Spiritual Gifts, Spiritual People or Spiritual Things, Part 2

For Part 1, go here.

Spiritual Things or Spiritual People, continued

We left off with the question in 1 Corinthians 12:1, concerning spiritual… what exactly? It’s not gifts because gifts isn’t in the text.

The answer depends on the word spiritual, according to D. A. Carson in Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14. Carson explains,  “If the word is masculine, it refers to spiritual people. If it’s neuter, it refers to spiritual things… Both translations have been defended.” 1

Earlier in 1 Corinthians, “spiritual” certainly means “spiritual people”, as in these two passages: 

1 Corinthians 2:15

1 Corinthians 3:1

The context assists the translators to know that Paul means spiritual people in these cases. The ESV translators in 12:1 recognize that maybe Paul means spiritual persons in the footnote, revealed here:

Amusingly, the ESV translators don’t mention that the phrase should either be spiritual persons or spiritual things, but not spiritual gifts. 

I’m left wondering how much deference modern translators gave to the 1611 King James translators, who themselves mirrored the Geneva Bible 1560’s translation, and so we have entire discourses on spiritual gifts that are based on a verse that may be mistranslated in English bibles.

The even older English Bible, the 1537 Thomas Matthews Bible opted for the more correct translation: “spyrituall thynges.” 2


Could the whole ridiculous spectacle between modern so-called charismatics and non-charismatics be built on a translation influenced by the theological predispositions of the translators?

For those I primarily minister to, the issue becomes really important, as you’ll see.

Concerning Spiritual Brothers

Look again at the screenshots of the Greek text. Perhaps it should read “concerning spiritual brothers.”

Why? Because there are no commas in the Greek text. Here’s a screenshot with “brothers” highlighted in the Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest and oldest complete copy of the New Testament available. 3

English translators have inserted commas, whereas in Greek, punctuation largely doesn’t exist. There’s probably some good textual critical reason that translators inserted commas there (because Paul is addressing an actual audience), and Greek scholars can perhaps elucidate the reasons, but perhaps the text could be saying, “Now concerning spiritual brothers, I don’t want you to be ignorant.”

If not, then “spiritual persons” seems just as reasonable based on the previous usage in 1 Corinthians.  From Carson, “Paul is dealing less with the nature of spiritual gifts than with the nature of spiritual people.” 4 Carson points out that the entire passage begins talking about spiritual people who make up the Body of Christ and ends with guidance regarding two specific manifestations of the Spirit, which apparently is what prompted Paul’s attention in the first place: advice regarding spiritually gifted people and certain spiritual things they do. 

Paul shifts the usage of the word “spiritual” midway through his little essay, to remind his readers that whatever is considered spiritual – people or things – is better thought of as a gracious grant from God.

Using self-centered spirituality violates the purpose of these grace grants.

Whether it’s spiritual things or spiritual people, what shouldn’t be added to the text is “gifts.” As we’ll see, “gifts” is far too limiting a word for what Paul is discussing.

Varieties of Grace

The Gospel is about God’s grace towards whosoever wants to enter the family of God, become part of God’s Kingdom, and share in God’s inheritance. God’s grace – unlimited favor unearned– is granted by faith in Jesus Christ, who came in the flesh, died for our sins and rose again to eternal life.

Starting in 1 Corinthians 12:4, Paul says, there are

1. Varieties of Gifts, but the same (Holy) Spirit
2. Varieties of Service, but the same Lord (Jesus)
3. Varieties of Activities, but the same God (the Father)

See what Paul did there? Let’s look at this more carefully.

Varieties of Gifts

Finally, the Greek word from which we get Charismatic: charismaton.

Charismaton is often translated as “gifts,” but means “grace endowments.”

My goodness, imagine if we start thinking about these things as grace endowments. Grace is favor unearned. An endowment is a quality or ability possessed or inherited by someone.

Modern Christians have loaded the discussion about “spiritual gifts” with so much baggage, we can’t see what charisma really means in its biblical context.

Charisma is an ability or quality possessed or inherited by someone given from God as favor that is both unlimited and unearned.

I hope you contemplate this profound point. It certainly shook everything I thought I knew about the Holy Spirit’s gifts. But let’s keep going because it gets better.

Varieties of Service

Diakonian means “service: or, more usually, “ministry.” In other words, there are diverse ministries given by Jesus.

It’s funny to me that cessationists discuss “gifts” ceasing because we have the Bible, but they don’t mention that “ministries” should cease too; moreover others exalt certain spiritual manifestations while ignoring the grand scope of God’s spiritual blessings. When will we humans stop limiting what God wants to do? When will we stop trying to control God?

What a disservice we modern Christians have done to this text by simply taking our English translations and make it mean what we want it to mean. The modern dichotomy of “gift” users and “non-gift” users is false and nonbiblical and borderline ridiculous.

Varieties of Activities

Energematon sounds like one of the Transformers, but it means “activity” or “works” with power or energy given by the Father. Good word, energematon.

In verses 4 through 6, Paul makes a point that the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus, and God the Father – the One and Sovereign God – gives unearned endowments, ministries, and activities – which shouldn’t be lumped under the words “spiritual gifts” – a grossly inadequate phrase with far too much baggage to be meaningful – but under the phrase, Varieties of Grace.

Summary of the first part of 1 Corinthians 12

If verse 12:1 is talking about spiritual things, then the things refers to grace endowments of abilities or qualities people are born with or possess, ministries, and activities or works.

If it’s referring to spiritual people, as I believe, then it’s talking about spiritual people endowed with abilities or qualities that they possess or inherit, ministries and works.

In other words, the passage is addressing varieties of grace, which involve spiritually gifted people doing things that God has called them to do.

Some of these people were born with their abilities, others were granted them later on, and all of whom possess them, thanks to the sovereign blessings of God. 

Are you starting to get how this relates to seers? But wait, there’s more.

Why does God empower grace endowments, ministries and activities?

On to Part 3, when it gets even better.



  1. D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 20–21, emphasis added.
  2. Screenshot of the Matthew Bible is from Bibles-online.net.
  3. Scans available at http://codexsinaiticus.org/.
  4. Carson, 22

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