Spiritual Gifts, Completed Revelation, and the Holy Spirit

During the 1st century, Paul speaks of the early church as having 9 spiritual gifts (I Cor 12:1, 8-10). 

1) The word of wisdom

2) The word of knowledge

3) Faith

4) The gifts of healing

5) The working of miracles

6) Prophecy

7) Discerning of spirits (the ability to distinguish between spirits ESV) (discernings of spirits ASV)

8) Divers (various ESV, NASB) kinds of tongues, (different kinds of tongues NKJV)

9) The interpretation of tongues.


These spiritual gifts were given by the laying on of the apostle’s hands (Acts 8:13-25, esp. vs. 18).   A qualified apostle (Acts 1:13-26, esp. vs. 22; who had witnessed the resurrected Christ) had the ability to transfer these spiritual gifts.  Acts 19:6-7 is another examples of this phenomenon.  It is the case that during the time in which the New Testament autographs were not yet complete, God used His Holy Spirit to deliver His message through voice by the Holy prophets and apostles. 2 Peter 1:21 says, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”  God used his chosen ambassadors to spread His holy message. 


The spiritual gift of prophecy was given during the 1st century as was the gift of direct divine knowledge.  These spiritual gifts aided the church during its infancy.  Just as scaffolding aids in the construction of a building, so the spiritual gifts aided God in the establishment of His Kingdom. These spiritual gifts served God’s purpose and then were done away with.  Much like the scaffolding of construction, this item does not remain after the building’s construction is complete, so God’s spiritual gifts served their purpose and function and God not longer needed them once His kingdom was established and secure.  We can see this by reading the next chapter of I Corinthians, chapter 13.  The emphasis was on an enduring agape love, which without it, all would be void and useless. 


The Corinthian body was divided over various issues and needed to have unity in truth.  Many were zealous to seek spiritual gifts but were unloving in action.  Paul uses what is called a synecdoche (a literary device) meaning representing a part for the whole when he begins the chapter.  Instead of listing all nine of the spiritual gifts, he only listed a few, which would suffice for all nine of them (since he just listed them a few lines back).  Without love, not a single one of the nine spiritual gifts would be beneficial to the body of Christ.   


In I Cor 13:1 he mentions

1) “tongues of men and of angels”. 


I Cor 13:2 he mentions the following:

2) “gift of prophecy”

3) “understand all mysteries”

4) “all knowledge”

5) “all faith”. 


In I Cor 13:3 he mentions things that would not necessarily represent a spiritual gift listed in I Cor 12:8-10, but they are listed as well;  

“bestow all my goods to feed the poor” and

“give my body to be burned”. 


Paul uses the part to represent the whole, meaning, he mentions 5 of 9 spiritual gifts to represent all 9 of 9.


Why synecdoche? We use this figure of speech all the time we just don’t realize it.  For example, our President may say, “We need more boots on the ground”.  What is he referring to?  He is referring to the whole soldier by mentioning his boots. In the southern United States, we say, “I’d like a coke with that”.  Then we hear, “What kind?”  Southerners use “Coke” to represent all carbonated beverages.  This literary tool helps the writer to shorten his writings instead of having to relist all that would be encompassed.  This helps the writer to be more concise. 


Which of the nine spiritual gifts can you have without agape love and benefit the body of Christ?  Paul’s answer would be zero.  You must have love with all nine of those spiritual gifts.  But wait a minute….. Paul, you didn’t mention all nine spiritual gifts and say that without love, they are of no profit.  Well, truly he did, by using a form of speech called a synecdoche, representing the part for the whole.  It is understood in the context that Paul has in mind the list of 9 he has mentioned previously.


Paul says, without agape love, those spiritual gifts are of no profit or benefit.  He then give a beautiful definition of agape love in I Cor 13:4-7.  He then shows that love never fails.  It is not presently actively failing and never ever will fail.  He emphasizes that above faith and hope, there is love, which is the greatest (I Cor 13:13).  One the other hand, in I Cor 13:8-12 he speaks of things that fail and pass away. I Cor 13:8 speaks of prophecies that will fail, tongues that will end or cease, and knowledge that will vanish away.  We again see the apostle Paul use the familiar literary device he has already employed in the same chapter, the synecdoche, (representing the part for the whole). 


It would be a great disservice indeed to try to say that the items mentioned in I Cor 13:8 where not the same as the spiritual gifts listed in I Cor 12:8-10 and I Cor 13:1-2.  Therefore, we conclude based upon the immediate contextual evidence (verses before and after), that the prophecy, tongues, and knowledge of I Cor 13:8 are indeed miraculous spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit. 


Let me briefly define a few terms mentioned here in the text.

PROPHECY is the direct revelation of God’s word and will to a human, his chosen vessel, to proclaim to the rest of mankind His divine will. 


TONGUES meant that a person was given the miraculous ability to speak in a known language and communicate God’s word and will without having ever studied or known anything about that language or dialect.  Tongues were spoken on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  Acts 2:4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”


Acts 2:5 we find that there were gathered together people “out of every nation under heaven”. Acts 2:6 says, Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.”  They could hear them speak in their own language.  The miraculous ability to speak in tongues enabled them to actually speak a language and communicate God’s word in that language.  Acts 2:7-8 says, “And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?”  It is clear that they were able to hear their own language being spoken and they were able to understand and comprehend what was being said.  That is why they were amazed. 


Acts 2:9-11 shows just how many different groups were gathered together and also shows just how diverse the various tongues or languages were being spoken.  “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”  They could clearly comprehend the wonderful works of God by the communication of the apostles on that day.  This shows that to speak in tongues is to communicate in an actual language used present day by people groups.  If you were given this gift, and could communicate for example in Arabic, and no one there spoke Arabic, and you did not have someone to interpret, then you were to keep silent (I Cor 14).  Tongues were for a sign for the unbeliever (I Cor 14:22). 


KNOWLEDGE was a miraculous direct knowledge of God’s word and will provided by the Holy Spirit.  During the infancy of the kingdom, the followers of Christ did not have the completed written word.  Many of the early writing had not yet even been penned.  This is why the early church had the temporary gifts of the Holy Spirit to enable the body of Christ to grow and mature until the written word could be finished.   


* Excuse the ALL CAPS, but this is the only way in Facebook land you can emphasize something or call attention to it.  There is no bold option or italics or even underline.  Therefore, you are limited to ALL CAPS. 


I Cor 13:8 says that

  • PROPHECIES will FAIL (done away – ASV, NASB; pass away – ESV; will cease - NIV),

  • TONGUES will CEASE (will be stilled - NIV,

  • KNOWLEDGE will VANISH AWAY (done away – ASV, NASB; pass away – ESV, NIV).  


Fail, cease, and vanish away in the original Greek language is in the “indicative mood”, which means that these verbs action are statements of fact or actual occurrences, not desires of something to take place, like wishes or desires (potentially). Paul is not saying these are possibilities, he is saying these are facts or actions of reality.  They are in the future tense, which is the same as in the English.  Paul is saying that the spiritual gifts, all nine of them, not only the three listed, but all nine of them will pass away, cease to exist.  However, love will remain.


“…whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” I Cor 13:8


Paul admits that the vast majority of people were receiving revelation piece-by-piece, part-by-part during his day. 


I Cor 13:9 “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” 


Prophecy was in part.  However, Paul mentions a time in which this will not be the case. No longer would God’s revelation be in part, but would be complete, full, whole.  Paul says, this is in part now, but there will come a time when God’s revelation will not be in part, but whole. 


I Cor 13:10 “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”


Paul gives an illustration similar to the scaffolding.  He references a child who acts, speaks, and understands in one way until he reaches maturity as a man.  When this takes place, he no longer acts, speaks, thinks, or understands like a child but puts those childish things away.  I Cor 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  When the complete comes, that which is incomplete or in part shall be done away. “Perfect” means complete in verse 10. What perfect thing would come that would replace or take away the incomplete (in part)? 

I suggest that this is the completed revelation of God’s will. 


What does this all mean?  It means that today we no longer have the nine spiritual gifts of I Cor 12:8-10 because they have ceased.  This is by God’s design and not man’s interference.  Paul provides us with divinely revealed information in I Corinthians.  We today have the completed revelation of God’s word.  We have no need of modern day revelation from God.  Just as I Corinthians 13 teaches us, that which is in part has been done away.    


When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he told them that he received the revelation of God directly.  Paul states that he received God’s word or God’s will, God’s mystery, by God revealing it to him directly.  However, Paul said, if you want to know the mind of God, the word of God, the will of God, the mystery of God, then you need to read what I, Paul, have written down.  He did not tell them to wait for God’s direct revelation.  He told them to read what has already been revealed and given by God’s revelation.      


Eph 3:3-6 “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:”


We no longer have those “miraculous spiritual gifts” since God has removed those gifts and given us the “completed revelation” of His divine will. 


Regarding those from the end of the 1st century till the time of the 1500’s -1600’s, they did have the word of God. 


We have a limited amount of evidence to support this claim, but it is amazing that we have any evidence at all today considering the amount of time we are distanced from then.  For example, the Magdalen Papyrus Fragment contains small portions of the gospel of Matthew.  Some date this around 150-175 (Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 2001), pp. 50–53).  Others date it around 200 (Colin Roberts, Manuscript, Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt pp. 8). Carsten Peter Thiede dates it at 37-70 AD. 


Let us consider the writings of Polycarp, who lived from 69 AD to 155 AD.  He quotes a portion of or alludes to the following New Testament books and verses that follow:

Matthew 6:13; 7:1-2; 26:14; 5:44

Mark 9:35

Luke 6:20

Acts 2:24; 10:42

Romans 14:10,12

I Corinthians 6:2,9-10; 14:25; 15:58

II Corinthians 4:14; 6:7; 8:21; 10:1

Galatians 1:1; 4:26; 6:7

Ephesians 1:13; 2:5,8-9; 4:26; 6:18

Philippians 2:16; 3:18,21

I Thessalonians 5:22

II Thessalonians 3:15

I Timothy 2:1; 6:7,10

II Timothy 2:12,25; 4:10

Hebrews 6:20; 7:3; 12:28

I Peter 1:8,12,13,21; 2:11, 17, 24; 3:8-9; 4:7

I John 3:8; 4:2-3

III John 1:8


It is hard to believe that this person did not have access to the word of God and still yet is able to produce direct portions of many of the epistles in his own writings. 


I do not believe it is a fair statement to say that disciples did not have the epistles until the 1500-1600’s.  I believe that simply by looking at Polycarp and his writings, we can see that these writings were extant and in circulation during his day. 

There are many, many others as well.