As a young lad among Pentecostals these words were quoted often:

“For I long to see you so that you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end you may be established…”

Pentecostals lay hands on people for whom they are praying (or point hands) sometimes symbolizing a transfer of power or giftedness from one person to another. Photo by Craig Brewer (click for source)

This is Romans 1.11 from the KJV. For Pentecostal readers familiar with Paul’s discussion of the charismata in 1 Corinthians this appears to be evidence that one person can transfer a spiritual gift to another person. So if person A has the gift of healing he can “impart” it to person B. Suddenly, person B has this gift of healing.

Now, it would be fair to mention that in some circles this passage was read to speak of an ability given to particularly amazing people. So if there was a traveling preacher who was considered to have prophetic abilities he may qualify, or a legendary missionary to Africa or the Philippians may qualify, because like the Apostle Paul they are exalted in the community.

I’m not sure that Paul is talking about giving people the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians though. The statement is vague enough to allow that interpretation, I suppose, but it seems to me that Paul explains himself. Let me know what you think of this:

Paul is telling the Christians in Rome that he desires to preach the Gospel in their midst and that he has tried to travel their direction (v. 13). He has heard positive reports about the community in Rome (v. 7) and this has motivated him to go to Rome himself. In going to Rome Paul hopes for two things:

(1)  He wants to meet the church in Rome so that he can impart “some spiritual gift” to them (v. 13a).

(2)  He wants to preach the Gospel in Rome creating new converts (v. 13b, 15)

The phrase ἵνα τι μεταδῶ χάρισμα ὑμῖν πνευματικὸν is vague. He wants to give a “gift” to the Romans (χάρισμα) that is “spiritual” (πνευματικὸν): language that does sound like 1 Corinthians. But is this meant to be a universal statement about sharing spiritual gifts like prophecy and healing? Well, the word translated “impart” or “give” is μεταδῶ, which does have the connotation of giving a bit of something you have to another, i.e., sharing something like bread or an extra garment from your wardrobe. So I can see where Pentecostals types derive their reading in that sense.

It is the following clarifying statement that leads me to think that their interpretation may be a misunderstanding. Paul describes what he means by “imparting” a “spiritual gift” in the next sentence. In v. 12 he writes, “now that is” (τοῦτο δέ ἐστιν) using the conjunction δέ in such a way that it leads me to read this as Paul’s own explanation of “spiritual gift”, which he describes as “mutual encouragement” or “encouragement together” (συμπαρακληθῆναι). The rest of v. 12 focuses upon the faith that Paul shares with the Romans. Since Paul is a Christian he will find encouragement from the Romans and the Romans will find encouragement from a visit by Paul—this is the spiritual gift.

Is it possible that Paul is presenting a principle of spiritual gift sharing for the church that this time happens to be the “gift of mutual encouragement”? Maybe, but I think it is safe to say that Paul’s definition of his own word limits exegetes who think they may have found some insight into Paul’s understanding of how one may receive a “spiritual gift”, like those mentioned in 1 Corinthians.

Thought? How do you read this passage?