The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Series
Discerning of Spirits and Prophecy
Thu, 16 Jul 2009 - 8:18 AM CST
By Anthony D.Palma
The manifestation of the Spirit that is translated “discerning of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10) is actually plural in form — discernings of spirits (diakriseis is the plural of diakrisis).
This indicates there is more than one way in which this gift manifests itself. It may be used in identifying a person as demon-possessed or satanically motivated in something he is doing, but the purpose of this article is to show its connection with the gift of prophecy.
The order in which it appears in the charismata as given in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10 indicates a strong link with the gift of prophecy. It is listed between prophecy on the one hand and tongues and interpretation on the other. Since the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians is an extended treatment of prophecy, tongues, and interpretation, what place do “discernings” of spirits have in that chapter?
Paul states in verse 29, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other [Greek — others] judge.” The verb form for “judge” is from the basic word diakrino, which appears in noun form as diakrisis. Both words carry the meaning of distinguishing or differentiating.
It is not accidental that Paul listed discernings of spirits immediately after the gift of prophecy (12:10), and then used the same word in verb form when dealing with the regulation of the gift of prophecy (14:29). This conclusion is further strengthened by the fact these are the only occurrences of these words in Paul’s treatment of the charismata in 1 Corinthians 12–14).
What are the “spirits” that must be distinguished? An obvious answer is that a differentiation must be made between the Holy Spirit and a satanic or evil spirit. But there is also a third possibility — the spirit of the person giving the prophecy. It may be that a well-intentioned individual’s own spirit will intrude into a prophetic utterance. In this area it is necessary to rely on the omniscient Holy Spirit for guidance, so the genuine may be distinguished from the satanic or human.
Here then are three indications which link this gift with the gift of prophecy: (1) In the list of charismata found in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, it is paired with prophecy just as interpretation of tongues is paired with tongues; (2) in 1 Corinthians 14:29 the same basic word is used for “judging” prophetic utterances; (3) the plural form suggests that it functions in a number of ways — one of these being in regulating the gift of prophecy.
Anthony D. Palma, Th.D., a longtime Assemblies of God educator, lives in Springfield, Missouri.