The Unifying Power of Spiritual Gifts

David M. Whitchurch

David M. Whitchurch, “They Unifying Power of Spiritual Gifts,” Shedding Light on the New Testament: Acts–Revelation, ed. Ray L. Huntington, Frank F. Judd Jr., and David M. Whitchurch (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 98–127.

David M. Whitchurch is an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (1 Corinthians 12:1). So writes Paul to the Corinthian Church. John Wesley, the eighteenth-century theologian and leader in the Methodist movement, taught that spiritual gifts all but disappeared within the first few centuries of Christianity. He wrote, “It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were common in the church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian. . . . From this time, the gifts of the spirit almost totally ceased, very few instances of the kind being found.”[1] Wesley was not alone. Many Protestant groups perceived the loss of spiritual gifts as evidence of a dying (or dead) orthodox church. Increasingly, those people who aligned themselves with Protestantism expressed a desire to return to what they considered lost foundational teachings within the Bible. This included manifestations as evidenced by gifts of the Spirit.

The need for spiritual gifts has remained constant whenever the gospel of Jesus Christ has been upon the earth. Moroni exhorted his readers to “deny not the gifts of God” (Moroni 10:8). The seventh article of faith states, “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that such gifts always attend true believers of Christ.[2] Even so, misdirected enthusiasm among early members shows that they were sometimes confused concerning these gifts and how they operated. Hyrum Page, for example, received revelations in the early restored Church via a “peep stone,” “all of which were entirely at variance with the order of God’s house, as laid down in the New Testament.”[3] In another instance Leman Copley, after embracing the restored gospel, sought to incorporate certain misconceptions held over from his associations with the Shaking Quakers.[4] The Lord corrected these misunderstandings through the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 28 and 49). Similarly, Paul’s discourse on gifts of the Spirit provided a means to instruct new members in his day that had drifted from recently taught truths.

Discourses on gifts of the Spirit can be found in the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 12), Book of Mormon (see Moroni 10), and Doctrine and Covenants (see section 46). With so much emphasis on spiritual gifts, reason dictates a need to understand what they are and how they operate. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church provides a sound footing on which to begin, which can then be supplemented with insights gained through Restoration sources.

Historical Overview of 1 Corinthians

Located just fifty miles west of Athens, the ruins of ancient Corinth provide today’s visitor with a tremendous sense of the historical reality of the Bible. Corinth and its surrounding environs once boasted an estimated population of hundreds of thousands[5] made up of military veterans, freedmen, urban laborers, merchants, and slaves that blended together in a distinctive Greek and Roman ethos.[6] Remains of massive monolithic pillars, paved roads, gymnasiums, ornate fountains, Roman baths, a theater, and a large forum all bear witness of its onetime greatness. Early historians recognized Corinth as a city so strategically located that it maintained a reputation for its wealth and prosperity.[7] Situated near an isthmus, Corinth was literally the “master of two harbours, of which the one leads straight to Asia, and the other to Italy.”[8] Strabo, a first-century historian (64 BC–AD 21), wrote that sailing by way of the isthmus saved time and avoided the dangerous journey around the southern cape of the Peloponnesus.[9]

Paul’s first known missionary encounter in Corinth began in the spring of AD 50 and lasted for eighteen months.[10] His arrival was timely. Historical records indicate that the Isthmian Games were held near Corinth in AD 51.[11] This pan-Hellenic event similar to the Olympic Games periodically attracted people from throughout the region to watch or participate in a wide range of competitions.[12] Strabo wrote of the games, “But to the Corinthians of later times still greater advantages were added, for also the Isthmian Games, which were celebrated there, were wont to draw crowds of people.”[13]

The crowded city must have been rich with missionary opportunities. Luke informs us that upon Paul’s arrival to Corinth he taught “in the synagogue every sabbath,” where he “persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” of the living Christ (Acts 18:4).[14] As opposition mounted against Paul, especially from the Jewish sector, he increasingly turned his attention toward the gentiles (see Acts 18:6). The Lord comforted Paul in vision as the opposition against him grew, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:9–10).

The ethnic diversity within Corinth created many challenges for Paul. Pagan temples dotted the cityscape—notably, temples dedicated to Apollo, Asclepios, Aphrodite, Demeter, Kore, and Poseidon.[15] These pagan influences undoubtedly impacted the Church, for Paul warned: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers. . . . And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; emphasis added).

Paul’s treatment on gifts of the Spirit can better be understood in context of these challenges that confronted the Church. Spiritual erosion due to worldly influences clouds spiritual judgment. For example, Paul warned, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: . . . neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). King Benjamin made similar cautions to those in his day: “And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved” (Mosiah 2:36; emphasis added). In other words, sin leads to irrational thinking which, for the Corinthian members, resulted in self-perceived elitism and misunderstandings regarding the manifestations of spiritual gifts.

Paul recognized the debilitating influence this had on the Church and on those who sought social advantage by attaching themselves to well-known Church leaders. “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:12). Paul responded by showing the foolishness of attaching oneself to anyone other than the Savior. “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (v. 13). Such thinking could only be influenced by carnal man, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God” (v. 21). Paul further cautioned, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom. . . . Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought; but we speak the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4, 6–7).

Self-perceived spiritual elitism was not the only thing that kept the Saints from understanding spiritual influences. The newly organized Corinthian branch struggled with other problems, including the congregation’s willingness to overlook serious moral malfeasance (see 1 Corinthians 5:1–13), members’ suing each other in civil court (see 6:1–9), asceticism in marriage (see 7:1–9), the appropriateness of eating meat sacrificed to idols (see 8:1–9), the role of women in the Church (see 11:3–7; 14:31–35), misunderstandings about gifts of the Spirit (see 12:1–13), and the proper use of speaking in tongues (see 14:1–33). Paul had worked so hard to bring the Corinthian Saints to Christ, so he quite naturally worried about them.

From latter-day revelation we learn the seriousness of the discord among the Corinthian Church. The Doctrine and Covenants makes specific reference to conditions in Corinth when describing those who will inherit the telestial kingdom: “For these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas. These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John . . . ; but received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant. Last of all, these all are they who will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud” (D&C 76:99–102; emphasis added). The solution for these woes, of course, was the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20; emphasis added). In a city where temples and shrines to pagans abounded, Paul wanted the Corinthian Saints to understand not only that they needed to be vigilant in keeping their physical bodies free from worldly vices but that the collective Church must remain pure for it to function as the sanctuary of the Holy Ghost through which spiritual gifts flow.

Latter-day revelation validates the need for new members to believe and follow correct practices in accordance with gospel principles. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that recent converts to the Church “expect to see some wonderful manifestation, some great display of power, or some extraordinary miracle performed; and it is often the case that young members of this Church for want of better information, carry along with them their old notions of things, and sometimes fall into egregious errors.”[16] The Corinthian Saints fit in this category. Some of them held misconceptions regarding God. They wrongfully assumed that spiritual gifts come from more than one source. Paul corrected such misunderstandings by repeatedly teaching that every gift, no matter how diverse, comes through the Holy Ghost. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4; emphasis added; see also verses 5–6, 8–9, 11, and 13). This emphasis makes sense in light of certain idolatrous beliefs. A pagan’s life in Paul’s day revolved around a nearly limitless number of gods, each providing some kind of divine watch-care over a particular aspect of their life. Within a household, for example, different gods protected different parts of the home—the storeroom, hearth, bedroom, dining room, threshold, door panel, and hinges.[17] In the workplace people sought protection over various aspects of their labors, so much so that the very “parts of a natural or agricultural process (such as plowing) could have their own presiding deity.”[18]

The shift for many Saints from idolatry to Christianity must have been extremely challenging. “Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led” (1 Corinthians 12:2). By teaching (or reteaching) these recent converts that spiritual gifts come from one source—the Holy Ghost—Paul not only reinforced within them an operational understanding about the nature and unity of God[19] but also reminded those seeking personal aggrandizement within the Church to reexamine their motives. Paul’s successive use of “the same Spirit” (v. 4), “the same Lord” (v. 5), and “the same God” (v. 6) in chapter 12 gave a powerful reminder to the Saints of the unity characterized within the Godhead.[20] President Gordon B. Hinckley said of the Godhead, “They are distinct beings, but They are one in purpose and effort. They are united as one in bringing to pass the grand, divine plan for the salvation and exaltation of the children of God. . . . It is that perfect unity between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that binds these three into the oneness of the divine Godhead. Miracle of miracles and wonder of wonders, They are interested in us, and we are the substance of Their great concern. They are available to each of us.”[21] Paul’s message seems clear—spiritual gifts found among the Saints should unite the Church, not divide it. Misguided Corinthian Saints lost sight of this as they sought spiritual superiority by obtaining certain gifts of the Spirit.

By emphasizing that gifts of the Spirit come from the same source, Paul encouraged the Saints to focus on Christlike service rather than a self-indulgent worldview and a serve-us attitude. It is worth noting that Paul encouraged the Saints to zealously seek after “the best gifts,” for in so doing, they would come to know a “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). This more excellent way, of course, is charity. For charity, he said, “suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). What better way to heal a broken and divided church than to fully adopt the characteristics associated with charity?

In truth, then, gifts of the Spirit provide a foundation upon which to build a vibrant and fully functioning community of Christ, irrespective of the status of the person baptizing them. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Lord teaches comparable principles in our day. In a revelation given to Joseph Smith, the Lord said, “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27). President Hinckley, commenting on this verse, said, “This great unity is the hallmark of the true church of Christ. It is felt among our people throughout the world. As we are one, we are his.”[22] President Wilford Woodruff echoed this sentiment:

The subject that I have upon my mind is, union among the Latter-day Saints. The Savior said to His apostles anciently, and to the apostles in our day: “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” “I and my Father are one.” . . . With all the divisions, and all the discontent, and the quarrelings and opposition among the powers on earth, or that have been revealed from heaven, I have never heard that it has ever been revealed to the children of men that there was any division between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. They are one. They always have been one. They always will be one, from eternity unto eternity. . . . In the celestial kingdom of God there is oneness—there is union.[23]

Following his list of spiritual gifts, Paul uses the physical body as a metaphor to exemplify this concept. Each part of the body serves a critical function in the greater good of the whole. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say,

“Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. . . . Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration and finally those speaking in different kinds of tongues. (New International Version, 1 Corinthians 12:14–15, 27–28)

God’s kingdom on earth, therefore, demands harmony within its citizenry. “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). Gifts of the Spirit, rather than being competitive in nature, must be used to harmonize, strengthen, and build the whole. Every member is integral in this process, regardless of what or how many gifts they have been given. Gifts of the Spirit, of necessity, establish greater unity within the community of Jesus Christ. Of course, this can occur only when members of the Church obtain a personal witness through the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Son of God. Consider the introductory passages regarding spiritual gifts as contained in the standard works.

1 Corinthians 12:1–3

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

Moroni 10:4–5, 7

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.

Doctrine and Covenants 46: 8–10, 13

Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;

For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.

And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church.

To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

Although the Corinthian, Nephite, and Kirtland Churches seem worlds apart in time and place, one similarity between them is that all three discourses are addressed to newly baptized or soon-to-be baptized followers of Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly, Satan opposes such action and will do all in his power to stop it. In the early part of 1831, the Lord instructed Joseph Smith to gather the Saints from New York to Kirtland, Ohio (See D&C 38:31–33). Fleeing persecutions, the Prophet founded a frontier city in which to gather the Saints (See D&C 64:21). Less than a year after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had been formally organized, the Lord instructed the Prophet Joseph Smith on the topic of spiritual gifts.

The Lord warned the fledgling Church against being “seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men” (D&C 46:7). As noted above, the Lord instructed the Saints that to avoid such deceit they must seek “earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given” (D&C 46:8). This commission applies to all members of the Church but has special implications to the inexperienced and overenthusiastic. Joseph Smith, in an editorial given in the Times and Seasons, stated:

Recent occurrences that have transpired amongst us render it an imperative duty devolving upon me to say something in relation to the spirits by which men are actuated.

It is evident from the Apostles’ writings, that many false spirits existed in their day, and had “gone forth into the world,” and that it needed intelligence which God alone could impart to detect false spirits, and to prove what spirits were of God. The world in general have been grossly ignorant in regard to this one thing, and why should they be otherwise—“for no man knows the things of God, but by the Spirit of God.”

There always did, in every age, seem to be a lack of intelligence pertaining to this subject. Spirits of all kinds have been manifested, in every age, and almost amongst all people.[24]

In brief, then, the Holy Ghost not only bears witness of Jesus Christ’s divinity but also helps warn against falsehood and deception. As previously mentioned, Moroni exhorted his readers to “deny not the gifts of God . . . ; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them” (Moroni 10:8; emphasis added). President Marion G. Romney in a general conference address said that “without the gift of revelation, which is one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, there could be no Church of Jesus Christ. This is apparent from the fact that in order for his Church to exist, there must be a society of people who individually have testimonies that Jesus is the Christ.”[25] He goes on to quote both 1 Corinthians 12:3 and Doctrine and Covenants 46:13 (see above). The fact that discourses on spiritual gifts are found in the three of our four standard works confirms the critical role they play in Christ’s earthly kingdom. Latter-day revelation also teaches that institutional safeguards protect the use of these gifts. The Lord declared to Joseph Smith: “And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God. And it shall come to pass that he that asketh in Spirit shall receive in Spirit; That unto some it may be given to have all those gifts, that there may be a head, in order that every member may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:27–29).

A comparative look at the discourses on gifts of the Spirit is quite enlightening. “Differences of administration” and “diversities of operation” precede the actual listing of spiritual gifts.

Differences of Administration and Diversities of Operation

1 Corinthians 12:5–7

And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

Moroni 10:8

And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.

Doctrine and Covenants 46:15–16

And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men.

And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal.

Some confusion exists regarding the meaning of “differences of administration.” Sjodahl and Smith, in a 1978 commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, defined it as “the different divisions or courses of the priests and Levites engaged in the temple service, and in this Revelation [1 Corinthians 12] it may refer to the different duties and responsibilities of the Priesthood in its two divisions, the Melchizedek and Aaronic. To know this is a gift of the Spirit.”[26] While their translation may be accurate, it reflects only one aspect of the phrase. The word “administration” (Greek diakonia) carries additional meanings, including “acting as a go-between,” “doing service,” and “waiting at tables.”[27] These later definitions convey the idea of giving “loving service” or “service to others.”[28] Such definitions make sense when used in context of Paul’s discourse on spiritual gifts. Differences of administration (diakonia), then, emphatically obligate those who follow Christ to serve others, a theme befitting the Corinthian Saints.

The Greeks typically understood service as something undignified. In their world, nobles were “born to rule, not to serve.”[29] The Savior, on the other hand, taught the opposite. As the twelve Apostles sat with Jesus during the Last Supper, they argued about “which of them should be accounted the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Jesus responded, “But he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve [diakoneō, “to wait at table/service”]. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth [diakoneō]? Is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth [diakoneō]” (Luke 22:26–27). Thus, those who receive a witness that Jesus is the Christ do so with a covenantal willingness “to wait at tables” or give service to others (see Mosiah 18:8–10). Individual members receive opportunities to serve in a multitude of ways, but ultimately “it is the same God who worketh all in all” (Moroni 10:8). As one scholar put it, “It is not so much a matter of having a gift as of being a gift.”[30]

The Book of Mormon uses slightly different language than that found in the New Testament and Doctrine and Covenants. Rather than “differences of administration,” it reads, “there are different ways these gifts are administered . . . ; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them” (Moroni 10:8). In addition to recognizing the benefits of spiritual gifts, the Doctrine and Covenants adds a need for the Saints to discern the source of these spiritual manifestations. After quoting Doctrine and Covenants 46:16, Elder McConkie taught, “It is to the gift of discernment that reference is here made. Appointed leaders must be able to divide true doctrine from false, to single out true prophets from the false, to discern between true spirits and false ones.”[31] With the world rife with falsehoods, Joseph Smith’s statement seems more applicable than ever: “A man must have the discerning of spirits before he can drag into daylight this hellish influence and unfold it unto the world in all its soul-destroying, diabolical, and horrid colors; for nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God.”[32]

Furthermore, he stated:

Unless some person or persons have a communication, or revelation from God, unfolding to them the operation of the spirit, they must eternally remain ignorant of these principles. . . . And we shall at last have to come to this conclusion, whatever we may think of revelation, that without it we can neither know nor understand anything of God, or the devil. . . . A man must have the discerning of spirits, as we before stated, to understand these things, and how is he to obtain this gift if there are no gifts of the Spirit? And how can these gifts be obtained without revelation?[33]

Moroni’s exhortation not to deny the gifts of God (see Moroni 10:8) reinforces the urgent need for the Saints to recognize and differentiate the gifts of the Spirit from those that are simply man-made or that come from false sources. Only then can one walk steadfastly on the perfecting path of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated it well when he said, “We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons’”[34]

The New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants identify nine gifts of the Spirit fundamental to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will consider them as listed in all three discourses.

Gifts of Wisdom and Knowledge

1 Corinthians 12:8

For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

Moroni 10:9–10

For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom;

And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

Doctrine and Covenants 46:17–18

And again, verily I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom.

To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge.

The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants give added insight into the New Testament regarding the gifts of wisdom and knowledge. These are gifts given with the intended purpose not just to have but to teach. Doing so provides members, experienced and inexperienced alike, a means to direct their lives and to manifest the fruits of their discipleship. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The Lord will increase our knowledge, wisdom, and capacity to obey when we obey His fundamental laws. This is what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he said we could have ‘sudden strokes of ideas’ which come into our minds as ‘pure intelligence.’ This is revelation. We must learn to rely on the Holy Ghost so we can use it to guide our lives and the lives of those for whom we have responsibility.”[35] In other words, wisdom comes from the Spirit. For James, wisdom is the “good gift” and “perfect gift” from above (1:17). This is the gift that descends “from the Father . . . with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (1:17). It is the key to eradicate uncertainty or, in his words, double-mindedness (see 1:8). President Brigham Young stated, “There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God’s people, he may have the Spirit of the Lord to signify to him his will, and to guide and to direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied, however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges.”[36]

Not only does the Lord expect His Saints to use wisdom and knowledge to direct their own lives, but having such a gift obligates its bearer to share what they know with others (see D&C 88:77). This is central to building up the Church. The power to teach by the Spirit comes through the prayer of faith, and without the Spirit we are told, “ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). President Spencer W. Kimball sternly cautioned those who have been called to teach with the following statement:

There are great numbers of unusually splendid and talented members of the Church all through the world who are intelligent and well-meaning, but I repeat again the statement I made in conference: That while they may think as they please, no one has the right to give his own private interpretations when he has been invited to teach in the organizations of the Church; he is a guest; he has been given an authoritative position and the stamp of approval is placed upon him, and those whom he teaches are justified in assuming that, having been chosen and sustained in the proper order, he represents the Church and the things which he teaches are approved by the Church.[37]

The wisdom of God, then, acts to confirm knowledge within the confines of approved doctrine. It is this kind of teaching that creates unity of heart.

In keeping with Paul’s admonition, it must be remembered that not all wisdom is of God. Earthly wisdom, or the wisdom of man, manifests itself through “bitter envying,” “strife,” “confusion,” and “every evil work” (James 3:14). This type of wisdom is “sensual” and “devilish” (v. 16). Such must have been the case within the Church at Corinth. “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Corinthians 1:19–20). Earthly wisdom is the antithesis of godly wisdom, which is “pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Wisdom given from God is the wisdom that fortifies the faithful followers of Christ against the frequent and prevalent dangers of the world (see 1 Corinthians 1:21). It establishes unity among those with listening ears and willing hearts.

Gifts of Faith, Healing, and Miracles

1 Corinthians 12:9–10

To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;

To another the working of miracles;

Moroni 10:11–12

And to another, exceedingly great faith; and to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;

And again, to another, that he may work mighty miracles;

Doctrine and Covenants 46:19–21

And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed;

And to others it is given to have faith to heal.

And again, to some is given the working of miracles;

A strong relationship exists between faith, healing, and the working of miracles. From the passage in the Doctrine and Covenants, we can surmise that just as gifts differ from one person to the next so does the expression of faith. During the Savior’s postmortal ministry in the Americas, He sought out the sick, lame, blind, leprous, and deaf and said, “For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you” (3 Nephi 17:8; emphasis added). Jesus performed similar miracles throughout his mortal ministry. For example, after healing the woman with an issue of blood, He said, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague” (Mark 5:34; emphasis added). In other instances, lack of faith hampered the working of miracles. While visiting the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus told the people that He did not do “many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). Healing, then, requires faith on the part of the person doing the healing and the person being healed; however, the degree of faith may vary within each. President Kimball said of the gift to heal:

The need for faith is often underestimated. The ill person and the family often seem to depend wholly on the power of the priesthood and the gift of healing that they hope the administering brethren may have, whereas the greater responsibility is with him who is blessed. There are persons who seem to have the gift to heal, as indicated in Doctrine and Covenants, section 46, and it is understandable why a sick one might desire a blessing at the hands of a person who seems to have great faith and proven power, and in whom the recipient has confidence, but the major element is the faith of the individual when that person is conscious and accountable.[38]

From the epistle of James, we learn that healings are prescribed priesthood ordinances performed by those with authority. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:13–14). Elder George Q. Cannon taught, “Men may ridicule the laying on of hands and the prayer of faith, but faithful Latter-day Saints know that the gift of healing is in the Church of Jesus Christ and that the promises made by the Lord concerning the administration of the ordinance which has been established in the Church for this purpose are fulfilled.”[39] President Joseph Fielding Smith said that the “faith to heal the sick is one of the most desirable gifts of the gospel, and should be sought by all the elders; and they should be in readiness at any time to exercise this power in behalf of the unfortunate.”[40]

It should also be understood that the faith to heal and perform miracles is generative in nature. Joseph Smith described this faith as the means “by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal as well as eternal things.”[41] By it “we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:3). By it Alma and Amulek “caused the prison to tumble to the earth” (Ether 12:13). By it “Sara herself received strength to conceived seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age” (Hebrews 11:11). By it Enoch spake and the “earth trembled,” “mountains fled,” and “rivers of water were turned out of their course” (Moses 7:13). It is this wonder-working type of faith from which healings and miracles occur. Ultimately, gifts of healing and miracles provide a tangible witness of the Savior’s own mortal ministry. They remind the Saints that they too can draw upon the powers of heaven and perform mighty works patterned after those of the great Exemplar.

Gift of Prophecy

1 Corinthians 12:10

to another prophecy;

Moroni 10:13

And again, to another, that he may prophesy concerning all things;

Doctrine and Covenants 46:22

And to others it is given to prophesy;

Paul understood that the gift of prophecy was essential to the Church (see 1 Corinthians 13:2). We often hear in response to this gift that it is simply “the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 19:10), yet its implications run much deeper. The word prophecy (prophēteia) denotes the “ability to declare the divine will.”[42] As is evidenced by Moroni, those with the gift of prophecy “may prophesy concerning all things.” Elder McConkie stated: “There is no difference between receiving revelation that Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world and receiving revelation that he shall soon come again in all the glory of his Father’s kingdom. . . . And even as men seek for a testimony so should they desire the gift of prophecy. Thus it is that Paul says: ‘Let the prophets speak. . . . For ye may all prophesy one by one. . . . Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy’” (1 Corinthians 14:29, 31, 39).[43]

Thus, members of the Church who receive the gift of prophecy do indeed testify that Jesus is the Christ, but they also have the potential to understand and prophesy regarding much, much more. Joseph F. Smith, speaking in general conference, taught that the gift of revelation “does not belong to one man solely” but is a gift that “belongs to every individual member of the Church . . . who has reached the years of accountability, to enjoy the spirit of revelation.”[44] But herein lies certain dangers, especially to a young and very possibly overenthusiastic Church membership. As has been already mentioned, this is where distinguishing the source from which the revelation comes is of utmost importance. One such example is that of a woman by the name of Hubble who claimed numerous revelations shortly after the Church was organized. The prophet Joseph Smith refuted her desire to be appointed a teacher within the Church with the following instructions from the Lord: “But verily, verily, I say unto you, that none else shall be appointed unto this gift except it be through him” (D&C 43:4). In other words, individual stewardship can restrain personal revelation.[45]

Gifts of Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues

1 Corinthians 12:10

to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

Moroni 10:14–16

And again, to another, the beholding of angels and ministering spirits;

And again, to another, all kinds of tongues;

And again, to another, the interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues.

Doctrine and Covenants 46:23–25

And to others the discerning of spirits.

And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues;

And to another is given the interpretation of tongues.

The Book of Mormon differs from the other two discourses in its use of “beholding of angels” rather than “discerning of spirits.” While these differences may seem noteworthy, it is likely that the etymological distinction between them is negligible. In addition to “observing” or “looking,” beholding may mean “contemplation.”[46] Since the Book of Mormon does not allow us to examine the original language text, we must rely on word meanings available to the Prophet Joseph Smith during the time in which he translated the Book of Mormon. The 1828 edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language published by Noah Webster provides the likeliest possibilities. It defines behold as “to fix the attention upon an object; to attend; to direct or fix the mind.”[47] Such a broad definition allows some flexibility in how best to understand the differences between these terms. In all other aspects the discourses vary only slightly.

In many respects, the gift of tongues is one of the most enigmatic of all the gifts mentioned. The Savior promised His Apostles prior to His Ascension into heaven that signs would follow those who believed, including that of speaking in tongues (see Mark 16:17). This identifiable gift is of such importance that the Savior Himself warned against those who might reject or deny its authenticity (see 3 Nephi 29:6; Moroni 9:7–8). Paul understood the special circumstances intended for use of this gift and therefore gave instructions directing that the use it should be orderly, edifying, and, when in public, accompanied by an interpreter (see 1 Corinthians 14:2, 9, 11–13, 26–28). Joseph Smith also recognized the challenges attendant with these gifts. He instructed that Satan would “no doubt trouble you about the gift of tongues”[48] and warned: “The gifts of God are all useful in their place, but when they are applied to that which God does not intend, they prove an injury, a snare and a curse instead of a blessing.”[49] There can be no doubt that Joseph Smith understood and approved of the proper use of speaking in tongues, but such difficulties associated with its use led to a clarification by the First Presidency in 1923 that discouraged its practice in meetings when all present spoke the same language.[50]


Four general conclusions may be drawn from the discourses on gifts of the Spirit. First, the Lord dispenses spiritual gifts to those worthy to receive them. We do not choose the gift. We may pray for it to be sure (see 1 Corinthians 12:31; D&C 46:30), but these are gifts given of God. They come, as Moroni said, “unto every man severally, according as he will” (Moroni 10:17; emphasis added). That means that not everyone receives an equal number of spiritual gifts. The parable of the talents reminds us of their uneven distribution: “And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one” (Matthew 25:15). Ultimately, it is not how many gifts we have been given but how we use them that matters most; therefore, within a true community of Christ, these gifts find distribution among its members so that when combined they form a whole. This is the message the Saints in Corinth needed to hear.

Second, even though the Lord distributes these gifts unevenly among the members of the church, He still wants His children to seek after and pray to have them. President George Q. Cannon reprimanded the Saints in our day for their complacency in seeking these gifts.

I feel to bear testimony to you, my brethren and sisters . . . that God is the same to-day as he was yesterday; that God is willing to bestow these gifts upon His children. . . . No man ought to say, ‘Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.’ He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them. If a man lacks wisdom, it is his duty to ask God for wisdom. The same is true with everything else. That is the design of God concerning His Church. He wants his Saints to be perfected in the truth. For this purpose he gives these gifts, and bestows them upon those who seek after them, in order that they may be a perfect people upon the face of the earth, notwithstanding their many weaknesses, because God has promised to give the gifts that are necessary for their perfection.[51]

Third, some gifts are more noticeable than others and, therefore, may seem more desirable. “And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness” (1 Corinthians 12:23). Paul well understood that pride combined with lack of understanding brought division. In truth, then, gifts of the Spirit should bring harmony rather than disparity (see 1 Corinthians 12:24–25).

Fourth, these gifts were never intended as a means for self-aggrandizement but rather are given “for the benefit of the children of God” (D&C 46:26). Self-glorying opposes the very pattern set forth by the Atonement of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 1:18, 27–30; 3:21). When in Gethsemane, Jesus “fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). Moses learned that this work was never about personal acclaim. He was told, “But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). Spiritual gifts are to glorify the Giver of these gifts.


[1] John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1872), 7:26–27; quoted in Conference Report, October 1964, 104.

[2] Bruce R. McConkie, New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 363.

[3] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 1:109–10.

[4] Smith, History of the Church, 1:167.

[5] John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 312. The population number provided by McRay may well have included Corinth and the surrounding area located near the Saronic Gulf and Isthmus of Corinth.

[6] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, St. Paul’s Corinth (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002), 3.

[7] Quoted in Horace Leonard Jones, The Geography of Strabo (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927), 4:189.

[8] Jones, Geography of Strabo, 4:189.

[9] Jones, Geography of Strabo, 4:189; also in Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 1.

[10] Evidence indicates that Paul founded the Church in Corinth in AD 50–51 (Acts 18:1–7) and two to three years later he wrote the letter to the Corinthian Saints from Ephesus (Acts 19:1–10)—likely between the spring of AD 52 and 55. The precise timing of Paul’s visit to Corinth is based on Acts 18:12–17. Paul, having been accused of insurrection, was brought before Gallio, the Roman proconsul of Achaia. Historical evidence shows that the only time Gallio held office in Achaia was from AD 50 to 51 (see The Oxford Bible Commentary, ed. John Barton and John Muddiman [New York: Oxford University Press, 2001], 1109; see also Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 28–29).

[11] McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament, 318.

[12] Competition in poetry, music, and athletic contests was part of these early games (see Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 10–11).

[13] Jones, Geography of Strabo, 4:189.

[14] Of interest, an 1898 archaeological excavation in Corinth discovered a partially preserved inscription that reads “synagogue of the Hebrews.” Even though this synagogue dates to a time period later than Paul, the likelihood remains that it was built on the site of an earlier synagogue that did exist in Paul’s day. See McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament, 319–320.

[15] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 6.

[16] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 242.

[17] Robert Turcan, The Gods of Ancient Rome (New York: Routledge, 2000), 14–15.

[18] Mary Beard, John North, and Simon Price, Religions of Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 1:30.

[19] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 900.

[20] We should remember that considerable scholarly controversy surrounds much of chapters 12–14. See Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 902.

[21] Gordon B. Hinckley, “In These Three I Believe,” Ensign, July 2006, 8.

[22] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Except Ye Are One,” Ensign, November 1983, 5.

[23] Wilford Woodruff, Millennial Star, September 15, 1890, 577.

[24] Smith, History of the Church, 4:571.

[25] Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, April 1956, 68.

[26] Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, The Doctrine and Covenants Commentary (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1950), 274.

[27] See Henry G. Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, rev. Henry S. Jones, 9th ed. (New York: Clarendon, 1996), s.v. “διακονία,” 398; Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick William Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. “διακονέω”; Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 154; see also Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001), 2:78.

[28] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, 154.

[29] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, 152.

[30] Charles Kingsley Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1968), 284.

[31] McConkie, Articles of Faith, 278.

[32] Smith, History of the Church, 4:573.

[33] Smith, History of the Church, 4:574.

[34] Smith, Teachings, 316.

[35] Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, April 1983, 71–72.

[36] Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 33.

[37] Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 532.

[38] Kimball, Teachings, 510.

[39] George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of George Q. Cannon, sel. ed. Jerreld L. Newquist (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 427.

[40] Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:147.

[41] Joseph Smith, comp., Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 3.

[42] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, s.v. “προφητεία.”

[43] McConkie, Articles of Faith, 373.

[44] Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, April 1912, 5.

[45] This is explicitly stated by President Joseph F. Smith: “It is the privilege of every individual member of the Church to have revelation for his own guidance, for the direction of his life and conduct” (in Conference Report, April 1912, 5).

[46] Oxford English Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007),, s.v. “Beholding.”

[47] Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), s.v. “Behold.”

[48] Smith, Teachings, 25.

[49] Smith, Teachings, 247.

[50] Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 293–95.

[51] Millennial Star, April 23, 1894, 260–61.