerning the natural appointment of members of the body, from the pure will of God (ver. 18), and the application of this will in appointing ministers in the Church, especially if the word tienai be explained by parallel passages, as Acts 20:28; Rom. 4:17; 9:33; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Thess. 5:9; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11. 2. Because the same natural necessity of subordination occurs in the harmony of the natural (vers. 13-15), and of the ecclesiastical body (vers. 27-29). 3. A diversity of dignity is manifest also from the terms “honorable” and “less honorable” (vers. 22,23,24). 4. Also from the diversity of dignity between the eye and the toe (vers. 17,22). 5. From the offices signifying precedency of order and dignity (ver. 28). 6. Finally, by a comparison of the offices. For as teaching and prophesy, in the abstract, excel bodily and external ministries (Acts 6:2,3; 1 Cor. 14:39; 1 Tim. 5:17), so, in the concrete, ministers occupied in these diverse offices are of higher rank one to the other, according to the above cited passage in the Epistle to Timothy, and here (vers. 28,29), as well as in the last verse, where “the greater gifts” are mentioned.

Abraham Calovius

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