What is the difference between the Word of Wisdom and the Word of Knowledge? There is much confusion and debate about what these words mean, so it may be better to approach this from a different angle – what these gifts are not and how some Christians today are coming dangerously close to ignoring Scripture because of their misuse of these two gifts.
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-8).
First Corinthians 12:8 is the only verse in the New Testament that talks about the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge. So it is important to look at it in context. Notice how Paul is emphasising that there are diversities of gifts, ministries and activities, but it is the same Spirit and the same God who works throughout. The purpose, of course, for the manifestation of the Spirit, is that each one of us should profit by these gifts. For as we have learned, the gifts of the Spirit are meant for building up and edifying the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).
With that in mind, let us look to the Old Testament for our example on how the Spirit of Wisdom operated. Since God is unchanging we can be confident that the Spirit of Wisdom He bestowed on people in the Old Testament is the same Spirit we see manifested today.
The Spirit of Wisdom:
So you shall speak to all who are gifted [the KJV interprets “gifted” as “wise-hearted” or “skilled”] artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments, to consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest (Exodus 28:3, NKJV, emphasis mine).
The Spirit of Wisdom involved a certain skill, knowledge or understanding on a particular subject. In this case, it was the skill of designing artistic works. The men who had been blessed with this talent, were given an extra measure of wisdom to encompass all manner of artistic workmanship.
The Greek word for wisdom used in 1 Corinthians 12:8 and throughout the New Testament is sophia and it is taken from the root word sophos which means “skilled expert”. This did not just mean someone involved in making things with their hands. A “skilled expert” was a person who had first-hand knowledge and/or talent in a certain field. For example, a “skilled expert” could also be someone who is well-versed in theology. But the Spirit of Wisdom had many characteristics.
Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses (Deuteronomy 34:9, NKJV).
Chokmah is the Hebrew word for “wisdom”. It means many things –skill, shrewdness, or wisdom in administration, prudence (in religious affairs) and wisdom in ethical or religious matters. This word comes from the root word chakam which means to “act wisely, teach or instruct.”
And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore (1 Kings 4:29, NKJV). Solomon was given such an overflowing gift of wisdom that he was known far and wide as the wisest man in all the earth (1 Kings 4:30; 1 Kings 4:34; 1 Kings 10:23).
Wisdom, getting it and keeping it, is stressed over and over again in both the Old and New Testaments. Proverbs 4:7 says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” The Hebrew word for understanding is biynah and means “discernment or knowledge”.
Wisdom is gifted by God to anyone who asks for it:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).
The Spirit of Wisdom given to believers is different from those of unbelievers according to 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. In fact, God says the wisdom of this world is foolishness (1 Corinthians 3:19). So the Spirit of Wisdom has many aspects to it and has more insight or discernment than say someone who is “wise” in the eyes of the world. To be clear, there is a difference between intelligence and wisdom. Intelligence is defined as “general cognitive problem-solving skills. A mental ability involved in reasoning, perceiving relationships and analogies, calculating, learning quickly… etc.” Whereas wisdom is defined as “having experience, knowledge and good judgment.” In the case of the Spirit of Wisdom we might also add insight and discernment, especially in areas concerning God’s Word.
So what is the gift of knowledge?
The Hebrew word for knowledge is da`ath and it means “discernment, perception, understanding and wisdom”. In 1 Corinthians 12:8 the Greek word for knowledge is gnosis and means “a seeking to know, an enquiry or investigation, especially of spiritual truth”. You can see how both the word of wisdom and word of knowledge are different, but at the same time complement each other. The gift of knowledge comes with the desire to know. People with this gift love to get to the “meat” of the Bible, digging deeper to understand hidden truths. And the gift of wisdom comes from all that digging. Or in the case of someone with a skill set it comes from the desire to learn more about a certain trade or skill - which would require practice. Do you understand what I’m saying here? Wisdom when applied to a skill set as in the artists who worked on the Temple, comes from years of practising that craft. Wisdom when applied to teaching from the Bible comes from years of reading it. Knowledge produces wisdom. In each case God grants spiritual insight and discernment when using the word of wisdom. Likewise it is the same with the word of knowledge. The word itself means to “seek to know” – it’s looking for answers – and God grants those answers and wisdom is gained.
What the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge are not:
They are not prophetic or revelatory gifts. There are some who believe that the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom is the Holy Spirit giving them a special message speaking from one believer to another, or to the congregation as a whole. For example, they will often say something like, “I have a word from the Lord for you.” They believe that these gifts are used to give special revelation regarding a decision or a situation. But by using these gifts in this way they are effectively claiming to be speaking for God and that their words are to be obeyed or considered as directly from God’s mouth. Unfortunately, by doing this they are denying the sufficiency of Scripture. For God’s Word says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
So if someone says they are getting a word from the Lord the focus is now taken off of the Scriptures and put on the person with the message. Be wary of people who say they have a word from the Lord for you. For there is no way for you to verify it. It is their word against God’s Word. Always turn to the Scriptures for guidance. For if God has truly given us His Holy Spirit and His Holy Spirit fills us and leads us into all truth (John 16:13) why would we need or require other individuals to give us special revelation from God? This is why God freely gives wisdom to all who ask (James 1:5) so that we do not have to doubt.
Scripture confirms that the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge are not revelatory gifts. The Greek for “word” in 1 Corinthians 12:8 is logos and it means all manner of things. From something someone has said or declared in a speech, to someone coming alongside and saying “May I have a word?” Logos is used in talking about the sayings of God, to teach doctrine, to reason, to give an account, or it is used for the actual act of speaking. It is also used in reference to Jesus as being The Word of God (John 1:1). Which makes sense because Jesus “speaks forth for God and about Him.” He was and still is God’s voice for us through Scripture. In short, “the word of wisdom” and “the word of knowledge” would be more accurately translated in today’s language as “speaking with wisdom” or “speaking with knowledge”.
To be clear, I am not saying that God doesn’t use people to help us when seeking His will, because He does. For it is often people, combined with circumstances and Scripture, who help us see the way we should go in a certain matter. The Holy Spirit will often cause someone to pray for or reach out to another. That individual might not know why they feel compelled to pray – but in obedience they do and later find out from the individual they prayed for why God nudged them. Have you ever experienced that? I know I have. I have woken up in the middle of the night with a strong impression to pray for a certain person. Then I find out the next day what that person was going through and how desperately they needed prayer. So, yes, God does use His people to nurture and care for each other. Since all believers are linked via the Holy Spirit, we are more attuned to respond to His promptings when another in the body is in need.
This is why all spiritual gifts are to be used for the edification of the entire church body – to build them up in the Lord. That is their purpose. And it is why the gifts of wisdom and knowledge are given to all who ask and seek. For God wants you to know Him and promises that those who seek will find Him and those who ask for wisdom will receive it (Matthew 7:7; James 1:5).