I grew up at a time when Pentecostalism was highly controversial in the Churches of Christ. Many churches split over the issue. As a result of the controversy, the Churches had to develop a response to the question of whether tongues and other miraculous manifestations are still available in the church.
Among many arguments made, 1 Corinthians 13 was interpreted as stating that miracles were to end upon the completion of the New Testament, variously dated around the end of the First Century.
(1 Cor. 13:8-13) Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection [KJV: that which is perfect] comes, the imperfect disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Clearly, this passages speaks of a time when tongues, knowledge, and prophesy will end, this being when the perfect thing comes.
It’s further argued that following Judgment Day, faith and hope will end, as they will be fully realized, but love will continue. Hence, there are two points in time under consideration. First, the arrival of the completed New Testament, which will end the need for prophecy, miraculous knowledge, and tongues. Second, the end of time, which will end the need for faith and hope, leaving only love.
The argument is not without its appeal. However, I just can’t persuade myself that it holds up. For example, there’s nothing in v. 13 that suggests a temporal significance to love’s superiority. It’s the “greatest,” not the longest lived. Nor does the fact that these three “remain” necessarily mean they will last longer in human history than miracles.
Perhaps Paul is speaking not of the coming of the New Testament but of the maturation of the individual Christian. After all, this certainly seems to be the thought of v. 11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
It’s easy to object to this idea. When I’m mature, will I see God face to face? Isn’t that something that will happen only in heaven? Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s take a fresh look and see where it takes us.
First, we have to consider the word translated “perfection” or “that which is perfect”–teleios. It’s a fairly common word in the New Testament and is nowhere else is Paul’s use of the word translated this way. Teleios is translated variously in the New Testament, but Paul seems to always use it to mean maturity, particularly in 1 Corinthians.
(1 Cor. 2:6) We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.
(1 Cor. 14:20) Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.
This appears to be typical of Paul’s vocabulary–
(Phil. 3:15) All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
(Col. 1:2Cool We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. [Surely “mature” would have been a better translation.]
(Col. 4:12) Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.
Translating “the perfect” as “maturity” in 1 Cor. 13 is not without difficulties, but it suits Paul’s thought and vocabulary much, much better than the notion he’s talking about the New Testament.
Even more persuasive, at least to me, is the parallel between 1 Cor. 13:8-14 and Eph. 4:11-13–
(Eph. 4:11-13) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
“Mature” again translates teleios. Paul urges his readers to obtain “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” as something that might be accomplished in this earthly existence as a result of “works of service” leading to being “built up” and “unity” and “knowledge of the Son of God” and maturity.
It’s truly hard to imagine actually attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ while living in these earthen vessels. But that’s what the book says. And this gives a clue to Paul’s similarly ethereal language in 1 Cor. 13.
Consider what 1 Cor. 13 would say if we translated teleios as maturity, as surely must be the case.
One implication would be that miraculous gifts are manifestations of immaturity, rather than maturity, which makes sense. After all, the Corinthian church was about as immature as you can imagine a church being! And we see in Acts that tongues were given immediately upon baptism–to the immature. No one is seen praying or working for tongues. Rather, it’s a gift given to new Christians.
Moreover, references to miraculous powers decline in the later New Testament writings. 1 Corinthians, for example, is likely the earliest of the books to have been written, and it’s the book where miracles among Christians are most prominently featured. Meanwhile, Romans and Ephesians are much later works, and they give very little prominence to miraculous manifestations.
The greatest difficulty with this translation is Paul’s statement in 13:12 that “then” we shall know “face to face”–but in Ephesians 4 Paul promises “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” which is equally hard to imagine happening in this life.
He may be speaking of a theoretically possible but practically impossible ideal. Or he may be conflating our maturation with the ultimate result of maturation. After all, he says earlier in Ephesians–
(Eph. 2:6) And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
In one sense, we’re ALREADY in heaven, sharing Christ’s throne! It doesn’t always feel that way, but it’s nonetheless true.
Maybe a better sense of Paul’s thought is found in 2 Cor. 3–
(2 Cor. 3:18) And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Paul’s argument is that the glory of Moses’ face, which came from talking with God “face to face” (Ex. 33:11), is much less than the glory experienced by Christians. Moses’ glory faded after he left the presence of God, but we never leave God’s presence, because through his Spirit, his presence never leaves us! Hence, our glory (the manifestation of God’s presence) never fades.
In Paul’s mind, we Christians see God face to face in the here and now.
(2 Cor. 4:6) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
“Knowledge” in 1 Cor. 13 is not book or law learning, but knowledge of Jesus. And that knowledge is available even today. Paul’s argument seems to be that if Moses could see God face to face, then we, in whom God lives through his Spirit, can know Jesus and know him better than Moses did. Indeed, we can attain “the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” right here on this earthly plane.
Knowing Jesus doesn’t mean knowing all the answers to the philosopher’s questions. It means knowing his heart, which is why the path to such knowledge begins with works of service in Eph. 4. And which is why Paul emphasizes love in 1 Cor. 13. Love is the greatest gift because it brings us nearest to knowing the heart of Jesus.
And so, try this paraphrase of 1 Cor. 13:8-14–
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is [miraculous] knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when mature love  comes, the partial  disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; when we are fully matured in love we shall see face to face [just as Moses did] . Now I know [Jesus] in part; then I shall know [Jesus]  fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
 Teleios here refers most literally to maturity, but in context, he is speaking of the love of the mature.
 The Greek is not “imperfect” but “the thing in part” in parallel to v. 8.
 “Face to face” would be well known to those familiar with the Old Testament to be an allusion to Moses’ conversation with God on Mt. Sinai, an event which took place in earthly existence, not in the end times. The phrase is used several times in reference to Moses’ special relationship with God. Consider–
(Deut. 34:10-12) Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt–to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
Here the author associates the doing of great miracles with knowing God face to face. Hence, Paul’s argument is from irony–in contrast to Moses, we will come to see God face to face only when we’ve outgrown miracles! Hence, the Christian experience is to be even greater than Moses’.
(Luke 7:28) I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John [the Baptist]; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
(Luke 10:23-24) Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
 By analogy to Eph. 4:13 and Paul’s use of “know” in 1 Cor.–
(1 Cor. 2:2) For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
(1 Cor 2:16) “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Moreover, the context is about Christians (persons) being “known” by Christ (a person). Hence, knowledge of persons is at issue, not knowledge of doctrine. The parallel is clearly our knowing Jesus just as Jesus knows us! See also 2 Cor. 4:6 quoted earlier.