Have you noticed the rise in psychic “hotlines” and TV shows nowadays? Five years ago, it would have been difficult to find even a psychic commercial on TV. Now, there are several half-hour infomercials, aired almost round the clock.

Have you also noticed New Age music cropping up here and there, not to mention the infiltration of Eastern Mysticism into the West, and increased UFO sightings (not to mention TV programs about them)? How about the rise of “what’s in it for me” attitudes, a morality of convenience, and a market-driven society (i.e., making a living as an end in itself)? While we’re at it, we could add the increasing denial of absolute truth by most Americans–even though a large proportion claim to be evangelical Christians, the prioritizing of relevance over truth, of pragmatics over knowledge, of feelings over beliefs. Al Franken, of Saturday Night Live fame, some years ago epitomized what we are seeing with his self-serving commentary (he humorously suggested that this decade should be labeled the “Al Franken” decade).

A New Kind of Charismatic

Part and parcel of this phenomenon is the rising popularity of charismatic Christianity–especially among those who had never been attracted to the charismatic movement before. Specifically, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement historically has roots in Wesleyan theology and practice. In other words, it has historically been associated with Arminian theology. The reason for this is not immediately obvious, but can be seen through a variety of connections. Arminianism teaches, among other things, that a person once saved can lose his salvation. Hence, Arminians put a strong emphasis on moral duty, as well as spiritual experiences, as the continued confirmation that one is still saved. It is a natural extension from this stance that the test by which a person knows he is saved is various manifestations of the Spirit. Thus the craving for supernatural experiences is both endemic to the charismatic mindset and necessary as continued confirmation of salvation.

But this craving for confirmation is not the motivation of many who have become charismatics in the last few years. Indeed, what is unusual about the current popularity of the charismatic movement, principally the Vineyard form, is that has attracted many Calvinists as well as many well-trained scholars. Every year at the Evangelical Theological Society meetings1 I learn of a few more professors of theology who have joined the ranks of the Vineyard movement. Often, the response of colleagues when they find out about one these theologians is one of astonishment: “No! Not him! I never would have expected him to become a charismatic!”

Cognitive Christianity and the Impoverished Soul

Why are scholars suddenly becoming charismatics? What has happened in the last few years to attract the intelligentsia to this group?

We can give both a short answer and a long one. The short answer is that many Christian scholars have for a long time embraced a Christianity that is almost exclusively “from the neck up.” That is, theirs is a cognitive faith, one where reason reigns supreme. They are usually fine exegetes and theologians, able to defend the faith and articulate their views in a coherent, biblical, profound, and logical way. But (without naming names) many of these savants have lost their love for Christ. They love the Bible and know it inside and out. But their soul has become impoverished. They love God with their mind only; that is the extent of their spiritual obligation as they see it. In fact, for them, personal experience–especially of a charismatic sort–is anathema. It has no place in the Christian life. Study of the Bible so that they can control the text is what the Christian life is all about.

But when crisis comes–such as the death of a loved one, a teenage daughter’s pregnancy, or some major upheaval in their church ministries–their answers appear shallow and contrived, both to others and themselves. They have the inability to hurt with the hurting, though they know all the right verses on suffering! They begin to search for answers themselves, answers of an entirely different sort. Often, in the crucible of the crisis, they attend a charismatic meeting. And there, a “prophet” reveals something about their life. They are both amazed at the prophecy and deeply touched at the perception into their own condition. (Of course, cognitive types almost always marvel when other, more sensitive people, intuitively recognize traits and characteristics, internal workings and struggles in others.) Their souls get drenched with an emotional infusion that had been quenched for too long. It doesn’t take long before they hold hands with those whom they used to oppose, even to the point of now leading charismatic groups. They in fact become the theologians of a new breed of charismatic, giving a rather sophisticated rationale for charismata. In the process, they have gone through a paradigm shift: their final authority is no longer reasoning about the Scriptures; now it is personal experience.

Because of a crisis, personal, spiritual experience has replaced reason as the authority that guides their lives. They have exchanged, in some measure, their heart for their mind.2 That’s the short answer.

The Age of Epistemological Narcissism

The long answer is this. The history of the Church and indeed of western civilization, in terms of authority, can be traced out rather simply.3 Before the Reformation, tradition was the final authority. This included the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church and all its trappings. When that pesky little German monk, Martin Luther, nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, a new authority was boldly announced: revelation. Actually, it was an old authority, but one which Luther and later Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon, and a host of others, argued had been subverted to tradition by the Church in Rome. The Reformation’s battle cry was sola scriptura–that is, Scripture alone is our authority. The Roman Church argued that we needed tradition, especially the interpretations offered by church fathers, in order to understand Scripture. This was so, they argued, because the Bible could not be easily grasped. The Reformers argued for the perspicuity of Scripture–that it was sufficiently clear to be a good guide in essential matters, such as the person of Christ, the Trinity, salvation. In order to prove the point they needed to exercise reason. New hermeneutical methods were developed, translations were made, commentaries were written. All of this was consistent with the view that the Bible should be clearly understood. The Reformers knew it to be so in their study; they wanted to make it so for the person in the pew.

As long as reason was the handmaid of revelation, there was no problem. But once reason became master, revelation was increasingly viewed as unnecessary and, in fact, untrue. With the birth of the Enlightenment came the promise of a new king. He would soon reign over virtually all human thought in the western world.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Enlightenment had so captured the evangelical community that the Bible became more an object of study than a guide to life. Seminaries in this century followed largely the Princeton model (a strongly Calvinist school) of reasoning about the Scriptures. Pastors were trained to expound the text of Scripture–and this came to mean explain the text, but not apply the text. Too many seminaries viewed one’s exegetical and theological skills as the lone spiritual barometer. There was no accountability of one’s life. Whether one believed the Bible and consequently tried to shape his life by its precepts was often not in view.

The problem with this model was that non-evangelical scholars could also do first-rate exegesis. Many of these non-evangelical savants would be considered nonbelievers: besides rejecting the Bible as the Word of God, they did not embrace the bodily resurrection of Christ or, sometimes, even the existence of God. Hence, if quality exegesis was an indicator of spirituality, then an atheist might be considered spiritual! The barometer of mere knowledge obviously has its defects, for without belief there is no life. Cognition is important for true biblical scholarship; but without conversion as a first step, such is certainly not evangelical biblical scholarship. Further, this approach trickled down to the pew: for many churches, even today, mere Bible knowledge, regardless of its application to one’s life, is equated with true spirituality. Reason has come to reign over revelation even for evangelicals.

With the advent of postmodernism, reason has increasingly become passé. It’s not necessarily that reason is rejected as untrue; rather, it is judged to be irrelevant. So what authority is left? What authority remains after tradition, revelation, and reason have all been abandoned? Personal experience. Ours is the age of epistemological narcissism. This is no longer the age of cogito ergo sum (“I think; therefore, I am”—the hallmark of Cartesian logic); it has become the age of sentio ergo sum (“I feel; therefore, I am”). And since there are no external standards by which to judge personal experience (since other authorities are rejected), anything goes–whether it be sensuality or hallucinogenic existence, full-blown mysticism or an uncritical embracing of supernatural phenomena from any and all corners.

So, how does the current charismatic movement fit into this? Why are so many intellectuals embracing the charismata? It seems that the vacuum left in their souls by a rationalistic faith has made them ripe for a different kind of authority. As sons of the Enlightenment, these cognitive scholars have embraced reason as the supreme authority in their lives. But the rationalism of the Enlightenment is, when unbridled, antithetical to revelation. These scholars viewed personal experience as the enemy of the gospel, while embracing reason as its friend. But when some crisis invades their lives, and their purely cognitive faith cannot supply the deepest answers (for it does not address the whole man), they have to find the answers some place. And they look to an entirely different authority. They are ripe for excess in one area, just as they had lived in excess in another. Ironically, they end up mirroring the present age of postmodernism, just as they had mirrored the past one of rationalism.

In reality, both personal experience and reason are part of proper human existence. Like fire, they can be used for good or evil. When they take on the role of supreme authority, consciously or not, they destroy.4 “I know” and “I feel” must bow to “I believe.” (When either one is elevated above revelation it produces arrogance.) The cognitive content of that belief is the revealed Word of God. It requires diligent study to grasp its meaning as fully as mere humans can grasp it. But it will not be believed unless there is a personal experience with the Risen One. Thus, the trilogy of authority can be seen this way: both personal experience and reason are vital means to accessing revelation. We are to embrace Christ, as revealed in the Word, with mind and heart.5 When either reason or experience attempts to escape the supreme sovereignty of the revealed Christ, the individual believer starts down a path of imbalance. Tragically, his service to the Lord Christ is thereby increasingly curtailed.6

1 The Evangelical Theological Society is a group of evangelical leaders, principally professors at seminaries and evangelical colleges. Full membership requires subscription to a minimal core of doctrines and a Th.M. (Master of Theology) degree or its equivalent.

2 This does not mean that these scholars no longer use their brains! But it does mean, for many of them, that reason is subordinated to personal experience in an epistemological hierarchy.

3 I owe the framework of the “long answer” to Dr. Bob Pyne, professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Seminary. He is not to be blamed for the details, however!

4 Most charismatics today would argue that their personal experiences are fully subordinate to revelation. But most cognitive Christians would also argue that reason for them is subordinate to revelation.

5 Thus far I have left tradition out of the equation. This is, however, something of an overstatement. In reality, most of us employ tradition as a conduit to another authority. Often we are unaware of the tradition’s influence. Those in Bible churches worship in a way quite different from those in more liturgical settings; Koreans worship in a way that is markedly different from African-Americans. And a given group may tacitly assume that somehow its worship style is the right one, or that others are wrong because they are different. The difference between evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics with reference to tradition is that evangelical Protestants generally feel more at liberty (and more responsible) to question their tradition, and to change it in line with what they perceive is the biblical norm. In other words, they are able, when it is brought to the conscious level, to subordinate tradition to revelation.

6 You will notice that I have not in this blog given any arguments against the charismatic movement. This blog is instead intended to set the stage, giving a rationale for why so many are flocking toward this kind of Christianity.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    150 replies to "Charismata and the Authority of Personal Experience"

    • Brett

      Jesus said that he was not yet speakingly plainly; there were – and still are – good reasons not to speak too plainly, on many subjects. Remember that Jesus himself was executed, when he was taken to be plainly opposing the Pharisees’ theology of the day.

      As for explaining all the miracles? Already here I’ve explained four or five; that should give you an idea that this kind of explanation, is possible. Beyond that: can you have faith that God will reveal some of these things to you, yourself, after some thinking on your own part? Or consult others’ explanations of these things.

      I in fact said there was indeed, reason to continue to think of God as important. And BIblical lessons as well.

      The BIble remains vitally true and useful; though what it means, is not quite what many think. These are controversial subjects to be sure; so that some discression is advisable.

    • Brett


    • cherylu

      “I in fact said there was indeed, reason to continue to think of God as important. And BIblical lessons as well.”

      If I misunderstood you here, I apologize. The idea of having to express that some theory other than that God does miracles as a reason to, “Continue to think of God as important,” is a mind boggler to me. As a Christian, I have never questioned in any way that God was “important”.

    • cherylu

      Sorry, Brett, rejection of all miracles just doesn’t work for me.

    • EricW

      Well, Brett, after you’ve hunted down and eliminated all the false prophets and false miracle workers, I guess the next thing you’ll do is hunt down and eliminate all of us who believe in the continuation of the gifts of prophecy and acts of power, or at least force us to confess that they’re all just natural and/or psychological.

      Then you’ll be truly happy, and the world will be ready for the return of RationalMan, the Son of Science and Second Member of the Holy Intellect.

    • Brett

      My reading is consistent with the entire BIble:

      “Come, let us reason together.”

      Ultimately the BIble is consistent with science, and even materialism. In the beginning, God made this material earth, and said it was “good.’ While one day, God himself is supposed to re-appear, on this material earth.

      While God often worked through natural means in the past. When Jesus wanted water, at least at times, he asked a woman to get it from a well for her, by rather conventional means.

      There are few if any indications that the “wonders” God and Jesus performed are necessarily supernatural, and not natural; God can work through natural things, after all. The word “supernatural” is only used once in most Bibles; and there, Paul notes its inadequacy.

      This is a different reading; but one that is totally consistent with every word of the BIble, I suggest.

    • cornell machiavelli

      Responses like these shut the discussion down for those looking for more scholarly discussion.

      If I misunderstood you here, I apologize. The idea of having to express that some theory other than that God does miracles as a reason to, “Continue to think of God as important,” is a mind boggler to me. As a Christian, I have never questioned in any way that God was “important”.

      Sorry, Brett, rejection of all miracles just doesn’t work for me.

      We have now completely abandoned Dan’s article and are chasing rabbits that have no material relationship to the discussion.

      Please reread Dan’s clarification. He has done his best to steer the discussion back to his article, but too many are just use to debating their views using the same arguments over and over again, very infrequently dealing with Dan’s conclusion.

      Some thought they found a crack in the door of Dan’s article and have tried to smuggle in an entire system of theology, all without offering their own explanation.

      Can any charismatic take the verse of Heb 2.3,4 and explain the meaning word by word or at least phrase by phrase. All the while addressing Dan’s interpretation.

      I’ve never heard a charismatic explain Heb 2.3,4 while demonstrating the Dan’s views are not plausible, in fact, that Dan’s view are not at all what the writer of Hebrews intended to say.

      You are like atheists: trying to discredit the theist argument but offering no coherent position on the specific passage in question. You just cant seem to get past explaining the whole counsel of God and how each passage coheres with the whole.

      For now, all I am asking is for some charismatic to FULLY explain how Heb 2.3,4 gives any support to the charismatic theology. There is a ton of implications in this passage; please give me something to think about, and place it on a scholarly level.

      As iron sharpens iron, let’s learn together


    • cherylu


      I don’t believe Heb 2:3-4 was brought up as an explanation for charismatic theology. As I recall it, it was brought up to prove that it was totally false. Am I remembering incorrectly here?

    • EricW


      Re: your post 108:

      I responded to your post 50. in my post 54.

      However, if you still think that Hebrews 2:3-4 “clearly states” what you assert it “clearly states,” then I don’t see any purpose in a Charismatic taking (wasting?) the time or words explaining those verses to you.

      Dr. Wallace discusses what those verses may infer. And they may indeed infer a post-Apostolic cessationism. But the fact that this is stated to be an inference says to me that the passage does not clearly refute a charismatic theology.

      If you want a Charismatic to provide support for a charismatic theology, it would probably be based on other verses/passages than Hebrews 2:3-4. But as for Hebrews 2:3-4 itself, the verses neither clearly support charismatic theology nor clearly disprove charismatic theology.

    • Brett

      Well, my own immediately previous remarks were not Charismatic, but rather an argument against any very robust continuationism. Which I take to also be Dan’s position?

      As for say Heb. 2.4, note that there 1) God indeed ASKS whether he ONCE gave “signs as well as portent and various powerful works and … distributions of holy spirit according to his will?” First note though, that this sentence is properly a question, not a statement. Second note, 2) it speaks of wonders in the past, but not necessarily of any time after that. While 3)specifically it speaks of “portents” (NIV), and powerful works; but not specifically and by name (in the better translations), “miracles.”

      So that, if or when Dan appears to caution Charismatics or ghost-whisperers or whoever, about predicting present day miracles, he is consistent with the Bible itself, more closely read. Even with Heb. 2.4. Which presented wonders, not miracles; and in past tence.

    • cherylu


      You said,

      “Some thought they found a crack in the door of Dan’s article and have tried to smuggle in an entire system of theology, all without offering their own explanation.”

      Have I not been trying to refute the theology that you (and later others) brought in the door in saying that those Hebrews verses clearly disprove all charismatic theology? BTW, in my last comment I wasn’t remembering that it was you that had made that statement. Wasn’t that getting away from the topic of Dan’s article!

      And I apology for not being scholarly enough. (Sarcasm intended). Not all of us have master’s or Phd’s in theology.

    • Brett

      As regards Dan’s major thesis – that we need both Reason, and some sense of emotional personal experience? – Dan said we need a “balance” between the two. While an emotional attachment to speaking in tongues, or enthustiastic but irrational accounts of amazing miracles, discounts science, and even the “Reason” that God calls for. Too much emotional attachment to miracles, spectacular deeds, might not be balanced, or ration. A desire to assert miracles, might be weighed far too heavily on the emotional – even Greedy – side.

      So that some greater sense of “reason” – Dan may hint above – will be needed. In order for Charismatics to achieve a “prudent” balance. Where they have not just emotions, heart, an attachment to the spectacular, and material wonders, but also have the more rational “mind of Christ.”

    • cornell machiavelli

      Once again, all I can ask is for one charismatic to explain Heb 2. 3,4 and how it fits into your own understand of the Scriptures. Seeing or experiencing various miracles or wonders is not relevant to the interpretation of the Bible. Can any charismatic show even the possibility of the continuation of first generation gifts, described by the author as no longer occurring among second century. Simply do NOTHING but show your exegesis of this passage without reference any other position. Within the charismatic theological presuppositions, all I’m asking is for one person to exegesis this passage.

      Dan has given his exegetical analysis. If you are not able to exegete this passage, then point me to a URL where a charismatic scholar had exegeted this very passage and how it fits into the overall charismatic worldview. I have looked in vein, even asking many charismatic serious students of Scripture, but nobody has pointed me to a treatment of this one passage in the charismatic camp.

      It will not do to say Dan leaves a slight door open to say his interpretation is less than “air tight.” Most of what he exegetes in the passage is correct. If you feel he lefts a door slightly open to support charismatic theology, then by all means point that out and explain 1) how Dan is wrong, and how 2) the charismatic view resolves this issues in this verse.

      Final question, can some of you charismatics give me your education training? Does any possess seminary degrees, and from what college?

      I am not picking at you, I’m just trying to understand why this conversation seems to get so quickly sidetracked to what I think are insignificant issues, such as to miracles happen to day (Dan has already clarified that confusion).

      Speak the truth in love to me “in love,” and I will honestly try the same.


    • EricW


      Why don’t you write Gordon Fee or Craig Keener with your charismatic questions about Hebrews 2, et al.?

      They have academic creds that should satisfy you.

      I personally don’t have the time or interest to discuss it with you, and while I don’t have a seminary degree, I have enough experience with NT Greek (2 years seminary training + many years reading and studying after that) to be able to exegete and explain the passage.

      On the other hand, Dr. Wallace has exegeted and explained the passage. But you want to turn his “infers” into “proves.” I can’t and won’t argue or discuss with a made-up mind or one that insists on forcing a reading on a text or essay that isn’t there, which is what your posts/comments seem to be doing or wanting to do.

      My apologies if I’m misreading you.

    • cherylu


      As I do not have the educational background you are looking for here, I don’t suppose this will bear much weight. So this is a “for whatever it is worth” comment.

      But the way I look at this passage is that it is saying these “signs and miracles and wonders and gifts of the Spirit” were used by God through these first generation Christians as a sign or testimony. However, I don’t see that as implying that those things all stopped with that generation. Read with the rest of Scripture, particularly where Paul is telling people to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, I simply can not find that idea in those verses at all. And as I said earlier, early church history seems to show that idea to be false.

      On the other hand, neither do I see these verses in Hebrews as saying in any way that these gifts continue today. I believe they simply make a statement about the way things were at that particular time period. As EricW said above, I would have to use other verses to uphold my understanding that these gifts are still for today.

    • John C. Poirier


      I’m not sure what in Heb 2:3-4 is supposed to be so problematic for charismatics.

      Heb 2:3-4 (NRSV) says, “[H]ow can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, whie God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.”

      First, it is worth noting that “signs and wonders and various miracles” seem to be distinct from “gifts of the Holy Spirit”. That in itself suggests that the charisms–or at least those that were “distributed” (*viz.* were extra-apostolic)–should not be termed “sign gifts”, a point I tried to make above.

      I don’t see any hint of obsolescence of the gifts. Such may have been presupposed by the author, but it’s not implied. Note that this passage has at least two different mini-dispensations in mind: Jesus’ own preaching of the gospel, and the apostles’ subsequent mission. Given this scheme of chronological unfolding, it may be that the final element (“gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will”) is meant to be characteristic of a further mini-dispensation, one contemporary with the reader.

      Assuming that the author has the sort of charismatic outpouring that accompanied the apostles’ preaching (in Acts) in mind, that would only show that there was a sort of charismatic outpouring accompanying their preaching. It would not imply that the gifts had ceased. In fact, the reference to “signs and wonders and various miracles” does not, in itself, imply obsolescence. The reader’s assumption of obsolescence is based on his/her presupposing Paul’s reference to the “signs of an apostle”.

      Keep in mind that the gifts of the Spirit, and an apostolic outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit, are two different things. This text from Hebrews seems to have the evidentiary value of the *outpouring* aspect of the distribution of the gifts in mind.

    • Brett

      I agree this text is neither here nor there, on the question of the continuance of material miracles.

      At the same time, P. does mention above, that Heb. 2 does hint at – if to be sure, it does not flatly state – a kind of dispensationalism. Which contrasts the 1) past dispensation of wonders, signs, and portents, with 2) Christ, and a new Holy Spirit spirituality.

      In many theologies, it is thought that the 1) Old Testament concentrated very strongly, in its era, its dispensation, in the books of the Jewish people, on material powers and wonders; 2)whereas the New Testament – and Jesus, and Christianity – though they at times seemed to depict material, physical wonders, at the same time, began to hint that all these seemingly material, physical wonders might be taken as metaphors, for spiritual things.

      For example, Jesus began to speak of his ideas and spirit, as “bread” and “living water.” While the NT in fact began to speak a lot about “figures” of speech, “allegories,” “parables,” and other literary devices. Which among other things, can convert stories of physical, material events, into mere symbols of something else. Of say, spritual “bread” or sustenance and so forth.

      In this case, the NT is not necessarily promising real material, physical miracles any more; those stories from both the OT and NT, might be taken (only?) as metaphors; say, for Jesus giving us various gifts of the Holy Spirit. Things in our minds or spirit; not physical material things.

      In Jesus’ childhood in Egypt, there was an older, soon to be famous Jewish rabbi, in Alexandria Egypt – Philo of Alexandria, Egypt. Who was famously beginning to present, precisely, allegorical/spiritual readings, of the old material promises, “miracles.”

      Today, more intellectual preachers will not explicitly say the old promises of material miracles were false; or cannot be read at all as literal promises of physical miracles. But they favor a “spiritual” moral from…

    • Brett

      Today, most preachers do not preclude the possiblity that the Bible promises real, material miracles. But they favor the spiritual, metaphorical reader. The important thing they often say, is not that Jesus makes real bread appear, but that he saves our spirit with the spiritual “bread” of his wonderful ideas, ethic, etc..

      Amazingly enough, if you look at your Bibles closely, you will find that they seem, overall, to have been systematically, consistently, written in such a way as to allow both of these two major readings: as offering either 1) literal promises of material, physical wonders; or 2) allegorical readings, that promise us merely mental or spiritual things.

      A fairly good case in point would be Heb. 2 for example. Which – as many have rightly said here – can be read either as promising 1) material wonders, or at least as not firmly disallowing them. While at the same time 2) the text could also begin to present Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; and we find out later, when it begins to emphasize these, especially a holy “spirit,” this can be read to now be offering the possibility that a new, more spiritual reading. To be offering only spiritual things, not physical things.

      Many here have correctly noticed the euivocal nature of Heb. 2. At it turns out, that is an extremely important observation.

      Some people might feel cheated, if one minute the Bible is read to us as promising us real material things, but then is suddenly twisted, into mere metaphor or symbol, for merely mental or spiritual gifts.

      Was the spiritualization/metaphoricalization of the old material wonders and promises, honest and good? Is it right? That is another question. Most preachers today are rather “spiritual,” and argue that promises of “mere” physical things, “possessions,” are unimportant and inferior; to the new promise of mental or spiritual wonders.

      Though to be sure, many might thus feel cheated or tricked. By the Bible itself.

    • John C. Poirier


      I apologize for trying to present an exegesis of Heb 2:3-4 while I didn’t have access to the Greek. Now that I have looked at the Greek, my answer has changed significantly.

      When you look at the Greek, you see something disturbing about the traditional translations of this passage: there is *no Greek term for “gifts”*!!! The passage really speaks of “signs and wonders and various miracles and a holy spirit”.

      Perhaps the history of translating this passage has been dominated by cessationists, who supplied the word “gift” because they assumed the passage was referring to the cessation of the gifts. At any rate, the Greek hardly supports the cessationist view.

    • EricW

      John C. Poirier:

      The Greek of Hebrews 2:4 reads:

      … kai poikilais dunamesin kai pneumatos hagiou merismois kata tên autou thelêsin;

      Which can be translated:

      “… and [with] various miracles/powers and distributions of [the] Holy Spirit according to His will?”

      It does not say “and a holy spirit.”

      I would tend to agree that “distributions of the Holy Spirit” refers to pneumatic charisms – i.e., Holy-Spirit-given spiritual gifts.

    • John C. Poirier


      Is there any philological support for μερισμοις meaning “gifts”?

      Seems to me that the best philological clue for the meaning of μερισμοις in Heb 2:4 would be the use of μερισμου in Heb 12:4. There it means “dividing”, and not “distribution” in the sense of “something distributed”.

      This suggests that Heb 2:4 is talking about the pouring out of the Spirit, and not about “gifts of” the Spirit.

    • EricW

      It’s in the plural, so “divisions” or “distributions” seems to be a valid translation (I don’t have access to my lexicons right now). Pershbacher gives “distributions, apportionments”; Zerwick gives “merismos (merizô divide into parts; share out); distribution – distributing (the gifts of) the Holy Spirit.” What is it that the Holy Spirit distributes or gives out according to His will? 1 Cor 12 says this about the giving out/distributing/dividing/apportioning of charismata. So I would see Hebrews 2:4 as possibly related to that same meaning. LSJ says:

      A. dividing, division; esp. apportionment, allocation of funds; distribution of money; of victims.
      2. partition.
      3. share of taxation, assessment.
      4. role, part assigned, in a religious ceremony.
      5. kind of gymnastic.
      II. Rhet., division of subjects, arrangement, in writing.
      b. the art of dividing a whole into its parts.
      2. in Logic, assignment of the elements of a contradiction.
      b. definition.
      3. in Gramm., classification of parts of speech; distribution of the functions of inflexions.
      b. analysis of a sentence into its component parts, parsing.
      4. in Metric, division into feet, scansion; also division of a line into words.
      5. Math., quotient.
      Henry George Liddell. Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. revised and augmented throughout by. Sir Henry Stuart Jones. with the assistance of. Roderick McKenzie. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1940.

    • John C. Poirier

      Perhaps it comes down to whether “Holy Spirit” is objective or subjective. I take it to be objective–the Spirit is what is “distributed”. The word is plural because there were several outpourings of the Spirit. I don’t see where LSJ really leaves room for the idea that “merismos” can be translated as “gifts”. If that is thought to obtain because the “gifts” are distributed, that only leads us to the problem at hand, for where in the LSJ offerings do you find the *thing distributed* labeled as “merismos”? Zerwick’s rendering (which you give) takes *merismos* in a possible way, but then it has to supply the term “gifts” in order to arrive at the predetermined meaning. I think that the considerations of philology, and a preference for not adding unstated elements, combine to suggest that the verse refers to *outpourings* of the Spirit. That also makes sense in the context of the book of Acts, since all the outpourings of the Spirit happened in the presence of the apostles in the presence of the apostles.

    • EricW


      You could be right. I’ll do more reading when I can, esp. to see if others consider this possibility. I’m not sure it’s simply a question of objective genitive (the Holy Spirit is what is distributed) vs. subjective genitive (the HS does the distributing). It could be a genitive of source (the distribution – e.g., of gifts – comes from the Holy Spirit), or a genitive of content (the Holy Spirit is what is distributed – similar to your meaning of objective genitive), or even other possibilities. Dan Wallace lists something like 33 kinds of genitives in his grammar, IIRC, though some would of course be easily ruled out in this passage. One might need to see what kind of genitive merismos is often associated with to see which understanding might be favored; I can search Philo and Josephus and the Apostolic Fathers, as well as the NT and LXX, in Logos.

      But from what you could suggest, Heb 2:4 could be referring to 1) a giving of spiritual gifts or 2) baptism(s)/filling(s) in/with/by the Holy Spirit, with the usual manifestations – i.e., prophecy or tongues.

    • Brett

      Antony Flew, the famous now-Christian philosopher, and many others, note that in this era, there was no distinction between natural vs. supernatural gifts. At the time, science and knowledge were too primitive to distinguish a sense of nature, as distinguished from supernature, at all. So there is necessarily no stipulation in the larger semantic field of “wonders,” “powers,” in this era, as being supernatural, as opposed to natural. That distinction just did not exist, c. 100 AD.

      At the same time, gifts of a “pneumatic” nature DID refer rather directly to “wind,” or breath (as in our modern word, “pneumatic”); today these words are thought to mean “spiritual” or non-substantial; to be translated as gifts of the mind or spirit.

      Which would confirm that spiritual gifts were being conveyed; not powers over more obviously substantial matter.

      Butthere are then problems with these new spiritual powers in turn. First 1) if our religion now delivers only spiritual gifts, then it has given up half of its history; when it promised material things.

      If we are indeed in the NT, limited to only spiritual gifts, like prophesying? THEN note, there are problems even with these spiritual gifts, like prophesy, in turn:

      Next, not everyone has them; and perhaps even no one: 2) “Not all are prophets, are they?” (1 Corin. 12.29).

      And then 3) these gifts or powers are imperfect: “whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with…. For we have partial knowledge and we prophesy partially” (1 Corin. 13.8-9).

    • EricW

      4 instances of merismos in the resources I mentioned – Hebrews 2:4 and 4:12, and LXX Joshua 11:23 and 2 Esdras 6:18. Nothing in Philo, Josephus or Apostolic Fathers.

      Instances of merismos with an associated genitive are:

      * Hebrews 2:4 (as discussed above)
      * Hebrews 4:12 (singular) – dividing of-soul and (kai) of-spirit, and (te) of-joints and (kai) of-marrows.
      This is a difficult verse to translate the meaning of merismos + genitive here – see various translations. Is it separating soul from spirit and joints from marrow (even though joints and marrow aren’t joined); is it idiomatic and just means piercing all the way; or what?
      * 2 Esdras 6:18 (NET) They appointed the priests by their divisions (diairesesin – lit. in divisions of-them) and the Levites by their divisions (merismois – lit. in divisions of-them) over the worship of God at Jerusalem, in accord with the book of Moses.

      BDAG definition:
      μερισμός, οῦ, ὁ (μερίζω; Pla. +; ins, pap, LXX, TestJob 46:1; Philo; Jos., C. Ap. 2, 203; Ar. 6, 1; Tat. 5, 1).
      ① division, separation
      ⓐ ἄχρι μερισμοῦ ψυχῆς καὶ πνεύματος to the separation of soul and spirit, i.e. so as to separate soul and spirit Hb 4:12.
      ⓑ in Ign. w. ref. to dissidents, who have separated themselves: (the) division partly as action, partly as result IPhld 2:1; 3:1; 8:1; pl. ISm 7:2. ὥ προειδότα τὸν μ. τινων as one who knew of the division caused by certain people IPhld 7:2.
      ② distribution, apportionment (Aeneas Tact. ln. 27; Polyb. 31, 10, 1; SIG 1017, 16 [III B.C.]; TestJob 46:1; Josh 11:23; Philo, Poster. Cai. 90) ἁγίου πνεύματος μερισμοί distributions of the Holy Spirit, i.e. of the various gifts proceeding from the Holy Spirit Hb 2:4. AcPl Ha 8, 18 κατὰ … μ. λαμβάνοντες//Ox 1602, 22 κατὰ μ. λαβόντες//BMM recto 22–24.—DELG s.v. μείρομαι II. M-M.
      Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W…

    • John C. Poirier

      Thanks, EricW, for this information.

      Whatever the bottom line ends up being, I would say that, at the very least, English translations do a disservice by adding “gifts” without italicizing. I think the language suggests that the verse doesn’t directly refer to gifts, although of course certain gifts accompanied the outpouring of the Spirit.

      I hope to look into this further when I get time.

    • Brett

      Eric is occasionally very helpful here. Though personally, for publication, I only reference translation texts written by recognized PhD’s in the field. Best of luck in any case to you both in discovering the right apportionment.

      It would be useful to consider the terms used in the case of the “gifts” of the Holy Spirit, and see if it is the same term is ALSO used for material “gifts.” In that case, the language would cancel out as a constant. And would not support a firm distinction here, on a lexicographical basis alone. You would have to consider theological/philosophical context; semantic field; Pragmatics context; and so forth.

      And then address Dan’s point that sometimes Charismatic apportionments of material wonders or “spirit,” may take on “false spirits,” and not the right ones? May be emotional enthusiasms or delusions, that do not bear good fruits?

    • EricW

      Eric is occasionally very helpful here.

      Thank you, sir. I try to be helpful when I can be.

    • mbaker

      Eric W, RE: 130

      Perhaps that should be amended to address our infamous blog troll, Dr. G. Apparently he’s still alive and well, and forever morphing. 🙂

    • EricW

      Yes, that Bret(t) is a real maverick.

    • John C. Poirier

      I should note that “gift of the spirit” is not a scriptural term. Paul never refers to the charisms as charisms “of the Spirit”. The term with which we are familiar is strictly an English commonplace. Unfortunately, it may have been too common a commonplace for translators of Heb 2:4 to resist using.

      I suggest that the basic thought of Heb 2:4 can be illuminated by Rom 15:19:

      Rom 15:19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ.

      Heb 2:4 while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by distributions of the Holy Spirit according to his will.

      It isn’t clear to me what the reference to the Spirit in these two verses has most immediately in mind, but it doesn’t seem to be the more widespread charisms like tongues and prophecy.

    • EricW

      I think the term “gifts of/from the Spirit” is from the fact that they are referred to as charisma, -atos (plural charismata), which is related to charis (grace, favor; thanks, gratitude; gracious deed, benefit, gift). The -ma ending usually refers to a thing, so charis+ma = something done as or in relation to a favor or as a gift; the Scriptures portray them as being given by the Spirit or worked by the Spirit according to His will, and not according to our deserving or as something owed to us or earned or achieved by us. In 1 Cor 12:4 Paul refers to them as charisma (something done or given as a gift, favor, grace, benefit), in 12:5 as diakonia (ministry, service), and in 12:6 as energêma (activity). Maybe they should be called “spiritual activities” instead of spiritual gifts. However, they are referred to as charismata more often than energêmata, I think, so the “gifts” terminology seems to be more favored (pun intended), even by Paul. Also, Paul specifically ties the charismata to charis/grace in Romans 12:6. But I have no problem referring to them as something other than “gifts,” perhaps “workings.”

    • Brett

      If “charism” is etymologically related to our “charity,” what does that say? Is it obvious? Or is there a sort of hidden, second meaning?

    • Brett

      Or better said, what if our “charity” (against many current etymologies), was from the same root as “charism”?

      Sometimes modern derivations have diverged in meaning; but more often they can open up a new insight into the old words.

      In this case?

    • Brian

      I find it infinitely amusing that Cornell is demanding exegesis from charismatics, while practicing eisogesis himself (reading his cessationist presuppostions into the text).

    • […] – the scandal of apostate pastors10 things that drive me crazy about working for a churchCharismata and the authority of personal experienceCan we put adolescence to rest?Is the OT law still valid today?Practically theologicalWhat pastors […]

    • mike Walker

      As always, Dan Wallace’s article is both biblical and insightful. However, I would disagree with balancing reason and emotion under Revelation, insinuating that we give equal measure to each. I think it is more of a hierarchy. Revelation is our authority, reason guided by humility (and hopefully the Holy Spirit) enables us to understand and agree with that revelation, then emotion should always flow out of that understanding of the Truth and experience should be interpreted through that understanding.
      If we have replaced “I think therefore I am” with “I feel therefore I am”, then we have also replaced “It is True therefore it must work” with “It works therefore it must be True.” Experience and emotion have become the source of truth rather than the expression of truth. I am not an emotional person, but there have been many times while studying the Bible, I have been moved to tears or become giddy because I have seen and understood in some small measure the person of Jesus Christ. Our emotions are like an old fashioned, cheap, dime store watch, it will keep accurate time so long as it is set every five minutes to the master chronometer. The master chronometer for our emotions is God’s word, understood through our reason.
      I also believe it is far easier for the demonic to influence our emotions, than it is for the demonic to influence our reason (not impossible, but harder). In fact, my experience has been that most people abandon Christianity, not because of an intellectual problem, but an emotional problem. God didn’t do what they believed He was supposed to do or they were presented, in church or bible college or seminary, with a convenient truth, rather than the whole truth and when they discovered evidence that did not harmonize with that convenient truth, they rebelled against their faith because they “felt” betrayed and duped. One thing I love about Dan Wallace, he always gave his students all of the truth, not just part.

    • Rejuvify Eye Cream

      Marvelous, what a blog it is! This website presents helpful information to
      us, keep it up.

    • 10]-3

      As we kick off the next century of the National Park
      Service’s essential work, we could not be far more pleased to have
      two of America’s most iconic outdoor brands join together to not only
      assist us celebrate, but also aid us preserve this country’s magnificent landscapes, rich history, and cultural treasures for generations to come,” stated Susan Newton, vice president of grants and
      programs for the National Park Foundation.

    • Buda

      Thank you for any other fantastic article. Where else
      may anyone get that type of info in such an ideal method
      of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m at the search for such info.

    • Psychic job and user-friendly job take place on very much the same level,
      but there is a fundamental distinction in these

    • the rich jerk bonus

      I used to be suggested this blog by my cousin. I’m now not certain whether or not this submit is written through
      him as nobody else understand such exact approximately my trouble.
      You are amazing! Thank you!

    • Fabulous, what a webpage it is! Thhis webpage provides useful informatyion to us, keep it up.

    • pusatprediksi

      Wow! At last I got a weblog from where I be able to in fact take
      useful facts concerning my study and knowledge.

    • 네이버

      Thank you for some other informative blog.

      The place else could I get that kind of info written in such an ideal approach?
      I have a challenge that I am just now running on, and I’ve been at the glance out
      for such info.

    • paleo recipes

      Wonderful goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff
      previous to and you are just extremely magnificent.
      I actually like what you have acquired here, certainly
      like what you’re saying and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still
      take care of to keep it sensible. I can not wait to read far more from you.
      This is actually a great website.

    • Happy Wheels IZ

      Hi there to all, since I am actually eager of reading this webpage’s post to be updated regularly.
      It carries fastidious stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.