WHEN THAT WHICH IS PERFECT HAS COME
WHEN THAT WHICH IS PERFECT HAS COME
“8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” (1Cor.13:8-10).
The passage above teaches a very important truth relative to the continuation of miraculous gifts – namely, that they have ceased to be among us! No human being is able to perform miracles today. However, our charismatic friends believe that these gifts are still with us – i.e., that men can still speak in tongues, prophesy, heal, and perform other miracles. Examples of charismatic groups include: The Assemblies of God, Church of God, and Pentecostal Church. In view of these two opposing beliefs, it is clear that somebody is wrong about this matter – and I believe it is our charismatic friends! While there are many arguments which show the charismatic movement to be in error, I believe this text in Corinthians is one of the most formidable. Let’s examine this text, and see what it teaches.
First, let us look at the enlarged context of this passage. Paul is discussing “spiritual gifts.” The discussion begins in chapter twelve (cf. 12:1), and extends through chapter fourteen. Chapter twelve tells us about the gifts, and how each Christian with his gift plays a role in the body of Christ. Paul reveals that there are nine spiritual gifts (v.7-11). Hence, we could say that this chapter provides an enumeration of the gifts. Chapter fourteen tells us about the need for some regulation of the gifts (cf. 14:26-40). Right in the middle of these two topics, chapter thirteen reveals the duration of the gifts (cf. 13:8-10). Now, let’s look at the details of verses 8-10.
Let us begin by noting that Paul clearly said these gifts WILL cease: “But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away” (1Cor.13:8). The words “fail… cease… vanish away” are synonymous. The three gifts cited stand for ALL the gifts by means of a figure of speech called a synecdoche – where a part is put for the whole. The “knowledge” of which he speaks is not knowledge in general, but refers to that knowledge which was given miraculously (cf. 12:8; 14:6).
Then, Paul reveals to us WHY they will cease: “For (i.e., because) we know in part and we prophesy in part” (v.9). This simply means that the miraculous gifts were given to reveal God’s will in bits and pieces, or part by part (cp. Jn.14:25-26; 16:12-13). Like all teaching, God revealed His will in measured doses, as tolerable; moving from milk to meat, until the whole was revealed (cp. Hb.5:12-14).
Finally, notice how Paul finishes his thought: “But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1Cor.13:10). The word translated “perfect” means “complete” (see NIV-2011). It is neuter gender, which is why it’s translated “THAT WHICH is perfect,” as opposed to “HE WHO is perfect.” Hence, it is not likely that this refers to Christ at His second coming, as is often asserted. Further, the “perfect” represents the goal toward which each “part” contributes. In other words, they had the knowledge of God given part by part until the whole, complete, or perfect will of God was revealed. Hence, IF God’s word has been completely revealed (and it has, cf. 2Pt.1:3; Jude 3), THEN the gifts have ceased! They have served their purpose – namely, to reveal and confirm the message of God. The point Paul makes in this this text is clear and strong!
To conclude, I will cite W.E. Vine, who had this interesting comment about the miraculous gift of “tongues” in the New Testament: “There is no evidence of the continuance of this gift after apostolic times nor indeed in the later times of the apostles themselves; this provides confirmation of the fulfillment in this way of 1 Cor. 13:8, that this gift would cease in the churches, just as would ‘prophecies’ and ‘knowledge’ in the sense of knowledge received by immediate supernatural power (cf. 14:6). The completion of the Holy Scriptures has provided the churches with all that is necessary for individual and collective guidance, instruction, and edification.”