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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Spiritual Gifts

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1. The term . A special Gr. word, charismata , is used in NT for spiritual gifts. It usually stands alone, but in Romans 1:11 It is coupled with the adjective pneumatikon (‘spiritual’). It means concrete manifestations of the grace of God ( charis ), and is almost a technical term, though in Romans 6:23 etc. It is used generally of the gift of God, without reference to its visible result in the life of the believer. The principal passages which deal with spiritual gifts are Romans 12:6 ff., 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 , Ephesians 4:7 ff., 1 Peter 4:10 . The gifts may be divided into the apparently miraculous and the non-miraculous, ( a ) The miraculous include speaking with tongues (probably ecstatic utterances, usually unintelligible to the speaker; see Tongues [Gift of]), and their interpretation; gifts of healing, and the working of miracles or ‘powers’; of these we may instance the power of exorcism ([Mk] Mark 16:17 , Acts 16:18; Acts 19:12 ), and the punishment of offenders ( Acts 5:1-11; Act 13:9 , 1 Corinthians 4:21; 1 Corinthians 5:5 ). On the border-line come prophecy, discerning of spirits, and the receiving of revelations, where the miraculous element is less strongly marked. ( b ) From these we pass to the non-miraculous gifts, gifts of character, and mental and spiritual endowments of various kinds. We find mentioned the power of exhortation and of speech (closely akin to prophecy); wisdom, knowledge, and faith; helps and governments ( i.e. powers of administration); mercy and almsgiving; money, as affording opportunity for service and hospitality; 1 Corinthians 7:7 adds the gift of continence, and Galatians 5:22 gives a list of the fruits of the Spirit, as shown in the Christian character. Romans 12:6 and 1 Peter 4:10 mention only non-miraculous gifts, and in the Epp. the chief evidence for the miraculous is connected with Corinth.

2. Their nature . Most of these gifts may be regarded as the raising of natural endowments to a higher level. Without going at length into the question of miracles, we may note that the evidence of their reality in this connexion is very strong; they are referred to in the Epistles (contemporary documents) as matters of common knowledge; St. Paul speaks of his own powers in this respect as well known ( 1Co 2:4; 1 Corinthians 14:18 , 2 Corinthians 12:2 ); and Hebrews 2:4 mentions them as a recognized characteristic of the first age of Christianity. Further, these miraculous gifts of the Spirit belong to the class which may most easily be reduced to psychological law, and are to some extent paralleled in modern times, being mainly the well-attested manifestations which accompany times of revival, and are found in connexion with peculiarly gifted individuals.

‘What we read about miracles especially about the charismata in the Epistles of St. Paul is of the nature of things unusual, obedient to laws that are somewhat recondite, distinctly implying Divine impulse and Divine guidance and yet at most non contra naturam sed contra quam est nota natura ’ (Sanday, Life of Christ in Recent Research , p. 219).

A striking feature of these gifts is their apparently wide-spread and democratic nature. The new life, with its hopes and powers, had been offered to all classes of society, and the humblest Christian felt the thrill of being ‘filled with the Spirit.’ Hence

‘the first age of the Christian Church was characterized by a vivid enthusiasm which found expression in ways which recall the simplicity of childhood. It was a period of wonder and delight. The flood-gates of emotion were opened: a supernatural dread alternated with an unspeakable joy’ (Robinson, Ephesians , p. 121).

The results of this enthusiasm, as described in 1 Cor., were startling and visible to all; that it could not be without its dangers is obvious. Slaves or women, people of no account before, found themselves in possession of mysterious powers, which gave them a position of importance among their fellow-Christians. There arose the temptation to covet and strive by artificial and illegitimate methods for the more striking gifts, and to look on them as marks of superior sanctity, or the means of personal advancement. Others, on the contrary, felt themselves forgotten, and yielded to jealousy or despair. Rivalry led to disorder where the gifts were used in the public services of the Church.

3 . Hence the tone of St. Paul’s teaching as to their use

( a ) He insists on their regulation . The gifts may be sporadic and intermittent; none the less their use must be orderly ( 1 Corinthians 14:40 ); ecstasy is no excuse for loss of self-control (v. 32). Each Christian must recognize the limitations of his powers and not attempt to transcend them ( Romans 12:6 ).

There arises the question of the relation of the charismata to the ministry. Some have maintained that there was originally no fixed ministry, but only unorganized charismata; others again have tried to assign a definite office to most of the charismata . The truer view would seem to be that the charismata and the official ministry existed side by side, but were by no means identical (see Sanday-Headlam, Romans , p. 358). All Christians had their share in the gifts of the Spirit, though there were special endowments which would he looked for in the case of officers of the Church; in 1 Timothy 4:14 , 2 Timothy 1:6 a charisma is connected with ‘the laying on of hands.

( b ) The purpose of the gifts is the edification and the service of the whole body . Chrysostom, in his remarkable homily on 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 , calls attention to the change of word in vv. 4, 5. The ‘gifts’ are also ‘ministrations’ ( diakoniai ), i.e. opportunities of service; hence the greater the gift the greater the responsibility, and the harder the work to he done. And so St. Paul passes on to the doctrine of the one body, served in different ways by all its members. Similarly in Ephesians 4:11 the possessors of the endowments are themselves gifts ‘given’ to the Church. The same truth is emphasized in Romans 12:1-21 , 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 , 1 Peter 4:1-19 , in fact in every place where the charismata are mentioned at any length; St. Paul’s own object is always to ‘impart’ to others ( Romans 1:11 , 1 Corinthians 14:19; cf. John 7:38 ). It is obvious that this way of looking at the gifts would check ambition, pride, and selfishness in their use.

( c ) Relative importance of the gifts . The more startling and apparently miraculous gifts are consistently treated as subordinate to gifts of character and edification. The former, indeed, are not decisive as to their origin; they are not peculiar to Christianity, and may be the accompaniment of evil and falsehood ( Matthew 7:22; Matthew 24:24 , 2Th 2:9 , 1 Corinthians 12:3 , Revelation 13:13-14 ). Indeed, in an age when exorcisms and miracles were associated with magic, and the heathen mantis , or frenzied prophet, was a familiar phenomenon, it was impossible to ascribe all ‘powers’ and ecstasy to the Holy Spirit. The test is on the one side doctrinal ( 1 Corinthians 12:2; 1 Corinthians 12:8 , 1 John 4:1-8 ); on the other the moral life ( Matthew 7:15 ff., Romans 8:9 , 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ) and the practical tendency to edification ( 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 ). The ‘discerning of spirits’ is itself an important gift ( 1 Corinthians 12:10 , 1 Thessalonians 5:21 , 1 John 4:1 ). It is, indeed, remarkable how steadily the NT concentrates attention on the inner and less startling gifts of character, which the popular mind would ignore; and if it does not disparage, it certainly does not exaggerate, those which at first sight seemed to give more direct evidence of the presence of the Spirit. As a fact of history these tended to degenerate and finally to disappear. Justin and Irenæus mention them, and they played a large part in the Gnostic and Montanist movements, but after the 2nd cent. they practically died out as normal endowments of the believer, to be revived only sporadically in times of religious excitement.

C. W. Emmet.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Spiritual Gifts'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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