Why can't we think of mind-reading as a spiritual gift?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: I read an article on telepathy and telekinesis at the Got Questions Ministries website and from what I gathered it said we're not to read minds and such. But what about the woman at the well who said Christ knew everything about her — and then she went and told everybody because of it? And after that, Christ told his disciples that they'd do miracles greater than these! Now, the Bible doesn't go into any detail about how all that played out, but what about prophecy in the latter days? Isn’t that a gift like mind-reading that we could have? Doesn’t disagreeing with this put you in that form of godliness while denying the power thereof? Isn’t that doubting God’s gifts? The Law didn’t stop Jesus from working his gifts on the Sabbath. So, if something is in our power to do it and we do not do it, that’s a sin. I’d like your feedback.

Answer: First, I stand by the Got Questions Ministries article.1 Christians should never participate in occult practices — which is what embracing mind-reading and telekinesis would be. Even the holiest and most well-intentioned person cannot Christianize activities that are evil at their core. You cannot use a God-colored paint to cover over a rotten structure… and then declare that structure sound. That would be dangerous! After all, just a few millimeters below the gloss lay corruption. Nothing cures rot, and nothing good can grow from an occult seed. So, if you are a Christian, let go of these types of things. 

That being said, your question persists because you used a flawed algorithm to work your Bible interpretation. You see, just because the Bible is “holy,” does not mean that you can take a decontextualized snippet, grow it in a petri dish, assume the result to be God’s whole truth… and then apply it to your life! One should instead approach the Scripture with the spirit of investigation and critical thinking because it takes more than some vaporous conclusions to challenge a plainly taught truth — and the plainly taught truth is that the Bible condemns occult practices (Leviticus 19:31, 20:6; Isaiah 47:13; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8).

It is true that Jesus challenged the legalistic excesses of his day. But note this well: he only challenged what the Law had become over the centuries, not what it really was. So, he clarified what the Law really meant… and then he fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17). But you want to overthrow the part of the Law that was not in question. Jesus did not challenge Leviticus 19:31 et al., and neither can you. As such, this does not qualify as a sin of omission.

I would be remiss not to mention the common rebuttal that God himself used a medium to rebuke King Saul (1 Samuel 28). This certainly sticks-out methodologically — and it should — because this is the exception that proves the rule. What’s the issue? God custom-crafted a punishment to fit Saul’s crime2… but he did so by deploying the object of Saul’s sin. Therefore, if God used a medium for the purposes of communicating, why couldn’t Saul?

Let’s not allow God’s bold, ironic… or dare I say theatrical… punishment to overshadow the story’s pillar: Saul committed a sin when he sought out the medium. But when God used that same woman to reflect Saul’s offense in kind, that was not God sinning (which even sounds silly); that was God teaching a lesson. But certainly… this was not permission for us to go and do likewise. Not everything that occurs in the Bible should be modeled by Christians.

Another problem that underlies your comments is the notion that reading minds could be a gift of the Spirit, and perhaps especially prophecy, under the right circumstances. This is simply not true; mind-reading is not a spiritual gift, nor could it become any natural extension of such gifts. Supernatural knowledge is the province of God. When people have that type of knowledge, it is a specially directed miracle, not a gift to be used at will.

It is God’s nature to know everything, and he alone is omniscient. But he can give people a moment of supernatural knowledge as a testimony to their world. He did this with both Joseph (Genesis 41:25) and Daniel (Daniel 2:27); they interpreted dreams for their kings — and this miracle of knowledge showed the power of their God. But this knowledge was not any manifestation of their giftedness (although they were both amply gifted in life, too). It was a miracle of God for an appointed moment — and when it was done, it was done.

As such, using special knowledge was no different than healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, raising the dead or making an ax head float: using the gift of supernatural knowledge let everyone know that God had sent the doer. Such a message would have practical value too, of course, but the doing-of-it was a sign from God. By way of contrast, mind-reading would never be a sign from God. In fact, any such activity would counter the normal use of a miracle.

The gifts of the Spirit, however, were largely for believers — those who no longer need a sign. After all, a believer should know that God is already at work (… which makes the charismatic excesses even more worrisome). So, except for the gift of tongues (which was also a strong testimony to those outside the church) the gifts of the Spirit existed to serve the Body of Christ — the Church.

What this means is that when believers exercised Spiritual gifts such as wisdom, knowledge or prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:8-11), that would not be the same as when God’s spokesperson exercised an instance of supernatural knowledge. Supernatural signs were given sparingly — and were used out in the general population. But the gifts of the Spirit were given totally; they were designed to be used in-house — and to serve the aggregate of believers. But are they still in play? 3

Whether or not the Spiritual gifts should continue after the New Testament was written is a secondary issue. Now, I am personally a cessationist … but with a twist: I am a practicable cessationist. What this means is, although I believe that the Spiritual gifts ceased after the Church matured, this is true only in a wholesale fashion — not “officially” or not like someone flipped a switch. I believe that where God’s word is taught and known, the Spiritual gifts would be redundant.

But there are plenty of cultures who know nothing about the Bible, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit… and who am I to limit God? God could be building up isolated Bodies of Christ all over the world that are the same as the original embryonic Church… I mean, why wouldn’t he do that? And if so, why not use the same methodology? But if I am correct that the Spiritual gifts have ceased in the main, then mind-reading would lose its ostensive godliness since it could not be a gift or an extension of one.

As you can see, the gifts of the Spirit are different in type, purpose, audience and density from the miracles… and you have confounded the two in your quest to make mind-reading the legitimate extension of a Spiritual gift. But confounding is only part of the problem. Your journey toward legitimacy skipped along the surface (or ran in the seams) of any substantive Bible information… and I must call you out on this. But before I begin let me say that I sense that you are an earnest seeker, and I want to encourage you in this. But in order for me to show you the problem with your methods in any reasonable amount of time, I will have to be a little terse. So, forgive the “tone” of the next few paragraphs… but if I sit here couching all my objections in words of kindness, we will be here until the Lord returns. So here goes.

You had started your postulation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4)… but by implying that Jesus was reading her mind. So you began by taking one of the most substantive teachings in the Bible (where Jesus revealed his Messiahship) and reduced it to a parlor trick — having Jesus read her mind. This is a dreadful abuse of the Scripture; nothing good can grow out of that… and nothing good did.

You went on to amplify the false premise that Jesus was a mind-reader by using his promise to the disciples that they would do greater things than he (hence the petri dish metaphor)… but by giving positive energy to the possibilities caused by a lack of information. The standard rules for reasoning don’t allow that.

Now, we must always take note when there is a lack of information, but it is methodologically absurd to build structures on nothingness… and this is just what you have done. You need biblical warrant for all postulations, not an information-vacuum to stuff whatever you want in there. If God designed the Scripture (and he did), then he also designed its seams and its silences. But seams were not designed for you to stuff things there; they are merely seams. And silence is not permission to fill it; it is merely silence. Now, seams and silence are indeed part of the language dataset, but that tells us that there is zero information at those locations; this is a constant, not a variable.

Then you went on some kind of charismatic guilt-trip about denying God’s power … but then exacerbated that error via a challenge that if we do not believe in this very odd construction of yours, that we do not believe in any of God’s gifts. And finally, you have ended your postulation with a false dilemma built upon sins of omission — that if we do not read minds, we are sinning by that lack.

So, that’s my feedback, and here’s the summary: you cannot Christianize occult practices; “iffy” scenarios cannot topple plainly stated truths; you cannot inject doctrine into, nor draw it out of, silence; miracles and Spiritual gifts are different entities.


  1. http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-telepathy.html
  2. https://www.mainsailministries.org/index.php/articles/devotional-2016/275-punishment-101-just-give-them-what-they-want.html
  3. http://www.gotquestions.org/cessationism.html (Please note that Got Questions Ministries and the various persons who respond to your questions may vary in opinion on secondary issues such as this one.)

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20160725 Mind-reading is not a spiritual gift).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)