There are three spiritual gifts lists in Scripture (Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; and 1 Corinthians 12:28), but only one of them mentions the gifts referred to as the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8). There is much confusion as to exactly what these two gifts are. Perhaps the best way to approach it is to describe what these gifts are not.
Some Charismatics/Pentecostals view the word of knowledge and word of wisdom spiritual gifts as the Holy Spirit speaking from one believer to another, giving revelation regarding a decision or situation. Those who use these gifts in that way will often say something to the effect of, “I have a word from the Lord for you.” In doing so, they claim to be speaking on behalf of God and claim that their words are to be strictly obeyed.
This understanding of the word of knowledge and word of wisdom gifts comes dangerously close to denying the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. If God continues to reveal His will and wisdom through special revelation to individuals, then can His Word truly be sufficient to make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17)? Has God truly given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), if we require other individuals to give us special revelation from God? This is not to say that God never uses another person to speak to us, but if we often need direct messages from God through other people in order to live our lives, is God’s Word truly sufficient, as it declares itself to be?
So, if the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge are not prophetic/revelatory gifts, just what are they? We know one thing for sure: these gifts are given by the Spirit to build up (edify) the body of Christ, for the “common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). The havoc that so often ensues in churches that practice the word of knowledge and word of wisdom as revelatory gifts clearly is not for the common good. Confusing, nebulous, and sometimes contradictory “words from the Lord” do not come from God, for He is not a God of confusion or disorder (1 Corinthians 14:33). Nor do they tend to bring Christians together for their edification; on the contrary, they tend to cause division and strife in the body. Often the word of knowledge and/or word of wisdom gifts are used to gain power and influence over other people, to make others dependent on the one who claims to possess those gifts. This misuse of the two gifts is clearly not of God.
With that in mind, we offer these definitions of the word of knowledge and word of wisdom spiritual gifts:
The word of wisdom – The fact that this gift is described as the “word” of wisdom indicates that it is one of the speaking gifts. This gift describes someone who can understand and speak forth biblical truth in such a way as to skillfully apply it to life situations with all discernment.
The word of knowledge – Also a speaking gift that involves understanding truth with an insight that only comes by revelation from God. Those with the gift of knowledge understand the deep things of God and the mysteries of His Word.