The Misconception of “Spiritual Gifts” Part 2: There’s One “Spiritual Gift,” Many Manifestations!
Before starting this three-part blog series, we laid the foundation for every Christian to prophesy, heal the sick, and walk in power in The “Spiritual Gifts” Are For All Christians. Then in the last post we saw that “grace-effects” is a better translation than “spiritual gifts,” and that the term is talking about individual manifestations of God’s grace, not “special powers” distributed to certain people.
We are continuing today, and we are getting a little technical in order to give a simple and consistent understanding of what scripture teaches on the matter. Quotes from Garth Weibe, unless otherwise stated, are from his article “Gifts of the Spirit”: Literally not even in the Bible. Quotes from James A. Fowler are from his article on the “charismata”.
The Context Of A Meeting
Combine the understanding that each individual manifestation is a “grace-effect” with the fact that the context of 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 is Paul was giving instructions for how to hold a meeting (1 Corinthians 11:17) “decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:40.) Paul was speaking of an “order” which allowed various people to prophesy and minister.
When we see that, it becomes really simple to understand what Paul is saying. When we meet it isn’t to have a one-man show, but for the various members of Christ’s body to manifest his grace. In a meeting, one person may minister healing to another, and another may prophesy. Yet the one who prophesied may later find himself in a situation in which healing is needed, and same Spirit of Christ will enable him to minister healing.
It’s amazing how I began considering such an interpretation just by reading the text many times and pondering how I could make sense of it without contradicting certain other scriptures. But as I studied what the original language says, it confirmed my thoughts.
Following is a quote from Garth Wiebe’s article “Grace-effects of cure-effects.” Note that when Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 asks “Do all prophesy? Do all speak in tongues?” the fact that he’s talking about something they are presently doing, rather than what they are capable of doing, is congruent with the context of instructions for a meeting. Also, note that Paul actually said he wanted ALL the Corinthian Christians to speak in tongues and prophesy.
There is another point about the phrase in verse 30 for those who use this to argue that there are some who are intrinsically divinely endowed with some “gift,” such as a “gift of healing”: The verb “have” is in the present tense (“are having”). To state the proposition as a timeless fact would require the aorist tense. In that case it would have been spelled εσχον, not εχουσιν. So therefore we are talking about something or someone presently having something, not intrinsically having something. This is consistent with the point that 1 Cor 12 is addressing the different things they are presently doing (diversity of function in unity), and not the things that they are capable of doing.
In the analogous case for tongues, we say the same: Mark 16, which some choose to make a manuscript dispute of, says γλωσσαις λαλησουσιν καιναις, “in new tongues they will be speaking. 1 Cor 14:5, for which there is no dispute of manuscript, says θελω δε παντας υμας λαλειν γλωσσαις “I am willing yet all you(plural) to be speaking in tongues,” present indicative. That’s θελω (Strong’s G2309, “thelo”), English “willing” as in “deciding/determining” and not English “willing” as in “it’s okay with me.”
If it were “I am intending,” it would be βουλομαι (Strong’s G1014, “boulomai”), “I am wishing” (declaring a wish/vow for something that is not yet) would be ευχομαι (Strong’s G2172, “euchomai”), “I am desiring” would be επιθυμεω (Strong’s G1937, “epithumeo”), but none of those words was the one used.
He then supersedes that present indicative clause in 1 Cor 14:5 with the “rather” that they may be prophesying, present subjunctive. Here, too, it is present tense, not aorist tense. The context of the “present tense” is their meetings. They should all “speak” (aorist tense) in tongues; that does not mean they should all “be speaking” (present tense) in tongues in every scenario.
We Receive One Gift With Various Expressions According To The Need
I have never liked when people told me I have a “gift of healing” because to me, healing is about who Jesus is. When people tell me that healing is “your spiritual gift,” what is usually implied is that it’s not theirs. In this way, many people miss the point, which is the revelation of Jesus through people being healed.
From the beginning, healing miracles began to happen through me because I had a revelation of who Jesus is, and that revelation of Jesus is always what I’ve wanted other people to catch. I hate when it becomes about a “special ability” that a “special person” has instead of about Jesus. And that’s simply not how it works. It’s not about a “special ability.” It’s about knowing Jesus and his grace manifesting through our lives as we commune with the Holy Spirit and act in faith.
James Fowler’s article confirms my sentiments, explaining how the translation of “charismata” as “spiritual gifts” in English tends to separate them from the person of Christ, as if they were special powers received separately from receiving the Spirit of Christ.
When the charismata or pneumatika are translated as “spiritual gifts” and conceived to be detached entities or abilities distinct from Christ and distributed by the Spirit, the fallacious misconceptions continue to be perpetuated, and the problems associated with such continue to persist, both in denial and abuse. Underlying these misconceptions is a faulty trinitarian theology that improperly separates the actions of the persons (identities) of the Godhead, disjoining their homoousian unity of Being by emphasis on the activity of one apart from another, thus failing to keep their homoergon activity united within the diversity of its expression. This, then, is a serious theological perversion that has plagued Christian understanding of the charismata from the earliest reference to such.
Quoting Garth Wiebe:
The only actual spiritual “gift” or “gratuity” we get is the Holy Spirit.
In Luke 11:13 Jesus says,
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The word here for “gifts” is δοματα (plural of δομα), and it also uses the verb “give” twice. Also note that the Holy Spirit is singular, not plural, even though it is compared to “gifts” (plural) that we give to our children. Our Heavenly Father gives us one gift, and that is the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 2:38 “…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…” the word for “gift” is “dorean” (gratuity) and is singular.
Both Garthe Wiebe and James Fowler point out that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was written to immature Christians, and it was because of their immaturity that they tended to focus on the specific manifestations rather than on Christ whom the manifestations were an expression of. It’s ironic that so many people today misinterpret Paul’s teaching in such a way that they fall into the same error he was correcting in the Corinthian church.
We’ve made a lot of interesting points so far. They may have brought up the question: “If every Christian can prophesy, heal the sick, and do works of power, and the only ‘spiritual gift’ is the Holy Spirit, what about the fact that we are the body of Christ with different members?”
We’ll talk about that in the next post The Misconception of “Spiritual Gifts” Part 3: The Body Of Christ