Ex 20:17 Thou shalt not covet.
1 Cor 12:31 Covet earnestly the best gifts.
This objection is based on an English translation of these texts from the year 1611 which does not bear out with a study of the original languages.
First, the Hebrew root which the KJV translates "covet" in Ex 20:17 is cited by the Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew lexicon on p 326 as "desire, take pleasure in" as the general root meaning, with the specific definition given below " in the bad sense [italics mine] of inordinate, ungoverned, selfish desire". That is, the word has a bad sense, which invariably is the meaning in Ex 20:17's negative prohibition.
Second, the Greek verb used in 1 Cor 12:31 is cited by the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker lexicon, p 338, as having a " good sense", meaning "strive, desire, exert one's self earnestly". So the Hebrew and the Greek which the KJV translates in both places as "covet" have completely different meanings.
The reader of English in 1611 or the later years would probably understand the different shadings suggested by context. But language changes over time, and now "covet" has lost much of the "good sense" shading in our present day. But we go by the Greek and the Hebrew. Doing so removes any chance of a contradiction here.
- Eric Vestrup