May 15, 2011
Spiritual Gifts Series
The Spiritual Gift of the
Word of Knowledge
1 Corinthians 12:8
“For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;”
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We know that the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Wisdom is the same kind of gift as the Word of Knowledge because of the grouping of the gifts in the list provided in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. The Word of Knowledge concerns the application of revelation so that we know God better, and particularly how to apply revelation to accomplish the will of God by edifying the church. Let us begin this study by reviewing key concepts concerning wisdom, knowledge and revelation in First Corinthians.
Revelation and Coming To Know God. Paul told the Corinthians that “. . . the world through its wisdom did not come to know (“ἔγνω“) God . . . ” (1 Corinthians 1:21). In this verse, Paul shows that the world did not come to know God through worldly wisdom. We need to pause for a moment and consider the link Paul draws between wisdom and knowing God. Paul implies that while the wisdom of the world will not help you know God, the opposite is also true: the wisdom from God will help you know God. Therefore, we may discern a principle: the right kind of wisdom will help us know God and the things freely given to us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12). Paul’s chief concern for the Corinthians was that they would know Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). In 1 Corinthians 1:21, Paul tells us indirectly that the wisdom of God helps us know God, and by implication, His will. The Corinthians’ worldly wisdom was useless because it could never lead a person to know God (1 Corinthians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 3:20). In contrast, the wisdom of God contained new revelations of God, called mysteries, which allowed the Corinthians to know God and the things free given to them by God (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Furthermore, the wisdom from God helps the people called of God to know Christ and Him crucified. In turn, Christ becomes the power of God and wisdom of God to believers (1 Corinthians 1:24; Colossians 2:2-3). Christ crucified becomes a stumbling block to unbelieving Jews and foolishness to unbelieving Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23-25). Therefore, the proper application of the wisdom of God transforms the called of God so that they know God. The believers particularly come to know God’s power and wisdom in the person of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In other words, through the preaching of Paul to the Corinthians, God applies the mystery of Christ crucified and it changes the people called by God (1 Corinthians 1:23). Paul highlights the primary change as knowing Christ as the power of God and the wisdom of God. In a nutshell, we have a nice exegetical explanation of the Word of Knowledge right there in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, and particularly 1 Corinthians 1:21-25. We should keep in mind that the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Knowledge is a revelatory gift, and related directly to the Word of Wisdom because of the grouping of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10). Therefore, we know that the application of the wisdom of God also concerns revelation.
A Closer Look at 1 Corinthians 12:8. In 1 Corinthians 12:8, God distinguishes the Word of Wisdom from the Word of Knowledge. Because the Bible has been verbally and plenarily inspired by God, every word in every verse makes a difference. In this case, the Word of Wisdom is given “through” (“διὰ“) the Holy Spirit. As we have seen, the Word of Wisdom was a gift of the revelation of the mysteries of God. The mystery was something hidden in the Old Testament, but now preached and taught by the apostles and prophets. In this sense, the Holy Spirit reveals mysteries through the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Wisdom to certain believers, particularly prophets and apostles. The Word of Wisdom focuses upon a new communication from God. It is the message itself God delivers concerning the mystery being revealed now. So we see that the Word of Wisdom is given “through” the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit gives the communication of the mystery to the apostle or prophet. Think of the Word of Wisdom as the message inside the envelope. Once you open the envelope and read the message contained in the envelope sealed up for centuries, you now need to know what to do with that message. The proper use of the message is provided by the Word of Knowledge. The Holy Spirit directs the use of the person to use the wisdom from God to know God and His will. In this sense, the Word of Knowledge is given according to (“κατὰ“) the Holy Spirit, because He directs the use of the prior revelation given through the Word of Wisdom. The Word of Knowledge depends upon the Word of Wisdom being given first. We open the envelope, read the message provided through the Holy Spirit, and then apply the new message to know God and His will, with particular focus upon Christ and Him crucified. This application of the message in the envelope is the Word of Knowledge.
Two-Step Process of Revelation. Think of the Word of Wisdom and the Word of Knowledge as related to one another in a two-step process of revelation.
Step One. The Holy Spirit reveals a mystery to the person with the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Wisdom.
Illustration. Think of an envelope being opened now after being sealed for centuries, and the letter inside being read for the first time (“the mystery”). The letter itself has been sent to the person with the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Wisdom. The letter said: “You should not call any man unholy or unclean.” Signed: God.
Step Two. The Holy Spirit uses the wisdom of God to help us know God and His will. Specifically, the Holy Spirit first delivers the revelation of the mystery (Word of Wisdom) and then the Holy Spirit uses that revelation to help believers know God and His Will (Word of Knowledge). Therefore, we may say that the Word of Knowledge enables the use of the Word of Wisdom.
Illustration Continued. In Step One, the Holy Spirit communicated His revelation of the mystery “through” (“διὰ“) the letter in the envelope (now opened and read)–think Word of Wisdom. Now in Step Two, the Holy Spirit directs the church to act according to (“κατὰ“) the message provided by the letter (Word of Knowledge). Having read the letter from God (“You should not call any man unholy or unclean”), you now must apply that knowledge to the church. You now know God’s will, and you must act. So, you take your letter from God and start showing it to various assemblies and let them know that they should not call any man unholy or unclean. The Holy Spirit first revealed to you the mystery so that you have a new message (given “through” the Holy Spirit–Word of Wisdom) and then the Holy Spirit acts according to that revelation (given “according” to the Holy Spirit–the Word of Knowledge) so that the church would be free to evangelize Gentiles and receive Gentile believers into fellowship (edification of the church).
Peter and the Pigs in a Blanket. Peter had an experience with these gifts in Acts 10. He went up on a housetop in Joppa, and began to pray (Acts 10:9). As he prayed, God showed Peter a great sheet lowered from heaven, with all kinds of four-footed animals and creatures of the earth and birds of the air (Acts 10:11-12). God told Peter to kill and eat, but Peter responded that he had never eaten unclean animals like them. God repeated this event three times, and told Peter three times “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” Peter had never eaten pigs or other unclean animals because of the Old Testament law restricting diet (Acts 10:13-16; Leviticus 11:1-47). At Joppa on the rooftop, Peter had just experienced step one: Word of Wisdom. Mystery revealed: “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” Now for step two. Peter has already received his knowledge of the mystery through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Peter moves on to Caesarea, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, and tells many people assembled there: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28). In step two here, the Holy Spirit works according to the prior revelation of the mystery concerning God’s cleansing of the Gentiles. That revelatory wisdom must be used to know God’s will for the Gentiles, and applied to the churches’ programs of evangelism, discipleship and fellowship. The Gentiles were welcomed by God into the church–Word of Knowledge.
Prophecy, Mysteries and Knowledge. In 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul expounds upon the vitality of love. Without love, we are nothing and have nothing. He links prophecy with knowing all mysteries and all knowledge. As we have seen, the Word of Wisdom concerns the mysteries, and the Word of Knowledge concerns the application of the revelation provided through the Word of Wisdom. This verse confirms our understanding of the relationship between the revelatory gifts of the Word of Wisdom and the Word of Knowledge. It also opens the door to our understanding the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy, but that is for another day.
Other Uses of the Word of Knowledge. Some Bible scholars have also found the Word of Knowledge used without the Word of Wisdom, but rather with the prophecies made in the Old Testament or by the New Testament apostles.
The New Testament Application of Old Testament Prophecies and Events. In 2 Peter 3:1-9, Peter illustrates the divine application (Word of Knowledge) of Old Testament prophecies to the present problem of mockers attacking God’s plans and disturbing God’s people. The Old Testament prophets had provided revelations. Peter specifically applied those Old Testament prophecies (revelations in themselves). The result of Peter’s application of Old Testament prophecies amounted to new revelation (Word of Knowledge) for confronting mockers. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 10:6-11, Paul applied the example of Israel’s past actions to the Corinthians so that they would avoid idolatry and immorality. In a similar way, Paul also used the Old Testament picture of the veil of Moses obscuring his fading glory from the mountain top experience with Yahweh. Paul applied that Old Testament event to the veil that lies over the heart of the Jews when they read the old covenant (2 Corinthians 3:12-18). He expanded upon that application by showing that the Spirit of the Lord provides liberty and lifts the veil, and the Jewish believers are transformed into the same image, from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The New Testament Application of Apostolic Prophecies. In this same sense, Jude 17-18 also demonstrated the Word of Knowledge without reference to the Word of Wisdom. Jude applied the prophecies of the New Testament apostles to overcome the present attack upon the church by mockers. His divine application of previous revelation (prophecies of the apostles) pictures the Word of Knowledge in action.
Love, Knowledge, and “the Perfect.” In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul develops the theme of love, but intertwines the spiritual gifts into his tapestry of love. We have seen above the link between prophecy, mysteries and knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:2), and Paul also refines our understanding of knowledge, prophesy and “the perfect.” Paul tells us that while love never fails, prophecy will be done away (“καταργηθήσονται“); tongues will cease (“παύσονται“); and knowledge will be done away (“καταργηθήσονται“) (1 Corinthians 13:8). Paul then declares that “we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away (“καταργηθήσεται“)” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). He illustrates this teaching with the analogy of growing up. The adult, analogous to “the perfect,” has done way (“κατήργηκα“) with what the child used to speak (“ἐλάλουν“), used to think (“ἐφρόνουν“), and used to reason (“ἐλογιζόμην“) (1 Corinthians 13:11). On the level of spiritual gifts, the revelatory gifts associated with speaking, thinking and reasoning have been done away with by “the perfect.” The New Testament, combined with the Old Testament, perfectly equips the man of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). As believers, we may all rest assured that every authoritative application of every revelation from God has been preserved for us in the New Testament, and we may know God, and the things freely given to us by the Holy Spirit.
So we learn more about the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Knowledge.
● The Word of Knowledge concerns the authoritative application of the revelation provided by the Word of Wisdom for the edification of the church. Some Bible students extend the Word of Wisdom to include the authoritative application of previous revelation to present issues facing the church, without reference to the Word of Wisdom.
● The preaching of Paul rested upon the Word of Wisdom and the Word of Knowledge. By the wisdom of God, we know God, His plans, and His great love for us. By the Word of Knowledge, we know how to use the revelations of God.
● The Word of Wisdom and the Word of Knowledge will be replaced by the “the perfect.” It appears to me that “the perfect” is the New Testament, and therefore, the revelatory gifts, by which we knew in part, have been replaced by the New Testament, the complete revelation of God so that the man of God may be, in conjunction with the Old Testament, equipped for every good work.
Application for Today
Jesus had a plan of revelation, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, to speak the Father’s words, and record them forever. He also planned for the Holy Spirit to reveal new truth to us, to our glory, according to the predestined plan of God. I am very grateful to God for His program of revelation, and the obedience of His servants in providing and applying the revelation of God for our benefit today. Will you praise God with me for all of His blessings revealed to us in the Bible today?