Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

29 Jun 2012

Could Paul Grant Spiritual Gifts to Christians?

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The answer to that question might seem to be “Yes,” if we look at what Paul says in Rom 1:11, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.” The idea of imparting a spiritual gift is found in most translations (ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NKJV). When we hear “spiritual gift,” we might think of the list of spiritual gifts given in 1 Cor 12. For instance, in vv. 10–11 Paul says, “to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” Thus one might get the impression that Paul, by some apostolic power, could dispense these kinds of gifts. And it is true that in one unusual situation, Paul encountered some “disciples” at Ephesus, who “when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

But more than likely that is not what Paul means in Rom 1:11. After all, in the previously quoted 1 Cor 12:11, we are told, “All these [gifts] are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” In other words, ordinarily, spiritual gifts are sovereignly granted to believers by the Holy Spirit himself.

A different interpretation of “impart to you some spiritual gift” in Rom 1:11 is more likely. The word translated “gift” (χάρισμα), Gordon Fee reminds us, primarily means “a concrete expression of grace” (God’s Empowering Presence, 488). Accordingly, in the word’s next three occurrences in Romans (5:16, 16; 6:23), it is used for the gift of eternal life. So the word probably has a more general sense of some blessing or benefit that Paul could bestow on the Roman believers. Also, the word impart (μεταδίδωμι) seems to mean “share” in its other usages (Luke 3:11; Rom 12:8; Eph 4:28; 1 Thess 2:8). It has the primary meaning of “sharing with someone else what one has.” Thus, Paul desires to share some grace, some spiritual insight, or some spiritual blessing with his Roman brothers and sisters.

What this blessing or insight might be is not absolutely certain, but many believe what Paul wanted to share with the Romans was his understanding of the gospel, what Paul calls “my gospel” (Rom 2:16; 16:25). In a church that clearly is experiencing tensions between its Jewish and Gentile members, Paul’s gospel, which is the only genuine understanding of the gospel, proclaimed the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. It is the union between Jew and Gentile that the Roman Christians need to fully grasp if they are to overcome the divisions that are plaguing them. And if Paul can “impart” this “spiritual gift” to them, then they will be made “strong.” The Roman believers will be strengthened for the cause of the gospel and thus be in a position to fully support Paul in his new missionary endeavor to the Western Roman Empire (cf. Rom 15:23–29).

No, Paul could not impart spiritual gifts unilaterally, but he could and did impart an important spiritual insight to the Roman believers. Neither Jew nor Gentile have an advantage before God; they are both “under the power of sin” (Rom 3:9) and are both desperately in need of the grace of God through Jesus Christ. “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:22–24). There is only one God, Paul says in Rom 3:30, who justifies both Jew and Gentile alike by faith. “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Rom 10:12).

Paul shared this spiritual insight in his letter, but we know he also eventually made his way to Rome itself. Paul had planned to visit the Roman church for some time (Rom 1:13), but he only finally got there as a prisoner, where, according to Luke, Paul spent two years under house arrest (Acts 28:30). What happened then, we can’t know for certain. But if tradition is correct (Clement of Rome and the Muratorian Canon), Paul was able to unify the Roman Christians around his gospel with the result that after being released from his first Roman imprisonment, he carried the message of Christ to the most western part of the Roman Empire—all the way to Spain (Rom 15:24).

4 Responses

  1. This is very, very tangential, if you’ll pardon me.

    I love BibleWorks. This article gives me another chance to say why. It’s a good article, it’s helpful, it’s contentful… but I’m not preaching or teaching on that right now. I will surely forget it, by the time I do.

    I have BibleWorks 9, so that’s no problem. I just go to that verse, write “Bill Combs on whether this means Paul could give them a spiritual gift,” and link to this article.

    Ta daaa.


    PS – no, I don’t work for BW.

  2. Bob Kuo

    It does seem like Paul had bestowed some kind of charismatic gift by the laying on of hands not only in Acts 19:6 but also in 1 Tim. 4:14, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you” and possibly in 2 Tim. 1:6, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands”.

    Nevertheless, I believe in the context of Romans 1 Paul is not talking about charismatic gifts. I think this is seen in the next verse, verse 12: “that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” So the imparting of “some spiritual gift” is defined as a mutual encouragement of faith from one and another.