Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts

This is a guest post by T.C. Robinson, blogger at New Leaven and he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies and a Master’s degree with an emphasis in New Testament Greek

Spiritual gifts are those special capacities imparted to believers by the Holy Spirit for the glory of God and the good of the Body of Christ (1 Pet. 2:10-11; 1 Cor. 12:7).

In verse one, Paul uses the term πνευματικῶν, which may be translated either “spiritual people” or “spiritual gifts.”  But the consensus in light of the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14 fits better with “spiritual gifts.”

But from verses 4-11, Paul uses another word, χαρίσματα, “grace gifts.”  For example, our English world charisma or charismatic is derived from this Greek word.

However, these Corinthian believers were calling attention to themselves in their use of the gifts—like many today—and Paul had to take both in a corrective and prescriptive approach, as reflected in chapters 12-14.

Paul begins this section with these verses:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.  (1 Cor. 12:1-3)

Notice how Paul quickly switches to χάρισμαcharisma, from πνευματικόςpneumatikos.  The reason: the Corinthians were bringing attention to themselves with the use of πνευματικός–we are “spiritual people” because we have all these “spiritual gifts” (v.1).

Paul is not impressed.

In fact, to show his disapproval, Paul uses χάρισμα to call attention to the source of the gifts – they are “grace gifts” (v. 4).

In the end, according to Paul, the real evidence of the Spirit in us is not “the gifts” he bestows but the love that blossoms – hence, 1 Corinthians 13.

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3 responses to “Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts

  1. TC,
    Thanks for your guest blog here. A few reflections.

    I’m not at all sure that πνευματικῶν in 12:1 is best understood as “spiritual gifts.” An option you don’t mention can be roughly glossed as “spiritual matters” as in 1 Cor. 2:1. Possibly also 9:11. Thus it is a generic rubric under which the “gifts” may be discussed.

    Admittedly 14:1 has πνευματικά, which also seems to indicate “spiritual gifts,” but it could just as easily be the same generic rubric, “pneumatics” we might say, approaching how we might use “pneumatology” when we specifically want to broach the subject. However, 14:1 does specify a specific gift, prophecy. And it seems to be pretty much a repeat of 12:31, which uses χαρίσματα. So it’s hard to say.

    At any rate, the phrase “spiritual gifts” using BOTH words really only occurs in Rom. 1:11, as far as I can tell, and that seems to have a rather different sense.

    So I’m not altogether sure that we are all that justified in using the phrase “spiritual gifts” as if it were reflecting Biblical usage.

    I also have a mild protest for “grace gifts” as a gloss for χάρισμα. It seems like a bit of double dipping. A χάρισμα is a “gift,” plain and simple. Charizomai means “forgive” or just “give,” albeit with a sense of doing so as a favor. So then by transparent etymology charis-ma is the object of that giving. So with the word “gift,” the charis- morpheme has already done its duty. So I’m not sure I’d go back and pump it for the modifier “grace” as well. Another way of saying it is that “grace gift” may be a tad redundant.

    Still, maybe not, if there is a “gift” that is a quid pro quo deal, like a bribe, that would not be a charisma. So you may have to specify “free gift” or something, if you want to get the full force. Maybe.

    Anyway, after introducing the subject in 12:1 with πνευματικῶν, he then goes on to refer to these as “services,” “activities,” and “manifestations” as well as “gifts.”

    Yes, agreed, Paul is bringing correction to this crew, an attitude adjustment. I just can’t, myself, extract a sense of disapproval, or of not-impressedness in his word choice, particularly as if so, he still returns to πνευματικά in 14:1.

    It does just seem to me that χάρισμα is Paul’s default term for these things. So I’m not sure we have to attribute any particular motivation to his choice of that word.

    Well, just some thoughts. I enjoyed discovering your blog in the process.

    • Marv,

      Perhaps “spiritual matters” best fit 12:1, as a general rubric. But I don’t think this is the case in 14:1.

      We may even argue for an overlap in meaning with charismata at 12:31 and pneumatika at 14:1. The reason is thus: 12:31 comes after the list from v. 28f. Then 14:1, sort of resumes 12:31 and the the more excellent way of chp. 13, with the repetition of zhlow, “pursue,” and the recommended “gift of prophecy.”

      Another way of saying it is that “grace gift” may be a tad redundant.

      I do agree with your point of redundancy, but it may be necessary for the unsuspecting.

      Yes, agreed, Paul is bringing correction to this crew, an attitude adjustment. I just can’t, myself, extract a sense of disapproval, or of not-impressedness in his word choice, particularly as if so, he still returns to πνευματικά in 14:1.

      Ah, but why depart from that corrective approach that Paul has already taken.

      Also, note the introductory peri de at 12:1. I don’t think it allows for a departure from Paul’s corrective approach. It’s very presence demands such reading of chps 12-14.

      Well, I’m glad you discovered new leaven in the process. 😉

  2. Marv & TC –

    One book that I think has an interesting discussion on what spiritual gifts are, and what charismata and pneumatika are, is the book What Are Spiritual Gifts? by Kenneth Berding, a professor at Biola. I wrote a book review here.

    I didn’t agree with everything he said in the book, but I thought it was good stuff to chew on. Just in case you need another book to go on your reading list.

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