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Throughout church history, this gift has often been viewed as a teaching gift and connected with being able to understand scriptural truth. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines it as "the grace of propounding the Faith effectively, of bringing home to the minds and hearts of the listener with Divine persuasiveness, the hidden mysteries and the moral precepts of Christianity".
Among Pentecostal and charismatic Christians, the word of knowledge is often defined as the ability of one person to know what God is currently doing or intends to do in the life of another person. It can also be defined as knowing the secrets of another person's heart. Through this revelation, it is believed that God encourages the faith of the believer to receive the healing or comfort that God offers. For example, in a public gathering a person may describe a medical problem and ask anyone suffering from the described problem to identify themselves and receive prayer for healing. According to this definition, the word of knowledge is a form of revelation similar to prophecy or a type of discernment.
The apostle Paul, who wrote half the New Testament understood the word of knowledge in the context of the mystery religions of the day. Paul understood, and so did the Corinthians,that word of knowledge referred to supernatural knowledge in the tradition of the mystery religions. Only, he reoriented their understanding about spiritual gifts and the true God, and revealed to them the true context and source as God working through a Holy Spirit-filled people. Further evidence that Paul used the phraseology of the day is observed in the way he used the word gnosis (knowledge) in his other writings. For instance, Paul referred to Christ as the One “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Here, Paul was clearly redirecting his readers away from the popular belief that the gods—Apollo and Zeus—were the source of hidden wisdom and knowledge.
In 1 Corinthians 14:6 Paul used the term gnosis sandwiched between revelation, prophecy, and teaching. Again, in 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul placed gnosis in a context surrounded by the words prophecy, mysteries, and faith. By the way Paul positioned the word gnosis, J. J. Von Allman observed that it appears Paul invested the term with the significance of the supernatural, mystical knowledge of the Greek mystery religions of his time. In Ephesians 1:17–19, Paul again used the term gnosis (and wisdom) in the context of the revealed knowledge of God in Jesus Christ: “. . . the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him . . . that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:17–19)
In this verse, Paul emphasized the revelation of hidden wisdom and knowledge ready to be manifested in the lives of the believers. Aware of their frame of reference to the mystery religions, Paul again reoriented their understanding in the context of Jesus Christ as the revelation of true spiritual life through the medium of the Holy Spirit. It may be reasonably said that Paul’s use of the phrase “word of knowledge” to mean revelation of divine knowledge given by the illumination of the Holy Spirit in a moment of need.