Ladd’s chart of charisms

Ladd put together this handy chart comparing the ordering of charisms in five separate New Testament lists – three from 1 Corinthians 12, one from Romans and one from Ephesians.

From George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Revised Edition, edited by Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmands, 1993), 579-580.

1 Cor 12:28 1 Cor 12:29-30 1 Cor 12:8-10 Rom 12:6-8 Eph 4:4
1 Apostle 1 1 1
2 Prophet 2 2 5 1 2
3 Discernment of spirits 6
4 Teacher 3 3 3 4
5 Word of wisdom-knowledge 1
6 Evangelists 3
7 Exhorters 4
8 Faith 2
9 Miracles 4 4 4
10 Healings 5 5 3
11 Tongues 8 6 7
12 Interpretation 7 8
13 Ministry 2
14 Administration 7
15 Rulers 6
16 Helpers 6
17 Mercy 7
18 Giving 5

The interesting thing, which I hadn’t noticed before, is that apostle is almost always mentioned first, followed by prophet and teacher, with the exception of Ephesians 4 which puts evangelist before teacher.   The list in 1 Cor. 12:8-10 is altogether different  from the other two lists, and the reason is because it comes in the context of Paul’s discussion of the “extraordinary” gifts which the Corinthians seemed so interested in.

I’m not suggesting Paul was sketching out some sort of hierarchy here, but it does not seem random that his normal ordering was apostle-prophet-teacher.

How does this apply in the post-apostolic church?

Well, I would suggest that, for us, the apostles and prophets continue to exercise authority in the church through the witness of scripture.  After all, it was common in the ancient church to refer to the scriptures as the witness of the apostles and prophets.   This is an entirely fitting description of the Bible for a Christian, since the New Testament is our record of the apostolic witness – the first-hand accounts of the people who knew Jesus – and the Old Testament is understood as characterized throughout by its prophetic anticipation of the coming of Jesus – even in books which are not explicitly called “prophetic.”   Of course, there is scriptural warrant for this, in the fact that both Moses and David are called prophets (Deut. 34:10 and 2 Sam. 23:1-2).

Therefore it would seem that the office of teacher remains a pre-eminent gift for the church, so long as it is remembered that it is less important than the apostles and prophets, that is, the scriptures.   The gift of teaching comes under the greater authority of the apostles and prophets, and derives its authority from them.  This fits with one of Paul’s main criteria for assessing the relative importance of charisms – do they build up the church (hence his prioritization of prophecy over tongues in1 Cor. 14:1-5).  It also lines up nicely with the description of scripture’s role in 2 Tim. 3:16-17:All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Am I suggesting there are no apostles and prophets in the church today?  I would definitely say there are no apostles.  Though one could go back to the root meaning of the word and argue that apostle simply means “sent one,” therefore allowing that there are similar functions in the contemporary church, the scriptural concept can’t be understood simply on the basis of a breakdown of the Greek word.   The Christian apostles are those who knew Jesus in person and were commissioned by the resurrected Christ to be witnesses to his resurrection.  Of course this is extended to Paul, as the “one abnormally born” (1 Cor. 15:8).

With prophets I am willing to consider a bit more leeway, though I would still maintain that the word should be used sparingly, and also with a clear differentiation between scriptural prophets and contemporary prophets.  I do not doubt that there are persons whom God chooses to use as his mouthpiece today, giving them special insight into the times in which we live.  However, all such prophecy must be tested against the canonical prophetic witness of scripture, and that is the difference between prophets in the age of the Church and the prophets of scripture.  Even in Paul’s day, his message was that prophets needed to be tested and placed under authority (1 Cor. 14:29).  Today we have the benefit of the established canon of the apostles and prophets as our standard for such testing.

Nature and grace, ability and charism

The discussion of the charismata inevitably turns to the question of how we can distinguish charisms from natural abilities.  Some wish to make a very sharp distinction between the two, while others prefer to stress potential continuities.  It seems to me that one’s approach to this question is heavily influenced by one’s presuppositions about the relationship between nature and grace.

The diversity of views can be illustrated by comparing the perspectives of James Dunn, Gabriel Murphy, and Ernst Käsemann.

Dunn, taking a typically protestant oppositional view of the relation between nature and grace, is adamant that the charismata are of a completely different order from natural abilities, and is at pains to draw a clear demarcation between the two:

charisma is not be confused with human talent and natural ability; nowhere does charisma have the sense of a human capacity heightened, developed or transformed…Charisma is always God acting, always the Spirit manifesting himself.” (Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, 255).

In making his point, Dunn references Kierkegaard’s “infinite qualitative distinction” as support for his claim, before allowing that natural abilities may “chime in” with charisma.  Dunn further underscores his point by insisting that charisma has an “event” character:

charisma is always an event, the gracious activity (ένεργημα) of God through a man. It is the actual miracle, the healing itself, the particular experience of faith; it is the actual revelation as man experiences it, the very words of wisdom, prophecy, prayer, etc., themselves, the particular act of service as it is performed.” (Jesus and the Spirit, 254).

Gabriel Murphy, articulating a traditional Catholic (Thomist)  interpretation of charisms in the wake of Vatican II, draws upon a more complementary understanding of the relation between nature and grace in describing the Pauline concept of charisms, noting that at times it is difficult even to discern the difference between natural ability and charism:

“…in spite of the fact that it can be stated a priori that all the charisms are spiritual gifts, it is not always possible in practice to discern or recognize this character in a particular charism…A successful preacher of the Word of God may only seem to be using abilities of his natural personality.” (Murphy, Charisms and Church Renewal, 51).

Murphy explicitly locates the answer to this dilemma in “modern theological concepts,” according to which

“grace is either the intrinsic elevation of the natural man to a supernatural state, or the assistance given to his natural powers in order to be able to perform supernatural acts.  In either case, the supernatural is built upon the natural – it is an elevation of the being or actions of a natural man.  Thus it is possible for the special gift of the charism to be grafted on a natural aptitude already possessed by the individual, elevating the action of this natural ability so that that the resulting act will be supernatural.” (Charisms and Church Renewal, 51-52).

Käsemann brings a rather different approach to the question, in which “the charismatic” can embrace any aspect of human life, including natural abilities, not through a divine elevation, but through  human recognition of the lordship of Christ:

“My previous condition of life becomes charisma only when I recognize that the Lord has given it to me and that I am to accept his gift as his calling and command to me.  Now everything can become for me charisma.” Käsemann, “Ministry and Community in the New Testament,” in Essays on New Testament Themes, 72.

I’m not quite sure how to characterize Käsemann’s perspective, but in this scheme, “recognition” becomes the key transforming nature into grace.  The difference between the two seems to have been collapsed, outside the subjectivity of the individual.

This is an area where I think it is difficult to separate theological presuppositions from exegesis.  Of course, these authors, particularly Dunn and Käsemann, would claim that they are simply doing unvarnished exegesis – but somehow they all come to have very different interpretations.

I’m still working out my position on this (which I’ll hopefully put into a future post), but it seems to me that we might be asking a question which these texts do not set out to answer.   What I mean is,  I don’t think Paul is writing about the difference between “abilities” and “gifts” – he’s trying to underline the givenness of all things.   This givenness is discerned by those who, through the Spirit, have discerned the ultimate gift of salvation in Christ, and through him have become inheritors to a great wealth of gifts (including the charismata of 1 Cor. 12-14).

“For all things are yours,whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
(1 Corinthians 3:22-23)

Love: the greatest gift or something greater?

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most well-known passages of scripture. Because it is often read at weddings, it is even well known to non-Christians.  Because it is often read on its own, I think many of us think of 1 Corinthians 13 as a stand-alone unit within the Bible.  However, in its context, it actually forms an integral part of Paul’s teaching on charisms.

Paul Kariuki Njiru’s book, Charisms and the Holy Spirit’s Activity in the Body of Christ (Rome: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 2002), does a good job of outlining the Paul’s rhetorical structure throughout 1 Corinthians 12 to 14.  He summarizes the overall structure this way:

A Spiritual gifts in general (1 Cor. 12)

B Love as the most excellent way (1 Cor. 13)

A’ Spiritual gifts in particular: prophecy versus tongues (1 Cor. 14)

A more detailed breakdown of the various concentric rhetorical structures within chapters 12-14 is found on page 68.  The bottom line is that the famous “love chapter” is not a stand alone tribute to love in general, nor is it a later interpolation by an unknown editor (as some have suggested), but it is the focal point and climax of Paul’s discussion of charisms.

Paul’s method of writing is very rhetorical, and, by the use of concentric figures, he achieves the effect of emphasizing the importance of love as a regulatory principle in the use of spiritual gifts in the Church.  For the Apostle it is love that must govern the use of all charisms (49).

I think this exegesis is clear enough.  It also raises an interesting question: is Paul presenting love as the pre-eminent of all divine gifts, or is he specifically contrasting transitory gifts with the eternal love of God?

Njiru suggests that Paul is presenting love as “the gift par excellence” (60).  However, the broader consensus seems to be that Paul is intent on making a contrast here between the charismata of chapter 12 and 14 and love.   This comes out particularly in 13:8

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Love, then, is not one gift among others, but that without which the gifts are made void, useless, and even divisive.  It may properly be described as a “fruit” of the Spirit (Galatians 5), but not a charism.  This tells us something important about charisms: they are provisional, rather than enduring.   Part of the problem in Corinth was that they were allowing pride regarding particular charisms to divide their fellowship, thereby showing that they valued charisms above the love that they were to have for one another. 

Ecclesially, if we think of particular communions or traditions within the church as having ecclesial charisms, we can see how 1 Corinthians 12-14 could stand as a rebuke for our divisions.  A particular group within the church which separates from others on the basis of a particular gift or set of gifts is, to take up Paul’s image, like the eye saying to the hand, “I don’t need you!” (12:21).

Charism in the New Testament

I’m currently working on a biblical theology of charisms for my dissertation, and so the obvious place to start is with the New Tesament use of the word charisma and its variants.

I think many are surprised to find that the use of the word is actually quite limited.  There are only 17 occurrences in the entire NT, all in Pauline epistles, except for 1 Peter 4:10 (listed below).

The term seems to be used in two senses: a) as a general term meaning “gratuitous gift,” which describes a blessing of God, and, notably in Romans 5 and 6, is used as a term for salvation; b) as a specific term describing the variety of gifts given to members of the Christian community, each bringing a particular vocational / functional obligation.   This is the way we normally think of “charisma” – but note that it does not necessarily refer to “spectacular” or unusual gifts.  These are gifts given to all, and include, for example, teaching, alongside prophecy and healing.

The other thing to note is Paul’s synonymous use of charisma and dorea in Romans 5.   This calls for a survey of the occurrences of dorea in the NT.   In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul also speaks of the pneumatika in a way that is clearly related to his understanding of the variety of charismata.   Both of these terms overlap somewhat with the concept of chrarisma, but they are also used in different contexts.  Another post would be required to cover all those texts, but for those who might be interested, I’ve got summaries of dorea here and pneumatika here.


Romans 1:11 For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift (χάρισμα ~ πνευματικὸν) to strengthen you—

Romans 5:15 But the free gift (χάρισμα) is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace (χάρισ) of God and the free gift (δωρεὰ)in the grace (χάριτι) of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

Romans 5:16 And the free gift (δώρεμα) is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift (χάρισμα) following many trespasses brings justification.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift (χάρισμα) of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 11:29 for the gifts (χαρίσματα) and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 12:6 We have gifts (χαρίσματα) that differ according to the grace (χάριν) given to us

1 Corinthians 1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift (χαρίσματι)  as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 7:7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift (χάρισμα) from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.

1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts (χαρισμάτων), but the same Spirit;

1 Corinthians 12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts (χαρίσματα) of healing by the one Spirit,

1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts (χαρίσματα) of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:30 Do all possess gifts (χαρίσματα) of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

1 Corinthians 12:31 But strive for the greater gifts (χαρίσματα). And I will show you a still more excellent way.

2 Corinthians 1:11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing (χάρισμα) granted to us through the prayers of many.

1 Timothy 4:14 Do not neglect the gift (χαρίσματος) that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

2 Timothy 1:6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift (χάρισμα) of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;

1 Peter 4:10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift (χάρισμα) each of you has received.