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Is It the Spirit or His Gifts? (1 Cor 14:1) — Mondays with Mounce 260

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Here is a great example of the challenges of a substantival adjectives.

Paul writes, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts (τὰ πνευματικά), especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1; ESV). πνευματικός is an adjective meaning “spiritual,” often referring to the divine spirit, the Holy Spirit. This is the topic of the end of the verse and also the entire chapter, and this is how every major translation views the verse.

Interesting, then, is the parallel statement in 12:1. “Now concerning spiritual gifts (τῶν πνευματικῶν),* brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (ESV). The footnote on “gifts” says, “Or persons.” The HCSB is inconsistent; in 12:1 it says, “Now concerning what comes from the Spirit,” and in 14:1 is has, “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts.”

As you go through the rest of the chapter, while Paul talks about specific Spiritual gifts, he does not use πνευματικός in that sense. In 14:37 he writes, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual (πνευματικός), he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (cf. 15:44, 46). And elsewhere he uses πνευματικός with a different meaning. For example, “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (Rom 7:14).

I am not necessarily arguing for one meaning over another, but it should be pointed out that τὰ πνευματικά means nothing necessarily more than “the things of the Spirit,” which is a broader category than just the gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Fee argues, convincingly to my mind, that πνευματικά primarily (although not exclusively) places the emphasis on the Spirit, and hence the “spiritual manifestations” of the Spirit. χάρισμα tends to be used when the emphasis is more on that which is given.

Either way, substantival adjectives can be hard to pin down.


William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of 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's Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth at

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