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"Insights" from the New Testament Greek

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 "Insights" from the New Testament Greek

By Bob Jones, Northside Bible Church, Jacksonville Florida

1 Cor. 12:31 and Our Spiritual Gifts

The subject of "spiritual gifts" is very important to God's people. These gifts, or "abilities", from God enable us to serve and glorify God, to be a blessing to others, and to lay up treasure in heaven.

When we study this subject in depth, it is clear that each child of God has their own spiritual gift, or gifts, sovereignly and individually bestowed by God Himself, and they do not change throughout the life of the individual:

1 Cor 12:11 "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally (individually) as he will".

1 Cor 12:18 "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him".

1 Cor 7:7 "For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that".

Heb 2:4 "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will".

Rom 11:29 "For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance". (Irrevocable)

This means that we, as God's children, all have our spiritual "gifts" from God, and all we have to do is to "grow up in Christ" for our "gifts" to function!

There is a verse in the KJV though, that has caused confusion within the body of Christ concerning our spiritual gifts, and that is 1 Cor. 12:31, where the KJV is translated "But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way".

1 Cor 12:31 in the KJV is a most unfortunate translation, in that it leads many English readers to think that we are commanded here to "seek the BEST gifts"!

How could our spiritual gifts clearly be sovereignly and individually bestowed by God, and then we be commanded to decide which gifts are the "best" and earnestly seek them?

I believe the answer is in the Greek word "zeloute", in 1 Cor. 12:31, which should be translated "you (Corinthians) ARE zealous for, or desirous of, the best gifts, but I show you a BETTER way".

The Greek word form "zeloute", is one of the few Koine Greek verbs whose "mood" is ambiguous. "Zeloute" in 1 Cor 12:31 can be "indicative mood"-"you ARE earnestly coveting", or "imperative mood"- the command to "covet earnestly", or "subjunctive mood" -"you should covet earnestly". The verb tables in the Zondervan Analytical Greek Lexicon confirm that "zeloute" can be either "indicative", "imperative", or "subjunctive" mood, depending on the context.

In the very rare instances in the New Testament, where these "ambiguous verb forms" appear, "zeloute" in 1 Cor 12:31 is the only one that I see, where it is very hard for the translator to decide which "mood" to use.

I believe the reason for the lack of "precision" in "zeloute" in 1 Cor 12:31, is that it is "present tense, second person, plural", and when this word form is spoken to someone, they know whether they are "doing" it, or being "commanded to do it", or "should do it", so, in spoken language, there is normally no need for individual verb forms for each mood in the present tense, second person plural. An example would be walking up to a swimming pool and addressing swimmers - they know whether they are presently "swimming", or being "commanded to swim", or they "should swim"!

Unfortunately, 2000 years later, the present tense, second person plural, in its written form, is ambiguous. In 1 Cor 12:31, the translator needs to know what is going on in the whole Book of First Corinthians, and specifically in the immediate context, in order to know whether the Apostle Paul is commanding the Corinthian Church to "earnestly seek the 'best' gifts", or whether Paul is chiding the Corinthians for being selfish and seeking what they thought were the 'best' gifts, and ignoring the spiritual gifts that God has sovereignly and individually bestowed upon them.

The context of 1 Cor. Chapter 12 states that ALL the gifts are important, from the least to the greatest, and that every member of the body of Christ is important, and verses 11 and 18 state that God distributes the gifts "to every man severally (individually) as he will", and that "God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him".

And then, we see in the greater context of the First Corinthian Letter, that God's people at Corinth were the most immature and most "out of fellowship" of all the Churches. The members of the Body of Christ at Corinth were:

1. Arguing and divided in Chapter 1:10-14.
2. Carnal and immature in Chapter 3:1-3.
3. Condoning immorality in Chapter 5.
4. Suing each other in civilian court in Chapter 6:1-11.
5. Getting drunk and not sharing food at the Lord's Supper, and therefore under God's discipline in Chapter 11:18-22.
6. Misusing their spiritual gifts in Chapter 14
7. Tending to not even believe in the resurrection of the dead in Chapter 15:12-18.

Now, since "zeloute" can be translated either in the "indicative" OR the "imperative" mood, and the translator must decide, there is no doubt in my mind that Paul is chiding the Corinthians for selfishly seeking what they thought were the "best", and most "flashy" gifts.

Paul states at the end of his narrative on "spiritual gifts", in 1 Cor 14:20, "Brethren, be not children (Present tense - stop being children) in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye (you presently are) children, but in understanding be (become) men" (grow up)!

In my mind, Paul could not be commanding them (imperative mood verb), in 1 Cor 12:31, to do something they could not do, and then say "never mind I'll show you a better way"!

Over the years, I have seen this "mistranslation" of "zeloute", in 1 Cor 12:31 encourage many of God's people to seek for a gift that THEY think is valuable, or that THEY want, or that they are encouraged by family or friends to "seek", when their God given gift or gifts go undeveloped!

2 Cor 3:18 and Rom 12:2 illustrate of the principal of our "growing up" and allowing God to develop within us the gift (s) that He has already given us!

2 Cor 3:18 states "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass (a partial image of an ancient mirror) the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same (his) image from glory to glory, (in "stages" or "plateaus") even as by the Spirit of the Lord".

Rom 12:2 states "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God".

The KJV word "changed", in 2 Cor 3:18, and "transformed" in Rom 12:2 is the Greek word "metamorpho", from which we get our English Word "metamorphosis". "Metamorpho" means to "transform", as a butterfly larva "transforms" into a butterfly. The nature of a butterfly larva is to become a beautiful butterfly. All the larva has to do is "grow up", and its God given nature will work itself out and become visible, and it will become what God designed it to be!

In the same manner, we, as children of God, have all been given the "nature of Christ", and all we have to do is "grow up", as 2 Cor. 3:18 states, to become, "from glory to glory", what God has designed us to be!

Let's all "grow up" in Grace and into the full knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and seek for God to empower us to be all He has designed each of us to be!