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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Gifts

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We may distinguish for the purpose of this article between gifts and giving generally, and the particular endowments which are connoted by the term χαρίσματα, translated in Authorized Version and Revised Version gifts.’

1. General.-It is clear that in the Apostolic Age the Church had learnt the implications of the fact of the Incarnation. From the literature of the time we note the connexion between the gift of God’s grace in Christ, the ‘Unspeakable gift’ (2 Corinthians 9:15), and the ethical practice of Christ’s followers. The Greek verbs δίδωμι and δωρέομαι are hallowed by new associations and duties to which both the theology and ethic of Christianity give notable contributions. Specific deeds of charity and kindness (see Alms) enter naturally, as the result of our Lord’s teaching, into Christian practice (see article Christian Life for the appointment of deacons and systematic giving in the Church). The generosity of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 16:15), which impelled him at his own expense to journey to the Apostle with Fortunatus and Achaicus (his slaves), is singled out by St. Paul for special mention, as setting forth a new duty to the Church on the lines of the old Greek λειτουργία or service done to the State. The same Epistle (1 Corinthians 16:1) emphasizes the duty of the Christian community in the matter of the Collection (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ): St. Paul insists on the duty of supporting not only the Church and its ministry but also poorer churches at a distance (2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 2 Corinthians 9:12-13) and of supplying a portion for the communion-meal, while his eulogy of cheerful giving (2 Corinthians 9:7) in general sets the standard and model of Christian liberality and of systematic gifts to spiritual objects, to the support of the poor and helpless (cf. Aristides, Apol. xv.), as well as to the furtherance of the gospel. Philanthropy is bound up with the Christian life and can never be dissociated from it.

The group of words translated ‘gift’ (δῶρον, δωρεά, δόμα, δόσις, δώρημα) forms an interesting study, upon which see note on James 1:17 in J. B. Mayor’s Commentary (3 London, 1910). δώρημα (James 1:17, Romans 5:16) is used of a gift of God, and so is δωρεά wherever we find it in the NT; δῶρον is used of offerings to God; δόμα (except in Ephesians 4:8, a quotation from Septuagint ) is used of human gifts; while δόσις may refer to either a human or a Divine gift. The use of δωρεά as the ‘free gift’ of God, springing from His χάρις, or ‘grace,’ is found in Acts 2:38; Acts 8:26; Acts 10:45; Acts 11:17, Romans 5:15; Romans 5:17, 2 Corinthians 9:15, Ephesians 3:7; Ephesians 4:7, Hebrews 6:4, and is also used by apostolic writers like Clement (cf. 1 Clem. xix. 2, xxiii. 2, xxxii. 1) and Ignatius (Smyrn. vii. 1).

Christ is pre-eminently the gift of God’s voluntary favour to the race, and is at once the type and source, along with the Holy Spirit, of all spiritual impartations and endowments. It remains to add that all gifts of love are gifts to God in the apostolic teaching. Gifts of the sacrificial order are mentioned by the author of Heb. in connexion with the Jewish priesthood only to be elevated into the region of Christian thought and to be liberated from the externalism and legalism of the Mosaic system. The gifts of the one High Priest, ‘the mediator of a better covenant,’ are inward; the new law is written on the heart, and the covenant is one of forgiveness and grace (Hebrews 5:1; Hebrews 8:1 ff.). Likewise, the approach to God by the believer is ‘a new and living way’ in that it is by the medium of the soul and conscience, unaccompanied by outward gift or sacrifice, except that, like his Lord, the believer offers himself, or rather his body (cf. Romans 12:1). This is the foundation of all giving, as St. Paul hints in 2 Corinthians 8:5, the giving up of self to God being the act that hallows all other gifts. The sanctions of Christian magnanimity, practical sympathy, and liberality are rooted in Christian doctrine, and especially its doctrine of God as the eternal love eternally imparting itself and historically manifest in the gift of His Son. The grace of God and His kindness (φιλανθρωπία) have both appeared (Titus 2:11; Titus 3:4); and the Apostle asks elsewhere ‘shall he not with him also freely give (χαρίσεται) us all things?’ (Romans 8:32).

2. Special.-The quotation last given reminds us that χάρισμα (‘charism’), formed from the verb χαρίζομαι, means a ‘free gift,’ not of right but of bounty. Unlike δωρεά, which has a similar meaning, χάρισμα comes to be used almost in a technical sense in Christian terminology, of gifts or qualifications for spiritual service. F. J. A. Hort (The Christian Ecclesia, London, 1897, p. 153f.) thus defines χάρισμα as used by St. Paul and by one other writer only in the NT, namely St. Peter:

‘In these instances it is used to designate either what we call “natural advantages” independent of any human process of acquisition, or advantages freshly received in the course of Providence; both alike being regarded as so many various free gifts from the Lord of men, and as designed by Him to be distinctive qualifications for rendering distinctive services to men or to communities of men.’

Even in the passages in the Pastoral Epistles which refer to the charism of Timothy (1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:6) Hort does not regard the specific gift of the young Apostle as a supernatural endowment suddenly or by miraculous means vouchsafed for a special mission or service: ‘it was a special gift of God, a special fitness bestowed by Him to enable Timothy to fulfil a distinctive function’ (p. 185); but also an original gift, capable of being wakened into fresh life* [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:31, where the two-fold idea of the Divine origin of charisms and the necessity of human effort to attain them is suggested.] by his own initiative; it was so distinctive as to mark Timothy out as a fit colleague of St. Paul himself, the fitness being authenticated to the Apostle by a prophetic oracle or message, and consecrated by a solemn act of benediction-the laying on of the hands of the body of elders. Schmiedel (Encyclopaedia Biblica , s.v. ‘Spiritual Gifts’) distinguishes between the non-technical use of χάρισμα in such passages as Romans 5:15 (where the term means ‘the whole aggregate of God’s benevolent operation in the universe’; cf. Romans 1:11; Romans 6:23; Romans 11:29, 2 Corinthians 1:11), and its technical use elsewhere, where ‘charism’ and ‘charisms’ denote distinctive aptitudes on the part of Christians; cf. Romans 12:6 (where ‘the grace of God’ is mentioned as the source of the several capacities designated), 1 Corinthians 7:7; 1 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 12:31, 1 Peter 4:10. In the great passage of Ephesians 4:11 (with which Justin Martyr, Dial. c. Tryph. xxxix. is to be read) the term χάρισμα is not mentioned, but it is implied in the words ‘He gave’ (αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν) with which the specification of functions or services commences. The term is not found in the Apostolic Fathers; in the Did. i. 5 it is used only once, and then of temporal blessings in the general sense.

The locus classicus for charisms is 1 Corinthians 12:4-12 and v. 28, which has to be studied along with Ephesians 4:11. The latter, which specifies the ministries of apostles, prophets (see Prophecy, Prophet), evangelists, pastors, and teachers, indicates the types of Christian service which tended to become permanent in the life of the Church. The Corinthian passage, on the other hand, in addition to the more stable and authorized modes of ministry, mentions several others of a special order, perhaps peculiar to the Corinthian Church with its exuberant manifestations of spiritual energy, and certainly, as the evidence of later Church history shows, of a temporary character, and exhausting themselves (cf. H. B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the NT, London, 1909, p. 320) in the Apostolic or sub-Apostolic Age. The Apostle mentions ‘diversities of gifts,’ ‘diversities of ministrations’ (διακονιῶν), and ‘diversities of workings’ (ἐνεργημάτων); these are but different aspects of the same function; but, whereas the two last are appropriately related to the Lord Christ and God the Father, χαρίσματα are regarded as the graces bestowed by the Holy Spirit (cf. a similar three-fold relationship with the three Persons of the Trinity in Ephesians 4:4). St. Paul mentions, first, charisms of the intellectual order, ‘the word of wisdom’ and ‘the word of knowledge’; second, miraculous gifts: (a) ‘faith,’ (b) ‘gifts of healing,’ (c) ‘workings of miracles’; third, ‘prophecy, or the gift of spiritual instruction; fourth, ‘discerning of spirits,’ or the gift of discrimination, the discerning between the true and the false; and finally, ‘tongues’ and ‘the interpretation of tongues’ (see Tongues), or ecstatic powers and the power of interpreting them. Then in 1 Corinthians 12:28 we have the following classification: ‘God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps (ἀντιλήμψεις), governments (κυβερνήσεις, literally ‘pilotings’), divers kinds of tongues’; this is a classification of charisms in order of spiritual rank and dignity. It has been suggested that ‘helps’ and ‘governments’ indicate the services rendered respectively by ‘deacons’ and ‘bishops,’ in which case we have here ‘the faint beginnings of the separation of offices’ (T. C. Edwards, Com. On 1 Corinthians 2, London, 1885, in loc.). The absence of any reference to officials later designated as ‘bishops,’ ‘presbyters,’ ‘deacons,’ ‘pastors’ (in Ephesians 4:11), suggests a rudimentary church organization, or rather a purely democratic government in the Christian community at Corinth; and it may be that the profusion of services and functions with the accompanying perils of spiritual pride and disorder suggested to the Apostle the necessity of the more disciplined and edifying forms of service and administration which afterwards prevailed in the apostolic churches. In fact, this is the burden of the Apostle’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14, following on the exhortation to ‘covet earnestly “the greater charisms” ’ (1 Corinthians 12:31), and the noble hymn (1 Corinthians 13) which sets forth love as ‘a still more excellent way’ in that it transcends all the χαρίσματα and is the real foundation of the Church. It is love that is to regulate the use of the spiritual gifts, inasmuch as under its influence the individual will subordinate himself to another, will avoid ostentation and self-advertisement, and will do all things ‘decently and in order’-that is, he will keep his own place and exercise his particular functions, so that unity may be attained in variety, and each several capacity may be subordinated to the good of the Church as a whole.

As to the meaning and nature of the charisms, guidance must be sought in the particular articles which deal specifically with them; nor can we enter into a detailed examination of the problems which such a classification as ‘faith,’ ‘gifts of healing,’ ‘workings of miracles’ creates. Suffice it to say that, though love is the charism par excellence, the fount and source of all others, faith is second only to it in the order of ethical dignity. It is a charism out of which spring others described in 1 Corinthians 12:9 as ‘charisms of healing,’ where the plural appears to indicate different powers for healing different forms of disease, and ‘workings of powers or miracles.’ The relation of faith and its offspring prayer to healing and miracles generally is clearly seen in the Gospels which record our Lord’s cures and in His declaration that faith is the sole condition of miracle-working (cf. Matthew 17:20, Mark 11:23-24); while the use of physical means such as oil (see the notable passage in James 5:14) in combination with prayer is paralleled not only by our Lord’s method, but by the method employed by the Twelve in Mark 6:13. The charisms of miracle-working lasted down to the 2nd cent., if we may trust the evidence of Justin Martyr (Apol. ii. 6); they never were intended, as the extreme faith-healer of to-day contends, to supersede the efforts of the skilled physician; they represent the creative gift, the power of initiating new departures in the normal world of phenomena, which is rooted in faith (see A. G. Hogg, Christ’s Message of the Kingdom, Edinburgh, 1911, pp. 62-70); and as such reveal a principle which holds good for all time.

To sum up, an examination of the passages in apostolic literature which treat of spiritual gifts inevitably brings us to the conclusion that the life of the early Church was characterized by glowing enthusiasm, simple faith, and intensity or spiritual joy and wonder, all resulting from the consciousness of the power of the Holy Spirit; also that this phase of Spirit-effected ministries and services was temporary, as such ‘tides of the Spirit’ have since often proved, and gave way to a more rigid and disciplined Church Order, in which the official tended more and more to supersede the charismatic ministries. At first, as E. v. Dobschütz remarks (Christian Life in the Primitive Church, Eng. translation , London, 1904, p. 283), this strikes us as ‘a limitation and a moral retrogression’; but on reflexion we see that while the principle of spiritual gifts as originating in the individual with the immediate action of the Holy Spirit is a permanent truth for the Christian consciousness, the transient character of many of the charismatic gifts is due largely to the abuses to which they were liable. The growing ethical standard of the Church rejected all self-chosen teachers or ministers who were proved by the test of character to be without a Divine call. By their fruits they were known; and the χάρισμα, which, however admirable in itself, was not associated with personal worth and holy influence, could not in the nature of things be recognized as making for edification and order in the Church life. The particular injunctions in the Pastoral Epistles as to the character of bishops and deacons point to a developing sense of Christian fitness in the official life of the Church and a growing feeling for the honour of Christianity. Thus, sooner or later, the true charismatic was sifted from the false charismatic, whose personal vanity and self-seeking nullified all usefulness, The increase of discipline of course had its own perils. Sometimes, as in John 3, we detect the narrow intolerance which resented any new influence or development in the Church life, Diotrephes being a type of mind which is ecclesiastically conservative and ‘so loses impulses of the greatest value’ (E. v. Dobschütz, op. cit., p. 221f.). To Diotrephes the Ephesian John is a charismatic itinerant preacher, whose letters must be withheld from the Church and whose messengers must not be welcomed. Here we see the seed of conflict, which was afterwards to germinate into the Montanist controversy. But the authority of St. Paul determined once for all the inner character of Christian community life. His symbol of the single body with many members (Romans 12:4, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27) shows that he aimed at a unity in which the witness of the individual should have free play and yet be subordinated to the welfare of the community. The Christian Church gave full scope to the individual χάρισμα; nevertheless, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the impulse towards association, so far from, being overpowered, was most powerfully intensified by the encouragement which St. Paul (cf. Harnack, Mission and Expansion, Eng. translation 2, i. 433) gave to the development of spiritual capacity in the individual, while pointing to errors of unregulated spiritual enthusiasm, he none the less pleads with his converts to ‘quench not the Spirit’ and ‘despise not prophesyings’ (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

Literature.-On the general subject of Christian giving the following works may be consulted: G. Uhlborn, Christian Charity in the Ancient Church, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1883; A. Harnack, Mission and Expansion of Christianity, Eng. translation 2, London, 1908, vol. i. ch. 4. For spiritual gifts (χαρίσματα), in addition to the works quoted above, the following authorities may be consulted: R. Sohm, Kirchenrecht, Leipzig, 1892; H. Weinel, Die Wirkungen des Geistes, Freiburg i. B., 1899; H. Gunkel, Die Wirkungen des Heiligen Geistes3, Göttingen, 1909; T. M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries2, London, 1903; together with articles by Cremer on ‘Geistesgaben’ in Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 3 (Leipzig, 1899) and Gayford in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) on ‘Church.’

R. Martin Pope.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Gifts'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/g/gifts.html. 1906-1918.

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