8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
(1 Corinthians 12:8-10, KJV)
My family and I are currently reading about the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 guided mainly by “Chapter 53: Gifts of the Holy Spirit (2): Specific Gifts” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) in our after-breakfast Bible reading time. In this post I’ll report on our reading about the gifts of prophecy and discerning of spirits.
Although “prophecy” is generally defined as “a prediction,” as a spiritual gift it is better defined as “an utterance inspired by God.”
When we think of prophecy in the Bible, it is natural to think of the Old Testament prophets. However when we do so, we are tempted to ascribe more authority to the spiritual gift of prophecy than it warrants. The prophecies of the Old Testament prophets were recognized as the very words of God and are still accepted as Scripture. The New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament prophets were the apostles rather than those exercising the spiritual gift of prophecy.
Grudem explains how these passages indicate that New Testament “prophets” didn’t speak with authority equal to the words of Scripture: Acts 21:4; Acts 21:10-11; 1 Corinthians 14:29-38; and 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21. He concludes, “All these passages indicate that the common idea that prophets spoke ‘words of the Lord’ when the apostles were not present in the early churches is simply incorrect” (page 1055). Thus we should not view contemporary prophecy as equal to Scripture in authority.
At the same time we should value the gift of prophecy (and the gifts of tongues and interpretation, which together are equivalent to prophecy). Paul told the Corinthians, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1, ESV; all Biblical quotations except the opening one are from the ESV). And at the end of his discussion of spiritual gifts he tells them, “So, my brothers, earnestly desiring to prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:39).
Discerning of Spirits
Its location in the list of spiritual gifts suggests that discerning of spirits is associated with prophecy, its enabling the one exercising it to know whether the spirit behind a prophecy is the Holy Spirit, a demonic spirit, or the speaker’s natural spirit.
However many scholars, including Grudem, think that discerning of spirits has a broader application, its enabling the person exercising it “to recognize the influence of the Holy Spirit or of demonic spirits in a person” (Grudem, page 1082). And some think that it enables the person exercising it to distinguish between the kinds of evil spirits, such as a disabling spirit (Luke 13:11), a mute (or dumb) and deaf spirit (Mark 9:25), a spirit of divination (Acts 16:16), and a spirit of error (1 John 4:6).