A look at this topic from the charismatic and the biblical perspectives;
A word of knowledge is usually defined within charismatic circles as a specific piece of information that a person could not possibly have known naturally.
A word of wisdom would be by them defined as a direct supernatural act of the Holy Spirit granting wisdom to a 'specific' believer at a 'specific' time to deal with a 'specific' situation.
A biblical example often given is when Agabus took his girdle and tied it around Paul; he displayed a knowledge of what would certainly happen to Paul in the next few days. It was not something that could possibly be known naturally or by human intuition. It did not apply to any one else, and was very specific and fulfilled as foretold. Upon hearing, Paul used his judgment and continued his journey anyway. This type of leading is desired today and understandably so, humanly speaking. Of course, this is a prophetic utternance of sorts, not merely the impartation of truth, nevertheless it is worth a look:
“And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.”
We are faced with the question, of what such teachings mean in the context of today, with a cessation of "sign gifts" being evident (to our view-if the reader knows someone raising the dead, email us- we know a mortician who could be contacted). This places the present day desire for such manifestations in competition with the role of scripture. Ultimately the question has not to do with the cessations of all gifts, but the cessation of revelatory, prophetic, and even apostolic gifting. To illustrate our position, we would quote Jude 3 where in the primary sense of conveying new truth, the "word of knowledge" has ceased, because the Christian faith has been once for all delivered to the saints.
Two recommended articles, key at this juncture would be:
1. Are there apostles today? Click → here to read more
2. Are there prophets today? Click → here to read more
Charismatic thinking leads its followers to look for “words” from God outside the bible, rather than in the bible. As practiced today, this undermines biblical sufficiency. Scripture is not enough. There must be another word, a more applicable word for "me", even a word to "me" in the here and now of my impatient need. And scripture apparently is unable to perform that task. This results in biblical ignorance and a severely impaired ability to exercise true Christian wisdom. The latter comes about by being saturated with Christ and His word and knowing the mind of Christ through growth and maturity while the former seeks the shortcut, the here and now.
Here's the problem, in charismatic thinking God speaks through tongues, words of knowledge, and prophecy, to guide the believer. But this does not give the church or the individual an objective measure of discernment for determining whether in fact God is speaking or not. It is all jumbled up in the unobjective whim of my inner self, with its preferences and predilections. And as I rub shoulders with those like minded, we talk each other into this pathway and spur each other onward.
At the bottom is the desire for manifestations.
We knew a young man, who went to the meetings of a favorite well known teacher of this sort. There came the time when he managed to get on stage before this teacher, and upon the laying on of those hands and a spoken word to him, he felt the peer pressure to fall back and so he did. There was no real spirit manifestation here, there was a desire for something, no doubt. But this illustrates the pied piper mentality of such things. It was years later before he admitted this whole story. He is now a cessationist, believing in gifts, just not the "sign gifts" mentality of the words of knowledge/wisdom crowd.
We knew a woman, told more than once via a prophetic word, that she would be married by such and such time. The deadlines passed more than once. Where is the accountability? She remains unmarried.
We knew a man who received a "word" from the Lord that the unknown lady he could see across the venue would be his wife. Never mind that he and she both previously had a still living ex-spouse. But he took this word, and indeed married her. They were divorced soon thereafter. No grounding in God's word, it was all the whims of experience. And the heartache that follows, sigh.
We knew a fellow who got angry when told in a passing conversation that if a so called modern prophet gave a word that ended up being false just once, that he was a false prophet (according to the bible). The anger that arose in this man was shockingly swift in its rise (he was wont to be prophetic). We recently learned he has left his wife and child(ren) and gone off into an adulterous relationship. Not grounded at all, was he? Oh the heartache and sorrow that follows.
We recognize that the failure of men doesn't establish nor de-establish truth. But this scenario happens repeatedly in different garb, but the same root problems (or rootless problems we may say), and no one is held accountable for such falsehoods. Years go by, wasted years, until disillusionment and heartache set in, then what? The honest desire to "see God move" becomes vague and generalized over time, to account for the inevitable failure of these "words".
Summarizing the Dangers of the charismatic movement today in the area of prophetic words, words of knowledge, words of wisdom:
1. It breeds a kind of christianity that seeks "experiences" to determine what God has said, what He is saying, and for my future guidance. The Bible is jettisoned, or passed by as a secondary source at best. There is no objective measurement, no discernment, and no accountability. Is the Holy Spirit the author of such confusion? We think not. 1 Cor 14:33 tells us God is not the author of confusion.
2. A great many of the manifestations have parallels that can be seen in pagan cultures and have no objective point of reference to test them. Tongues are a good example, but these utterances bear a striking disorderly resemblance in both such places.
3. Specificity with regard to prophetic words and utterances, is rarely tested and proven, these words are often nebulous and lack accountability. The loose manifestations are far too often accompanied by a loose life.
A more biblical view:
We have given the negative, is there then no definition of what, today, are the equivalents (if any), for these words of knowledge and wisdom? With the cessation of revelatory prophets and apostles, the question of the validity today of words of wisdom and knowledge necessarily follow. Here we quote from William MacDonald in his highly recommended Believers Bible Commentary (Nelson) on 1st Corinthians:
The word of wisdom is the supernatural power to speak with divine insight, whether in solving difficult problems, defending the faith, resolving conflicts, giving practical advice, or pleading one's case before hostile authorities. We have a couple of real life examples:
A somewhat silly quarrel was brewing. A new copier by the church was needed but the old one was still working though its was in its last days. Some were against spending the money now, others were willing. Unhappy feelings erupted. A brother gave a word of wisdom, which was a suggeestion to take an offering, those wishing to give for a new copier would give and those not interested could refrain. Case closed, quarrel averted, by a word of wisdom. (Copier bought btw)
A troublesome situation with a troublesome brother, young and impetuous. What to do? Wringing of hands. An older brother with a word of wisdom suggested to simply "wait." It self resolved. To act would have been problematic, in this case waiting was acceptable.
The word of knowledge is the power to communicate information that has been divinely revealed. This is illustrated by Paul's use of such expressions as "Behold, I tell you a mystery" (1 Cor 15:51). In the primary sense of conveying new truth, this sort of knowledge has ceased, because the Christian faith has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The body of Christian doctrine is complete. In a secondary sense the word of knowledge would still be with us, where that knowledge is shared with others.
A good example would be something as simple (yet profound) as the Scofield Study Bible notes, which have been a tremendous help to multitudes of believers for a century now in grasping the coherency of the Bible and its message. This dear brother went to Switzerland for 2 years putting his study notes into a Study Bible format, that is now a blessing of knowledge indeed. The dispensational pattern of understanding divine revelation is such a helpful word of knowledge.
We would acknowledge that God delights to gives his children wisdom and impressions regarding His will, which we wisely take to the bar of scripture to test things as to their source (God, self, other). We do not promote here a sanitized Christianity apart from a real indwelling & guiding Holy Spirit, but we do see in the Word a very different ministry than the one so frequent in such circles seeking manifestations. God gives wisdom and knowledge to men today, with the scripture as the source, and the Holy Spirit as the illuminator thereof.
As stated before, this is ultimately a cessationist question, with regard to the sign gifts that are revelatory in nature.
In conclusion, one can see in this comparison, that one camp seeks some manifestations and something mystical. Not bad in and of itself and a natural human inclination, but it does so apart from an objective source of truth. The latter camp places a high value on the written word. In our view there has been a cessation of the miraculous sign gifts and that the gifted men with those miraculous sign gifts have ceased. God's sovereignty and actions remain His own, including the miraculous.
For the objector, we pose the following, if such gifts are in effect today, we need to see some raising of the dead by such men, which we do not. Keep in mind that we affirm that edification gifts are still in place, just not the revelatory/sign gifts, which as used today seem to be overriding and contradicting the written word of God - en masse.
All scripture is God breathed. St. Paul.
Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils. Isaiah