1CORINTHIANS 12:1-11 – INTRODUCING SPIRITUAL GIFTS
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
For a comprehensive study on the gifts of the Spirit, go here.
For more detailed analysis of each gift, go here.
In Chapters 12 to 14 Paul continues to address order in the church, particularly in church meetings. In Chapter 11 he addressed two issues: inappropriate dress in public worship and inappropriate attitudes in the Lord's Supper. In Chapter 12 he addresses inappropriate attitudes to 'spiritual gifts' which were compromising the unity of the body. In Chapter 13 he describes the love that should characterise the Church, in contrast to the one-up-manship and arrogance of the Corinthians. In Chapter 14 he further addresses 'spiritual gifts', pointing out that their current usage in the Corinthian Church did not reflect the purpose of the gifts: it was self-exalting rather than edifying the Church. He then describes the fitting and orderly conduct of Church gatherings, focusing mainly on the use of some of the gifts but including a brief section about women.
A. 1CORINTHIANS 12:1-3
The word used for ‘gift’ in 1Corinthians is charisma [plural – charismata]. It means ‘a gift of grace’ with the emphasis on grace on the part of the giver. Neither the giving, nor the thing given, is related to any merit on the part of the recipient. It is freely [uncaused, unearned, undeserved] bestowed. Etymologically, the word is related to joy: chairo – I rejoice; chara - joy, rejoicing; charis – grace; charizomai - I bestow a favour [I cause joy]; charisma - the thing freely bestowed or given, that generates joy because it was not earned, deserved or merited.
[This word – charisma - is used only 17 times in the New Testament [16 in Paul’s letters; 1 in 1Peter]. Of these, 9 clearly refer to what the church commonly calls ‘spiritual gifts’, and 2 may or may not be intended to refer to ‘spiritual gifts’. One passage [Ephesians 4] normally considered to be about spiritual gifts does not use this word.]
The terms ‘spiritual gifts’ and ‘spiritual gift’ do not occur in 1Corinthians in the Greek text: Paul refers (1) to ‘gifts’ without the word ‘spiritual’ and (2) to ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituals’ without the word ‘gifts’.
1Corinthians 12 to 14 is the only place where the phrase ‘spiritual gifts’ [plural] occurs in the (English) New Testament. It occurs here three times: 12:1; 14:1; 14:12 . But … as mentioned above ...
The phrase ‘spiritual gifts’ does not occur in the Greek text of the New Testament. In these verses in 1Corinthians, where it appears in English translations, the Greek text simply uses the plural of the adjective ‘spiritual’ in a noun form ‘the spirituals’ – ton pneumatikon. [12:1 – Genitive plural], ta pnuematika [14:1 – Accusative, plural, neuter], or the noun ‘spirits’ [14:12]. In each case the word ‘gifts’ has been added by translators. Paul's meaning could be 'spiritual things' or 'spiritual matters', especially in 12:1 and 14:1.
Paul prefaces his lengthy teaching about the gifts with three points:
He does not want them to be ignorant about spiritual things.
He mentions their pagan past in which they were led astray to mute idols [the word used – apago – is predominately used in contexts of being led away to destruction.]
He mentions the role of the Holy Spirit in the exaltation/acknowledgement of Jesus Christ.
Although Paul does not specify what it is, there is something significant in his reference to their pagan past [he has mentioned this idolatrous/demonic past previously in this letter]. From the context we can safely infer that at least part of that significance here is a connection between ignorance concerning spiritual things and being led to destruction by idols. [It is relatively easy to access information about the widespread idolatry that characterised Corinth in the New Testament era. There is evidence that ‘speaking in tongues’ and ‘prophesying’ were involved in this pagan worship, and that women [including temple prostitutes] played a key role in these religions. What we cannot say for sure is what specific aspects of their ignorance and their pagan past Paul has in mind in 12:1-2].
Similarly, Paul’s reason for writing verse 3 is not clear to us, even though for the original readers its significance must have been obvious. All we can do is ask a few questions:
Were they denying the real incarnation, in the same way as they were questioning the real resurrection?
Were the Corinthian Christians wrongly assuming that the spirit behind their former religious practices was the same as the Spirit who now empowered them with ‘spiritual gifts’?
Did these same people previously ‘speak in tongues’ in their pagan worship? And if so, what connection were they making between that and their present ‘speaking in tongues’? Did they think they were the same thing?
Did they think their new spiritual gifts were to be used in the same way and for the same purpose as their ecstatic activities in their pagan worship?
Did their attitude to ‘spiritual gifts’ reflect their former beliefs in the multitude of pagan gods that were worshipped in Corinth – a belief system in which there were different gods for different aspects of nature and different activities? And that this supposed division of sources flowed on to create divisions in the church?
With this mindset that encouraged divisions, were they exalting the Spirit [the supposed giver of the gifts] and demoting Christ, making him inferior to the Spirit and creating a division in the Trinity?
Whatever the answer, there was something wrong in their attitude to and understanding of spiritual gifts that caused Paul to write verse 3 in which he stresses belief in the real deity and incarnation of Christ, and in which he also stressed the intimate synergy between Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God. What he goes on to say in verses 4 to 6, could indicate that either or both of the last two questions listed above may identify the problem Paul was confronting.
Clearly, something was happening that created division, not only among the believers, but also in the Trinity, as they perceived it.
One thing that we must not conclude from verse 3 is that everyone who says the words 'Jesus is Lord' has done so as a result of the working of the Spirit. Jesus makes it clear that some people say to him 'Lord, Lord' but he says to them 'I never knew you' [Matthew 7:21-23].
B. 1CORINTHIANS 12:4-6
Read verses 4-6. Answer these questions:
 What three words are used to refer to the 'gifts'?
 What three sources of the 'gifts' are identified?
 How does Paul express the unity of the gifts?
Throughout this letter Paul has rebuked his readers for the divisions and the personal arrogance that characterize them. That same insensitivity to each other in the body of Christ is evident yet again in the context of public worship, and in particular in their attitude to and use of 'spiritual gifts'. Now what he has taught earlier becomes focused on and applied to the question of the source, role and use of 'spiritual gifts' – an area in which the divisions, arrogance and insensitivity needed prolonged attention.
 The triune God – Father, Son and Spirit – is the one source of the gifts.
 This one source of the gifts is stressed by Paul in chapter 12; the unity of the body [the church] in which the gifts are used is also stressed. Whatever we conclude about the gifts, this passage forbids us to understand them as a cause or point of division within the church, but as something given by the one God to enhance the church which constitutes one body. The possession of a particular gift cannot and must not divide one believer from another.
 The ‘gifts’ are also called ‘service’ and ‘workings’. The meaning of these words is: (a) diakonia – service, ministry, function, office, commission; (b) energema [used only here in the NT] - working, operation. Paul is not here talking about three different functions, one for each person on the Trinity; he is talking at each point about the same ‘gifts’ given by the one God, but referring to them with different words. The fact that the ‘gifts’ are also referred to as ‘service’ or ‘ministry’ speaks against all personal, self-focused, and/or self-exalting use of the gifts. Service and ministry are essentially other-directed and other-focused.
 Obviously God gives a range of abilities and ministries to his people. That is quite evident and not disputed. However, in calling these abilities and ministries ‘spiritual gifts’ the church seems to have given them an attraction and significance that perhaps the scripture never intended. They are ‘gifts’, yes. But they are also ‘service’ or ‘ministries’; they are also ‘workings’ or ‘operations’. They are not given to the individual for the individual; they are given to the individual to use [operate] in service of the body, the church. Or, it could be stated even more forcefully: that the gifts, manifested in the God-given abilities of individuals within the church, are given to the church.
C. 1CORINTHIANS 12:7-11
Read verses 7-11. From these verses identify:
 the source of the gifts
 the purpose of the gifts
 the gifts
 the way the gifts are distributed
 who decides the distribution of the gifts
The source of the gifts
The gifts are here called ‘the manifestation of the Spirit’ [12:7; Greek: phanerosis – this word is used only here and in 2Corinthians 4:2. It is a noun, related to the adjective phaneros, which means open, visible, known, and to the verb phaneroo, which means to make clear, visible or known. So ‘manifestation of the Spirit’ refers to the clear and evident presence of the Spirit. The fact that Christians are endowed with 'spiritual gifts' is evidence of the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
This source of the gifts, the one Spirit, is mentioned 6 times in these verses:
‘manifestation of the Spirit’
‘through the Spirit’
‘by means of the same Spirit’
‘by the same Spirit’
‘by that one Spirit’
‘all these are the work of one and the same Spirit’
Paul's emphasis on the common source of all the gifts is in stark contrast to the divisions generated by the abuse of the gifts in the Corinthian church.
The purpose of the gifts
The purpose of the gifts is ‘the common good’ [12:7]; the Greek - sumphero – literally means ‘bring together’; it is usually translated as profit, advantage, expedience. Its literal meaning ‘bring together’, along with its common usage as ‘profit’ or ‘expedient’, together speak against the Corinthians' attitude to their spiritual gifts which was dividing the church and profiting individuals rather than benefiting and building up the church as a body.
The distribution of the gifts
While stressing the source of all the gifts as the ‘one and the same Spirit’ Paul also stresses that the gifts are distributed among the believers; they are not all given to the same person. The gifts are given to ‘each’ [verses 7 and 11] but ‘each’ does not have the same as ‘another’ [verses 8-10].
The determining cause or reason why a particular gift is given to a particular person is the will of the Spirit – ‘just as he determines’ [ 12:11 ; Greek = boulomai = intend, determine, will, appoint, decree]. This outlaws any personal bragging about the particular gift one has received.
The lists of 'gifts' given here and in verses 27-30, are the earliest of the 'gift' lists. [The other lists are in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1Peter 4. Go here to see these lists of the gifts.] Only the lists in 1Corinthians contain the 'sign'/miraculous type of gifts. It is obvious from these lists that there was not a fixed list of gifts of the Spirit. It is also obvious that several qualities or abilities identified here as 'gifts' are elsewhere in the Scripture the objects of biblical commands. This should make us quite careful about the significance we place on the 'gifts'.
C.1 The gifts listed in verses 6-10
The list of gifts in these verses is the most extensive of the New Testaments gift lists; even so, it contains none of the 'service' type gifts. It lists the gifts randomly, without any reference to the relative importance of each gift. The list in verses 27 and 28 deliberately lists several of the gifts in order of their importance. This order is repeated in the mention of gifts in verses 29 and 30. Go here for extended comments on the various gifts.
In these verses Paul lists three of the teaching gifts – gifts by which the Church is instructed in both God's truth and God's standards - by which the Church is taught what to believe and how to live. Although each has a specific meaning, there is some overlap of these gifts.
'the message of wisdom' – (the gift of apostleship) – verse 8. This is the only place in the New Testament where a gift of the Spirit is described with these words. My belief is that it is, primarily, a reference to the gift of apostleship, which Paul mentions first in the two lists later in this chapter. The apostles proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is elsewhere termed the 'wisdom of God' [1Corinthians 1:18-30; 2:6-16; Colossians 1:25-2:3]. Secondarily, it may also include the gifts of 'evangelist' and 'pastor', who also proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These two gifts are not mentioned in the Corinthian lists; they are mentioned as gifts only in the Ephesians 4 list.
Note that the New Testament refers to two different kinds of 'apostles'.
 There are the original foundational [and therefore unique and unrepeatable] apostles commissioned by Jesus Christ – the eleven faithful disciples, plus Matthias [Acts 1], plus Paul. By the ministry of these men the Gospel was originally proclaimed and the Church was established [Ephesians 2:20; 3:5]. They defined foundational Christian belief before the New Testament existed.
 Christians engaged in proclaiming the message of Christ, much the same as 'missionaries' today. The word 'apostle' is from the Greek apostello – I send; the word 'missionary' is from the Latin mittere/missus – I send. We read of such apostles in Romans 16:7, and of false 'apostles' in 2Corinthians 11:13.
'the message of knowledge' – verse 8. Again this is the only place where the New Testament defines a gift with these words. Given that four of the other five lists include the gift of 'teachers', it is reasonable to assume that this 'message of knowledge' is a reference to the gift of teaching. It differs from the gift of apostleship in two ways:  apostles, by definition, are sent. They are not settled in one place;  the original apostles, including Paul, and what they taught, constituted the foundation upon which the Church was established. Teachers teach the truth that was already established and defined by the apostles. It includes both teaching what to believe and teaching how to live. Note that Paul had the gift of teaching as well as apostleship [1Timothy 2:7; 2Timothy 1:11].
'prophecy' – verse 10. Because of our preconceptions, the words 'prophecy' and 'prophesy' give the immediate impression that the future is in focus. This, however, is a misconception. Prophecy may contain a future element (an element of prediction of the future), but the presence of such an element is not confined to 'prophecy'. Every section of the Old Testament contains predictive elements – the Law, the Psalms and other writings, the prophets, the historical narratives – all of these point us forward to the coming of Christ and his saving death. Such predictions are present in the prophetic books, just as they are in the other books. But these predictive elements are by no means the main message of the Old Testament prophets and do not define ‘prophecy’.
The Greek is propheteuo – which means to speak forth. [Note that it does not mean, as commonly assumed, to speak in advance.] A prophet is a spokesperson for someone else. In the case of the Old Testament prophets they were clearly the spokesmen for God. They spoke the message and will of God to his rebellious people.
If we look at the Old Testament prophets it is quite easy to describe the content of the bulk of what they said and wrote: they reminded the people of already known truth about God; they pointed out how the present behaviour of the people conflicted with that already known truth; they urgently commanded the people to repent, to return to God; they spoke of the judgment that must fall if they did not repent.
To put it briefly: the Old Testament prophets took the already known truth about God and applied it in and to their contemporary setting, urgently commanding and calling rebellious people, who claimed to believe in God and to be God's people, back to an authentic faith and an authentic expression of faith in which God would be honoured rather than dishonoured.
Prophecy is thus extremely confrontational and relevant. It is the same truth that is taught by apostles and teachers, but applied with urgency to specific contemporary situations of rebellion and sin.
Included under this heading are gifts that have an obvious 'miraculous' nature – they are obviously the direct result of supernatural intervention or empowerment.
'faith' – verse 9. Every Christian has faith – that is how they become a Christian - and that faith is a gift of God [Ephesians 2:9]. But this gift of 'faith' spoken of in 1Corinthians 12:9 is something beyond that gift of faith common to all Christians. It is also distinct from that trust in the sovereign rule of God that sustains us through the changing conditions of our lives. It most likely went hand in hand with the gift of healing and miracle-working (as it does here in this verse) – the faith which enabled Peter to take the hand of the crippled man and tell him to get up and walk, and to say to the dead Dorcas ‘Get up.’ That was a special, Spirit-given faith needed on those occasions.
[Note that there is a very real difference between this gift of faith and the ‘word faith’ taught and practised in some circles today. Peter, trusting in God, addressed the person, calling the person to respond. Word faith, trusting in its own power, addresses the non-person – the situation, the diseased body parts, the financial situation – believing not in the God towards whom biblical faith is directed but in a supposed creative power inherent in faith itself, or in the words spoken in faith. Biblical faith, including this 'gift' of faith in verse 9, is never faith in faith, or faith in the power of faith; it is always faith in God.]
'gifts of healing' – verse 9. [This gift if listed only in 1Corinthians.] Note that the Greek text reads ‘gifts of healings’, not ‘the gift of healing’ or ‘gifts of healing’. It would seem that it is the actual healings that are the gifts, rather than the ability to miraculously heal. Thus God gave the apostles ‘healings’ [that is, God healed people through them] as confirmations of their commission and their message. The number of healings reported is very, very small. The number of people involved is also very small.
In addition, attention must be drawn to the following facts from Acts and the New Testament letters that put cautionary boundaries around our understanding of this 'gift':
Nowhere is an individual called ‘a healer’ or a ‘faith healer’.
Nowhere is a specific individual reported to have ‘the gift of healing’.
Nowhere is there any report of healing meetings being held. Healings were never the focus or the purpose of the apostolic ministry; they were always unplanned, incidental and unexpected.
Nowhere is there an instance of a ‘healer’ supernaturally identifying the specific illnesses of those in the crowd.
Nowhere are there failed attempted healings or temporary healings.
Nowhere do the apostolic healings depend on the faith or the sinlessness of the patient. Indeed many of those healed were not believers in Christ at the time.
Paul, whose apostleship and message were confirmed by miraculous healings, dealt with the illnesses of his associates in very ordinary ways – he left one behind sick, he was fearful one would die, he gave therapeutic advice to another, and he himself did not gain healing for his own condition, even though he prayed for it. These non-healing events are further testimony to the fact that the sign gifts have a specific purpose – the affirmation of the apostles and their message. The sign-gift of healings was not there specifically to heal people; it was there to confirm the apostles and the message.
James, rather than advising his readers to seek miraculous healing by means of someone with this gift, advises them to call the elders to come and pray for them when they are sick, not because he assumed the elders would have the gift of healing, but because ‘the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective’ [James 5:16]. If healing was granted it would be God’s miraculous answer to prayers of the group, not the exercise of the sign gift of healing by an individual.
'miraculous powers' – verse 10. Note the Greek: ‘workings of miracles’ [1 Corinthians 12:10], and simply ‘miracles’ [12:28]. Again, as with healings, it would seem that the miracles themselves, are the gift, not the personal ability to work miracles. Exactly what is included in ‘workings of miracles’ or ‘miraculous powers’ is nowhere defined. Given that the word for ‘miracle’ is the normal word for ‘power’, this ‘workings of miracles’, must at the very least be understood to be manifestations of God’s power specifically in and through human agents. From the Acts we could include the two instances of the dead being revived [Peter – Dorcas, Acts 9; Paul – Eutychus, Acts 20]; Paul’s survival from the storm [Acts 27] and the snake bite [Acts 28]; Peter’s infliction of blindness on Elymas [Acts 13].
Whether or not we should include here curing people of demon possession is not clear. Exorcism is not included in any of the gift lists. It is, however, included in Luke’s description of the ‘extraordinary miracles’ which God did through Paul [Acts 19:11-12]. It was Paul’s ability to do this, contrasted with the sons of Sceva’s failure, that confirmed his message and led to the name of Christ being held in high honour in Ephesus [Acts 19:13-20], even moving many to openly renounce their involvement in the occult.
If curing people of demon possession is in fact a ‘sign gift’ given to confirm the apostolic message, then serious questions are raised about some contemporary deliverance ministries and practices.
'distinguishing between spirits' – verse 10. This appears to be a gift of miraculous discernment. This gift is mentioned only in 1Corinthians 12:10, and then without explanation or description. The only other place in the scripture with any similarity is 1John 4:1 where we are all commanded to ‘test the spirits’. John is clearly commanding all of his readers to ‘test’ the spirit that is behind any teaching – is it teaching that comes from the Holy Spirit, or is it teaching that comes from the antichrist? And he indicates that any teaching that does not acknowledge Christ, is actually expressing the spirit of the antichrist. This is a command that remains relevant in every age of the church, and to every believer. [1John 4:1 does not, in context, refer to challenging demon spirits, assumed to be in a person, to identify themselves. Such an interpretation is imported into the text from a person’s presuppositions about demon possession.]
We might consider also 1Corinthians 2:14-16, where Paul teaches that because ‘the things that come from the Spirit of God’ are ‘spiritually discerned’ only true believers can actually understand them. This is neither a command, as in 1John 4:1, nor a specific gift given to individuals, but God’s endowment of spiritual understanding given to all believers. This is not therefore what 1Corinthians 12:10 is referring to.
Some people understand this gift to refer to the ability to identify the presence, or even the identity, of a demonic spirit possessing a person. This interpretation is hard to maintain on the basis of the biblical evidence, because in every case in which demon possession is reported it was actually quite obvious, even common knowledge in some cases, needing no special gift of discernment in order to recognise it. There is not a single report of anyone wondering whether or not a person might be possessed by a spirit and asking Jesus or the apostles to find out whether or not he/she was possessed. They knew. And that was why they brought them for healing.
What then, is this ‘distinguishing between spirits’ in 1Corinthians 12? It is a ‘sign gift’ - a unique ability to discern given to the apostles as yet one more authentication of their apostleship and their message. Hence we find that Peter demonstrates this miraculous ability to discern in Acts 5:3-4 in relation to Ananias and Sapphira; and in Acts 8:18-23 in relation to Simon the sorcerer. Paul exercised this gift in Acts 13:6-10, when he confronted Elymas. Note that he did not identify or cast out a demonic spirit, but identified Elymas as ‘a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right … full of all kinds of deceit and trickery’.
'speaking in different kinds of tongues' - verse 10. The word commonly translated ‘tongues’ is the normal word for languages – glossa. In addition, the word translated by the words 'different kinds' is genos. It can mean 'kinds', but it can also mean 'generation', 'race', 'nation', 'people'. It refers to origins.
Because ‘speaking in tongues’ has come to mean something other than speaking in languages, the term ‘speaking in languages’ will be used in this and following studies. This is its clear meaning in the four passages in which it is referred to in the New Testament – in Acts 2:1-13; 10:44-48; and 19:1-7, and 1Corinthians 12-14, where Paul found it necessary to give extended teaching about speaking in languages because of the self-focused misuse of this gift in the Corinthian church.
This is a miraculous [God-given] ability to communicate in a language not known by the speaker, either as a native speaker or by studying the language.
Because much of Chapter 12 is focused on speaking in languages no more will be said about this gift here.
'interpretation of tongues' – verse 10. That is, the interpretation of languages – a God-given ability to interpret a message spoken in an unknown language by a person with the 'gift of languages'.