Monday, February 27, 2006
That Which Is Perfect
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:10, "But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." What is "that which is perfect?" Personally, this seems very easy. Many people have said that it is the Bible. Their thought, I guess, is that once God had given all 27 books of the NT, the gifts of knowledge, prophecy, and tongues wouldn't be necessary any longer. I think that they would argue that once Scripture was canonized, we wouldn't need these particular gifts, explaining their having been done away, and more recently, revealing why the Charismatic movement can't be real. I commiserate with some of those thoughts. The problem is that "that which is perfect" can't be the Bible, and for many reasons. Listen carefully.
V. 8 tells us that prophecy and knowledge will be done away with. You ask, "What about tongues?" It says tongues "shall cease." The verb (katargeo) used with prophecy and knowledge is the same verb. With both nouns, the verb is future passive, meaning that something else will do away with prophecy and knowledge. "Shall cease" is an entirely different verb (pauo), and it is future middle, meaning that "tongues" would stop on their own. Tongues have their own built in stopping point. You can't say that anything does away with tongues. Even if the Bible is "that which is perfect," it doesn't do away with tongues. Tongues stop on their own, as if their battery has run out. Actually, once tongues had finished their purpose, that is, the authentication of the Word of God, they would disappear, even as they would no longer be necessary.
Now look at v. 9. It says that we presently know in part and also currently prophesy in part. It says nothing about speaking in tongues in part. Tongues have already dropped out of the picture in this chapter, indicative of their extreme temporality. This chapter shows the superiority of love to gifts, with this section of this chapter showing the permanence of love with relations to the gifts. The coming of that which is perfect signals the completion of knowledge and prophecy. Are knowledge and prophecy still operating today? Yes. We still need knowledge and prophecy. Our knowledge is incomplete and keeps growing, but will always just be in part. We are limited in our capacity to know and prophesy by the curse of sin and the human fallenness that resides in our flesh.
Later in v. 12, Paul compares our situation to looking at a mirror ("glass") and not being able to see everything because of a lack of light. You can't see everything you want to see when you are hampered by darkness. Our knowledge and prophecy are still limited in our present state on earth. In v. 11, Paul contrasts his present knowing ("understanding," "thought") and prophesying ("spake") with future knowing and prophesying with the illustration of the limitations of a child in these areas compared to that of an adult. We know and prophesy like a child at this time compared to knowing and prophesying like an adult in some future time.
"That which is perfect" is actually two Greek words, literally, "the perfect." "Perfect" is an adjective in the neuter gender. Neuter. God's Word is in the masculine gender. "Perfect" as an adjective does not agree in gender with "Word," so it could not be describing God's Word. "Bible," what we often call God's Word, is not the primary title for it in Scripture. If you look at every time the Greek word for "book" (biblion, which is neuter) is used in the NT, it isn't referring to the Bible as a whole; only a book of the Bible essentially. So what is it describing? The text itself tells us. "The perfect" is when we see the Lord face to face (v. 12). That is when we will no longer need knowledge or prophecy. We won't need it because our knowledge will then be complete. 1 John 3:2 says that "when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." When we see the Lord face to face, our knowledge will be perfect. The perfect describes our condition in the eternal state---the time of our perfection will do away with knowledge and prophecy. Our glorified state will not be hampered by sin or its consequences any more. This fits with the context, because even in heaven love will exist---not faith and hope---but love will. Since faith and hope aren't sight, seeing him will eradicate both. We already don't need tongues. They have stopped on their own. In heaven, we won't need hope, faith, knowledge, or prophecy. Those gifts will no longer be necessary. This is an important reason why love is superior. Love is eternal.