Some of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural gifts.

And how those who don’t believe in miracles, redefine them.

1 Corinthians 12.4-11

When the apostles Paul and Sosthenes corrected the church of Corinth regarding the supernatural—in particular about the gifts the Holy Spirit distributed to his church—the apostles listed a few of these gifts. Didn’t define ’em; just listed ’em.

Nothing wrong with that, but the problem is cessationists, those Christians who don’t believe in the supernatural, have redefined these gifts so they’re no longer supernatural. Still gifts of the Holy Spirit, but now they’re the sort of “gifts” that gifted and talented people—those folks we tend to call “geniuses”—happen to have. You know, like the ability to remember everything you read. Or have perfect musical pitch. Or be able to do complex mathematical equations in your head. Or be really physically coordinated.

In other words, natural gifts. Granted by God, of course, ’cause he’s the Creator. And thus the 1 Corinthians passages become all about how God has blessed his church with really talented, creative individuals. Great musicians, artists, preachers, handymen. There’s even biblical precedent for it: Remember when the LORD wanted Moses to build the tabernacle, and all the instruments which went inside it? And apparently he had a chief contractor in mind:

Exodus 31.1-5 KWL
1 The LORD told Moses, 2 “Look, I call by name Bechalél ben Uri ben Hur, tribe of Judah.
3 I filled him with God’s Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge,
and every ability 4 to do work in gold, silver, bronze, 5 and stonecutting;
to plaster, to do woodworking—in every ability.”

Seriously, Bechalel could do everything. And did. Ex 38.22

But that’s not at all what 1 Corinthians is about. It’s about nefmatikí/“spirit-things.” Stuff we can’t naturally do; we can’t do ’em at all unless the Holy Spirit does ’em through us. Stuff which proves the Holy Spirit is active among us, ’cause skeptical pagans can’t just brush them off as the talented acts of clever people. They’re forced into a dilemma: Either God’s really among us, or it’s deception or self-delusion. Either he’s real or he’s fake.

So here’s the list the apostles gave in 1 Corinthians—and the redefinitions which cessationists made up for ’em, and why those redefinitions are crap. Starting with the scriptures.

Christians like that will make such a hash of things, and lead themselves and others astray. It’s why, in the case of Corinth, Paul and Sosthenes had to step in and correct them.

1 Corinthians 12.4-11 KWL
4 And there are a diversity of supernatural things—and the same Holy Spirit;
5 a diversity of ministries—and the same Lord;
6 a diversity of activities—and the same God activating all of them in all of us.
7 Each individual is given an individual revelation of the Spirit—to bring together.
8 For by the Spirit, while a word of wisdom is given to one,
by the same Spirit, a word of knowledge is given to another.
9 To someone else, by the same Spirit, faith.
To another, by the one Spirit, healing gifts.
10 To another, powerful activity.
To another, prophecy.
To another, the ability to judge spiritual things.
To someone else, families of tongues.
To another, interpretation of tongues.
11 One and the same Spirit acts in all these things,
dividing them to each of his own people however he wants.

I remind you: It’s not a comprehensive list. Nor is it meant to be; we already have plenty of supernatural precedents elsewhere in the bible. But this’ll get us started.

Supernatural wisdom.

Firstly, we’ve got lógos sofías/“a word of wisdom.” By which the apostles meant supernatural wisdom. You know, the sort of clever thinking which can’t be deduced from common sense, basic psychology, or even educated guesses. It didn’t arrive any conventional way. It comes from the Holy Spirit informing us, “Here’s what’s really going on.” Or “Here’s what you really oughta do.”

Say there’s a difficult situation going on; a personal conflict between a married couple in the church. They tell me what they think the problem is. But, as humans do, they aren’t fully forthcoming with all the details. The husband is hiding the true state of their finances from everyone, and that’s what’s stressing him out. The wife has a porn addiction, and she’s embarrassed so of course she never mentions it. And I don’t know they’re hiding stuff—’cause duh, they’re hiding stuff—so for all I know they’re not. But let’s say, for no reason I can think of, my first advice to them is, “Okay, get together just by yourselves, preemptively promise to forgive each other for anything the other might say… and then confess your deepest darkest secrets to one another.” I assume this is just a trust-confirming exercise, but by golly deep secrets come spilling out, there’s repentance and forgiveness and love and relief and healing… and I can’t take credit for it. Only the Holy Spirit can.

Say I’m put in charge of a ministry. Something I’ve not run before. (Or something I have; either way.) And in the course of figuring out how to run it, I come up with a really unconventional idea which doesn’t appear to make a lot of sense. Might even have been tried before, and didn’t work, and that’s why no one does it. But for no good reason it invigorates the ministry, which winds up serving way more people than anyone ever expected. Again, I can’t take credit for it. I got it from the Spirit.

No surprise here: Cessationists assume this is plain ’ol wisdom. Some of us are clever, and some of us are kinda dumb, and if you pray for wisdom God’ll grant it. Jm 1.5 That’s all this is. Heck, you can develop wisdom on your own by reading Proverbs a bunch of times, and trying to put it into practice. Ain’t nothing supernatural about that. Inspired, of course, but hardly miraculous.

Supernatural knowledge.

Ordinarily we gain knowledge through experience or education: We learn by doing, or we learn by hearing. Educators can debate about which method is better. By and large, it’s how all the information in our brain got there. It was there on the outside, and we picked it up.

In the case of the lógos gnóseos/“word of knowledge,” it’s just there. We have no memory of finding it in a book, reading it off the internet, hearing it taught in school, first hearing of it in conversation—nothing. We don’t even recall God telling it to us. (If we did, we’d call it prophecy.) It appears to have come from nowhere at all. Yet once we check it out, we find out it’s totally accurate.

Looks like this. Say you’ve just met a stranger. You don’t know him; never met him. He brings up his boss, not by name. You reply, “Oh I know Ralph. We play racquetball together.” He says, “I never told you my boss’s name is Ralph. How’d you know that?” And you don’t know how you knew that; you just did. You weren’t even aware you were impossibly filling in the blanks in his story. It kinda surprised you too.

Pagans call this ability “psychic.” It’s not. It’s the Holy Spirit.

I have this particular gift. It shocks people. Usually ’cause the information God gave me tends to poke ’em right in the soul. “Who told you that?!” they’ll respond… and it’ll surprise me too, ’cause I just knew it, and can’t tell ’em where I got it. (No, not ’cause I forgot. I know where I got everything else. I have a really good memory.) God might’ve dropped it into me ages ago, and it only just now came out of me, but I shouldn’t know it. And I couldn’t, unless God gave it.

When Simon Peter just knew Ananias and Sapphira lied about their donation to the church, Ac 5.1-11 that was this. When Christians know things we can’t, or seem to read your mind, it’s because the Holy Spirit gave us the information. It can’t have come from anywhere else.

Also no surprise: Cessationists claim this is just ordinary knowledge. God gives his church scholars, people who do their homework and learn lots of things, which they can now teach their churches. If you know lots of bible trivia, you have the gift of knowledge. That’s what I was told in the cessationist churches I used to attend. Funny thing is, I have the actual gift too, though this wasn’t at all what they meant.

Supernatural faith.

Common faith is our usual trust that Jesus is Lord, God is real, Christianity is true, and so forth. That’s what cessationists believe the apostles were talking about here: God grants us faith. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, y’know. Ga 5.22

In fact the apostles brought up faith of a supernatural variety. Which works like yea: When a person instantly and completely believes the impossible. And because they believed, they acted upon it. And because they were obedient to the drive of the Spirit, the impossible happened. That’s supernatural faith.

Like a Christian who drops everything, moves to Asia to become an evangelist, and has a very fruitful ministry. Or a Christian who’s not a faith healer, who’s never done such a thing before, but suddenly commands a paraplegic to get out of her wheelchair, and she does. Or a Christian gives his last hundred dollars to a ministry, and not only does this act solve a precise need of that ministry, but the Christian almost immediately gets that hundred back from another source.

Yeah, supernatural faith can look exactly like blind faith, when you believe something for no good reason. Like the gullible moron who believes everything the TV preachers tell him, and can’t empty his bank account fast enough because Brother Creflo needs another Gulfstream. A lot of Christians practice blind faith, think it’s supernatural faith, and get suckered regularly.

How do we tell the difference? Duh; fruit. The Christians who consistently get suckered into following their blind faith, rarely produce fruit. Not before, not after. They act on their impulses because they lack self-control. And they blame the inevitable disaster that follows, on the devil or “persecution”; never on their own foolishness. This sort of behavior is to be expected of newbies, ’cause they don’t know any better. But a longtime Christian should’ve ended such childish behavior long before. Especially if they were burned once, and should know better.

Legitimate supernatural faith always pays off. Not sorta, not mighta, not “if you look at it a certain way”: Always pays off. Pays off decisively. Whereas fools acting in blind faith stagger from crisis to crisis.

Supernatural healing.

Harísmata yamáton/“gifts of healing” does not mean, as the cessationists claim, you have a knack for doctoring or nursing, so you went to medical school. Or became a caregiver, therapist, nutritionist, psychologist, or something related to health maintenance and care. I’m not at all knocking scientific treatment, nor saying God can’t work through it. Obviously he does. But that’s natural healing, not supernatural.

(Oddly, a lot of cessationists will describe people who practice folk medicine, non-traditional “medicine,” or homeopathic “medicine,” as people who likewise have “the gift of healing.” Even though what they do has no scientific basis, and their track records are just as awful as psychic healers.)

Nope; supernatural healing is the real thing. Christians pray for the sick to get well, and they do. Christians pray for diseases to get cured, and they are. Christians pray for broken limbs to be whole, for missing limbs to grow back, for cataracts to dissolve, for tumors to shrink, for psychological problems to vanish, for medications to no longer be necessary—even for the dead to rise. And they do.

In ancient times, most people assumed medical problems, particularly mental illness, were caused by unclean spirits. In my experience, no they’re not. Instead, unclean spirits pretend to be an illness—and this way people wind up incorrectly treating the illness, can’t understand why they can’t cure it, and never think to investigate whether there’s a devilish problem behind it all. For this reason, supernatural healers need to coordinate with people who practice supernatural discernment—and with exorcists. But exorcism, while obviously empowered by the Spirit, technically isn’t part of the 1 Corinthians list, so I won’t go there today. Another time.

Supernatural acts of power.

Energímata dynámeon/“activity of power” (KJV “the working of miracles”) is kinda the apostles’ catch-all phrase for any and every accomplishment Christians might do in the Spirit’s power.

Like when Jesus turned water to wine. Or fed thousands of people with very little food. Or stopped the weather. Or walked on water. Or got a fig tree to wither by cursing it. Or got his students to stop arguing. (Hey, it doesn’t have to be a huge miracle.)

Certain Christians are ridiculously insistent that every supernatural act must have some sort of salvation component. They figure the only reason God does miracles is to win converts, and get the world saved. And true, God wants everyone to be saved. 1Ti 2.4 But how’d turning water into wine do that? How’d walking on water do that? How’d the time when Elisha made an axehead float do that? Well, they really didn’t. God does acts of power because he loves his kids and wants to help us out. And seeing these things grows our faith… and then we work all the harder at spreading the kingdom. So yeah, they spread the kingdom in an indirect way. Doesn’t have to be so direct.

As for cessationists, they assume acts of power means the stuff we do, supposedly on God’s behalf… and if it happens to get better-than-average worldly success, it means the Holy Spirit made it powerful. So an “act of power” might be if we put together an evangelism outreach, and we get a thousand people to show up. Or if we boycott a business because we want it to change its pagan ways, and it does. Or if we successfully petition the government to pass a law, or if we successfully raise the funds to build a bigger church building. Success, plus good intentions, equals an “act of power.”

So… what about all the thriving, growing heretic churches? Or when pagans, after a long struggle, manage to get a law passed which these folks consider immoral? Oh, well then they don’t use that formula.

Prophecy.

I’ve discussed being a prophet in greater detail elsewhere. But to sum up briefly: It’s the ability to hear God, and share with others what he told us. Unlike the other gifts, which aren’t necessarily distributed widely, this one is. The Holy Spirit wants every Christian capable of prophecy. It’s why he lives in us in the first place. Ac 2.17-18

Whereas cessationists redefine prophecy one of two ways:

  1. The gift of expounding scripture: Speaking and preaching. Anybody who shares what’s in the bible is a prophet. After all, they are passing along God’s word.
  2. Predicting the future by interpreting various End Times visions.

Basically, if you teach bible, or have a knack for explaining the scriptures, you’re a “prophet.” Which doesn’t sync up with any of the scriptures’ instructions about prophets. (Lucky for them, too. Otherwise we’d have to stone every single last “prophecy conference” teacher to death for guessing wrong about which current events were actually predicted in Daniel and Revelation.)

Supernatural discernment.

Diakríseis pnefmáton/“judgment of spirits” (KJV “discerning of spirits”) is the ability to know whether there are spiritual forces involved in any event. Plus, what these forces are: The Holy Spirit, devils, humans, warped philosophy, dysfunctional pasts, or misplaced values.

Cessationists, no surprise, figure this is the usual kind of spiritual discernment: Testing the spirits to see whether they’re of God, like we’re instructed in the scriptures. 1Jn 4.1 Confirmation. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that; of course we should. Even those who can supernaturally discern, still need to do this. I’ll explain.

The supernatural gift works just like the word of wisdom or word of knowledge: You just know what’s behind things. To everybody else the preacher, prophet, ministry, or activity looks just fine. Those who are putting it to the test, will usually catch something. But the gifted Christian knows something’s amiss, long before they even start applying the tests. They instantly don’t like it. It’s like a negative knee-jerk response.

Yeah, supernatural discernment can look exactly like prejudice, where we don’t like something for no good reason: It’s unfamiliar, or weird, or uncomfortable, or we were raised to be bigoted. Again, we tell the difference through fruit. Prejudice’s fruit is obviously fleshly. Supernatural discernment’s fruit is often that evildoers, realizing they’ve been exposed, freak out and start acting fleshly.

As I said, we still need to apply the usual tests to these things. “Just knowing” something’s not right, doesn’t count as proof. The purpose of this gift is so we know to start looking for evidence. It’s out there. Find it.

This is not a popular gift. Trust me. Plenty of Christians would love the ability to instantly know whether something’s real or fake. But they need to read Jeremiah sometime: God would clue Jeremiah in on who was real and who was fake, Jr 28.15 and in return he was regularly accused of being the fake. ’Cause people liked the fakes way better than they liked Jeremiah. The fakes promised Jerusalem prosperity and peace. They still do that for us. Fakes know what people like to hear. Christians who’re gifted with discernment are nearly always bursting people’s balloons, ruining their lie-based happy thoughts, and making them feel dumb for getting sucked into some fraud’s schemes. Even when people know the discerning Christian has a really good track record of sniffing out fakes, people still groan when they show up: Fun time’s over. We so prefer a comfortable darkness to a cleansing light.

Tongues.

The apostles called ’em géni glossón/“families of tongues” (KJV “[divers] kinds of tongues”), because there’s not just one kind of tongues. I know of four. Possibly there are more.

  1. Baptismal tongues: The speaking in tongues Christians do when we’re baptized in the Holy Spirit. Ac 2.1-4 Basically an overflow of the Spirit’s power at that time.
  2. Prayer tongues: Don’t know what to pray, so you let the Holy Spirit do the praying for you.
  3. Prophetic tongues: When the Spirit gives you a prophecy—but it’s in tongues. So it needs to be translated into English, or some language we actually know 1Co 14.5 —hence the next gift on the list, ermineía glossón/“interpretation of tongues.”
  4. Human tongues: When the Spirit gives you the ability to speak or recognize a language you don’t already know. Like the apostles did when the Spirit first fell on them. Ac 2.7-12

Some Christians are gifted in only one kind, like tongues for prayer. Others more.

Of course, cessationists are insistent all supernatural tongues are fake, and that when the bible refers to “tongues,” it either means a gift which stopped happening in the first century… or, weirdly enough, refers only to a particular knack for foreign languages.

Okay, I have a knack for foreign languages. I took Spanish in grade school and high school, Hebrew and Greek and French—and linguistics—in college. (I tackled Latin on my own.) And of course I’m fluent in American English, and pretty knowledgeable about the 14th and 17th-century variants of English. Cessationists would therefore claim I must have the gift of tongues. I do, but that’s hardly why: It’s because when I pray, my mind can talk with God while simultaneously my lips utter mysteries.

Lastly.

In the cessationists’ redefinitions, you’ll notice the Holy Spirit is entirely unnecessary. Both Christians and pagans are totally able to do these things without God’s help. Pagans have become scholars, healers, power brokers, detectives, linguists. Yet some cessationists actually claim the Spirit does empower these pagans—’cause his gifts aren’t just for Christians, but all humanity.

Of course this interpretation totally takes 1 Corinthians 12 out of context. This chapter is about how these gifts are distributed in the body of Christ to build it up. Not distributed throughout humanity—nor given to people who can thereafter casually say, “Damn Jesus.” 1Co 12.3 If these gifts are only natural, not supernatural nor Spirit-powered, there’s no point to this chapter. It doesn’t work.

So these are supernatural gifts. And the Spirit hands them out to Christians. Only Christians. His kids. No one else.

This isn’t taught very often, so it needs saying: The Spirit may hand out these gifts, but the gifts don’t automatically include expert-level ability. He’ll give you prophecy. But you won’t immediately become a good prophet. You still need to develop some stuff. Fruit of the Spirit, mostly—gotta use these gifts in love. 1Co 13 But also the wisdom to know when to pass along God’s messages, how to do it tactfully and kindly, and to make really sure it came from God before we proclaim it willy-nilly.

A supernatural gift is a lot like a rifle. Anybody can shoot it. But it can’t be shot well, without training and practice. The training comes from watching other Christians work these gifts, and whether they do ’em right, and produce good fruit. (Or not, which we can also learn from: How not to do ’em.) The practice comes from ministering to others—getting into situations where we need these gifts, where we’re forced to call upon the Spirit for help, and getting better at love so we can do ’em right. Without these things, we can have the same terrible results as a four-year-old caught playing with Daddy’s handgun.