Since revival broke out on Azusa Street in Los Angeles a century ago, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians have emphasized the importance of the "gifts of the Spirit." Some gifts--including serving, teaching, leading, and giving--are listed in Romans 12:6-8. But the centerpiece of Pentecostal and Charismatic theology and practice is the list of nine gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. What do these gifts mean, and how are they used? Let our primer guide you.


Click a phrase in the Bible passage below to read a description of each gift. Click here for explanations of additional Pentecostal terms, such as "slain the spirit."


1 Corinthians 12:7–11

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

"Gifts of the Spirit," according to 1 Corinthians 12:7-11:

Message of Wisdom: A message or "word" of wisdom is a special ability to offer advice or guidance. Christians might experience this gift in a worship service and share it with the congregation, encouraging people to trust God more, pray with greater faith, be generous with others, or embrace a deeper spiritual life. Some also might experience a message of wisdom in daily life.


Message of Knowledge: A message or "word" of knowledge is a direct revelation of information that the recipient might share with the community or another person. Often these messages are quite specific: "Apply for that school." "Pray for the church in Nepal." "Don’t take that job." At other times, a message will be more vague: "God is preparing to do a great thing in our midst." Some believe Jesus referenced this gift when he told his disciples that they would know what to say under persecution (Matt. 10:19). 


Faith: The gift of faith is an unusual ability to believe. Some Christians experience this as a sudden and overwhelming trust in the Bible, others as faith that God can or will intervene in a particular situation (Mark 14:23–24).


Healing: The gift of healing is an ability to restore or heal someone who is unwell (Acts 3:1–10). Some Pentecostal and Charismatic ministries, such as those of Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn, focus heavily on this gift. They have claimed dramatic success, including healing cancer, paralysis, and blindness, and raising people from the dead.

Miracles (also Miraculous Powers, Miraculous Acts): Miracles are a gift of the Spirit that might come in many forms. In addition to physical healing, people might pray for a miracle in their finances, careers, orrelationships, or any seemingly insurmountable problem. The Word of Faith wing of Pentecostalism, which has gained acceptance through high-profile figures such as the Rev. Creflo Dollar, particularly emphasizes God’s miraculous intervention in material matters, such as sudden financial windfalls.

Prophecy: A prophecy is the Spirit of God speaking through a human voice. Prophets might make a general call for repentance (in the manner of the Jewish prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah), or they might make a conditional prediction of the future (“If you do this, God will do this”). St. Paul says that anyone who prophesies does so for the “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” of the church (1 Cor. 14:3).


Distinguishing Between Spirits: This gift involves a capacity to discern whether a spirit is good or evil. 1 John 4:1­-3 exhorts Christians to test spirits “to see whether they are from God.”  


Speaking in Tongues: When the disciples of Jesus experienced the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit described in Acts 2, they were given the sudden and miraculous ability to speak in many human languages. Later, letters by St. Paul described the Holy Spirit praying through people “in groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26) and speaking in “tongues of angels” (1 Cor. 13:1). Today, the gift of tongues is understood in both forms—as a miraculous ability to speak a foreign language, and as a miraculous ability to speak in an angelic language (also called a “prayer language” or “praying in the Spirit”). Some believers consider tongues the initial manifestation of the baptism in the Holy Spirit; others argue that all Christians are given a prayer language, but not all choose to use it. 


Interpretation of Tongues: The gift of interpretation is the power to understand and translate an angelic or foreign tongue. Some Charismatic and Pentecostal services will feature a believer speaking in an angelic tongue for a few moments, then interpreting it as an exhortation to the congregation (1 Corinthians 14:5).


Other Holy Spirit(ual) Matters:

Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Pentecostals and Charismatics emphasize that Jesus foretold the Pentecost: “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Many church services end with calls not only for repentance and acceptance of salvation but also the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Ministers will lay hands on a believer and ask God to pour out his Spirit, often waiting for the person to speak in tongues or be slain in the Spirit as an initial sign of baptism.  


Laying on of Hands: When Pentecostal and Charismatic believers pray for someone, they often place their hands on the person, following the practice described in Acts 8:19 and 2 Tim. 1:6. Ministers usually place their hands over a believer's head, sometimes also anointing the person with oil, as instructed in James 5:14. In healing prayers, hands are often laid directly onto the portion of the body in need of restoration. The laying on of hands can be quite dramatic, as when a preacher grasps the head of a believer during a faith healing service. But it can also be a casual practice in Pentecostal and Charismatic settings; believers lay hands on one another during prayers of all kinds.


Being "Slain in the Spirit": In some prayer, revival, or church services, believers will go limp, fall to the ground, and lie still for a few moments or--in some cases--hours. Those who are slain may experience visions, slight trembling, or a sense of deep peace. Though the phenomenon of being slain sometimes occurs suddenly, it usually happens after a minister lays hands on someone and prays for him or her. In fact, many services are designed to facilitate those who are slain, with people assigned to catch the slain and to cover the legs and ankles of slain women who are wearing dresses. The phrase "slain in the Spirit" does not appear in the Bible, but Pentecostal and Charismatic theologians have pointed to many passages for evidence, including 2 Chronicles 5:14, where the temple priests fell under the power of God, and Acts 9:4-8, where Saul/Paul has a vision of Jesus and falls to the ground.


Callings: The Holy Spirit is often said to give someone a gift of a certain talent, mission, or lifestyle. An ability to play the piano and lead others in worship might be a gift of music; a decision to remain single might be a gift of celibacy; suffering persecution to the point of death could be a gift of martyrdom. In addition, particular expressions of Christian ministry (especially those listed by St. Paul in Ephesians 4, such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, preacher, and teacher) are also considered gifts given by the Holy Spirit.

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