The Gifts of the Holy Spirit


     I suppose there is more mystique surrounding the Holy Spirit than the other members of the Godhead, the Father and the Son. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is himself deity or God (2 Cor. 13: 14; Acts 5: 3, 4). The Spirit has performed a specific work. He was active in the original creation (Gen. 1: 2, see "let us" and "our image" in Gen. 1: 26). He also had the work of creating order to the last dispensation, the age of the gospel (Jn. 14: 26, 16: 13). His work was miraculous (Lk. 24: 49, Acts 1: 5, 8). The Spirit also helped stabilize the early church during its infancy by providing certain miraculous gifts. These gifts were experienced in two ways: the baptism of the Spirit (case of the apostles, Acts 1: 8, they appear to have had all the gifts), and the "laying on of the apostle's hands" (Acts 8: 17-19, Rom. 1: 11). The gifts of the Spirit are seen in I Corinthians 12: 8-10 and they are nine in number. Exactly what were these gifts?

     "7: But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8: For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9: To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10: To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues" (I Cor. 12).

     Let us now consider each of these nine gifts to determine their nature, utility, and how they guarded the early church against false doctrine.

     "The word of wisdom" (vs. 8). The "word of wisdom" is the imparting of practical information. It obviously involved the gospel (I Cor. 15: 1, 2, also chapters one through three). Perhaps the particular shade of thought of "word of wisdom" is to the persuasive ability of those possessing this gift and to their skill in applying the truths revealed to them (cp. Acts 2: 40). One expositor comments that the "word of wisdom" was "a comprehensive view of the scheme of redemption with the faculty of clearly explaining it to the apprehension of others" (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, Vol. 5, pg. 230).

     It should be observed that Paul emphasizes the fact that the "word of wisdom" was given "by the Spirit." In the case of each of these nine gifts, Paul makes it plain that each gift was given by the Spirit and that the Holy Spirit is one. Hence, there should have been perfect unity in the performance and exercise of these gifts. However, because of the frailty of man, this was not the case (I Cor. 14).

     The "word of knowledge" (vs. 8). Notice the recurring expression "to another." As a rule and in general, probably only one gift was enjoyed by the recipient. However, there appear to have been exceptions (see I Cor. 14: 5, cp. vs. 2, 4). The "word of knowledge" seems to especially affect the intellect and enable the person having this gift to understand the deeper matters of the gospel. Jesus told the apostles that, "…when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak" (Matt. 10: 19). Notice the "how" (pos) and "what" (ti). "How" would seem to allude to the wisdom (word of wisdom) and "what" to the knowledge (word of knowledge).

     "To another faith" (vs. 9). Non-miraculous and ordinary faith comes by "hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10: 17). One purpose of Jesus' recorded miracles is that of producing faith (Jn. 20: 30, 31). Hence, there is not the necessity for recurring present day miracles. However, the faith contemplated as a gift of the Spirit was supernatural (Matt. 21: 20, 21, 17: 20). Those performing miracles had to believe they could, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, effect them. Hence, the need of this faith. The gift of faith also illustrates the temporary function of these gifts of the Spirit.

     "Gifts of healing" (vs. 9). This gift of the Spirit enabled the one so endowed to, beyond the use of natural means, heal the sick (Mk. 16: 18). The gift of healing was not bestowed so that the community of Christians could be free of health problems (cp. I Tim. 5: 23, 6: 20). The primary function of these and all nine gifts was to serve as a sign and means of confirming the spoken word (Mk. 16: 20 Heb. 2: 4). We must realize that the apostles and early Christian did not, at first, have the revealed New Testament, as we possess it today. Today, we can provide book, chapter, and verse to verify and confirm the truthfulness of what we teach. In the absence of such verification, they often performed miracles to convince the observers. Judging from such verses as Mark 16: 17, 18, these gifts were apparently widespread and common among the early Christians.

     The "working of miracles" (vs. 10). Some hold the view that "working of miracles" has reference to the ability to impart to others miracle working ability (see addendum). The Greek energemata dunameon ("working of miracles") can be translated, "active efficacy of powers." The reference seems to be to "mighty signs and wonders" (Rom. 15: 19). There is probably an allusion to the extraordinary and unusual kinds of miracles, such as are referenced in Mark 16: 18.

     "To another prophecy" (vs. 10). The gift of prophecy enabled the prophet to speak and teach miraculously. The matter that distinguished the prophet from the teacher was the prophet's ability to foretell the future and to issue teaching based on such foretelling. Hence, Agabus foretold of a great dearth and certain consequent preparation was made as a result (Acts 11: 28-30). Prophecy appears to have been a little esteemed and considered gift among the Christians at Corinth (I Cor. 14: 1 ff.). It appears they exalted the gift of tongues over the gift of prophecy to the point of the neglect of prophecy. In their exaltation of tongues, they also abused the gift of tongues and made it virtually of none effect (I Cor. 14).

     The "discerning of spirits" (vs. 10). The recipient of discerning of spirits could miraculously determine the truth being taught by the teacher. The truth was important in the First Century (must also be today) and error was to be avoided (2 Jn. 9-11). They and we have the charge of "trying the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I Jn. 4: 1). Paul had the gospel revealed to him; hence, he was able to use the standard of the gospel to determine sin and the need of rebuke (Gal. 2: 14). Today, we have the gospel in its entirety for our use and application.

     "Divers kinds of tongues" (vs. 10). The tongues of the New Testament upon close examination do not even resemble the emotional and unintelligible displays that are called speaking in tongues today. In the first place, tongues were languages. When the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit (the fullest supernatural empowerment, short of Jesus' experience, Jn. 3: 34), they "spoke with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2: 4). We then read: "Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language" (Acts 2: 6). They are called "unknown tongues" only in the climate of the hearer not knowing the language. The phenomenon of tongues allowed those early Christians who possessed this ability to gain the attention of the hearer and to impress upon the hearer that something supernatural was present (see Acts 2: 1-1-13). The gift of tongues also provided the person the capability of conversing with others in their own tongue without having studied the language. Even though Greek was cosmopolitan, there were many languages and dialects still spoken (Acts 2:8-11). As mentioned, tongues were a highly sought after but abused gift in the church at Corinth (I Cor. 14).

     "Interpretation of tongues" (vs. 10). Just as there were those in the early church who could miraculously speak another language, there were also those who could interpret. Not all hearers in an audience could always understand a language; hence, the need for miraculous interpretation. Unintelligible gibberish was of no use, the speaker had to be understood so the meaning could instruct and benefit (I Cor. 14: 5-19). Specific instruction was given to the church at Corinth regarding tongues. "If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course, and let one interpret," Paul wrote. ""But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church," Paul continued (I Cor. 14: 27, 28).

     Various efforts have been made to classify, group, or show complementation of these nine gifts. As a whole, one can see how these gifts fortified, guarded, and edified the early church in the absence of the revealed New Testament. They enjoyed miraculous knowledge and the wisdom to apply it with understanding. They had faith that could remove mountains and the gift of healing. They could confirm the spoken word with "working of miracles" and miraculously teach and foretell the future with the gift of prophecy. They could determine a true and false teacher in the absence of total revealed truth by the discerning of spirits. They were able to converse, teach, and have the language understood to all present in languages unknown to them as a result of the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Paul selected three of these nine gifts to show their limited duration. He said that "prophecies would fail," "tongues would cease," and "knowledge would vanish away" (I Cor. 13: 8). These gifts constituted a temporary and fragmentary system, but when "that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away" (vs. 9, 10). That which (not he who) is the "perfect law of liberty" and the compilation and natural blending of the supernatural units to form one entire system that can be summed up as the system of the gospel (Jas. 1: 25 cp. Eph. 4: 11-16).

     After the arrival of the "that which is perfect," the Spirit works through the word to accomplish his redemptive and stabilizing work. The Spirit sanctifies, convicts, saves, and continues to exert power (I Pet. 1: 2; Jn. 16: 8; Tit. 3: 5; Rom. 15: 13). However, this essential action is also assigned to the word (Jn. 17: 17; Tit. 1: 9; Jas. 1: 21; Rom. 1: 16). Hence, the Spirit (the "person") exerts sanctification, convicting, salvation, and power through the word (the instrument used by the Spirit). Spiritual creation was begun with a miracle, just as physical creation (Gen. 1, 2). However, just as in physical creation, spiritual creation is sustained and continues through natural laws put in place by God.  (To read more, click on "Have Miracles Ceased?", "The Baptism of the Holy Spirit."and, "That Which Is Perfect".)

    Addendum: There are a number of scholars such as David Lipscomb who hold the view that energius (translated "working" in I Corinthians 12: 10) means "inworking," hence, the ability to cause to work in another. It is their contention, therefore, that those who possessed the gift of "working of miracles" were able to not only work miracles themselves, but they also could impart this miracle working ability to others by the laying on of hands. We know that the apostles had such ability (Acts 8: 14-18). If "working of miracles" has reference to those in addition to the apostles (the apostles had been baptized in the Holy Spirit) being able to pass on miracle working power to others, why did Peter and John have to leave Jerusalem and go to Samaria to impart miraculous power to the Samaritans (Acts 8: 14-18)? I ask this because they had Philip (Acts 8: 5 ff.). Philip was one of the seven upon whom the apostles had laid their hands and had thus imparted miracle working ability (Acts 6: 3-7). Why would the apostles have allowed Philip to leave Jerusalem to preach the gospel in Samaria without enabling Philip to pass on miracle working ability to those whom he baptized, if those other than apostles could transfer such ability? Moreover, just because Simon requested such power be given to him and Peter did not explain to him that only apostles could so enable others, does not prove this ability to pass on miraculous power was enjoyed by any other than the apostles. Therefore, I understand "working of miracles" (energemata dunameon) to be distinguished from healings, etc., in view of their extraordinary nature and not as Lipscomb and others have explained it (cp. Rom. 15: 19). If the apostles were the only ones who could pass on this ability, with their death, such transference of supernatural power ended. However, if others had such a gift, then, there could be credence to the argument of miraculous succession.