Last Updated on :
The Spirit Gifts in the First Century Ecclesias
The First Century Eldership
This chapter continues the theme of the previous chapter, examining the first century manifestation of the Gift, to see if there is anything equivalent today. As we said at the opening of the previous chapter, after the tremendous outpouring of Spirit in the early days at Jerusalem, there was later a development into a more orderly operation of the Spirit for the guidance of the newly formed ecclesias. This is dealt with in detail by Paul in the twelveth chapter of his letter to the Corinthians, and in his fourth chapter to the Ephesians. Although we have "gifts" in the plural here, it will be manifest on studying the chapters that it is the same Holy Spirit Gift starting at Pentecost. As Paul says "there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit."
The study of these two chapters will bring two important conclusions. First, that the Gift was not received by all the believers, but rather certain ones received it for the benefit of all. Once this is accepted, it is the end of the belief that we now
receive the Gift for our spiritual guidance. For if the main body of believers did not then have it, there is no need for us now to have it. The second conclusion will be that, although there were various parts of the Holy Spirit Gift, this does not justify dividing it into the miraculous part and the non-miraculous (a division desired by those who say the non-miraculous aspects have continued to our time). All the parts of diversities of Gifts were essential and complementary, adding up to a whole, a "ministration of the Spirit." There was a unity and fitness about this manifestation of the Spirit, as becomes all God's works. If today there is the Gift of the Holy Spirit in the ecclesias, then it will be manifest with the same completeness as then.
Before studying 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, a quotation from Bro. Thomas, Eureka vol. 1 (pp. 161-163) (pp. 136-137 new edition), will give some useful information:
"These official brethren, called episcopoi and diakonoi, 'overseers and assistants' (Phil. 1:1), constituted the pneumatikoi, or spirituals, of the congregations, because they were endowed with pneumatkia, or spiritual gifts (Gal. 6:1), while the rest of the saints, constituting the ruled, were styled idiotai, or privates. To the Spirituals were given nine different gifts, called spirits, (pneumata - 1 Cor. 14:12), not for their own gratification, but for the common good. These spirits are enumerated as, 'a word of knowledge,' 'faith to remove mountains,' 'gifts of healing,' 'inworking of powers,' 'prophecy,' 'discerning of spirits,' 'kinds of tongues,' and 'interpretation of tongues;' 'all these inworked the one and the same Spirit dividing to each one respectively as he willed' (1 Cor. 12:1-11). Being thus ordered in Corinth and elsewhere, Paul said to them, 'Ye are Christ's body, and members partively' -- they were all of the body, but it was only specially endowed saints who constituted the foot, hand, ear, eye, and so forth, of the body; these special ones were members partively -- special parts of the whole.
"The official saints collectively constituted in each congregation the presbytery or eldership (1 Tim. 4:14); and that each
brother might know his place, they were set in regular order. They were called 'Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers' (Eph. 11:11); and were ranked as, 'first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly teachers; after that, powers; then gifts of healing; sixth, helps; seventh, directors; eighth, kinds of tongues' (1 Cor. 12:22). This eldership thus remarkably endowed, was the Lightstand of the Ecclesia, each member thereof being a bowl, or vessel, containing the anointing oil, or spirit, so that when they exercised their functions in the midst of the saints, they were as trimmed lamps with their lights burning (Matt. 25:4; Luke 12:35). They shone collectively as a bright STAR in the midst of the body; and as the spiritual gifts were sent 'for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the building of the body of the Anointed,' the PRESBYTERIAL STAR is styled the ANGEL of the Ecclesia, from angelos, 'one that is sent' (Rev. 1:20)."
1 Corinthians 12
The picture presented in this chapter is that special brethren had the Spirit for the good of the whole ecclesia. Paul likens the whole ecclesia to the human body, and these brethren were the special members, like the eye, the ear, the foot, the hand, etc. The purpose of the chapter is to show that these special brethren with gifts must work in harmony, with no attitude of rivalry, but devoting their gifts to the welfare of the whole ecclesia. In this arrangement, with the ecclesia as a body, it could be said that the ecclesia had the Spirit, possessing it through their special members. They shared together this manifestation of the Spirit. Once this general picture is perceived, the occasional phrase that suggests that every person had the Spirit Gift is seen in the correct light.
Giving attention now to various phrases in this chapter:
Verse 1: The opening words usually give the key to the whole chapter. They are: "Now concerning spiritual (gifts), brethren, I would not have you ignorant." The word gifts is not in the original, and the ending of the Greek word for spiritual can equally refer to persons having the gifts, or to the gifts themselves. It is probable Paul intended to say: "Now concerning spirituals, or spirit-gifted persons, I would not have you ignorant." He is addressing a special class among the brethren. The context suggests this is the correct translation; Paul immediately speaks of spirit-gifted persons: "Wherefore I give you to understand that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed." So this opening verse tells that the chapter is about a special class of people, the spirituals among the brethren; as if someone
should say from the platform, Now regarding speakers, brethren - speakers being a limited number of the whole ecclesia.
Verse 3: "No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit." Paul does not mean that one must have the Holy Spirit to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. On the day of Pentecost those who were pricked in their hearts had believed Jesus was Lord, before Peter promised the Spirit. Paul means by these words that all teaching was by the Holy Spirit, originating with the apostles. It was by the Holy Spirit that Peter declared on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus was Lord. Peter says in his first epistle that the gospel of Jesus Christ had been preached to them "with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven" (1 Pet. 1:12).
Verse 7: "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." The R.V. has "each man" instead of every man, allowing the idea that all did not have the gifts. The important phrase is "to profit withal." Brother Thomas says the Greek here means for the collective good; and the R.S.V. agrees with this, with the translation for the common good. If some were privileged to possess something for the common good, it indicates that not all were actual possessors. Not everyone had the Spirit gifts.
Verses 8-11: There are various gifts -- of wisdom, knowledge, faith, tongues, etc. In Acts the outpouring is simply spoken of as "the gifts." Here in Corinthians Paul speaks of a variety of gifts. But as this chapter explains, the various gifts were the manifestation of the one Spirit; it was the one Spirit Gift in a diversity of manifestation. The word used throughout the Acts of the Apostles is dorea, having the simple meaning of a gift, something "given." In this chapter Paul uses another word, charisma -- a favour from God. Paul uses this same word in Romans 6:23 "the gift of God is eternal life." A related word used frequently throughout the New Testament is charis, grace of God. The use of a different word in Corinthians from that used in Acts does not mean that it was a different Holy Spirit Gift. The whole emphasis in this chapter is that there is only one Spirit Gift diversely manifested (see vs. 4,6,11).
Verse 13: "For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles." Again, these words do not require that every person possessed the Spirit. Salvation had come to all by the working of the Holy Spirit, as we have noted in verse 3. Paul's emphasis is that there is only one Holy Spirit, which has enlightened all of us, and has worked out God's plan of salvation.
Verses 14-21: Here Paul gives his detailed parallel with the human body, to teach that each of the spirit-gifted brethren must work together for the well being of the whole community.
Verse 27: "Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular." The English word particular is used here in its exact meaning, "concerning a part." The Greek word used is from parts. The identical phrase is used in 1Cor. 13:9: "For we know from parts, and we prophesy from parts." As Brother Thomas has explained, this must be describing the way in which different brethren could contribute different parts of the Spirit power. Paul continues: "And God hath set some in the ecclesia, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, etc" (v. 28). So this phrase from parts again emphasises that the Spirit operated in some of the brethren, not all. Each one who possessed it had to contribute his part, for the well-being of the body. In verse 28, we might note, he says, "God hath set some in the ecclesia," with spirit-gifts. If only some had gifts, then it was not all that had the gifts.
Verse 31: "But covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way." These closing words of the chapter surely show that Paul did not think the Holy Spirit Gift was an essential for attaining to godliness, as our brethren are now saying. Paul says that the more excellent way of Corinthians 13, was better than the best gifts.
The character of the whole chapter shows that the gifts, whether wisdom, faith, knowledge, teaching, administration, etc, were not possessed for individual character building, but were parts of a system of divine overseeing of the affairs of the ecclesia. The chapter is explaining the working of the Spirit in the eldership of the ecclesia, for the instruction and direction of all the members. This, we shall now see, is also the sense of Ephesians, chapter 4.
Ephesians Chapter 4
What Paul says in Ephesians 4 is closely parallel with 1 Cor. 12. He is exhorting the brethren to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace (v. 3). The unity of the Spirit -- the outworking power of God unto salvation -- has resulted in One hope, One Lord, One faith, One baptism (Vv. 4-6); and now the one Spirit of the Father has been given to the ecclesia to help in this uniting of the body of Christ. So, he continues, Christ has given to the ecclesia specially gifted men: "and he gave some apostles, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers" (v. 11); whose task it was to perfect the saints for a work of service in building up the body of Christ (v. 12), until the ecclesia had passed from the childhood state to manhood (v. 13). He exhorts them to cease being children, and to grow up into the full stature of Christ. (Vv. 14-16). So this writing of Paul confirms our understanding
of 1 Cor. 12. Clearly Paul is not writing about every brother possessing the Holy Spirit Gift to operate within himself for his sanctification. It is the possession of the Spirit by the shepherds of the ecclesia to aid them in the general building up of the ecclesia as a family. This is the sense of verses 11-13 of this chapter.
As with 1 Cor. 12, there are a few detailed phrases which if one were ignorant of the line of thought Paul is presenting, one might think they suggest everyone had the Spirit. In verse 7 Paul says: "But unto everyone of us (R.V. unto each one of us) is given grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ. This "grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" was the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks of "the grace" given by him by which he ministered the gospel to the Gentiles, "with mighty signs and wonders" (Rom. 15:15-19). In Ephesus, it was received by brethren according to the measure used by Christ, some being apostles, some teachers, etc.
So in this verse, taking account of the whole section of scripture, it was not every one in the ecclesia that received this gift of grace, but "each one" selected for the work. Again, the emphasis in verses 11-13 is very clear. Some received the gifts, so that all might come to the unity of the faith. This shows a selective possession of the Spirit. The ecclesia attaining to manhood in Christ, was to have a fulfilment at that time, because Paul adds: "that we be no more children." In a greater sense they and all the redeemed will attain to the fulness of being part of the completed body of Christ in the future.
The Early Days of the Acts of the Apostles
Having looked at the working of the Spirit as described by Paul in writing to the Gentile ecclesias, we should note that the picture we have seen in the Gentile ecclesias is rather different from that at the beginning of Acts some 25 years earlier. There was then a fuller pouring out of the Spirit, appropriate to the needs of this starting of the ministration of the New Covenant. Thus on the day of Pentecost all in the house were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). There was a similar large outpouring of the Spirit recorded in Acts 4. We read that when the apostles had been arrested and brought before the Council, they were released, and the record continues, "Being let go, went to their own company and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them .... And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit; and they spake the word of God with boldness" (vs. 22,31). This giving of the Spirit to all, shows that some brethren previously
did not have the Spirit: they had not received it automatically at baptism, as some brethren are now saying. The Holy Spirit was not universally given, but extensively so at the beginning, as a witness at that time. There was a third occasion of a large outpouring of Spirit, when we come to Cornelius in Acts 10. Before they were baptised "the Holy Spirit fell on all of them which heard the word" (Acts 10:44). This remarkable happening had the purpose of convincing the brethren of the circumcision that God was indeed calling the Gentiles.
So we see that Christ was made available the Holy Spirit appropriately to the time and circumstance. The extensive outpouring in the early days was not necessary later on. In the Gentile ecclesia there was a pattern established of Spirit guidance: a number of brethren constituting an eldership, each possessing a different kind of gift, and contributing his part to the working of the eldership, and recognising a relation of more important to lesser gifts (1 Cor. 12:28). They were the shepherds of the flock, and carried responsibility. So Paul addressed the elders of Ephesus: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Ecclesia of God . . ." (Acts 20:28). It is abundantly clear that the Spirit activity was limited to certain people who used it not primarily for themselves, but for the good of others. This is quite different from the idea of every believer receiving the divine effluence for their own use in their own lives.
All Books/Booklets, Editorials, and Articles are FREE and can be downloaded without permission.