Discerning of Spirits

DISCERNING OF SPIRITS (kjv). The ability that the Holy Spirit gives to some Christians to discern between those who spoke by the Spirit of God and those who were moved by false spirits. The phrase occurs in 1Cor.12.10 as one of the gifts of the Spirit. The NIV renders “distinguishing between spirits.”


DISCERNING OF SPIRITS (διάκρισις πνευμάτων). The charismatic gift of determining the genuineness of allegedly divine messages and works.

It was recognized, not only in Christianity but also among other religious groups, that supernatural acts and utterances might come from evil as well as good sources. There was consequent need for a means of discerning the motivating spirits. The Early Church was plagued by false prophets (1 John 4:1) as Jesus and Paul had warned (Matt 7:15; Acts 20:28ff.). The outcome of predictions (Deut 18:22) or the evidence of fruit (Matt 7:15f.) could not always be waited for, and God’s true message must be quickly recognized and heeded (1 Thess 5:19-21).

1 John 4:1ff. applies a confessional test. The spirit in question must make a commitment to the orthodox belief in the deity and humanity of Christ (cf. v. 15). Further, there must be submission to apostolic authority (vv. 5f.), as well as evidence of Christian moral character (1 John, passim).

In 1 Corinthians 12-14 the concern is for edifying ministry. With free participation, only the divine charismatic gift of discerning of spirits could provide the needed control. Therefore the gift of discernment was given. 1 Corinthians 12:10 is the sole occurrence of the actual term “discerning of spirits.”