In my experience, there is a lot of confusion, in both culture and theology, surrounding the Holy Spirit and “gifts” He brings.  That confusion often leads to divisions within the One Body of Christ.  The solution, in part, lies in rethinking the words we use to express the biblical teaching of “spiritual gifts.”

Greek to English

The phrase “spiritual gifts” comes from the English translation of some rather unusual and difficult Greek words. When we study the Bible it is important that we understand what these words mean. There are only two Greek terms used to denote the “spiritual gifts” (πνευματικός and χάρισμα) and both terms are commonly translated the same way. The difference between these words only becomes apparent in the English when we look at the context in which each word is used.

Language Concepts

First, let us deal with the term “spiritual”. In our modern culture “spirituality” is separated from the Holy Spirit and by-in-large the word has lost meaning (secularized). Consequently, the continued use of the term “spiritual” tends to depersonalizes our relationship to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we should consider using the more personal term “Spirit” in its place. However, let me hasten to add that my proposal in no way suggest that all use the term “spiritual” is wrong. The goal is to let our terminology better reflect the biblical idea that a gift has been given to us in relationship and for relationship. Our words should reflect this very intimate expression and experience of faith.

Second, let us deal with the word “Gift”. This word is used in the New Testament to refer to the person of the Holy Spirit Himself and to our covenant-salvation with God. When the word “gift” is used in connection with the concept of “spiritual gifts” it has the unfortunate effect of detracting from the true biblical intent.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Acts 2:38-39
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself”Acts 10:45
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.

To make sure we never confuse the two concepts of the “gifts” we are given by the Spirit and the actual gift of salvation through the Spirit, we should reserve the word gift for use only in reference to the Holy Spirit as He brings the promise of salvation.

Proposed Alternatives

The alternative word I propose is “giftings.”  Giftings means “little gift” and should be used instead of “gift” when referring to the manifestations of the Holy Spirit within the Body of Christ. Using the term ‘gifting”, helps make clear the difference between the manifestations of God with the ultimate Gift of our common salvation.Summary

To bring the most clarity to this often confusing topic I propose substituting the terms “Spiritual Gifts” with the following terminology

“The Spirit’s Giftings”

and/or

“Giftings of the Spirit”

This proposed alternative to the traditional renderings is superior for the following reasons.

  1. It rectifies the cultural distortion of the word “spiritual.”
  2. It emphasizes the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
  3. It emphasizes the intimate relationship we have with the Spirit of God.
  4. It makes clear the difference between the One Gift of the Spirit for salvation and the many giftings of the Spirit for the edification of the Body.
  5. It emphasizes the fact that these giftings are the property of God’s Holy Spirit given at His discretion.

Dr. Joe Miller (aka JR) is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. In addition, he is a church planter and coach for emerging leaders. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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