≡ Menu

Poll: Questions about spiritual gifts

I mentioned in this post that my current major writing project is a book on spiritual gifts.

Now this is a pretty heavy – and controversial – topic. I get questions all the time about the gifts, and so I wanted to tackle the subject and put together a solid reference work that combines practical answers with a careful handling of Scripture.

So, what I want to know from you is this: what should I include in this book that would cause you to use it and recommend it? In other words, what questions have you asked or been asked about spiritual gifts that I should answer here? They can be general questions or very specific.

Put your thoughts / questions in the comments, or you can send them to me here. You can also send them to me on Twitter (@dgoepfrich) or Facebook.

I’d like to have a good plan of attack by the time I get back from vacation.

Thanks!

{ 41 comments… add one }
  • Douglas J. Bender August 9, 2009, 4:17 am

    Isn't it true that the main Scriptural basis for the view that the "spiritual gifts" (the so-called "sign gifts") have ceased is the passage which says (paraphrased), "We know in part, and prophesy in part, but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part will be done away with"? And doesn't this view depend upon interpreting "that which is perfect" as the completion or compilation of the Bible? If so, then there are several points I'd like to make: (continued…)

    • dgoepfrich August 9, 2009, 6:24 pm

      Hi Douglas,

      Thanks for the comments. I'm sure I'll incorporate some of this into my book, but let me address some of it here, too.

      You are right that 1 Cor 13:10 is used to talk about "sign gifts" ceasing. However, it's not the only – or even the best – Scripture for those who support that teaching.

      The reason, as you said, is because it is dependent on the hard-to-interpret phrase "when the perfect comes".

  • Douglas J. Bender August 9, 2009, 4:19 am

    – Even assuming this interpretation is correct, taking the Bible at its word leaves open the possibility that ONLY the "sign gifts" mentioned as having been "in part" have ceased, which would mean that all the OTHER "sign gifts" have NOT ceased.

    – The "sign gifts" were NOT merely for "signs" to unbelievers, but were also, or even primarily, for the edification of BELIEVERS. Thus, even once the Bible was completed, those gifts would STILL edify believers, since they themselves had nothing to do with DOCTRINE or teaching, but were more directed towards temporal needs (discerning spirits, prophesying [about temporal matters, and warning against false doctrine, for example], healing, and so on).

    (Continued….)

    • dgoepfrich August 9, 2009, 6:27 pm

      You said: This belief "leaves open the possibility that ONLY the "sign gifts" mentioned as having been "in part" have ceased, which would mean that all the OTHER "sign gifts" have NOT ceased."

      That's true. At issue are knowledge, prophecy, and tongues. Any other "sign" gifts are not mentioned in this context.

      You said: "The "sign gifts" were NOT merely for "signs" to unbelievers, but were also, or even primarily, for the edification of BELIEVERS."

      For those who use the category of "sign" gifts, they would say that, even if believers were edified when these gifts were used, their primary use for for unbelievers.

      • Douglas J. Bender August 10, 2009, 1:35 am

        Well, tongues, within the Church, is primarily for believers. When practiced within the Church, where the Body is being edified primarily, it is to be done only by two or three, and then only with interpretation. In private, it edifies only the speaker, and is not intended for an unbeliever. In the sense that tongues operate AS a "sign", it is for unbelievers; but it doesn't function solely as a "sign".

  • Douglas J. Bender August 9, 2009, 4:20 am

    – "That which is perfect" (or "That which is complete") would more likely have to do with Jesus' Millennial Kingdom, for it is THEN that Satan is bound, and not allowed to deceive the nations. At that time, there will be no need for healing ("the child being 100 years old shall die" [meaning, during that time someone dying at 100 years of age will be considered to have died very young]), no need for miracles or discerning of spirits or the like, because Jesus Himself will be physically ruling and reigning from Jerusalem, and Satan will not be "walking about the Earth".

    (Continued….)

    • dgoepfrich August 9, 2009, 6:28 pm

      That is one valid interpretation of that phrase, although not a common one.

  • Douglas J. Bender August 9, 2009, 4:21 am

    – It would seem somewhat odd for God to have devoted a fair portion of Scripture to the description of and guidelines for the operation of the "sign gifts", if they were only intended to be in operation for a few hundred years at most. If those gifts were to cease within a couple of hundred years or so after the last book of the Bible was written (the Book of Revelation), then God certainly could have managed to teach about their use WITHOUT incorporating that teaching into Scripture. For example, there are apparently some letters of some of the Apostles to the churches which were not included in Scripture (and I'm not referring to the well-known manuscripts which make claims to being by an apostle).

    (Continued….)

    • dgoepfrich August 9, 2009, 6:30 pm

      You said: "It would seem somewhat odd for God to have devoted a fair portion of Scripture to the description of and guidelines for the operation of the "sign gifts", if they were only intended to be in operation for a few hundred years at most."

      In reality, there is very little written about spiritual gifts. Outside of passages that simply showed they happened during the ministries of Jesus and the apostles, the only places in Scripture that discuss the topic are 1 Corinthians 12-14 and parts of Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Peter 4.

      In the whole scope of the Scriptures, that's just not a lot.

      • Douglas J. Bender August 10, 2009, 1:28 am

        Relative to some other, more important doctrines and issues, it is. Women as pastors or teachers, for instance, is dealt with less (fewer words, though perhaps equal or more instances). The Rapture is only implied in one or two cases, I believe.

        I suppose I mean that explicit and careful directions for something that would cease fairly quickly seems somewhat odd to include in the Bible. And I'm referring to those directions given in the Epistles – Paul's especially. That is, those directions aren't merely DESCRIPTIONS of things that took place, but GUIDELINES for how the Church was to practice those things.

  • Douglas J. Bender August 9, 2009, 4:21 am

    God could have, for example, had the Apostle Matthew compose a letter to the churches, or to a church, of the time giving instruction regarding the "sign gifts", and the churches could have recognized that letter as authoritative, but when the canon was decided upon, the Holy Spirit could have caused it to not be included. In this way, there would be no confusion in the Church about whether the gifts had ceased or not, for they would not have even been mentioned. After all, the Bible is God's eternal and timeless Word – there would be no need to include within it a description of something that was only for a time. And, even if it is argued that it SHOULD have been included, God could have made it far more clear that those gifts would cease, if they have indeed ceased. For example, Paul could have said something like, "Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant – these are given to the Church only for a time, until the Scriptures are completed." Or something like this. And it would have been CLEAR.

    • dgoepfrich August 9, 2009, 6:35 pm

      You said: "After all, the Bible is God's eternal and timeless Word – there would be no need to include within it a description of something that was only for a time."

      There are a lot of things in the Scriptures that have no bearing upon us today other than their example. The Bible is the written portion of God's Word, Jesus himself being the eternal living Word.

      There are indeed timeless principles throughout, but that doesn't mean that everything in the book is applicable to us the same as it was to the original audience.

      You said: "For example, Paul could have said something like, "Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant – these are given to the Church only for a time, until the Scriptures are completed." Or something like this. And it would have been CLEAR."

      I think that the immediate readers understood perfectly what the apostles meant when they wrote. Those who believe that some gifts have stopped would say that the reason they are so difficult to understand is that we don't experience them anymore.

      For instance, who argues about the gifts of teaching, leadership, or encouragement? No one, really, because we see them in action all over the place today. It is only those few "sign" gifts (as they are called) that cause the bulk of the debate.

      • Douglas J. Bender August 9, 2009, 8:53 pm

        Yes, but Jesus also implied that when He returns, He would find little faith in the world, in the professing Church (His comment, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith", or something to this effect). The New Testament is also clear that the operation of the gifts is dependent upon one's faith in God and the reality of those gifts – just as Jesus said in more than one instance, "According to your faith let it be to you". It is easier to have faith to believe in the reception of the "non-sign gifts" than in the reception of the "sign gifts", because the former are gifts that can be "mimicked", to a degree, by mere human ability, whereas the latter are gifts that are clearly supernatural.

        • dgoepfrich August 9, 2009, 9:00 pm

          That's true. The gifts are given according to the measure of the faith which Christ has given (Ephesians 3). Since the "sign" gifts are clearly supernatural, and since God is not the only supernatural being with power, it makes it very important that we discern whether or not those powers are coming from him.

        • dgoepfrich August 9, 2009, 9:00 pm

          That's true. The gifts are given according to the measure of the faith which Christ has given (Ephesians 3). Since the "sign" gifts are clearly supernatural, and since God is not the only supernatural being with power, it makes it very important that we discern whether or not those powers are coming from him.

          If he said that he has stopped working in that way, it would certainly clarify things.

          • Douglas J. Bender August 29, 2009, 12:51 pm

            Yes, it would clarify things. But because God did not CLEARLY (is there a way to use italics or bold?) state that those gifts would cease, and because God chose to include in the Bible detailed descriptions of their operation, I contend that they are still given. (Bearing in mind that I disavow their practice as typically exemplified by TV preachers and congregations, and most if not all "Pentecostal" or "Charismatic" groups.)

  • Douglas J. Bender August 9, 2009, 8:55 pm

    May I here share a personal anecdote regarding one of the "sign" gifts, or would you prefer that such anecdotes not be included in this discussion?

    • dgoepfrich August 9, 2009, 8:58 pm

      Feel free. If it can add to the discussion, it is most welcome.

  • Douglas J. Bender August 10, 2009, 1:28 am

    Not "a lot", but a "fair portion", relatively speaking.

  • Douglas J. Bender August 10, 2009, 2:04 am

    Cool. Okay, so here's my anecdote:

    I was saved back in October of 1989, at the age of 27 (sort-of-long story, which I won't get into here, other than to say I was a hardcore atheist one minute, then God cast a demon out of me while I was driving, and the next minute [literally within one minute] I was a committed Evangelical Christian). At first, I didn't know all the issues involved regarding the "spiritual gifts", and so had no certain opinion about them (I had gone to a fundamentalist Baptist high school, and so I leaned towards the gifts of the Spirit having ceased). Over time, as I grew in my knowledge of the Bible, my opinion changed, to the point that I believed the gifts were still given, though I repudiated the practice as exemplified by most Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, especially those seen on TV.

    (continued…)

  • Douglas J. Bender August 10, 2009, 2:05 am

    In 1993, I moved from Elkhart to Colorado Springs. I began working as a framing carpenter, and found myself working with a slightly younger, though more experienced, carpenter from Maine. He had just moved to Colorado Springs a few days or a few weeks after I had. I don't remember his name, but he was a very "rock'n'roll" sort of character, with long, wavy, brown hair, a definite "party" attitude, and a personality bordering on hyper. (Think a younger Eddie Van Halen on speed, maybe.)

    (continued…)

  • Douglas J. Bender August 10, 2009, 2:06 am

    Anyway, one day shortly after he started working for the crew I was on, he and I were working alone on a house, finishing up. At the start of the day, we were in the garage, and he told me a little about his history (being from Maine, and so on), and also told me his new phone number in Colorado Springs [something like 260-1748, or thereabouts], in case I had to call him for some reason (such as not being able to make it to work the next day, or what-not). Then, we went to work. While we were working, I came to find out that he had been heavily into drugs for a time, and still struggled with the temptation to use drugs (neither very surprising – he had never been a Christian, I also found out, and knew little about Christianity). And I felt moved to tell him that people who were especially tempted by drugs were trying to fill their lack of a relationship with God, a real and living relationship with a real and living God (again, or something to this effect). And during the course of the day I told him about Jesus, and about the Gospel.

    (continued…)

  • Douglas J. Bender August 10, 2009, 2:06 am

    At the end of a 9-10 hour day, we ended up in the garage again, rolling up tools. He asked if I remembered his phone number; and I, in a fit of mild pride, thought to myself, "I'm good with numbers – I can remember it", and I said, out loud, as I sought to recall the number, "260…7259" [or something similiar to this]. He looked at me in shock, and said, "How did you know that?? That's my old phone number when I was in Maine!" (That is, the last four digits, as I repeated them, were the last four digits, in the correct order, of his old phone number from Maine; the relation between "1748" and "7259" is similar to the actual numbers [and might be exact, though I doubt it], in that only one number was repeated, but not in the same position.)

    (continued…)

  • Douglas J. Bender August 10, 2009, 2:06 am

    I told him that was the Holy Spirit revealing Himself to him, to get his attention. And it DID get his attention, and he became open to the Gospel, and was saved shortly (a few days to a couple of weeks) thereafter.

    That experience was an example of the "word of knowledge", a specific, supernatural, instance of a piece of knowledge that could not have been merely "humanly" known, but was given by the Holy Spirit. And it was used by God to reach an unbeliever, in much the same way, I imagine, as such a "word of knowledge" might have done back in the time of the early Church (though of course they didn't have phones back then).

  • Douglas J. Bender August 14, 2009, 11:15 am

    No reply at all.

    • dgoepfrich August 14, 2009, 2:03 pm

      Hi Douglas,

      I've been pondering your comments all week. I've been busy and have several posts to reply to and write.

      Honestly, I've been trying to think of a good way to reply to this. Basically, it comes down to two things.

      First, I've heard this story before in various places. By "anecdote", I thought you were sharing your story.

      Secondly, even if this is your story (and several others stole it and told it as their own), I don't think it falls within the spiritual gift of knowledge. Your definition as "a specific, supernatural, instance of a piece of knowledge that could not have been merely "humanly" known, but was given by the Holy Spirit" fairly broad.

      That said, I believe that God can use anything, including a phone number, even without a spiritual gift.

      Daniel

  • Douglas J. Bender August 20, 2009, 12:36 am

    Daniel,

    I was indeed sharing my own, personal and personally-experienced, story. Where have you heard this specific story before, and when? (I have shared it on the Internet, perhaps in one or two "public" [though not widely-read] places; and with one or two individuals, via email I think.)

    And what else would my experience be BUT a "word of knowledge"? What else would a "word of knowledge" BE but "a specific, supernatural, instance of a piece of knowledge that could not have been 'humanly' known, but [is] given by the Holy Spirit"?

    Douglas

    • dgoepfrich August 20, 2009, 12:51 pm

      Hi Douglas,

      I couldn't tell you where I have heard or read that story before, but I certainly have. I'm sorry to assume that it wasn't yours, but either it happened to someone else, too, or I've seen yours before.

      As to the gift of knowledge, I've searched nearly every commentary I own (which is not a few), and they all come down to two explanations:

      1 – Knowledge is an unnatural (supernatural) ability to understand the truths of the Scriptures and explain them in an understandable way. It is linked to the gift of teaching. (This is held by those who believe that this gift is still available.)

      2 – Knowledge is closely related to the gift of wisdom and refers to the ability properly to understand the new spiritual truths as they were revealed to the apostles and prophets. (This is held by those who believe that this gift has ceased.)

      I found only one who held the view you stated that it is simply supernatural knowledge of a specific event.

      Daniel

      • Douglas J. Bender August 21, 2009, 3:46 pm

        Daniel,

        Commentaries are not Scripture, and are thus fallible, clearly. (I have read a number of commentaries on a number of subjects, and am impressed with the various contradictory opinions of men that they usually reveal.)

        Regarding "Explanation #1" – It seems to me that this description would fall under the "Gift of Teaching", and so would not really be a separate "gift" from the "Word of knowledge". "Explanation #2" is merely "Explanation #1", but restricted to the time before the "spiritual gifts" supposedly ceased (where being able to "explain them in an understandable way", though you did not mention this in relation to "Explanation #2", would seem to be required in concert with this gift, else it would not edify others).

      • Douglas J. Bender August 21, 2009, 3:47 pm

        So, it seems that both cases/explanations are essentially the same, in principle. But in both cases what is described sounds to me to be merely the "gift of teaching" (which itself requires not only being able to CONVEY what is taught, but to initially RECOGNIZE and understand that which is being taught).

        But let me refer to Scripture, and ask you: What specific "gift" was in operation when Agabus proclaimed that there would be a famine in Judea? Obviously, I should think, that would have been the "gift of prophecy". But it involved a specific (though future) piece of "knowledge". And what of Peter, when he proclaimed that Ananias had lied in saying that he had brought to the Apostles the entire proceeds of the land that he and his wife, Sapphira, had sold? That was not a FUTURE piece of knowledge, but something that Peter could only have known supernaturally (since it seems to be implied that neither Ananias nor Sapphira had told anyone that they had held back a portion for themselves).

        • dgoepfrich August 21, 2009, 4:04 pm

          You ask: "What specific "gift" was in operation when Agabus proclaimed that there would be a famine in Judea?"

          Since Agabus was specifically referred to as a prophet (Acts 11:27-28), I concur that this was prophecy. Predictive prophecy obviously requires "knowledge" of a future event, so that doesn't add any more than your counter-fact that teaching requires knowledge.

          Peter's dealing with Ananias and Sapphira is the only even potential example I can think of in the Scriptures of non-prophetic knowledge of an event.

        • dgoepfrich August 21, 2009, 4:04 pm

          You ask: "What specific "gift" was in operation when Agabus proclaimed that there would be a famine in Judea?"

          Since Agabus was specifically referred to as a prophet (Acts 21:10-11), I concur that this was prophecy. Predictive prophecy obviously requires "knowledge" of a future event, so that doesn't add any more than your counter-fact that teaching requires knowledge.

          Peter's dealing with Ananias and Sapphira is the only even potential example I can think of in the Scriptures of non-prophetic knowledge of an event.

          • Douglas J. Bender August 29, 2009, 12:57 pm

            I think simple logic and discernment would be sufficient to enable one to "grasp the teachings of the Apostles", even when those teachings were "new". Satan, of course, blinds the minds of those who are without God, so to the extent that God Himself needs to work in a person's heart and mind, EVERYONE needs "supernatural" help to understand and acknowledge the Gospel. But on an "intellectual" level, what the Apostles taught about Jesus and the Gospel did not, and does not, need a "special gifting" to understand or grasp.

          • Douglas J. Bender August 29, 2009, 1:06 pm

            "Peter's dealing with Ananias and Sapphira is the only even potential example I can think of in the Scriptures of non-prophetic knowledge of an event."

            Actually, there are at least several instances of such things in the Scriptures, though every other instance aside from Peter and Ananias & Sapphira, that I am aware of, is in the Old Testament. Some are merely implied, as is the case with Elisha's (or was it Elijah's?) being able to know what an enemy king thinks or even says, and thus to warn Israel or Judah of his plans.

      • Douglas J. Bender August 21, 2009, 3:47 pm

        Also, the gift is called the "WORD of knowledge", not the "gift of knowledge". It seems to imply a SPECIFIC "word", or 'piece", of knowledge granted to the individual having the gift, for a specific instance. I can't now refer to my Greek lexicon or concordance (it is at home, and I am not), so it would be interesting to see what the Greek combination "WORD of knowledge" might imply (whether it implies a revealed FACT, or a continuing gift of knowing/understanding the Scriptures [obviously, I believe it is the former]).

        • dgoepfrich August 21, 2009, 4:13 pm

          Actually, the word "gift" is not used nearly as much in the text as we use it in our descriptions of the "spiritual gifts". The word used is "logos", which is a very generic term that can mean any form of verbal communication and frequently means discussion.

          Again, for "knowledge" we find "gnosis" which has a basic, normal definition of "comprehension or intellectual grasp of something; the content of what is known" (BDAG).

          It is also anarthrous (without an article), which means it is not a specific piece of knowledge, but a general speaking of knowledge. (This is also the only place the phrase is used in the Scriptures.)

          So a valid translation of the phrase could be "and to another a message of what is comprehended." In fact, many translations read "message of knowledge".

          • Douglas J. Bender August 29, 2009, 1:20 pm

            Thanks for that. I have since been able to consult my Strong's Concordance. If one accepts that the essential difference between "knowledge" and "wisdom" is that in the former one need not provide analysis or advice or direction, while in the latter one would, I think that helps (at least me) clarify the two. And I can agree that a "word of knowledge" can include more than "mere" individual "piece of knowledge" / "a single fact". But in essence it would be knowledge of a fact, or a set of facts, and it would be supernaturally given (meaning, not originating from human reason or intellect).

          • Douglas J. Bender August 29, 2009, 1:22 pm

            So, my "knowledge" of the carpenter's phone number would, in this "definition", fall under the category "word of knowledge". It would not be a "word of wisdom", as there was no "insight" or such given. Likewise, if I had been given MORE facts regarding him, that still would have been a "word of knowledge" (where the meaning would be "message of knowledge"). For example, if instead God had given me detailed knowledge of his relationship history (WITHOUT giving me insight into those relationships), that would have been an instance of a "word of knowledge" as well.

          • Douglas J. Bender August 29, 2009, 1:22 pm

            In fact, this reminds me that Jesus Himself exhibited just such a thing, having supernaturally-given knowledge of the woman-at-the-well's relationship history, including her then-current situation. And Jesus also had supernaturally-given knowledge of Nathan's experience at or under the fig tree. Neither instance was "prophetic" in the sense of seeing into the future, but both required a supernatural source for the knowledge. (And I am NOT suggesting we can be equal to Jesus, nor that Jesus is not divine – it is my understanding that Jesus, though God, set aside His rights and "abilities" as God, while on Earth, and operated as a human being [albeit perfect and without sin] empowered by the Holy Spirit.)

  • Douglas J. Bender August 20, 2009, 12:38 am

    (By the way, I have been without Internet access since at least Saturday, August 15. And I won't have Internet access again until Tuesday, August 25 [Verizon willing]. Right now I am at the Elkhart Public Library, with my handy wireless laptop. I don't know when I'll be stopping by at the library again.)

  • dgoepfrich August 21, 2009, 4:15 pm

    I think the difference between the two has to do with a continued extraordinary understanding of the Scriptures (#1) as opposed to those in the past who could grasp the teachings of the apostles because they were so new compared to what they had been taught about Messiah (#2).

    Also, we have to understand that the gifts mentioned in this section (1 Corinthians 12:8-10) is a representative list of different manifestations of the Spirit, not necessarily a specific listing of specific gifts for specific people.

Leave a Comment