Spiritual “Gifts” or “Things” - 1 Cor 12:1 (Monday with Mounce 144)
Usually adjectives used substantivally (i.e., as nouns) are pretty easy to figure out. Between the meaning of the adjective and the context of the passage, the translator can figure out how to treat the word. But every once in a while things can confuse the picture, and one of those things are headings in modern Bibles.
The most notorious heading is the one before Eph 5:22 and I have already blogged on that, but another bothersome heading is the one at 1 Cor 12:1. The NIV has “Concerning Spiritual Gifts” and then starts with, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.” “Spiritual gifts” is a translation of the adjective πνευματικῶν, a masculine or neuter plural adjective from πνευματικός, meaning “spiritual.” But spiritual what?
By the time you get to verse 4, you can see Paul is speaking about Spiritual gifts, but nothing in vv 1-3 is necessarily about gifts. But because Bibles put a heading before v 1, the assumption by many is that the entire chapter is about the gifts of the Spirit. “After all,” many would respond, “the Bible says, ‘Concerning Spiritual Gifts.’”
The ESV alerts us to an issue here. Their footnote on “gifts” reads, “Or spiritual persons,” reading πνευματικῶν as a masculine and not a neuter. The fact is that πνευματικῶν is an adjective used substantivally, and it is a matter of interpretation as to whether Paul is speaking of gifts of the Spirit 9 (cf. 1 Cor 14:1) or spiritual people (cf. 1 Cor 2:15; 3:1; 14:37).
Gordon Fee has long championed a third view, that Paul is talking about the “things of the Spirit,” almost a blending of the two views. He writes, “When the emphasis is on the manifestation, the ‘gift’ as such, Paul speaks of charismata; when the emphasis is on the Spirit, he speaks of pneumatika, and then concludes by translating, “the things of the Spirit” (note the capital “S”).
Wherever you settle on this question, be sure to ignore headings as much as possible. In fact, the best exegesis experience I ever had in the gospel of Mark was using a text without headings, paragraphs, or verses. Just 40 pages of a block of text with page and line numbers. A wonderful teaching tool I used for years and highly recommend.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill at BillMounce.com, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.
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