As I was thinking and writing about this passage, it seemed real clear to me that a possible reason for what Luke was doing here was showing why the disciples had prayed for signs and wonders. Remember their prayer in Acts 4:29-30, “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus.”?
I mean, following the circumstances and their prayer for boldness, it would seem that they would not need to pray for such a thing. They are writing the word of God, they are first-hand witnesses to the resurrection, and they are preaching the word of God boldly. However, they ask for signs and wonders in addition to that. And so, I ask the question, “Why?” What’s the need? And I think Luke answers this question. It seems like Luke uses this passage (and the rest of the book) to show us what role signs and wonders played and why they were needed.
Therefore, I was going to point out why it seems these disciples prayed for and needed signs and wonders, and then I was going to encourage us to pray for the same thing. However, then I took myself back to a time when I thought that such things were probably just for these early believers, and I thought to myself that if one did not believe these things were available to the church today, then he is definitely not going to desire them and my teaching and exhortation would be pointless. Thus, I decided to save my one point until about the last five minutes of the message and give you a long introduction that will serve as an argument that these things the disciples prayed for, (mentioned among others in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10) are available for the church today and should be earnestly desired.
For many of you, you have heard many of these arguments as I struggled through this teaching last June, however, many have not and, therefore, this can serve as a reminder to some and a new teaching to others, and we will all be able to build on this foundation as we cover the rest of Luke’s teaching in this book.
The way I want to approach this defense of my belief is by first trying to answer some challenges that I once posed to myself and attempt to answer them. Then, I will point out some things that are apparent in the Scripture to support this belief. Finally, I will make my one point from the text tonight and exhort you.
Therefore, let me list and attempt to refute some things that would come against the thought that all the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 (including those of a miraculous nature, often called “signs and wonders”) are available to the church today and should be earnestly desired.
1. When a group of people begin to pray for the Spirit to empower and gift them, it is only going to create division.
This is an argument that I just heard the other day from a pastor in Texas. And it is one that I take very seriously because my heart is that those who are genuine believers would be unified in truth even as Jesus prayed in John 17.
However, I believe that the argument is a weak one for a few reasons. I will list two.
1. Every truth that people can disagree upon is going to create division between those who speak the truth and those who disagree with them. However, do not forget Paul’s reminder to the Corinthians that “There must also be factions [dissension/divisions] among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you” ( 1 Corinthians 11:19).
2. The early believers prayed for power and signs and wonders and God granted them. However, Luke shows afterward that there was everything but division. In fact, I pointed out just last week how much unity was brought after such a time. Several times in these early chapters of Acts we read of unity with these early believers and every time it is either in secession to signs and wonders or in the midst of them. Some of those passages are Acts 2:43-47, 32-37, and 5:12.
2. They were simply to serve as a sign to show that one was an apostle.
The argument would go on to say that since there are no more apostles, there are no more gifts—especially of this miraculous supernatural nature. The argument mainly stems from 2 Corinthians 12:12 where Paul writes, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance by signs and wonders and miracles.” And upon a light examination, it serves as a powerful argument. And, if incorrectly translated (as the NIV does), then it serves as an even greater argument.
However, this text probably means that signs and wonders were a part of many signs that validated Paul as an apostle. He lists many throughout both the letters to the Corinthians. One such example Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9:1-2 is that he is an apostle to the Corinthians because he led them to Christ. He says that they are the “seal of [his] apostleship.” But does that mean that everyone who leads another to Christ is an apostle? Again in 2 Corinthians 11 Paul defends his apostleship by showing that he worked without pay and endured sufferings. He says this serves to show he is an apostle over those who were simply claiming to be apostles.
Here is a further example that might explain this more clearly: At Union, professors have to be at least working toward their doctorate in order to teach. Therefore, if someone were trying to convince me that he was a professor at Union, then he could say, “I have shown you the sign of being a professor by showing you my doctoral certificate.” Yet does that mean that all who have doctorates are professors? Of course not.
However, if he showed me his blue parking sticker, his books that he used to teach, and told me the names of some of his colleagues, then all that together would probably work as a validating work to convince me that he is a professor at Union—although anyone can have any (or all) of those things and not by a professor at Union. This is, I believe, what Paul is doing with the Corinthians. I mean, surely if signs and wonders were the sign that one was an apostle, then Paul could have mentioned that one and quit. But he did not. Charles Hodge points out eight evidences of apostleship which we may include in “the signs of an apostle” that Paul uses in 1st and 2nd Corinthians (2 Corinthians, p.291).
Also, the miraculous workings of signs and wonders came through the hands of many others who were not apostles. In chapters six and eight of Acts, Stephen and Phillip are both mentioned performing miraculous signs, but neither of these are of the twelve. Also, the seventy were sent out to heal the sick, and yet they were not of the twelve. Then one may consider the Corinthians; Paul writes of the gifts given to them in chapter twelve and lists such miraculous gifts as gifts of healing, working of miracles, various kinds of tongues, and prophecy; but the Corinthians were definitely not all apostles.
Finally, a defense from Christ’s statement to the disciples of John shows that miracles prove as a sign but not the sign. In Matthew 11:3 John’s disciples ask Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” In the following verses Jesus replies, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Jesus verified his Messiahship by pointing to the miracles he did. However, one would not be correct if one concluded that everyone who did such things was the Messiah because the seventy, Paul, and many others did such things and were not the Messiah. Therefore, just as miraculous workings were a sign that Jesus was the Messiah, they were a sign that Paul and others were apostles, but they were not the sign of apostleship, and thus the argument against praying for them is refuted by Scripture itself.
3. The gifts (especially of a miraculous nature) were only meant to be temporary.
I could answer this argument by simply saying, “No, they were not.” However, let me allow one who is more highly regarded than myself speak on that issue. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes on pages 31-32 of his book, The Sovereign Spirit, “It is perfectly clear that in the New Testament times, the gospel was authenticated in this way by signs, wonders, and miracles of various characters and descriptions … Was it only meant to be true of the early church? … The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary—never! There is no such statement anywhere.”
Also, I could add that Scripture says the exact opposite in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, but I will hold on to that one until the end.
4. They are risky, so why desire them?
My answer to why we should desire them would be in pointing out that these early believers did, and God moved powerfully through them. And then I would point out that 1 Corinthians 14:1 says, “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts.”
Therefore, wouldn’t you think it would be more “risky” to disobey a command in Scripture that is very simply put? If you are not going to desire these things, then you better be very sure that you are right, because Scripture gives a command in the exact opposite direction.
5. Don’t signs and wonders challenge the authority of the word of God?
This is a question that we must be concerned about addressing because we do rest on the authority of the word of God. That’s the greatest service the Reformation did for the church. Also, Romans 1:16 says that “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” Therefore, let me address this with two points.
1. The early believers prayed for and practiced signs and wonders. Therefore, if they are a challenge to the word, then all the early believers challenged the authority of the word, and that is a ludicrous conclusion. And also, with Paul encouraging it in 1 Corinthians 14:1, then it makes no sense that he would want to challenge the authority of the word.
2. Luke seems to try to show in the book of Acts that signs and wonders do not compete against the authority of the word, but they actually work alongside it. John Piper counts “at least 17 times where miracles help lead to conversions in the book of Acts,” adding “Luke himself labors in book of Acts to show how valuable signs and wonders are in winning people to Christ” (“Are Wonders against the Word,” an article in The Standard (of the Baptist General Conference): October, 1991).
Therefore, now that I have tried to refute some of the arguments that I once might have made against the belief that all the gifts of the Spirit are available and should be earnestly desired in persistent prayer, let me point out a few things that should exhort us in this direction.
1. There is a direct command in Scripture to desire earnestly spiritual gifts.
Again, as I have mentioned, 1 Corinthians 14:1 gives us a command to pursue love and desire spiritual gifts. If we claim to be people of the word, then we must be people who elevate the word over our experience. Therefore, even if our experience is is that God does not through us in this sense (with prophecy, faith, healing, or whatever), we should still hold to the word over our experience and obey it.
2. The early believers prayed for them.
I mean, if we are trying to model ourselves after Luke’s description of the early church, then it would seem that we would need to strive to pray for the things that they were concerned to pray for, and this was one of them.
3. Jesus said we would do the works that he did.
In John 14:12, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do: because I go the Father.”
I listened to a guy the other day saying that some people who believe that God meant for his followers to pray for signs and wonders do some of the worst biblical exegetical work he has ever known. I wonder how someone who does not pray for those things exegetically interprets this passage (as well as one I will mention in a second).
Maybe the person would say that the “greater” (meizona) in “greater works than these” means that the works would simply be done in greater quantity because now his Spirit would be indwelling all believers. And that is a possible explanation. But even if that is true, it does not do away with the fact that Jesus says “the works that I do shall he do also.” Maybe then the individual does not think that the phrase “he who believes in me” refers to present day individuals. However, everyone thinks that the same construction (ha pisteuon) used in John 6:47 refers to us, as Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”
Therefore, Jesus teaches us that those who believed in Him would do the works that he did.
4. Peter announces in Acts 2:14-21 that we are in the last days.
And as we look at that which Joel prophesies (included in that passage) about that time, it includes that God’s people would be involved in prophesying. Therefore, we cannot determine that we have escaped the last days but only that we are further into them We are in “the last of the last days,” in relation to Peter’s time. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense that we should pray for these things (in addition to the fact that it is commanded)?
5. James tells us to look back to Elijah (through whom God worked powerfully) to see an example of how powerful prayer can be in our lives.
He had just spoken of healing occurring in the church and had just said, “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” when he says in James 5:17, “Elijah was a man with a nature just like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.” James wants us to put ourselves in the same category as men like Elijah, writing, “[He] was a man with a nature just like ours.”
I find this interesting because John MacArthur writes in his book Charismatic Chaos,
Most biblical miracles happened in three relatively brief periods of Bible history:
in the days of Moses and Joshua, during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, and in
the time of Christ and the apostles. None of those periods lasted much more than
a hundred years. Each of them saw a proliferation of miracles unheard of in other
areas … The miracles that happened involved men who were extraordinary
messengers from God—Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the apostles.
Yet James’ argument is the exact opposite.
6. Finally, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 tells us that the gifts (even the miraculous ones, often called “signs and wonders”) will not cease until the return of Christ.
I find it interesting that all this argument can occur with a text like 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 in the Scriptures. I mean, for the longest time I just thought the bible was very unclear about the ceasing of the gifts, that is until I read 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. I won’t go into it much right here, but I have included a long appendix at the conclusion of this manuscript that gives a detailed explanation of it. However, I want to (and am going to) move on to make my one point from the text.
It is this: it seems that Luke is trying to show us in Acts 5:12-16 the significance of signs and wonders in bringing people to salvation. Now, I am not saying that they are the power to salvation. They most definitely are not. However, it appears that he is trying to show us that signs and wonders can serve as a sign to break the indifference men have toward God in order that they might then hear the word of God and be saved.
He points this out in this passage by saying in verse 12, “At the hands of the apostles, many signs and wonders were taking place among the people,” and adding in verse 14, “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.”
So, one might say, people were just coming because the apostles were nice, and everyone was doing church then, and they were just wanting to be involved in the community. Therefore, signs and wonders are no part of people hearing the gospel and coming to the Lord.
However, Luke corrects this thought by pointing out that no one wanted to be associated with the believers in this time, except one another. This is most likely because of the persecution that they knew they would be risking. Luke writes in verse 13, “But none of the rest dared to associate with them.” Again, this is probably because of the threat of persecution.
So, if that is the case, how did the apostles ever get a hearing for the word of God in order that the multitudes mentioned in verse 14 might be added to the church? I believe the answer is in verse 12 and 15-16. God was granting their prayer for signs and wonders and healings, and men were carrying their sick to them from all over Jerusalem and even outside of it in order that they might be healed. And I have no doubt that Peter and John and the other were saying to them in this time, “Let me tell you who is supplying this power. His name is Jesus. He is the very one whom you crucified and God raised from the dead. So repent of your sins and believe on Him in order that you may receive eternal life.”
Do you see more clearly why the disciples did not simply pray for boldness to speak the gospel and then stop, but rather went on to pray, “While Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of thy holy servant Jesus”?
May we, therefore, pray like them in order that men’s indifference to the things of God may be shattered in order that we might speak to them the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. Amen.
(A DETAILED EXPLANATION OF 1 CORINTHIANS 13:8-12)
Upon reading verse eight, one immediately sees the contrast between love and the gifts of the Spirit. However, it is not the first time in the chapter that he has done this. He begins the chapter contrasting these in verses one and two. He writes,
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become
a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all
mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do
not have love, I am nothing.”
In doing so, he introduces four gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, namely, speaking in tongues, prophecy, knowledge, and faith; the first three of which he will use again. He contrasts them with love in saying that if one is gifted enormously yet lacks love, the gifts with which the individual is endowed are useless. They merit nothing but noise, distraction, and harm to others and oneself. He then proceeds to speak of the greatness of love in the following verses.
The contrast, as previously mentioned, occurs in verse eight as well, but this time the contrast between love and the xarismata (gifts) is shown in a different light. Paul continues the flow of his argument, but he takes it to another dimension. He shows now the permanency of love versus the eventual ceasing of the gifts.
Paul begins this verse saying, “Love never fails.” At first it is not exactly clear what is meant by this phrase. One might possibly think that Paul is trying to say that love is not defeated or overcome in this world no matter how sinful the stage of the world might become. However, when one looks ahead at the flow of his argument, it is seen that he is speaking of the permanency of love. A paraphrase that speaks his intentions clearly might be, “Love always perseveres.” Paul is saying that nothing will ever come along that will allow the believers to be without love. It is so great that it will be with God’s people always.
It is important that one understands that the thesis of this passage is the permanency of love. If one fails to recognize this, then one will fail in his or her interpretation. Several interpretations have been skewed because of this failure. More specifically, several interpretations of what Paul means by teleion (“perfect”) have been incorrect because Paul’s thesis and intent have been ignored.
Paul shows this permanency of love by contrasting it with the fact that the gifts of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will come to an end. It is not clear why Paul uses the three carismata that he has chosen but one could make an assumption based on the surrounding chapters. Some have suggested that Paul uses tongues and knowledge because they are gifts that the Corinthians have elevated while he uses prophecies because he himself has so elevated this gift above the others. This is not important, however, for Paul does not focus on the individual nature of each gift but on the temporary quality all of them possess.
He says that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will eventually come to an end. The verb he uses translated “be done away” in the New American Standard Bible is xatargew while Paul communicates a similar idea with the gift of tongues using a different verb. With tongues, Paul says they will cease. The verb used is pausontai. The difference between the two is not simply that they are different words, but they are in different tenses as well. While catargew is in the passive voice, pausontai is in the middle voice.
Some understand Paul’s word choice here to mean that tongues will cease themselves. It is as if there is a self-ceasing element built into them. It might be compared to a lit candle which even by fulfilling its purpose will eventually succeed at destroying its own existence. This idea is built off of the classic translation of the middle voice which is an action enacted upon oneself.
At first, the preceding argument might sound convincing, (especially to those who do not have a background including Greek) but the argument is a weak one. For one, such an interpretation is only possible by an irresponsible interpretation of the middle voice. The middle voice is often translated actively (as a deponent) and this verb specifically prefers the middle voice even when needing to be translated actively. One such example is in Luke 8:24 in which Luke records the event of Christ rebuking and calming the sea. When Jesus demands that the sea be stilled, Luke writes that it “stopped.” This verb is the same verb used in 1 Corinthians 13:8, and it is also in the middle voice. One would be senseless, though, to insist that the sea stopped under its own power because of an intrinsic self-ceasing quality it possessed. Rather, Paul is simply saying in verse 8 that whereas love will never fail (or endure forever), the gifts, namely, tongues, prophecies, and knowledge will eventually cease.
In verses 9 and 10 Paul identifies two details of the argument which he is making. First, he allows the reader to see the reason that the gifts will cease, and second, he identifies exactly when the gifts will cease. It is in correctly interpreting these verses that one is able to understand that over which many theologians have disagreed.
In verse 9, Paul tells the reader that the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will cease because of their in inability to completely fulfill the longing of the body of Christ to know the will, ways, and character of its Creator. He says, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part …” This is a statement which shows the believers at Corinth the tension of the already—not yet tension of the kingdom. “Yes,” Paul has argued “The gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge are given to us now by the Spirit.” But he goes on to point out that they are not complete or perfect. They only provide partial knowledge and understanding. It is in this way that the gifts are imperfect or partial.
Paul then proceeds to tell his audience what is the result of the gifts being partial and imperfect. He writes in verse 10, “But when the perfect comes, the partial [ie. tongues, prophecies, and knowledge] will be done away.” The result of the gifts being impartial is that they will be done away, will cease, will come to an end. This is in contrast to love which will endure forever. Paul does not leave the reader to wonder when this is, however, but identifies this occurring “when the perfect [to teleion] comes.”
The idea here is that the gifts will cease when that which is superior comes along and supercedes the need which the church has for these gifts. This idea is stated perfectly in the words of Karl Barth, “Because the sun rises, all lights go out.” This communicates well to anyone who has stubbed a toe in his or her house in the dark of night but with the breaking of the dawn sees no further need to illumine the room. Thus is Paul’s argument, because the perfect comes the imperfect is useless and ceases.
Though one might think the issue easily resolved and agreed upon, this is not the case. There is much disagreement here as to what Paul actually means. Two things that are clear is that that which he is talking about ceasing is the gifts of the Spirit. In other words, Paul is not saying knowledge will cease, but the gift of knowledge. Nor is he saying that the content of prophecy will cease but the individual prophesyings themselves. Secondly, the ceasing of the imperfect gifts occurs with the coming of the perfect. The problem, however, is in understanding what Paul means by to teleion. There are three groups of theories as to what this means.
Some have believed that by “the perfect” Paul means the maturity of individual believers. Therefore, “the perfect” is not seen as concrete as others would want but is simply a state of maturity the individual believer attains. This mainly stems from idea that telion means maturity. The strength of this argument is that this verb is most frequently used to communicate the maturity of individual believers. The weakness of this argument, however, is that members of the body of Christ mature at different rates and will not reach full completion until the time when they see Christ face to face. Therefore, to identify “the perfect” as the maturity of believers leaves the gifts to cease at different times for different people.
It has also been argued that “the perfect” refers to the completion of the canon. It is argued that all that the believer needs to become complete in Christ is revealed in Scripture, thus when the canon was closed the perfect came.
The problem with this interpretation, however, is manifold. For one, it does not fit with Paul’s writing in the rest of the passage. Clearly the events he mentions are eschatological in nature; for example, seeing face to face and being known as one is known Paul surely did not expect to happen with the completion of the canon (that is, after the final book of Scripture was written). And surely Paul did not expect the return of Christ to be simultaneous with the completion of the canon. Also, such an argument would actually work against Paul’s thesis on the permanency of love.
Such an argument would work against Paul’s thesis because most scholars believe that the final book in the canon was written around A.D. 95. The epistle to the Corinthians, however, many believe was written as late as the spring of A.D. 55. Consequently, for Paul to use such an example would be shooting himself in the foot in establishing his thesis that love lasts forever. He would then state his argument as follows, “Love lasts forever, in fact it lasts longer than forty years.” Such would be like a man bragging about his intellect by saying he has gained more knowledge than a child in kindergarten. It is a weak argument to say the least.
The final reason such an interpretation is not a good one is that the Corinthian readers could not have understood what Paul meant. The idea of the canon of Scripture one day being completed was not a thought that would have come easily to them.
So one might ask, “How should one understand “the perfect.” The answer is in the third and final argument for what to teleion means. This view is held by a majority of biblical scholars, and it is that “the perfect” is related to the return of Christ and final completion of His kingdom. It is argued (in the writer’s opinion, correctly) that it is only at this point that the church will reach maturity and that the perfect will have come. To pick up on Barth’s analogy, the Kingdom and Christ Himself will be the lights that will make all others unnecessary and therefore extinguished.
The importance of having a correct understanding of “the perfect” is thus seen as Paul identifies its “coming” the time when the gifts will cease. If it is misinterpreted, (as many believers have done) then one will conclude that the gifts have ceased and are no longer available to the church. The perfect, being identified with the events of the return of Christ, allows the reader to see that the Church will have the gifts until Christ returns.
Some who agree with this understanding of the perfect might argue that Paul is not clear on when the gifts will cease. They might say that though the perfect calls for the gifts to cease, Paul leaves room in his writing for us to understand that the gifts can cease before this event occurs. John MacArthur, writes, “The passage does not say when tongues were to cease … When is not stipulated, but they won’t be around when the perfect thing arrives. History suggests that tongues ceased shortly after Paul wrote this epistle. However, Paul leaves no room for such an interpretation. He writes, “When [not before or after] the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. This does not leave room for his readers to be confused on the matter. So, Paul’s writing might be paraphrased, “When Christ returns and establishes His kingdom completely then the gifts of the Spirit will no longer be needed and consequently will pass away.”
In verse 11, Paul turns from simply teaching what will happen to an analogy to further instruct the church. Though easy to understand, this verse can cause problems for those on both sides of the issue. Paul writes, “When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”
At first reading one might think that Paul is saying that the gifts are childish and are not needed in the church. Such an interpretation could only occur if an individual pulls such a verse out of context. A clear problem with this interpretation (besides its context) is that the verse is written in a reflection on the past. Paul speaks of his childhood, but then he notes that he is now a man no longer needing childish things. Thus, if one were to understand Paul to be saying the gifts are childish things then once again the individual works against Paul’s instruction and own experience. For Paul instructs his readers in 14:1 and 14:5 that he wanted them to desire spiritual gifts and wished they all spoke in tongues, respectively.
Furthermore, Paul says in 14:18, “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all.” For Paul to be speaking of the gifts in this present age as childish things, then he would have put them away. For he states that he has already become a man, and one puts away childish things at such a point.
Obviously, therefore, Paul is not saying that someone desiring spiritual gifts is behaving as a child, but rather he is using an illustration to show the truth of what he has been arguing. Keep in mind the context, that Paul is saying that when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. Then, when one reads verse 11, the interpretation is obvious. Paul is saying that just like a child does things children do when he or she is a child, the church has spiritual gifts in this present age. However, he transitions, when the child grows up, the childish things are done away. In the same way, when Christ comes and fully establishes His kingdom and the age to come (the perfect) the gifts will no longer be needed. They will be a thing of the past and, consequently, they will cease.
Finally, Paul finishes the argument reminding the reader again why it is at that time that the gifts will cease. He says in verse 12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.”
Paul makes another allusion to contrast the gifts now and the established kingdom, then. Looking at the verse in two halves it is clearly understood. First, Paul writes, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Though Corinth was famous for being able to produce desirous bronze mirrors, Paul points out that the mirrors only allow one to see dimly. He notes, however, that when the perfect comes, he will be able to see face to face. In doing so, he once again contrasts the imperfect quality of the gifts which will cease on that day.
In the second half of the verse Paul compares the knowledge which he possesses now to the knowledge he will possess on that glorious day. Paul has written of many “mysteries” in the scripture, but he was obviously looking forward to a day when he would know in the manner in which he was known.
This final verse makes an incorrect interpretation of to teleion difficult to continue to hold. It seems farfetched that Paul was trying to say, “Now I see in a mirror dimly, but when John finishes writing Revelation I will be able to see face to face” or “Now I know in part but after the New Testament is written we will be able to fully understand.” If such were the case, then all present day believers would walk in such a state. The need for this paper, however, shows that this is not the case.
In this passage, Paul tells the church when it is that the gifts will cease. It is when, and only when, the perfect comes. And he leaves not much room for an incorrect interpretation of what the perfect is, showing it is clearly eschatological in nature. Any expositional study and teaching of the passage leaves the reader to acknowledge this. Therefore, at an exegetical level, there is not only no warrant to say that the gifts have ceased at some point in the past, but one may be assured that they will not cease until the return of Christ.