Category: (2) Is there a biblical spiritual gifts list?


When we speak of the biblical sign gifts, we are referring to miracles like  speaking in tongues, visions, healing, raising the dead, and prophesying. There  is no question among believers whether or not they existed, for the Bible  plainly describes them. Where disagreement arises among believers is their  purpose, as well as the question of whether we should experience them today.  Some say that these gifts are a sign of one’s salvation, while others say they  are a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and yet others say their purpose  is to authenticate the message of the gospel. How can we know the truth? We must  search the Scriptures to find God’s purpose statements about these  things.

One of the earliest references to sign gifts in the Bible is  found in Exodus 4, when Moses is being instructed by God about the impending  deliverance from Egypt. Moses worried that the people would not believe that God  sent him, so God gave him the signs of the rod becoming a snake and his hand  becoming leprous. God said these signs were “that they may believe that the  LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the  God of Jacob, has appeared to you” (v. 5). If the people still did not believe,  God told Moses to take water from the Nile and pour it on the ground, where it  would turn to blood (v. 9). The purpose for the children of Israel was that they  would believe God’s messenger.

God also gave Moses miraculous signs to  show Pharaoh, in order that he would let the people go. In Exodus 7:3-5, God told  Moses that He would multiply His signs and wonders in Egypt, so “the Egyptians  shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and  bring out the people of Israel from among them.” God wanted the Egyptian people  to know that He was the one working to deliver the Israelites. In Exodus 10:7, Moses told Pharaoh that the final plague,  which would kill the firstborn, was to show that God distinguished between the  Egyptians and the Israelites. The signs and wonders confirmed God’s message to  Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so they would know that Moses was sent by  God.

When Elijah confronted the false prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Kings  18), he prayed for God to miraculously send fire from heaven so the people would  know “you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done  all these things at your word….that this people may know that you, O LORD, are  God” (v. 36-37). The miracles he and the other prophets performed were a  confirmation that God had sent the prophets and that God was at work in Israel’s  midst.

Joel was given a message of God’s judgment on Israel, and within  that message was a prophecy of mercy and hope. When the judgment came as  prophesied, and the people responded with repentance, God said that He would  then remove the judgments and restore His blessing: “You shall know that I am in  the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else. And  my people shall never again be put to shame” (Joel 2:27).  Immediately after that statement, God spoke about pouring His Spirit on the  people, so they would prophesy, see visions, and see wonders happening. When the  disciples began speaking in tongues on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21), Peter declared, “This is that which was  spoken by the prophet Joel.” What was the purpose? That the people would know  the message brought by Peter and the others was God’s message.

Jesus’  ministry was accompanied by various signs and wonders. What was the purpose of  His miracles? In John  10:37-38, Jesus was responding to the Jews who wanted to stone Him for  blasphemy, and He said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not  believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the  works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the  Father.” Just as in the Old Testament, the purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to  confirm God’s hand on His Messenger.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus to  show them a sign, Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a  sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For  just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so  will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn  it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater  than Jonah is here” (Matthew  12:39-41). Jesus was very clear that the purpose of a sign was so people  would acknowledge God’s message and respond accordingly. Likewise, in John 4:48, He told the nobleman, “Unless you see signs  and wonders, you will not believe.” The signs were a help to those who struggled  to believe, but the message of salvation in Christ was the focus.

This  message of salvation was outlined by Paul in 1  Corinthians 1:21-23: “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to  save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we  preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” Signs  have their purpose, but they are a means to a greater end—the salvation of souls  through the preaching of the gospel. In 1  Corinthians 14:22, Paul states clearly that “tongues are a sign not for  believers but for unbelievers.” God used miraculous signs like speaking in  tongues to convince unbelievers that the message of Christ was true, but as the  rest of the context shows, the more important thing was the clear declaration of  the gospel message.

One thing that is often overlooked in discussions  about signs and miracles is the timing and placement of them in the Scriptures.  Contrary to popular belief, people in Bible times did not see miracles all the  time. In fact, the miracles of the Bible are generally grouped around special  events in God’s dealing with mankind. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and  entrance into the Promised Land were accompanied by many miracles, but the  miracles faded away soon afterward. During the late kingdom years, when God was  about to place the people in exile, He allowed some of His prophets to do  miracles. When Jesus came to live among us, He did miracles, and in the early  ministry of the apostles, they did miracles, but outside of those times, we see  very few miracles or signs in the Bible. The vast majority of people who lived  in Bible times never saw signs and wonders with their own eyes. They had to live  by faith in what God had already revealed to them.

In the early church,  the signs and wonders were primarily centered on the first presentation of the  gospel among various people groups. On the day of Pentecost, we read that there  were “Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” gathered in Jerusalem  (Acts 2:5). It was to these  Jews, who had been raised in other lands and spoke those foreign languages (v.  6-11), that the sign of tongues was first given. They acknowledged that they  were hearing in their native tongues about the wonderful works of God, and Peter  told them that the only appropriate response was to repent of their sins (v.  38). When the gospel was first presented among the Samaritans, Philip did signs  and wonders (Acts  8:13).

Again, when Peter was sent to Cornelius, a Gentile, God gave  a miraculous sign to confirm His work. “And the believers from among the  circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy  Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking  in tongues and extolling God” (Acts  10:45-46). When Peter was questioned by the other apostles, he gave this as  evidence of God’s leading, and the others “glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the  Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (Acts 11:18).

In every instance, the sign gifts  were a confirmation of God’s message and messenger, in order that people might  hear and believe. Once the message was confirmed, the signs faded away. We  typically don’t need those signs to be repeated in our lives, but we do need to  receive the same gospel message.

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There are actually three biblical lists of the “gifts of the Spirit,” also  known as spiritual gifts. The three main passages describing the spiritual gifts  are Romans  12:6-8; 1  Corinthians 12:4-11; and 1  Corinthians 12:28. The spiritual gifts identified in Romans 12 are  prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and mercy. The  list in 1  Corinthians 12:4-11 includes the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge,  faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits,  speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. The list in 1 Corinthians 12:28 includes healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. A brief  description of each gift follows:

Prophecy – The Greek word translated  “prophesying” or “prophecy” in both passages properly means to “speak forth” or  declare the divine will, to interpret the purposes of God, or to make known in  any way the truth of God which is designed to influence people. The idea of  telling the future was added sometime in the Middle Ages and is in direct  contradiction to other scriptural passages that condemn such fortune-telling or  predicting the future (Acts  16:16-18).

Serving – Also referred to as “ministering,” the Greek  word diakonian, from which we get the English “deacon,” means service of  any kind, the broad application of practical help to those in need.

Teaching – This gift involves the analysis and proclamation of the Word of God,  explaining the meaning, context and application to the hearer’s life. The gifted  teacher is one who has the unique ability to clearly instruct and communicate  knowledge, specifically the doctrines of the faith.

Encouraging – Also  called “exhortation,” this gift is evident in those who consistently call upon  others to heed and follow God’s truth, which may involve correction or building  others up by strengthening weak faith or comforting in trials.

Giving –  Gifted givers are those who joyfully share what they have with others, whether  it is financial, material, or the giving of personal time and attention. The  giver is concerned for the needs of others and seeks opportunities to share  goods, money and time with them as needs arise.

Leadership – The gifted  leader is one who rules, presides over or has the management of other people in  the church. The word literally means “guide” and carries with it the idea of one  who steers a ship. One with the gift of leadership rules with wisdom and grace  and exhibits the fruit of the Spirit in his life as he leads by example.

Mercy – Closely linked with the gift of encouragement, the gift of  mercy is obvious in those who are compassionate toward others who are in  distress, showing sympathy and sensitivity coupled with a desire and the  resources to lessen their suffering in a kind and cheerful manner.

Word  of wisdom – The fact that this gift is described as the “word” of wisdom  indicates that it is one of the speaking gifts. This gift describes someone who  can understand and speak forth biblical truth in such a way as to skillfully  apply it to life situations with all discernment.

Word of knowledge –  This is another speaking gift that involves understanding truth with an insight  that only comes by revelation from God. Those with the gift of knowledge  understand the deep things of God and the mysteries of His Word.

Faith  – All believers possess faith in some measure because it is one of the gifts of  the Spirit bestowed on all who come to Christ in faith (Galatians 5:22-23).  The spiritual gift of faith is exhibited by one with a strong and unshakeable  confidence in God, His Word, His promises, and the power of prayer to effect  miracles.

Healing – Although God does still heal today, the ability of  men to produce miraculous healings belonged to the apostles of the first century  church to affirm that their message was from God. Christians today do not have  the power to heal the sick or resurrect the dead. If they did, the hospitals and  morgues would be full of these “gifted” people emptying beds and coffins  everywhere.

Miraculous powers – Also known as the working of miracles,  this is another temporary sign gift which involved performing supernatural  events that could only be attributed to the power of God (Acts 2:22). This gift was exhibited by Paul (Acts 19:11-12), Peter (Acts 3:6), Stephen (Acts 6:8), and Phillip (Acts 8:6-7),  among others.

Distinguishing (discerning) of spirits – Certain  individuals possess the unique ability to determine the true message of God from  that of the deceiver, Satan, whose methods include purveying deceptive and  erroneous doctrine. Jesus said many would come in His name and would deceive  many (Matthew  24:4-5), but the gift of discerning spirits is given to the Church to  protect it from such as these.

Speaking in tongues – The gift of  tongues is one of the temporary “sign gifts” given to the early Church to enable  the gospel to be preached throughout the world to all nations and in all known  languages. It involved the divine ability to speak in languages previously  unknown to the speaker. This gift authenticated the message of the gospel and  those who preached it as coming from God. The phrase “diversity of tongues”  (KJV) or “different kinds of tongues” (NIV) effectively eliminates the idea of a  “personal prayer language” as a spiritual gift.

Interpretation of  tongues – A person with the gift of interpreting tongues could understand what a  tongues-speaker was saying even though he did not know the language that was  being spoken. The tongues interpreter would then communicate the message of the  tongues speaker to everyone else, so all could understand.

Helps –  Closely related to the gift of mercy is the gift of helps. Those with the gift  of helps are those who can aid or render assistance to others in the church with  compassion and grace. This has a broad range of possibilities for application.  Most importantly, this is the unique ability to identify those who are  struggling with doubt, fears, and other spiritual battles; to move toward those  in spiritual need with a kind word, an understanding and compassionate demeanor;  and to speak scriptural truth that is both convicting and loving.