What is the Gift of the Word of Knowledge?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

The gift of knowledge is so misunderstood today, so what is the gift of knowledge and how are Christians misunderstanding it or abuse it?

The Word of Knowledge

The Bible speaks about the gift of the word of knowledge, so what is it and how do we know we might have it? In 1 Corinthians chapter 12 there is a list of the gifts and in verse 8 it says, “One is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge.” The first thing I noticed is that there are two gifts here; the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge. To start with, the word knowledge is such a broad word that it defies definition in a closed sense. Dr. John MacArthur (Grace to You Ministries) says it’s just is too broad of a word to simply define. Obviously this is a speaking gift or the utterance of knowledge. The word logos there can mean written on a page, spoken to a crowd, spoken privately to individuals, so what is it? It’s speaking knowledge. This is a special gift from God and does not originate from man.

Definition of Knowledge

What the word of knowledge is, biblically defined, is the Spirit-given ability to observe and listen, but also to observe biblical facts and make sound conclusions. The spiritual gift of observing biblical facts is the ability to understand the Bible. Many others have this gift, and in fact, I read other people’s readings so as to help me to understand certain Bible passages. In summary, as Dr. MacArthur said, the gift of knowledge is “the ability to observe biblical facts and make conclusions.” There were times in the early church where the word of knowledge was revelatory; where a word of knowledge would come to somebody, but it was God who gave this ability to somebody. There is strong scriptural evidence that Paul received that kind of knowledge; directly from Jesus.

Paul’s Word of Knowledge

A simple reading of Ephesians 3 and Colossians 1 shows that God gave the Apostle Paul direct word of knowledge. It was clearly revelatory, but on most occasions, it was not. There were times when it was simply taking what was already written down (like Paul’s letters being circulated), or what was already there (Old Testament Scriptures). I was shocked to find out that the word for knowledge is used over 300 times in the New Testament…but, there is so much variation that there is no way you can isolate them and say it can apply to the present day.

A Gift of Understanding

Believers are told to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord our God and this comes through biblical knowledge and the work of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the best definition of knowledge is found in 1 Corinthians 13:2 which says, “Though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge.” Notice one thing about this gift. It’s the gift of understanding! More specifically, this is the gift of being able to understand the mysteries that have been revealed. Those with the gift of the word of knowledge must share it and teach it and proclaim it. There are some people such as writers, scholars, teachers, professors, and researchers that have this gift, but if they don’t use it, what good is it?

Wisdom and Knowledge

This gift differs from general biblical knowledge. The emphasis is on the skill of application rather than the knowledge of facts. Wisdom is the ability to take the facts that the gift of knowledge has brought out and make a skillful application of them. This could belong to a Christian counselor who sees a problem, and by his knowledge of the Word of God, he draws out the principles that can be practically applied to the solving of the problem. This is the gift of the expositor, who can take the Word of God and study the commentaries, as I do, and read from all those who have the gift of knowledge, and out of that, draw the applicable principle to living. This can be something that a believer ministers to another believer in the area of assisting in his practical life, but the gifts of knowledge and wisdom are so different from one another.

God-Given Gift

The gift of the word of knowledge refers to the ability to know facts about a situation, or a spiritual principle, that could not have been known by natural means. This allows someone to see a situation as God sees it. You can imagine that this gift is still very much needed in the church today. There are times when the gift of the word of knowledge works with the gift of the word of wisdom. First, God gives the believer supernatural knowledge into a particular situation, and then He gives wisdom on how to apply that knowledge.

Not For Show

The word of knowledge is not the same as the occult gifts that some spiritual mediums claim. It is not an occult power, but a God-given ability to build up the body of Christ. Like all the other gifts of the Spirit, the word of knowledge is never given for a believers’ own personal advantage, to take advantage of another believer, or to embarrass someone. It is intended to build up the church however this gift should only be used in private contexts. There is no place in the church for some public display of this gift in a flamboyant way. It is not to be used to take advantage of the circumstances of others. If the Holy Spirit is working in that person, then it will be consistent with the way He always works. He will glorify Jesus Christ and Him alone. Indeed, He will never glorify any human being exercising a spiritual gift.


Knowledge makes the teacher; wisdom, the preacher and pastor. But I would even go further than that, and I would say knowledge is the collecting of facts; wisdom is the application. If you have never trusted in Christ, you have no spiritual gifts and cannot understand the mysteries of the Bible, but if you have repented and put your trust in Christ, then God will dispense gifts to you as He does all believers. He dispenses them as He will and not what we want. God alone does the giving of the gifts. You can’t learn them in a class or study enough to receive gifts. It is all of God. That gives Him all the glory, which is the way it should always be (Psalm 115:1).

Here is some related reading for you: What is the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy? How Do You Know if You Have It?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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