Some of the Spirit’s supernatural gifts.

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 distributes 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 believe God turned off the miracles once the New Testament was complete. So what do they do with Paul and Sosthenes’s list of supernatural gifts? They redefined every last one of them: They’re no longer supernatural, but natural. They’re the same sort of gifts any “gifted person,” any talented individual, any genius, might happen to have. Like perfect pitch, or instant recall, or the ability to do rapid math in your head, or amazing physical coordination. Hey, it’s not like the Creator doesn’t grant natural gifts!

So in a cessationist’s mind, the 1 Corinthians passages aren’t at all about supernatural gifts empowered by the Holy Spirit, but how God’s blessed his church with really talented people. Great preachers, musicians, artists, handymen. You know, like when the LORD instructed Moses to build a tabernacle, and “gifted” this one particular craftsman to do it just the way the LORD wanted it.

Exodus 31.1-5 KJV
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3 and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, 5 and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

Even gave Betsalél (KJV “Bezaleel”) a Spirit-empowered assistant, Oholiáv ben Akhisamákh. Ex 31.6 and together they could make anything. And did. Ex 38.22

But no, 1 Corinthians isn’t about getting way-better-than-average earthly abilities from God. It’s about getting unearthly abilities. Stuff nobody can naturally do. Stuff which proves the Holy Spirit is living and active among us, ’cause skeptical pagans can’t just brush these things 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 fake.

So here’s the list the apostles gave in 1 Corinthians—and the rubbish redefinitions which cessationists made up for ’em.

1 Corinthians 12.4-11 KWL
4 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 in all.
7 Each individual is given a different revelation of the Spirit—to bring us 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 By the same Spirit, to someone else, faith.
By the one Spirit, to another, healing gifts.
10 To another, powerful activity.
To another, prophecy.
To another, judgment of 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.

It’s not a comprehensive list. It’s not meant to be; there are plenty of precedents for other supernatural behaviors elsewhere in the bible. But this’ll get us started.

Supernatural wisdom gifts.

WISDOM. Firstly, we’ve got λόγος σοφίας/lóyos sofías, “a word of wisdom.” 1Co 12.8 By which the apostles mean supernatural wisdom: The sort of clever thinking and knowledge which can’t be naturally deduced from commonsense, basic psychology, or even educated guesses. It doesn’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 any difficult situation going on. Say a married couple comes to me and tells me they’re having problems, and they tell me what they think the problem is… and as humans do, they aren’t fully forthcoming with the details. Maybe the husband is hiding massive credit card debt; maybe the wife is hiding a massive porn addiction; neither of them has confessed this stuff to one another, much less me. But let’s say—for no reason I can think of—my first statement is, “Okay, let’s start with a trust-building exercise. First, both of you swear to forgive absolutely everything the other might say. Now, each of you confess the deepest darkest secret you’ve never, ever admitted to your partner.” And by golly those secrets come 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.

Or 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 lick of sense. Might’ve even 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. Hey, some of us are clever! And if you pray for wisdom, God grants it. Jm 1.5 So to them, 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.

KNOWLEDGE. Next there’s λόγος γνώσεως/lóyos nóseos, “a word of knowledge.” 1Co 12.8 We naturally gain knowledge through experience or education: We learn by doing, or learn by hearing. But in the case of words of knowledge, we just know. We have no memory of getting this knowledge. We didn’t read it someplace, or never heard it in school or conversation. It appears to have come from nowhere. Yet once we check it out, turns out it’s totally accurate.

Yeah, okay: Stupid narcissists “just know things” too, and appear to have got it from nowhere but their own wishful thinking. That’s why empahsize once we check it out. We don’t just presume we’re right. Humility, folks.

Words of knowledge look like yea: Say you meet a stranger, don’t know him, never met him, and he brings up his boss—not by name—and you reply, “Oh I know Ralph. We play racquetball together.” He says, “I never told you Ralph’s my boss. How’d you know that?” And you don’t know how you knew that. You weren’t even aware you were impossibly filling in the blanks in his story. It kinda surprised you too.

Pagans call both these abilities “psychic.” They’re no such thing. It’s the Holy Spirit.

I have these abilities. They shock people. Usually ’cause the information the Spirit dropped into 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 stuff, and can’t tell them how I came about it. (No it’s not because I forgot where I got it. I know where I got everything else. I have a really good memory.) I shouldn’t know things. I shouldn’t be able to give the best advice for things I know nothing about. And I can’t—unless God empowers me.

Yep, when Simon Peter just knew Ananias and Sapphira lied about their donation, Ac 5.1-11 that was this. When Christians know things we can’t, or seem to read one’s mind, the Holy Spirit’s obviously involved. It can’t happen any other way.

Also no surprise: Cessationists claim the word of knowledge is nothing more than ordinary knowledge: God puts smart people in his churches. God gives us scholars, who do their homework and learn lots of things, and puts ’em in places where they can teach Christians. If you know lots of bible, you must have the gift of knowledge—as I was told when I was a kid and went to cessationist churches. Funny thing is, I do have the actual gift. And ’tain’t the same thing.

FAITH. Common faith is our usual trust that Jesus is Lord, God is real, Christianity is true, and so forth. Cessationists believe it’s what the apostles meant: God grants us the power to believe stuff. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, y’know. Ga 5.22

In fact the apostles mean a supernatural type of faith, which works like yea: When a person instantly and completely believes the impossible. And because they believe, they act on it—and the impossible happens. 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 will look exactly like wishful thinking, blind faith, and all those people who believe in goofy nonsense because they want so bad for it to be true. Like those people who just “have faith.” Like the gullible moron who accepts 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, don’t produce fruit. In fact the reason they act on their impulses is ’cause they lack self-control—and 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 behavior long before. Especially if they were burned once, and should know better. Fools acting in blind faith stagger from crisis to crisis.

Whereas 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. ’Cause it’s not blind faith; it’s God the Holy Spirit.

JUDGMENT. Gonna leapfrog a few gifts and go to διακρίσεις πνευμάτων/diakríseis nefmáton, “judgment of spiritual things.” !Co 12.10 This is the ability to know whether there are any spiritual forces involved in any event. Plus, what these forces are: The Holy Spirit, devils, humans, warped philosophy, dysfunctional pasts, or misplaced values.

Cessationists presume this is the same thing as confirmation: Is this a God-thing or not? 1Jn 4.1 And certainly we should test whether things are of God or not. Even those with the gift of judging spiritual things should do this.

But this isn’t the natural ability to look at a thing’s fruit. This is a supernatural gift which works just like the word of wisdom and word of knowledge: You just know what’s behind things. To everybody else the preacher, prophet, ministry, or activity looks just fine. Even those who test fruit, will think things look hunky dory. But the gifted Christian knows something’s amiss, long before they even start applying such 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 fleshly, and supernatural judgment’s fruit is not. Prejudice condemns good Christians and never tries to restore them; supernatural judgment will always try to restore people.

As I said, we still need to apply the usual confirmations. “Just knowing” something’s not right, doesn’t count as proof. The purpose of this gift is so we know we need to look for evidence; it’s out there. It’s not meant to be a substitute for evidence: Yeah, your guard’s up, but you still gotta prove something’s wrong.

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. Fakes still promise us everything we want, and tell us what we 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 suckered by 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.

Healing and miracle gifts.

HEALING. Χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων/harísmata yamáton, “healing gifts,” 1Co 12.9 do not mean you have a knack for doctoring or nursing, so you went to medical school, or became a caregiver, therapist, nutritionist, psychologist… or one of the iffy “wellness arts” which spent more time on chakras than biochemistry. I’m not at all knocking scientific treatment, nor saying God doesn’t regularly work through it, ’cause he absolutely does. But that’s natural healing, not supernatural.

Nope; supernatural healing is everything the witch doctors claim they can do: 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 all medical problems, particularly mental illness, were caused by unclean spirits. Now yes, there are certain conditions caused by spirits: How unclean spirits successfullly hide is by pretending to be an illness. Thus doctors treat the illness, can’t understand why they can’t cure it, and never think to investigate whether there’s anything devilish involved—unless they themselves are gifted with supernatural discernment.

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.

POWER. What the KJV calls “the working of miracles,” ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων/eneryímata dynámeon, “activity of power,” 1Co 12.10 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, fed thousands with very little food, stopped the weather, walked on water, withered a tree, 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 Elisha made an axehead float do that? Well, they really didn’t. God does acts of power because has plenty of that power, and wants to help us kids out. Plus seeing these things grows our faith, and then we trust him more, and work all the harder at spreading his kingdom.

For cessationists, they claim acts of power means anything we do, usually on God’s behalf, which somehow gets better-than-average worldly success. Somehow the Holy Spirit made it way more potent than our own efforts could… but not directly, ’cause they’re pretty sure God doesn’t act directly in the universe anymore. But somehow. Can’t really explain how, but somehow.

So an “act of power” might be if we put together an evangelism outreach, and we were expecting maybe 50 people to show up, and we unexpectedly get 20,000. Or if we boycott a business for its immoral ways, and it reforms… or goes under. Or if we successfully petition the government to pass a law. If we successfully raise the funds to build a bigger church building. If our feeble efforts cause anything big to happen. 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 this formula.

Prophecy and prayer gifts.

PROPHECY. I discuss prophecy elsewhere, a lot. But to sum up briefly: It’s the ability to hear God, and share with others what he told us.

Unlike the other supernatural gifts, which aren’t necessarily distributed to everyone, this one is. ’Cause the Holy Spirit wants every Christian to be able to prophesy. It’s why he lives in us in the first place. Ac 2.17-18 All of us can hear God; all of us can share what we heard him tell us.

Whereas cessationists redefine prophecy a number of ways, and primarily one of two:

  1. It’s 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. It’s the ability to predict the future… by accurately interpreting various End Times visions.

Basically if you teach bible, or have a knack for explaining the scriptures, cessationists call you a “prophet.” Which doesn’t sync up with any of the scriptures’ descriptions of prophets. Nor any of the scriptures’ instructions to prophets. Nor any prophecy in the bible, nor the supernatural acts of prophets, nor anything our popular culture describes as “prophecy,” no matter how wrong they might get it. Teaching ain’t prophecy!

(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.)

TONGUES. The apostles called ’em γένη γλωσσῶν/yéni 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.

Cessationists don’t know squat about tongues, ’cause they don’t do them. So they insist there’s only one kind of tongues: The fake kind, ’cause God doesn’t do them anymore. And whenever the bible refers to tongues, it either means a gift which stopped happening in the first century… or a natural ability in foreign languages.

Okay, I have a knack for 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, and 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 this doesn’t mean you’re immediately a good prophet. You still need to develop some stuff. Mostly fruit of the Spirit; 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 without training and practice it won’t be shot well. The training comes from watching other Christians work these gifts—correctly, and in a way which produces good fruit. (Or not, which we can also learn from.) 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 training and practice, we can have the same terrible results as a four-year-old caught playing with Daddy’s handgun.