Jesus said, “These signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18). We are told, “they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20).
We continue our study of miracles. In this part, we will consider the duration of miraculous gifts in the church.
1 Corinthians 13
“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away” (13:8).
There is a great contrast between love and miraculous gifts. Love (agape) never fails. “Fails” (piptei) meaning: “to perish, i.e. to come to an end, disappear, cease” (Thayer). Love will never cease to be a part of God’s plan. However, this is not the case with miraculous gifts. Prophecies and knowledge will fail or vanish away. The original word (Katargethesntai) is the same, though rendered “fail” and “vanish away.” It means “to reduce to inactivity” (Vine’s). Tongues will cease. The original word (pausontai) means “stop (oneself), cease” (B.A.G.) [Gary Workman set forth some thoughts on the difference between the two words (katargethesntai and pausontai). “Tongues were to stop themselves whereas prophecies and knowledge had to be done away. As an example of this distinction, we read that the sacrifices of the old law could not cease – pauomai – (Hebrews 10:2). They could not complete their task so they had to be done away – katageo – (Ephesians 2:15), replaced by Jesus’ ‘one sacrifice for sins forever” (Hebrews 10:12). We might make this further observation: In contrast with the Old Testament sacrifices, Jesus’ sacrifice has permanence efficacy. Yet the doing of it has ended. It has ‘ceased to be offered’ (Hebrews 10:2) because ‘this he did once for all, when he offered up Himself’ (Hebrews 7:27). So that ‘there is no more offering for sin’ (Hebrews 10:18). His task of offering Himself has been completed – has ceased – while the effect continues on. Let us summarize this contrast: The Old Testament sacrifices could not cease but were done away; Jesus’ sacrifice has ceased but it is not done away because it will not be replaced… Likewise, tongues had no replacement” (Workman, Has “That Which is Perfect” Come?, pp. 4-5)].
The three miraculous gifts mentioned (prophecies, tongues, and knowledge) are representative of all miraculous gifts. Nine miraculous gifts are listed in 1 Corinthians 12. These nine gifts are divided into three categories, each separated by the word heteros: (1)Gifts of revelation(12:8); (2) Gifts of confirmation (12:9-10c); (3) Gifts of communication (12:10d,e). In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul takes one gift from each of these three categories: (1) Gifts of revelation: knowledge; (2) Gifts of confirmation: prophecies; (3) Gifts of communication: tongues. (For more information see Part 2 of this series).
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (13:9-10).
The word “perfect” (teleion) means “having reached its end, finished, complete, perfect” (Vine’s). It is juxtaposition to “in part.” The reference is to God will for man being completely revealed, disseminated, and confirmed.
The literal language is: “Out of part we know and out of part we prophesy; but when comes the complete thing, the thing out of part will be done away.” Roy Deaver once gave this illustration “On a construction site may be a pile of lumber. Brick and lumber are essential ‘Parts’ of the building under construction. Out of the brick part the workers may lay brick and out of the lumber part they may build walls, ‘out of part’ they lay brick and ‘out of part’ they build walls. But, when is come the perfect thing the out of the part thing ceases. There is no further need for the brick pile and the lumber stack. These ‘parts’ are lost in the perfect, the complete. In this case, the perfect thing is the complete building” (Article: Why the Neuter Gender in 1 Corinthians 13:10?). The complete comes out of the parts.
“When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I because a man I put away childish things” (13:11).
Illustration one: A child matures and leave behind certain things in adulthood (e.g. childish manners and speech, childish ways of thinking and understanding). Even so, the church was maturing in its knowledge, and with such certain things would be left behind. Miraculous gifts were meant for the church in its childhood.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face” (13:12a).
Illustration two: Ancient mirrors were polished metal. They allowed one to see, but not clearly. It was not like looking face to face. Even so, the early church, before complete revelation, were able to see. However, some things they were unable to see clearly. When revelation was complete, things would be much clearer. It would be like seeing face to face instead of in a mirror.
“Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (13:12b).
Illustration three: One can have partial knowledge of something without having thorough knowledge. Two different words are used for “know” in the text. The first word (ginosko) is contrasted with the second word (epignosomai) which refers to full knowledge; Thayer – “to become thoroughly acquainted with, to know thoroughly; to know accurately, know well.”
“And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (13:13).
These are the enduring characteristics of Christianity. These things abide, literally keep on abiding. Miraculous gifts will not. They needed to place greater emphasis on these enduring qualities, instead of being envious over who had what gift (For why love is the greatest see article Faith, Hope, Love, part 9).
- Some argue that this is speaking of Christ and His second coming. However: (a) The term “perfect” is neuter gender, not masculine. It is not “He who is perfect,” but “that which is perfect.” It is not “the perfect one,” but “the perfect thing.” (b) While it is true that Jesus is at times referred to as: “The Door,” “The Vine,” “The Bread of Life,” “The Light of the World,” etc. – those contexts are clear that Jesus is in view. Jesus has not even been mentioned in this chapter. His second coming has not been mentioned in this chapter.
- Some argue that this is speaking of heaven’s coming. However: (a) Heaven is not mentioned in the entire context of 1 Corinthians 12, 13, 14. (b) This is not language used elsewhere of heaven. (c) Some claim that there is nothing perfect this side of heaven, but such is not the case (Genesis 6:9; Job 1:1; 2:3; Matthew 5:43-44, 46-48; 19:21; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 14:20; Colossians 4:12; Hebrews 5:12-14; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:25).
- Some argue that this is speaking of the coming of agape love. However: (a) “Agape” is feminine gender, not neuter gender. (b) It is not imperfect love or unity being contrasted with perfect love or unity; but, it is partial knowledge and prophecy being contrasted with that which is perfect (complete).
- Some object that “knowledge” is feminine gender. This is true. Roy Deaver’s answered this way: “Paul… is setting forth a principle, and this is the reason for the use of the neuter gender… when is come ‘the perfect thing’ (any perfect thing) the complete, the whole – then the ‘out of the part thing’ (any out of part thing) ceases to be” (ibid).
- It is argued that we do not now see God or Jesus “face to face.” Therefore, this must refer to heaven. However, the text does not mention seeing God or Jesus. The wording “face to face” simply means to see or hear clearly [cf. Deuteronomy 5:4-5a. Israel did not literally speak with God face to face (Deuteronomy 4:12; 5:5; Exodus 19:12), nor did Moses (Exodus 3:20-23). However, He did talk with them face to face (Deuteronomy 5:4-5a), meaning clearly, plainly (Numbers 12:7-8)].
- Some have argued that it is not possible to have full knowledge (epignosomai) in this life. However, such is not true (Luke 1:1-3; Colossians 1:6, 9; 2 Peter 1:2; 2:20-21).
- Many brethren have pointed out that the scriptures are referred to as “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). Some object that James was already written. Therefore, the scriptures cannot be in view in 1 Corinthians 13. However, let me suggest that James is using a figure of speech known as prolepsis. He is speaking in anticipation of its completion. Man needs to live in accord with God’s complete revealed will. Moreover, they were responsible to do so then, to the extent it had been revealed.