FIVE REASONS WHY "THE PERFECT THING" IN
1 CORINTHIANS 13:10 IS THE COMPLETED
NEW TESTAMENT & NOT THE SECOND ADVENT
by Ron Merryman
In my forty-eight years of ministry, I have been asked many times by sincere believers why the "perfect thing" of 1 Corinthians 13:10 is best understood as the completed New Testament and not the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. Though a number of good Bible teachers hold to the latter, it is my opinion that sound exegesis demands the former.
Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, the great "Love" chapter of the Bible, is often pulled from its context so that its contextual significance is lost upon the reader/listener. Paul’s point in this paragraph is to emphasize that spiritual gifts are to be governed and used solely under the agape (love) produced by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts used without the agape are like cymbal solos: noisy and without benefit.
It is in this context that he speaks of the cessation of certain of the gifts in contrast to the durability of love. Love abides, but some gifts cease. Those that cease are specifically named in verse 8: each mentioned was extra-revelatory and temporary in nature.
Four Clauses Categorize the Issue of the Temporality of Extra-Revelatory Gifts (13:8)
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. (1 Cor. 13:8)
Please note the four clauses and their emphasis in 1 Corinthians 13:8.
Clause #1: That which never fails* : LOVE (agape)
*"fails" = piptw/pipto (in Present Active Indic-ative), "to fall," hence, "to come to an end," "to cease."
This clause emphasizes the fact that agape-love will never cease or come to an end.
Clause #2: That which shall fail* (KJV), better "be caused to cease": PROPHECIES
*"shall fail" = katargew/katargeo (in Future Passive Indicative) = "to be done away with."
This same verb is translated "shall vanish away" (v. 8); "shall be done away" (v. 10), and "put away" (v. 11).
This clause emphasizes that prophecy, as experienced at Corinth and in other churches of the first century, would be terminated. Paul will tell us when in verses 10-12.
Clause #3: That which shall cease*: TONGUES
*"shall cease" = pauw/pauo (in Future Middle Indicative) = "to cease for themselves," "to stop of their own."
This clause emphasizes that tongues would play out or cease of their own (middle voice). Only that generation knew this gift.
Clause #4: That which shall vanish away*: KNOWLEDGE (THE WORD OF KNOWLEDGE)
*"shall vanish away" = kataargew/katargeo (in Future Passive Indicative): same as in Clause #2.
The emphasis in this clause is that the word of knowledge, just like the prophecies, would be caused to cease. The very Giver of these extra revelatory gifts would see that they end.
THAT TONGUES, PROPHECIES, AND THE WORD OF KNOWLEDGE WOULD CEASE IS VERY CLEAR. THE ISSUE IS "WHEN?" Before he tells us when these extra revelatory gifts would cease (v. 10), Paul tells us "why" (v. 9).
Rationale for the Temporality of Extra-Revelatory Gifts (13:9)
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. (1 Corinthians 13:9)
v. 9 Lit. "For we are now knowing in part and we are now prophesying in part" (both verbs are present tense).
That is, our knowledge and our prophecies are presently only PARTIAL!
POINT: that Paul is referring to special revelation manifested through the gifts of knowledge and prophecy is beyond question. The issue is that this special revelation was sketchy and incomplete: it did not fully express the revelation that would be complete. IT IS REVELATION FROM GOD THAT IS IN VIEW: NOT THE 2ND COMING OF CHRIST. MOREOVER, IT IS REVELATION EXPRESSED IN WORDS, NOT EVENTS.
13:10-12 When Would Extra-Revelatory Gifts Cease? When "The Perfect Thing Is Come"
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:10-12)
5 REASONS WHY "THE PERFECT THING" IN 1 CORINTHIANS 13:10 IS THE WORD OF GOD, THE N. T.
As a neuter noun with a definite article, it must refer to a COMPLETE THING, not a completed person nor the coming of a person.
Corollary: the 2nd Coming of Christ is never referred to as a completed thing in Scripture.
v.9 refers to incomplete revelation through verbal prophecy and verbalized knowledge: that is revelation expressed in WORDS.
v.10 tells us that the partial revelation of verse 9 will be done away when the complete or perfect thing comes: both refer to revelation expressed in words: not revelation in the 2nd Coming.
If the "perfect thing" is the 2nd Advent, what KNOWLEDGE would be rendered inoperative at that time?
"Knowledge" must be interpreted contextually and in association with prophecy. It is the "word of knowledge" (12:8) that is in view and that knowledge was temporal as were the other verbal prophecies: these were put out of business when the New Testament was complete. They were in the Greek "katargeo’ed!"
"when a child"– I spake, thought, reasoned as a child
"when a man"– I put away childish things
The Point: tongues and prophecy and the like were for the infancy of the Church and were expressions fit for its need. The N.T. is much more exhaustive and mature in its expression: when manhood expression comes, childhood expression goes. In view is communication from God for His people.
"Now"– we, believers of Paul’s day, see through a glass vaguely (revelation is coming to us partially by tongues, prophecy, etc.)
"But then"– we shall know face to face: now out from part; then as we are known.
The Point: How was Paul known? Objectively. So also when the written revelation would come: it would be known objectively, just as a person is known. Thus the New Testament, written in words, paragraphs and book form; is known objectively and studied objectively. What God wants Believers to know in this age is complete in His objective Word, the New Testament. It is the "completed thing" of verse 10.
Christian writers after the first century refer to tongues as a phenomena unique to Apostolic times and only afterward employed by heretical groups who insisted that special revelation had to be ongoing.
The context and its logic support the view that the perfect thing of 1 Corinthians 13:10 is the final, objective written Word of God, the New Testament. Those who hold that it is the Second Advent of Christ cannot support their view from either context or logic.
Ron Merryman served the Lord in Bible colleges for 11 years, 3 of those as Acting President of Western Bible College. He also pastored Holly Hills Bible Church in Denver, Colorado, for 14 years. Ron currently teaches in the G.I.B.S., a ministry of Duluth Bible Church.
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