I will ask a series of questions concerning individual spiritual gifts (pneumatika/charismata), or manifestations of the Spirit in 1 Cor 12.

The first questions are about the gift of the word (logos) of knowledge (gnosis) (1 Cor 12:8).

In most teaching in the charismatic/neo-pentecostal movements, this gift is about supernaturally revealed insights about specific facts, usually medical conditions. However, the Pentecostal theologian Donald Gee considered this gift to be more of a "turbo-charged" (obviously not his words) natural understanding. This is from his book Concerning Spiritual Gifts, originally published in 1947.

I highly suspect that the definition now in use arouse during the healing revival in the 50's and that Gee's view was the mainline pentecostal one before that movement.

Can anyone enlighten me if I am right or wrong. Arguments from original sources are very much preferred.

BTW, when I ask about the view in early pentecostalism, I mean the view from the leaders and teachers of the first generation (1900-1940).

P.S. I am not looking for what one might consider to be the correct answer. I've done my exegesis homework and agree with Gordon Fee, that we simply can not know exactly what Paul originally intended. Fee says[1]:

Most likely, it is a "Spirit utterance" of some revelatory kind... How the content of such utterance makes gnosis as distinguished from "wisdom" or "revelation", is perhaps forever lost to us.

I will ask some more questions for additional aspects.

  1. From God's Empowering Presence, Baker Academic, 1994, pages 167-168.
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    I understand you are asking different questions but they seem exactly the same because the title of your alternate question associates the very extreme fringe group of the movement as the 'pioneers' of the pentecostal movement. I think that is causing the confusion. The movement really started in california with the Azuza Street revival. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azusa_Street_Revival#mw-mf-search Those fringe healers were their own charleton clan more removed from mainstream pentecostals as far as I can tell. It would actually be better to keep this question open and rephrase the other.
    – Mike
    Feb 9, 2013 at 5:15
  • Sorry, I decoded also to vote to close this as both questions are still confusing when combined and I posted an answer on your second post instead as that one people seem to be willing to leave open. That doe snot mean the subject is not very interesting, hope you don't mind.
    – Mike
    Feb 10, 2013 at 2:12
  • Pioneer of the pentecostal movement = First generation (1900-1940). Pioneer of the healing revival = later generation. I am trying to see if indeed the view about some spiritual gifts changed, and my thesis is that indeed it did and that changed occurred during the healing revival.
    – itpastorn
    Feb 10, 2013 at 9:23
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    @warren I have edited the questions and added comments to make clear that this is not the same question as the one currently flagged as if it had the answer.
    – itpastorn
    Feb 10, 2013 at 20:31

2 Answers 2


Since asking the question I have now read three books by influential pentecostal pioneers on the issue, and they do not agree on the definition of the gift of the word of knowledge.

In the book on Spiritual Gifts, a collection of sermons by Smith Wigglesworth (1859-1947), who received the baptism of the Spirit in 1907[1], the gift is described as a quickening that gives understanding of the Scriptures[2]:

It is as we feed o the Word and medidate on the message it contains that the Spirit of God can vitalize what we have received and bring forth through us the word of knowledge... As all the Scriptures were inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16) as they came forth from the beginning, and though the same Spirit they should come forth from us vitalized...

It is unclear if SW think that the essence of the gift is the act of illumination per se, or if it also must include a speaking forth of the knowledge received to others. The passage in the book is very short and neither exegetically or systematically complete.

A view more in line with the current understanding within the charismatic movement is given in the book Questions & answers on spiritual gifts by Howard Carter (1891-1971).[3] The book consist of stenographic notes from a Q and A session at Hampstead Bible College in London. Carter claims that he received his insights on the gifts during imprisonment as a conscientious objector during world war one.[4]

Carter says on page 43:

The word of knowledge is a participation, to some infinitesimal degree, in the omniscience of God. If the Lord who knows all things, is pleased to reveal to us by His Spirit any fragment of His unlimited knowledge, then we can claim to have this manifestation of the Spirit, which is designated "the word of knowledge".

Furthermore, Carter says, that the fragment may be received by the mind as a thought, but it is not created by the human, only received (page 53). The process is completely supernatural. It is not the by-product of diligent study, nor is it in any way connected to education (page 38, 46, 49-50. (Carter does not despise diligent study, but it is unrelated to the definition of the gift.)

The scope of the knowledge includes everything that God knows, which may be worldly facts as when Jesus saw Natanael sitting under a fig tree (John 1:48) or when Ananias was told about the name of the street where Paul was praying after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11) (Carter:45). But what makes this a very eminent gift is that God has used it to reveal His very own nature to the authors of the Bible (Carter:43-44). Carter is, however, clear that no new insights can be given that conflicts with Scripture or appends new doctrines to it (page 23-24).

Revelation about the purpose and plans of God, and of the future are not words of knowledge, but words of wisdom (Carter:17ff).

Carter is very clear that we should not talk about the gift of knowledge or the gift of wisdom, but the gift of the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom (page 20-21), as we are all expected to grow in wisdom and knowledge through a plethora of means.

A very different view is offered by Donald Gee in the book Concerning Spiritual Gifts[5]. The book was originally published 1947, but builds upon earlier works published 10 and 20 years earlier (page 133), and Gee says that his views on this subject "have undergone practically no change".

According to Gee, the word of knowledge is a teaching gift in the church (page 134. However, before he arrives at that conclusion, he has a few words of warning:

The Scriptures provide for the task [of defining the gift] no material that is avowedly and unmistakably a manifestation of the word of knowledge... Assumption is not proof... We ought carefully to avoid dogmatizing on this subject. (page 41)

Having acknowledged the types of supernatural revelations that Carter speaks of in a way that affirms that Carters view indeed was held by many, Gee proceeds to call such revelation prophecy, neither denying its existence or its value (page 42). But when it comes to the definition of the gift, he still begs to differ.

For Gee the setting of 1 Cor 12 is of utmost importance, it is in the gathered Church that the gifts are to be used, whereas most of of Carters examples are from happenings in individual lives. In agreement with Carter, Gee claims that the gift is completely supernatural (page 44f), but it is not "spectacular" (page 45-46).

There come times when the Spirit of revelation is so operating through a teacher exercising an anointed ministry that we become conscious of an illumination transcending all natural ability either to gain or to impart (knowledge). It is in such hours that the sheep hear the voice of their good Shepherd speaking through human lips... We know it because our hearts burn within us as surely as theirs did upon the Emmaus road when Christ "expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself". By the gift of of the Spirit that Voice still expounds the Scriptures on the sweetest of all themes - himself (Gee:46-47)

In the book edition from 1947, Gee has added a whole chapter that was not part of the edition from 10 years before, where he gives a systematic argument in favor of his interpretation. However, those arguments are outside the scope of this question on StackExchange.

In summary we see that although Gee argues strongly for his view and he at least is in some agreement with an influential preacher (although he was not a "teacher") like Wigglesworth, he pleads his case as if he perceives himself to be in a minority view. At least that is how I judge his tone. Thus it seems that Carter's view was more widespread within early pentecostalism. But it did not enjoy complete dominance.

Later teachings (2nd generation pentecostalism/charismatics/neo-pentecostals) are mostly using definitions similar to carter, but they are, according to the teaching I've read and heard, very reluctant to include revelation about the nature of God, and restrict the gift to worldly knowledge.

  1. According to the view within the pentecostal movement. I am aware that this view is not shared by all Christians, but it is a significant fact to date the involvement of SW in pentecostalism.

  2. Wigglesworth, S. (1998). Smith Wigglesworth on spiritual gifts. New Kensignton, PA: Whitaker House. Pages 76-77

  3. Carter, H. (1976). Questions & answers on spiritual gifts. Tulsa, OK: Harrison House.

  4. Off topic fact: Pacifism was very common among the early pentecostals.

  5. Gee, D. (1980). Concerning spiritual gifts. Sprinfield, Mo: Radiant Books.

  • They do agree they are simply just talking about different aspects of the same gift as they were given revelation. I may be mistaken but I believe smith wigglesworth only read the Bible and certainly didn't write a book and he once said that the books which had been written concerning him were of limited quality because of his manner of presentation.
    – user4060
    Mar 30, 2013 at 7:06
  • I beg to disagree. Gee clearly states that he does not agree with the view expressed by Carter et al. Similarly, Carter takes issue with the view that the word of knowledge is referring to teaching. The book by Wigglesworth is a collection from sermons that he gave. So yes, he did not write a book, but the teaching in the book is from him.
    – itpastorn
    Mar 31, 2013 at 16:12
  • My point was the two beliefs are compatible and express different sides of the same coin regardless of whether the two or three authors actually "agree".
    – user4060
    Apr 2, 2013 at 5:25

I am not versed in theological debate on the gifts, but as a Christian Seer, I can tell you the likely evidence of this gift from a great deal of personal experience. The Word of Knowledge, to my personal experience are typically audibly heard words or impressions within one's mindspace that as a believer I encounter both in prayer, and on a daily basis as I am going about my day with God. They are highly symbolic, using the same "language" as that of dreams. Many times I will receive these "insights" from the Holy Spirit while studying the Word, or while in prayer. Sometimes I simply get them while I'm doing something in my daily life that has to do with some sort of narrative or parabolic experience. The typical purpose of these words is not confined to healing; but rather to divine communication, teaching/strengthening/confirming the Word of God, and the learning of prophetic symbolic vocabulary as so to strengthen divine dialogue.

  • This answer would be a lot better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. Remember that "I believe it means..." isn't an acceptable answer, since this site isn't about personal interpretation. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? Nov 25, 2013 at 13:15
  • Welcome to Christianity SE! We're not a normal discussion forum, but a Q&A site; if you could find a reference from a leader of the pentecostal movement in the early 1900's that agrees this would make a great answer, but as it is this doesn't answer the question.
    – Ryan Frame
    Nov 25, 2013 at 14:14
  • So my answer is not valid, but some other human who has an opinion a hundred years ago is? I don't understand why ink on paper of someone else's or a group's understanding is more valid than mine? Sincerely curious...
    – Janet
    Nov 26, 2013 at 5:08
  • Janet, I have asked a couple of questions trying to trace how the view on this specific gift has evolved within the pentecostal-charismatic stream of Christianity. This is one of them. And I am asking specifically abut the views that were held by the first generation pentecostals. That was a specific question looking for a specific answer. While I appreciate your willingness to share, yes your present day views are not relevant to the question asked. Sorry if that seems harsh, but it's the format of this site.
    – itpastorn
    Nov 26, 2013 at 13:53

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