- …to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge (λόγος γνώσεως, 1 Cor 12:28)
Nature of the Gift
It doesn’t make you a genius—to say nothing of a fortune teller. As he does with “wisdom” above, Thiselton treats “knowledge” as a catchword for an ongoing controversy when he speaks of “articulate utterances relating to ‘knowledge.’”1Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, 938. “Knowledge” (γνῶσις/G1108) is catchword throughout Paul’s epistles, especially in 1 Corinthians.2Rom 2:20; 11:33; 15:14; 1 Cor 1:5; 8:1, 7, 10–11; 12:8; 1:2, 8; 14:6; 2 Cor 2:14; 4:6; 6:6; 8:7; 10:5; 11:6; Eph 3:19; Phil 3:8; Col 2:3; 1 Tim 6:20). Certainly, the “message of special knowledge” is the opposite of what Paul derided as “so-called knowledge,” which only generates foolish debates, profane chatter, absurdities, and angry division (1 Tim 6:20).
But notice that he focuses on ethical understanding rather than facts about the world, on the divine imperative rather than the human intellect, on obedience rather than speculative theorizing.
As with the word of wisdom, that it’s a message of knowledge suggests that it’s not so much a resident gift as a divine provision for specific occasions. It doesn’t make you a genius—to say nothing of a fortune teller. It provides a message spoken as if God himself were speaking (1 Pet 4:11), so it’s divinely timely (Prov 25:11). And often, a word of knowledge cuts right to the heart of a matter, as only a word from God can (Heb 4:12).
We see various examples throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, we see Joshua uncovering Achan’s theft of plunder at Jericho (Josh 7:10–11) and Elisha denouncing Gehazi’s back door deal with Naaman (2 Kgs 5:20–27). We see Samuel using the gift when he met and selected Saul as king (1 Sam 9–10). We see Elijah communicating Aramean war plans to the king of Israel, operating as a spiritual fifth column for the people of God (2 Kgs 6:9–10).
In the New Testament, I think especially of examples from Jesus’s ministry, such as when he told the Samaritan woman who denied having a husband, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now” (John 4:17–18). Also, Jesus frequently confounded his opponents because he knew their thoughts.15 Or think of Peter, who exposed Ananias and Sapphira’s charitable giving fraud (Acts 5).
Exercising and Responding to the Gift
As with any other claim to be speaking God’s very words, this gift requires godly reverence. We certainly can’t lay claim to “superior knowledge” and then parade it as though it were any credit to our IQ. We could possess “all knowledge,” but without love it would mean nothing (1 Cor 13:2ff). And the word of knowledge isn’t a plaything for impressing and manipulating gullible audiences. You really need to have heard from God to represent what you’re saying in this way.
Charismatic frauds give Pentecostalism and charismatic faith a horrible black eye when they play the word of knowledge card. Some have their staff do extensive research in an area where they are headed for an upcoming campaign, collect their notes, then wait for the targets they had listed to arrive for meetings. One occasion shows what it looked like when the subject just wouldn’t quite cooperate with the con:
At a healing rally where the research had already been done, an evangelist asked a lady if she had ever met him before.
He repeated, “So we have never had a conversation before this moment, right?”
She responded, “No, but I spoke with your staff members.”
Irritated, he said, “That’s not what I asked. Pay attention. You and I have never had a conversation before this moment, right?”
She responded, “No, but …”
“Do you believe God knows your name?”
“Do you believe God knows everything about you?”
“Is your name _____, and do you have a son named _____?”
“Let me ask again. Have you and I ever had a conversation before tonight?”
“Don’t interrupt the atmosphere, just answer yes or no to my questions. Have you and I ever had a conversation before tonight?”
She looks down at me, pleadingly, as if to say, “What do I do?”
He continues, “You had a wreck about two years ago, yes or no?”
“Do you believe Jesus heals?”
“Yes, but…” He stops her as she tries to say, “But I spoke to your staff and told them these things!”
“Don’t grieve the Spirit, just answer yes or no to my questions. Do you believe Jesus heals?”
“Yes, of course I do! But…”
As he stops her from speaking, she begins to cry nervously.
“There it is! Don’t be afraid to weep! That weeping shows that he’s coming on you right now!”3I found this sketch on a forum at http://lit4ever.org. JoniAmes@aol.com had posted it. Actually, as appalling as this example is, it seems like the author found it acceptable—as long as somebody gets healed.
This appalling manipulation, deception, and abuse will get its answer in the last judgment. Don’t be fooled by things like this, and don’t take up the practice yourself.
Don’t be like the false prophets who speak out of their own dreams and out of their own hearts, while claiming to be speaking for God (Jer 23:25ff). God condemns that attitude: “Let these false prophets tell their dreams, but let my true messengers faithfully proclaim my every word. There is a difference between straw and grain!” (Jer 23:38). There’s a world of difference between a word of knowledge and something that’s just a brainstorm—to say nothing of a cold-blooded scam.
On the other hand, if God has indeed spoken, his word will burn in your heart like a fire, and you shouldn’t withhold it when the loving, edifying moment avails itself (Jer 29:9).