John Wesley on Miraculous Gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14)

The following is a summary of John Wesley’s view of the miraculous gifts, based on his Notes Upon the New Testament for 1 Corinthians 12-14. I will also be including my commentary as well.

12:1-3: Lordship Salvation Is Necessary.

Wesley keenly observed that only Christians who were submitted to the lordship of Christ could rightly be said to be operating in the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, “so as to speak with tongues, heal diseases, or cast out devils.”

12:8-10: Miraculous Gifts Defined.

“Verse 8. The word of wisdom – A power of understanding and explaining the manifold wisdom of God in the grand scheme of gospel salvation. The word of knowledge – Perhaps an extraordinary ability to understand and explain the Old Testament types and prophecies. Verse 9. Faith may here mean an extraordinary trust in God under the most difficult or dangerous circumstances. The gift of healing need not be wholly confined to the healing diseases with a word or a touch. It may exert itself also, though in a lower degree, where natural remedies are applied; and it may often be this, not superior skill, which makes some physicians more successful than others. And thus it may be with regard to other gifts likewise. As, after the golden shields were lost, the king of Judah put brazen in their place, so, after the pure gifts were lost, the power of God exerts itself in a more covert manner, under human studies and helps; and that the more plentifully, according as there is the more room given for it. Verse 10. The working of other miracles. Prophecy – Foretelling things to come. The discerning – Whether men be of an upright spirit or no; whether they have natural or supernatural gifts for offices in the church; and whether they who profess to speak by inspiration speak from a divine, a natural, or a diabolical spirit.”

Wesley seems to hold the view of Thomas Aquinas and the Puritans on the words of wisdom and knowledge (with which Wayne Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy follows suit): that it was merely an inclination, an intellectual aptitude, or talent for Bible study and theology. The “word of wisdom,” then, is merely a lot of accumulated Biblical wisdom acquired naturally from years of study. But this hardly fits the context. 1 Corinthians 13 and 14, for which 12:8-10 is preparing the reader, are clearly referring to the experience of supernatural revelations and sharing prophecies in church services. It is more probable, then, that the “word of wisdom,” and “word of knowledge,” and “discerning of spirits,” and “gifts of healings,” and “prophecy” are all different kinds of revelations or prophetic words from the Holy Spirit. Wesley’s naturalization of the gifts of healings show some level of admission of his failure in the area of praying for healing and of his resort to doctors, medicine, and natural remedies. I have had much failure here as well; but that is hardly the meaning of the text. Here such gifts are referring to prayer and revelatory gifts which impart faith for miraculous healing: in the case of Jesus, the apostles, and the apostle Paul, and James 5:14-16. I am in full agreement with his view of “prophecy” and “discerning of spirits.” In 12:28, he says that prophets “either foretell things to come, or speak by extra-ordinary inspiration, for the edification of the church.” But admits for 13:9 that “even the prophecies which men deliver from God are far from taking in the whole of future events.” And in 13:12: “Even when God himself reveals things to me, great part of them is still kept under the veil.” I think my definitions of the miraculous gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 would align more with Assemblies of God: as in Smith Wigglesworth’s Ever Increasing Faith (1924), Donald Gee’s Concerning Spiritual Gifts (1928), and Harold Horton’s The Gifts of the  Spirit (1934).

13:1-8: Agape Love Defined.

A self-sacrificing Christlike love for all mankind, especially for those in your church, is of supreme importance not only for the Christian life, but also as it relates to the use of prophecy and related miraculous gifts. A tender and affectionate good will for the benevolent help and friendliness towards all God’s creatures, which is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, which is given to us at conversion (Romans 5:5). Any so-called prophet who does not abide in, walk in, pray in, or prophesy in this same spirit of love is misusing the information received from any revelation of the Holy Spirit. Any supernatural information that a prophet receives from the Holy Spirit about another human being in a church service–any such revelation–if it is not shared in the spirit of love and good will, then it is worth nothing.

14:1-6: The Word “Prophecy” Defined.

Wesley seemed confused about this passage; and admits in 14:6 that these are “obscure words” to him. He suddenly relapses back into the Reformed idea that prophesying is the same thing as Bible teaching in 14:1. Here he says, “The word here does not mean foretelling things to come; but rather opening and applying the Scripture,” referring to the word “prophesy.” But that is not correct: this Greek word is prophetuo, which is the verb for the noun in 12:10’s “prophecy” (prophetes). The word for “teachers” in 12:28 is didaskalos, which is totally different. The word “prophecy” is used in the sense of supernatural understanding of mysteries in 13:2 and 14:24-25, so there is no doubt from the context, that the word “prophecy” in 14:1 should be about supernatural revelation of all kinds. Wesley at times, flip-flops between foretelling future events and Bible teaching, in his understanding of the word, but its clear it can refer to words of knowledge about secret sins in people’s lives (14:25); and really all types of supernatural information (13:2), including the “foretelling some future event” which Wesley reverts back to in his understanding of the word “prophecy” in 14:5.

14:9-21: Tongues and Interpretation.

Wesley had more of a Pentecostal view of speaking in tongues. He saw them to be miraculously given by the Holy Spirit, but sees that unless they are interpreted or translated into common English, since “by the power of the Spirit” the tongues speaker can “understand the words” himself–then they serve no more purpose than “unintelligible gibberish.” But he also held to the idea that a private Pentecostal prayer language is meant in 14:28: as “profitable to himself in his private devotions.” A noteworthy remark from John Wesley, since the holiness movement and its sister churches in the Wesleyan and Methodists movements utterly condemn this idea, even to this day, with a few charismatic exceptions.

14:22-29: Words of Knowledge Among the Early Methodists (c. 1765).

Wesley testifies for 14:24-25: “Verse 24. He is convicted by all – who speak in their turns, and speak to the heart of the hearers. He is judged by all – Every one says something to which his conscience bears witness. Verse 25. The secrets of his heart are made manifest – Laid open, clearly described; in a manner which to him is most astonishing and utterly unaccountable. How many instances of it are seen at this day! So does God still point His Word.” This last statement, “So does God still point His Word,” seems to imply that the words of knowledge which were shared in “testimony time” or testifying like the early Pentecostals, and exposed the secrets in some person’s heart present, is seen as a supernatural confirmation of the divine origin of the Bible, as in Mark 16:20: “confirming the Word with signs following.” Wesley, I think, wrongly supposes that in 14:26 everyone in the church of Corinth was causing confusion by each of them participating in the meeting by sharing their own songs, prophecies, and teachings. The text seems to imply that this was a normal and acceptable church practice. Its just that Paul sought to regulate the order of worship in this charismatic church: namely, that there should be a maximum of three prophecies per church service (and tongue interpretations count as prophecies); and the prophets should be humble enough to allow the pastor and church members to judge for themselves whether these utterances are truly supernatural and from the Holy Spirit (14:27-29).

14:32: Ecstatic Prophecy Condemned As Demonic and Delusional.

Like Wayne Grudem, 14:32: “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets”–is also viewed by Wesley as a condemnation of wild, ecstatic, frenzied prophecy. He says, “What enthusiast considers this? The impulses of the Holy Spirit, even in men really inspired, so suit themselves to their rational faculties, as not to divest them of the government of themselves, like the heathen priests under their diabolical possession. Evil spirits threw their prophets into such ungovernable ecstasies, as forced them to speak and act like madmen. But the Spirit of God left his prophets the clear use of their judgment, when, and how long, it was fit for them to speak, and never hurried them into any improprieties either as to the matter, manner, or time of their speaking.” While I will admit that ecstasies or trances or being “slain in the Spirit” are found in the New Testament when some visions are received (Acts 10:10; 22:17), the crazy demonic manner of so-called nabi prophets in some charismatic churches, or those who partake in “ecstatic prophecy,” are probably not guided by the Holy Spirit, but rather by some strong idea or human feeling they personally have, and are then deceived at that moment, that it is the Holy Spirit; in some cases, it might even be from the devil. True revelations from the Holy Spirit come through visions (close-eyed mental pictures or open-eyed apparitions), dreams, and a still small voice in the head (Num. 12:6; Acts 2:17; 1 Kings 19:12). Prophesying like an emotionally disturbed, raving lunatic is not a gift of the Holy Spirit: if you ever see someone doing this, know they are being deceived or demonized at that moment. However, I will admit that although some evangelical charismatics might be very emotional when they feel inspired by the Holy Spirit, I still think God can impart supernatural information to these people, even though their excitement might be childish or immature. But when an uncontrollable trance is involved, where the person appears mentally ill: that is not from God. Spiritual drunkenness from the baptism in the Holy Spirit, especially with tongue speaking, may have some level of ecstasy (Acts 2:15). But as we have already seen, speaking in tongues can always be brought under control (14:27-28).

14:34-40: Women in Church Services.

Paul already admitted, along with Peter and Philip (Acts 2:17; 21:9), that some women are prophetesses and can prophesy in church services, provided they submit to male authority with a meek and gentle spirit; and that they either have long hair or a head covering, which is symbolic of this submission (1 Cor. 11:5ff). Paul is clearly a complementarian with husband and wife relationships (Eph. 5:22); and he extends that complementarianism into the order of church services. Only men are permitted to be Bible teachers, because of the supreme authority that Scripture holds over Christians lives (1 Tim. 2:12). Male pastors, male elders, and male deacons are envisioned in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. Women are to be subservient in their attitude to these church leaders–even if they are deaconesses (Rom. 16:1); and are in no way allowed to express a defiant, domineering, or feministic spirit like Jezebel did towards Elijah. In Paul’s view such a thing is shameful (1 Cor. 14:25). This flies in the face of pagan Greek prophecy as it was in Corinth; which was dominated by female witches, who prophesied in an uncontrollable trance, like the Oracle of Delphi.

I look forward to studying the progression of Wesleyan and holiness views of miraculous gifts for 1 Corinthians 12-14. Having finished with John Wesley’s commentary, I would like to continue with Adam Clarke’s (1832) and the Wesleyan-Methodist commentators J. A. Beet and D. D. Wheden (c. 1881), whose commentaries on 1 Corinthians are available on Seeing that the Azusa Street Revival was in 1906, I can assume that William J. Seymour might have somehow been influenced either directly or indirectly by these Wesleyan holiness ideas.

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