Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 and 12:28

Renewalists believe these gifts are for today. This is an old-fashioned Bible study, word by word. line up line.

The sections are titled as follows:



NINEFOLD GIFTS (the nine gifts are numbered)



The gifts in 1 Cor. 12:28 are treated briefly. Instead, the focus here is on the ninefold gifts.

Under each gift are examples of how they operated in the ministries of Jesus and the apostles.


Let’s begin with the translation.

4 There are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are a variety of services, and the same Lord. 6 And there are a variety of workings, but the same God who works everything in everyone. 7 To each the manifestation of the Spirit is given towards the common benefit. 8 For to this person is given through the Spirit a word of wisdom; to another person a word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To a different person faith by the same Spirit; to a different person the gifts of healings by the one Spirit; 10 To a different person workings of miracles; to a different person prophecy; to a different person discernings of spirits; to a different person kinds of (prayer and praise) languages; to another person an interpretation of (prayer and praise) languages; 11 The same, one Spirit works and distributes all these things to each particular individual as he wills. (1 Cor. 12:4-11, my tentative translation)

Brief Comment:

Please note that Paul Walker, writing his essay “The Holy Spirit Gifts and Power,” for the Spirit-Filled Study Bible, says that the gifts in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 are the Spirit’s offerings to Christ’s church; Rom. 12:6-8 indicates that these gifts come from the Father, while the office-gifts in Eph. 4:11 are the Son’s domain (pp. 1941-49). My response is that the demarcation between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may be true, but I would not make a big thing of it. He may be right, however, about the Spirit taking the leading role here.


It is important to understand that the Triunity is involved in the health of the church. Let’s begin a word by word, verse by verse commentary.


“Variety”: it comes from the rich noun diairesis (pronounced dee-I-reh-seess) and is used only 3 times, here in these verses (vv. 4, 5, 6). It is plural (varieties), but I kept it singular (variety).

Please note: Paul often uses the plural in these verses, and sometimes the plural is difficult to sort out. Is it a “collective plural” (variety or varieties) or “true” plural (two or more itemized things). I decided to just translate the words as true plurals, for example, “gifts of healings” (v. 9).

In the bigger Greek world, the Greek noun diairesis means to count up the votes, “dividing,” “a division.” The picture is a separation and division from one source. So a pile of money or votes needs to be separated out and counted, one item at a time.

In the NT it means “a division of something to persons, apportionment, division; a state of differences in the nature of objects or events; difference, variety” (BDAG). All that means is that the Spirit divides up and distributes and apportions different and a variety of gifts.

“the same Spirit” indicates that the Spirit is not divided, but he as a unity distributes these gifts as he wills.


“variety”: see v. 4.

“services”: It is the Greek noun diakonia (pronounced dee-ah-koh-nee-ah). Here it is plural. It could be translated as “ministries.”

As I noted in my commentary on Rom. 12:7, diakonia means, depending on the context, “service,” “office,” “ministry,” “task,” or “aid, support, distribution.” Yes, we get our word deacon from it (1 Tim. 3:10, 13). It evolved into a position at church for a man or woman (Rom. 16:1 and Phoebe) who did practical service, to help the pastor, so he (or she) could focus on the Word of God. But this does not limit the deacons’ service away from the Word, as evidenced in the lives of Stephen and Philip, who were numbered among the seven servants (deacons) (Acts 6), but who also preached the gospel (Acts 7 and 8). It means basic and practical service.

Here are some verses that use the word diakonia.

In 2 Cor. 8:4, Paul praised the Macedonian churches highly because they were eager to share in the service (diakonia) of giving money to the impoverished churches in Judea. And Paul again calls giving money a service (diakonia) (2 Cor. 9:1). Money is very practical.

In Eph. 4:12 Paul says that God gave the office gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints (believers in Jesus who makes them holy) for the works of service (diakonia). Serving is just working or doing good works that God prepared beforehand for us to do.

Finally, even angels perform service (diakonia) to those who are shall inherit salvation (Heb. 1:14).

Other important verses for your further study of the noun: Luke 10:40; Acts 6:1, 4; 11:29; 12:25; 20:24; 21:9; Rom. 11:13; 15:31; 1 Cor. 16:16; 2 Cor. 3:7-9; 4:1; 5:18; 6:3; 8:4; 9:1, 12-13; 11:8; Col. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:12; 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:5; 4:11; Rev. 2:19.


“workings”: it comes from the noun energēma. Yes, it is related our word energy (though the Greek noun energeia is the real source of our English word). Adding the suffix ma– means “the result of,” so the result of working, operating or acting. It means the works of something as in results of working. But as usual, let’s not over-analyze the parts of the word. To a first-century Corinthian it is a sure thing that he just heard it as “workings.” BDAG: it is an activity that impacts on another.

Some theology: Above are three great verses on the activity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Triunity is not an abstract doctrine, but the three persons want to invade your space and gift you, so that you can reach people.

Click here The Trinity: What Does He Mean to Me? and at the end of that linked ten-point post, you can click on other articles on the Trinuity.


“manifestation”: it comes from the Greek noun phanērōsis (pronounced fah-nay-roh-seess), and it is used only twice, here and in 2 Cor. 4:2, but the verb is used 49 times and the adjective 18 times. The noun can mean “disclosure and announcement” (BDAG). But that’s a little arid. I like manifestation, as do the major translations (KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, RSV). In this context it does not connote permanence, for the recipient of the gift (the person) cannot claim it as his own, but the Spirit manifests the gift, and then it subsides until another need arises. It seems to be a brief manifestation, like fireworks that shoot up, display its power, and then disappear, until the Spirit moves again. (No, the fireworks metaphor does not mean “showing off” so the gifted can get hyped-up attention and raise funds.) The manifestation of the gift is produced by the Spirit, visible for all to see, through person’s words and actions.

“common benefit”: I added the word “common,” because it is implied. “Benefit” is the verb sympherō (pronounced soom-feh-roh), and it combines syn (with) and pher– (carry), so picture disparate things being brought together and combined to benefit people. Formally it means “bring together in a heap, bring together; to be advantageous, help, confer, be profitable / useful” (BDAG).

Scriptural Examples:

It is used 15 times. It is translated in the NIV as “good” or “better” (Matt. 5:29-30; 18:6; 19:10; John 11:50; 16:7; 18:4; Heb. 12:10); “beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12; 19:23); “bring together (Acts 19:19); “common good” (here); “best” (2 Cor. 8:10); “gained” (2 Cor. 12:1).


We are still doing a word by word, verse by verse commentary.


“person”: this word has been supplied. I could have said “each” or “one” or “each one,” which is literal, but I wanted to emphasize gender inclusiveness and that the Spirit works through people, male and female. The pronoun is masculine, but in Greek it encompasses men and women, like our word mankind. But if you don’t like it, then just use “one” or “each one.” The point is that everyone gets to play (as John Wimber used to say).

1.. A Word of Wisdom

“through the Spirit”: Paul is really keen to show that the source of the gifts is the Spirit.

“word”: it is the Greek word logos (pronounced loh-gohss), and it may be the richest word in the NT. BDAG devotes six columns of fine print to defining it. It can mean Jesus, who is the Word (John 1:1-3). It can also mean, depending on the context, “communication whereby the mind finds expression—word”; “statement”; “subject under discussion, matter”; it can even be a business accounting term: “computation, reckoning”; or it is really elevated: “an independent personified expression of God, the Logos.”

Other translations: “word” (KJV, NKJV, NASB); “message” (NIV); “wise advice” (NLT); “ability to speak wisdom” (NCV); “speak wisdom” (CEV); “wise counsel” (MSG); “utterance” (ESV).

I like “word,” “statement” or “utterance,” while the others are less acceptable to the charismatic context (and to me). The point is that the Spirit gives an utterance or a word or a statement. It is not multi-session counseling, one on one, over six weeks, when a wise man tells someone how to have a happy marriage (i.e. not as it is implied in the Message or the NLT). It is one manifestation among many.

“wisdom”: It is the Greek word sophia (pronounced soh-fee-ah), and it is always translated by the NIV as “wisdom,” wherever it appears in the NT. The dictionary says “the capacity to understand and function accordingly”; “transcendent wisdom” (BDAG). The adjective sophos (pronounced soh-fohss) means “pertaining to knowing how to do something, in a skillful manner, clever, skillful, experienced”; “pertaining to understanding that results in the wise attitudes and conduct, wise” (BDAG). Those related ideas apply to the noun in this verse. It is practical. You’ll know what to do and say, right when you need it. Timing is essential. It has an extra surge to it, rather than godly wisdom from above that is gained by experience and a relationship with God over a lifetime (Jas. 1:5). Both wisdoms come from God, but here it is charismatic. Finally, Spirit-inspired wisdom is not abstract or speculative, as the philosophical Greeks supposed.

Scriptural Examples:

Sadducees asked Jesus about levirate marriage at the resurrection. Jesus answered them that they are in error, not knowing the Scriptures. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God of the living, not the dead (Matt. 12:18-27). A word of wisdom, to interpret the afterlife.

Jesus was almost caught in a trap after he arrived at Jerusalem, where all sorts of pilgrims were staying. An antagonist asked whether they should pay a tax to Caesar. Not paying a tax was serious business. Jesus asked for a coin and then asked the questioner whose image was on it. “Caesar’s,” came the reply. Jesus answered: Then render to Caesar what is his, and to God what is his. That is a word of wisdom in a tight spot (Luke 20:20-28).

A teacher of the law asked Jesus who a neighbor was. Then Jesus launched into the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). At the end Jesus asked the questioner who the neighbor was—turning the tables. “The one who had mercy on him.” Speaking a parable ex tempore is God-inspired wisdom.

Stephen was full of the Spirit and wisdom, though he may have acquired this through practice (Acts 6:2-3).

Many times the apostles, while speaking publicly and ex tempore, quoted from the Old Testament to proclaim the Messiah. They applied the Scripture wisely (e.g. Acts 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35; 4:11; 25-26; 7:42-43, 48-50; 15:13-19, and so on).

Definition of a Word of Wisdom:

Based on all that information, we are now ready for a definition. A word of wisdom is expressed when the Spirit inspires a word or statement or utterance of wisdom that reveals supernatural understanding and know-how, in order to carry out the purpose of God in a real-life situation.

2.. A Word of Knowledge

“another” it is the Greek word allos (pronounced ahl-lohss) and it can easily be translated as “other” or “different.”

“person”: it too is supplied (see above, v. 8, for why).

“word”: see above.

“knowledge”: it is the Greek word gnōsis (pronounced g’noh-seess, and be sure to pronounce the “g”; and we get our word know from it too). Like logos, it too is very rich. It is invariably translated by the NIV as “knowledge,” “knowing,” or “understanding,” but by far most often as “knowledge.” Formally it can mean, depending on the context, “comprehension or intellectual grasp of something, knowledge, as possessed by God”; “the content of what is known, knowledge, what is known” (BDAG). In other words, the “official” dictionary definition says it is the content of knowledge—what is known. Now when we apply the gifting and revelation of the Spirit to this definition, it is elevated. The person exercising it know things not by his mind, but by the Spirit.

“by the same Spirit”: It could be translated as “according to the Spirit.” Once again Paul really intends the readers to get that the Spirit inspires all these gifts.

Scriptural Examples:

One day, Jesus got in a boat to teach. When he finished, he got out and Simon and others got in. Jesus asked Simon to push the boat out a distance and lower the net. Simon complained skeptically that they had already tried it. But he gave in. The nets were filled. Simon fell on his knees and said how sinful he was and that he was not worthy. Jesus called him into the ministry (Luke 5:1-11). For sure this was a word of knowledge, but was it also a miracle—Jesus caused the fish to accumulate in that area? Yes.

In John 4:1-16 Jesus dialogued with a Samaritan woman at the local well. He told her that she has had five husbands and the man she was with was not her husband, either (vv. 16-18).

Jesus was again questioned about paying the temple tax. Yes or no. Simon was concerned about it. Jesus told him to go to the lake and throw out his line. He caught a fish that had a four-drachma coin in it, enough to pay the tax (Matt. 17:24-27). This was certainly a word of knowledge, but was it a miracle too? Did he cause the coin to appear in the fish and lead the fish to catch the hook? Regardless of the miraculous element, Jesus did not know this other than with the Spirit and Father’s help.

Certain Bible teachers may object that Jesus was also God in the flesh, so he knew this anyway. No, the last half is overdrawn. Yes, he was God in the flesh, but he was still anointed by the Spirit, and the Father and the Spirit revealed this coin to him. Likewise, if the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit revealed to their followers about a fish like that, it would still be a word of knowledge.

Definition of Word of Knowledge:

Based on all that information, we are now ready for a definition. A person gifted with the word or statement or utterance of knowledge knows something that the speaker of the word did not know by natural means. (If he did know it by natural means, then why is the Spirit needed in such a clear way? No, it has to be supernatural revelation.)

3.. Faith


“to a different person”: again, the word person is supplied, because I want to emphasize that both men and women can exercise these gifts. Everyone gets to play.

“different”: it is the word heteros (pronounced heh-teh-rohss), and it too means “other” or “different” or “another.”

“faith”: it is the noun pistis (pronounced peace-teace). It is used 243 times, and the NIV translates as “faith” in every case other than these: faithfulness (Matt. 23:23; Rom. 3:3; Gal. 5:22, in the “fruit” list; Rev. 14:12); faithfulness (Rev. 13:10); trusted (Titus 2:10); believe or believing or belief (Gal. 3:2, 5, 7; 2 Thess. 2:13); pledge (1 Tim. 5:12); given proof (Acts 17:31). Incidentally, the verb, pisteuō, is used 241 times. Therefore the noun faith and the verb “faithing” is the language of the NT and so the language of God. Relate to God by and through faith, not intellect alone, or whining for praying, and so on.

So what does the noun mean in the context of the Spirit energizing it? It has to go farther than saving faith, because though that causes a person to enter the kingdom, we are now talking about someone who exercises faith that is inside the kingdom. It has to go deeper than a set of beliefs that constitute doctrine—important as that is. Clearly it must be a surge of faith that cannot come by itself or is worked up by human willpower or figured out by human reasoning. Paul says that this faith comes by the instrumentation of the same Spirit. He produces this faith.

Scriptural Examples:

In Mark 11:12-14 Jesus cursed a fig tree, and it soon withered from the roots. Peter and the disciples marveled. Jesus said that when we pray, we need just a little faith and we can say to a mountain to be removed. When we pray, believe (faith) that we have received, and we will have it (vv. 23-24).

In Matt. 17:19-21, the disciples could not cast out a demon and asked him about it. He replied, “Because of your unbelief” (no faith). Then he told them about mustard-seed faith, the smallest seed in his know world region. If they have it, then they can say to a mountain to be removed. Nothing shall be impossible to them through God.

Jesus told the disciples that if they had the faith of a mustard seed, and spoke to the mulberry tree, it would be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea (Luke 17:6).

James called on believers to pray the “prayer of faith” in the context of Elijah praying for rain during a drought (James 5:15-18). His prayers were answered. Sometimes a Spirit-inspired faith surge is needed.

Stephen was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5). The Holy Spirit and faith go together. Stephen seemed to be filled with a continuous stream of Spirit-surging faith.

Definition of (the Gift of) Faith:

Based on all that information, we are now ready for a definition. Charismatic faith is a surge of confidence and trust that God intends to accomplish miraculously the humanly impossible, resulting in a positive action and blessing.

4.. Gifts of Healings

“gifts”: As noted in my commentary on Rom. 12:6-8, it comes from the Greek noun charisma (pronounced khah-reess-mah). The plural here is charismata, and we get our word charismatic from it. Charis means “grace” and the ma– suffix means, as noted, “the result of,” so charisma means a gift that comes from or is the result of grace. It is clear that God gives each gift to yielded hearts. One last point: charisma in the NT sense does not equal charisma in the modern political sense, someone with a forceful and likeable (more or less) personality and a big smile.

“healings”: it is the noun iama (pronounced ee-ah-mah), and it is used only three times (1 Cor. 12:9, 28, 30). Yes, the ia– stem is related to healing, and adding the ma– suffix means the result of healing, which is health. In this case, let’s not over-analyze the word parts, because it means “healing” or “cure,” which can connote a process.

In this context both gifts and healings are plural, so what does that mean here? Luke was a physician (Col. 4:14), so Paul knew about natural healing, though not as advanced as our knowledge of health. People showed up at pagan temples when they were sick and asked the gods to heal them. When the sick congregate there, it can be called an early hospital (of sorts). Did Luke minister his medical advice at these temples when he was young, before he was converted (if he was not a Jew)? Who was his mentor? But since we’ll never know, let’s move on.

It is not likely that Christians would go to these temples and ask the gods to help. So the new Christian communities had to depend on the Spirit for healings, and maybe a few Christian physicians like Luke helped out. Even Jesus said the “sick need a physician” (Matt. 9:12 // Mark 2:17 // Luke 5:31). Therefore, once again, do we expand the phrase “gifts of healings” to include these physicians? But these healings were produced by the Spirit. They were the charismata. One solution is to say that first-century Christian physicians (if any there were besides Luke) could prescribe herbs for bad health (e.g. Greeks discovered that willow bark contained aspirin), but when these remedies fell short, the Spirit was called on to heal the sick.

As for the question, is healing in the atonement, please see the post Atonement: Bible Basics

Scriptural Examples:

In Acts 3:1-10, Jesus healed a beggar who was lame from birth. He took him by the hand before the beggar was healed and raised him up. At the (literal) step of faith, he was healed.

In Acts 8:4-7 Philip laid hands on Samaritans, and the paralyzed were healed. He was an evangelist, not a faith healer. The Spirit imparted the gifts of healings in him.

In Acts 9:32-42, the Spirit through Peter healed Aeneas was lame. “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. Peter proclaimed it and told the man to act on his confession. The ultimate healing: Peter brought Tabitha (Dorcas) to life, after she had become sick and died. “Tabitha, get up.” He proclaimed it, and then it happened.

In Acts 28:1-10 Paul was snake bitten, literally. He was not phased one bit. Then the father of the “first man” of the island was suffering from a fever and dysentery. Paul prayed for him, and he was healed. Soon a healing revival broke out with the other islanders.

So based on the entire discussion in this point no. 4, they can be both natural (medical) and supernatural (God alone) or natural and supernatural, combined. Since Paul probably saw miraculous healings more often than natural healings, he mainly has in mind supernatural healings.

Definition of Gifts of Healings:

Based on all of the above information, let’s define the terms. “Gifts of healings” means multifaceted healings, whose source is the power of the Spirit. Simple and broad.

5.. Workings of Miracles


“workings”: it comes from the noun energēma, and it is plural. See v. 6 above.

“miracles”: it comes from the Greek word dunamis (pronounced doo-nah-meess), and it too is in the plural. In other contexts, it is often translated as “miracle” or “miraculous power” or “power.” It means power in action, not static, but kinetic. It moves. Yes, we get our word dynamite from it, but God is never out of control, like dynamite is. Its purpose is to usher in the kingdom of God and repair and restore broken humanity, both in body and soul. This is why the power of God in many of the verses below reside and work within humankind. In this case, the Spirit operates through the individual person to work miracles and miraculous powers—signs and wonders.

Scriptural Examples:

Jesus calmed the storm (Matt. 8:23-27).

Jesus faith the five thousand (Matt. 14:15-21).

Jesus fed the four thousand (Matt. 15:32-38).

Jesus walked on water (Matt. 14:25).

Jesus turned the water into wine (John 2:1-11).

Jesus ordered a large catch of fish (John 21:1-11).

Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter back to life (Matt. 9:18-19, 23-25)

He raised the widow’s son (Luke 7:11-15)

He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44)

Definition of Workings of Miracles:

Based on all that information, we are now ready for a definition. The workings of miracles are the Spirit-inspired gifts to work extraordinary feats and signs and wonders, in order to bring about blessing and salvation to people and to accomplish his purposes.

See the post Signs, Wonders and Miracles **************

6.. Prophecy

“prophecy”: As I noted in my commentary on Rom. 12:6, it comes from the Greek noun prophēteia (pronounced pro-fay-tay-yah). It is not in the plural, so this must be a collective definition. This is why we have to be careful about over-analyzing the plural in 1 Cor. 12:7-11, though I still maintain Paul is communicating something to us when he uses the plural.

In both here and Rom. 12:6, it has the same meaning: to speak by the power of the Spirit. It is not merely forthtelling or a strong speaking ability, though the gift of prophecy could include that. It could be spoken softly and in bits and pieces, haltingly. It is not natural talent or ability in speaking, or else why would Paul make so much of God’s grace and charisma inspired by the Spirit? And it does not mean just shrieking and freaking behind the pulpit (too much soul power). It has to go deeper. It does not come by study, though that is important to know God’s mind and to prevent a prophetic person’s own thoughts from dominating. The Spirit speaks special knowledge that the human speaker did not know before (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

The purpose of prophecy is seen in 1 Cor. 14:3:

Edify, exhort, and comfort (KJV)

Edification, exhortation, and comfort (NKJV)

Strengthen, encourage, and comfort (NIV)

Strengthening, encouragement, and consolation (NET)

Edification, exhortation, and consolation (NASB)

Grow in the Lord, encouraging, and comforting (NLT)

Strength, encouragement, and comfort (NCV)

Helped, encouraged, and made to feel better (CEV)

Upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation (ESV)

Grow, be strong, and experience his presence with you (MSG)

Scriptural Examples:

Let’s look at a few key verses to get a range of meanings.

In 1 Thess. 5:20, in the context of a command not to quench the Spirit, Paul tells the church there not to treat prophecies with contempt. This is a warning to us today.

In 1 Tim. 1:18 Paul encourages his disciple Timothy to remember the prophecies that pointed him to remember to wage spiritual warfare, holding on to faith and a conscience (1:18). If one does not have faith and a good conscience, then spiritual warfare is difficult.

In 1 Tim. 4:14 Paul reminds him not to neglect the gift (charisma) that was given him through prophecy when the body of elders laid hands on him. So gifts can be imparted by laying on of hands. They don’t always have to come by passivity. It is possible to knock on the door to God’s throne room and ask him for a gift. If he says no to one gift, then find out from him what your gift is. I used to think I should be a pastor and church planter, but God never opened up that door to me. I did not go to seminary and earn an M.Div., nor was I ever invited to shepherd a church (except for 6 months in Paris, France, and I was bad at it). Then in 2012, I sought God hard yet again about planting a church in my home city. God clearly revealed to me one word: no. Then clarity came. I am a teacher (see below), not a pastor or church planter. Of course. I had been teaching for a long time.

Finally, Philip the evangelist and servant (Acts 6) had four prophetic daughters who were unmarried (Acts 21:9). These four girls had a ministry, and no doubt they were young, some premarriage age and others of marriageable age, but unmarried. Kids don’t get “Holy Spirit, Jr.” They get the fullness of the Spirit, both boys and girls. They can have a prophetic ministry—and so can single people.

Prophecy can have predictive elements. Agabus was a prophet in Judea, and he told Paul, as follows:

10 While we stayed there [Caesarea] several days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He approached us and took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “The Holy Spirit says this: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem shall bind the man whose belt this is and turn him over to the hands of the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:10-11, my tentative translation)

Not all prophecies have to be sugar and spice and everything nice. They can warn. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Definition of Prophecy:

Based on all that information, we are now ready for a definition. The charismatic gift of prophecy is the proclamation and forthtelling, whether loudly or in a whisper, the mind of God towards an individual, a church, or a nation, flowing out of the Spirit of God, not natural means.

See my post: Do Prophets and Prophecy Exist Today?

7.. Discernings of Spirits

“discernings”: it comes from the Greek noun diakrisis (pronounced dee-ah-kree-seess), and it is in the plural. The formal definition is “the ability to distinguish and evaluate, distinguishing, differentiate” (BDAG). It is built on the noun krisis (pronounced kree-seess), and this noun means “a legal process of judgment, judging, judgment.” Diakrisis means to judge something thoroughly, and since it is the gift of the Spirit, it must take on a charismatic dimension. It cannot be just a critical spirit, which judges people who are not like us. Many of us have critical, judgmental minds, and this is not of God. It is soul power, not the Spirit’s power.

“spirits”: it too is in the plural, and therefore cannot mean just the Holy Spirit. It can include the human spirit, angelic spirits, and evil spirit beings (demons).

Different translations:

Discerning of spirits (KJV, NKJV);

Distinguishing of spirits (NASB);

Ability to know whether it is the Spirit of God or another spirit that is speaking (NLT);

To know the difference between good and evil spirits (NCV);

Recognize when God’s Spirit is present (CEV);

Distinguishing between spirits (MSG);

Distinguish between spirits (NIV, ESV).

It is possible to exercise the gift of discerning good and evil (Heb. 5:14). But keep your exercise Bible-based. Keep the plain things the main things.

Scriptural Examples:

First, let’s look at discerning the Spirit’s presence.

In John 1:29, 31-33 the Spirit fell on Jesus in the form of a dove, and John the Baptist saw it; others apparently did not. In John 12:29 the Father spoke to the Son in an audible voice. Some said it was thunder; others said it was angel. It takes discernment to know spiritual things.

Second, as to angels, Jesus promised that Nathaniel would see angels descending and remaining on the Son of Man (John 1:50-51). That takes discernment.

In John 20:1-12, Mary saw two angels at the empty tomb of Jesus.

In other cases, God withheld the gift of discerning of angelic spirits even when people hosted them in their homes (Heb. 13:2).

Third, let’s look at discerning human spirits.

In Acts 8:18-23, Peter discerned the heart of Simon the sorcerer and rebuked him.

Let’s look at a synonym for discerning.

In another case of discerning human spirits and their doctrines, 1 John 4:1-2 says that we must not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out to the world. On what basis? Verse 2: Every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; if a spirit confesses that he has not come in the flesh, then he is not of God. The context is the proto-gnostics who believed the flesh was evil, so someone so pure as Jesus could not come in the flesh. False. Their spirits may be demonic in these two verses or their human spirits may be deceived. Satan loves to deceive people (1 Tim. 4:1). Whatever the case, we are supposed to test them. The Greek word is dokimazō (pronounced doh-kee-mah-zoh), and it means “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine”; “to draw a conclusion about worth on the basis of testing, prove, approve” (BDAG; see also 1 Thess. 5:21). How do we test these spirits? For Christians back then, it was apostolic teachings, both in letters and oral traditions, as the apostles taught about Jesus. For us today, it is apostolic teaching in Scripture. So distinguishing of spirits should be Bible-based. It may be objected that testing is not the same as distinguishing, and no, they are not identical, but they overlap. They are synonyms. Believers can sharpen their discernment skills by knowing Scripture, for it keeps them from going too far astray and confusing their own faculties with the gift of the Spirit.

In discerning human spirits, it is sometimes—just sometimes—important to understand whether we are dealing with a spirit of anger, depression, violence, and so on. People have dispositions that need healing and repair through the power of the Spirit.

Fourth, and now for demonic spirits.

Jesus discerned that an evil spirit caused muteness on a man, and the Lord cast it out, so the man was delivered and spoke (Matt. 9:32-33).

Jesus cast out a demon that caused muteness and blindness, and the man spoke and saw (Matt. 12:22-23).

Please note, however. Not all sickness is caused by demons. You need discernment to understand when the cause is natural or demonic!

See my post about that discusses briefly demons causing illness: Satan and Demons: Personal

To speak personally, I have been attacked by a spirit of despair—different from my own disposition. I had to “fight like Jesus.” I laid aside my intellect (for a change) and learned key Scriptures and filled my mind with them, just like Jesus did when he used Scripture to rebuke Satan during the temptation (Matt. 4; Luke 4). My Scripture that I pray out loud every day is Eph. 6:16—I proclaim a shield of faith over my mind, and the shield quenches the fiery arrows of the enemy. It works!

1 Tim. 4:1 says that some will depart from the faith and will follow deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. That is a heavy verse because evil spirits can infiltrate the church and deceive people. I call on all pastors and teachers to follow sound doctrines and not be the conduit through whom the deception comes. Sound doctrine is found in the plain teachings of Scripture. Keep the plain things the main things. Be careful of distracting Bible codes and secret teachings. Be especially vigilant about the person and ministry of Jesus. Because he was both God and man, people are susceptible to interpreting him falsely or partly falsely and partly truly.

Definition of Discernings of Spirits:

Based on all of the above information, we are now ready for a definition. It is a Spirit-inspired, charismatic gift by which the one who is exercising it can discern, recognize, distinguish, judge, and evaluate between human spirits, angelic spirits, demonic spirits, and the Holy Spirit, particularly the demonic spirit, and preferring the Holy Spirit over the other kinds of spirits.

Bible Basics about Satan and Demons and Victory Over Them

Bible Basics about Deliverance

8.. Praise and Prayer Languages

“(praise and prayer) languages”: As I note in another post, in Greek the noun glōssa means both the physical tongue and a language. In French today langue means both “tongue” and “language,” so Acts 2:4 is translated as “parler en langues” (“speak in tongues / languages”).

In Elizabethan English, which influenced the translation of the King James Version (King James I succeeded Queen Elizabeth I in 1603), tongue could mean both the physical tongue and language. In the early seventeenth century and later, the tongue and language were synonyms. Today, however, we don’t say, “This is the German tongue,” but “this is the German language.”

The New Century Version, the Contemporary English Version, the New Living Translation, and the Message Bible all correctly use languages in v. 4. However, if they mean the natural ability to speak languages, then those translations fall short. The editors of the Spirit-Filled Life Bible (3rd ed., Thomas Nelson, 2018) in their notes call the God-given gift “spiritual languages,” but unfortunately they resort to the archaic “tongues” in many instances.

Let’s no longer call it ‘tongues,’ and every critic or questioner of this God-given ability should at least be courteous to those of us who have received it by calling it by the correct biblical term: ‘God-inspired languages’ or ‘spiritual languages’ or ‘prayer languages’ or ‘heavenly languages.’ But I realize that the modifiers prayer and praise is only implied. So I won’t make a big deal of it.

Therefore, a literal translation of the Greek in v. 10 is “languages.”

See The Purpose and Importance of Spiritual Languages

And: Questions and Answers about Spirit-Inspired Languages

Scriptural Examples:

I Cor. 14 is all about the practice of prayer languages in one’s private life and public worship services.

As noted in my translatioon and commentary on Acts, Luke links receiving prayer languages with being filled with the Spirit in three explicit paradigmatic or exemplary instances, and one clearly implied paradigmatic and exemplary instance, and another example that he omits entirely, but the church practiced this gift (Corinth):

1.. In Jerusalem, the 120 disciples at the birth of the church knew Jesus from the beginning or early on (2:1-4). The church was born and empowered, and the charismatic environment can now ripple throughout Acts, and this gift and the Spirit’s power are for everyone who are afar in the distance and subsequent generations (2:39).

It is important to realize three biblical facts. First, that they had already converted to and trusted in the Messiah (Luke 9:1-2; Luke 10:22; John 20:22). They had already been saved. Second, they received their prayer language as a sign of this infilling of the Spirit. Third, therefore salvation and the infilling of the Spirit are two distinct divine acts.

2.. In Samaria, in an atmosphere of Philip working signs and wonders (8:7, 13), Peter and John came from Jerusalem to endorse the evangelistic campaign and lay hands on the Samaritans. Simon the Sorcerer saw that the Spirit was given (8:17-18).

It is important to realize the same three biblical facts. First, the Samaritans had converted to and trusted in the Messiah. As a sign of their faith, they were baptized. Even Simon believed and was baptized (Acts 8:13). Second, the gift of spiritual languages is clearly implied. Luke assumes his readers would understand that the visible sign was spiritual languages, in light of Pentecost and when two prominent apostles prayed and laid hands on the Samaritans. Third, therefore salvation and the infilling of the Spirit are two distinct acts.

3.. In Caesarea, Cornelius and his household, who were Gentiles (or Cornelius was), needed their own Pentecost (10:44-48). And it is also important to realize same three biblical truths, with perhaps a compacted element. First, Cornelius and his household heard the word, so faith rose in their hearts. Second, they received their prayer languages. Third, it could be the case that salvation and the infilling of the Spirit to the point of receiving prayer languages can happen at the same time, or at least one right after the other. It is the Spirit who works both salvation and the empowering infilling.

4.. In Corinth, Paul spent eighteen months there because Jesus appeared to him in a vision and told him that he had numerous people there (Acts 18:1-18). Luke never mentions any of the spiritual gifts, including prayer languages, but Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians spells out that these believers exercised them powerfully and frequently (1 Cor. 12:7-11; 14:1-40). Once again, Luke’s omissions.

5.. In Ephesus, twelve disciples believed in the Messiah, but knew only the baptism of John (19:1-7). And, as expected, it is important to understand the same biblical truths. First, the twelve men were called “disciples,” and in every instance in Acts this refers to believers in the Messiah Jesus. And Paul even called them believers (Acts 19:2). Second, they received the fullness of the Spirit and spoke in their prayer languages. Third, therefore salvation and the infilling of the Spirit are two distinct acts of God.

These cases are paradigmatic and exemplary because they illustrate that converts to the Jesus Movement or the Way had also to be filled with power and fire and this speaking gift.

However, Paul’s experience proves that Luke does not have to explicitly link the fullness of the Spirit and prayer languages every single time. Paul received the fulness of the Spirit, but his prayer language is not mentioned at that time (Acts 9:17-18). But we know that he used this gift very often (1 Cor. 14:18).

Luke expects us to fill his omissions with the power of the Spirit because the entire sweep or context of his book is charismatic. It is similar to his omitting water baptism in key places. Often he does say that new converts got baptized: Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 35-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; 19:5), Yet in other cases water baptism is not brought up for new converts: Acts 9:42; 11:21; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 17:12, 34.

Definition of Prayer Languages:

Based on all that information, we are now ready for a definition. It is a Spirit-inspired language, not gibberish, that is spoken by the believer’s spirit, unknown to his mind. The Holy Spirit does not speak it, but the believer speaks it because of the Spirit’s abiding presence in the believer.

9.. Interpretation of Prayer Languages

“interpretation”: it comes from the noun hermēneia (pronounced hair-may-nay-ah), and there are two basic definitions: “translation” and “interpretation” (BDAG). In v. 10 and 1 Cor. 14, Renewalists like to emphasize the interpretive aspect of the noun, because a translation is very close to a word-for-word rendering, and that’s too limiting. Interpretation is more conceptual or dynamic, meaning flexibility and the import and force of the original language. It is not word for word. Take your pick, because I can easily imagine some interpretations of a prayer language being translations. But I understand where the Renewalists are coming from—I share their view, even though BDAG also says translation.

Scriptural Examples:

In 1 Cor. 14:6 Paul says that prayer and praise languages plus interpretations is equivalent to prophecy. He recommends prophecy over just a public display of prayer languages, unless one interprets.

Read all of 1 Cor. 14 for how they were practiced this gift in Corinth.

Definition of Interpretations:

Based on all the above information, we are ready for a formal definition: It is the supernatural, charismatic gift of understanding of a prayer and prayer language that offers either a word-for-word translation or a conceptual paraphrase and explanation of the spoken language that is otherwise unknown to the interpreter or translator.


Let’s wrap this study up with Paul’s final words in v. 11.

“works”: it comes from the verb energeō (pronounced eh-nehr-geh-oh), and it means, depending on the context, “to put one’s capabilities into operation, work, be at work, be active, operate, be effective”; or “to bring something about through use of capability, work, produce, effect”; (BDAG). As usual, that definition is arid, so let’s look at how the word is used in other verses.

In Rom. 7:5, the sinful passions were aroused by the law were at work in us.

Paul’s and his team’s comfort produces patience in the Corinthians.

Eph. 1:11 says that God works out everything in conformity to his will.

In Phil. 2:13 God works in us the will and to act to fulfill his good purposes.

Col. 1:29 says that God works powerfully in Paul.

Jas. 5:16 encourages us because the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

“distributes”: it comes from the verb diaireō (pronounced dee-I-reh-oh), and it is related to the noun diairesis (v. 4).  It means to “distribute” or “divide.” The picture is that one source or thing is divided up and distributed one item at a time. Example: a pile of money needs to be counted and divided up. It appears only twice in the NT, here and next.

Luke 15:12 says that a man asked Jesus to require a man to divide up the inheritance evenly and justly. Jesus turned down the man’s demand. Not in his bailiwick or mission.

“wills”: it comes from the verb boulomai (pronounced boo-loh-my). It means “to desire to have or experience something, with implication of planning accordingly, wish, want, desire”; “to plan on a course of action, intend, plan, will” (BDAG). Another dictionary just says, “to be willing, disposed; to intend; to desire; to choose, be pleased; to will, decree, appoint.” The point to Paul’s choice of word here is to wrap up the first two verses, where he said the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the source of these gifts (vv. 4-5). The Spirit distributes them to believers as he wills. Paul wishes to highlight the Spirit who distributes. It is as if the Father assigns the Spirit to work and distribute the gifts.

In Matt. 11:27, the Father chooses to reveal his Son to certain people (Luke 10:25).

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed that if the Father willed, to take the cup (death) from him (Luke 22:42).

Luke uses the verb often in the book of Acts: 5:28, 5:33, 12:4, 15:37, 17:20, 18:15, 18:27, 19:30, 22:30, 23:28, 25:20, 27:45, 28:18. In almost all cases the NIV translates it as “wanted.” And in most verses in the rest of the NT, the NIV has “want.”


First the translation:

God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, leadership, different kinds of tongues. (1 Cor. 12:28. my tentative translation)

Now for the brief commentary.

“apostles”: See my post here: Do Apostles Exist Today?

It basically means he who is sent or commissioned, in this case by God. Today it works out to be a church planter, but usually multiple churches, not just one, or an overseer of many churches.

“prophets”: See my post here: Do Prophets and Prophecy Exist Today?

It is an office that specializes in prophesying. They have Spirit-inspired knowledge about the present and the future, and they then proclaim it.

“teachers”: this gift is discussed in Rom. 12:7. It simply means someone who explains a doctrinal truth from Scripture—like how these gifts work! In Eph. 4:11, it seems to be attached to the office of pastor. However, here and in Rom. 12:8 this gift is detached. It is wise to detach it because pastors are also church managers or leaders, so these duties take them away from teaching deeper and wider topics, which overflows from long hours of study.

See my exegesis of Rom. 12:6-8:

Gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12:6-8

“miracles”: surely this is related to workings of miracles, above at no. 5. It is in the plural and literally reads “miracles” or “powers.” Here it means miracles.

“gifts of healings”: these are the exact words in the gift listed at no. 4, above.

“helps”: it is the Greek noun antilēmpsis (pronounced an-tee-laymp-seess), and it occurs only here in the NT. It is not even frequent even in the larger Greek world and its writings. The stem –lēmp– is related to the verb lambanō, the common verb for “take” or “receive.” And when anti– is prefixed to the verb, it means “to receive instead,” or “to receive in turn” or “as a return.” BDAG says the verb antilambanō means, depending on the context, “to take someone’s part by assisting, take part, come to aid of”; “to commit oneself wholeheartedly to something, take part in, devote oneself to, practice”; “to be involved with something through close contact, perceive, notice.” All those definitions of the verb can be applied to the noun here. In any case, the noun is in the plural, so it means “helps” or “helpful deeds” (BDAG). It surely corresponds to diakonia (service) in Rom. 12:6-8. They are synonyms.

“leadership”: it is the noun kubernēsis (pronounced koo-behr-nay-seess). The verb, kubernaō (pronounced koo-behr-nah-oh), which does not appear in the NT, means to guide or steer or pilot (a ship). And the “titular” noun, kubernētēs (pronounced koo-behr-nay-tayss), means the captain or pilot of a ship (Acts 28:17; Rev. 18:17). It is a sure thing that when first-century Corinthians heard this word read to them for the first time in Paul’s letter, they would have understood it in those cognate terms. How else would they have grasped it? So leadership here can mean guiding and steering the church. This definition corresponds to “leading” in Rom. 12:8; they are synonyms.

So the question now becomes, who does this gift relate to the fivefold offices or ministry positions in Eph. 4:11? Does this gift attach itself to those offices? Is it a separate gift? Perhaps there are people who just lead without a position. Or it can be attached to the offices and eldership and service gifts. All of those men and women can exercise the gift of leadership.

“different kinds of tongues”: this is the exact wording above, at no. 8.

So how does this post help me grow in Jesus?

I would like to give attention to Derek Prince and his book The Gifts of the Spirit and his Chapter 13. The whole book is excellent and written for a general audience.

The first eight points come under his chapter section titled “Truths that Build Faith for Spirit Gifts” (sic). Scriptures are placed under each point for your further study.

1.. The Supreme Purpose of the Gifts Is to Glorify God.

1 Pet. 4:10-11

2.. Ministering Gifts to Believers Brings Edification.

1 Cor. 14:4

1 Cor. 14:5

1 Cor. 14:12

1 Cor. 14:26

3.. God’s Will Is for Believers to Exercise Spiritual Gifts

1 Cor. 12:7, 11

4.. Love and Gifts Work Together

1 Cor. 12:31

1 Cor. 13:13

1 Cor. 14:1

5.. If We Love God, We Receive His Gifts

Matt. 7:11

Luke 11:13

James 1:16-17

6.. The Gifts Did Not End but Are Still for Today

1 Cor. 1:4-8

Acts 2:17-20

2 Tim. 3:1-5

7.. The Baptism and the Gifts Are Essential for Ministry

Luke 24:49

Acts 1:8

8.. The Gospel Is to Be Preached with “Signs Following”

Mark 16:15, 17-20

Acts 8:5-7

Rom. 15:18-18

These next points come under the section titled “Practical Instruction for Exercising Spiritual Gifts.”

Gifts Are to Function within a Body of Believers.

Matt. 5:15

Prov. 20:27

My Scripture: 1 Cor. 12:7-11 and chapter 14 are all about the Body of Christ

Find Your Function in the Body.

Rom. 12:4-8

Gifts Are Distributed according to God’s Will.

1 Cor. 12:11

If You Ask, You Will Receive.

Matt. 7:11

Luke 11:9-13

You Receive Right When You Ask.

Mark 11:24

1 John 5:14-15

2 Cor. 6:2

Signs Follow Those Who Go.

Mark 16:15, 20

We Must Learn to Operate in the Gifts.

Prov. 24:16

1 Cor. 14:31

We Must Check Our Motives.

1 Cor. 14:12

I strongly encourage you to get his book, because he has many real-life examples and plenty of illustrations. He explains all of those Scriptures, from a Renewalist point of view.

Written by James Malcolm

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