What did Paul mean by the statement: “When the perfect comes, the imperfect will disappear”? (1 Corinthians 13:10)
The gift of speaking in tongues– Question 5
One of the most crucial passages regarding the subject of spiritual gifts is found in1 Corinthians 13where Paul wrote the following.
Love never ends. But as for the prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. Because we know only in part and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end (1 Corinthians 13:8-10NRSV).
In this passage he made a number of statements. It is important that you try to find out what they mean, as this has been a key text in the discussion of spiritual gifts.
How is this passage used in the cessationist non-cessationist debate?
This passage has been central to the debate between cessationists and non-cessationists on the question of the duration of certain spiritual gifts. Both parties see these verses as proof of their case for the cessation or continuation of the gifts of the Spirit.
Bible believers have understood this passage in various ways. They are next.
Paul is saying that certain gifts are only temporary.
Some cessationists have understood this passage to refer to the predicted time for the disappearance of certain spiritual gifts. Paul wants his readers to know that there will come a time when the sign gifts will no longer be needed. That's when "perfect" comes in. Perfect is understood to refer to the complete canon of Scripture or the cessation of divine revelation. In either case, these special gifts will only work until God has completed the revelation of him. Once completed, these temporary signs would no longer be needed.
Paul is saying that all spiritual gifts will last until Christ returns.
Non-cessationists also see this passage as a reference to the time when spiritual gifts will disappear. Since the perfect seems to be an obvious reference to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and his reign, the imperfect gifts will be necessary until now. Therefore, the gifts under discussion, prophecy, word of knowledge, and speaking in tongues, should not be used exclusively to confirm divine revelation before Scripture was completed. They have other uses for the church during this current age. Consequently, this passage is a clear indication that all the gifts will continue until the perfect kingdom of Christ appears.
The passage is silent about when the spiritual gifts will cease.
There is another perspective that says that Paul's purpose was not to discuss the duration of spiritual gifts. In other words, he did not have in mind the time when certain spiritual gifts would be withdrawn. Contrary to the assumptions of many cessationists and non-cessationists alike, when Paul said that we know in part and we prophesy in part, he was not comparing ways of acquiring knowledge through spiritual gifts such as the gift of prophecy and the gift of the word of knowledge. . . . Rather, Paul is comparing the imperfect states of knowledge that believers now have with the knowledge that everyone will one day have and perfect or complete knowledge.
His point is that all believers today have a limited knowledge of Jesus Christ. However, one day our knowledge will be complete, although not exhaustive. The issue of the duration of the gifts is not on your mind. Therefore, it is wrong for either party, cessationist or non-cessationist, to use this passage to determine when spiritual gifts should cease. The answer to that question must be determined elsewhere.
There are three important issues involved in this discussion.
With these different views on what Paul is saying in this passage, we can simplify things to three basic questions that need to be answered. They are next.
- What are the meanings of the terms imperfect and perfect as used by Paul here?
- What is the nature of the spiritual gifts being discussed? Are they temporary or permanent?
- Is Paul trying to specify how long certain spiritual gifts will last in this passage, or is he saying something else?
Question 1: The different points of view on the meaning of the perfect and the imperfect
There have been a number of opinions about the meaning of the term "perfect". They include: the complete canon of Scripture, the completion of divine revelation, the maturity of the body of Christ, and the return of Christ. We will examine each of these options.
Option 1: Perfect refers to the entire canon of Scripture: some gifts will cease
One view views perfect as referring to the complete canon of Scripture. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians (around AD 56), there were several books of the New Testament that still needed to be written. These include 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Titus, 1 and 2 Timothy, Philemon, Hebrews, Jude, 1 and 2 Peter, and the Book of Revelation. It is also possible that none of the four gospels have been completed at this time. Therefore, the New Testament Scriptures were just beginning to be written.
Consequently, believers in Jesus Christ had only “a part” of the New Testament revelation that God would give them. When the last book of the New Testament was written, God's revelation to humanity was complete. So there was no need to add anything else. Since God has already told humanity everything necessary for salvation and godly living, there is no need for any more words from God. The revelation was then "perfect" or complete.
Furthermore, we find that the perfect is compared to the imperfect or incomplete. At that particular time, the early church had an incomplete or imperfect knowledge of Jesus Christ. It was not until the New Testament was complete that they got the full picture of Him. Therefore, the perfect refers to the complete written canon of Holy Scripture; the Old and the New Testament.
While the New Testament was being written, God provided a series of temporary gifts for believers to use. These sign gifts helped them understand certain New Testament truths. These temporary gifts included the three that Paul mentioned: prophecy, word of knowledge, and speaking in tongues. Each of these gifts was given for the specific purpose of confirming New Testament revelation.
This view assumes that these mentioned gifts were for God's specific purpose of giving divine revelation to His people before the New Testament was completed.
The perfect cannot refer to Christ
It is argued that "perfect" in this context cannot refer to Jesus Christ because the words for telion in Greek are in the neuter gender. If Paul was referring to a person, he would not have meant it that way. Therefore, the subject must be something other than Christ.
These reasons have led many to assume that Paul was referring to the entire canon of Scripture when he said that the imperfect would pass away and then the perfect would come. He makes sense in the context and explains why the Lord gave certain miraculous spiritual gifts for a limited time.
Responder a Canon Ver
There are a number of objections that have been raised against the canonical view. They include the following.
How do we know what was on Paul's mind?
Those who hold to the canonical view believe that this is what Paul had in mind when he spoke of "perfect." However, how can anyone know what was going through Paul's mind? Unless he tells us specifically what he was referring to, we simply cannot know. It is impossible to know what he was thinking.
Nothing in the context indicates that he is speaking of all of Scripture.
Also, there is absolutely nothing in the context to indicate that this is what he meant. The Greek words to telion mean "the end, purpose, or completion." There is nothing inherent in the meaning of this word that speaks of a concept of written Scripture. This interpretation of "perfect" meaning "canon" must be read into the passage.
Paul, who received direct revelation, had only partial knowledge
The Apostle Paul received direct revelation from Jesus. He described his doctrine as follows.
Because I did not receive it from a human source nor was it taught to me, but it came to me by revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12HCSB).
Although Paul received direct revelation from the Lord, he could only speak as if he had "partial knowledge." Everyone will admit that the Bible does not tell us everything we would like to know about God. Therefore, even with the complete Scriptures, our knowledge is still only partial. So would you speak of the Scriptures as "completed" or "completed"? Even with the revelation that God has given us in the Scriptures, our knowledge of Him is anything but complete.
He assumes that these three gifts were only for the purpose of giving revelation.
The canon view assumes that the gifts mentioned were given specifically as a means to reveal God's Word to His people before the Scriptures were completed. This assumption, however, does not appear to be supported by the facts. While these gifts may have been used to reveal God's truth to his people, they certainly had other uses.
For example, the gift of prophecy was used for other purposes. Paul wrote about this to the Corinthians. He says.
On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their edification, exhortation and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3 NIV).
In this case, the gift of prophecy is to edify, encourage, and comfort believers in Jesus Christ.
The gift of tongues was also used for private prayers. Paul wrote the following to the church in Corinth.
Because if I pray in a foreign language, my spirit prays, but my mind is barren (1 Corinthians 14:14NRSV).
There does not seem to be any "sign" value in this use of the present tense.
Therefore, these gifts may have been randomly selected by Paul to illustrate the superiority of love over all gifts. In other words, he simply used these three gifts as representative of all spiritual gifts, instead of trying to tell us when they would stop working.
This visualization is of recent origin.
The view that perfect refers to the entire canon of Scripture is of relatively recent origin in church history. Although this is not determinative of whether it is true or false, it is something that should be observed. If "perfect" were a reference to the canon of Scripture, we would expect several commentators on church history to have held this view. However, this is not what we found.
This vision is a reaction to the abuse of gifts
Some feel that the canonical view was a reaction to the abuse of certain spiritual gifts. Instead of insisting that those exercising the gifts simply had to obey the rules given in Scripture, it was claimed that these sign gifts ceased at the end of the first century. Declaring the gifts no longer worked solved the abuse problem. This, then, is an example of creating a new doctrine to deal with a contemporary problem. This is not how doctrine should be developed.
These reasons have led many to reject the canon view as the proper understanding of "perfect". It doesn't seem to fit the evidence.
Option 2: Perfect refers to the end of divine revelation: some gifts will cease
There is a view similar to the canonical view. The "perfect" that the apostle Paul had in mind was not the complete canon of Scripture, but the end of divine revelation. Once God completed the process of revelation to humanity, these particular gifts, prophecy, knowledge, and tongues, were no longer needed. His purpose for these gifts had been completed.
The same basic objections would apply to this view as to the "canonical view." Basically, it assumes that the three gifts mentioned were for the purpose of giving divine revelation before there was a written Word from the Lord. However, this seems to limit the ways in which these gifts were used in the New Testament.
Option 3: The perfect refers to the maturation of the Body of Christ: some gifts may then cease
There is also the perspective that the perfect refers to the maturation of the body of Jesus Christ, the church. It is argued that this maturation of the church occurred after the apostolic age, but some time before the Second Coming of Christ. Support for this view is that Paul used the same Greek word elsewhere for Christian maturity.
Also, the illustration you used comparing childhood to maturity illustrates the point. The church in its infancy was like a child. When the church emerged from its infancy, it no longer needed some of the original gifts; he had reached a stage of maturity.
Problems with maturing vision of the Body of Christ
While this point of view has its supporters, it also has some problems. When did the body of Christ mature? Can anyone say that the church today is in a mature state? If this is the correct understanding of what Paul had in mind, then he seems to argue that all spiritual gifts must still exist today, for the church is certainly not mature!
Option 4: The perfect refers to the return of Christ: no gift will cease until then
Another popular point of view considers that the perfect refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ. The evidence for this view can be summarized as follows.
The return of Christ fits the context
There are a number of reasons why this point of view makes sense. For one thing, it fits into the context of what the apostle Paul was writing about. Paul speaks of the return of Christ in this context. He wrote.
For the moment we see ourselves in a mirror in an enigma, but then we will see each other face to face. Now I only know in part; then I shall fully know, just as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12NRSV).
Paul spoke of seeing Jesus face to face. We will only see him face to face when he returns.
John wrote about this wonderful promise. He put it this way.
Beloved, we are now children of God; and what we will be has not yet been revealed, but we know that when he appears, we will be similar to him, because we will see him as he is.1 John 3:2 NIV).
Only then will the limited spiritual gifts disappear. Until then, all that God has given to believers is necessary for the church to use.
This is consistent with what Paul had previously written about the gifts to the Corinthians. At the beginning of the letter he wrote.
He enriched his church with the gifts of eloquence and all kinds of knowledge. This shows that what I told you about Christ is true. You now have all the spiritual gifts you need as you await the return of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:5-7 NLT).
Paul said that spiritual gifts are needed as people wait for Christ's return. This is another indication that they will continue until He returns.
Problems with the vision of the return of Christ
Although this is a popular opinion, objections have been raised against it. Some feel that the analogy Paul gave of looking through a mirror does not loosely fit the reference to Christ's return.
Option 5: The perfect refers to the return of Christ: some gifts may cease before that
There are some who hold that Paul was referring to the return of Jesus Christ when he spoke of the "perfect," but they feel that this does not necessarily mean that all the gifts will continue until that time. Some argue that this passage says nothing about when these gifts will cease.
Problems with this view
While this view is possible, there is nothing in the context to suggest that any of the gifts would cease before the perfect one arrived. In fact, it clearly says that they will cease when the perfect one comes.
How do these visions relate to the issue of exclusive gifts?
Those who hold the view that perfect refers to the complete canon of Scripture, or the completion of divine revelation, believe that certain gifts, known as the sign gifts, have already ceased.
The view that the perfect refers to the maturation of the body of Christ can support any position regarding the so-called sign gifts. In other words, these gifts may or may not have ceased with the maturation of the body of Christ.
Most of those who hold that the perfect refers to the coming of Christ believe that the gifts will remain until his return. However, there are some who hold this view who claim that this passage does not necessarily say that all gifts must continue until Christ comes. They claim that some of the gifts may cease before Christ returns.
Others argue that there is nothing in this discussion that directly answers the question of whether or not certain spiritual gifts remain.
Question 2: What is the nature of the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues?
In determining what Paul meant by "perfect," we must also understand what Paul meant by these three spiritual gifts he used in this passage: prophecy, knowledge, and tongues. Was he referring to speaking in tongues, prophecy, and knowledge as the supernatural means God was using to reveal his Word to mankind? Were you limiting its use to just that purpose?
If that is what you had in mind with these gifts, then they have ceased because the New Testament is complete. There is no need for more revelation from God.
However, if he were not thinking of these gifts only as God's means to complete His revelation to humanity, then these gifts would not necessarily cease. It is possible that they will continue throughout the church age.
Question 3: Is Paul trying to tell us when the spiritual gifts will cease in this passage?
The final issue we will examine is, in a sense, the most important. Almost all of the arguments surrounding what Paul means in this passage assume that he is trying to pinpoint the time when certain spiritual gifts will cease. However, we must ask ourselves: “Is this assumption valid?” His discussion may not have anything to do with when spiritual gifts may or may not cease.
When Paul says that the perfect will come, he seems to be referring to the time when Christ will return. However, this may be irrelevant to the question of the duration of spiritual gifts. This is because his emphasis seems to be on our present imperfect knowledge, which he compares with our future knowledge, which will be perfect or complete.
All believers agree that when Christ comes, our knowledge will be more complete or greater than our present incomplete knowledge. If this is what Paul is emphasizing, then the timing of spiritual gifts ceasing is not an issue.
When he said that prophecy, knowledge, and tongues would cease, he was merely illustrating the fact that they would be unnecessary when Christ comes. This is because our knowledge will be more complete.
So, its topic is the state of knowledge that we have now with the state of knowledge that we will have. It is not saying anything about how this knowledge is acquired or when the methods for acquiring this knowledge will end. Paul is emphasizing that our incomplete state of knowledge will end, not that spiritual gifts will end.
If this is what Paul had in mind, then this passage has nothing to do with how long spiritual gifts will be used. It is simply comparing the imperfect, our present knowledge, with the perfect, our future knowledge when Christ returns.
In short, if Paul is writing in this passage about our current content of knowledge, which is limited, as opposed to what we will have in the future, more complete knowledge, then he is not addressing the time when spiritual gifts they will arrive. stop working. .
Objections to this view
Some argue that Paul is talking about the act of prophesying, the act of receiving and giving knowledge, and the act of speaking in tongues, not the content of these acts. The verbs used in verse 8 assume that something happened that caused these things to stop. It is the act that ceases, not the content that ceases. The content of a message may be complete or incomplete, but it cannot stop working.
So Paul is talking about the various acts of prophesying, giving and receiving knowledge, and speaking in tongues, spiritual gifts, when referring to the imperfect. Consequently, this passage has in mind the issue of when spiritual gifts will cease.
It is interesting to note that both cessationists and non-cessationists argue in this way. In other words, they each say that this passage answers the question of whether or not these spiritual gifts will cease to operate. However, they come to the exact opposite conclusion of what Paul meant!
All of these views are held by good, Bible-believing Christians.
Our final point is to emphasize that there are good Bible-believing Christians who hold each of these views. The problems are complex. Consequently, any position we take on this issue must be held with humility and grace.
So we must realize that there will always be many good people who differ from our point of view; No matter what it is. This must be understood and appreciated.
Summary - Question 5
What did Paul mean by the statement: “When the perfect comes, the imperfect will disappear”? (1 Corinthians 13:10)
em1 Corinthians 13:10Paul mentions three spiritual gifts; prophecy, knowledge and speaking in tongues. He stated that there will come a time when these gifts will no longer exist. Paul said that when the perfect comes, these partial things will be done away with.
This passage has been seen to have important implications regarding the subject of spiritual gifts. In fact, those who believe the gift of tongues is still in operation, as well as those who believe it has ceased, look to this verse for support. The problems can be stated simply as follows.
First, there is the meaning of the word perfect. What are you talking about?
Some feel it is a reference to the full canon of Scripture. When the written Scripture is complete, these temporary gifts are withdrawn. In response to this, there is nothing in the context to indicate that Paul had the canon in mind when he spoke of "perfect." Others believe that Paul was speaking of divine revelation when he wrote about "the perfect one." Once God revealed his last words to humanity that would become the Holy Scriptures, there was no longer a need for certain gifts. This includes the gift of speaking in tongues.
This view has the same problems as the previous one. Nothing in the context seems to refer to divine revelation.
There is an opinion that Paul was talking about the maturation of the body of Christ, the church. When the church reached maturity, the Lord would withdraw certain gifts of the Spirit. Once again, there is nothing in the context to indicate that this is what he was writing about. Also, when did the New Testament church come of age? One of the most popular views sees it referring to the coming of Christ. Jesus will complete or perfect all that he has begun to do. Interestingly, there are people on both sides of the tongues issue who believe this is what Paul had in mind.
One side says that all gifts are needed until Jesus Christ returns to earth. They believe this is Paul's point. These gifts are to be used only until then, because there will be no need for them when Jesus returns. However, they will not be withdrawn before this period.
In response, the other side says that even if the coming of Christ is in sight, it does not necessarily mean that all spiritual gifts will continue until that time.
There is also the perspective that Paul was not referring to the time when spiritual gifts would cease. What he was doing was using certain spiritual gifts to illustrate the incomplete knowledge that we now have. In other words, these gifts were for illustrative purposes only; he was not trying to teach us when they would cease to exist.
This is a complicated issue with Bible-believing Christians holding each of these views. So since good Christians differ, it is not a test of a person's spirituality how they interpret what Paul means here.
Any position one takes on this matter must be held with grace and humility. In fact, there is still much that each of us can learn on this subject.