There is No Such Thing as Spiritual Gifts (Kind of)

SPIRITUAL_GIFT_IMAGEHave you ever read a book or heard a sermon on the so-called “spiritual gifts.” There is actually no such thing. Go ahead. Search your Bible. You won’t find the phrase “spiritual gifts” anywhere.

Okay. You found it? But it isn’t in the original Greek language (the language that the New Testament was first written in). Let me explain.

Some Christians create a metaphorical box called “spiritual gifts.” That is, they list the gifts that are found in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4, and say that only those “gifts” that appear in these New Testament lists qualify as “spiritual gifts.” In this sense, some create a technical category called “spiritual gifts” to refer to a limited number of ways that the Spirit works. The result is that even though the Spirit might enable a person to be talented at artistic designs (like in Exodus 35:31-32), this artistic ability doesn’t get counted as a “spiritual gift” because it isn’t in the “list” of spiritual gifts.

There are at least two problems with creating a limited “list” or “box” of spiritual gifts.

1) If you compare the various lists of “spiritual gifts” in the Bible, it is clear that the biblical authors never intended to give us an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts because none of the lists are the same. Paul mentions the gift of prophecy in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, but the gift of encouragement occurs only in Romans 12:8. And Paul lists the gift of teaching in all of the same chapters I just mentioned, but he mentions the gift of tongues only in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. The differences between the various lists of gifts clearly indicate that each list is incomplete, meaning that no biblical author intended to list all gifts of the Spirit.

2) Paul didn’t have a technical category called “spiritual gifts.” He never even uses the phrase “spiritual gifts!”*

Most English translations of the Bible present Paul writing about “spiritual gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1. (At least a couple of translations [CEV and NLT] also mention “spiritual gifts” in 12:4). In English, these verses read:

  • Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Corinthians 12:1)
  • Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

However the word “gifts” doesn’t actually occur in these verses in the original language. Rather, the one word Paul uses in these verses is:

  • pneumatika– literally meaning “spirituals” or things having to do with the Spirit. This Greek word is simply the plural form of the word “spiritual.” Making a word plural doesn’t change its meaning. “Spirituals” is not a technical term that Paul uses in reference to special ways that the Spirit works (that is, “spiritual gifts”). Rather, the word “spiritual” has numerous uses. For example, the Bible describes the church as a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5).

Another key word that Paul uses (for example, in 1 Corinthians 12:4 and 31) when he talks about things like gifts of teaching, healing, tongues, and so forth is:

  • charismata– literally meaning “gifts.” This word is simply the plural form of the word “gift.” Again, making the word plural, doesn’t change its meaning, nor make it a technical term referring to a special way that the Spirit works (that is, “spiritual gifts”). As above, Paul uses this Greek word meaning “gift” in other ways. For example, he describes salvation as a “gift” (Romans 6:23).

Paul did not create a technical category, limited list, or box, called spiritual gifts. Rather, when Paul talks about “spirituals” or “gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere, Paul is simply offering a number of examples of ways that the Spirit uses and enables believers to minister. There are many other ways that the Spirit can use believers!

Having said all this, does the Spirit give us gifts? Yes, by all means—the “gifts” Paul describes in his letters are indeed “the work of one and the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:11).

So, I suppose, in a sense, there are spiritual gifts. My main point, though, is that the Bible does not present a technical category that includes a limited number of “spiritual gifts” (but that wouldn’t have made a very good title for this blog post).

* To be fair, Paul does use the singular form “spiritual gift” in one place—Romans 1:11. However, here the term is not used in the context of or with the meaning of what most people think of when they think of “spiritual gifts.”

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4 thoughts on “There is No Such Thing as Spiritual Gifts (Kind of)

  1. In the same way, there are no 5 fold ministry gifts. (Eph). Paul uses the same three points around the gift lists in Romans, Eph and Cor.

    They being, God has a purpose for you, God will use you and no one misses out