Although it’s not the only place in the Bible that speaks of miraculous gifts, it is this section of Scripture that speaks of them as directly as possible for their use in the church. I’ve tried to veer away from verses that don’t deal with miraculous gifts, so that I can stay on subject as much as possible. I’ve consulted John Wesley and Adam Clarke.
Lordship Salvation: The Mark of a True Prophet
12:1-3: Lordship salvation: a sign of genuine miraculous gifts and prophets.
The Gifts of Revelation Defined
12:8-10: I’m inclined to believe that all nine of the miraculous gifts are gifts of revelation, but that they are different revelations for different purposes: the word of wisdom (interpretation, application, and direction), the word of knowledge (secret facts), faith (supernatural confidence for a miracle, protection, or financial providence: Adam Clarke says, “a peculiar impulse, as Dr. Whitby calls it, that came upon the apostles when any difficult matter was to be performed, which inwardly assured them that God’s power would assist them in the performance of it”; John Wesley calls it “miracle working faith” when commenting on 13:2; Clarke: “miraculous faith” on 13:3), gifts of healing (faith to pray for specific sicknesses), the working of miracles (supernatural confidence to pray or command specific nature miracles other than healings), prophecy (knowledge of future events; or just a general experience of revelation gifts; for the first view, Clarke says: “the predicting future events, such as then particularly concerned the state of the church and the apostles; as the dearth foretold by Agabus (Acts 11:28); and the binding of St. Paul, and delivering him to the Romans (Acts 21:10), and St. Paul’s foretelling his own shipwreck on Malta (Acts 27:25)”), the discerning of spirits (knowledge of the presence of specific kinds of evil spirits; faith for casting out demons by prayer in Jesus’ name), diverse kinds of tongues (inspired speech, evidence of the presence of God, unknown foreign language, angelic language, personal faith building), and the interpretation of tongues (a revelation that interprets the meaning of a tongue).
Miraculous Gifts Are Occasional Experiences, Not Constant Ones
12:11: Miraculous gifts are occasional, episodic experiences, and are not constant: they are given by the Holy Spirit on special occasions, in accordance with God’s will. This doesn’t mean that “occasionally” means rarely–certainly not for someone who regularly prays for healing, such as a Pentecostal evangelist like Smith Wigglesworth or a charismatic pastor like John Wimber.
Healers and Prophets: The Hands, Ears, and Eyes of Christ
12:14-21: Although hearing Gods voice, having dreams and visions, and the laying on of hands are not specifically mentioned in ch. 12, it seems that they are allegorically mentioned in 12:14-21–the “hands” could be healers in the body of Christ, the “ears” could be prophets who tend to hear God’s voice the most, and the “eyes” could be the prophets, visionaries, or seers, who have dreams and visions more often; and are more skilled in dream interpretation, like Joseph and Daniel. A view like this would make sense, because people tend to put healers and prophets up on a pedestal, but Paul is saying that all of Christ’s body parts are necessary for there to be a healthy church: we don’t just need Christ’s hands, ears, and eyes (the healers and prophets), we need others too, such as Bible teachers (pastors), and “deacons” such as ushers, charity workers, etc.
12:28: This verse definitely seems to suggest that Paul had prophets and healers on his mind in 12:14-21. It only seems natural for me to suggest Mike Bickle’s Growing in the Prophetic and John Wimber’s Power Healing for further teaching about the prophetic and healing ministries.
Speaking in the Unknown Tongues of Men and Angels
13:1-3: Since we know that Paul has speaking in tongues on his mind (12:28, 30; 13:8; ch. 14), it must mean that, although tongues come from the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), they can come in the unknown foreign languages of man, as in Acts 2, or the unknown language of angels, which always require interpretation, as in 1 Corinthians 14. Although speaking in tongues may sound weird to some people–so much that they avoid them to maintain an air of respectability: if tongues are used as spiritual gifts, they can frame the mind for communion with the Holy Spirit, and become a vehicle for prophecy. Pentecostals have always believed that speaking in tongues is worth the sacrifice, while other Christian groups have tended to be more resistant to it. I think Paul would side with the Pentecostals on this point, because he said, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,” and, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you,” and, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5, 18, 39, NIV). But far be it from Paul to say, as some of the oneness Pentecostals do, that speaking in tongues is necessary for salvation!
Miraculous Gifts and the Spirit of Love
Gifts of prophecy, faith for miracles, generosity, and martyrdom are worth nothing to God–if not done in the spirit of love (1 Cor. 13:1-3): as an example of the opposite, take Moses when he struck the rock in anger at Meribah Kadesh (Num. 20; Deut. 32:51-52). God made a miracle of water gush out of the rock, but He punished Moses for his impatient, rude, and hateful attitude against the grumbling Israelites. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.
13:4-7: Love is defined as being rolled up in the virtues of patience, kindness, truth-seeking, protection, trust, hope, and perseverance; but love is distanced from such things as jealousy, bragging, rudeness, selfishness, bad temper, grudges, and evil.
Dreams and Visions: The Need for Interpretation
13:12: Clarke: “If there be a prophet-I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and I will speak unto him in a dream (Num. 12:6); Rab. Tanchum thus explains: “My Shechinah shall not be revealed to him, beaspecularia maira, in a lucid specular, but only in a dream and a vision…it appears that the rabbis make a great deal of difference between seeing through the lucid glass or specular, and seeing through the obscure one. The first is attributed only to Moses, who conversed with God face to face, i.e. through the lucid specular; and between the other prophets, who saw Him in dreams and visions, i.e. through the obscure specular.” Dreams and visions are symbolic and mysterious, and they require skill at interpreting and making sense of them, as with Joseph and Daniel. I think that Paul’s expression, “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part” 13:12, KJV), the glass is a kind of prophetic telescope, not entirely clear, and sort of hazy–that is, the mind–through which we experience dreams and visions. By this we are only given parts of information from the Holy Spirit, but are never given the whole picture at once: thus, even prophets still have to live by faith.
Miraculous Gifts Will Not Last Forever, But Love Will
13:8-13: Love is eternal, but miraculous gifts like prophecy and tongues are temporary–and are only of use to saints still alive on earth who are living by faith. It is because Christians are living in a probationary state on earth that God has designed for mysterious miracles and revelations to be His way of communicating spiritually with His people on earth. But once they are in Heaven, such mysteries will be removed and their rewards will be received.
The Gift of Prophecy and the Word of Knowledge
14:1: Especially the gift of prophecy–the all-encompassing phrase for the revelation gifts in 12:8-10. This phrase “the gift of prophecy,” has to include the word of knowledge, because Paul later says that “prophesying” reveals the secrets of people’s hearts (14:24-25). I think the way Paul is using the word “prophecy” in 14:1 is with a more general idea of having revelations and prophesying them in church, whereas in 12:10 it may be that he means “prophecy” to be the “knowledge of a future event” (see Clarke on 13:2), as when a prophet gives a prophecy of the future, like Simeon in the temple (Luke 2:34-35). Wesley saw it that way–defining the gift as “foretelling things to come.” My only reason for thinking this, is that Paul seems to be listing off different kinds of revelations that prophets can have in 12:8-10, and in that context, the word “prophecy,” when compared with the word “knowledge,” would seem to have the idea of future events as the only possible difference between the two words: these words are also differentiated in 14:6.
The Purposes of Prophecy
14:3: Strengthening, encouragement, and comfort are the three main purposes of prophecy. A closer examination of the Greek words will also reveal this entails exhortation, which can either be a summons to draw near to God or a call to repent from a secret sin. Edification is another translation of one of these words, which means to build up one’s faith in God.
The Purposes of Tongues
14:13-17: Speaking in tongues is a kind of supernatural speech: either a Spirit-filled prayer, song, worship, or prophecy (if interpreted). Clarke confused this whole passage by thinking that speaking in tongues was speaking in an instantly learned language, such as Hebrew. But this is not about learned languages, either naturally or supernaturally acquired. Several of the Azusa Street Pentecostals found out that this idea was a gross mistake, assuming the gift at first to be “missionary tongues,” that could be used to preach the Gospel in foreign countries. But tongues are only about spiritual speech and utterance (14:14-15), and when mystically interpreted by other visions, voices, or impressions, they can turn into revelations and prophecies. But mostly tongues are a kind of expression or outlet for a person who is receiving an outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto his body (see Acts 2, 10, and 19). Although a tongue speaker may speak in a foreign language temporarily (Acts 2), he still does not know the language, which is what makes the gift miraculous.
Taking Turns While Prophesying
14:30-33: Tongue interpretations and prophecies should only be shared by a maximum of three prophets per church service; and they must be respectful enough to take turns and not speak over one another. If a prophet notices another prophet has received a new revelation, because he stood up, then he should wrap up what he’s saying and let the other person prophesy next (14:30): this does not mean, as Wayne Grudem says, that prophets should rudely interrupt one another (The Gift of Prophecy, p. 59), and Clarke sadly follows suit. I agree with Matthew Henry that such an idea is an unnatural thought; and would assume that the Holy Spirit is silencing Himself in one prophet only to speak by another prophet about a different subject. I agree with Henry, when he says regarding 14:31: “That all might prophesy, one by one, or one after another, which could not be where anyone was interrupted and silenced before he had done prophesying; but might easily be if he who was afterwards inspired forbore to deliver his new revelation till the former prophet had finished what he had to say.” Patience, prophets! Patience! Scripture says to “prophesy in turn” (14:31), not to interrupt your fellow prophets. It must mean that a prophet should wrap up what he’s saying, once he sees another person give the signal to prophesy. The signal might have been standing up while everyone else is sitting down (14:30). The very idea that prophets should interrupt one another goes against 14:32-33, which says that revelations should be subjected to self-control, which implies they don’t have to be shared immediately. A prophet can wait a little to share what he saw, heard, or felt in the Spirit. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), just as prophecy is a gift of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:10); and it becomes God’s prophets to share their supernatural revelations in an orderly and peaceful way (14:33).
It seems that 14:32 excludes ecstatic prophecy as a legitimate means of revelation, because if prophecy could ever be ecstatic, then it would have to be out of one’s natural mental state, and not subject to self-control, as it is when a prophet receives a vision, mental image, voice, dream, or sudden impression of a thought popping into his head. Wesley said, “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.” There are some prophetic ministries that seem to operate ecstatically, but are in fact not really ecstatic–they are operating from strong and sudden impressions, but the prophetic minister expresses what he suddenly knows in an immature and seemingly uncontrolled way. If his eyes are open, and he is walking around from person to person sharing prophetic words, then he is still able to control his behavior. A lot of it comes across as a kind of grandiose showmanship, but he’s not without the ability to control his faculties. Immature as such a display can be, it is still possible such a prophecy could be from the Holy Spirit. An ecstatic prophet, however, is not able to control his faculties: his eyes are almost always closed, and he is in a kind of sleep, and he speaks without regard to what others are doing or saying, as it was with Edgar Cayce the “sleeping prophet.” That sort of thing, Wesley concludes, comes from an evil spirit that is counterfeiting the Holy Spirit.
You Should Be Pentecostal!
14:39: As in times of Pentecostal revivals, we should be eager to prophesy. But we should not be part of a church that forbids people from speaking in tongues, as is the case with many evangelical churches. We can have a tolerant attitude towards these members of the body of Christ, but if we are going to follow Paul’s direction here, then it means we should be part of a Pentecostal or charismatic church that does not forbid tongues, like the Assemblies of God and the Vineyard churches.
Bickle, Mike. Growing in the Prophetic.
Clarke, Adam. “1 Corinthians 12-14.” The Adam Clarke Commentary.
Gee, Donald. Concerning Spiritual Gifts.
Grudem, Wayne. The Gift of Prophecy.
Henry, Matthew. “1 Corinthians 14:30-31.” The Matthew Henry Commentary.
Milligan, Ira. Understanding the Dreams You Dream.
Randolph, Larry. Spirit Talk.
Robeck, Cecil. The Azusa Street Mission and Revival.
Wesley, John. “1 Corinthians 12-14.” John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes.
Wigglesworth, Smith. Ever Increasing Faith.
Wimber, John. Power Healing.