“That Which Is Perfect”: What Paul Really Meant

tongues.jpgI 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 [1] comes, the partial [2] 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] [3]. Now I know [Jesus] in part; then I shall know [Jesus] [4] fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

[1] Teleios here refers most literally to maturity, but in context, he is speaking of the love of the mature.

[2] The Greek is not “imperfect” but “the thing in part” in parallel to v. 8.

[3] “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’.

Compare–

(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.”

[4] 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.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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20 Responses to “That Which Is Perfect”: What Paul Really Meant

  1. Pingback: Amazing Grace: The Spirit Who Lives In Us, Part 2 « One In Jesus.info

  2. David says:

    I like your: "Thanks for visiting. This site is dedicated to members of the Churches of Christ searching for a deeper understanding of God's grace, the Holy Spirit, and more. Ultimately, the mission of this site is to set forth an understanding of the Bible that will allow for a reunification of the Churches of Christ." A noble aim. Christ-centred truth in love must be valued above church dogma. We must pursue an understanding of God's truth, wherever it might lead us … irrespective of how much some among us might not like this. We grow – not through propping up cherished tradition, but through speaking the truth in love!
    David

  3. David says:

    I too am from a church of Christ group … in Australia. I think you’re on the right track, Jay. Perhaps it’s a little more logical, given the frequent use of “know” and “knowledge” (here and elsewhere in 1 Corinthians – know in part … but when the perfect comes) to see the perfect as perfect knowledge. That is, perfect knowledge of God, which you more or less stated at the end. And perfect knowledge of God means knowing God to the extent that we imitate him! See also 1 Corinthians 8:1-3; 1 John 4:7-13; Matthew 5:48 (which last passage in context means loving all as God loves all!). For many years now I’ve realized that the complete revelation view doesn’t at all fit the context, nor does it help to solve the Corinthian problem. Their problem had a lot to do with an immature understanding of true knowledge. Think also about Ephesians 3:14-19 in the light of Ephesians 4:13. Since the purpose of the gifts in this context was to reveal God, and since the true knowledge of God meant loving as God loved, then when a true knowledge of God was realized through true loving, mature behaviour toward the brethren, the gifts had served their purpose. Note also 1 Timothy 1:5. The purpose of these gifts was instruction. The purpose of instruction is love. Written all over the Corinthian situation is a lack of love for one another. 8:1-3 and 16:14, not to mention the great love emphasis of the very chapter in question! As for the “when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” 2000 years on we find this a problem. But think of Paul at this moment: he would not at all have envisaged the return of Christ as possibly at least 2000 years away!! For him, perfected love and behaviour and the return of Christ could all have arrived within that very generation … and hence the gifts would certainly have come to an end!
    David Carr, Hunter Valley Christians, Australia

  4. David says:

    What follows is a bit repetitious, but I think you’ll get the point: I too am from a church of Christ group … in Australia. I think you’re on the right track, Jay. Perhaps it’s a little more logical, given the frequent use of “know” and “knowledge” (here and elsewhere in 1 Corinthians – know in part … but when the perfect comes) to see the perfect as perfect knowledge. That is, perfect knowledge of God, which you more or less stated at the end. And perfect knowledge of God means knowing God to the extent that we imitate him! See also 1 Corinthians 8:1-3; 1 John 4:7-13; Matthew 5:48 (which last passage in context means loving all as God loves all!). “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully just as I am fully known!” “We know in part … when the perfect comes, the partial shall be done away.” In other words, “when the perfect comes” = “then I shall know fully just as I’m fully known.” The perfect coming is knowing fully!! Perhaps this includes knowing God and knowing man, which knowing includes loving! The truth in love? Ephesians 4:15. When we know God fully and when we know people fully then the perfect has come! “Speaking the truth in love we will grow up in every way into him who is the head – that is, into Christ … each member of the body working properly and therefore growing so that the body builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16.
    In other words, the perfect comes when everyone in the body is practising love toward everyone!
    For many years now I’ve realized that the complete revelation view doesn’t at all fit the context, nor does it help to solve the Corinthian problem. Their problem had a lot to do with an immature understanding of true knowledge. Think also about Ephesians 3:14-19 in the light of Ephesians 4:13. Since the purpose of the gifts in this context was to reveal God, and since the true knowledge of God meant loving as God loved, then when a true knowledge of God was realized through true loving, mature behaviour toward the brethren, the gifts had served their purpose. Note also 1 Timothy 1:5. The purpose of these gifts was instruction. The purpose of instruction is love. Written all over the Corinthian situation is a lack of love for one another. 8:1-3 and 16:14, not to mention the great love emphasis of the very chapter in question! As for the “when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” 2000 years on we find this a problem. But think of Paul at this moment: he would not at all have envisaged the return of Christ as possibly at least 2000 years away!! For him, perfected love and behaviour, and the return of Christ, could all have arrived within that very generation … and hence the gifts would certainly have come to an end!
    Again, the perfect comes when everyone in the body is practising love toward everyone, just as God himself does!
    David Carr, Hunter Valley Christians, Australia

  5. Donald says:

    Could it be “that which is perfect” is referring to a time when Jesus returns to literally reign on earth, a full realization of the kingdom?

  6. Jim Haugland says:

    Its great to see the open dialog on the Holy Spirit. I remember years ago when I was visiting my home congregation from college the preacher in the adult class I attended made this comment, when it was suggested that the class study the HS: “There is too much controversy on this subject so I think we should select another subject.” I remember thinking so much for our claim to be people of the Bible. I agree with many of your comments. It is a difficult passage and we each bring our respective denominational “baggage” with us as we seek understanding. My how we grieve & resist that (HS)which Christ said He would send “… that is greater than he that is in the world.”

  7. David says:

    I have just discovered this site and it is very interesting. Jay makes some excellent points. I would have a minor disagreement with the very last words of this article. Paul is probably not talking about us seeing Jesus or God face to face or us knowing God or Jesus as well as they know us. I think Paul is saying that when maturity comes it will be as if he could see his own image in a cloudy mirror as if he were seeing himself face to face, and as clearly as others see him. I agree that Paul gives us no certain time when tongues would end.

    Excellent, excellent website. Keep up the good work.

  8. Gary Cummings says:

    Donald,
    That is what I personally believe about this text. This text has nothing to do with the cessation of spiritual gifts or the closing of the NT canon. Jay has some very good points here though. The “perfect” is either spiritual maturity in Christ or His return or PAROUSIA, when we see Him “face to face”. Face to face is a way of saying a personal encounter with Christ. Moses had this relationship with Yahweh. For the Churches of Christ to use this as they historically have is bad scholarship and bad exegesis for people who claim to speak where the Bible speaks,
    Gary

  9. This translation of 1 Corinthians:13 makes perfect sense. For years, I have studied these scriptures. I believed the "perfect" to be Love. Now, I realized that it is Maturity – the perfect love of Christ in us.
    Thank you for caring enough to write your article and sharing it with others who search God's word for truth.
    SIncerely,
    Sister Lynne Ferguson
    Valley Church of Christ, Gunter, TX

  10. F. Serby says:

    Interesting how people that will say that the perfect has come already, so the gifts would no longer be around, won’t also say that pastors and teachers are no longer around either, for it says, in Ephesians 4:11-12, “11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his 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.” Notice the word, “until.” If that which is perfect has already come, then why are there still pastors and teachers? My point is that that which is perfect has NOT already come. John told about when “attaining to the whole measure” would be, in I John 3:2-3:
    2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure.

    John uses the word, “see,” which refers to the eyes beholding it. Obviously, when He appears, then we will truly be like Him, even as He has a resurrected body, since Paul referred to what happens when He appears:
    I Cor. 15:50-54 “50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”
    When there is still weakness in bodies, there is still a need for the gift of healings. Paul even said that the body is “sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” This happens at the resurrection. How can anyone say that we no longer have need of the gift of healings? That will happen when He appears and our bodies are changed. And concerning knowledge, Paul said, “for now we see only a 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.” (I Cor. 13:12). Is there anyone that actually believes that he or she knows fully, even as he or she is fully known? Then obviously, that which is perfect has not yet come. I will ask it again: Is there anyone that actually believes that he or she knows fully, even as he or she is fully known? That answer, alone, should be enough to tell you that that which is perfect has not already come, since Paul was saying that full knowledge would result when that which is perfect is come.

  11. dee says:

    I agree that is it possible that the perfect that comes is matured love…meaning Christ who is known……the mirror..as we are known by him…the law of Christ is love….

  12. Shane Mattenley says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the direction of this discussion. We are people who claim to speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent. Why would we take a single reference/instance in Scripture, with no real collaboration (in the context of cessation) and create such a fundamental shift in the church. I too am a minister in the Churches of Christ (British Columbia) and I could never honestly see the cessation of the spiritual gifts in this passage or in the scope of scripture. Thanks much for your insight.

  13. Shane Mattenley says:

    *Church of Christ

  14. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Shane,

    1. I fixed your typo. For a second there, I was afraid someone had founded a “Church of Christmas” and figured I’d have to join. My wife loves her Christmas stores. A Christmas church would be too, too much to resist.

    2. Thanks for your comment. I agree.

  15. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Just a few thoughts from the commentaries:

    “The adjective (in the neuter gender, and with the article, τὸ τέλειον) rendered totality is fairly common in Paul; see 2:6; 14:20. It takes its precise meaning from the context, and here, in contrast with in part (ἐκ μέρους) it means not perfection (in quality) but totality—in particular the whole truth about God. This totality is love; in comparison with it, other things (true and valuable in themselves) may be left behind like the ways and achievements of childhood.”
    Barrett, BNTC

    “10 The climactic τὸ τέλειον includes the double meaning the complete (NRSV) and wholeness (REB). Depending on the specific force required by the context the word may also mean perfection (NIV, NJB) or perfect (AV/KJV, RV). On the lexicography of the word, see above on 2:6, where it clearly carries the different sense of mature (usually of persons), as it does in its one remaining use in this epistle, ταῖς δὲ φρεσὶν τέλειοι γίνεσθε (14:20). However, here there is also a further hint of τέλειος as denoting a goal. For just as in 2:6 the wisdom for the mature is not for those who exhibit childish self-centeredness and immediacy, even so here Paul is about to draw the same contrast with being infantile or childish or childlike in v. 11a and the goal of mature adulthood. Hence it combines the two related notions of fulfillment or goal and the completed whole. No English word alone can fully convey the meaning in this context. To translate solely as the end (Collins) is barely adequate.198”
    Thiselton, NIGTC

    “But to what does “perfection” refer? The other main biblical meaning of the word (Gk. teleios) is “maturity” (cf. the metaphor in v. 11), but neither perfection nor consistent maturity has yet come to the church of Jesus Christ.6 Although later interpreters have at times felt otherwise, nothing in Paul supports any consciousness of his writing near the end of an apostolic age or the close of a biblical canon. And the metaphors in verse 12 fit poorly with such interpretations. After the Bible was completed, Christians did not see God “face to face” (only “face to book”!) or know him to the degree that he knew them. When we recall that 1:7 pointed out the ongoing role of the gifts until the return of Christ, there can be only one possible interpretation of “perfection”—it is the life in the world to come after Jesus reappears on earth.

    But love abides on into eternity. So too probably do faith and hope (v. 13a), if faith is taken as belief in Jesus and faithful service to him, and if hope refers to the expectant anticipation of the good things God has in the future for us. Paul adds these other two virtues because the triad “faith, hope, and love” is a favorite of his (cf. 1 Thess. 1:3; 5:8; Col. 1:4–5; Eph. 1:15–18).7 But love remains the greatest (v. 13b) because it is the most foundational, essential and central to Paul’s understanding of the Christian ethic (cf., e.g., Gal. 5:6, 14, 22–23).”
    Blomberg, NIVAC

    ““The perfect” refers to the state of affairs brought about by the parousia (Robertson and Plummer 1914: 287, 299–300; Lietzmann 1949: 66, 189; Fee 1987: 646; Schrage 1999: 307–8). Paul uses the verb ἐλθεῖν (elthein) in Gal. 4:4 to refer to the coming of the fullness of time. Here, the battery of future tenses, the disappearance of the partial replaced by the complete, and the reference to knowing as God knows us, all point to the end time. He contrasts the present age with the age to come. The “perfect” is shorthand for the consummation of all things, the intended goal of creation; and its arrival will naturally displace the partial that we experience in the present age. Human gifts shine gloriously in this world but will fade to nothing in the presence of what is perfect. But they also will have served their purpose of helping to build up the church during the wait and to take it to the threshold of the end. When the anticipated end arrives, they will no longer be necessary.”
    Garland, BECNT

    The use of the substantive “the perfect/complete,” which sometimes can mean “mature,” plus the ambiguity of the first analogy (childhood and adulthood), has led some to think that the contrast is between “immaturity” and “maturity.”381 But that will hardly do, since the contrast has to do with the Spirit’s giftings being “partial,” not the believers themselves.382 Furthermore, that is to give the analogy, which is ambiguous at best, precedence over the argument as a whole and the plain statement that follows (v. 12b),383 where Paul repeats verbatim384 the first clause of the present sentence, “we know385 in part,” in a context that can only be eschatological. Convoluted as the argument may appear, Paul’s distinctions are between “now” and “then,” between what is incomplete (though perfectly appropriate to the church’s present existence) and what is complete (when its final destiny in Christ has been reached and “we see face to face” and “know as we are fully known”).386

    That means that the phrase “in part” refers to what is not complete, or at least not complete in itself.387 The phrase on its own does not carry the connotation of “temporary” or “relative”; that comes from the context and the later language “now … then” (v. 12). But the implication is there. It is “partial” because it belongs only to this age, which is but the beginning, not the completion, of the End. These giftings have to do with the edification of the church as it “eagerly awaits our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1:7). The nature of the eschatological language used a bit later (v. 12) further implies that the term “completeness” has to do with the Eschaton itself, not some form of “perfection” in the present age.388 It is not so much that the End itself is “completeness,” language that does not make tolerably good sense; rather, it is what happens at the End, when the goal has been reached (see p. 714 n. 380). At the coming of Christ the final purpose of God’s saving work in Christ will have been reached; at that point those gifts now necessary for the building up of the church in the present age will disappear, because “completeness” will have come. To cite Barth’s marvelous imagery: “Because the sun rises all lights are extinguished.”389
    Fee, NICNT

    I side with the consensus in identifying perfection with the coming of Christ (1 Cor 1:8; 4:5; 15:50–58). This conclusion alone, however, does not settle the question whether all the Spirit’s manifestations that were present at Corinth are still present today. It simply removes 1 Corinthians 13:8–12 as a text supporting cessation of certain gifts. Whether such gifts are present today will depend on other factors, such as the witness of postbiblical history, larger theological issues and the parallels of modern phenomena with biblical descriptions.
    Johnson, IVPNTC

    The coming of “perfection,” literally, “the perfect thing,”371 undoubtedly refers to the consummation of all things, which is clarified by the language of 13:12, seeing “face to face” and “knowing fully even as I am fully known.” But why does Paul refer to the eschaton in this way rather than more directly as “the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7 NASB) or “till the Lord comes” (4:1–5)? The answer lies in the argument itself, where “perfect” is both the logical opposite of “partial/incomplete”372 and the logical opposite of the “infant/child” language in the illustration that follows in 13:11. In the other two occurrences in the letter, “perfect” or “mature” is set in contrast to “infant.” By using the term “perfect/mature,” Paul is probably picking up on the Corinthians’ language and self-understanding in order to add rhetorical force to his argument. In 2:6–3:4, for example, the message of wisdom spoken to the mature (2:6) is set in contrast to Paul’s claim that he could only speak to them as mere infants in Christ (3:1). The Corinthians considered themselves to be mature, wise, and spiritual. Paul pointed out that their behavior indicated otherwise. The mature/infant contrast appears again in 14:20, “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”373 The whole argument of 12:1–14:40 has to do with what it means to be “spiritual” (12:1; 14:37). In 2:6–3:4, “mature” and “spiritual” are virtually synonymous terms. The use of the term “perfect” in 13:10 allows Paul to highlight not only the partial nature of the gifts; it allows him to underscore the permanence of love that “never fails” (13:8a) and occupies first place among the gifts that last forever (13:13). In other words, if the Corinthians want to truly lay hold of the “perfection” of the future in the here and now, then they must pursue love, for it has genuine abiding value. To say it another way, “the perfect” is the consummation of all things of which love holds a prominent place. When perfection arrives, love will be present but the gifts will not. The true indicator of maturity/spirituality is love, not the exercise of the temporal gifts.
    Taylor, NAC

    This turn of thinking should cause alert readers to recall 1 Corinthians 7:31, where Paul said “the present form of this world is passing away,” so that now one encountering Paul’s statements may infer that prophecy, tongues, and knowledge belong to this world, not to God’s new creation. Moreover, and in further pursuit of the dramatic contrast between love and gifts, in verse 10 Paul identifies the basis for the cessation of knowledge and prophecy—they are imperfect. Finally Paul promises the survival of that which is perfect and declares the eschatological end of imperfection. Again, the statements should cause the attentive reader to recall Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 3:10–15 concerning what kinds of things will survive God’s scrutiny on the Day of final judgment.
    Soards, UBCS

    13:10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. This verse has been at the center of a controversy. What does when completeness comes mean, and when will or did it arrive? It is agreed that the key term196 of the first clause has to do with perfection197 or completeness198 here (in other contexts it has to do with maturity, as in 2:6). The meaning of the corresponding term199 in the second clause is clearer, almost always being translated “the partial” (NRSV, ESV, NET, NAB, NLT, NASB, CSB) or what is in part (TNIV, KJV).200 Some scholars have argued that the “perfect/complete” thing to which Paul was referring was the completion of the canon or the maturing of the church, one or the other of which they attribute to the disappearance of the more spectacular gifts from most if not all churches in the postapostolic period. The context (esp. v. 12) makes it abundantly clear, however, that the point at which Paul expects the gifts to pass away or disappear is when we see the Lord “face to face” and “know [him] fully, even as [we are] fully known.” It is unlikely that Paul has in mind some particular perfect or complete thing or person, but the dawning of the age which brings with it the perfect or complete realities to which each of the spiritual gifts pointed as very partial manifestations of the same. If my friend tells me, “I have a partially functioning television and a partially functioning radio, but when that which is fully functioning arrives I’ll put away what is only partially functioning,” I would understand that he is waiting for a new (or at least a fully-functioning) TV and radio to be delivered. In Paul’s context, it appears that he is waiting for complete or perfect versions of that which is manifested in the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge (i.e., perfect communication, communion, and interpersonal knowledge between God and his people), which will arrive when we experience the fullness of the new creation in the presence of the Lord himself. Thus, when all the complete versions of the partial realities we experience through spiritual gifts in this life arrive, those partial realities will be laid aside and will disappear.
    Ciampa, PNTC

  16. I think Paul would be astonished at the amount of hammering and chiseling we have done over the years upon his simple comparison. I believe Paul was offering almost an offhand comparison to support the central point he is making about the surpassing reality of coming to know God and his salient characteristics. If I may offer some modern analogues: “When you get the book finished, you stop reading your notes.” “When you get the toy out of the box, you stop playing with the box.” “When you finish the building, you take down the scaffolding.” “When the cake comes out of the oven, you stop licking the beaters.”

    Paul is speaking to people who are all about bragging about the quality of their scaffolding, and trying to move their thinking past this to the reason the scaffolding exists.

  17. Monty says:

    The contrast is between the things of youth and adulthood. ” Prophecy, knowledge and tongues stop, “cease” and are on the side of youth, the things that are put away when mature. The Corinthians had treated the speaking gifts like a child treats a toy. Toys aren’t bad in and of themselves but they can become prideful or jealous objects, they serve their purpose but when we grow up(unto all things) toys lose their appeal. Then you get some Big-Boy toys-(just kidding). Then he says and these three remain (stay) abide, from here to Christ returns, faith hope and love. The Corinthians argued over who had the greater oratory gift. Who had the neatest toy? Paul is saying you’ve been focused on the wrong things. Toys have their purpose when we’re immature. Grow up! The gifts without love are NOTHING! Paul says the greatest gift is love. Huh? The scaffolding comes down as it was never meant to be permanent. It serve a purpose to erect the building. But love was and is, it remains. If the gifts remain then we have missed Paul’s contrast.

  18. James says:

    There are children (beginners, new Christians ) brought to Christ I’m sure as God wills through faith. They haven’t put away childish ways yet. So therefore the gifts are still there for them till they mature. Paul was talking to people on milk yet who by then should have been on to meat who were abusing these gifts. But like I said, paul never said God is taking away your gifts in a short while and too bad for the newbies they don’t get to experience Gods love through those gifts.

  19. David says:

    Monty

    I’ve never looked at it from that perspective. Good comments.

  20. Dwight says:

    I think this section is in reference to the rest of I Cor. where the saints were depending upon their gifts and separating themselves based upon them. And is making the point that love must abide and is greater than all of them, but the secondary point is that these gifts are temporary in nature. They were supposed to make a point, but at some point this point would have been made. And when we see the I Cor. making gifts the point, then why should they continue past their point of helping to establish the gospel. We have the established gospel. We need more love, but we don’t need prophecies or speaking in tongues to carry it forward or put it in power. Unfortunately many have made the existence of gifts the hinge on which the gospel exist today and for some reason the words do not match the scriptures. This is more problematic than saying that the gifts do not exist at all today.
    Now this doesn’t mean I don’t think God works today in miraculous ways in healing others, but though prayers. Although I admit it would be nice to see the elders lay hands on sick people in faith and with the thought that healing will come through it.

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