Saturday, February 18, 2006

Gift? Gifting?

A few days ago, I wrote about “TS,” a fellow Christian blogger, and his concern about the use of the words “spiritual gifting.” His thought, and I agree with him, is that since the word “gifting” is not in the Bible, we should use the word “gift.” Words are important and should be chosen carefully. TS said, “Like Alice, I’m finding out just how far this rabbit hole goes.”

The Rabbit Hole
Now, you should understand that English teachers can get all worked up over a word, and as a result, they may not be able to let go of it. After TS got my curiosity going about the word “gifting,” I searched around and found some interesting things (for want of a better word).

Confirming TS’s findings, I saw quickly that the Bible doesn’t contain that word; I checked the search engine on, in several translations.

Dictionar-ily Speaking . . .
In the latest Merriam-Webster dictionary, I found that the word “gifting” is a form of an obscure verb, dating back to 1550. Apparently, it is the basis for the word “gifted,” meaning to have an unusual ability, such as “a gifted artist.” This same usage is in the Oxford English Dictionary, the granddaddy of all dictionaries. Therefore, even though I at first proclaimed that “gift” is always a noun and never a verb, I now must admit that I was wrong.

Since it is a verb—albeit a verb seldom seen—my inner grammar program tells me that it could correctly be a gerund. A gerund is an “-ing” verb form used like a noun, for example, in the sentence “Swimming is fun.”

However! It seems to me to be one of those “made-up words” that we are so good at today, like “offloading,” “dictionarily,” and “blogging.” As TS pointed out, it seems to be used primarily by charismatic Christians (of which I am one), and not by anyone else in situations other than “spiritual gifting.” I found it was used several times in my favorite magazine, the Discipleship Journal.

My Theory
Here is my theory about the use of “gifting.” In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, a number of words with slightly different meanings are used to convey the sense of “gifts.” These nuances give the Greek words a richness, exactness, and depth that we do not have in the English “gift.” So I am guessing that whoever started speaking of “spiritual giftings” did so in an effort to manufacture some depth of meaning to convey a different understanding of the word.

I believe “spiritual gift” and “spiritual gifting” mean the same thing, although, to me, “gift” is more solid and real. If you feel you must say you have a “spiritual gifting,” go ahead; I will try not to be bothered by the use of “giftings.” I reluctantly concede that there is nothing grammatically wrong with it.

Greek Origins
In The Complete Word Study Dictionary, Spiros Zodhiates gives four different words that mean “gift.” I am not a Greek scholar, so I may be saying this wrong—but it appears to me that the several Greek words used in the New Testament beginning with “dor-“ have shades of difference in meaning, emphasizing in various ways the free nature of the gift and the benevolent intent of the giver.

But I am most taken by the fourth one: charisma. The first part, “charis-,“ means “grace,” so “charisma” means “a gift of grace.” In English, of course, we use “charisma” to mean a sort of personal magic or magnetism about someone to whom others are irresistibly drawn. It’s interesting to speculate on how it came to have this English meaning. Where the word appears in the New Testament, it is used only to indicate gifts that are specially imparted by God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. When we refer to “charismatic Christians,” we mean Christians who believe that the Holy Spirit still actively gives spiritual gifts, such as healing and prophecy.

Gift of Grace
Zodhiates says that charisma is used “specifically of the gifts imparted to the early Christians and particularly to Christian teachers by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31; 1 Pet. 4:10).” He explains that it refers to “the grace of God given in Christ Jesus.” And as 1 Cor. 1:7 tells us (in Zodhiates’ words), “Whoever has that grace is not lacking in any gift.” Amen.

Zodhiates, Spiros, ed. The Complete Word Study Dictionary. Chattanooga, TN: AMG International, 1992.

1 comment:

ts said...

so ... it is a proper word after all.

still, this is going to bug me until i find out how giftings was re-introduced in the "spiritual giftings" sense. eventually, i plan on finding out. and when i do, i'll let you know.

God bless!

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