Pentecostals, gifts and the Spirit one more time

An overdue return to pick up Anthony Thiselton’s discussion of the gifts of the Spirit. He’d left remaining gifts in 1 Cor 12:9-10 (stuff like deeds of power, prophets, tongues, healing) to a separate discussion since he says they involve not only exegesis but hermeneutics, the result of the latter being radically different contemporary interpretations.

In other words, this is the more controversial stuff.

So an opening question – have you had experience – positive or negative of these sorts of gifts? What place do they have in your theology and church practice? Is there a place for these or are they in effect ignored? And if so, why?

(1) ‘Gifts of healing’: charismata iamatōn

Plural. Paul does not use normal Greek word of therapeuō. Only refs healing in 1 Cor 12:9, 28, 30.

Thiselton warns of damaging mis-application here. Healing is not guaranteed. Paul is not healed of this ‘thorn’ (2 Cor 12:8). The danger is the implication that healing is ‘caused’ by our faith. Such a theology can make things worse. Why was not my faith good enough? Why does God refuse my sincere prayers?

He proposes these gifts include normal natural cures as well as direct ‘intervention’ from God beyond the natural.

A gift is from God – it is as he wills.  All things are possible for God, he is not limited to natural or ‘supernatural’. All are gifts of grace.

He argues for a balanced eschatology: neither totally realised eschatology or all future in Paul.

He mentions often exaggerated claims of healing in Renewal and Pentecostal practice. This comes out of a dualistic and over-realised eschatology. Such claims often do not match reality – neither are they the same order of power or experience as the NT. In the overlap of the ages, sickness and sin and death are still present.

BUT he also acknowledges (rightly) that Paul expected healing; not automatic healing but there is also no hint of cessationist thinking in Paul.

(2) Effective deeds of power (miracles) energēmata dyname

Some debate what this refers to: Thiselton argues ‘effective power’ is a better translation than ‘miracles’.  Here is the tension of Christian life and its relationship with power.

Power to do what? Thiselton suggests power to work wonders; power to carry out tasks; power as a resource; power to convey thoughts and speech; power to work miracles? Sense of being competent and equipped.

Keener’s magum opus on Miracles (2011) offers a profound challenge to an often assumed naturalism within much western Christianity. Paul ‘anticipated noticeable miraculous phenomena in the Christian communities (1 Cor 12:9, 28-30; Gal 3:5).’ (pp 30-31 of Keener).

Thiselton says the text is not clear on whether miracles  are primarily in focus in this gift but neither does he deny their reality. But he does question the idea of pervasive miracle working.

In this, he echoes John Stott (Baptism and Fullness) who pointed to the wide expanses of the biblical record with little or no miraculous activity.

(3) Prophecy prophēteia

Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12:10; 13:2; 14:6; 1 Thes 5:20, cf 1 Tim 4:14. And the verb to prophesy prophēteuō is in 1 Cor 11:4, 5; 13:9; 14:1, 3-5, 24, 31, 39.

Always to build up the body. Some link it to Paul’s apostolic role of leading, preaching, teaching.

But what is it? Thiselton looks at possibilities:

  1. A creative reinterpretation of Scripture ? (unprovable)
  2. A spontaneous word to the people from God? Dunn argues this – the Early Church exuded a sense of the Spirit, later institutionalised and controlled.  [Thiselton includes Max Turner as agreeing with Dunn but quotes from a 1985 article. Turner argues against Dunn in his more recent The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts].
  3. An applied pastoral preaching of the apostolic gospel?  (Thiselton names and leans towards some scholars who view it like OT prophets. A prepared word to the people to exhort and encourage. )

This remains much debated. Gordon Fee would differ from Thiselton’s emphasis here – more a supernatural revelatory word from God. Certainly not just ‘preaching’.

However understood, such a ‘word’ is not beyond question. Others are to weigh the prophecy. The word is to engage the mind, it encourages and consoles, it is not private but corporate (1 Thes 5:20 and Rom 12:6).  It happens in the context of whole community; intelligibility is necessary (1 Cor 14:1) and links to gospel of God for the whole church.

(4) Discernment of spirits

1 Thes 5:20-21

Evaluation, discernment, testing …. The word spoken needs to be judged. Is it testing whether the word is in line with apostolic gospel [testing of ‘human spirit’ vs Spirit of God]

(5) Tongues glossolalia

1 Cor 12:10 etc

There are ‘kinds’ of tongues in 1 Cor 12:10 but in 1 Cor 14:2 the tongue does NOT speak to others but only to God (distinct from Acts 2). Certainly the context is building up and encouraging the self – a good thing to do. Nothing negative about this gift of the Spirit, he gives good gifts.

But the gift of tongues has limits; it does not build up others. Private use in 1 Cor 14:6-19. These tongues cannot be understood by the hearer or naturally. The gospel is preached in the vernacular. Tongues is more a sign that the church has been empowered by the Spirit.

So what is tongues? Thiselton mentions linguistic experts who find no structure of a formal language – more a façade of a language. Some see it as ecstatic speech. Thiselton rejects the idea of angelic speech. He’s sympathetic to a parallel to Romans’ 8:26  talk of “sighs too deep for words” – do tongues represent a release of praise and worship of God beyond words ?

Comments, as ever, welcome.


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