Rethinking the so-called
"Spiritual Gifts"

A study of the Biblical references to "charismata" with theological explanation therof.

©1999 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.
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Rethinking the so-called "spiritual gifts"

   The interpretations and emphases of the charismata have varied from the extremes of denying their existence subsequent to the first century presence of the apostolic personages, or the later canonization of the New Testament, to the extremes of glorifying such as the ultimate criteria of Christian certainty and spirituality, and employing such as independently possessed power-manifestations.

    In fact, chaotic confusion about the charismata was the context for the first known reference to such in Christian literature. Paul was writing to confront the Corinthian Christians about the divisive consequences of the selfish perversion of charismata within their community. In the epistle that we refer to as "First Corinthians," though internal evidence makes it obvious that there was at least one previous epistle written by Paul to Corinth (cf. I Cor. 5:9), Paul devotes almost twenty percent of the letter, chapters twelve through fourteen, to the charismatic issue.

    During his third missionary journey Paul revisited the congregation at Corinth (possibly twice; cf. II Cor. 13:2), and on one of those occasions he likely wrote a more general epistle to the church in Rome. In that epistle to the Romans, Paul also briefly mentioned (Rom. 12:4-8) charismata as the basis of diversity of practical function in the singular unity of the Body of Christ. Is it not interesting that the two primary epistolary references to charismata in the New Testament are both contextualized by the situation in Corinth? One letter was written to Corinth; the other written from Corinth. We should keep in mind that most of the Biblical information we have about the charismata comes from the context of corrective enjoinders necessitated by misunderstanding and abuse.

    In the subsequent history of the early Church there were scattered references to the charismata in the writings of the early church fathers, but extremist manifestations in such heretical groups as the Montanists created much skepticism toward such. By the beginning of the fifth century the conclusions of Augustine became the prevailing opinion and policy of the church; i.e. that the charismata were valid only during the historical period of the lives of the original apostles during the first century. This official ecclesiastical interpretation effectively canceled any need to consider the implications of the Biblical teaching of the charismata in subsequent periods. The sixteenth century Protestant Reformation retained the historicizing interpretation of Augustine, which prevailed, for the most part, through the nineteenth century. Only after the resurgence of the Pentecostal and Charismatic phenomena of the last century has the church once again been forced to address the meaning of Paul's explanations of the charismata.

    Reconsideration of the Biblical texts must be done with the recognition that the very misconceptions that created the problem that necessitated Paul's writing of First Corinthians in the first place have been projected back into the text by translation and interpretation, allowing and causing the misconceptions to be perpetuated throughout church history. When the charismata or pneumatika are translated as "spiritual gifts" and conceived to be detached entities or abilities distinct from Christ and distributed by the Spirit, the fallacious misconceptions continue to be perpetuated, and the problems associated with such continue to persist, both in denial and abuse. Underlying these misconceptions is a faulty trinitarian theology that improperly separates the actions of the persons (identities) of the Godhead, disjoining their homoousian unity of Being by emphasis on the activity of one apart from another, thus failing to keep their homoergon activity united within the diversity of its expression. This, then, is a serious theological perversion that has plagued Christian understanding of the charismata from the earliest reference to such.

    What is needed is an unbiased exegetical study of Paul's instruction in I Cor. 12-14 and Rom. 12:4-8, conducted within a broad perspective of Christocentric theology which recognizes that the Spirit of the living Lord Jesus is desirous of expressing Himself in diverse functional ministry within His Body, the Church, expressing therein His character of love and drawing His people together in cooperative unity. Although it is beyond the scope of this study to undertake an in-depth or exhaustive exegetical study of these passages, we must attempt a brief survey of the relevant passages in Paul's epistles to the Corinthians and the Romans in order to ascertain the theological premises that form the foundation for understanding the charismata.

I Corinthians 12

   When Paul first shared the gospel and established the church in Corinth on his second missionary journey, he undoubtedly gave some instruction to the new converts about the charismata and their function in the church. After his departure he received word via couriers that divisive problems had arisen in the Christian community at Corinth. A harsh letter of reprimand was apparently sent to the congregation at Corinth, but it did not seem to bring adequate resolution to the problems. The epistle that we now know as "First Corinthians" was then drafted from Ephesus (I Cor. 16:8) while Paul was on his third missionary journey, and was intended to address the Corinthian misunderstandings, including questions raised in the previous letter.

12:1 ­ Turning his attention to the problem of charismatic misunderstanding, Paul transitions by writing, "Now (to change the subject), concerning the spirituals..." There is nothing in the Greek word pneumatikon that necessarily implies "spiritual gifts." To clarify what is meant by this term "spirituals," it is best to allow the context to provide definition. This is available in vs. 7 where Paul refers to the "manifestation of the Spirit..." (phanerosis tou Pneumatos). Thus the pneumatika that Paul refers to are "spiritual-manifestations" or "spiritual-expressions," rather than "spiritual gifts" per se. The misnomer of "spiritual gifts" has tainted and colored the interpretation and understanding of this passage through the ages by implying separated entities or endowments given to particular individuals by the Holy Spirit.

    The purpose of Paul's addressing the issue of "spiritual-expressions" is that he does not want the Corinthians Christians to be ignorant of the proper perspective of God concerning such. Apparently there was some reason to believe that their understanding and involvement in these "spiritual-expressions" had been misdirected. Paul was confronting a problem. He does not want the Corinthians to be undiscerning, unaware, or unknowing about these "spiritual expressions" of ministry. In fact, the word he uses is derived from the word from which we get the word "agnostic" (agnoein). Paul does not want the Christians in Corinth, or anywhere else, to be agnostic, having no knowledge about "spiritual expressions."

12:2 ­ As the Corinthians had apparently been misled about "spiritual-expressions," Paul reminds them that as ethnic-peoples of the Gentile nations they had been led astray and duped into the idolatrous practices of devotion to impersonal idols. This is an indirect warning wherein Paul seems to be saying, "Watch out! It could be happening to you again. The inordinate attention and misemphasis on "spirituals" could be an idolatrous preoccupation with something other than God in Christ." Granted, they were being "led astray" by the solicitation of false teachers externally, or by the diabolic influences of fleshly tendencies internally, but they were nevertheless responsible for any improper focus or misrepresentation of Christ.

12:3 ­ Therefore, Paul wants to "make known" (gnorizo) to the Corinthians, so that they will not be unknowing (agnoein - vs. 1), that misrepresentative expressions, statements and activities do not derive from the Holy Spirit of God. Such misrepresentation of Christ had been evidenced in the Corinthians' misunderstanding of "spiritual-expressions," as is obviated by the issues Paul addresses throughout this epistle.

    What may appear to be supernaturally inspired utterances or expressions are not necessarily derived from the Spirit of Christ or God. Men are easily deceived into thinking that supernatural phenomenon are necessarily wrought by God, whereas they are often energized by the demonic powers inherent in idolatry (cf. Acts 17:22; I Cor. 10:17-21), as the Corinthians should have recognized.

    Spiritual expressions or utterances, derived as they must be from the Spirit of Christ, will never be contradictory to the character of Christ (cf. Gal. 5:22,23). Both in word and deed they will confess the governing Lordship of Christ. The Holy Spirit will not misrepresent Jesus Christ in speech or character, but will always re-present Jesus Christ consistent with who He is as Lord, enfleshed in Christians individually and collectively.

12:4-6 ­ Returning to the specific instructional objective, following the introductory comments of the first three verses, Paul employs a triad of statements in vss. 4,5,6. The primary theme of this paragraph from vs. 4 through vs. 11 is to explain diversity within unity in such a way as to disallow the detachment of the multiformity of manifestations from the oneness of divine action. Thus, three times, repetitively, Paul contrasts the diversity of diaireseis with the unity and equivalency of autos in the triune Godhead. The Greek word diaireseis might be translated "variously chosen conduits" based on its etymology from dia meaning "through," and haireomai meaning "to choose."

    "There are variously chosen conduits of charismaton, diakonion and energematon," explains Paul. In the variety of their instrumentality among Christians, we need not posit any complexity of distinction between the terms that Paul employs. Some have sought to distinguish and divide these terms, differentiating between capacity, context and consequence; motivation, ministry and manifestation; or more crassly, between tools, outlets and results; or illustrating with electricity, appliances and productivity. Such differentiation seems to inevitably fall into the trap of detaching God's action from His Being, or severing the unity of the action of the triune God. The apparent reference to the triunity of God in His action as Spirit, Lord, and God the Father, should be transferred back to the triplicity of commonality in the activity of the triune God via the apparently synonymous terms of charismaton, diakonion and energematon. God chooses to variously express His activity through "grace-expressions," or "service-expressions," or "expressions of His outworking," all being synonymous with the "spiritual-expressions" (pneumatikon) that Paul is addressing (cf. vs. 1). These are collectively summarized by the "all things" (panta) of vss. 6 and 11, whereby Paul refers to the totality of the divine expressions of God's function in Christian peoples. God energizes (energon - cf. Eph. 3:20; Phil. 2:13; Col. 1:29) all spiritual expressions in all Christians (inclusively, extensively and universally).

12:7 ­ "To each Christian, individually and particularly, God gives the unique opportunity for the manifestation, expression, or showing forth of the Spirit toward the collective advantage of the whole." Here, again, is diversity within unity as individual Christians function for the common good.

    The "manifestation of the Spirit" (phanerosis tou Pneumatos) should not be construed as a particular "gift" that belongs to or is possessed by an individual Christian, as this tends to postulate a separate "gift" distinct from the action of the "Giver." Rather, the Spirit of God in Christ expresses Himself in a variety of ways for the unified purpose of bringing together the people of God in a common unity, i.e. community.

12:8-10 ­ The variations of the spiritual expressions or manifestations are derived "through the Spirit" (vs. 8), "according to the Spirit" (vs. 8), "in the Spirit" (twice in vs. 9), and by the working of the Spirit (vs. 11). The diversification and multiformity of the spiritual-expressions must never detract from the singularity of their source in the Spirit of God.

    Following his explanation that "each one is given an expression of the Spirit for unifying advantage of the whole Body" (vs. 7), Paul begins to express that diversity by noting that "to one is given a particular expression, and to another a differing expression." As often translated into English this tends to lend itself to a misconception of separate entities or abilities being given to differing individuals; "to one is given...". The original Greek word order forestalls such somewhat by inserting "through the Spirit" between the subject and the verb; "For to one through the Spirit is given...". Paul is not implying any possessive acquisition of an independent gift, but seems to be indicating that a particular Christian individual is given the opportunity to express a particular expression of Christ's ministry at a particular time in a particular place.

    Paul's objective in these verses is not to present a catalogue listing of grace-expressions (vs. 9) or spiritual-expressions. The categories of expressions that he mentions are illustrative and not definitive. They are suggestive of the variety of such expressions, rather than an exhaustive encapsulation. The Spirit of God might express Himself in wisdom, knowledge, faith, healings, miracles, prophecy, spiritual discernment, languages, interpretation of languages, and in innumerable other expressions of grace.

12:11 ­ The point of emphasis in Paul's argument is that the singular (en) and particular (auto) Spirit of God energizes (energei) all these spiritual-expressions in their collective entirety in accord with His own intents, purposes and deliberations. The will of God is always the self-revelatory expression of Himself in Christ. Such singular and unified self-revelation is expressed in a mulitiplicity of unique manifestations in individual Christians. In addition, it might be noted that the divine expressions are not programmed or proceduralized, but are expressed as He sovereignly determines, for "the wind/Spirit blows where it wills" (Jn. 3:8).

    To translate diairoun as "distributing" (NASB) or "dividing" (KJV) seems ill-advised, for it can thus contribute to the misconception of the distribution of divided entities or commodities, which could then be possessed or controlled by the recipients. Consistent with the word's etymological origin, dia meaning "through" and haireomai meaning "to choose" (cf. vss 4-6), a more consistent meaning might be that "the Spirit energizes all grace-expressions, choosing to work through each individual Christian according to His own divine deliberations."

12:12 ­ Paul begins an extensive illustration (vss. 12-27) using the analogy of the function of the physical, human body to the function of the Body of Christ, the Church, attempting therein to illustrate the theme of diversity in unity. The singular unity of the physical body is expressed in the diversity and multiplicity of its members, and though there is a plurality of functional expressions in the members of the physical body, it still functions as one. Such is illustrative of the Body of Christ.

12:13 ­ By the singular instrumentality of the Spirit of God each individual Christian was overwhelmed into incorporative spiritual union in the one Body of Christ, the Church, and unto purposive functionality therein. Despite the diversities of race, "Jews or Greeks," or the socio-economic distinctions of "slaves or free," there is a common spiritual solidarity of Christians partaking of and being united with (being "made to drink of") the one Spirit of God.

12:14 ­ The physical, human body is not a monomorphic structure, but presents itself in a multiplicity of function. By implication, so is the Body of Christ.

12:15-26 ­ The remainder of Paul's illustration proceeds to draw out the implications of the plurality of function within the singularity of the body.

12:27 ­ All Christians collectively form Christ's Body for the expression of Christ's life, character and ministry unto others. Individually we have diversity of functional expression, though such must be in mutual solidarity for its one purpose, to express Christ. Christic-expression is indeed the objective of the spiritual, grace expressions of God's ministry workings.

Romans 12

   Writing from Corinth to the Roman church which he had never visited, the issue of the charismata or pneumatika was undoubtedly still on Paul's mind, not only because he was in the location of their controversial misuse, but because he recognized the necessity of explaining diversity in unity despite the misunderstandings of such in the Corinthian community. Though he could surely have avoided reference to the "grace-expressions," and skirted the risk of their being misinterpreted as detached "spiritual gift" commodities or abilities, Paul chose instead to briefly allude to the charismata as the basis of ministry function in the church, choosing words less open to misunderstanding than those employed in the Corinthian epistle.

12:3 ­ Paul sets the stage for his discussion of multiplicity in singularity, particularity in comprehensiveness, by noting that God has uniquely and providentially imparted or apportioned to each individual Christian a measure or component of faith. No one Christian is capable of expressing the totality of God's action in Christ, but every Christian has received the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9) in His totality, and therefore is a component in the total faith-expression of the Body of Christ, the Church, as each individually allows for the receptivity of Christ's divine activity in them. Though we receive the Spirit "without measure" (Jn. 3:34), we each comprise but a measure of the total ministry of the Church, indicating our need for each other in the oneness of the whole. "To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Eph. 4:7).

    The English translations which indicate that God has "allotted" (NASB) or "dealt" (KJV) to each Christian a measure of faith, again open the door for misunderstanding by the possible connotation that God has "dealt us certain cards" or "assigned to us a particular lot" of the commodities known as "spiritual gifts." Paul's intent would better be explained by saying that "God has uniquely apportioned to each Christian a portion of the total ministry of Christ." That would be consistent with Paul's personal explanation of his own ministry using the same Greek words, merizo and metron, in II Cor. 10:13: "we will boast within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you."

12:4,5 ­ Within that context of particularity within totality, Paul employs the same analogy that he used so extensively in I Cor. 12:12-27, of relating the physical, human body to the spiritual Body of Christ. Just as we have a mulitiplicity and plurality of particular members in the singular solidarity of our physical body, and they do not all have the same practical expressions of function (praxin), so in like manner we, Christians, who are many in our multiplicity and plurality, comprise one singular Body united in commonality and solidarity in Christ, while we individually and particularly are integrated in mutuality of interrelational function.

12:6 ­ This mutuality of ministry function is facilitated by Christians having diverse grace-expressions (charismata) within the total manifestation of Christ's person and work, that in accord with the grace of God given to us individually and collectively in Jesus Christ. Divine grace is always and only realized in Christ (Jn. 1:17; cf. Eph. 4:7).

   The diversity and multiformity of these various grace-expressions of ministry are expressed by the Greek word diaphora. On the basis of etymology alone (dia meaning "through" and phero meaning "to bring") it might be possible to explain that "we have grace-expressions that are brought through us in mulitiplicity and diversity according to the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ."

12:6-8 ­ Again, Paul does not attempt to give any exhaustive listing of definitive expressions of grace or ministry, but simply suggestive illustrations of how Christ might express Himself within His people in the Body. Paul's choice of wording in this epistle is much less susceptible to misunderstanding than it was in the epistle to the Corinthians. Instead of "to one is given..." (cf. I Cor. 12:8), Paul hypothetically indicates that "if the ministry expression of Christ is of a particular category of expression, then such will serve as a portion of the whole of Christ's expression of such ministry in the Body (vss. 7,8; service, teaching, exhortation), and will of necessity bear the character of Christ in such ministry action (vs. 8; simplicity, diligence, cheerfulness). He proceeded in the next sentence to point out that the character of divine love must permeate and lubricate all ministry expression (vs. 9; cf. I Cor. 13; Eph. 4:16; I Pet. 4:8).

   Based upon these observations from the Corinthians and Roman texts, and in conjunction with other Biblical evidence, some conclusions can be drawn regarding Paul's understanding of the charismata.

Charis, Charisma, and Charismata

   Understanding of the charismata must commence with an understanding of the dynamic expression of God's activity in grace (charis). Such grace was (and is) realized through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17), and through Him alone. Jesus Christ is thus the charisma, the singular, personal grace-expression of God. To the Romans, Paul explains that "the charisma of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23), for Christ is the divine life of God (Jn. 14:6). Previously in the same epistle to the Romans (Rom. 5:15,16), Paul had referred to "the charisma" of God in Jesus Christ, explaining that the grace (charis) of God had been manifested in abundance to all men in the gift in grace (charis), the availability of the one Man, Jesus Christ, for the restoration of all men. The charis of God is extended to mankind in the charisma, the grace-expression of the salvific gospel of Jesus Christ.

   Those who receive the charisma of God in Jesus Christ by faith, "have been given grace (charis) according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Eph. 4:7), allowing for the charismata of ministry-expressions (cf. Eph. 4:11,12). Out of the singularity of the charisma, grace-expression of Jesus Christ, there is derived the plurality of the grace-expressions (charismata) of the active ministry of Jesus Christ in and through His own, those identified in spiritual union as with Him as Christ-ones, Christians. The charismata expressions are energized and empowered by the charis of God within and through those who are partakers of the charisma of God in Jesus Christ.

Christic Function

   As the charismata are but expressions of the charisma of Christ, and the pneumatika are expressive of the Pneuma of Christ, it becomes evident that these are Christ-expressions. The charismata are expressive of Christic-function; the ministry-expression of Christ in His people and in His Body the Church. For this reason Karl Barth addresses the subject of charismata in the context of Christian "vocation" and "calling"1, and in the context of "the Ministry of the Community."2

   The charismata can only be legitimately understood in the context of a Christocentric theology, wherein the living Lord Jesus by His Spirit is the sole basis of redemption, sanctification and ecclesiastical expression. Everything God gives to the Christian is "in Christ Jesus." God has nothing more to give than Jesus! Everything that is legitimately called "Christian" or "spiritual" is Christ's Being in action! That is why we can say that "Christianity is Christ."3 Every Christian expression is ours by virtue of being en Christo, and expressed by means of His dynamic empowering, ek Christo. All behavioral expressions of sanctification, and all ministry expressions of Christian service are derived from the action of the very Being of Christ in the Christian.

   When Paul used the word pneumatikon (I Cor. 12:1) to refer to "spiritual-expressions," and then used the triad of synonyms, charismaton, diakinion and energematon, to refer to "grace-expressions, ministry-expressions, and expressions of God's working" (I Cor. 12:4-6), he could just as well have added other synonyms to express the same functional realities. Given his fondness of coining new Greek words to express the radical newness of Christianity and its expression, Paul might have invented such words as Christomatikon to refer to "Christ-expressions," or Theotikon to refer to "God-expressions" or "divine expressions" of the triune God in Christian peoples. Such words would have been consistent with the divine Christic function that Paul was attempting to explain.

   The inherent Christic function, allowing for no Christian ministry apart from His action in and through the Christian, is clearly stated by Paul later in the Roman epistle where he refers to "the grace (charis) given to him to be a minister (diakonia) of Christ Jesus" (Rom. 15:15,16), personally explaining that he does "not presume to speak of anything, except what Christ has accomplished (root word ergon) through me" (Rom. 15:18) ..."in the power (dunamis) of the Spirit (Pneuma)" (Rom. 15:19). Notice all of the same basic words that Paul employed in the plural in I Cor. 12:1-6 to explain the multiformity of ministry-expressions in the collective Body.

Diversity in Unity

   Noting that it is "from Christ," ek Christos, that the "whole Body is held together according to the proper working of each individual part" (Eph. 4:16), Karl Barth comments,

"By this there stand or fall the right and necessity of all distinction and therefore particularity, and yet also of interrelationship and therefore harmony, in the ministry and witness of the community."4

   The singular Lord Jesus in the singularity of His Christic function must be explained in the multiplicity and plurality of diverse ministry expressions in the many Christians of the collective Body, the Church. Just as the monotheistic God is expressed in the triunity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the expression of God in the Church must be expressed as diversity within unity. Only thus do we retain a consistent trinitarian and Christological theology.

    Therefore, out of the singular divine action of charis, pneuma, diakonia, and energeia, Paul utilized the plural terms charismata, pneumatika, diakonian, and energemata to express the variety, diversity and particularity of the practical ministry expressions of Christ which are to serve toward the purpose of the unity, solidarity and mutuality of the singular Body of Christ.

    Diversity within unity; multiplicity in singularity; particularity in totality. These are always difficult for the reasoning of man to hold in tension. This is the difficulty of the Christian explanation of the triune Godhead as three in one. It is likewise the difficulty of explaining the variety of the charismata as derived from the singularity of Christic function in the commonality of Christ's indwelling in the multiplicity of Christians for the unity of Christ's Body in love.

    Whenever emphasis is placed on explaining the diversity or multiplicity of such antinomies, there is an inevitable risk of de-emphasizing the unity and singularity. This has long been evident in Christian attempts to explain the three persons or identities of the homoousian union of the Being of the Godhead without forfeiting the concept of a monotheistic God. In like manner, the explanation of the multiformity of the divine expressions of the charismata as the singularity of Christ's ministry within the one Body has often resulted in the disunification, both of the "spiritual-expressions" from Christ, and of Christians from one another. This is no easy task to attempt to keep diversity and unity integrally connected as we seek to explain such both in the homoousian Being and homoergon doing of God.

    Is it any wonder, then, that from the very outset of the teaching of the charismata there has been misunderstanding and perversion? Could it have been avoided? Doubtful! The natural, fleshly propensities of man will of necessity, and inevitably, gravitate to misemphasis and extremism. One explains such spiritual realities, even to a "spiritual man" (pneumatikos, cf. I Cor. 2:15), at great risk of misunderstanding, for the "spiritual man" may choose to think and operate in sarkikos (cf. I Cor. 3:1-3) instead of discerning with "the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16), and view the charismata as separate, distinct entities, regarded as "gifts," possessions or equipment, even as the criteria of "spirituality," leading to the opposite effects of disunity, polarity, party-spirit, competition, etc. in the church. The prime example being the Corinthian congregation!

The Misnomer of "Spiritual Gifts"

   Throughout the history of Christian interpretation of the charismata there seems to have been a tendency to translate and label these divine ministry expressions as "spiritual gifts." This despite the fact that there is nothing inherent in the words pneumatika or charismata themselves that necessarily conveys the idea of a "gift." We do not translate energematon (I Cor. 12:6) as "energy-gifts," so why do we translate pneumatikon (I Cor. 12:1) and charismaton (I Cor. 12:4) as "spiritual gifts"? These words are more adequately translated as "spiritual-expressions" or "grace-expressions" which are, indeed, "given" (I Cor. 12:7,8; Rom. 12:6) by the grace of God.

    Additional words in the English translations also contribute to the misconception of separated "spiritual gifts." To refer to the "distributing" of gifts as a translation of diaireo in I Cor. 12:11 (as in NASB), seems to convey the idea of commodity distribution. And reference to God's "allotting" (Rom. 12:3, NASB) something to individual Christians, as if a certain "lot" of merchandise or equipment was distributed, likewise directs thinking towards the misnomer of "spiritual gifts."

    The disadvantage and danger of employing the terminology and phraseology of "spiritual gifts" is that such a designation tends to imply a detached disjunction from Christ, the separation of the "gifts" from the divine Giver. This is why "spiritual gifts" have often been viewed as detached "spiritual equipment" to undertake independent "spiritual ministry" that is not at all the expression of Jesus Christ energized by the Spirit of God within His Body.

    There is a natural tendency among men to want to objectify everything as independent entities or abilities. In so doing, they want to "get a handle on it, figure it out, identify it, organize it, mobilize it, and use it for utilitarian purposes of productivity." Is this not what we have observed throughout Christian history, as the charismata have been objectified as separated "spiritual gifts," distinct entities or commodities regarded as specialized tools, equipment or "power-toys" which belong to specific individuals as possessions, or even as prizes or trophies of spirituality and success? As is so typical of religion in general, the ontologically dynamic concept of Christic-function has been perverted into a dualistically detached category.5

    When the so-called "spiritual gifts" are thus detached, disjoined and divorced from their singular divine source in Jesus Christ, from the very Being of Christ Himself, they are regarded as distinct abilities, endowments, enduements and empowerments allegedly given to individual Christians apart from Christ. They become "something more" added to the foundational indwelling of the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9). Such additions always imply the insufficiency of Christ, and lead to the false criteria of "spirituality" whereby one Christian can claim to be more "spiritual" than another, when, in fact, the only basis of being "spiritual" is the presence of the Spirit of Christ within the spirit of a receptive Christian (cf. I Cor. 2:15). The detachment of the charismata from Christ Himself becomes the basis of dysfunctional egoism, spiritual pride, comparison, competition, and self-exaltation, disallowing their intended purpose to facilitate the functional unity of the Body wherein we are "in Him together," Christ functioning in each in order to serve one another in love.

    In an age when the secular job market is suffering from the selfish individualizing tendency of specialization that refuses to function outside of one's prescribed "job description," and people refuse to function in certain manners because "my contract does not include that in my job description," the Church must not fall prey to the same selfish tendency with adamant insistence on specific functions of specialization. Christians must be willing to be flexible and available to express any function of Christ's ministry that is needed at any given time in any given context. Our "neighbor" is any person who has a need, and Christ wants us to be free to be the conduit or vessel of His ministry to anyone in need both within and without the Body of Christ.

   Contemporary inventories and tests designed by ecclesiastical leaders to facilitate the identification of one's so-called "spiritual gift" in order to employ it for the utilitarian benefit of a church organization, are inappropriate and misleading. Karl Barth writes,

"the particularities in not arise accidentally or capriciously, nor are they discovered and established by individuals for reasons of practical convenience. On the contrary, they are works of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit. As charismata, they are forms of the one charis addressed to the community as such and operative in it. The very unity of the ministry of the community demands and creates its multiplicity."6

    This also reveals the absurdity of attempting to quantify the ministry of Christ by enumerating a particular quantity of so-called "spiritual gifts." The action of God cannot be thus quantified and limited. The particular expressions that Paul mentions in I Cor. 12 and Rom. 12 should not be interpreted as assigned categories of activities nor as complete catalogue listings. They are merely suggestive and illustrative of the unquantifiable expressions of God's grace in Jesus Christ, by His Spirit.

A Christian Perspective of Charismata

   The Corinthians had indeed "corinthianized" the ministry concept of spiritual grace-expressions. They had prostituted, adulterated, and bastardized the purity of Christ's total and inclusive ministry of expressing Himself in Christ-ones, Christians.

    It has been suggested that as Paul recoiled from the ribald repercussions of Corinth, he may have ruefully regretted having introduced the concept of charismata to the Corinthians, and regarded the teaching of such as "more trouble that it was worth," opening a Pandora's box of a plethora of problems. Evidence for such an opinion might be adduced by the fact that the two primary passages pertaining to the charismata, I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, both have common contextualization in the Corinthian charismatic catastrophe. Elsewhere Paul seldom mentions the charismata, even in II Corinthians where the general theme of the entire epistle is devoted to an explanation of Christian ministry as contrasted with religious methodology. Had the problem of charismatic misunderstanding in Corinth dissipated entirely after only a few months? Not likely. Or was Paul determined to choose terminology less given to misunderstanding and perversion? More likely. Thus he explains Christian ministry as "a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (II Cor. 2:14).

    There is no real basis for the conclusion that Paul had decided that the teaching of the charismata was more trouble than it was worth, however. It would be a travesty of Biblical interpretation to seek to avoid, shun, or push aside the inspired instruction concerning the charismata. The historical example of the Evangelical backlash to "spiritual gifts" when they were emphasized by the Pentecostal movement, and later by the charismatic movement, served only to reveal the paucity of their ecclesiastical ministry by the denial of the charismata. Later the Evangelicals found a way to incorporate the charismata into their utilitarian ministries, arbitrarily categorizing and denying the "sign gifts" of healing, miracles, tongues, etc., while proceduralizing the other so-called "gifts" into specialized functions.

    Rather than jettison the charismata as out of hand, or "more trouble than they are worth," what is required is a more adequate explanation and understanding which recognizes that they are not separated "spiritual gifts," but diverse "spiritual-expressions" of the ministry of Christ in His Body. This will require the spiritual wisdom, discernment and appraisal that Christians have in "the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16), in order to understand the spiritual realities of Christic-function.

    On a more personal level, the spiritual understanding of charismata in our own lives will be contingent on a proper under-standing in our relationship and fellowship with Christ. We must recognize our rightful place of "standing under" the Lordship of the risen Lord Jesus. Therein we can "listen under" Christ in obedience (hupakouo), available to be the vessels of His expression as He desires, and that for the united purpose of the entire Body of Christ functioning together for the common good, as it is permeated and lubricated by love (cf. I Cor. 13; Rom. 12:9). The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23) will invest the charismata with the character of Christ, as His Being is expressed in action for others.


   The thesis of this study may be regarded as a radical reformulation of the Biblical concept of charismata, calling into question the traditional understandings that have prevailed throughout church history. It needs to be adjudged, however, by evaluating its exegetical accuracy in interpreting the Corinthian and Roman texts, as well as by its consistency with the necessary Christocentric emphasis of all Christian theology. Everything expressive of Christianity must be definition be integrally united in the "Being in action" of the living Lord Jesus Christ. If Christians can understand and appreciate the dynamic grace-expressions of the charismata as the ministry manifestations of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, the Body of Christ will then more adequately re-present the life, character and ministry of Jesus Christ in the world today.


1    Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988. III.4, pgs. 603-605.
2    Ibid., IV.3.2. pgs. 856-859.
3    Fowler, James A., Christianity is Christ. Fallbrook: C.I.Y. Publishing. 1996.
4    Barth, Karl, Op. cit. 859.
5    Fowler, James A., op cit.
6    Barth, Karl, op. cit., 857.