God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



© Rosemary Bardsley 2009



Speaking or teaching gifts, in some form, are included in every list. These gifts and their meanings are:

Apostle. [The word ‘apostle’ means ‘one who is sent’; Greek: apostello – I send.]

There are two distinct uses of this word in the New Testament:

First use:

The 11 faithful disciples, plus Matthais [Acts 1] and Paul [Acts 9] are called ‘apostles’. They were commissioned by Christ to be the custodians of the truth and the foundation of the church. These men were witnesses of the resurrected Jesus. They were sent by Christ, and their apostleship was confirmed by God with the marks of an apostle [Romans 15:17-19; 2Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:1-4]. This use of the word ‘apostle’ is reserved only for these men. Their role of establishing the church and establishing the truth of the Gospel is unrepeatable. Their message is placed alongside of the message of the Old Testament prophets as the ‘foundation’ upon which the church is built [Ephesians 2:20; 1Timothy 2:7; 2Peter 3:2; Revelation 21:14]. This foundational gift of apostleship by which the church and the truth was established clearly applies only to these specific men. It is as unrepeatable as the incarnation of Christ.

[For further study on the once-for-all foundational nature of these apostles and their message please go to the study ‘Know the fundamental Difference’ in the ‘How to Deal with False Teaching’ study series.]

Second use:

There are others who are called ‘apostle’ in the New Testament who do not belong in the above category: Jesus’ brother James [Galatians 1:19 – some include him in the above category], Barnabas [Acts 14:4,14], and Andronicus and Junias [Romans 16:7], who are described as ‘outstanding among the apostles’, which infers there were others in addition to them in this category. The Ephesians 4 passage also indicates that apostles have been given to the church as a continuum; their role in the church, along with the other gifts mentioned, is not a one-off foundational role, like that of the 12 plus Paul, but an on-going role. This gift continues to be given in the church today. Christ continues to send people to preach his word and to build and stabilize his church. For example, in modern terminology the word ‘missionary’ actually means ‘one who has been sent’ [Latin: mitto- missum – to send].

Evangelist: [From the Greek: euangellion – good news]

Specifically, this is a gift of preaching the gospel. While all believers are witnesses of Jesus Christ, and while apostles, pastors, prophets and teachers all engage in proclaiming or teaching and expounding the good news, the listing of this gift indicates that there are some Christians who are gifted by God and used by God in evangelism in a way that is over and above the norm.

Pastor: [Latin: pastoris – shepherd]

Specifically, looking after God’s people as a shepherd looks after his sheep. This care for the sheep of necessity involves nourishing them spiritually [from the Word of God], helping them when they are weak and suffering [with Christian love and biblical truth] and protecting them from spiritual dangers [by defining God’s truth and warning of error]. This gift is mentioned only in the Ephesians list; however 1Corinthians 12:8 refers to those who have a ‘message of wisdom’ and the Romans list mentions ‘encouraging’, both which are involved in pastor’s role of shepherding God’s flock.

Prophet: [Greek: prophetes – one who speaks forth the word of God: pro – forth, phemi – to speak.]

The Old Testament prophets proclaimed the word of God to their generation. Directed by God, they referred to God’s self-revelation in the past, they referred to the people’s present sin or present predicament, and affirmed God’s truth as applicable to that situation. Commonly this included warnings of God’s judgment and calls to repentance. Only a small element of their messages was predictive. [This is not to deny the broader truth that all of the Old Testament is prophetic of Christ, and that ‘the law and the prophets’ and ‘all the scriptures’ laid down foundational truths which anticipated and were fulfilled in and by Christ.]

Similarly, those with the gift of prophecy in the New Testament proclaim and apply God’s eternal truth to the contemporary situation.

Does the New Testament ‘gift of prophecy’ mean predicting the future?

In the New Testament we find only two people actually predicting future events: Jesus, who predicted his own death and resurrection, and Agabus, who predicted a famine and Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem.

We cannot, therefore, understand the New Testament gift of prophecy to refer to prediction of future events; we can only understand the gift of prophecy to mean proclaiming the word of God. Thus in Corinthians prophecy is exalted above speaking in languages because the messages of the prophets build up the church by teaching and encouraging. The prophets take the already revealed and established word of God and apply that truth and its commands to the contemporary generation.

[In the Gospels and New Testament letters there is of necessity a future/predictive element in the teaching of both Jesus and the apostles when the subject of their teaching is the last things.]

Does the New Testament gift of prophecy refer to communicating new truth revealed directly to the prophet by God?

Although some sections of contemporary Christianity believe that this is the case, there is no indication in the New Testament that the gift of prophecy meant receiving a message containing new truth directly from the Lord to pass on to others. In fact there are clear indications that such a concept is out of order:

[1] The apostolic letters repeatedly and consistently encourage their readers to hold on to or go back to the original gospel they had received when they first believed, which was announced to them by the apostles [the 12 plus Paul]. They consistently condemn and outlaw anything that is additional, new or different [e.g. Galatians 1:6-9].

[2] Only the foundational apostles and their messages, which were proclaiming the ‘new’ message of Christ and the gospel, are referred to as validated by God by the ‘sign’ gifts. If the prophetic messages were bringing new truth, it is reasonable to assume that they and their messages would also have required validation by the ‘sign gifts’. There is simply no such requirement or validation recorded in relation to those who prophesied. They did not require validation because they were not proclaiming newly revealed truth, but putting before the people, and applying to the contemporary situation, truth that had already been revealed and confirmed.

[3] Thus the messages spoken by those with the gift of prophecy were subject to assessment and criticism by those who heard them [1Corinthians 14:29-30]. Clearly then, the gift of prophecy did not automatically ensure accuracy of what they said; what they said had to be weighed carefully, and if anyone else saw a clearer meaning, he should speak, and the other speaker sit down. Such a provision did not apply to the apostles, who had received their message directly from the Lord Jesus Christ. While the teaching of the foundational apostles was beyond question, and was indeed the benchmark by which all other messages were to be assessed, the teaching of the prophets was not. This rules out the possibility that the teaching of the prophets was new truth that came directly through them from God.

[Note: Agabus’ prediction of Paul’s imprisonment is not a message containing ‘new truth’ about God.]

[A note about contemporary apostles and prophets: There is a movement that identifies itself as ‘The New Apostolic Movement’. This movement claims that there are today prophets and apostles through whom God is speaking (directly) to the present generation in the same way he spoke through the biblical prophets and apostles in the past. It is claimed that these contemporary prophets and apostles have such power and authority that those biblical apostles and prophets will stand in awe of them. It is claimed that the Bible is not enough for twenty-first century man, and that God is now, in addition to and distinct from the scripture, speaking directly through these contemporary apostles and prophets. This is a highly dangerous movement. It undermines the absoluteness, finality and completeness of God’s self-revelation in the scriptures [the ‘prophets’ – Old Testament, and the ‘apostles’ – New Testament]. It also completely ignores the biblical affirmation that Christ is ‘the truth’, that in him God’s self-revelation is complete, that in him all of God’s mystery has been revealed, that in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found. It leaves the church with an open-ended, relativistic concept of truth that is dangerously contrary to the biblical mindset.]


Again we see here an overlap of the gifts. Evangelists teach. Apostles teach. Prophets teach. Pastors teach. But there are also those who are specifically gifted as teachers. They have a God-given ability to understand and explain the meaning of the Word of God. Thus while Paul mentions ‘knowledge’ in his list in 1Corinthians 12:8-10, he doesn’t mention ‘teaching’; and while he mentions ‘teaching’ in his lists in 1Corinthians 12:28-30, he doesn’t mention knowledge. Knowledge and teaching, we can assume, are the same gift. Teachers have been enabled by the Spirit of God to understand his Word and to communicate that knowledge to his church.


The use and impact of the teaching gifts:

While in Corinthians Paul summarizes the impact of these teaching gifts with the one word ‘edify’, in Ephesians he more fully explains the role and significance of these gifts [apostles (of both kinds; but beyond the apostolic age, only the non-foundational kind), prophets, pastors, evangelists, teachers] in the church:

The exercise of the teaching gifts in the church has a flow-on of purpose and impact:

  • The preparation [Greek = complete qualification] of the church for works of service [verse 12].
  • The edification [literally = the building; spiritually = the spiritual advancement] of the body of Christ [verse 12]
  • The attainment [‘until we all reach’] of unity in the church. The focus of this unity is defined: in ‘the faith’ and in ‘the knowledge of the Son of God’ [verse 13]. Note that teaching the true truth unites the body of Christ; it is teaching of error that divides the body of Christ. [Note: but when any error becomes predominant and is accepted by the majority, it appears to anyone looking on that it is the truth that is divisive.] Biblical unity is never at the expense of biblical truth; rather it is grounded upon biblical truth.
  • The attainment of maturity [Greek = complete man – one who has attained the goal or end for which he was created.] This maturity, this ‘complete man’, is further defined by Paul as ‘attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ Thus the teaching gifts have this purpose in the church: to build up each member of the body so that each member both knows the whole truth about Christ and expresses the reality of that knowledge in his/her faith and life, in such a way that the church as a whole, is also a living witness to the full truth and reality of Jesus Christ [verse 13].
  • Stability in the presence of false teachers and their teaching [verse 14]. Note that this is the purpose and result of the exercise of the teaching gifts in the church.
  • Instead of the church falling prey to false teaching, the loving and continuing affirmation and maintenance of the truth [aletheuo = to speak or maintain the truth] results in the church and its individual members looking not to themselves but increasingly and constantly to Christ, their Head, for all things [verse 15,16]. False teaching, on the other hand, makes us look to ourselves, or to some other head, for salvation, for the knowledge of God, and for spiritual growth and maturity.
  • This unity and stability in Christ depends on each member of the church, in concern for the well being of the other, exercising their God-given gifts and fulfilling their God-given role [verse 16].



Christians disagree on which gifts are ‘sign gifts’. Of those listed below as sign gifts I would perhaps exclude ‘faith’ and ‘distinguishing between spirits’; but where else to classify them is problematic. Each of the gifts listed below are mentioned only in the lists in 1Corinthians, and have no equivalent in any other New Testament gift-list.

[1] Faith. By this we must understand something distinct from that faith with which we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved, and distinct from that trust in the sovereign rule of God that sustains us through the changing conditions of our lives. It was most likely concurrent with the gift of healing and miracle-working – 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.’

[Note the difference between this faith and the ‘word faith’ taught and expressed 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 faith is directed but in a supposed creative power inherent in faith itself, or in the words spoken in faith. Biblical faith is never faith in faith, or faith in the power of faith; it is always faith in God.]

[2] Gifts of healings. 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 raise questions about contemporary practice and expectation:

  • Nowhere is an individual called ‘a healer’ or a ‘faith healer’.
  • Nowhere is an 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’ identifying the specific illnesses of those in the crowd.
  • Nowhere are there failed attempted healings.
  • Nowhere are there temporary healings.
  • Nowhere do the apostolic healings depend on the faith or the sinlessness of the victim. 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.

[3] Workings of miracles. [See also Topical Study on Miracles]. Note the Greek: ‘workings of miracles’ [1 Corinthians 12:10], and simply ‘miracles’ [12:29,30]. 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 contemporary deliverance ministries and practices.

[4] Distinguishing between spirits.

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 1 John 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 recognize 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’. 

[5] Diversity of languages [today called ‘speaking in tongues’]

The word commonly translated ‘tongues’ is the normal word for languages – glossa.

Because ‘speaking in tongues’ has come to mean something other than speaking in languages, this study will use the term ‘speaking in languages’ as this is its clear meaning in the four passages in which it is referred to in the New Testament.

Speaking in languages in Acts

There are only three reports of speaking in languages in Acts. These are:

[1] Acts 2:1-13

It is not totally clear from the text how many people were involved. From the context it is possible to conclude that only the twelve apostles [the faithful 11 plus Matthias] were involved in this unusual phenomenon – those who heard them asked ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?’ [2:7] and Peter ‘stood up with the eleven’ [2:14]. At most, 120 people were involved [1:15]. All who spoke in languages were Jews, and those who heard them were Jews.

On this occasion it is beyond any doubt that the languages spoken were known human languages. People present recognized their own languages, even their specific dialects.

Not one of those who spoke in languages on this occasion is ever reported to have spoken in languages again.

[2] Acts 10:44-48

Those involved in speaking in languages in Acts 10 are Cornelius and his household. Again, a limited number of people. These people were Gentiles. Jewish Christians, including an apostle, were present. There is nothing to indicate that Peter and his companions joined with the Cornelius household in speaking in languages.

Although the text does not state that the languages were recognized, the comment in 10:46 indicates that what they were saying was recognized as praising God. This is further validated by Peter’s comments on this in 11:15 and 15:8 where Peter states that what happened to Cornelius and his household was identical to what happened to himself and the other apostles in Acts 2. In Acts 2 the content of the spoken languages was ‘the wonders of God’ [2:11].

[3] Acts 19:1-7

‘About twelve men in all’ spoke in languages. These were disciples of John the Baptist who had just heard about and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. At least one Jewish Christian, who was also an apostle, was present. There is no comment about what was said.

[There is another occasion, in which it is possible that people spoke in languages, but it is not stated that they did. In Acts 8:14-17 Samaritan believers were baptized by the Holy Spirit. It is clear that this reception of the Holy Spirit was evident to those looking on. Whether this observable evidence included speaking in languages is not stated. Jewish believers who were also apostles were present.]

Summary of speaking in languages in Acts:

These three reports [Acts 2,10 and 19] are the only references to speaking in languages in Acts. 

  • There are no commands to speak in languages.
  • The ability to speak in languages is not called a ‘gift’ or a ‘spiritual gift’.
  • There are no commands to seek the ‘gift’ of languages.
  • There are no instructions relating to the way this ability should be used.

The common factors in these three reports are:

  • Only a small number of people were involved.
  • It occurred in a public context not a private, personal context.
  • There is no record that the people involved ever spoke in languages again, or expected to do so.
  • Jewish Christians who were also apostles were present.
  • Its occurrence gave clear evidence that the people involved had been baptised with the Holy Spirit which indicated that they had been accepted by God into his people.
  • Each group is from a people or social group from which, prior to the occasion in question, no one had received the Holy Spirit.

Some significant facts:

  • Peter was astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles [10:45]. He clearly did not expect this to happen, and the only reason he and his companions were convinced it had happened was that ‘they heard them speaking in tongues’ [10:46].
  • Peter, reporting this to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, who were criticizing him for eating with the Gentiles, said ‘As I began to speak the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning’ [11:15]. Notice that Peter did not say ‘as he comes on all who believe’. He had to refer right back to what happened on the Day of Pentecost.
  • Similarly, reporting to the church Council in Jerusalem, Peter states ‘God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us’ [Acts 15:8]. He did not say, ‘just as he does to everyone’ when they believe. He had to again refer right back to the apostles’ reception of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
  • It is also clear in these reports that Peter considered this physically evident demonstration of the reception of the Holy Spirit as God’s affirmation of the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Gospel and the church on the sole basis of faith in Jesus Christ. Note ‘God … showed that he accepted them’ by this evidence.
  • This evidence was not reported in relation to the majority of conversions mentioned in Acts. Thousands of Jews were converted on the day of Pentecost and promised both forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, but it is not reported that any of them spoke in languages, nor were they promised that they would speak in languages. Once each people group [Jew – Acts 2, (Samaritan – Acts 8), Gentile – Acts 10, disciples of John the Baptist – Acts 19] had by this means been clearly affirmed by God for inclusion in the gospel, there are no further reports of anyone speaking languages in Acts, either initially at conversion with its accompanying reception of the Spirit, or in the on-going Christian life.
  • There is no report of speaking in languages, or any expectation of speaking in languages, as part of the normal Christian life and worship.

Speaking in languages in Corinth

Apart from these three occasions in Acts, the only other references to speaking in languages in the New Testament are in 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.

In these chapters we find the following clear facts:

[1] Speaking in languages is included only in the three lists of spiritual gifts that Paul gives in these chapters [12:10, 28,30]. [Note: it does not occur in the three gift-lists in other New Testament letters.]

[2] The gift of speaking in languages was not given to every believer [12:10,30]. It, like other gifts, was given as the Holy Spirit determined [12:11].

[3] Paul includes the gift of speaking in languages in a group of gifts rated as less important than the teaching gifts [12:27-28], and extols the superiority of messages spoken in the common language over and above speaking in another language [14:2-5,19].

[4] A message spoken in another language does not edify those present [14:2-5, 9, 11,17] nor can anyone identify with or affirm that message [14:16]. It is actually useless [14:7-11].

[5] This gift must therefore not be used unless someone is present who has the gift of interpretation [14:5,13, 27-28].

[6] It was possible for an individual person to have both the gift of languages and the gift of interpretation of languages [14:5,13]. In fact Paul commands those who have the gift of languages to pray that they may also be able to interpret, so that the church will benefit.

[7] When Paul mentions that speaking in a language [without interpretation] edifies the speaker he did not thereby express approval of use of uninterpreted languages, but rather was pointing out that this was contrary to the purpose that the gifts were given, that is, the edification of the church.

[8] Interpretation of the language changes the message from something useless to something with a similar impact to messages spoken in the common language [14:5-6].

[9] The purpose of the gift of languages [where there is no interpretation] was not directed at believers, but at unbelievers, particularly unbelieving Jews, as a sign/indication of God’s judgment [14:20-23]. The significance of these verses is serious – that to hear someone speaking in languages (uninterpreted) is an extreme expression of God’s judgment on those who have rejected his word; that judgment is this - that they hear the word of God spoken, but cannot understand it, a concept of judgment that occurs in a number of places in the Scripture. [See the Analytical Study on Corinthians for a more comprehensive explanation.]

[10] No more than 2 or 3 persons should speak in other languages [14:27] in a church meeting.

[11] The gift of languages was not permanent [13:8]. [Please read the Analytical Study on Corinthians for extended study on this passage.]

[12] There is no indication that speaking in languages occurred as a private devotional exercise or that Paul encouraged such a practice. Paul’s clear expectation is that it is carried on in the context of the church, with interpretation, because the whole purpose of all of the gifts is the benefit of others, the benefit of the body of Christ, the church, not oneself [12:7 etc]. All of the gifts, including the gift of languages, are simply pointless exercised in isolation. [This corporate purpose of the gifts is also evident in the other gift passages.]

[13] Paul expressed his preference to engage both his mind and his spirit [speaking in a known language] over just engaging his spirit alone [speaking in an unknown language] [14:13-15].

[14] In his contemporary situation, when the gift of languages was still present, Paul instructed the Corinthians not to forbid the exercise of this gift [14:39].


Contrasting the teaching in Corinthians 12 – 14 with contemporary Christian practice:

When we look at what Paul taught in 1Corinthians 12 – 14 we become aware of a range of differences between these chapters and perceptions of speaking in languages in contemporary Christianity:

[1] Several of Paul’s commands and perceptions about speaking in languages are not affirmed by contemporary Charismatic, and some non-charismatic, understanding:

  • Whereas Paul affirms that not everyone speaks in languages, some groups within contemporary Christianity insist that ‘speaking in tongues’ is the initial evidence either of conversion or of being baptized by the Spirit. They regard people without this gift either as unconverted, or as not having received the baptism of the Spirit.
  • Whereas Paul sees speaking in languages as something done in the church and for the benefit of church [if interpreted], some contemporary Christians understand it to have a personal, devotional purpose and impact. It is commonly practiced in private to enhance one’s prayer life, to enhance one’s relationship with God, etc. It has down-graded from being a gift given for the edification of the church to something engaged in as a private, personal spiritual experience.
  • Whereas Paul denies strongly and repeatedly that uninterpreted languages have any benefit for the church, some contemporary charismatic practice places great emphasis and importance on corporate speaking in [uninterpreted] languages, encouraging and even manipulating the congregation to sing, pray, speak in ‘tongues’ en masse, without any expectation of interpretation. The ‘tongues’ themselves have become the focus, whereas in Paul’s perception it was the truth-message contained in the language, and interpreted into the common language, that was important.
  • Whereas Paul clearly understood speaking in languages to contain a God-given message, some contemporary charismatic practice views it more as a spiritual experience.
  • Whereas Paul understands the languages spoken as human languages capable of interpretation/translation, contemporary ‘tongues’ are not necessarily considered by those engaging in them to be human languages or even real languages at all.
  • Whereas Paul ranks speaking in languages in the least significant group of spiritual gifts, some contemporary Christians, like the Corinthians whom Paul rebuked, tend to give it great significance, sometimes over and above teaching gifts.
  • Whereas Paul sees uninterpreted languages as God’s judgment on unbelieving (Jews), contemporary charismatic practice views speaking in ‘tongues’ [which are usually uninterpreted] as a highly desirable experience for believers.
  • Whereas Paul anticipated that the gift of languages would cease, contemporary Christianity has to a large extent persuaded itself that the gift of languages continued throughout the history of the church and was intended by God to continue.

[2] In addition, four of Paul’s instructions are commonly blatantly disregarded today:

  • The requirement that speaking in languages must be accompanied by interpretation.
  • The requirement that not more than 2 or 3 messages in languages should be given.
  • That only one person at a time is to speak in languages.
  • His command that the gift of proclaiming the word of God should be preferred above ‘tongues’.


It is obvious that much of what is said about ‘tongues’ today, and the use of ‘tongues’ today, is different from what we find in the biblical evidence and the biblical teaching. This should at the very least cause Christians involved in tongues today, or uncertain what to think of contemporary tongues, to ask serious questions about the validity of contemporary perceptions and practice.


[6] Interpretation of languages

The gift of interpreting languages is mentioned only in 1Corinthians 12 – 14. Obviously its presence is meaningless without the presence of the gift of speaking in languages. From Paul’s teaching in 1Corinthians 14 we understand that a message spoken in a language is also useless unless that message is interpreted. When it is interpreted it then has the ability to edify the church.

From his teaching we understand:

  • The gift of interpretation of languages was an essential prerequisite for the use of the gift of languages.
  • The messages spoken in languages were rational and meaningful messages.
  • The messages spoken in languages were for the edification of the church.
  • When interpreted, they had the same impact on the church as the teaching gifts.



The service gifts are less spectacular and generally less public than either the teaching gifts or the sign gifts. They are not the kind of gifts that people automatically want to have.

They are like the teaching gifts, and unlike the sign gifts, in that they involve hard work and self discipline, time and effort. 

Their description is the most simple of all the gifts. The examples of the service gifts mentioned in the New Testament are:


This is a special endowment for leadership and governance within the church.


This is a special endowment of giving – of money, of goods, of time, of service – for the benefit of God’s people in need and the extension of Christ’s kingdom.


This is a special endowment of that kindness and generosity of heart, along with compassion, by which a person has a special gift of helping those with a great range of needs within the body of Christ.


This is a special endowment of hospitality the loves to open and share the home to all and sundry, especially, but not limited to, those within the body of Christ.


This is a special endowment of a loving, compassionate, merciful spirit that expresses love and mercy beyond the norm, especially within the body of Christ.


Possibly very similar to ‘helps’, and often present with a range of other gifts, this is the endowment of a heart that loves to serve the body of Christ.



[1] Each of the descriptions above specifies the application and use of these gifts ‘in the church’, or towards ‘the body of Christ’. This is because Paul clearly states that the spiritual gifts are given ‘for the common good’ and Peter exhorts his readers to exercise these service gifts towards ‘one another’. The use of these service gifts within the body of Christ thus contributes to the overall well-being of the body. To fail to use these gifts in the context of the body is to deprive the body of the benefit God intended through the exercise of these gifts.

This does not exclude the use of these gifts in the wider community, but the God-given purpose of these gifts is the health of his church.

[2] With the exception of ‘administration’ each of the service gifts are actions or attitudes which are elsewhere commanded of everyone, irrespective of whether or not we have that specific ‘gift’.