Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
The purpose of this paper is to present a selection of quotations from John Calvin's commentary on First Corinthians. These excerpts from the last six chapters represent exceptional insights either on the text itself or on Christian living. John Calvin was one of the great theologians of the Protestant Reformation. All excerpts are from the Baker edition in 22 volumes and given with no modification (except for minimal punctuation changes and updated spelling).
He [Paul] passes on now to another subject--to instruct the Corinthians what decorum ought to be observed in the sacred assemblies. For as a man's dress or gesture has in some cases the effect of disfiguring, and in others of adorning him, so all actions are set off to advantage by decorum (το πρεπον), and are vitiated by the want [lack] of it. Much, therefore, depends upon decorum, and that not merely for securing for our actions gracefulness and beauty, but also to accustom our minds to propriety. While this is true in a general way as to everything, it holds especially as to sacred things; for what contempt, and, eventually, what barbarism will be incurred if we do not preserve dignity in the Church by conducting ourselves honorably and becomingly? Hence he prescribes some things that are connected with public order, by which sacred assemblies are rendered honorable.
It is an old proverb, "Evil manners beget good laws." As the rite here treated of had not been previously called in question, Paul had given no enactment respecting it. . . . With the view of proving that it is an unseemly thing for women to appear in a public assembly with their heads uncovered and, on the other hand, for men to pray or prophesy with their heads covered, he sets out with noticing the arrangements that are divinely established.
He says, that as Christ is subject to God as his head, so is the man subject to Christ, and the woman to the man. We shall afterwards see how he comes to infer from this that women ought to have their heads covered. Let us, for the present, take notice of those four gradations which he points out. God, then, occupies the first place; Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father; for apart from this, being of one essence with the Father he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.
There is somewhat more of difficulty in what follows. Here the man is placed in an intermediate position between Christ and the woman so that Christ is not the head of the woman. Yet the same Apostle teaches us elsewhere (Gal. 3:28) that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Why then does he make a distinction here, which in that passage he does away with? I answer, that the solution of this depends on the connection in which the passages occur. When he says that there is no difference between the man and the woman, he is treating of Christ's spiritual kingdom, in which individual distinctions are not regarded or made any account of. For it has nothing to do with the body and has nothing to do with the outward relationships of mankind, but has to do solely with the mind, on which account he declares that there is no difference, even between bond and free. In the meantime, however, he does not disturb civil order or honorary distinction, which cannot be dispensed with in ordinary life. Here, on the other hand, he reasons respecting outward propriety and decorum, which is a part of ecclesiastical polity. Hence as regards spiritual connection in the sight of God, and inwardly in the conscience, Christ is the head of the man and of the woman without any distinction, because as to that there is no regard paid to male or female. But as regards external arrangement and political decorum, the man follows Christ and the woman the man, so that they are not upon the same footing but, on the contrary, this inequality exists.
Every man praying. Here there are two propositions. The first relates to the man, the other to the woman. He says that the man commits an offense against Christ his head if he prays or prophesies with his head covered. Why so? Because he is subject to Christ, with this understanding, that he is to hold the first place in the government of the house--for the father of the family is like a king in his own house. Hence the glory of God shines forth in him in consequence of the authority with which he is invested. If he covers his head, he lets himself down from that preeminence which God had assigned to him, so as to be in subjection. Thus the honor of Christ is infringed upon. For example, if the person whom the prince has appointed as his lieutenant does not know how to maintain his proper station, and instead of this exposes his dignity to contempt on the part of persons in the lowest station, does he not bring dishonor upon his prince? In like manner, if the man does not keep his own station--if he is not subject to Christ in such a way as to preside over his own family with authority--he obscures to that extent the glory of Christ, which shines forth in the well regulated order of marriage. The covering, as we shall see ere long, is an emblem of authority intermediate and interposed.
Prophesying I take here to mean declaring the mysteries of God for the edification of the hearers (as afterwards in chapter 14). Praying means preparing a form of prayer and taking the lead, as it were, of all the people, which is the part of the public teacher; for Paul is not arguing here as to every kind of prayer, but as to solemn prayer in public. Let us, however, bear in mind that in this matter the error is merely insofar as decorum is violated, and the distinction of rank which God has established is broken in upon. For we must not be so scrupulous as to look upon it as a criminal thing for a teacher to have a cap on his head when addressing the people from the pulpit. Paul means nothing more than this--that it should appear that the man has authority and that the woman is under subjection, and this is secured when the man uncovers his head in the view of the Church, though he should afterwards put on his cap again from fear of catching cold. In fine, the one rule to be observed here is το πρεπον--decorum. If that is secured, Paul requires nothing farther.
Every woman praying or prophesying. Here we have the second proposition--that women ought to have their heads covered when they pray or prophesy; otherwise they dishonor their head. For as the man honors his head by showing his liberty, so the woman by showing her subjection. Hence, on the other hand, if the woman uncovers her head she shakes off subjection, involving contempt of her husband. It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head uncovered while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church (1 Tim. 2:12). It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in chapter 14. In this reply there is nothing amiss, though at the same time it might suit sufficiently well to say that the Apostle requires women to show their modesty not merely in a place in which the whole Church is assembled, but also in any more dignified assembly, either of matrons or of men, such as are sometimes convened in private houses.
For it is all one as if she were shaven. He now maintains from other considerations that it is unseemly for women to have their heads bare. Nature itself, says he, abhors it. To see a woman shaven is a spectacle that is disgusting and monstrous. Hence we infer that the woman has her hair given her for a covering. Should anyone now object that her hair is enough, as being a natural covering, Paul says that it is not, for it is such a covering as requires another thing to be made use of for covering it. And hence a conjecture is drawn, with some appearance of probability--that women who had beautiful hair were accustomed to uncover their heads for the purpose of showing off their beauty. It is not, therefore, without good reason that Paul, as a remedy for this vice, sets before them the opposite idea--that they be regarded as remarkable for unseemliness, rather than for what is an incentive to lust. [Ed. note--that so far from there being a beauty in this to allure men to lust, it is rather a thing that is ugly and unseemly.]
Does not even nature itself. He again sets forth nature as the mistress of decorum, and what was at that time in common use by universal consent and custom--even among the Greeks--he speaks of as being natural, for it was not always reckoned a disgrace for men to have long hair. Historical records bear that in all countries in ancient times, that is, in the first ages, men wore long hair. Hence also the poets, in speaking of the ancients, are accustomed to apply to them the common epithet of unshorn. It was not until a late period that barbers began to be employed at Rome--about the time of Africanus the elder. And at the time when Paul wrote these things, the practice of having the hair shorn had not yet come into use in the provinces of Gaul or in Germany. Nay more, it would have been reckoned an unseemly thing for men, no less than for women, to be shorn or shaven. But as in Greece it was reckoned as unbecoming thing for a man to allow his hair to grow long, so that those who did so were remarked as effeminate, he reckons as nature a custom that had come to be confirmed.
But if any man seem. A contentious person is one whose humor inclines him to stir up disputes, and does not care what becomes of the truth. Of this description are all who, without any necessity, abolish good and useful customs, raise disputes respecting matters that are not doubtful, who do not yield to reasonings, who cannot endure that anyone should be above them. Such persons Paul does not reckon worthy of being replied to, inasmuch as contention is a pernicious thing and ought, therefore, to be banished from the Churches. By this he teaches us that those who are obstinate and fond of quarreling should rather be restrained by authority than confuted by lengthened disputations. For you will never have an end of contentions if you are disposed to contend with a combative person until you have vanquished him; for though vanquished a hundred times, he would argue still. Let us therefore carefully mark this passage that we may not allow ourselves to be carried away with needless disputations, provided at the same time we know how to distinguish contentious persons. For we must not always reckon as contentious the man who does not acquiesce in our decisions, or who ventures to contradict us; but when temper and obstinacy show themselves, let us then say with Paul that contentions are at variance with the custom of the Church.
I shall not recount the unhappy contests that have tried the Church in our times as to the meaning of these words. Nay rather, would to God that we could bury the remembrance of them in perpetual oblivion! I shall state, first of all, sincerely and without disguise; and then, farther, I shall state freely (as I am wont to do) what my views are. Christ calls the bread his body. I set aside without any disputation that absurd contrivance that our Lord did not exhibit the bread to the Apostles but his body, which they beheld with their eyes, for it immediately follows "This cup is the New Testament in my blood." Let us regard it then as beyond all controversy that Christ is here speaking of the bread. Now the question is--"In what sense?" That we may elicit the true meaning, we must hold that the expression is figurative; for, assuredly, to deny this is exceedingly dishonest. Why then is the term body applied to the bread? All, I think, will allow that it is for the same reason that John calls the Holy Spirit a dove (John 1:32). Thus far we are agreed. Now the reason why the Spirit was so called was this--that he had appeared in the form of a dove. Hence the name of the Spirit is transferred to the visible sign. Why should we not maintain that there is here a similar instance of metonymy and that the term body is applied to the bread, as being the sign and symbol of it? If any are of a different opinion they will forgive me, but it appears to me to be an evidence of a contentious spirit to dispute pertinaciously on this point. I lay it down, then, as a settled point, that there is here a sacramental form of expression in which the Lord gives to the sign the name of the thing signified.
Here we have a consolation that is exceedingly necessary; for if anyone in affliction thinks that God is angry with him, he will rather be discouraged than excited to repentance. Paul, accordingly, says that God is angry with believers in such a way as not in the meantime to be forgetful of his mercy. Nay, more, that it is on this account particularly that he punishes them--that he may consult their welfare. It is an inestimable consolation that the punishments by which our sins are chastened are evidences, not of God's anger for our destruction, but rather of his paternal love, and are at the same time of assistance towards our salvation; for God is angry with us as his sons, whom he will not leave to perish.
When he says, that we may not be condemned with the world, he intimates two things. The first is, that the children of this world, while they sleep on quietly and securely in their delights, are fattened up like hogs for the day of slaughter (Jer. 12:3). For though the Lord sometimes invites the wicked also to repentance by his chastisements, yet he often passes them over as strangers and allows them to rush on with impunity until they have filled up the measure of their final condemnation (Gen. 15:16). This privilege therefore belongs to believers exclusively, that by punishments they are called back from destruction. The second thing is this: that chastisements are necessary remedies for believers, for otherwise they too would rush on to everlasting destruction were they not restrained by temporal punishment.
These considerations should lead us not merely to patience, so as to endure with equanimity the troubles that are assigned to us by God, but also to gratitude, that giving thanks to God our Father we may resign ourselves to his discipline by a willing subjection. They are also useful to us in various ways--for they cause our afflictions to be salutary to us while they train us up for mortification of the flesh and a pious abasement; they accustom us to obedience to God; they convince us of our own weakness; they kindle up in our minds fervency in prayer; they exercise hope so that at length whatever there is of bitterness in them is all swallowed up in spiritual joy.
He [Paul] how subjoins an enumeration, or, in other words, specifies particular kinds [of gifts]--not indeed all of them, but such as are sufficient for his present purpose. "Believers," says he, "are endowed with different gifts; but let everyone acknowledge that he is indebted for whatever he has to the Spirit of God, for he pours forth his gifts as the sun scatters his rays in every direction." As to the difference between these gifts, knowledge (or understanding) and wisdom are taken in different senses in the Scriptures, but here I take them in the way of less and greater, as in Colossians 2:3 where they are also joined together when Paul says that in Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge, therefore, in my opinion, means acquaintance with sacred things; wisdom, on the other hand, means the perfection of it. Sometimes prudence is put, as it were, in the middle place between these two, and in that case it denotes skill in applying knowledge to some useful purpose. They are, it is true, very nearly allied; but still you observe a difference when they are put together. Let us then take knowledge as meaning ordinary information, and wisdom as including revelations that are of a more secret and sublime order.
The term faith is employed here to mean a special faith, as we shall afterwards see from the context. A special faith is of such a kind as does not apprehend Christ wholly--for redemption, righteousness, and sanctification--but only insofar as miracles are performed in his name. Judas had a faith of this kind, and he wrought miracles too by means of it. Chrysostom distinguishes it in a somewhat different manner, calling it the faith of miracles, not of doctrines. This, however, does not differ much from the interpretation previously mentioned. By the gift of healings everyone knows what is meant.
As to the workings of powers, or, as some render it, the operations of influences, there is more occasion for doubt. I am inclined, however, to think that what is meant is the influence which is exercised against devils and also against hypocrites. When, therefore, Christ and his Apostles by authority restrained devils or put them to flight, that was ενεργημα, (powerful working), and in like manner when Paul smote the sorcerer with blindness (Acts 13:11) and when Peter struck Ananias and Sapphira dead upon the spot with a single word. The gifts of healing and of miracles, therefore, serve to manifest the goodness of God, but this last--his severity--for the destruction of Satan.
By prophecy I understand the singular and choice endowment of unfolding the secret will of God, so that a Prophet is a messenger, as it were, between God and man. My reason for taking this view will be explained more fully afterwards.
The discerning of spirits was a clearness of perception in forming a judgment as to those who professed to be something (Acts 5:36). I speak not of that natural wisdom by which we are regulated in judging. It was a special illumination with which some were endowed by the gift of God. The use of it was this--that they might not be imposed upon by masks or mere pretenses, but might by that spiritual judgment distinguish, as by a particular mark, the true ministers of Christ from the false.
There was a difference between the knowledge of tongues and the interpretation of them, for those who were endowed with the former were in many cases not acquainted with the language of the nation with which they had to deal. The interpreters rendered foreign tongues into the native language. These endowments they did not at that time acquire by labor or study, but were put in possession of them by a wonderful revelation of the Spirit.
He has in the beginning of the chapter spoken of gifts. Now he begins to treat of offices, and this order it is proper that we should carefully observe. For the Lord did not appoint ministers without first endowing them with the requisite gifts, and qualifying them for discharging their duty. Hence we must infer that those are fanatics, and actuated by an evil spirit, who intrude themselves into the Church while destitute of the necessary qualifications.
He does not enumerate all the particular kinds [of offices]; and there was no need of this, for he merely intended to bring forward some examples. As to the passage before us, we must observe that of the offices which Paul makes mention of, some are perpetual, others temporary. Those that are perpetual are such as are necessary for the government of the Church. Those that are temporary are such as were appointed at the beginning for the founding of the Church and the raising up of Christ's kingdom, and these, in a short time afterwards, ceased.
To the first class belongs the office of Teacher, to the second the office of Apostle; for the Lord created the Apostles that they might spread the gospel throughout the whole world, and he did not assign to each of them certain limits or parishes but would have them, wherever they went, to discharge the office of ambassadors among all nations and languages. In this respect there is a difference between them and Pastors, who are in a manner tied to their particular churches. For the Pastor has not a commission to preach the gospel over the whole world but to take care of the Church that has been committed to his charge. In his Epistle to the Ephesians he places Evangelists after the Apostles, but here he passes them over; for from the highest order he passes immediately to Prophets.
By this term he means (in my opinion) not those who were endowed with the gift of prophesying, but those who were endowed with a peculiar gift not merely for interpreting Scripture but also for applying it wisely for present use. My reason for thinking so is this: that he prefers prophecy to all other gifts on the ground of its yielding more edification--a commendation that would not be applicable to the predicting of future events. Farther, when he describes the office of Prophet, or at least treats of what he ought principally to do, he says that he must devote himself to consolation, exhortation, and doctrine. Now these are things that are distinct from prophesyings. Let us, then, by Prophets in this passage understand, first of all, eminent interpreters of Scripture, and father, persons who are endowed with no common wisdom and dexterity in taking a right view of the present necessity of the Church, that they may speak suitably to it, and in this way be, in a manner, ambassadors to communicate the divine will.
Between them and Teachers this difference may be pointed out--that the office of Teacher consists in taking care that sound doctrines be maintained and propagated in order that the purity of religion may be kept up in the Church. At the same time even this term is taken in different senses, and here perhaps it is used rather in the sense of Pastor, unless you prefer, it may be, to take it in a general way for all that are endowed with the gift of teaching (as in Acts 13:1 where also Luke conjoins them with Prophets). My reason for not agreeing with those who make the whole of the office of Prophet consist in the interpretation of Scripture is this--that Paul restricts the number of those who ought to speak to two or three (1 Cor. 14:29), which would not accord with a bare interpretation of Scripture. In fine, my opinion is this--that the Prophets here spoken of are those who make known the will of God by applying with dexterity and skill prophecies, threatenings, promises, and the whole doctrine of Scripture to the present use of the Church. If anyone is of a different opinion, I have no objection to his being so and will not raise any quarrel on that account. For it is difficult to form a judgment as to gifts and offices of which the Church has been so long deprived, excepting only that there are some traces or shadows of them still to be seen.
As to powers and gift of healings, I have spoken when commenting on the 12th chapter of the Romans. Only it must be observed that here he makes mention not so much of the gifts themselves as of the administration of them. As the Apostle is here enumerating offices, I do not approve of what Chrysostom says, that αντιληψεις, that is helps or aids, consist in supporting the weak. What is it then? Undoubtedly it is either an office, as well as gift, that was exercised in ancient times but of which we have at this day no knowledge whatever; or it is connected with the office of Deacon, or in other words, the care of the poor, and this latter idea pleases me better.
By Governments I understand Elders, who had the charge of discipline. For the primitive Church had its Senate for the purpose of keeping the people in propriety of deportment, as Paul shows elsewhere when he makes mention of two kinds of Presbyters (1 Tim. 5:17). Hence government consisted of those Presbyters who excelled others in gravity, experience, and authority.
Under different kinds of tongues he comprehends both the knowledge of languages and the gift of interpretation. They were, however, two distinct gifts; because in some cases an individual spoke in different languages and yet did not understand the language of the Church with which he had to do. This defect was supplied by interpreters.
After having commanded that regard should be had chiefly to edification, he now declares that he will show them something of greater importance--that everything be regulated according to the rule of love. This, then, is the most excellent way, when love is the regulating principle of all our actions. And in the outset he proceeds upon this--that all excellencies are of no value without love; for nothing is so excellent or estimable as not to be vitiated in the sight of God if love is lacking. Nor does he teach anything here but what he does elsewhere, when he declares that it is the end of the law and the bond of perfection (1 Tim. 1:5), and also when he makes the holiness of the godly consist entirely in this (Col. 3:14), for what else does God require from us in the second Table of the Law? It is not then to be wondered if all our deeds are estimated by this test--their appearing to proceed from love. It is also not to be wondered if gifts otherwise excellent come to have their true value only when they are made subservient to love.
Tongues of men. He begins with eloquence, which is, it is true, an admirable gift considered in itself; but when apart from love it does not recommend a man in the estimation of God. When he speaks of the tongue of angels, he uses a hyperbolical expression to denote what is singular or distinguished. At the same time I explain it rather as referring to the diversity of languages, which the Corinthians held in much esteem, measuring everything by ambition and not by fruit. "Make yourself master," says he, "of all the languages, not of men merely but even of Angels. You have in that case no reason to think that you are of higher estimation in the sight of God than a mere cymbal, if you have not love."
And if I should have the gift of prophecy. He brings down to nothing the dignity of even this endowment, which, nevertheless, he had preferred to all others. To know all mysteries might seem to be added to the term prophecy by way of explanation, but as the term knowledge is immediately added, of which he had previously made mention by itself (1 Cor. 14:8), it will deserve your consideration whether the knowledge of mysteries may not be used here to mean wisdom. As for myself, while I would not venture to affirm that it is so, I am much inclined to that opinion.
That faith of which he speaks is special, as is evident from the clause that is immediately added--so that I remove mountains. It is what Chrysostom calls the "faith of miracles" and what we term a "special faith," because it does not apprehend a whole Christ but simply his power in working miracles. And hence it may sometimes exist in a man without the Spirit of sanctification, as it did in Judas.
And if I should expend all my possessions. This, it is true, is worthy of the highest praise if considered in itself. But as liberality in many cases proceeds from ambition, not from true generosity . . . it may happen that a work otherwise so commendable has indeed a fair show in the sight of men and is applauded by them, and yet is regarded as nothing in the sight of God.
And if I should give up my body. He speaks, undoubtedly, of martyrdom, which is an act that is the most lovely and excellent of all. For what is more admirable than that invincible fortitude of mind which makes a man not hesitate to pour out his life for the testimony of the gospel? Yet even this too God regards as nothing if the mind is destitute of love. The kind of punishment that he makes mention of was not then so common among Christians; for we read that tyrants, at that time, set themselves to destroy the Church rather by swords than by flames (except that Nero in his rage had recourse also to burning). The Spirit appears, however, to have predicted here by Paul's mouth the persecutions that were coming. But this is a digression. The main truth in the passage is this--that as love is the only rule of our actions and the only means of regulating the right use of the gifts of God, nothing in the absence of it is approved of by God however magnificent it may be in the estimation of men. For where it is lacking, the beauty of all virtues is mere tinsel--is empty sound, is not worth a straw--nay more, is offensive and disgusting.
He now shows from the effect why it was that he preferred prophecy to other gifts, and he compares it with the gift of tongues, in which it is probable the Corinthians exercised themselves the more, because it had more of show connected with it; for when persons hear a man speaking in a foreign tongue, their admiration is commonly excited. He accordingly shows from principles already assumed how perverse a thing this is, inasmuch as it does not at all contribute to the edifying of the Church. He says at the outset--He that speaks in another tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God; that is, according to the proverb, "He sings to himself and to the Muses." [Editor's note: It is remarked by Granville Penn, that "the context shows that the Apostle means a language foreign to that of the auditors, and therefore not known to them"--as "we learn from verse 21 that we are to supply ετεζα--'other,' not αγνωστη--'unknown.' We have," he adds, "had lamentable proof of the abuse to which the latter injudicious rendering can be perverted in the hands of ignorant or insidious enthusiasm, by assuming the term to mean 'a tongue unknown to all mankind;' and from thence, by an impious inference, supernatural and divine; instead of relatively, 'unknown to another people.' And yet, after all, 'unknown' is not the Apostle's word, but only an Italic supplement suggested by the English revisers of the seventeenth century."]
"Prophecy," says he, "is profitable to all, while a foreign language is a treasure hid in the earth. What great folly, then, it is to spend all one's time in what is useless and, on the other hand, to neglect what appears to be most useful!" To speak to edification is to speak what contains doctrine fitted to edify. For I understand this term to mean doctrine by which we are trained to piety, to faith, to the worship and fear of God, and the duties of holiness and righteousness.
While this example, too, serves to confirm what he has previously maintained, it forms at the same time, in my opinion, an additional particular. For it is probable that the Corinthians had been in fault in this respect also--that as they discoursed, so they also prayed in foreign tongues. At the same time both abuses took their rise from the same source, as indeed they were comprehended under one class. What is meant by praying in a tongue appears from what goes before--to frame a prayer in a foreign language. . . . It is not credible (at least we nowhere read of it) that any spoke under the influence of the Spirit in a language that was to themselves unknown. For the gift of tongues was conferred not for the mere purpose of uttering a sound, but, on the contrary, with the view of making a communication.
As there are many that detract from another's excellencies in which they cannot themselves have distinction, Paul, that he might not seem to depreciate through malignity or envy the gift of tongues, anticipates that suspicion by showing that he is, in this respect, superior to them all. "See," says he, "how little occasion you have to suspect the design of my discourse, as if I depreciated what I myself lacked. For if we were to contend as to tongues, there is not one of you that could bear comparison with me. While, however, I might display myself to advantage in this department, I am more concerned for edification." Paul's doctrine derives no small weight from the circumstance, that he has not an eye to himself. Lest, however, he should appear excessively arrogant in preferring himself before all others, he ascribes it all to God. Thus he tempers his boasting with modesty.
This passage may be explained in two ways--by considering the word therefore as referring merely to the preceding sentence, or as having a bearing generally on the whole of the foregoing discussion. If it is a particular inference, the meaning will be: "You see, brethren, that what you so eagerly desire is not a blessing bestowed by God upon believers, but a punishment by which he inflicts vengeance upon unbelievers." In this way Paul would not be viewed as taking in the use of tongues under all circumstances, but simply as touching upon what had in one instance occurred. Should anyone, however, prefer to extend it to the whole discussion, I have no objection, though I do not dislike the former interpretation.
Taking it in a general way, the meaning will be: "Tongues, insofar as they are given for a sign--that is, for a miracle--are appointed not properly for believers, but for unbelievers." The advantages derived from tongues were various. They provided against necessity--that diversity of tongues might not prevent the Apostles from disseminating the gospel over the whole world; there was, consequently, no nation with which they could not hold fellowship. They served also to move or terrify unbelievers by the sight of a miracle--for the design of this miracle, equally with others, was to prepare those who were as yet at a distance from Christ for rendering obedience to him. Believers, who had already devoted themselves to his doctrine, did not stand so much in need of such preparation. Hence the Corinthians brought forward that gift improperly and out of its right place, allowing prophecy in the meantime to be neglected, which was peculiarly and specially set apart for believers and ought, therefore, to be familiar to them; for in tongues they looked to nothing farther than the miracle.
As he had previously showed them how much more advantageous prophecy is to those that are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10) than the gift of tongues, so he now shows that it would be useful also to those that are without (1 Cor. 5:13). This is a most powerful consideration for showing the Corinthians their error. For what a base part it is to depreciate a gift that is most useful both within and without, and to be wholly taken up with another gift which is useless to those that are within the house, and in addition to this, gives occasion of offense to those that are without! He sets before them this advantage of prophecy--that it summons the consciences of the wicked to the tribunal of God, and strikes them with a lively apprehension of divine judgment in such a manner that he who before in utter disregard despised sound doctrine is constrained to give glory to God.
What connection has the object that he has in view with the subjection under which the law places women? "For what is there," someone will say, "to hinder their being in subjection and yet at the same time teaching?" I answer, that the office of teaching is a superiority in the Church and is, consequently, inconsistent with subjection. For how unseemly a thing it were that one who is under subjection to one of the members should preside over the entire body! It is therefore an argument from things inconsistent. If the woman is under subjection she is, consequently, prohibited from authority to teach in public. And unquestionably, wherever even natural propriety has been maintained, women have in all ages been excluded from the public management of affairs. It is the dictate of common sense that female government is improper and unseemly. Nay more, while originally they had permission given to them at Rome to plead before a court, the effrontery of Caia Afrania* led to their being interdicted even from this. Paul's reasoning, however, is simple--that authority to teach is not suitable to the station that a woman occupies, because if she teaches she presides over all the men, while it becomes her to be under subjection.
*She was the wife of a senator who, according to Valerius Maximus, "forgetful of the modesty that becomes a female, she pleaded her own cause in person, and annoyed the judges with a senseless clamoring--not from any lack of advocates to take her case in hand, but from excessive impudence."
This statement is at first view at variance with what we read in various passages of Scripture respecting the eternity of Christ's kingdom. For how will these things correspond--Of his kingdom there will be no end (Dan. 7:14, 17; Luke 1:33; 2 Pet. 1:11), and He himself shall be subjected? The solution of this question will open up Paul's meaning more clearly. In the first place, it must be observed that all power was delivered over to Christ inasmuch as he was manifested in the flesh. It is true that such distinguished majesty would not correspond with a mere man, but, notwithstanding, the Father has exalted him in the same nature in which he was abased and has given him a name before which every knee must bow (Phil. 2:9, 10). Farther, it must be observed that he has been appointed Lord and highest King so as to be, as it were, the Father's Vicegerent in the government of the world--not that he is employed and the Father unemployed (for how could that be inasmuch as he is the wisdom and counsel of the Father, is of one essence with him, and is therefore himself God?). But the reason why the Scripture testifies that Christ now holds dominion over the heaven and the earth in the room of the Father is that we may not think that there is any other governor, lord, protector, or judge of the dead and living, but may fix our contemplation on him alone. We acknowledge, it is true, God as the ruler, but it is in the face of the man Christ. But Christ will then restore the kingdom which he has received, that we may cleave wholly to God. Nor will he in this way resign the kingdom, but will transfer it in a manner from his humanity to his glorious divinity, because a way of approach will then be opened up from which our infirmity now keeps us back. Thus then Christ will be subjected to the Father, because the vail being then removed we shall openly behold God reigning in his majesty, and Christ's humanity will then no longer be interposed to keep us back from a closer view of God.
He resumes his enumeration of the absurdities which follow from the error under which the Corinthians labored. He had set himself at the outset to do this, but he introduced instruction and consolation, by means of which he interrupted in some degree the thread of his discourse. To this he now returns. In the first place he brings forward this objection--that the baptism which those received who are already regarded as dead will be of no avail if there is no resurrection. Before expounding this passage it is of importance to set aside the common exposition, which rests upon the authority of the ancients and is received with almost universal consent.
Chrysostom, therefore, and Ambrose, who are followed by others, are of opinion that the Corinthians were accustomed, when anyone had been deprived of baptism by sudden death, to substitute some living person in the place of the deceased--to be baptized at his grave. They at the same time do not deny that this custom was corrupt and full of superstition, but they say that Paul, for the purpose of confuting the Corinthians, was contented with this single fact--that while they denied that there was a resurrection they in the meantime declared in this way that they believed in it. For my part, however, I cannot by any means be persuaded to believe this, for it is not to be credited that those who denied that there was a resurrection had, along with others, made use of a custom of this sort. Paul then would have had immediately this reply made to him: "Why do you trouble us with that old wives' superstition, which you do not yourself approve of?" Farther, if they had made use of it, they might very readily have replied: "If this has been hitherto practiced by us through mistake, rather let the mistake be corrected than that it should have weight attached to it for proving a point of such importance."
Granting, however, that the argument was conclusive, can we suppose that if such a corruption as this had prevailed among the Corinthians the Apostle, after reproving almost all their faults, would have been silent as to this one? He has already censured some practices that are not of so great moment. He has not scrupled to give directions as to women's having the head covered, and other things of that nature. Their corrupt administration of the Supper he has not merely reproved but has inveighed against it with the greatest keenness. Would he in the meantime have uttered not a single word in reference to such a base profanation of baptism, which was a much more grievous fault? He has inveighed with great vehemence against those who by frequenting the banquets of the Gentiles silently countenanced their superstitions. Would he have suffered this horrible superstition of the Gentiles to be openly carried on in the Church itself under the name of sacred baptism? But granting that he might have been silent, what shall we say when he expressly makes mention of it? Is it, I pray you, a likely thing that the Apostle would bring forward in the shape of an argument a sacrilege by which baptism was polluted and converted into a mere magical abuse, and yet not say even one word in condemnation of the fault? When he is treating of matters that are not of the highest importance, he introduces nevertheless this parenthesis--that he speaks as a man (Rom. 3:5; 6:19; Gal. 3:15). Would not this have been a more befitting and suitable place for such a parenthesis? Now from his making mention of such a thing without any word of reproof, who would not understand it to be a thing that was allowed? For my part, I assuredly understand him to speak here of the right use of baptism and not of an abuse of it of that nature.
Let us now inquire as to the meaning. At one time I was of opinion that Paul here pointed out the universal design of baptism, for the advantage of baptism is not confined to this life. But on considering the words afterwards with greater care, I perceived that Paul here points out something peculiar. For he does not speak of all when he says, What shall they do, who are baptized? &c. Besides, I am not fond of interpretations that are more ingenious than solid. What then? I say, that those are baptized for dead who are looked upon as already dead, and who have altogether despaired of life. And in this way the particle υπερ will have the force of the Latin pro, as when we say habere pro derelicto;--to reckon as abandoned. This signification is not a forced one. Or if you would prefer another signification, to be baptized for the dead will mean "to be baptized so as to profit the dead, not the living." Now it is well known that from the very commencement of the Church, those who had, while yet catechumens, fallen into disease, if their life was manifestly in danger, were accustomed to ask baptism that they might not leave this world before they had made a profession of Christianity; and this in order that they might carry with them the seal of their salvation.
It appears from the writings of the Fathers that as to this matter also there crept in afterwards a superstition, for they inveigh against those who delayed baptism till the time of their death, that being once for all purged from all their sins they might in this state meet the judgment of God. A gross error truly, which proceeded partly from great ignorance and partly from hypocrisy! Paul, however, here simply mentions a custom that was sacred and in accordance with the Divine institution--that if a catechumen who had already in his heart embraced the Christian faith saw that death was impending over him, he asked baptism partly for his own consolation and partly with a view to the edification of his brethren. For it is no small consolation to carry the token of his salvation sealed in his body. There is also an edification not to be lost sight of--that of making a confession of his faith. They were, then, baptized for the dead, inasmuch as it could not be of any service to them in this world, and the very occasion of their asking baptism was that they despaired of life. We now see that it is not without good reason that Paul asks what they would do if there remained no hope after death.
This passage shows us, too, that those impostors who had disturbed the faith of the Corinthians had contrived a figurative resurrection, making the farthest goal of believers to be in this world. His repeating it a second time, Why are they also baptized for the dead? gives it greater emphasis: "Not only are those baptized who think that they are to live longer, but those too who have death before their eyes, and that in order that they may in death reap the fruit of their baptism."
Paul's intention is to explain what he had said--that we will be conformed to Christ, because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. A question presented itself: What then will become of those who will be still living at the day of the Lord? His answer is, that although all will not die, yet they will be renewed, that mortality and corruption may be done away. It is to be observed, however, that he speaks exclusively of believers. For although the resurrection of the wicked will also involve change, yet as there is no mention made of them here we must consider everything that is said as referring exclusively to the elect. We now see how well this statement corresponds with the preceding one, for as he had said that we shall bear the image of Christ, he now declares that this will take place when we shall be changed, so that mortality may be swallowed up of life (2 Cor. 5:4), and that this renovation is not inconsistent with the fact that Christ's advent will find some still alive.
We must, however, unravel the difficulty--that it is appointed unto all men once to die. And certainly it is not difficult to unravel it in this way: that as a change cannot take place without doing away with the previous system, that change is reckoned, with good reason, a kind of death. But as it is not a separation of the soul from the body, it is not looked upon as an ordinary death. It will then be death inasmuch as it will be destruction of corruptible nature, it will not be a sleep inasmuch as the soul will not quit the body; but there will be a sudden transition from corruptible nature into a blessed immortality.
A magnificent eulogium, inasmuch as the name of the Church is applied to a single family! At the same time it is befitting that all the families of the pious should be regulated in such a manner as to be so many little Churches. As to the term Congregation, which Erasmus has used in preference, it is foreign to Paul's design. For it was not his intention to designate a crowd of persons by a mere common term, but to speak in honorable terms of the management of a Christian household. His saluting them in the name of Aquila and Priscilla confirms what I have noticed above, that the Epistle was written at Ephesus, not at Philippi. For Luke informs us that they remained at Ephesus when Paul went elsewhere (Acts 18:19).
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