First Corinthians and the Continuation of the Gifts of the Spirit 

I have written on this subject elsewhere but here we’re going to look at the text of 1 Corinthians and evaluate what it’s says regarding the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit.

First, it’s important that we acknowledge that this is a controversial issue. And it’s important that we consider these questions from an unbiased perspective.

What we were taught in the past should not determine our beliefs. We also should not let misapplications or extremes that people have that hold a certain belief dissuade us from holding a certain belief. The validity of a theological truth must be determined by what the Bible itself says. It’s important that we first agree on that.

Scripture is the final say on wether or not the gifts of the Spirit continue, not whether or not we understand each of the gifts perfectly or whether or not those who believe the gifts of the Spirit continue practice everything in a way that builds up the body of Christ in accordance with Scripture. Those other things are distractions (in logical argumentation they are referred to as the red herring fallacy).

So, what does 1 Corinthians itself say about the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit?

In 1 Corinthians 1, it seems to indicate the expectation that the gifts would continue until the coming of Christ. If you read the letter as the first recipients would have their is nothing at all that would make you think otherwise. In 1 Corinthians 1:7, Paul says “…you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice it says “any gift” and it seems as if the gifts will continue until the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ. That seems to clearly indicate that the gifts of the Spirit will continue until Jesus returns. And Paul even commands twice that we should desire to practice the gifts (see 1 Cor. 14:1, 39).

Further, how could we know which gifts of the Spirit ceased? Is it just apparent which gifts have seized? If that’s the case, however, I could envision the scenario where people would believe teaching has ceased.

After all, if the only way we know if a gift has ceased is by its absence then what happens in contexts where the word isn’t being taught? What would they think is going on if that’s all they have to go by? Of course, some may distinguish between the more charismatic gifts of the Spirit and the more regular gifts of the Spirit but is that a distinction that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians? I don’t believe so.

Why should one believe that various types of tongues has ceased and not  the gift of administration? Why the gift of healing and not prophecy? And I think those questions bring up other questions and issues.

For example, do we believe that healing takes place today or not? Some might say, “Yes. Healing takes place but not the gift of healing.”

However, I ask on what grounds? Some might say, “God can do whatever He wants. But I’m not comfortable with someone else healing.” To that I say, I agree (at least, partially)! God can do whatever He wants (whatever is in accord with His good nature). If God the Spirit gives the gift of healing to people to heal through them then He can do that! And He has done that. At least in the past. What would be the problem with Him continuing to do that?

If we pray for healing and God continues to heal, why couldn’t He heal people through one of His servants? God does other things through the hands of His servants. Men and women are the body of Christ. Men and women are His ambassadors! Healing seems like a lesser thing compared to those two undisputed truths.

Two other quick questions or issues. “What’s up with tongues? It’s weird,” some people might say. “And, when people spoke in tongues in Acts people understood what was being said.” True. But Paul talks about “various tongues.” So there’s more then one kind. And some form of tongues speaking requires interpretation if it is to be done before the whole church. So, clearly not every form of tongue is clearly understood by everyone or there would never be a need for an interpreter. 

It should also be noted that Paul clearly says, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues.” That’s a clear command but it’s very often disregarded. A fundamental hermeneutical principal is to interpret unclear passages in light of clearer passages. And Paul seems pretty clear that we should not “forbid speaking in tongues.”

Another interesting question or issue is the meaning of prophecy. Some believe that prophecy is synonymous with preaching while others believe that it has to do with foretelling. Scripture must be our guide here too. And the truth is, prophecy does not have to be precesssly defined before we consider whether or not the gifts of the Spirit continue. It may be helpful, however, to briefly consider…

In Scripture prophets prophesied and that included both preaching of some sort and often foretelling as well. So it seems preaching and foretelling can go together. But it seems prophesying does not have to entail foretelling. It should also be pointed out that there are examples of the prophecy of foretelling in the New Testament but it is in no way Scripture and would have no purpose of ever being considered on par with Scripture. It is a revelation of sorts but in a different way than Scripture. It is for a particular specific instance. It is of a different nature than Scripture.

The other issue regarding prophecy for those that believe it is simply equivalent with preaching is why has it not ceased along with the other gifts? We have the perfect word (some people believe that “the perfect” in 1 Cor. 13:10 refers to God’s word) of God after all? Why do we need preaching? Couldn’t we just read the word?

What if God so composed the body that He gave different gifts to it to build it up and encourage it? I believe He did! Because that’s exactly what it says in 1 Corinthians 12. Many believe that but they leave out the first part of that chapter. I believe they fail to understand the passage in context and are thus guilty of exactly what Paul says not to do: looking down on other parts of the body.

That’s why I’m passionate about this subject. God’s gives spiritual gifts for the common good; for the upbuilding of the church. The church, however, is largely divided. This is certainly an oversimplification, but on one side we have tons of solid teachers and on the other we have those who practice the gifts. The body needs all of the body! Without the whole body working properly it’s going to be all out of whack.

It is vital that we search the Scriptures and come to an understanding about what we believe about the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit. If they are still in operation we need them! We should then, as Paul says, “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 14:1) for the upbuilding of the body (v. 12). 

Of course, if you come to an understanding that the gifts of the Spirit do continue, as I believe, then you must consider how they can be sought after in a way that honors the Lord and falls in line with Scripture. We don’t, however, need to know all of the answers at the outset. A good first step is to be truly open to what the Scripture itself says about the gifts of the Spirit. Once that has been honestly studied then we can consider what that means for the practice of the Christian community. 

Wherever you land on this issue, may Jesus be worshiped with our spirit and our mind also (1 Cor. 14:15)! 🙂

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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