Gifts of the Holy Spirit

spiritual gifts, gifts of the Holy Spirit

In the Christian tradition gifts of the Holy Spirit (Greek: charismata) are any abilities that are empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry in the church. They are described in the New Testament, primarily in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4.

Some scholars believe the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit was limited to early Christianity. According to this view some of the spiritual gifts, for example speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing, were experienced only for a short time being suited to the Church's infancy. This view is known as cessationism. Classical cessationists generally concede that God still occasionally does miracles today, such as healings or divine guidance, so long as these "miracles" do not add to the New Testament canon or endorse new doctrine.

Full Cessationists, such as the influential fundamentalist scholar B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) insist that along with no gifts of the Holy Spirit, there are also no miracles performed by God today. They argue that spiritual gifts were only for the establishment of the primitive church and the so-called fivefold ministry-gifts found in Eph. 4 was a transitional institution. This means there are no longer any apostles, prophets, and teachers. Some concede to the continuation of the offices of evangelists and pastors.

The alternative view is continuationism. This is the theological belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have continued to this present age, including the sign gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.

Gordon Fee

Professor Gordon D. Fee, one of the world's leading Pauline scholars, argues, "The evidence is considerable that a visible, ‘charismatic’ dimension of life in the Spirit was the normal experience of the Pauline churches.”

Pentecostal, and other Holiness denominations affirm that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still given by God to present day believers. Many other Protestant denominations also continue to believe in and make use of spiritual gifts. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have voiced their endorsement of continuationism, affirming that Church tradition as guided by the Holy Spirit is still relevant to this day. Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) was an influential continuationist who supported the Charismatic Renewal movement in the Catholic Church.

Click this link to learn more about the distinctive beliefs and theological contibution of Pentcostals.

Click this link to read about the theology and practices of the Charismatic movement.

Who were the pioneering charismatic leaders of the renewal movements in the mainline Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic church?

Postcharismatic theology is not a rejection of but a moving beyond classical charismatic beliefs and practices. How are "Third Wave" and "Fourth Wave" theologians articulating postcharismatic faith ?

Encountering the Gifts of the Spirit

I first encountered the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1976 in an Anglican (Episcopalian) church about ten miles from my home. Reports had reached the church youth group I attended of speaking in tongues, claims of healings, and other charismatic phenomenon at St. Hughes Church in the parish of Lewsey Farm, Luton.

One Sunday evening I attended Evensong with at St. Hughes with a group of friends. The service was conducted by the Vicar, Rev. Colin Urquhart. The congregation sang a few worship choruses which led into a brief moment of extemporaneous singing in which some sang softly in unknown languages. Then without any fanfare and with completely normal tone of voice a man spoke out loud in an unknown language for about a minute. After a brief pause a woman in an equally calm tone of voice brought the interpretation.

The whole experience was so orderly and matter-of-fact that it was only after Rev. Urquhart explained what had just happened that I realized I had just witnessed gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation.

“Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant” (1 Cor. 12:1)

Most scholars believe that Paul in 1 Cor. 12:1 begins to answer a specific question regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit asked by the Corinthians in a letter previosuly delivered to the apostle.

In this opening verse "spiritual gifts" is translated from the Greek term ton pneumatikon. In Pauline usage this term can be taken as either masculine and refer to “spiritual people” (1 Cor. 2:15; 3:1; 14:37), or as neuter and refer to “spiritual things” (i.e. “Spiritual gifts”; see 1 Cor. 9:11; 14:1; 15:46). D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, suggests that the questions being put to Paul ran something like this: ‘Is it true that spiritual manifestations (pneumatika) constitute unfailing evidence of spiritual people (pneumatikoi)?’”

The term used by the Corinthians for these phenomena seems to have been pneumatika (“spiritual things"). Paul substitutes his own term, charismata (“gifts”), which expresses his theological understanding of these phenomena as gifts of Holy Spirit for the benefit of the church.

M. Eugene Boring, Wylie and Elizabeth M. Briscoe professor of New Testament (Emeritus) at Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, suggests "The Corinthians had experienced analogous religious spiritual phenomena prior to their becoming Christians (12:2) and were inclined to understand their Christian experience in terms of their pre-Christian history.”

In 1 Corinthians 12:2-3, Paul offers a criterion to establish whether or not any particular spiritual manifestation may be used to authenticate the presence of the Holy Spirit. According to Dr. Fee, “The ultimate criterion of the Spirit’s activity is the exaltation of Jesus as Lord. Whatever takes away from that, even if they be legitimate expressions of the Spirit, begins to move away from Christ to a more pagan fascination with spiritual activity as an end in itself.”

D A Carson

Professor D. A. Carson contends that the purpose of 1 Cor. 12:1-3 is not to provide "a confessional test to enable Christians to distinguish true from false spirits, but to provide a sufficient test to establish who has the Holy Spirit at all."

The crisis in the Corinthian understanding of charismatic speech (i.e. prophecy, speaking in unknown languages and their interpretation) provoked Paul to write 1 Corinthians 12-14. Carson suggests that this crisis occurred when in a worship setting a "prophet" speaking intelligibly, but under the compulsion of the supernatural power, proclaimed "a curse on Jesus" (12:3). This expression may have originated from a prophet within the "Christ party." This was a subgroup within the Corinthian congregation that claimed direct revelation from the heavenly Spirit-Christ and disdained the human Jesus of Nazareth.

Carson explains this is why Paul’s discussion of the charismatic speech in Corinth is prefaced by an appeal to a traditional creedal affirmation of the historical Jesus as decisive (12:3) and is immediately followed by a declaration of the gospel as expressed in the oldest traditional form (15:1-3).

Diversity, not uniformity, of gifts is essential for a healthy church (1 Cor. 12:4-6)

In 1 Cor. 12:1-3, Paul sets the work of the gifts of the Spirit into a proper Christological perspective. In 1 Cor. 12:4-6 he puts it into a proper theological one; that is, diversity within unity belongs to the character of God.

Each statement in verses 4-6 begins with “different kinds of,” and is followed by a noun that characterizes the activity of one person of the Trinity. The repetition of “same” with each divine Person emphasizes that the one Spirit/Lord/God each manifests himself in a wide variety of gifts and ministries.

The New Testament contains various lists of spiritual gifts. No list is meant to be exhaustive. The order of the gifts varies considerably. The lists as a whole contain an impressive mixture or what some might label “natural” and “supernatural” endowments.

Different kinds of gifts (1 Cor. 12:4)

Here Paul uses the word charismata instead of the Corinthians' term ton pneumatikon. The singular form charisma means a favor with which one receives without any merit of his own; grace or gifts denoting extraordinary powers, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the church of Christ. The reception of these gifts is due to the power of divine grace operating on their souls by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the usual English translation is “gifts of the Holy Spirit” or more simply “spiritual gifts.”

In 1 Cor. 12:7-11, Paul lists nine gifts resident in the Holy Spirit:

"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”

Thus each believer is given some manifestation of the Spirit. These gifts are not for personal aggrandizement, but “for the common good.” Dr. Derek Prince (1915-2003) frequently reminded believers that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are "tools not toys."


Different Kinds of Service (1 Cor. 12:5)

Paul uses the Greek term diakoniai, meaning service or ministry. Many commentators relate this to the five so-called ministry-gifts given to the church by the resurrected Christ listed in Ephesians 4:11-12. These are the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Dr. Fee observes that "Paul lists people, who function in certain ways, not gifts of ministries per se."

According to Paul, when these five ministry gifts function appropriately, the general membership of the church are equipped and empowered to do the work of ministry. When the whole body of Christ is thus empowered and activated in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the entire church grows in unity and maturity( Eph. 4:11-16). This is the biblical model of charismatic leadership.

Different Kinds of Working (Rom. 12:6)

Paul uses the word energemata, denoting operations, workings, and effects. Some scholars associate these workings with the seven character or motivational gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8:

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully."

Some commentators relate these operational gifts to human personality types rather than to the gifts of the Holy Spirit per se.

Laying on of hands

Finally, Paul lists eight gifts of the Holy Spirit appointed or set in the Local Church (1 Cor. 12:28-29). This lists includes gifts from all three of the categories above (charismatic, administrative, and operational):

“And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?”

This text suggests that in the Pauline churches the gifts of the Holy Spirit are exercised by laymen and laywomen as well as by clergy. I agree with Clark Pinnock, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, that "Paul’s entire theology without the supporting pinion of the Spirit would crumble into ruins."

The articles linked to this page present a rational, balanced, and biblical approach to the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

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