The Spiritual Gifts of the Holy Spirit According to 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

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spiritual gifts of holy spirit


Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11


Revelation Gifts

1. The word of wisdom:

If you have the gift of the word of wisdom, you have the Spirit-given ability to understand and apply God-given knowledge and Biblical truth (not your own knowledge or worldly knowledge) to life situations with discernment. As Christians we are commanded to ask God for wisdom, but the word of wisdom is a spiritual gift given by the Holy Spirit to certain people as He wills. Jesus had this gift in a supreme way. Some people think that only apostles and prophets had this gift and that it no longer operates today. Others believe that the Holy Spirit is still imparting this gift to certain believers today. The word of wisdom is not related to human genius or insight. It is a supernatural gift of God that only the Holy Spirit can impart. Paul made it clear that the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. Therefore God’s wisdom is not the same as the wisdom of the world.

Wisdom from the Spirit

6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:6-16


2. The word of knowledge:

If you have the gift of the  word of knowledge, you have the Spiri-given ability to understand truth with an insight that only comes by revelation from God. (not by your own knowledge or worldly knowledge). You also supernaturally know something about situations or people and you understand the deep things of God and the mysteries of His Word. You see things through God’s eyes. Some people think that only apostles and prophets had the unique ability to understand what was divinely inspired revelation as well as what was not. Since the New Testament has been written, the gift of the word of knowledge is no longer needed. Others, however, believe that this gift is still active today. They consider this gift not merely as determining which prophetic words were from God and which were not but as a supernatural insight into certain facts. Therefore, they believe this gift is much needed even today. At times, the gift of the word of knowledge works together with the gift of the word of wisdom. First, God gives the believer supernatural knowledge into a particular situation, and then He gives wisdom on how to apply that knowledge.


3. Discerning of spirits:

The gift of discerning of spirits has nothing to do with natural discernment which we can all develop and which is being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure, to decide between truth and error, right or wrong. The gift of discerning of spirits goes beyond that. If you have the gift of discerning of spirits, you have the Spirit-given ability to discern which spirit is operating behind a person or in a place. You can distinguish if the operating spirit comes from God, from man, or from Satan. Jesus warned that many people 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.


Power Gifts

1. The gift of faith:

The gift of faith is not the same as the saving faith. All Christians have been given saving faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), but not all receive this special gift of faith. If you have the gift of faith, you trust that God is sovereign and He is good. You have a strong and unshakeable confidence in God, His Word, and His promises no matter the situation or circumstances, and even if you experience trials, tribulations, and persecution. You put your life fully into God’s hands and believe in the power of prayer and in miracles.


2. The gifts of healing:

If you have the gifts of healing, you have the Spirit-given ability to heal others according to God’s sovereign will. This has nothing to do with medical knowledge and you don’t need to be a doctor to exercise this gift. This gift can’t be exercised by the will of man but only through God’s sovereign will. If you have this gift, you have compassion for the sick and pray over them regularly. There is no guarantee that healing will always be granted. Though the disciples were given the authority to cast out demons, they weren’t always successful. The Apostle Paul was not able to heal himself and was told that God’s grace was sufficient to carry him through his infirmity without removing it from him (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). This gift is given at various times and places to reveal the God of heaven to the sick and tormented. If God doesn’t grant healing, then God has a greater plan or wants the person to go through the sickness or infirmity.

There is a big discussion among Christians today about whether this gift is still operating today or not. Some believe that this gift was one of the sign gifts only linked to the apostles of the first century church to affirm that their message was from God. Since the New Testament has been written, the gift of healing together with other sign gifts is not necessary anymore and ceased.

Others believe this gift will be operating until the end of the church age (until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ) and that there are still people today who operate in this supernatural ability.


3. The working of miracles:

If you have the gift of working of miracles, you have the Spirit-given ability to perform supernatural events in situations or people that can only be attributed to the power of God. It moves beyond the natural realm and its laws to accomplish the will of God.

Here are some of examples of miracles in the Bible:


John 2 – Jesus turned water into wine
John 11 – Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead
Matthew 14:13-21 – Jesus multiplied food
Exodus – Ten plagues of Egypt and the miracles Moses performed with the power of God
Matthew 14:22-33 – Jesus walks on water
Numbers 22:21-39 – Balaam’s donkey speaks
Luke 24 – Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension


Like the gift of healing, the opinion about whether this gift is still active or not today is divided. While some believe that this gift was one of the sign gifts linked to the apostles of the first century church to affirm that their message was from God and ceased once the New Testament was written, others believe this gift is still operating today and that it strengthens the church and draws the lost to Jesus.


Vocal Gifts

1. Speaking in tongues:

If you have the gift of speaking in tongues, you have the Spirit-given ability to speak in a language you never learned before. This gift is the most controversial gift of all the spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit. It ranges from denying this gift to exaggerated emphasis on this gift. The controversy starts already with the exact meaning of the gift. Some people think it just means the ability to speak earthly languages not previously learned, while others believe it also means the ability to speak ecstatic utterances, and even a heavenly language. Those that deny the existence of the gift of speaking in tongues believe that it ceased with the death of the apostles. Others think that this gift is still active today and there are those who give this gift a place of importance that is far beyond what the New Testament teaches. They are firmly convinced that the the gift of tongues is “the only” sign that a believer has received the Holy Spirit or the power of the Holy Spirit which is often called the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

The Greek word for speaking in tongues means “glossalia” which consists of the two words “glossa“, meaning tongue or language, and “laleo”, meaning “to speak”. So speaking in tongues can simply be defined as speaking in languages. Example: You have never learned to speak Japanese because your native language is English but one day the Holy Spirit enables you to pray in Japanese. This happens without your mind.

Within the charismatic movement, there is a belief that speaking in tongues means to speak or pray to God in an unknown language, which can be an ecstatic utterance or a heavenly language that sounds like an unintelligible language or “gibberish”. They think that every Christian can somehow learn how to speak in tongues. The Bible, however, teaches that all spiritual gifts “are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” 1 Corinthians 12:11. It means that the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts to each believer as He sees fit. You can’t learn how to speak in tongues as you can’t learn how to prophesy or any of the other spiritual gifts. Another misconception is that people who speak in tongues somehow possess more spiritual power than those that don’t. Nowhere in Scripture can you find that people who spoke in tongues where able to accomplish more than those who didn’t speak in tongues.


Is speaking in tongues just speaking in an earthly language you don’t previously know or is it a heavenly language? Let’s study Scripture.


Here is a Bible verse that describes speaking of tongues as speaking in earthly languages.


3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Acts 2:3-11


Conclusion: In this Bible passage, there is no speak of a heavenly or unintelligible language but real earthly languages that people could understand.


In the following Bible verses it is not clear if the people who spoke in tongues spoke in earthly languages or heavenly languages.


For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, Acts 10:46

And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. Acts 19:6


Conclusion: There is no mention of unintelligible language or heavenly language in these passages. It just says that people spoke in tongues as the Holy Spirit enabled them to do so.


However, there are several Bible verses where Paul indicates the tongues were not known earthly languages but rather heavenly languages.

First, he mentioned speaking in angelic languages.


If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3


This Bible verse seems to indicate the possibility of speaking in languages, which are non-human.


Then Paul wrote that when we speak in tongues, we don’t speak to other people but to God and no human could understand what we are saying.


For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 14:2


This statement indicates that Paul is not talking about earthly languages here. Paul clearly says that only God understands the person speaking in tongues. So this can’t be an earthly language. If it is an earthly language, somebody who is familiar with this language would understand it.


The next statement makes it clearer.


For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 1 Corinthians 14:14


Speaking in tongues is not something you do with your mind. If you pray in a tongue, it’s the Holy Spirit who speaks in you and through your spirit. It’s not something you can do by your own will or understanding.


For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Matthew 10:20


Now let’s study another Bible verse that talks about speaking in tongues.


Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 1 Corinthians 14:1-6


This Bible passage teaches us the following:

Compared to the gift of prophecy speaking in tongues is mainly speaking to God rather than to men, and this speaking would be mysteries to the congregation because they can’t understand the language. For this reason, speaking in tongues is edifying for the speaker but not for the church, unless there is someone who has the spiritual gift of interpreting what is said in the unknown language. The gift of prophecy is superior to the gift of tongues because it speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort, and since everyone understands what is said, it edifies the church.


Let’s look more Bible passages where Paul speaks about the gift of tongues.


If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. 1 Corinthians 14:7-12


This passage means that speaking in tongues inside the congregation is like speaking into the air because nobody will understand them. Paul says that there are many different languages in the world but they all have a meaning. However, if you don’t know the meaning of a language, you will be a foreigner to the speaker and vice versa. The purpose of this gift is to build up the church.


Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 1 Corinthians 14:13-19


Since the purpose of speaking in tongues is to edify the church with what they say, Paul advises the Corinthian congregation with the gift of tongues to pray that they can interpret what they say, as others should be able to understand what is said and the gift should edify the congregation. Paul who had the gift of speaking in tongues himself explains that he would rather speak five words with his mind in oder to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.


Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 1 Corinthians 14:20-25


Here Paul points out that speaking in tongues is meant to be a sign for unbelievers, not for believers while prophecy is meant to be a sign for believers, not unbelievers. If the whole church would come together and all speak in tongues, outsiders or unbelievers who would hear that would think they all might be mad. And again he compares prophecy as a more treasured gift which would rather draw the fellow Corinthian unbeliever towards God.


What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. 1 Corinthians 14:26-33


In order for everything to be edifying to the church, Paul lays out a system for how to properly speak in tongues. Only two or three people with the gift of tongues are allowed to speak with interpretation provided or to be quiet if there is no interpretation available. He explains that there should be no confusion inside the congregation, when the gifts of tongues or prophecy are exercised.


34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:34-40


In verse 34 Paul addressed another problem which the Corinthian Church had. Some wives superseded and ruled over their husbands inside the congregation. Therefore Paul gave advice to the wives to subject themselves to their husbands and voice their concerns at home rather than in the presence of the congregation, as to be seen respectful. Then he ends by asking the leaders to desire to prophesy and to not forbid speaking in tongues but to do all things decently and in order.



  • The gift of tongues is the ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak in earthly and heavenly languages never learned before.
  • “The gift of tongues” was given as a sign for unbelievers to see the power of God.
  • In 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul makes clear that that love supersedes such gifts.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:2 explains that speaking in tongues inside a congregation is of no use because they don’t understand the language and wouldn’t be edified through this gift without an interpretation.
  • In this way the speaker utters a mystery that he himself does not understand, nor does the congregation; being spoken to God through the Spirit.
  • Speaking in tongues should not be forbidden. It is both a personal prayer language between God and man and a sign for unbelievers to see the power of God.
  • This gift should only be used inside the church when there is an interpretation available so that the church can be edified through interpretation of what is uttered. It should also be used in an orderly manner and not bring confusion.


2. Interpretation of tongues:

If you have the gift of interpretation of tongues, you have the Spirit-given ability to understand what a tongues-speaker is saying even though you don’t know the language that is being spoken. You will then communicate the message of the tongues speaker to everyone else, so all can understand. There is a debate among Christians today about whether this gift still exists or not. Some believe it  is no longer functioning among believers because the gift of speaking in tongues has been withdrawn from the church, while others think it is still operating today. They think that the spiritual gift of interpretation is given by the Holy Spirit to certain individuals to reveal messages spoken in an unknown tongue to God for the building up of the church. When tongues are interpreted they have the effect of encouraging and edifying the church to love and serve God more deeply and effectively.


3. The gift of prophecy:

The word “prophecy” translated from the Greek means “a speaking forth”. It includes the ability to foretell future events but not exclusively as mostly assumed when people come across the word “prophecy”. When you have the Spirit-given gift of prophecy, you declare the will of God, you interpret the purpose of God, you share God’s heart and mind, or you make known the truth of God which will have an impact on other people. The purpose of prophecy is for the exhortation, edification, and comfort of the Church (1 Corinthians 14:1-5).


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spiritual gifts of holy spirit


spiritual gifts of holy spirit