A History of Charisma by John Potts (auth.)

By John Potts (auth.)

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It also provides a setting for Paul’s definition of the term ‘charisma’: as an apostle, he himself is considered in Acts to possess these powers, which he will later include within the spiritual gifts – ‘charismata’ – available to all within the Christian faith. From the beginning, Acts associates the apostles with spiritual power and miraculous abilities. At the first Pentecost following Jesus’ crucifixion, the 12 apostles (with newcomer Matthias replacing Judas) are visited by a mighty wind of divine origin: And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each of them.

His Hellenistic examples were teachers who were at the same time charismatics, like Pythagoras and Empedeocles. Hengel notes that first-century Palestine was ‘particularly fruitful soil for propheticcharismatic movements of an eschatological stamp’,39 identifying among other figures Judas of Galilee, founder of the Jewish Zealot movement. For Hengel, the Jewish line of tradition – stretching back to the ancient prophets and including John the Baptist and Jesus – has the conviction that God bestows charisma on the prophets, and that the people are called to conversion through the mouths of those prophets.

11 The significance of this cultural belief has been downplayed by recent scholarship, which often has been concerned with defining Paul as a historical figure, supported by as much empirical accuracy as possible. This has imposed a perspective determined by contemporary beliefs and biases: sceptical, rationalist, dependent on verifiable documentary evidence. 12 The result evident in the accounts of Murphy-O’Connor and similar recent books is that the depiction in Acts of Paul’s miracle-working is entirely absent, while Paul’s own references to his miraculous powers, as in 1 and 2 Corinthians, are also neglected or quickly passed over.

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