Category Archives: 1 Corinthians 12

Empowered: 1 Corinthians 12-14

Here is an excellent sermon series covering 1 Corinthians 12-14 from Grace Church, Frisco, Texas.

 

 

  • Part 1 (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)
  • Part 2 (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)
  • Part 3 (1 Corinthians 12:1-3)
  • Part 4 (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
  • Part 5 (1 Corinthians 12)
  • Part 6 (1 Corinthians 13)
  • Part 7 (1 Corinthians 13:1-8)
  • Part 8 (1 Corinthians 13:1-7)
  • Part 9 (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
  • Part 10 (1 Corinthians 13:13; 14:1-4)
  • Part 11 (1 Corinthians 14:6-25)
  • Part 12 (1 Corinthians 14:26-40; Acts 2:16-18)
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Terms of Empowerment

by Marv

What is the general subject of 1 Corinthians 12-14?

Spiritual gifts“? That seems to be the received rubric for the aspect of Christian life and ministry that Paul discusses there. I offer a mild objection. This is the phrase and concept people tend to use, but I wonder if it is quite adequate, and not a bit misdirecting.

Why do I say this? Well, for one reason, the phrase “spiritual gift(s)” occurs nowhere in 1 Corinthians 12-14. It occurs nowhere in 1 Corinthians at all.

Sure it does, you say: 1 Cor. 12:1 and 1 Cor. 14:1. All right, sure, but what I am referring to really is the underlying Greek phrase χάρισμα πνευματικὸν (charisma pneumatikon), “spiritual gifts.” It’s not there in 1 Corinthians. We do have “spiritual” and we do have “gift,” but not together as a phrase.

In fact that phrase only occurs one time in Scripture: Romans 1:11, and there I think it has a rather different meaning than we usually associate with “spiritual gift”:

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—

Perhaps it does correlate closer than I am thinking, but that’s not my point today. I want to look at the terminology that does actually occur in 1 Cor. 12-14, and see what this can tell us.

1. Pneumatika

Here are the two verses I referred to above, as they read in the ESV:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Corinthians 12:1)

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

As I observe above, the underlying Greek here for “spiritual gifts” is not the phrase charisma pneumatikon, but a single word, the adjective pneumatikon, used substantively in the plural: pneumatika. This is the rendering of the ESV, NIV, NASB, and KJV, though this has “gifts” in italics.

The supposition behind this rendering, I take it, is that the bare neuter plural adjective modifies an elided neuter plural noun, which being resupplied by the translators, turns out to be charismata, “gifts.” Maybe–I guess–if we do assume that “spiritual gifts” was the ready phrase in Paul’s day that it is in ours. I’m not so sure of it, however.

One note: in 12:1 this word appears in the genitive plural, the form being penumatikōn. Ostensibly this could be any of the three genders, though feminine being difficult to account for (sorry, ladies) that generally masculine and neuter are in the running. Paul does use the term in the masculine for “spiritual people” (of either sex). He even uses both masculine and neuter forms in the same sentence earlier in the epistle:

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths (pneumatika, clearly neuter) to those who are spiritual (pneumatikois, clearly masculine). (1 Corinthians 2:13)

However, the 14:1 reference is unambiguously neuter: pneumatika.

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts (ta pneumatika), especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians)

In the context, I think it is reasonable to take these two instances, when he introduces the topic in 12:1 and reintroduces it in 14:1 as the same usage. Thus the latter informs us that the former is indeed neuter plural. That’s what the translation “spritual gifts” understands anyway.

But if the plural adjective pneumatika modifies an understood charismata, and so “spiritual gifts,” can we say that in the singular, a single spiritual gift would be a *pneumatikon? The asterisk is a linguistic convention to indicate a hypothetical form never actually found in the data. Of course, the adjective in that form does occur as we saw in Rom. 1:11, and elsewhere, but as a lone substantive, meaning a “spiritual gift” it occurs nowhere. In other words we have no evidence in the text of a “pneumatikon” being used to refer to prophecy or tongues or such.

Now not having an example does not disprove anything, but it also doesn’t confirm that we are on the right track with the rendering “spiritual gifts” for pneumatika.

Let me suggest something else. In both 12:1 and 14:1 the word is reasonably understood as a general category term. Greek has a well established usage which resembles these forms exactly. That is, frequently an adjective (especially formed with -ik-) in the neuter plural has an abstract sense which indicates a general subject or field of inquiry.

This is the origin of several of our English subject terms as well, those ending in -ics:

“Physics” from ta phusika. Not because of of some thing called a “phusikon,” but because it concerns things of phusis “nature.”

“Ethics” from ta ēthika, concerning things of ēthos “custom.”

“Politics” from ta politika, concerning things of the polis, “the state.”

Following in this line, ta pneumatika would simply be a general cover term for things concerning pneuma, “the Spirit,” rather than referring to a set of abilities or the instances of their use. I don’t know if “Pneumatics” has a future as a rubric here, especially as it is already used as a term for physical effects and related technology. But this would be consistent with similar terms.

2. Charisma, Diakonia, Energēma, Phanerōsis.

These four occur as rough synonyms in a sequence of four verses: 12:4-7, translated as follows:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

a. Charisma means “gift,” as in an object that someone gives you. Our sense of “gift” as a talent, as in a “gifted musician” presumably derives from the use here. I’m not sure it had that sense in Greek prior to this concept. It can also be an untangeable gift, a favor, as in “do me a favor.”

It is frequently tied to charis, grace, and indeed this is true, but it is more parallel to charis than derived from it, I think. Let me explain the derivation:

Both are derived from the verb charizomai, which has a variety of uses meaning to grant to give freely or generously, most especially to forgive. The etymology of this verb is also pretty clear, with the –iz– suffix (our –ize, Brit. –ise), suffixed to the root chara “joy.” To “joy-ize” someone is to perform an act which will immensely please or gratify them for its generosity. Thus charizomai (some kind of deponent middle voice).

The act of charizomai or quality of one doing it, is thus charis, “grace” as we ususally render it.

The ending -ma signifies a result or object of an action. So take –omai off chariz-omai and you get charis-ma (mutatis mutandis): thing given: gift.

b. Diakonia is a very general word for service, and a diakonos is a servant. This has become transliterated and technicalized in our word deacon. In the NT we do see it used for this office (Phil. 1:1 ESV), but probably never really dissociated mentally from the menial sense of “servant.” Deacon has nothing of this feel. Much less does minister, also a frequent translation of diakonos (e.g. Col. 1:25 ESV). Our word minister, meaning either a professional clergyman or a state official has moved far afield from what the Greek would convey.

c. Energēma has at its base ergon “work” (an actual cognate, originally wergon). With the prefix en– “in” it is obviously the source of our word energy. The verb energeo means “to be operative, at work, active.” Therefore, with the suffix –ma, it signifies and effect, operation, or activity.

d. Phanerosis indicates that which is normally invisible becoming seen or otherwise perceptible to the senses, i.e. becoming manifest, a manifestation.

3. Pneuma

You will recognize here the common word for “spirit,” which has a range of uses, such as:

a. God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit.

b. the human spirit

c. another spiritual being, i.e. an angel

d. an evil spirit, a demon

I submit there is an (e) sense of pneuma which refers to an instance of one of these gifts, services, effects, or manifestations, not so much the potential or ability (as we tend to think of a gift) but its actual use. We can see this in comparing two similar statements from ch. 14:

1. Pursue love, and earnestly desire (zēloute) the spiritual gifts (pneumatika), especially that you may prophesy. (v. 1)

2. So with yourselves, since you are eager (zēlōteai) for manifestations of the Spirit (pneumatōn), strive to excel in building up the church. (v. 12)

Note that the Greek underlying the ESV’s “manifestations of the Spirit” is not phanerōsis as in v. 7, but simpy the single word pneuma (in the genitive plural). Now this is translated “spiritual gifts” by such versions as NIV and NASB and KJV, just as pneumatika is, but with rather less justification. This is particularly true if we conceive of “gift” as an ability rather than an act or perceptible phenomenon.

Based on what follows then, examples of a “spirit” in this sense would be an utternce in tongues or a spoken prophecy. Or v. 26 may be a list of such:

…a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.

Now based on this usage of pneuma, I’d like to look at a couple of exegetical applications.

1 Cor. 12:10 makes the following reference: “to another the ability to distinguish between spirits.” Frequently this has been understood in terms of demonology. In other words, the ability to have supernatural insight into evil spirits that may be afflicting someone.

The underlying Greek is diakriseis pneumatōn, often rendered “discernment of spirits” and the word for “distinguishing” or “discernment” here corresponds exactly with the verb in 14:29:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh (diakrinetōsan) what is said.

“Discernment of spirits” then would not be so much identification of demons as it would be evaluating prophetic utterances. As such “distinguishing of spirits” in 12:10 would be the same as the “weighing” of prophecy is in 14:29.

This also impacts on our understanding of 1 John 4:1-3:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

(1 John 4:1-3 ESV)

I think this makes sense out of something that has bothered me. John says not to believe every spirit? We ought to believe the Holy Spirit, of course. What, are there a few others we should believe? Surely he doesn’t mean we might encounter an occasional demon who might be trustworthy.

But if “spirit” (pneuma) here be understood, for example as a prophecy, I think it makes rather more sense. And it explains why he mentions false prophets. So he’s not telling his readers to believe some demons and not others, but not just to accept every utterance of prophecy that someone speaks.

This may mean that the phrase which the ESV renders as “the Spirit of God” is not here actually a reference to the Holy Spirit. The phrase is to pneuma tou theou, and certainly does look as if it refers to the Holy Spirit, I grant. But John goes on to explain, referring to “every spirit” (pan pneuma), which certainly sounds like he means a plurality of spirits. And if this spirit confesses Jesus it is–now John doesn’t say THE Spirit of God, but “from God” (ek tou theou). By the flow of argument it seems to me he is rather saying:

By this you know a spirit (prophetic utterance) coming from God: every spirit (prophetic utterance) which agrees that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God. Every spirit (prophetic utterance) which does not confess Jesus is not from God. It’s a spirit (prophetic utterance) from antichrist which (neuter!!! i.e. antecedent is “spirit”!) you have heard was coming and is in the world already.

Understand, this is by no means my discovery (granted there’s even any truth to it), but I don’t think it is a well-known option.

I suspect though this is what lies behind the use of “private spirits” in the Westminster Confession. There is some controversy with this term. Some suggest it simply means “opinions.” Others do take it to refer to individual revelations, either accepted, tolerated, or else simply recognized as a claim by the Confession.

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. (I.X.)

…with which I heartily concur.

Discerning of Spirits

Quite a while back, I had taken up the task of posting articles on the 9 giftings found in 1 Cor 12:8-10. I have looked at prophecy, tongues, message of wisdom and message of knowledge. But I wanted to follow up with some thoughts on a gift that connects quite well with the prophetic-revelatory gifts. It’s that of discerning of spirits, or as some translations call it distinguishing between spirits.

As I mentioned with other gifts listed in 1 Cor 12:8-10, this one also comes to us with the plural. It should literally be translated as distinguishings between spirits. This probably points to the fact that the gift has a variety of functions. Continue reading

Extraordinary Gifts

by Scott

Recently, I have seen some banter around the blogosphere which argues against the idea that the Spirit giftings of 1 Cor 12:8-10 should be considered any more special than other gifts mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, at least those found in places like Rom 12:6-8 or not too far along in the 1 Cor 12 passage, mainly some of those found in vs28-30. This argument normally flows from the cessationist sector, or those who believe these specific gifts are either not normal for today or have ceased all-together.

I actually understand the desire to keep all gifts on a kind of level ground, not making any of them more important than others. Quite like we want to steer clear of any two-tiered Christianity with the have’s on one side and have not’s on the other. This has unfortunately been created by some of our brothers and sisters in Pentecostal and charismatic circles. I know and it saddens my heart.

If anything, we are all one in Christ, as Paul argued adamantly in Gal 3:26-29.

But while I agree with this underlying focus and emphasis of non-continuationists on the importance of all gifts, I do want to clarify some things that come from the Pentecostal and charismatic circles of why we might emphasise the extraordinary nature of those gifts found in 1 Cor 12:8-10. Continue reading

Turkish De-light

By Marv

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.  (1 Thes. 5:19-21)

Is there any book of the Bible we could do without? For example, would Christian doctrine suffer from the omission, say, of Proverbs? What about 1 and 2 Chronicles? Aren’t they largely redundant, not to speak of some tiresome genealogical material? And Revelation–apart from that curse thing–what if it were just to disappear completely, instead of having to be Docetized into docility as so many are wont to do?

While we’re at it, what animals could we vote off the island? Whole classes, perhaps. Got to go with reptiles, I think. I’d be sorry to say goodbye to the cute gecko who sells me insurance, but to get rid of snakes…! Insects, maybe: no cockroaches, fire ants, hornets. No butterflies either, but I’d get soon over it.

How about colors? I’m not overly fond of orange. Sunsets would be the losers, but how practical are they anyway?

Fortunately, authority in such matters have not been given over to the likes of us. What God has given–what He has provided by the good pleasure of His will–exists for His own purposes and according to His manifold wisdom.

The apostle was speaking on a particular subject, but his words must certainly have a general application:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4).

If this principle holds in regard to foodstuffs, how much more does our Lord mean us to receive His bounty in regard to the vital interworking among the members of Christ’s body? Paul instructs us in no uncertain terms in this regard:

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Cor. 18-20)

Who of us will venture to say that God has chosen ill? No one, surely. Or we should hope. And what are these parts, specifically, that the apostle is referring to? He gives us a few examples:

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Cor. 12:8-11)

The Spirit wills. God chooses.

What about me? Don’t I get a vote? Well… no, in fact. We have not been consulted. We only work here.

Still, isn’t there quite a bit of this we really could do without? Can we not have a perfectly healthy church while making some strategic omissions from this list? Let’s say in my opinion some of these “gifts” have outlived their usefulness, are now more cumbersome than useful, more problematic than practical. Are these–less desirable bits–really necessary?

Well, I’m sure I don’t know, but I do have the Word of God to guide me:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:21-26).

Is it too much of a stretch to conclude that if we cannot say “I have no need of you” that we do have need? Perhaps the Spirit was wise after all in willing, God in choosing.

How comes then Mr. Frank Turk of Pyromaniacs with his Open Letter to Mark Driscoll, which is a response to Driscoll’s Resurgence video post Four Points of the Movement (highly recommended), in which Driscoll attributes (hard) Cessationism to “worldliness.” In Mr. Turk’s open letter he responds with  a series of affirmations and denials? Observe, please, how many times and in how many different ways he can say “I have no need of you.”

I deny that this work [the personal action of God the Holy Spirit for the life of the Church] necessarily includes speaking in tongues (as in Acts 2 as well as in so-called “private prayer langauges”), healing the sick or raising the dead by explicit command, prophecy in the sense that Isaiah and John the Baptist were prophets, or any other “sign-and-wonder”-like exhibition. That is: I deny that these actions are necessary for the post-apostolic church to function as God intended. (emphasis mine).

Now a number of misconceptions are evident here as shown by his use of such words as “exhibition,” but from Paul’s list quoted above, Turk explicitly says “I have no need of you” to gifts of prophecy, healing, working of miracles, tongues. Lest we misunderstand:

I deny that this activity [“signs and wonders”] is common, normative, necessary, or in the best interest of God’s people to been seen as common, normative and/or necessary. God in fact warns us against seeking signs rather than the thing signified repeatedly in the OT and NT. (emphasis mine)

Not “in the best interest of God’s people” is Turk’s evaluation. Paul, on the other hand says “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:7). Whose advice shall we take here?

What about “common” or that magic word “normative”? Let’s say we take it above even the apostle’s pay grade for some indication of how common we ought to expect works of power to be:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:12-13)

These are the words of our Lord, in His farewell address on the eve of His crucifixion. The works in question are those overt acts of God’s power that achieve the Father’s goals, under His authority, in the Spirit’s power, and engender faith in those who see:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (vv. 10-11)

Do not miss Jesus’ stated goals of our doing His works: “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (13)

Just a word about Mr. Turks reference to “sign seeking.” In the body of his open letter he proclaims himself to be well versed in “what actual Cessationists believe.” Evidently, this includes one very hackneyed and spurious misapplication of Matthew 16:4, which I have pointed out elsewhere falls more to the charge of Cessationists than Continuationists. Far from requiring miracles to overcome disbelief, we may join with the early church in their well-received prayer:

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29-31)

Apparently, God was pleased to do so, even if Mr. Turk would rather not:

 I deny that explicitly-supernatural outworkings, or events the Bible calls ‘signs and wonders’ (e.g. – Acts 2:1-11, Acts 3:3-7, Acts 5:1-11, Acts 9:32-35, etc.) are either normative or necessary for the on-going life of the church.

I would have thought this included the “word of knowledge,” but then Mr. Turk makes a negative assertion which would seem to require omniscience on his part to make:

I deny that there is any man alive today who is gifted to perform miracles as Christ and the Apostles where gifted to perform miracles.

I will not presume to point to such a person either, though by our Lord’s own words in John 14:12, if I believe Jesus Christ, I ought not strongly doubt that He knew whereof He spoke.

How are we to account Mr. Turk’s denials, which–not to put too fine a point on it–would seem to run directly contrary to the Scriptures, apostolic authority, and the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ?

In the topsy-turvy world of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, firemen no longer put out fires but start them. What are we to say of this world, which sees a “Pyromaniac” with no qualms against quenching? Farbeit from me to resort to Driscoll’s W-word, but it seems to me that the Church really does need all the good gifts that the Father has chosen, the Son promised, and the Spirit willed, since there’s still some “world-tilting” to do.