12:4 diversities of gifts. In this verse, the Greek word for “gifts” is charisma, meaning “grace-gifts,” or “free gifts.” The Spirit, by sovereign grace, gives one or more such “grace-gifts” to “every man” (I Corinthians 12:7), as He wills (I Corinthians 12:11). The same word is used in verses 9, 28, 30, and 31. It is also used in Romans 12:6, which similarly lists a number of gifts of the Spirit. On the other hand, in I Corinthians 12:1, “spiritual gifts” is a translation of the Greek pneumatikos, meaning “Spirit-energized gifts,” implying a distinct supernatural element. This word is used again in I Corinthians 14:1 and 14:12. Whichever word is used, the gift is a “free gift” of the Holy Spirit (like the free gift of eternal life in Romans 6:23, where the same word is used) neither earned nor forced. Furthermore, it is God-given, therefore not man-generated.
12:8 wisdom. The “word of wisdom” and the “word of knowledge,” as special gifts of the Spirit, surely imply more than natural wisdom and knowledge, but they are not defined anywhere in Scripture. Perhaps the “word of knowledge” applies to a God-given ability to learn and retain in one’s memory an abundance of information of value in the ministry, while the “word of wisdom” applies to a similar special ability to apply such knowledge in the making of wise decisions. Others have understood these terms in a more supernatural sense, however, to be applied as specially needed in particular situations that arise from time to time. Similarly the “gift of faith” would refer not to the faith through which we are saved (all believers have that faith), but special faith for special needs.
12:9 gifts of healing. The “gifts of healing” (note the plural, indicating a repetitive gift) were used frequently in the early church, and were clearly miraculous in nature. However, even Paul, who certainly used such a gift successfully on various occasions, was not always successful (note II Timothy 4:20, for example). This, like the other gifts, was bestowed individually according to God’s will. Paul was not even able to bring about his own healing (II Corinthians 12:7-10). The “gift of miracles” was similar, except that it was for special needs other than healings.
12:10 prophecy. The “gift of prophecy” was especially for guidance of believers before the New Testament was completed, conveying special revelations from God whenever needed for such a purpose. Sometimes, but not usually, it included predictions of coming events. This gift would definitely cease when no longer needed (I Corinthians 13:8; Revelation 22:18), and this would also be true of tongues and knowledge (I Corinthians 13:8), and therefore probably of the other supernatural gifts, when and if they were no longer needed or might be misused for personal benefit.
12:10 tongues. The “gift of tongues” has been the most controversial of the gifts, especially in connection with the charismatic renewal of recent decades. The word “tongue” itself (Greek glossa from which we get “glossolalia”), as used in both Biblical and extra-Biblical Greek writings, always refers either to a definite structured language or else the physical organ of speech (never to meaningless noises). Its use is clearly described in Acts 2:4-6 when the gift of tongues was first given, and included known ethnic languages that were unknown to the respective speakers. The “interpretation [i.e., “translation”] of tongues” similarly was the supernatural ability to understand and translate words spoken in a language unknown to the translator.