What is the discerning of spirits in 1 Cor. 12:10? It seems that it is a bit different from the trying of spirits in 1 John 4:1 as there John gives a particular method as to how to try them and find out whether they are from God or not. Also, John seems to address every believer in his epistle, whereas in 1 Corinthians 12:10 Paul says that the gift of discerning spirits is given only to some believers (to "another").

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The setting in 1 Cor 11-14 is the church gathered for worship. At such gatherings Paul expects participation from lots of people using spiritual endowments, given in that moment for the edification of the church.

However, there is a grave danger of people abusing those endowments for the attention and prestige. There is also a danger of "the flesh" lying, mimicking or at least misunderstanding what the Spirit is saying. All gifts are "in part".

Thus, in the context of 1 Cor 12, discerning of spirits seem to be a specific spiritual endowment to recognize by what spiritual inspiration somebody else is acting, what parts are of the flesh and what parts are of the Lord?

The context for 1 John is the early gnostic models of thought. Here it is a matter of recognizing the true Gospel and discarding the gnostic corrupt versions. Gnostics have a worldview that says everything true is 100 % spiritual and the physical world is by definition evil. Christ being truly incarnated (=in flesh) was something they denied. But in so doing they denied the Gospel, since it is Jesus dying "in the flesh" that brings salvation.

That also explains why it was so important for John to say (1:1f) that he had seen Jesus with his (physical) eyes and touched him also after the resurrection with his hands.

Off topic:

There is an interesting spinoff from this. Today media and bloggers or just about anyone will claim that the gnostic "gospels" (Thomas, Judas, etc) should be considered historic sources on par with the biblical gospels.

However, these pseudo-gospels never ever claim to be historic sources in the sense we are using the word today. John claims empirical knowledge of the risen Christ. He saw, he touched. That is exactly why his words were discarded by the gnostics! They claimed "spiritual revelation" - the senses are physical, evil and not to be trusted!

Gnosticism is as far removed from scientific knowledge as you can get, and claiming that gnostic sources should be counted on par with biblical gospels is patently absurd.


On a forum like this it is probably wise to tell from what tradition an answer is given. Especially on topics where even Bible believing Christians disagree. Had I had the time to expand my answer with proper exegesis and a comparison of different commentaries that would not have been necessary.

Although I have studied spiritual gifts using the Koine Greek text, nobody studies in an intellectual vacuum. Having read what many traditions have to say, I have found the the most sound exegesis exist in the writings of "empowered evangelicals" or in the writings of pentecostal scholars like Gordon Fee.

  • I suggest expanding "What parts are of the flesh and what parts are of the Lord." by defining the "flesh" as the one who eats from the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and the one "of the lord" eating from the tree of life. For "discernment"(knowledge) of "what is working" function/good) and "what is not working"(dysfunction/evil) is looking at the fruits of the knowledge of good and evil. Discernment of the spirit however, is being able to know who is eating of the "fruits of the knowledge of good and evil" or of the "fruits of the spirit" (The Tree of Life).
    – Decrypted
    Jul 24, 2014 at 14:39
  • Also how to obtain this gift should be added, For the signs are "Anxiety, Anger, Depression, Pride, Jealousy, and Not Hearing" yet of the Spirit of 'Love, Peace, Joy, and Hearing the Truth". "We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error." (1 John 4:6 NKJV) and also "Galatians 5".
    – Decrypted
    Jul 24, 2014 at 14:40
  • For it is when the Situational Dysfunction is revealed, that the attitude is in danger of altering. The broken Air Conditioner for example; One is angry about what needs sacrificed to make functional. One is Hopeful that the Word will get them a new one, yet accepting, therefore content. Keeping their attitude of happiness, protected by the washing of the Blood of Christ. Therefore it is the Knowledge of Dysfunction that reveals ones faith. Watching the response of those saying that they believe, when they learn of Situational Dysfunction, is how to use this gift.
    – Decrypted
    Jul 24, 2014 at 14:47

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