The Gifts of the Spirit in Early Christianity

By Sean Finnegan

Gifts of the Spirit in General 

  • Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 82.1; 88.1 
  • Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 2.32.4 
  • Tertullian of Carthage, On Baptism 20 
  • Novatian of Rome, On the Trinity 29 
  • Apostolic Constitutions 8.1-2 

Speaking in Tongues and Prophecy 

  • Didache 11.7-12 
  • Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 5.6.1 
  • Tertullian of Carthage, Against Marcion 5.8; On the Soul 9 
  • Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity 8.33 

Montanism (Excursus) 

  • 165 - Montanus began speaking in tongues and prophesying, initiating a movement called the New Prophecy2 
  • Sayings of Montanus 
  •  “Behold, man is like a lyre and I fly to him like a plectrum. Man sleeps and I stay awake. Behold, the Lord is the one who throws human hearts into ecstasy and gives a heart to men.” (Panarion 48.5.1)3 
  • “I am the Lord God, the Almighty, who abide in man.” (Panarion 48.11.1) 
  •  “Neither angel nor envoy, but I the Lord God, the Father, have come.” (Panarion 48.11.9) 
  • Maximilla and Priscilla became prophetesses. 
  • The New Prophecy people emphasized obedience to God, asceticism, fasting, celibacy, and spiritual experiences. 
  • They rejected remarriage and any serious sin after baptism. 
  • They survived until the mid-sixth century when Justinian initiated a persecution in Pepuza.  


  • Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 30.3; 76.6; 85.2-3 
  • Tertullian of Carthage, On the Shows 29 
  • Origen of Alexandria, Against Celsus 7.4
  • Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 20-214  

Healing and Miracles 

  • Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 2.31.2 
  • Origen of Alexandria, Against Celsus 1.46, 67 
  • Cyprian, Letters 16.4.1; 39.1.2 
  • Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 14 
  • Apostolic Constitutions 8.26 

Disappearance with Time 

  • Causes for diminishment  
  • Reaction to Montanists’ emphasis on the spirit 
  • Constantinian shift watered down Christianity, resulting in the gifts mainly finding expression among the desert fathers and mothers. 
  • Rigidity of church services and authority solely among bishops and councils quenched the spirit. 
  • John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians 29 
  • Augustine of Hippo, Homilies on 1 John 6 


  • Christians throughout the first five centuries believed that gifts or charisms of the spirit were available to Christians. 
  • We have several reports of speaking in tongues as well as prophecy from the Didache, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hilary. 
  • In the second century, Montanus began a movement called the New Prophecy that emphasized the gifts of the spirit. 
  • New Prophecy leaders included female prophets such as Maximilla and Priscilla as well as a male theologian named Tertullian.  
  • Though excommunicated by many churches and persecuted by the government from Constantine onward, The New Prophecy movement endured for four centuries. 
  • Christians associated demons with the gods the pagans worshiped and confidently believed they had the power to drive them out. 
  • Casting out demons was standard operating procedure in churches both for first-time visitors and at baptisms. 
  • Miraculous healing, including raising the dead, was well-known to early Christians.  
  • Church orders said someone with the gift of healing would be obvious to all in the church. 
  • Over time, possibly due to a reaction against the Montanists, the Constantinian shift, or the rigidifying of church services, the gifts of the spirit diminished. 
  • By the fourth century, John Chrysostom said speaking in tongues and prophecy had ceased. By the fifth century, Augustine thought it silly to expect tongues. 
LHIM Weekly Bible Teachings
LHIM Weekly Bible Teachings
The Gifts of the Spirit in Early Christianity

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