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My question is motivated by an answer to a related question I asked on C.SE in regards to 1 Corinthians 14:1. Specifically, the linked answer argues that the Greek word πνευματικα (pneumatika) should more accurately be translated as "spiritualities" or "spiritual things", and that the inclusion of the word "gifts" is unwarranted and at best an speculative move by most translators. Here follow a few example translations:

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. [KJV]

Pursue the love, and seek earnestly the spiritual things, and rather that ye may prophecy, [YLT]

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. [ESV]

Pursue love, yet earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. [NASB]

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. [NKJV]

The translations above were obtained from https://www.biblegateway.com/. As you can see, Young Literal Translation opts for the spiritual things translation, in accordance with the linked answer. Also, NASB and NKJV have italicized the word gifts, indicating that the word was added by the translators to better convey what they thought the original author intended to say.

Question: Is the typical translation of πνευματικα (pneumatika) as "spiritual gifts" justified and accurate enough given the context of the verse? Or should we rather prefer the "spiritualities" or "spiritual things" translation, and if so, would we have to change the way we commonly understand this verse?

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  • I think this has been answered as best as possible, so I want to add a tid bit to this: that person's view of prophecy is very unbiblical. Prophets relayed direct messages from YHWH: they did not "speak to conditions" and read them as a sociologist would attempt to do. And prophecies weren't always about the future. When Nathan prophesied to David about the murder of Uriah, that was a past event that had to be revealed to him. Same with David and Nebuchadnezzer. The primary future example of the Messianic prophecies also disprove his view. He's trying to change the meaning to fit his doctrine.
    – The Wayist
    Sep 6 at 18:54
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First, the word πνευματικά is an adjective NOT a noun. It should and must be rendered, "spiritual" - an adjective. Clearly a noun of some sort is implied but the real question, what noun is implied?

The context, as usual, provides the answer.

An almost identical construction is given in 1 Cor 12:1 where we read, Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν = Now, about spiritual ... So what is the "..."? Verse 4 provides the word, χάρισμα = "gifts", which recurs regularly in the same chapter, V4, V7, V9, V28, V31.

Then we have in 1 Cor 13 - the great discussion of the best gift of all - "Love", ἀγάπη.

It is precisely for the reasons listed above, in view of the parallel construction in 1 Cor 12:1 (and V4) and 1 Cor 12:31, that most translators provide the same implied noun, χάρισμα (= gift) in 1 Cor 14:1.

That is, 1 Cor 14:1 picks up with almost the same sentence as 1 Cor 12:31 - eagerly desire spiritual gifts, except that in 1 Cor 14, the "gifts" are implied. let me set this out even more clearly:

  • 1 Cor 12:1 - Now, about spiritual [gifts] ... (compare V4, etc)
  • 1 Cor 12:31a - But eagerly desire the greater GIFTS.
  • 1 Cor 12:31b + 1 Cor 13 - discussion about love
  • 1 Cor 14:1 - ... eagerly desire spiritual [gifts] ...

By comparing these three salient verses, 1 Cor 12:1, 1 Cor 12:31, and 1 Cor 14:1, the implied noun in 1 Cor 12:1 and 1 Cor 14:1 following "spiritual" must be "gifts".

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  • Makes sense (+1). Someone down-voted this though, without giving any reason or posting a different answer of their own, unfortunately ... Aug 27 at 15:00
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    I don't think it follows that translations must map one part of speech to an identical part of speech in the target language in a word for word manner.
    – Robert
    Sep 6 at 21:08
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    @Robert - I completely agree. However, the point above is that "spiritual" is an adjective which must modify a noun; and the question is, what noun is implied?
    – Dottard
    Sep 6 at 21:30
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Should πνευματικα (pneumatika) in 1 Corinthians 14:1 be translated as "spiritualities" or "spiritual things" instead of "spiritual gifts"?

"Spiritual gifts" is the correct translation. Why? Paul wrote: "Pursue love, and earnestly desire the [pneu-ma-ti-ka], especially that you may prophesy." [ESV] Those Christians were already anointed with the holy spirit and so did not need to seek spiritualities. Hence Paul meant "gifts of the spirit" which he urged them to seek at the end of chapter twelve: 1 Cor. 12:30-31

1 Corinthians 12:30-31 NET

30 Not all have gifts of healing, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all interpret, do they?[a] 31 But you should be eager for the greater gifts. And now I will show you a way that is beyond comparison.[b]

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+25

Dottard's answer is definitive. Here I'll supplement a little.

1 Corinthians 14:

1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire Spiritual [something X], especially prophecy.

What is that X?

Whatever that X is, prophecy is included in it.

Romans 12:6

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;

According to Romans 12:6, prophecy is a gift received by grace (Spirit).

Should πνευματικα (pneumatika) in 1 Corinthians 14:1 be translated as "spiritual things" instead of "spiritual gifts"?

Both are okay but "gifts" is more meaningful and sounds better :)

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It is true, as has been noted in other answers, that the word "spiritual" in the Greek is an adjective. What has gone missing from the answers so far is that the word is preceded by a definite article which was not translated. Definite articles generally precede nouns.

There are times when a definite article can be used with an adjective or an adverb to create a noun.

Consider:

"The less, the better."

"The more, the merrier."

"Despite all that happened, she loved him all the more."

However, when an expression like this is used, it leaves it open-ended as to what exactly is referenced. If I say, "the less the better," one might ask "less of what?" Filling in the blank during translation is always a risk. It may not represent the author's intentions. If possible, it should be left with the reader to draw his or her own understanding, rather than force the meaning in a way that may prevent all who read it from knowing what it originally meant.

In the days of the KJV translation, English grammar was regarded precisely, and such a loose translation as "the spiritual," when "spiritual" was considered an adjective, may not have been acceptable. And the KJV has had a great deal of influence on subsequent translations. I think, however, that "the spiritual" might be the best option for today's English. It would allude to the gifts earlier mentioned, without limiting it to only that application.

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