Johnny Carson made famous a fictitious character named Carnac the Magnificent. Carnac would state an answer to a question and then hold a sealed envelope to his elaborate headdress and pretend to receive the question through his psychic powers. It was all a show, and the questions were humorous and often unrelated to the original response. It is difficult to determine the unstated question that prompts a particular response.
That precise dilemma faces us as we look at 1 Corinthians 12:1–3 where Paul begins his detailed treatment of spiritual gifts. It is commonly agreed that the phrase “now concerning spiritual gifts” signifies that Paul was referring to an inquiry from the Corinthian community. That’s the easy part of the equation! What was the question or questions?
Note that the Corinthians had found it necessary to ask Paul’s opinion about spiritual gifts. Had Paul left them ignorant concerning the matter of gifts? Listen to his opening words. “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware” (12:1). Teachers who arrived after Paul’s departure may have created such confusion that the Corinthians needed a fresh reminder and further elucidation concerning spiritual gifts.
This inquiry, arising out of the Corinthian zeal for gifts and misunderstanding of their sign value, presented the opportunity and provided the catalyst for the emergence of Paul’s most comprehensive treatment of spiritual gifts.
Ken Hemphill, You Are Gifted (Nashville, TN: B&H Educational, 2009).
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