“Gifts” And Ministries In The Apostolic Fathers -- By: Kenneth Berding

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 78:1 (Spring 2016)
Article: “Gifts” And Ministries In The Apostolic Fathers
Author: Kenneth Berding


“Gifts” And Ministries In The Apostolic Fathers

Kenneth Berding

Kenneth Berding is Professor of New Testament in the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, La Mirada, CA.

In both an academic article and book-length study I have argued that the primary category for organizing the items found in the Apostle Paul’s ministry lists (1 Cor 12:8–10, 28–30; Rom 12:6–8; Eph 4:11–12)—often referred to as “spiritual gifts”—should be that of ministry assignments rather than special abilities.1 This view remains to be exegetically challenged. But one apprehension has surfaced repeatedly as I have lectured and corresponded with others on this topic, a concern that this article is designed to address. Namely, it seems to be widely assumed among many contemporary readers of the Bible that Christians throughout history have everywhere and always viewed the items found in Paul’s ministry lists simply as special God-given abilities. Some with whom I have dialogued on this topic look askance at me—as though I am someone who relishes overturning established consensuses of church history when I suggest that this is not correct. That is, in their minds Christians have always tried to discover their hidden spiritual talents so they can use them in ministry since Christians have always viewed the items in Paul’s ministry lists simply as God-given abilities. But one looks in vain for evidence of such a consensus until recent times. Kenneth Radant notes,

Relatively little work has been done on the history of spiritual gift teaching as such. Prior to the advent of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement at the turn of the 20th century, there was relatively little to be explored. I do not mean that the church had no notion of the charismata before 1900. From the earliest centuries, Christian authors have preached and commented on 1 Cor 12, Rom 12, and Eph 4, and discussed prophecy, tongues, and miracles.… But the attempt to distill a specific theology of spiritual gifts—one that defines a particular category or class of unique

capacities for ministry granted to Christians, that names those capacities, explains their distinguishing qualities, tells believers how to identify which they have, and advises on their application to church ministry structures—that sort of literat...

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