Four New Testament passages delineate specific gifts that God's Spirit gives to his people (Romans 12:3-8
; 1 Corinthians 12-14 ; Ephesians 4:7-13
; 1 Peter 4:10-11
). The terminology varies from ordinary words for gift (dorea, doma — Ephesians 4:7-8
) to a cognate of grace (charisma Romans 12:6
; 1 Corinthians 12:4,9
, 28,30-31 ; 1 Peter 4:10
), to a substantive formed from the adjective "spiritual" (pneumatika 1 Corinthians 12:1
; 14:1,37 ). But the concept remains the same: distinctive, divinely originated endowments to serve the Triune God for the common benefit of his people, the church (Romans 12:4-5
; 1 Corinthians 12:7
; Ephesians 4:12-13
; 1 Peter 4:10
). No text enables us to determine the relation of spiritual gifts to "natural" talents or abilities; scriptural examples suggest that some are given entirely de novo (e.g., the prophets and tongues-speakers in Acts 19:6
), while others build on a lifetime of divinely superintended preparation (as with Paul's apostleship, prepared for by his unique blend of Jewish, Greek, and Roman backgrounds). The Spirit must be given freedom to give his gifts any way he desires.
The four lists of spiritual gifts demonstrate significant overlap as well as important variations. This suggests that none of the lists, taken either individually or together, is intended to be comprehensive. Rather each is suggestive of the diversity of ways God endows Christians for spiritual service. Broader classifications may therefore suggest other gifts not specifically listed. One may distinguish between gifts that require miraculous intervention or divine revelation (e.g., prophecy, healings, miracles, tongues and their interpretation) from other less "supernatural" gifts, although one suspects that first-century Christians may have considered all of them supernatural to some extent. One may separate gifts of leadership (apostles, administrators, teachers, pastors, and evangelists) from the rest, although one must be careful not to confuse gifts with offices (humanly appointed positions of ecclesial authority). One may identify a number of gifts that apparently involve an extra measure of virtue or responsibility commanded of all Christians (e.g., faith, service, giving, mercy, or evangelizing) as over or against those for which some believers have no ability or responsibility (e.g., miracles, tongues, or administration). First Peter 4:11
suggests perhaps the simplest division (gifts of speech and gifts of serving). But a biblical theologian will wish to proceed differently, considering each of the three major Pauline passages in turn, interpreting each list in light of the larger historical and literary contexts of each epistle.
Theological Principles . In 1 Corinthians 12 , Paul enumerates nine key principles. (1) A basic criterion for distinguishing Spirit-gifted people from impostors is whether they confess Jesus as Lord (vv. 1-3). (2) All the gifts originate from the Triune God (vv. 4-6). (3) All Christians have at least one gift (v. 7a). This implies that no one need wait for some postconversion experience to be empowered for service, although it does not preclude God bestowing additional gifts on an individual subsequent to conversion. (4) Gifts are for the common upbuilding of the church (v. 7b). (5) There is diversity within unity (vv. 8-10). Christians ought not to expect others to have the identical gifts they do. (6) The gifts are given as the Spirit determines (v. 11). One may seek and pray for certain gifts (12:31a; 14:1,12), but God makes no guarantees that he will give any one particular gift as requested. (7) All the gifts are necessary for the maturity of the church; none may be jettisoned as nonessential (vv. 14-26). Indeed, those God honors most may be the least visible (vv. 22-25). (8) There is a ranking of gifts (vv. 27-28) but the sequence is more one of chronology than of priority. Apostles and prophets are foundational in the life of any church (cf. Ephesians 2:20
); teachers then nurture young believers and newly planted congregations; finally, all of the rest of the gifts can come into play. (9) No one gift is available to all Christians (vv. 29-30; 14:31; is best taken as referring to "all prophets" not "all believers" ); hence no specific gift may be made a criterion of salvation, sanctification, or spiritual status.
First Corinthians 13 stresses that without love spiritual gifts are worthless. Verses 1-3 illustrate this point with four representative examples: tongues, prophecy, faith, and giving. This suggests that verses 8-9 offer similar examples, making a point that could have been illustrated with any of the giftsthat, compared with love, all are temporary. The verbs "cease, " "stilled, " and "pass away" appear in synonymous parallelism in the Greek, with merely stylistic variation. There is no lexical or grammatical justification for translating "tongues will be stilled
by themselves." Thirteen of the other fourteen New Testament uses of pauo [13:10). But no text betrays any awareness that New Testament writers suspected the close of an age with the death of the apostles or the completion of the canon. Instead, the telos [1:7).
Paul's second treatment of spiritual gifts appears at the beginning of the hortatory section (Romans 12-16 ) of that epistle which contains the most systematic presentation of Paul's gospel (chaps. 1-11). The most fundamental Christian obligation is complete dedication of body and mind to God (Romans 12:1-2
). Second, believers must faithfully exercise their unique spiritual gifts (vv. 3-8). Crucial to success here is an accurate self-estimation (vv. 3-5). Echoing the identical sequence of 1 Corinthians 12-13 , Paul then moves on to exhortations concerning love (12:9-13:10).
In Ephesians 4Paul focuses more on gifted persons than on the gifts themselves, but the broader theological issues remain similar. The gifts come from Christ, who distributes them to all believers as he determines (v. 7) as the result of his incarnation and exaltation (vv. 8-10). Here the specific examples focus solely on gifts for leadership (v. 11), but leaders' responsibilities center on mobilizing the laity for "every member ministry" in unity (vv. 12-13a). Only then may the church be said to be mature (v. 13b).
The Individual Gifts . The two most controversial gifts in Corinth were tongues and prophecy, so Paul devotes an entire chapter to their regulation (1 Corinthians 14 ). These two gifts still merit the greatest attention today.
In the Old Testament, prophecy involved the foretelling or forthtelling of God's Word based on a revelation from Yahweh himself. In the Hellenistic world of the first century, prophecy took many forms, but its unifying feature was the belief that a message had come directly from God or the gods. This message was usually intended for a specific audience in view of concrete needs. This sense of reception of a revelation neither requires nor precludes previous preparation or meditation. In the New Testament, Agabus exemplifies a prophet who can predict the future (Acts 11:27-30
; 21:10-11 ; cf. John as a seer in Revelation 1:1-4
). Other individuals called prophets include Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1
). Barnabas perhaps best illustrates the spirit of prophecy with his nickname "Son of Encouragement" (4:36). Quoting Joel's prediction (2:28-32) as fulfilled at Pentecost, Peter points out that prophecy will characterize "the last days, " the entire New Testament age. God will bestow this gift on many of his people irrespective of gender, age, or social class (Acts 2:17-21
; for additional examples, see Acts 19:6
; 21:9 ).
In 1 Corinthians 14 , Paul enjoins the Corinthians to prefer prophecy to tongues because it is more immediately intelligible (vv. 1-19). He also requires prophets to regulate their behavior (vv. 29-33a), presupposing that their speech is not ecstatic but subject to their control (vv. 30-32). "Two or three prophets should speak, and the others
should weigh carefully what is said" (v. 29). First Thessalonians 5:20-21
and 1 John 4:1
also stress this need for assessment. Criteria for evaluating purported prophecies would have included seeing if predictions came true ( Deuteronomy 18:21-22
) and, presumably, testing the content of forthtelling against already accepted (i.e., scriptural) revelation. Whether or not a message edified the church was doubtless equally crucial. Although all believers must "test the spirits, " each church's leadership must ultimately render a verdict on the legitimacy of any alleged prophecy. Herein lies the most probable explanation of the restriction on women speaking in 1 Corinthians 14:33
Unlike the Old Testament, in which divinely accredited prophets were not subject to constant reassessment, New Testament prophecy seems less immediate or infallible (apart from the exceptional instances that created the New Testament canon). Acts 21:4
refers to an apparently prophetic message "through the Spirit" (cf. the language Acts 11:28
) and yet 21:11,13
-14 suggests that it contained both a divine and a human (errant) component. Probably the message from God was limited to the prediction that Paul would be imprisoned if he went to Jerusalem, but the Christians in Tyre wrongly concluded that it was the Lord's will for him not to go there. Contemporary prophecy, which may range from carefully prepared messages that God has powerfully applied to a Christian's own heart (although not necessarily equivalent to many sermons) to more instantaneous revelations of God's will in particular circumstances, may similarly mix together genuinely divine words with potentially fallible human interpretations. Precisely because such prophecy is not on a par with Scripture and does not in any way supplement the canon, the argument that prophecy must have ceased with the apostolic age becomes fallacious. But this does not excuse churches from failing to take action against individuals who have uttered demonstrably false prophecies. Capital punishment may no longer be appropriate (Deuteronomy 18:20
), but surely no one need fear (or heed!) such individuals (v. 22).
As a spiritual gift given only to those whom God chooses, discernment of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10
) cannot be the same as the responsibility of evaluating prophecy incumbent on all believers. Presumably, therefore, it refers to a special ability to judge the source of an allegedly inspired utterance, readily distinguishing true from false messengers of God, rather than evaluating the legitimacy of any particular message.
The nature of the gifts of tongues and their interpretation must be determined by Paul's own teaching, rather than presupposing that the three instances of tongues-speaking in Acts (2:1-13; 10:46; 19:6) must determine the form of glossolalia in Corinth. That the spiritual gift of tongues requires a subsequent interpretation at once sets it off from the experience of Pentecost. The reference to angelic language in 1 Corinthians 13:1
makes it even more likely that Corinthian tongues were not merely foreign languages; parallel phenomena in the surrounding cultures strongly confirms this. Glossa
in Greek can refer to virtually any kind of vocal utterance, with or without discernible linguistic structure. The gift of tongues then refers to a divinely given utterance, unintelligible to its speaker or to most in that speaker's audience, but which will subsequently be "translated" into an understandable language, either by the original speaker or by another with the gift of interpretation. If such an interpretation does not emerge, and as long as there is no reason to believe that someone with the gift of interpretation has appeared, the original speaker should remain silent (14:27-28).
Glossolalia may be practiced as a private, prayer language (vv. 18-19); it is not clear if Paul would consider this the same gift as public speaking in tongues, but he clearly tries to temper the Corinthians' enthusiasm for this gift in church (v. 19). In fact Paul calls it a sign for unbelievers (v. 22), which, given the quotation from Isaiah 28:11-12
(v. 21), must mean a sign of judgment. Unbelievers find glossolalia unintelligible, even repulsive, and so are driven away from the gospel (v. 23). There is a place for tongues in a fully Christian assembly, but as with prophecy, it must remain within strict boundaries: no more than three exercising their gift at any given time and always with an interpretation (v. 28), which presumably would be subject to the same kind of evaluation as prophecy.
Healings and miracles are the other two more "supernatural" charisms. The plural nouns (1 Corinthians 12:10,28
) in each instance suggest that there may be different kinds of miraculous gifts or that these gifts are not the permanent possession of an individual but repeatedly given for the specific occasions in which they are to be used. The terminology (iamata and dunameis, respectively) harks back to the various miracles worked by Jesus in the four Gospels and by his followers in Acts, miracles that were by no means limited to the apostles (cf. esp. Stephen and PhilipActs 6-8 ). "Healings" would involve the restoration of physical health to the sick or injured while "miracles" would embrace a wider variety of supernatural phenomena. A spiritual gift of healing should be distinguished from both a miraculous healing that God works in answer to prayer (as in James 5:13-18
) and the ordinary therapeutic work of physicians. Rather, gifts of healing will be exercised in the ministry of a particular person possessing those charisms. Such a person need not expect a 100 percent success rate any more than do teachers or evangelists or those with various other gifts. On the other hand, ministries that only rarely experience the miraculous phenomena that they advertise prove more suspect.
Wisdom and knowledge manifest themselves in wise and knowledgeable speech (1 Corinthians 12:8
). Wisdom in Scripture consistently refers to applied knowledge or practical insight and is fundamentally moral in character. Knowledge refers especially to the acquisition and impartation of spiritual truth. The Corinthians had boasted of their wisdom and knowledge (1 Corinthians 4:10
; 8:1 ), perhaps in the tradition of the pagan Sophists, but Paul recognized their boasts as hollow and unfounded. For him truth centered on the "foolishness" of the cross, while true godly wisdom brings spiritual maturity (chap. 2). In 13:2
possessing knowledge parallels fathoming mysteries, understanding previously secret information that God reveals to his people.
Faith is the clearest example of a gift that amplifies an attribute required of all Christians (1 Corinthians 12:9
). In view of 13:2,
the gift of faith presumably involves a distinctive ability to trust God to work in unusual ways or in particularly difficult situations.
Service, giving, mercy, and helps also magnify character traits that all believers should exemplify. "Serving" in Romans 12:7
comes from the same root as "deacon" and may involve the kind of practical aid rendered in Acts 6:1-6
. Giving could also be translated "contributing to the needs of others" (Romans 12:8
a) and probably focuses on material assistance to the poor. "Showing mercy" (v. 8b) may highlight other forms of compassionate care for the needy, sick, aged, or disabled. "Those able to help others" (1 Corinthians 12:28
) may be the Corinthian equivalent to three of the above gifts.
Although Luke usually reserves "apostle" for one of the Twelve (Acts 1:21-22
; but 14:14
), Paul uses the term less technically as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:29
; Ephesians 4:11
). Not only does he refer to himself as an apostle (Romans 1:1
) but he also includes Titus and Epaphroditus (2Col 8:23
; Philippians 2:25
), Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7
), and James, the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19
), none of whom could have satisfied Luke's criteria. Clearly he is using the word in its more common Greek sense of one sent out on a mission. In a Christian context this will be a divinely sent mission; contemporary synonyms include "missionary" and "church planter."
Like apostles, evangelists (1 Corinthians 12:28
; Ephesians 4:11
) preach the gospel to unsaved people. Unlike apostles, evangelists do not necessarily organize their converts into local churches. All Christians must evangelize (Matthew 28:18-20
), but those with this gift are particularly capable of leading people to faith in Christ.
Teachers in the biblical cultures played a more limited role than they do today. Their task primarily involved the communication of a fixed body of information to their students, often solely by rote memory work. In the New Testament a distinction is often made between evangelistic preaching (proclamation or kerygma [ Acts 13:1
), because both can expound God's Word, but teaching focuses more on the mastery of content. The lack of a second demonstrative adjective in the expression "some to be pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11
) suggests another overlap: Christian teachers ought always to exercise a pastoral role; shepherds should always communicate accurate content.
The expression poimen [ Ephesians 4:11
) refers to a shepherd. This gift does not necessarily correspond to the entire role of the modern-day pastor but to that component of pastoral care and nurture. Acts 20:28-31,1 Peter 5:1-4
spell out the servant leadership required of these overseers.
Kybernesis [ 1 Corinthians 12:28
), generally translated as "administration, " may also be rendered "oversight" or "guidance, " and encompasses the ruling or governing aspect of church leadership.
The verb proistemi
refers to a patron, so perhaps the best option explains this gift as the use of one's wealth to sponsor or support needy people within the body of Christ.
Contemporary Applications . There is no exegetical warrant for claiming that any of the gifts have ceased. They are God's characteristic endowments for Christian service in the New Testament age, arguably the most fundamental way ministry occurs (Acts 2:17-21
; 1 Corinthians 1:7
). Against the view that maintains, from the lack of the more supernatural gifts throughout much of church history, that these charisms were limited to the apostolic age, three points must be noted: (1) these gifts did not end at the close of the first century, but continued well into the third; (2) their subsequent diminution can best be attributed to a growing, unscriptural institutionalization of the church and an overreaction to the abuse of the gifts in heretical (most notably Montanist) circles; (3) even then, no era of church history was completely without examples of all the gifts. The twentieth century resurgence of the gifts cannot be attributed to the arrival of the last days, since for the New Testament "the last days" refers to the entire church age. They may, however, reflect a recovery of more biblical, spontaneous, and all-inclusive worship and ministry.
In short, attempts to attribute all current charismatic phenomena to the devil or mere human fabrication are misguided. Still, there is no guarantee that any alleged manifestation of the Spirit is genuine; each must be tested. First Corinthians 14:39-40
concludes Paul's treatment of the topic with remarkably clear commands, which, if obeyed, could go a long way toward eliminating divisiveness in the church over the gifts. On the one hand, none of the gifts should be forbidden, even tongues (v. 39). On the other hand, "everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" (v. 40), as illustrated by the regulations for prophecy and tongues in verses 26-38. A growing number of charismatics and noncharismatics alike are beginning to heed these twin commands, but many still do not, to the detriment of the unity of the church and the success of her mission.
Craig L. Blomberg
See also Holy Spirit
Bibliography . D. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World ; D. Bridge and D. Phypers, Spiritual Gifts and the Church ; F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians ; D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit ; C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistles to the Romans, vol. 2; J. D. G. Dunn, Romans, vol. 2; E. E. Ellis, Pauline Theology ; G. D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians ; C. Forbes, NovT 26 (1968): 257-70; R. Y. K. Fung, EvQ 56 (1984): 3-20; M. Green, I Believe in the Holy Spirit ; W. A. Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1Corinthians ; K. S. Hemphill, Spiritual Gifts ; D. Hill, New Testament Prophecy ; R. P. Martin, The Spirit and the Congregation ; W. E. Mills, A Theological/Exegetical Approach to Glossolalia; Speaking in Tongues ; S. Schatzmann, A Pauline Theology of Charismata ; M. Turner, VoxEv 15 (1985): 7-64.