Charismata: What are they?


The New Testament provides various lists of gifts and roles in the church. The shortest, if you can call it a list, is Peter’s twofold classification, “the gift of speaking” and “the gift of helping others” (1 Pet 4:10–11). Various Pauline lists specify a greater variety of gifts, but each of them falls fairly neatly into one of Peter’s two classes. Peter’s twofold classification also provides a regulative principle that does a fair job of summarizing Paul’s more detailed regulations:

Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Five Gift Lists in the New Testament

Holy Spirit descending like a dove, St. Peter’s Basilica

The New Testament provides five lists of spiritual gifts, one twofold classification scheme by Peter (1 Pet 4:10–11) and four listings by Paul (Rom 12:6–8; 1 Cor 12:8–10, 28; Eph 4:11). None of the lists entirely parallels any other, though considerable overlap shows up. Individual gifts can overlap categories, but the following classification provides a helpful way of organizing the discussion of the gifts. I number gifts 1–4 because the first three are listed in hierarchy (1 Cor 12:28) and the fourth also hints at hierarchy (Eph 4:11); thereafter, it’s just then… and the rest of the list continues without any hint of hierarchy. I would note that prophecy/prophets appears in every list—and Paul emphasizes it over others (1 Cor 14:1).


  • 1. Apostles
  • 2. Prophets
  • 3. Teachers/pastor-teacher, then…
    • 4. Evangelists
    • Word/message of wisdom
    • Word/message of knowledge
    • Distinguishing between spirits
    • Tongues
    • Interpretation of tongues


  • Serving and helps
  • Mercy
  • Encouragement
  • Contributing
  • Healings
  • Leadership and administration
  • Faith
  • Miracles


In the Ephesians list, the gifts are the persons themselves: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. This probably denotes what we would today consider “offices.” Most of the other lists focus more on function than office, on the nature of the ministry rather than the identity of the person.

Prophet/prophecy is the only gift that Paul includes in all four of his lists, and he includes Pastor-teacher or teacher in all but one (1 Cor 12:8–10). Otherwise some of the gifts show up in two of his lists, or even only once. It’s also interesting to see that two key Old Testament offices are not in the gift lists, namely, priest and king. The general office of believers partake of this role (1 Pet 2:5–6, 9; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6, see Exod 19:6), the lists provide no specific gifting or that would designate anyone as priest or king.


Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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