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Over the years I have had dozens of folks tell me that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased (called Cessationism) with the close of the Apostolic age and with the writing of the last book of the New Testament. Many times the same Christians will quote 1Corinthians 13:8-10 as definitive proof.
I refuse to get into arguments over this issue or spend a great deal of time even discussing it since I have usually found it to be a waste of time. I really don’t plan to get into the issue itself in this article.
I only want to take a look at 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 and show why it is really not a good text for supporting Cessationism.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 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. 12 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 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
First of all, Paul begins his thoughts about spiritual gifts in chapter 12 and continues the teaching through chapter 14 so the passage must be viewed and understood in that larger context. Following the chapter 13 love passage Paul tells the Corinthians at the beginning of chapter 14 to follow the way of love by earnestly seeking spiritual gifting, especially prophecy. If some of the gifts were going to be discontinued in the next generation at the close of the apostolic age there is simply no clue from the larger text.
That brings us to 13:8-10 which many folks put forth as poof that at least prophecy and tongues will cease. The view revolves around the text- “when the perfect comes” and concludes by teaching that the ‘perfect’ was the New Testament. Therefore according to that view, when the last Apostle (John) completed the words of the last book of the New Testament and passed away, so did the need for the gifts of prophecy and tongues cease and pass away.
The problems with that interpretation are evident in the passage itself. Did knowledge pass away also? No. Did Christians finally know God as Moses did, face to face and come to a full understanding and knowledge of oneself? No, we still have only a partial understanding of things and we have a hard time clearly seeing ourselves as we truly are. We still don’t know much about what we are going to be doing for all eternity, only the necessary part that God has given us in his scriptures for now. A fuller understanding waits for the coming of Jesus.
The earliest interpretation of ‘the perfect’ (Gk: teleion – “that which is perfect”) in verse 10 was that it referred to Jesus and the time following his coming again. If you re-read the passage with the understanding that it is referring to Jesus and his second coming it all makes sense in context. When Jesus comes again everything will change and see the light of day. We will also have a much clearer understanding of ourselves, His Kingdom, and the future.
The gifting that brought us closer to him and his purposes will no longer be necessary since we will then receive everything we need directly from him face to face. Only the gift of love will continue on forever.