A History of Charisma in the Church

Graphic of charisma and various interpretations

A history of the word gift, as in gift of tongues, throughout christian history.

How the perceptions of this word has changed over eighteen centuries and shaped our contemporary understanding.


The traditional English Bible translation for the Greek word χάρισμα (charisma) is gift. All the English translations and commentaries follow this pattern. No tension appears to exist around the English equivalent. However, a deeper exploration of gift is fraught with complexities—especially if one tries to trace the etymology. The closer you come to the time of Paul, the harder it becomes.

No matter how one reconstructs the information, there is not enough first-century data to understand Paul’s intent. Almost everyone who arrives at a definitive conclusion is either following the English Bible text and drawing from this tradition or is manipulating the information to conform to their interpretational framework.

This forces the researcher to look at fourth-century or later data. Although it is far from from the time of Paul, it is the best available.

When one includes earlier ecclesiastical literature in the results, it portrays χάρισμα (charisma) as a responsive act from a divine encounter. It is the outward expression of a person touched by the lovingkindness of God. Whatever talents or disposition that each individual uniquely possesses is channeled to express this lovingkindness.

This definition shifts over time and moves towards a divine intervention that can suspend the laws of nature or regular human activity. The medieval Latin Church assumed such a posture, and this was picked up by the early protestant Bible translators.

The exclusion of ecclesiastical literature, especially Greek ones, leads the researcher to to think χάρισμα (charisma) is an ambiguous word. The well-known charismatic pastor and theologian, Jack Deere, reinforces this thinking and attempts to rectify this problem by broadly defining it, but fails.1 The well-known Pentecostal theologian Gordon Fee also found the term ambiguous without forwarding a historical solution.2

The neglect of ecclesiastical literature limits the researcher into an inductive study of Paul’s works to look for answers. This approach is a necessary part of the evaluation of the word but is not a complete framework. Most consult one or more English translations which have their separate history. Their interpretation influences our thinking on the subject.

The religious connotation of this word within the English speaking world promotes a supernatural manifestation. A historical look within the Greek, Syriac, and Latin reveals a trajectory that the Pauline idea of gift was something in the natural realm.

The above is a summary. The following contains the technical details.

The nature of χάρισμα (charisma)

One can trace the original religious semantic of gift to the Greek writing style of St. Paul and his use of χάρισμα–transliterated as charisma, or more popularly, its plural form, charismata.

The nature and definition of χάρισμα (charisma) is an elusive one; especially in the context that Paul used it in his first letter to the Corinthian assembly. Paul commands 17 of the 18 times it is found in the New Testament.3 The word does not occur in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament). Any first-century author outside of Paul, whether Christian, Hellenist, or Jewish, hardly used this word.

When Paul wrote about the χαρίσματα (charismata) he referred to an assumption his audience understood, which today, we are unable to correctly identify because of the lack of first-century data.

There is a hardly used third option which can help build a better picture of χάρισμα (charisma). This avenue relies on later ecclesiastical literature and comparative textual analysis. Such an approach does not entirely solve the mystery of χάρισμα (charisma) owing that the data4 is two centuries or more removed from Paul, but is the best out of the existent frameworks available today.

The following is the history of the theories behind understanding the word χάρισμα (charisma), the various attempts to resolve it, and how the English Bible tradition has created a framework that seems certain about charisma, but in reality, is not.

Ancient Greek dictionaries on χάρισμα (charisma)

The majority of the Greek dictionaries cover this noun only in a general sense. They do not make a clear case on what Paul was thinking. Here are examples:

  • Lidell-Scott-Jones: a grace, favour, a free gift, gift of God’s grace; later generally “favour bestowed”
  • Donnegan’s Greek Dictionary Pg. 1369: s.s. as χάρις, a favour, an act of kindness; a present: from χαρίζομαι.
  • Lampe’s Patristic Lexicon Pg. 1518: Favour, gift, esp. spiritual gift; Part of a baptismal invocation. Eucharist. As an endowment of Church. Iren. haer. 3.32.4(M.7.829c) gifts of grace. Christian vocation. Special gifts. As an endowment of Christ’s human nature. Ath. Ar. 3.39(M26.408B).
  • Sophocles Pg. 1161: Gift, favor conferred. He exclusively cites Paul and later Patristic material.
  • Stephanus Vol. 8. Col. 1342: Quod aliquis gratificatus, gratificando donavit, aliquis largitus etc, Donum. [Donativum, Donum, Munus, Gl. Per δῶρον]
  • Surprisingly, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon produced the best result.

    χάρισμα, χαρίσματος, τό (χαρίζομαι), a gift of grace; a favor which one receives without any merit of his own; in the N. T. (where (except 1 Peter 4:10) used only by Paul) the gift of divine grace (so also in Philo de alleg. legg. iii. § 24 at the end δωρεά καί εὐεργεσία καί χάρισμα Θεοῦ τά πάντα ὅσα ἐν κόσμῳ καί αὐτός ὁ κόσμος ἐστιν); used of the natural gift of continence, due to the grace of God as creator, 1 Corinthians 7:7; deliverance from great peril to life, τό εἰς ἡμᾶς χάρισμα bestowed upon us, 2 Corinthians 1:11; the gift of faith, knowledge, holiness, virtue, Romans 1:11; the economy of divine grace, by which the pardon of sin and eternal salvation is appointed to sinners in consideration of the merits of Christ laid hold of by faith, Romans 5:15; Romans 6:23; plural of the several blessings of the Christian salvation, Romans 11:29; in the technical Pauline sense χαρίσματα (A. V. gifts) denote “extraordinary powers, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the church of Christ, the reception of which is due to the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit” (cf. Cremer in Herzog edition 2 vol. v. 10ff, under the word Geistesgaben): Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 12:4, 31; 1 Peter 4:10; χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων, 1 Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30; specifically, the sum of those powers requisite for the discharge of the office of an evangelist: 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6. ((Of temporal blessings, ‘Teaching 1, 5 [ET] (cf. δώρημα in Hermas, mand. 2, 4 [ET])); ecclesiastical writings.)5

Except for Thayer, the definitions are circular ones that give no real substance. Thayer sets the pace, but the definition still feels foggy. More data is required.

Χάρις (charis) vs χάρισμα (charisma)

The closest sounding or written relative is χάρις (charis). Paul’s literary style shows a difference in usage between this word and χάρισμα (charisma).

Χάρις (charis) has approximately 77 occurrences in the Septuagint,6 It usually means to find favor in someone’s eyes, mostly referring to a king or the Lord performing such an act.7 It occurs approximately 63 times in the New Testament. Paul used this word frequently.8

This similarity plays a big part in the Latin translation which set the basis for the English Bible.

Πνευματικά (pneumatika) mixed up with χάρισμα (charisma) in English translations

The English Bible embellishes the word gifts–especially on two occasions that has led many devout Bible followers to overemphasize the topic. Popular English Bibles confuse the rendering of πνευματικά (pneumatika) with χάρισμα (charisma). By doing so, pneumatika is rendered as spiritual gifts. The first early English translations referred to it as spiritual things–emphasizing order and structure in a faith environment over a supernatural phenomenon.

The composition of spiritual gifts leads the English reader to believe Paul was emphasizing a supernatural phenomenon rather than consider the act as an everyday human activity.9

The spiritual gifts translation tradition is a primary source for charismatic and pentecostal frameworks of belief. This translation choice reinforces the application of supernatural manifestations in the christian life.

The first known introduction to spiritual gifts for πνευματικά was the Tyndale Bible in 1525 for I Corinthians 14:1. The phrase in I Corinthians 12:1 was later inserted as a translation by Miles Coverdale in 1535. It was then picked up by the Geneva Bible in 1587 and applied by the King James Bible in 1611. It became an entrenched Bible tradition since that point.

A translation history of I Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1 demonstrates a shift in meaning from the earliest English Bibles. They initially translated this word as spiritual things which leads the reader to think more in matters of faith and order rather than supernatural effects. Spiritual gifts came later.

Here are the two passages in question:

  • I Corinthians 12:1: Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν
    Now about the gifts of the Spirit10
  • I Corinthians 14:1: ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ πνευματικά
    . . . desire gifts of the Spirit11

For those with inquisitive minds, here is proof of such a transition and entrenchment.

I Corinthians 12:1

  • The Wycliffe Bible (1395) translates it as spiritual thingis.12 The Tyndale Bible (1525) follows with a similar translation.13

  • Ten years later a shift in meaning occurs. Miles Coverdale (1535), Bishop’s (1568), Geneva (1587), and KJV (1611) all translate it as spiritual gifts.14

I Corinthians 14:1

  • The 1395 Wycliffe Bible does not contain this connection, choosing to translate πνευματικά as spiritual thingis.15 He followed the Latin translation which is spiritalia16.

  • One of the first appearances of spiritual gifts was seen in the Tyndale Bible published in 1525,17 On the other hand, this is not the translation for 12:1 where they chose spirituall thinges.18

  • This phrase was followed by the Bishops Bible in 1568, and couet spirituall [giftes] which put giftes in parenthesis alerting the reader that this English noun does not exist in the Greek text.19

  • The Geneva Bible was a revolutionary publication in the English world which the King James Version is based on. The 1599 edition has and covet spiritual gifts. with no parenthesis.20

  • The King James Bible follows in 1611 with and desire spirituall giftes21

What influenced them to translate τὰ πνευματικά as spiritual gifts?

There are three influences. Firstly, Paul’s reference in Romans 1:11 ἵνα τι μεταδῶ χάρισμα ὑμῖν πνευματικὸν, that I impart some spiritual gift to you. When one reads this text where both charisma and pneumatikos are binded together, one assumes that pneumatikos always means spiritual gift throughout all the Pauline texts–even when modifier charisma is not used. The early English translators carried this assumption into the I Corinthian text on tongues.

One must pause for a moment about this translation tradition. Paul did not intend that every reader of his works must refer to Romans 1:11 in order to understand πνευματικά (pneumatika) wherever it occurs. It is a one-off occurrance that does not apply to every instance.

Secondly, the English translators depended on the Latin of I Corinthians 12:31. The Latin translators left χαρίσματα (charismata) in the text transliterated as charismata.

Here is the actual Latin followed by the Greek:
Æmulamini autem charismata meliora
ζηλουτε δε τα χαρισματα τα κρειττονα.

It is uncommon for Latin world to use the word charismata. The earlier portion of chapter 12 translates χάρισμα (charisma) as gratia which means favor or grace, whereas the Latin word charismata pushes more towards the idea of being a gift.

This concept spilled over into the minds of early English translators whose principal or secondary language was Latin.

Lastly, the shift in perception of χαρίσματα (charismata) by the Medieval Catholic Church from a responsive act to a supranormal one gave earlier English Bible translators greater liberty to use the word gift. (More on this is found under the header Gratia and donum in Latin literature further below.)

An argument against πνευματικά as spiritual things

A fourth-century or so Greek Bible synopsis rightly or wrongly attributed to Athanasius gives credence to spiritual gifts. The work gives an interesting look at the Corinthian problem.22 In reference to the matter at hand, it quotes the Pauline text Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν and adds χαρισμάτων in an adjectival sense: τῶν πνευματικῶν χαρισμάτων.23 This rendering gives credence to the traditional English translation as spiritual gifts.

An inductive look at χάρισμα (charisma)

The research still is inconclusive. Critical readers continue to point out that almost all my references are hundreds of years after the fact. The meaning and nuances could have easily changed over this time. This circumstance forces a look into Paul’s particular use of χάρισμα (charisma) throughout his letters to look for answers. This methodology is a common approach in dictionaries, commentaries, and analysis.

Inductive means here to exclusively look at Paul’s use of χάρισμα (charisma) in his letters and nothing else. Paul is by far the greatest source of information on this word’s usage in the first century.

One must be cognizant of the fact that Paul did not write the majority of his letters. He dictated them to secretaries called amanuensis. The amanuensis was a professional office who took notation and handwrote letters. The person who had the skill of a calligrapher was a very niche market–an office that was the closest thing to the later printing press. Normally the amanuensis would make multiple copies. One for the writer, and the other for the second party. A third made in case the sent letter was lost. The Book of Romans and I Corinthians are where the bulk of the word χάρισμα (charisma) exists, there were two different amanuenses. He dictated the Book of Romans to Tertius, and I Corinthians, conjectured to be Sosthenes.24 The mystery of χάρισμα or its different uses in these books may not be Paul’s but the amanuensis choice.

Paul utilized both words δωρεά (dorea) and χάρισμα (charisma) in in Romans 5:15. They appear as synonyms. 25 In I Corinthians 12, where the various gifts are listed, he exclusively uses χάρισμα (charisma). His preference is χάρισμα (charisma) when it comes to rituals and order, whereas δωρεά (dorea) is more general in nature.

D. A. Carson has completed an inductive study on Paul’s use of charisma. He is a research professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois), and widely held as an evangelical authority of I Corinthians. Here is his conclusion:

. . .it is very clear that the term is not a technical one for Paul that refers only to a select set of supranormal gifts like healing and tongues. Not only can it embrace gifts like encouraging and generous giving, but it can be used repeatedly for the gift of salvation itself—not to mention the gift of celibacy and the gift of marriage. In that sense, therefore, every Christian is a charismatic. Moreover, if the term can extend to celibacy and marriage, every person, Christian or not, is a charismatic; that is, every person has received gracious gifts from God.26

Carson differentiates between the charisma of supranormal (healing and tongues) and normal gifts (celibacy, marriage, salvation, etc.). One must be cautious of such a differentiation. He assumes tongues supranormal in the Corinthian context, but, as the Gift of Tongues Project uncovers, this is not the case. Speaking in tongues along with an interpreter, was a normative religious ritual in ancient Judaism. Gifts of healing may also occur in this category. The gift of healing could refer to a person’s ability to identify a medical condition and find the appropriate herbs or solutions to bring about healing. There was limited access to doctors or the funds to acquire such help in ancient times. A person gifted in the knowledge of healing remedies was an important office in any ancient society.

The use of the word gift in classical Greek texts

Gift throughout the Perseus classics database usually refers to gifts to the God(s) or as a tribute. Often it is translated as a free gift. Δωρεά is the only word of choice here. The classical references lack complete data, but it is still enough to warrant a hypothetical question; was Paul trying to avoid the connection between the pagan gods and their gifts, or the gifts of tribute which had strings attached. By using χάρισμα, is he emphasizing a special divine gifting that is distinctly attached to the Jewish Messianic vision?

This theory has no substantiation and placed in the realm of small considerations. It is a question one must ask in the process of elimination to find a better answer to this difficult word or combine it with another theory.

The verbal counterpart for χάρισμα (charisma), χαρίζομαι (charizomai) was only used on few occasions in classical Greek writings and do not supply additional depth to the etymology.

The English translators of classical Greek texts often use gift where there is no existence in the Greek text. They created this word to make a smoother English version. For example, Plato, Alcibiades 2 (Plat. Alc. 2 151b) “Well, I accept this gift” — “ἀλλὰ δέχομαι καὶ τοῦτο,”27

Patristic sources on χάρισμα (charisma)

Ecclesiastical authors frequently used this word. The initial foray into examining χάρισμα (charisma) in Patristic literature was overwhelming and would require months of collating, translating, and examining to come up with a proper evaluation; an approach which requires the luxury of time. As a compromise, three authors were selected; Athanasius28 Eusebius, and Gregory of Νazianzus. These authors were selected because the search engine at the University of California, Irvine’s TLG database showed a high usage of χάρισμα (charisma) among them.

For the actual texts, translations and notes that built the framework for this study see An Earlier Church Etymology of χάρισμα (charisma).

While translating the relevant texts it became clear that gift was not always the best English equivalent. Expressions was often more suitable. In realizing that the semantic range of χάρισμα (charisma) was greater than what our common English translations performed, I played with the texts to see if expressions worked, and it did in most cases. Manifestations, talent, and endowment are also within this word’s definition.


Eusebius recognized the miraculous element of χάρισμα but instead chose to emphasize χάρισμα (charisma) as the gift of regeneration expressed in every part of our lives.29 Eusebius stressed that the χάρισμα (charisma) was a result of human and divine cooperation. No human could receive such gifts unless the person had a divine connection based on living a holy life.30


Athanasius use of χάρισμα (charisma) utilizes gift,31 expression,32 endowment33 depending on the context.

A good example is from Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae (The translation of χάρισμα (charisma) is in red):

Afterwards he writes about the religious expressions so that they would not discriminate between the expressions, nor should they differentiate against the person who has this expression against someone who has a different type of similar thing.34

The Athanasius text leaves χάρισμα (charisma) ambiguous and limitless, suggesting that almost every person has a different χάρισμα (charisma). The explanation in short form is cautioning one person comparing themselves against another.

Gregory of Nazianzus

Another meaning added to the semantic range was by a Latin translator of Nazianzus, and the word is talent.35 I am not sure if it fits well in the context, but one must be cognizant that the Latins had a different understanding of the word than we presently do. Their perspective must be added as valid evidence—not as an ultimate gamebreaker but a minor proof.

Gregory’s use closely aligns with gift as the English translation in most cases. In one instance, endowments was a better fit because the emphasis on the person’s ability.36

He referenced χάρισμα (charisma) on numerous occasions while addressing baptism. This snippet stands out as he describes what χάρισμα (charisma) means:

Just as Christ is the giver of this, He is referenced in many and diverse names, and so He is also the giver of such. Whether exceeding joy of the deed has befallen us (for these ones exceedingly love about anything being in state of a loving condition, that is joyfully combined also with the names) or because there is a multitudinous benefit, and the names have been articulated for us: We call a gift, expression, baptism, anointing, enlightenment, garment of incorruption, washing of regeneration, seal, everything which any or all hold in high honor.37

Gregory distinguished between ∆ῶρον (doron) as a gift and χάρισμα (charisma) as an expression. He also lists χάρισμα (charisma) as part of the christian life and character. He portrays the definition as nothing extra-spiritual or outside the box.

Conclusion on the Patristic use of χάρισμα (charisma)

Whether one agrees or disagrees with my exploration on the English equivalent of χάρισμα (charisma), the translations demonstrate that χάρισμα (charisma) has a much wider semantic range than our English translations convey. The Patristic writers also did not use the word in a super-spiritual out of this world kind of way. It was a practical outpouring of the everyday existence of the Christian.

The Syriac translation of χάρισμα (charisma)

Syriac is part of the Aramaic family, and Paul likely knew Aramaic—perhaps it was his mother tongue. One must keep in mind that the Greek Bible is the foundational source for the Syriac Bible. We can only use it to understand the Greek better. There is an unexpected clue here, not groundbreaking, but helpful.

ܡܰܘܗܒ݂ܰܬ݂ (mawhb,at) is the Syriac word for χάρισμα (charisma).38 There is nothing to note about the noun or its definition. It follows the same general pattern as the rest of the dictionaries and texts looked at. The Syriac translators extended the use of this noun to cover the Greek nouns δόμα (doma), δωρεά (dorea) and δῶρον (doron) on certain occasions too.39 By doing so, the Syriac translators ignored the distinct meaning of χάρισμα (charisma) and instead lumped Paul’s reference to tongues with that of the multiple accounts of miraculously speaking in one or more foreign languages found in the Book of Acts.40

One would think the Syriac translators would choose ܛܰܝܒ݁ܽܘܬ݂ܳܐ, (Tayb’uwt,a)) instead. This noun has a semantic range of act of thankfulness or thanksgiving.41 The absence leads to believe the Syrian translators does not support the thesis that χάρισμα (charisma) is a special word for a responsive act.

A first century Jewish look at χάρισμα (charisma)

All of Paul’s literature trace back to his Middle-Eastern Jewish Orthodox roots. However, research has yet to uncover anything substantial about χάρισμα (charisma) in the traditional Jewish framework. The potential Hebrew equivalents do not render any connection in the Dead Scroll archives, the Talmud, or other Jewish literature around the time of Paul.

A connection with any Hebrew words related to gift or favor מתנה, חן וחסד matanah, hen, and hesed,42 was unsuccesfull. A few slivers of evidence is found in much later literature.

The revered Lutheran Hebraist, Frans Delitzsch (1813-1890), translated the Greek New Testament into Hebrew. מתנה Matanah, the Hebrew word for gift, was his basis for χάρις (charis), χάρισμα (charisma), δόμα (doma), δωρεά (dorea) and δῶρον (doron). On six occasions he used מתנה החסד, matanah hahesed as the equivalent for χάρισμα (charisma).43 Hesed has significant religious connotations. It is to communicate God’s kindness and love toward humanity as well as human kindness and love toward each other.44 It is a theologically loaded word in both Jewish and Christian circles. A pattern is not known why he chose מתנה החסד on some occasions and מתנה on others.

Norman Snaith adds an additional consideration about hesed in the Greek text. He was an British Old Testament scholar and a Professor at Wesley College;45 best known for his production of the Snaith Hebrew Bible that was ubiquitous in almost every protestant seminary for decades. He believed that Greek equivalent to חסד (hesed) was χάρις (charis).46

Both Delitzch and Snaith’s assertion is a powerful association but unfortunately there not enough data to substantiate it. If one can extrapolate for a moment and pretend it is true, where could this go? Paul was thinking that the Christian was touched by God’s lovingkindness (charis) and were motivated out of their lovingkindess to extend whatever expressions or talents in their lives to others (charisma). This conclusion is the best Hebrew equivalent and requires placement in one of the better definitions.

The Latin use of gifts

The Latin community is where this topic begins to heat-up and is the bridge to our modern understanding of the Pauline text on the gifts. The early English translators leaned heavily on the Latin editions of the Bible as their guide.

The assumptions carried by the Medieval Catholic on the word gift permeated the early Protestant communities. The interpretation traditions of this religious word carried through from the Latin to the English world uncontested.

The mystery of the Latin text resides in their use of two words to translate χάρισμα (charisma); donum and gratia. The relationship between these two words changed over the centuries. At one time they were distinct, but over the centuries donum overtook gratia. In Paul’s I Corinthian’s Latin text, the use of gratia and the absence of donum in the gifts passages demonstrate an important note. Paul’s intent did not concern supra-supernatural but human affairs with a hint of the divine. Later on, this definition of gratia was moved aside for a more spiritualized one and donum became more dominant.

This dominance led to a more spiritualized version of I Corinthians 12–14 in the English Bible than Paul intended.

This summary is substantiated in the following research.

The Latin translation of χάρισμα (charisma)

The Latin translators made little distinction between χάρις (charis) and χάρισμα (charisma). The Latin translation of the Septuagint consistently used gratia as a translation for χάρις (charis)47 and this same pattern carried over into the New Testament.

When it came to χάρισμα (charisma), the Latin translators chose gratia grace on on 11 of the 18 occasions,48, donum gift on six occasions.49 and charismata once.50

Lewis and Short’s Latin dictionary describe gratia as having three definitions:

  • Receiving favor from others. Favor which one finds with others, esteem, regard, liking, love, friendship.
  • The second is connected with χάρις (charis); agreeableness, pleasantness, charm, beauty, loveliness, grace.
  • The third is giving favor to others.51

The Oxford Latin Dictionary set forth donum also in a threefold manner:

  • A thing given (material or otherwise, present, gift.
  • A. An offering (to a god or sim.). B. a prize award (in a competition); a prize (awarded to a soldier for distinguished service).
  • A benefit, gift (regarded as the fruit of divine or sim. Bounty).52

The third options in both these dictionaries, which are bolded, fit nicely with the Biblical and Church usage of gratia.

The difference between donum and gratia in the Latin Bible.

A reliable pattern is not consistently found about which occasion necessitated the use of donum against gratia or vice-versa. One plausible but unverified thought comes to mind. Donum is divine inspiration whereas gratia is a human response. Donum is exclusively used when it is God appropriating a gift on humanity or a person.53 The use of gratia never refers to God imparting a gift, it always refers to a human expression of His divine traits. There is also a third category when donum occurs—where there is ambiguity between the giver or the recipient.54 The third category is controversial. One could also interpret these instances differently. They could indicate the translators understood donum and gratia as synonyms. Hence, the reason why this donum theory is hypothetical. However, the alleged but not confirmed Greek concept that only God has the ability to perform a δωρεά (dorea) while humans can respond with a χάρισμα (charisma) may work well within this supposition.

The above is only theoretical. It is necessary to caution the reader as there is an absence of complete data to support such a theory.

Gratia and Donum in Latin literature

A short survey on the use of gratia and donum concerning the doctrine of tongues in Latin literature.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, rarely used gratia and arguably did not use donum at all.55 Augustine was referring to the Pentecostal experience recorded in the Book of Acts. These words do not exist in the Pentecostal narratives. He never deeply delved or connected the Corinthian’s text in his writings so this does not come as a surprise.

The revered early British theologian, musician, astronomer, and writer, the Venerable Bede (eighth century), utilized both donum and gratia in the same sentence. His usage shows donum as a singular instance of a gratia. A gift (donum) is a specific activity of the different divine expressions (gratia) available for believers. Here is an example with the two words highlighted in red:

Spiritaliter autem varietas linguarum dona variarum significat gratiarum. Verum non incongrue Spiritus sanctus intelligitur ideo primum linguarum donum dedisse hominibus, quibus humana sapientia forinsecus et discitur, et docetur, ut ostenderet quam facile possit sapientes facere per sapientiam Dei quæ eis interna est.56

Moreover, the variety of languages spiritually signifies the gifts of different graces. The holy Spirit is certainly not being inconsistently understood, for that reason the gift of languages had been given to men before anything else, by which in the form of human wisdom on the outside and becoming learned, and being taught, that it was to demonstrate how easy it can be to make wise men by means of the wisdom of God which is inside them.57

The great thirteenth-century systematic theologian/philosopher Thomas Aquinas almost exclusively used donum about the gifts of the Spirit. Only on one occasion is gratia found as a synonym.58. Aquinas is well aware in his writings that Paul referred to speaking in a foreign language. Yet, he demonstrated through the greater use of donum that the Corinthian tongues was a supernatural manifestation.

Pope Benedict the XIV’s important treatise, De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione (around 1748 AD) contains an interesting mixture of gratia and donum. It was a document written about the necessary pieces of evidence surrounding a person’s life for proposed sainthood. A portion of this document went into great detail on the gift of tongues. He deeply considered the definition and framework for investigating such a miracle. This section was carefully written after the Protestants demonstrated Catholic abuse in this realm when the Catholic Church granted Francis Xavier sainthood.

He used donum more often where a miraculous event of speaking or hearing a foreign language occurred.

He associated Francis Xavier with the donum.59 The same also applies to the story of the Welsh follower named St. David.60 On the other hand, the revered preacher, Vincent Ferrer, was noted as having the donum linguarum, the gift of languages.61

Whenever he classified or addressed tongues as a classification or as a general doctrinal discussion, he used Gratia. The print copy also furnished Gratia in capitalized form—suggesting that this was not a normal expression but a divinely inspired one. He also structured the I Corinthians passages along with Pentecost in the Book of Acts as a framework for understanding the office of tongues. This connection implies supernatural causation and activity in Paul’s address of the gifts in I Corinthians.

His usage of gratia suggests that he would disagree about the earlier definition of gratia supplied throughout this copy. He believed it was not a human expression of a person’s talents of what God has done for them.

Pope Benedict’s use of gratia demonstrates the religious meaning had shifted from the early centuries. The meaning of an outward expression of one’s talents in response to God’s lovingkindness had changed to a miraculous event.

However, this summary of Pope Benedict XIV’s attitude on gratia suggests oversimplification. He added this puzzling statement about the ability to speak in several languages that contradicts the flow of his usage; Moreover, Paul equalled knowledge of languages to a divine miracle.62


No one will ever know what Paul thought when he used the word χάρισμα (charisma) as we do not have enough first-century data to support any claim. The closest we can arrive at a meaning starts in the fourth century and onward. Their usage of the word suggests gift to Paul is an expression of a person’s talents for what was done for them. Christ gave Himself for others a gift offering for the benefit of humankind. Therefore, the beneficiaries are to offer their efforts in the same way.

The gifts Paul refers to in I Corinthians 12 relate to people offering their best contributions to the service of God. Those who are talented in languages are to gift those for the assembly. Those who possess medical folk knowledge are to offer this talent as a gift to the assembly and all humankind. Administrators, those with leadership skills, and those who have a knack for the prophetical office are to give themselves in this manner. For some, it may be knowledge and wisdom. For others, it is the expression of thanks for salvation and regeneration.

Paul was concerned about the order and discipline within the community. It was not a treatise about governing supernatural manifestations. I Corinthians and the listing of the χαρίσματα (charismata) was administrative in nature.

The treatise by Epiphanius on the tongues of Corinth fits nicely within this framework. He believed it was not a supernatural event not connected with Pentecost, but a problem created by the Jewish liturgy. The Jewish worship service and their form of education required speakers and interpreters.63 The same applies to the Ambrosiaster document, which promoted it as a problem of Hebrew and Aramaic utilized for personal aggrandizement.64

Later understanding of the word gift shifted to the supernatural where God is divinely anointing a person in certain situations to fulfill a task; usually suspending the laws of human nature and social norms.

  1. Jack Deere. Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993. Pg. 269–270 as found at Bible.org
  2. Gordon D. Fee. God’s Empowering Presence. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. 1995. Pg. 14
  3. Many authors state it occurs 17 times overall and Paul 16, but this is incorrect
  4. I know many editors would prefer datum as this is the Latin singular and data is plural. I am using data here as a mass noun, which is an allowable construct
  5. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, #5486
  6. My own word study done searching through the Online Greek Bible search engine.
  7. For the use of χάρις in the Septuagint, go to Online Greek Bible and enter χάρις for more information
  8. As per a query completed at Elpenor’s Website
  9. See Hughson Ong’s, Is ‘Spiritual Gift(s)’ a Linguistically Fallacious Term? A Lexical Study of Χάρισμα, Πνευματικός, and Πνεῦμα, as found in the The Expository Times. Volume 125 (12), 2014. Pg. 584ff for a very thorough look at this subject
  10. I Corinthians 12:1 New International Version.
  11. New International Version
  12. I Corinthians 12:1– Wycliffe Bible
  13. I Corinthians 12:1—Tyndale Bible
  14. Results from a search conducted at https://www.studylight.org/
  15. Wycliffe Bible 1395 edition as found at www.studylight.org.
  16. vulgate.org
  17. Tyndale Bible 1525 version.
  18. I Corinthians 12:1—Tyndale (1525) version
  19. Bishop’s Bible as found at www.studylight.org
  20. Geneva Bible London: Deputies of Christian Barker. Pg. 1183
  21. KJV as found at www.studylight.org. See the original version at archive.org. The 1611 original I am looking at does not have gifts italicized though later editions do. I do not know when this was later introduced.
  22. This is a new find and have yet to include in the Gift of Tongues Project
  23. MPG 28 Col. 416 Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae
  24. Ἀλλ᾿ οὐχ ὡς τὸ παράπτωμα, οὕτω καὶ τὸ χάρισμα. εἰ γὰρ τῷ τοῦ ἑνὸς παραπτώματι οἱ πολλοὶ ἀπέθανον, πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἡ χάρις τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ ἡ δωρεὰ ἐν χάριτι τῇ τοῦ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς τοὺς πολλοὺς ἐπερίσσευσε. “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.” Both Greek and the KJV English sourced from Elpenor’s website.
  25. D. A. Carson. Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of I Corinthians 12–14. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 1987. NP
  26. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0176:text=Alc.%202:section=151b&highlight=gift
  27. Well not exactly, texts attributed to him which are similar in style to his works but not his. They are old works and so they are legitimate entries into this study.
  28. Eusebius MPG 22. Supplementa Quaestionum ad Marinum. X (from Macarii Chrysocephali) Col. 1013–1014.
  29. See An Earlier Church Etymology of χάρισμα for more information
  30. Athanasius (spuria): MPG 28 Col. 720 Quaestiones in N.T.; MPG 28 Col. 824 Sermo Contra Latinos; MPG 28 Col. 905 Homilia in Nativitatem Praecursoris
  31. Athanasius (spuria): MPG 28 Col. 416 Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae; Commentario In Psalmos; MPG 28 Col. 745 Quaestiones in Psalmos
  32. Athanasius (spuria) MPG 28 Col 752 Quaestiones in Psalmos
  33. MPG 28 Col. 416 Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae
  34. MPG 35 Col 480. Oratio II Apologetica LXXII
  35. MPG 35 Col 1049. Ad Julianum Tributorum Ex Aequatorem
  36. MPG 36 Col. 361. Oratio XI. In Sanctum Baptisma
  37. For the actual text and references, go to Dukhrana website for details.
  38. Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13; John 14:10; Acts 2:38, 8:20, 10:45; Romans 5:17, II Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 2:8; Ephesians 3:7, 4:7; Hebrews 6:4; Revelations 11:10
  39. Correction: I previously toyed with the word “supernatural causation” in two different perspectives within this sentence but it did not properly address Paul’s intent. I now have completely excluded the term.
  40. J. Payne Smith (Mrs. Margolith) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Pg. 172
  41. Some would transliterateחן וחסד as chen, and chesed, but most Renewalist communities use hen and hesed instead.
  42. Romans 5:16, 6:23; I Corinthians 1:7; II Corinthians 1:11; I Timothy 4:14; and I Peter 4:10 as found online Delitzsch’s Hebrew New Testament: the 12th edition from 1901 (I think it is the 1901 version. The website is not clear about this date.)
  43. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/acts-of-loving-kindness/
  44. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Snaith
  45. A reference from A Theological Word Book of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson (New York: MacMillan, 1951), pp. 136-7 as found at bible-researcher.com
  46. Observations from own personal study of χάρις in the Latin Vulgate Old Testament
  47. Romans 1:11, 5:16, 6:23; I Corinthians 1:7, 12:4, 12:9, 12:28, 12:30; I Timothy 4:14; II Timothy 1:6; I Peter 4:10
  48. Romans 5:5, 11:29, 12:6; I Corinthians 7:7; II Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 4:8
  49. I Corinthians 12:31
  50. The Lewis and Short Dictionary found at Perseus
  51. The Oxford Latin Dictionary. Oxford: at the Clarendon. 1968. Pg. 571
  52. Romans 11:29; I Corinthians 7:7; Ephesians 4:8
  53. Romans 5:15, 16; II Timothy 1:6
  54. I found one occasion of gratia while looking at five or so of his writings related to speaking in tongues. However, more may come up with a more comprehensive look. The headers to some of his texts contain donum, but I suspect these are later editor insertions.
  55. MPL. Vol. 92 Bedæ Venerabilis: Super Acta Apostolorum Expositio. Col. 945-948. A digital copy is available at Bede on the Doctrine of Tongues: the Latin Texts
  56. My translation
  57. see Aquinas on Tongues the Latin Copy. Look for “et hoc ad litteram, quod aliqui in primitiva ecclesia gratiam habuerunt.”
  58. See Pope Benedict XIV on the Gift of Tongues for more information.
  59. He lived around the 6th century but the actual text about him was written much later. For the actual text referring to his gift both in Latin in English read Three Welsh Men Speaking in Tongues
  60. See Vincent Ferrer on the Gift of Tongues for more information.
  61. See Pope Benedict XIV on the Gift of Tongues section 12.
  62. See Epiphanius on the Tongues of Corinth for more information.
  63. See Notes on Translating Ambrosiaster’s 12–14

1 thought on “A History of Charisma in the Church”

  1. I think you would do well to stay with Thayer’s definition: “extraordinary powers, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the church of Christ, the reception of which is due to the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit.” It is too much of a stretch that we do not know what Paul meant by the term. Let Paul interpret himself–he uses the term enough.


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