O PreacherBefore we take scissors to 1 Corinthians 12, let’s take a closer look at “the Perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13.  Because this is the text that reveals when the gifts of the Spirit will end.

“Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease, as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  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.  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 (13:8-12).”
WHY THIS MATTERS.  We’re not splitting theological hairs.  The gifts of the Spirit are from God and good for building up the church—that’s us together (1 Corinthians12:7; 14:12).  So if we believe spiritual gifts have ceased but they haven’t, our church is missing some of God’s good for us.   On the other hand, if we believe they haven’t but they have, we’re being deceived by “gifts” not of God.
THE NATURE OF THE GIFTS.  They are “partial.”  ” . . . we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes the partial will pass away” (13:9,10).  The Greek meros essentially means “a part as distinct from the whole.”  Paul uses it in 12:27—“Now you are the body of Christ and individually (meros) members of it.”  The individual isn’t the whole body; but each individual is part of the whole body.  So the Spirit’s gifts are “partial” in this sense:  each spiritual gift is just part of what will soon be the completed whole (“the perfect”).  Teliown means perfect in the sense of “complete” or “total.”  So we can paraphrase:  “For now we know and prophesy incompletely, but when the complete comes the incomplete will pass away.”
The gifts will also “pass away/cease”.  The Greek word (pauontie) translated here “cease” simply means “stop”.   Luke used it of Jesus:  “And when he had finished speaking . . . ” (Luke 5:4).  ” . . . as for tongues they will stop.”  The Greek word (katargeo) is an eschatological (last days) word.  Paul used it of the wisdom and rulers of this age “who are doomed to pass away” (2:6).  He doesn’t mean that these rulers will merely die, but that this present age which defines them and their wisdom will pass away.  That will happen, of course, when the eternal age is consummated at Christ’s coming.  He uses katargeo again in 1 Corinthians 15:24-26 where it’s translated “destroying” and “destroyed.”  ‘ Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power . . . The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  Here Paul uses the word of the very end of the end times.  So in 13:8—“As for prophecies they will pass away”—“pass away” (katargeo) at least implies end times
 THE STRUCTURE OF THE PASSAGE.  Here’s the passage again . . .
“Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease, as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  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.  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 (13:8-12).”
 
Notice Paul contrasts love with gifts.  Love “never ends” but the gifts (represented here by prophecies, tongues and knowledge will “pass away/cease.”  He makes that contrast, not to disparage spiritual gifts, but to show the Corinthians shouldn’t be making spiritual gifts (especially tongues) the sign of spirituality.  They should be esteeming love as the sign—because the gifts will pass away but love will never end.
After explaining love never ends but spiritual gifts will pass away, Paul gives two reasons (both beginning with the word “For”) and one illustration to support that statement.  First reason why spiritual gifts will pass away:  they are partial and will pass away when the perfect comes.
One illustration:  there is a time for childhood and childish ways and there is a time for adulthood when childish ways are given up.  (I don’t think Paul means God’s good spiritual gifts are “childish.”  Rather he simply uses childhood into adulthood as a picture of passing away of spiritual gifts for the perfect.)
Second reason why spiritual gifts will pass away:  now our knowledge is “partial”, like seeing “dimly” in a mirror (ancient Corinth was famous as the producer of fine bronze mirrors), but when the perfect comes our knowledge will be full.  Not like looking face to bronze mirror, but face to face.  Gifts won’t be needed to “know” the Lord any longer, because we will see him up close and personal!
The way Paul structured this passage argues strongly for only one interpretation of “the perfect.”
THE PERFECT.  On a blog called “The Cripplegate”, Nathan Busenitz (Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary), claims the biblical interpreter can believe “the perfect” is love or the completed Scripture canon or the mature church or the believer’s entrance into Christ’s presence at death or the return of Christ or the eternal state and still remain a cessationist.  Furthermore, he goes on to say, “Anthony Thiselton (Church of England theologian and author) notes in his commentary on this passage: ‘The one important point to make here is that few or none of the serious ‘cessationist’ arguments depends on a specific exegesis of 1 Cor 13:8–11. . . .  These verses should not be used as a polemic (argument of support) for either side in this debate’ (NIGTC, pp. 1063–64)”.  What?  My mouth is dropping.  How can someone be a cessationist if he believes “the perfect” refers to the return of Christ?  Why should 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 not be used to support continuationism?
Pardon me if I respectfully reject Busenitz’s and Thiselton’s views.  “The perfect”  is clearly the end of this present age when Christ returns.  When “the perfect” comes the Spirit’s gifts will pass away.  Until then they continue as they have from the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2.  I am a continuationist and will be until someone convinces me differently from Scripture (not from church history nor from a list of cessationist giants of the faith).
But before we leave our scissors in the drawer and save 1 Corinthians12 in our Bibles, we have one more bit of evidence to consider.  To that we’ll turn next time . . .
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