What is knowledge?

I’ve heard two different definitions of the spiritual gift of knowledge from Paul’s letter to Corinth (1 Cor 12.8), and one of them just doesn’t make sense. I saw it again yesterday in a post from Mark Driscoll.

Mark defines this spiritual gift as “the ability to research, remember, and make effective use of a variety of information on a number of diverse subjects”. He then gives examples of where he sees this gift in operation in various Bible characters, including Jesus.

Mark points out that Jesus studied and memorized the Old Testament, saying this is an example of the gift of knowledge in operation. If this is the case, though, then didn’t the majority of Jesus’ peers also have this gift? The memorization of the Torah was a common feat among the scribes and Pharisees of his day, and even his own disciples had memorized large portions of Scripture. To say that memorizing a huge text is an example of this gift seems to be a reading into the phrase “word of knowledge”. (Oh, and did Jesus have knowledge of “a number of diverse subjects”, as in Mark’s definition? If so, he apparently kept it to himself, and focused on a few narrow subjects, namely Israel and his own role.)

Mark had a couple of other examples in the Bible. He points out Timothy because of a line in Paul’s letter to him (2 Tim 2.15). To state that “rightly handling the word of truth” is an example of the spiritual gift of knowledge is a stretch I cannot make.

The alternative definition of this gift is something like this: information revealed to a person by the Holy Spirit, which the person would not otherwise know. This is more palatable to me for a couple of reasons. The first is that Paul is describing spiritual gifts, which I take to be abilities given by the Holy Spirit. They aren’t enhanced natural abilities, and they aren’t commonly seen in people who do not have the Spirit. (Again, if the ability to memorize and make use of large amounts of Scripture is indicative of this gift, then my atheist religion professors in college were all gifted by the Holy Spirit.)

The second reason I prefer this definition is that it helps explain what we already have seen in the Bible. There are a number of times when Jesus or someone else knows things that they have no earthly way of knowing (Jn 1.47-48, Lk 11.17, Acts 8.20-23, etc).

The third reason I prefer this definition is it makes more sense with the rest of the gifts listed in the Corinthian letter. If we go with Mark’s definition, for consistency it would seem to me that the gifts of healing that Paul mentions must refer to physicians, and tongues must mean those who excel in learning foreign languages.

Not to knock the people who love knowledge, researching, learning and sharing new things (I am one of them), but this desire and ability doesn’t strike me as a spiritual gift…at least not the one mentioned by Paul.

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