1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (that which is perfect), Part 3 (“face to face”)

spiritual giftsOn the other hand, as clear as it seems to be that Paul is looking ahead to the Second Coming, Paul’s language leaves us to wonder what he means when he writes,

(1Co 13:13 ESV)  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

“Abide” in contrast to what? In fact, BDAG (the premier lexicon of New Testament Greek) translates “abide” as “continue to exist.” Compare,

(2Co 3:11 NIV) And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts [abides or remains]!

And so, is Paul saying that tongues and prophecy and knowledge will  last until the Second Coming, but faith, hope, and love will survive? That seems to be the natural interpretation.

Moreover, if these “abide” in contrast to tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, and if these three things “pass away” in eschatological language, as shown in Part 1, they must last — in some sense — until the Second Coming.

The problem this raises is how hope and faith might be said to “abide” or “remain” after the Second Coming.

The traditional argument (made by such very responsible exegetes as Harvey Floyd in Is the Holy Spirit for me?: A search for the meaning of the Spirit in today’s church) is that faith and hope necessarily end at the Second Coming, and  since 1 Cor 13 treats faith and hope as outlasting tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, they must end at some point before the Second Coming — making “that which is perfect” something else, such as the completion of the New Testament.

Further on the reading of 1 Cor 13:8-12

The logic seems, well, impeccable — except it’s just not what Paul actually says in 1 Cor 13. He says that faith, hope, and love remain after tongues, prophecy, and knowledge are destroyed/pass away at the Second Coming. The language is plain enough. Therefore, we’ve misread the passages that seem to say that faith and hope end at the Second Coming.

It’s easy to miss this. Let’s look at the key passage once again —

(1Co 13:8-13 ESV) Love never [falls in damnation]. As for prophecies, they will [be destroyed at the Second Coming]; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will [be destroyed at the Second Coming].  9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will [be destroyed at the Second Coming].  11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  12 For now we see in a mirror dimly [ainigma = in riddles], but then face to face [as God spoke to Moses]. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully [as Moses knew God], even as I have been fully known.  13 So now faith, hope, and love abide [continue in existence], these three; but the greatest of these is love. 

In Part 1, we saw that “pass away” in verses 8, 9, and 10, katargeō in the Greek, is used repeatedly by Paul of the destruction that will come at the Second Coming.

(1Co 6:13 ESV)  “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”– and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

In fact, the Greek is passive, meaning “pass away” (active voice) is a bad translation. To be passive, the verb must be “will be destroyed” rather than “pass away.” And it’s hard to imagine Paul saying that God will “destroy” prophecy when the canon is completed or the last apostle dies.

Moreover, “face to face” is language from the Torah for a direct, intensely personal encounter with God. It’s not speaking of reading about God in a book, even an inspired and most holy book. Paul’s language intentionally echoes Num 12:6-8–

(Num 12:6-8 NET)  6 The LORD said, “Hear now my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known to him in a vision; I will speak with him in a dream.  7 My servant Moses is not like this; he is faithful in all my house.  8 With him I will speak face to face, openly, and not in riddles [ainigma]; and he will see the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 

Ainigma, from which we get “enigma,” is translated “riddles” in Numbers 12 and “dimly” in 1 Cor 13, but it’s the identical Greek word — demonstrating clearly Paul’s allusion to Numbers 12.

Hence, Paul is speaking of a time when all Christians will have the knowledge of God that Moses enjoyed. Moses was considered the greatest of all Old Testament prophets.

According to Leviticus Rabbah 1:14 [a Midrash] there was a debate regarding the difference between Moses and the other prophets based on Numbers 12:8. Both sides held that Moses, like the other prophets, saw the Lord through a mirror, reading the word for “appearance” in Numbers 12:8 as though it meant “mirror,” another meaning of the word used for “vision” in Numbers 12:6 (the two words were written the same way in unpointed Hebrew, but pronounced slightly differently).

Some thought the difference was that the other prophets saw the Lord through a series of mirrors, while others thought Moses saw the Lord through a polished mirror while the other prophets saw him through a blurred one. … Paul’s reference to a mirror in the context of an allusion to the same text would be a strange coincidence if he does not share some interpretive tradition with its authors. …

The conclusion of Leviticus Rabbah 1:14, however, seems to suggest the same hope that Paul had, namely, that in the eschaton all would have an experience similar to that of Moses. “R. Phinehas said in the name of R. Hoshayah: This may be compared to a king who allowed himself to be seen by his close friend [only] by means of his image.

In this world the Shekinah [God’s glory] manifests itself only to chosen individuals; in the Time to Come, however, ‘The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it’” (citing Isa. 40:5). The contrast between this age and the age to come matches Paul’s thinking precisely.

Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 658-659.

In short, Paul, a Jewish rabbi, uses “face to face,” “dimly,” and “fully known” to refer to a passage from which the rabbis concluded that God will only again be seen face to face in the Age to Come.

The more we look at the language of 1 Cor 13, the clearer it is that the Second Coming is in mind.

Abides

(1Co 13:13 ESV) So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

BDAG (the premier lexicon of New Testament Greek) defines “abide” here as “continues to exist.” We might say “persists.” And in context, this is plainly in contrast to those things that are to be destroyed (“will pass away”). The contrast is plain when the passages are read together.

Moreover, Paul does not say that love will last longer than faith or hope. He says love is “greater” (meizon, from megas — think “megatron”). There is nothing in the word to suggest a longer duration, and Paul’s point is not that love lasts longer but that love is the greatest (most valuable) of all God’s good gifts. (Megatron does not get his name due to how long he lasts.)

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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14 Responses to 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (that which is perfect), Part 3 (“face to face”)

  1. Ray Downen says:

    We are called to LOVE ONE ANOTHER in Christ, and to supremely love Jesus. Spiritual gifts such as prophecy have ceased. Love endures. How important it is that we LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

  2. Dwight says:

    Or tongues, prophesies and knowledge have ceased while faith, hope and love abide. IF all of this is in place until the second coming, where God comes to judge and call all home or to hell, then what is the practical point to the people he is speaking to. We can place second coming into the passage, but it really doesn’t fit well.
    It is argued that katargeō in the Greek, is used repeatedly by Paul of the destruction that will come at the Second Coming, but there are 25 usages of this word and only a few time is it used in direct reference to the second coming. It basically means to cease, to end or stop.
    In vs.9 Paul says, “we know and prophesy in part” and then in vs.12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
    Paul says he is known, but doesn’t fully know. Why? Because all of the word and will of God hadn’t at that time been declared and he had the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t make sense that this ” in part” would continue until the second coming. If so then we even now do not have all of the revealed word and are awaiting further instructions from those we will deem worthy to give it.
    Note the tongue, prophecy and knowledge have nothing to do with miracles of healing and changes that can be prompted by prayer.

  3. Dwight says:

    A follow up thought- If hope and faith and love abide after the second coming, then what is the hope for past the point of heaven and seeing God and what is there faith in past the point of being with Jesus. Hope is usually seen consummated in heaven and being with God. Faith is the well let’s hear the Bible def. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Once we have gone past the hope of being in heaven to actually being there and we see what we have believed, then our faith will be realized and it will cease to be faith. We have seen. In these regards it doesn’t make sense that faith, hope and love will abide after the second coming of God, unless the second coming doesn’t result in man reaching God. They must abide up to the second coming, thus speaking in tongues, prophecies and knowledge will have ceased sometime before that point.

  4. Monty says:

    I agree with Dwight, Paul told the church at Corinth that what they were so enamored with was going to cease at some point(soon), if not, then why bother instructing them that it was part by part(inferior-childish-immature) to the revealed and recorded full revelation of the will of God(as in the recorded Tanak). One day, God’s part by part to individuals would be recorded for the churches. The scaffolding would be torn down, the scaffolding isn’t the building. It’s just there to help the builders build the building. That’s not to say that the Holy Spirit is doing nothing or that God won’t heal, or give someone a word of knowledge pertaining to an individual or a situation. But it is to say that what instruction God gave those with the speaking gifts for the churches(of the 1st century) has fulfilled it’s purpose.

    Another thought along this same vein is that these new believers had no idea(or not much of one) how to act, conduct themselves, especially as problems arose. Are we to claim the same level of lack of knowledge today concerning the things they encountered? They needed Apostolic guidance on some things but there were, I’m sure, regular occasions where they needed a prophecy(teaching) or a word of knowledge, etc. or a tongue interpreted. Are we at that same level today? Or, to put it another way, because of the revealed will in the NT, are we lacking anything in that regard, as they were? I don’t think so.

  5. Dwight says:

    To put this in Texas venacular: I can pull a steer to where it ought to go or pull it from where it ought to be or just leave it where it is and usually it will move itself to where it needs to go. If the steer is in the field with grass and it is being fed, to pull it away to a dead field is an injustice to the steer, but to pull it to a green field from a brown field is helpful for the steer. But more grass isn’t the answer when can only eat so much and when it gets what it needs. Sometimes we drag our people into more knowledge than what they can handle and are dissapointed when they don’t eat up and are less dissapointed when they don’t apply the knowledge they have in them.
    The problem with the Corinthians is that even with they gifts, they weren’t edifiying themselves with them, but using them against each other. They did not have the love that is the greatest of these. We have enough knowledge contained in the scriptures and even so we often lack love,so more knowledge doesn’t take the steer closer to God if it is in God by knowledge, but more love does. Knowledge can only take you so far, but love all the way.

  6. Grace says:

    1 Corinthians 1:7-8 “Therefore, you don’t lack any gift as you wait eagerly for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will continue to give you strength until the end so that no one can accuse you of anything on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    The context which Paul references spiritual gifts he speaks of Christ’s Second Coming.Paul spoke that spiritual gifts are to be until the Lord returns.

  7. Kevin says:

    Monty,
    That’s a good point…we are not lacking anything.

    2 Tim 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

    That last part deserves repeating…that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

  8. Monty says:

    Kevin,

    Paul said something similar in Ephesians 2:11-14, And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers.12 For the perfecting of the saints(when that which is perfect is come) for the edifying of the body of Christ:,13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect(mature-complete) man, unto the measure of the stature of Christ:14That we henceforth(from now on, when unity by the completely revealed scripture comes) be no more children(when I was a child I spoke as a child, but when that which is perfect is come), tossed to and fro, and carried away by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lay in wait to deceive., but speaking the truth in love(but now abideth these three and the greatest of these is love)may grow up(leave childhood or infancy-the part by part knowledge) into him in all things(matters concerning doctrine and righteous living)which is the head, even Christ.

    The Corinthians were puffed up by the gifts that were designed by God to bring them the knowledge to mature, to be instructed in righteousness, to become all that God intended for them to be. Paul’s condemnation of how some were using their giftedness is stinging. Knowledge puffs up, but when revelation through inspiration is meet with an attitude of love, the body is built up, unto a completed(perfect) man.

    “when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” 2 Timothy 4:13

  9. Kevin says:

    Our sermon on Sunday a.m. was from 2 Tim 4:13. “Paul wanted to be warm and to read.”

  10. Grace says:

    Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 refers to the Scriptures that Timothy had known since his childhood, he is speaking to Timothy about the writings from the Hebrew Scriptures.

    2 Timothy 3:15-17 “Since childhood, you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to make you wise enough to have faith in Christ Jesus and be saved. Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. The Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds.”

    Paul refers to the Hebrew Scriptures as holy writings that lead to salvation knowing it’s teachings about the Messiah. Paul also says the Hebrew Scriptures can help the Christian’s character and conduct, that it is useful to living and moral knowledge to do good to others.

    Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the NT teach us there are also other sources of wisdom and knowledge we still need to have and use.

    Scripture itself encourages us to take counsel from other godly people. Solomon, who wrote the book of Proverbs, says to listen to wise counselors, we need those who are skilled at life and have the ability to deduce spiritual truth. And that we can even observe and learn the skills in living wisely from nature itself.

    Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the NT is the standard of truth. The Bible itself teaches there are also other sources of wisdom and knowledge that come from spiritual gifts, other godly people and from nature. There are other sources we need to help us live and to learn until the day the Lord Jesus Christ returns.

  11. Dwight says:

    Monty and Kevin, I think you have the right idea. We have God’s word, at the least we have what it takes to be a child of God (Acts 2 was enough for them). At the most we have corrections and edfications by the Apostles. We can have all of this info and more and not use it right in love and wisdom and spiritually minded. This is why Paul interjects his correction on spiritual gifts with a good long section on love, even mentioning faith and hope.

  12. Monty says:

    Grace,

    You are a prime example of why men must listen to scripture and take what men have to say concerning scripture with a grain of salt. You would teach me to put all my trust in Jesus, but I didn’t have to be baptized. The Holy Word of God says, I should believe on Jesus and be baptized to wash away sins. Sounds pretty important to me. When I believe and am baptized, God adds me to His church. Who do I listen to? Hum, I think I’ll go with scripture. Godly men can give counsel and do. But their counsel must always be evaluated in light of scripture. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman, that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

  13. Grace says:

    Okay…ummm, I didn’t say Scripture isn’t something needed to be studied.

    I said, Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the NT teach us there are also other sources of wisdom and knowledge we still need to have and use.

    Scripture itself encourages us to take counsel from other godly people. Solomon, who wrote the book of Proverbs, says to listen to wise counselors, we need those who are skilled at life and have the ability to deduce spiritual truth. And that we can even observe and learn the skills in living wisely from nature itself.

    Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the NT is the standard of truth. The Bible itself teaches there are also other sources of wisdom and knowledge that come from spiritual gifts, other godly people and from nature. There are other sources we need to help us live and to learn until the day the Lord Jesus Christ returns.

  14. Kevin says:

    Concur with Monty. Scripture is the final authority. Scripture is all that the man of God requires in order to be spiritually “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” One cannot attain anything greater than perfect, and one cannot be better equipped than “thoroughly furnished.” All else must be viewed in light of scripture. That’s exactly what the Bereans did.

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