They Have a Zeal of God But Not According to Knowledge, No. 2 – Donald E. Smith

Donald E. Smith


In the March issue (Feb. 23) of The Gospel Preceptor, we began this series of articles regarding a manuscript this writer sent to a Pentecostal “pastor,” and the subsequent exchange of correspondence that followed with his wife, Julie Jackson. The topic covered the Bible’s teaching on the cessation of miracles, but proceeded into several other subjects as well. All of this was initiated by the request of this family’s son, Micah Jackson. Initially, the miraculous was scripturally defined and a chronology was outlined in how the miracles were given. The manuscript next delves into the nine miraculous gifts as listed in 1 Corinthians 12. It is recommended that each reader go back and review the March article in this series before proceeding.

The Nine Miraculous Gifts of the Spirit and Their Purposes

In this portion of our study, I will be drawing heavily from a commentary on 1 Corinthians by Raymond C. Kelcy.1 As we consider each one of these gifts, it will become apparent that they variously served three ends: (1) to reveal God’s Word (especially through the apostles [John 16:13]), (2) to confirm the revealed Word (John 20:30-31; Heb. 2:3-4), (3) and to “profit” all by edifying, exhorting, comforting, and teaching Christians in the infancy of the church (1 Cor. 12:6-7; 14:3, 31). All of the gifts surely served to profit the saints. These purposes must be recognized if one would understand this subject. Let us now delve into the study of these gifts so that the Way of God may be expounded more perfectly (Acts 18:24-26). Paul listed the gifts of the Spirit as follows:

For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:8-10).

  1. The first in the list is the word of wisdom. As Word of wisdom suggests, this gift enabled one to utter wise words. These words of wisdom would come as the Holy Ghost would teach, providing a revelation of the Word of God. Notice the way the apostles were taught:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual (1 Cor. 2:12-13).

Purpose: to reveal God’s Word

  1. Next in the list is the word of knowledge. This gift seems to be the revelation of the knowledge of God (the Word of God) to men by direct means through the Holy Ghost. We now have that knowledge preserved in the Scriptures, as Paul even speaks of writing that knowledge down that he received from the Holy Ghost so that others may understand: “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)” (Eph. 3:3-4).

Purpose: to reveal God’s Word

  1. Then, in the list we have faith. This gift of faith has reference to a special gift whereby one was enabled to perform supernatural deeds. Remember, Biblical faith involves fulfilling the requirements of God’s Word (Heb. 11; Jam. 2:14-26). According to ancient historical writings, such as those of Josephus, murderers used poisoning, more often then than now, to dispose of those the murderer would deem undesirable. In first century Christianity, persecution sometimes extended to murder (Acts 7:59-60; 9:1; 12:2). But disciples who were being guided by the direct means of the Holy Ghost to spread the Word were assured that by this miraculous faith, they would be protected. If they drank any deadly thing, it would not hurt them. Not even serpent bites could stop the Word from being spread. Survival of such experiences confirmed that they were truly speaking the Word of God: “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:18).

Purpose: to confirm God’s Word

  1. The list moves on to the gift of healing. This gift has reference to the healing of various diseases. It was obviously given to Philip through the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 6:5-6). By this gift the people were assured that Philip was truly speaking the Word of God (since they did not have it in written form yet). Use of the gift provided undeniable confirmation:

And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed (vv. 6-7).

Purpose: to confirm God’s Word

  1. Fifth in the list of the nine miraculous gifts is the working of miracles, which seems to be a broader designation that “healings,” indicating other types of miraculous works. One of those types of miraculous works is Paul’s cursing of Elymas the sorcerer with blindness, which is the opposite of the blessing of healing. Employment of this gift proved that Paul was teaching the doctrine of Christ (remember, they did not at this time have the doctrine of Christ in written form, enabling them to examine the Scriptures to confirm the spoken Word (cf. Luke 16:13).

Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him. And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord (Acts 13:9-12).

Purpose: to confirm God’s Word

  1. Prophecy referred to the ability to communicate specific messages from God. This is clearly the relaying of His Word to the people. Philip’s daughters had this gift (Acts 21:9) (obviously to teach other women), as did some of the Corinthians:

I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying…. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted (1 Cor. 14:5, 31).

Purpose: to reveal God’s Word

  1. Then we have listed the gift of discerning the spirits. This gift enabled one to determine whether a prophet was true or false. John described some Christians who exercised this gift:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things (1 John 2:19-20).

John here explained to his brethren that the false teachers went out from them, which demonstrated that they were not of the Truth. He then went on to remind those saints that they had already recognized the false teachers (included in “all things” they knew) by their miraculous ability. This gift gave them the ability to know whether God’s Word was truly being taught, before it had been written and distributed among the churches.

Purpose: to confirm God’s Word

  1. Paul’s list next takes us to the miraculous ability to speak in tongues. These “tongues” were clearly other known languages spoken and understood by ordinary people of the world. The “tongues” involved in this gift, wherever mentioned in the New Testament after Acts 2:4-6, are defined by the miraculous tongues spoken by the apostles on Pentecost:

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:4-6).

Notice that other tongues (v.4) is used interchangeably with his own language (vv. 4, 6). Those people from various areas of the world did not ask, “What is the meaning of these unintelligible words, this babbling?” Rather, they asked, “And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born” (v.8, emph. DES)? The New Testament nowhere even hints that the miraculous tongues were otherwise (e.g., “ecstatic utterances,” “heavenly” languages, etc.). The only difference between those with this gift and others who can speak in various known languages is that those endowed with this gift never had to study and learn the languages. Those who profess to have the “gift of tongues” today must go to language school when traveling to speak in an area of the world that does not speak their language. The Holy Ghost gave some the ability to reveal the Word of God in these languages besides in their native tongue.

And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God… And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied (Acts 10:45-46a; 19:6).

Purpose: to reveal God’s Word

  1. Finally, we have the miraculous gift of interpretation of tongues. For those who did not know the language being spoken, those with this gift were able to interpret/translate it into their native tongues. Again, this gift dealt directly with relaying the Word of God, which was not available in written form at the time. Paul described the use of this gift: “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God” (1 Cor. 14:27-28).

It is important to note that the word unknown in the foregoing passage is italicized, which indicates that it does not appear in the Greek New Testament, but was supplied by the translators. The literal reading should be, “If any man speaketh in a tongue,” as reflected in the American Standard Version and other reliable versions.

Purpose: to reveal God’s Word

As we have seen from the preceding information, the miracles of God served very specific and necessary purposes. We have also seen results of the miracles that were beyond the purposes for them, resulting in great blessings, such as healing the sick.

Likewise, many of Jesus’ miracles were an expression of His compassion (e.g. Matt. 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Heb. 4:15; et al.), but their primary purpose was to cause mankind to believe He was God the Son (John 3:2; 20:30-31). Earlier we have repeatedly stated that the various miracles performed by the apostles and others partook of a two-fold purpose. The Scriptures directly stating said purpose have been reserved to this point. Hopefully, this will help the diligent student to remember this purpose. Were the miracles really meant to serve as confirmation of the word of God? The record states:

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen (Mark 16:17-20, emph. DES).

These signs certainly happened, as we have already demonstrated. The Bible directly states that the Word was confirmed by signs. One who believes the Bible should not need further evidence, but there is more:

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will (Heb. 2:3-4, emph. DES)?

Again, Scripture states clearly that God bore witness to the words of salvation by “them that heard” Christ (i.e., the apostles). How did God bear witness? With “signs, wonders, divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost.”

These miracles thus served the primary purpose of confirming the spoken Word as coming from God. Only those who possessed these gifts could credibly claim they were revealing God’s Word.

Next in the manuscript that was sent to the Pentecostal preacher (and to which only his wife replied) is a section titled “The Duration of Miracles.” We will cover that subject in the next article in this series in June. Though this may be initial learning for some, it may also help to put ourselves in the shoes of the recipient of this manuscript. What should they be learning from this? How should a diligent student respond to such when they find themselves in such grievous error?


1 Kelcy, Ramond C., First Corinthians (Austin, TX: R.B. Sweet Co., Inc.), 1967, pp. 55-56.

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