Frequently Asked Questions About Christianity, Answered Honestly!
When That Which is Perfect is Come?
-by Tony Warren
1st Corinthians 13:9-10
question that is frequently asked by Christians is, "how are we to understand the passages of 1st Corinthians 13:8-13." Theologians over the years have answered this query in many different ways. Some say that it means miracles ceased when the Bible was completed. The conclusion that miracles ceased at the close of Holy Canon I do not deny, but I do not believe that these verses prove that. These passages declare, "that which is in part" shall be done away with. This is identified by God as knowledge and prophecy (1st Corinthians 13:10). Thus, that which is perfect cannot refer to the written word being complete, because Holy Canon has been complete nearly 2000 years, yet we still have imperfect or "partial knowledge." And that this "partial knowledge" would cease, is a requirement for that which is perfect to come. It would seem then impossible for these passages to mean that the perfect coming is the completion of the Bible. For we still have knowledge in part. We grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2nd Peter 3:18), but we do not yet have complete knowledge. Else we wouldn't be continuing to grow in knowledge.
- "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
- But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is
in part shall be done away."
The key to understanding this is in looking at the whole chapter in its proper context, and discerning exactly when "partial knowledge" shall cease. And obviously this can only occur at the consummation or completeness of all things. It occurs when Christ returns on the clouds of Glory. Only then will the mystery of God be complete, and knowledge will no longer be in part.
Until the second advent, we will always "know in part" or have partial knowledge, because the mystery of God cannot be finished [teleo] or come to the end or completion until that time. While we are on earth looking forward to His second coming, we will always see the things of God indistinctly and imperfectly. In this life we will never know, as we are known of God. Because this verse of Revelation chapter ten tells us that this will not happen until the voice of the seventh Angel sounds. And that is at the end of the world. Likewise, 1st Corinthians 13:9-10 tells us that when the perfect [teleios] or completion is come, that which is partial shall be done away with. That happens only with the coming of Christ in the consummation when that seventh trumpet shall sound. Thus it is impossible for these verses to be speaking of anything that occurs before Christ's second advent.
- "But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets."
How do we understand these controversial verses of "when that which is perfect is come?" We clearly have to understand them in the light of scripture by a systematic and careful exegesis of the passage, in context, comparing scripture with scripture. And the best way to accomplish this is to consider it one verse at a time. With this in mind, let's look at verse eight:
1st Corinthians 13:8
"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away."
[agape] is Godly unselfish love that is always seeking the best for others (thus, the translation in the KJV charity). It manifests itself in patience, kindness, lack of envy, lack of pride, eschewing (or shunning) of evil, and rejoicing in the truth. Because it is not a worldly secular love based in the lusts of the flesh, but a perfect spiritual love in true benevolence or charity.
The word translated faileth is the Greek word [ekpipto] and means to "fall away" or "fall out of." It is taken from the root words [ex], meaning out, and [pipto] meaning fall. We shall never fall out of agape (love) because once we are truly saved (because we have Christ in us), we shall love eternally. We shall love both in this world, and in the world to come. For God is Love, and we who are born of God thus have that love that never fails.
1st John 4:8
A true Christian shall never fall out of true love, for we have within us the love of Christ. In fact, when that which is complete or perfect is come, love shall be stronger that ever as we will not have this body of flesh to struggle against it.
- "He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love."
Thus the children of God never lose charity [agape] or Godly love. It is that which never fails. But in the same verse we read that prophecies shall fail . This word translated fail is the Greek word [katargeo], meaning cease. It's from the two Greek words [kata] meaning down, and [argeo] meaning to be idle. By implication to stop or become idle (cease). Why will prophecies cease? Because when we are with Christ in the completion of all things, there is no need for prophets or those sent to declare God's word. For we will speak with God face to face. Even as Job was confident of this.
So prophesies will cease because there is no need for prophets declaring God's word to men when we are standing in our person before God in heaven.
- "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
- And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:"
Likewise, in Corinthians we read that Tongues (languages) shall cease. This word translated cease for tongues is the Greek word [pauo], which also means to stop. Why will languages someday stop? The answer is because on that great day of His coming again, we will all be like Him (1st John 3:2), and there will be no need for diverse languages. We will all be of one spiritual language. There will be no need for human tongues (languages) or of interpreters of tongues, because we will be a different creation and will understand even as we are understood.
And we are also told that knowledge shall vanish away. This word translated "vanish away" is again the Greek word [katargeo], meaning to cease. And it is very important to remember the context here. This is clearly declaring that knowledge "in part" will vanish away or cease. In other words, when that which is perfect is come, partial knowledge (Knowledge in part) will cease, because the mystery of God will end or be finished. Again, this is proving that these verses can only come to fruition at Christ's second advent when knowledge is no longer partial. As indeed illustrated in verse nine:
1st Corinthians 13:9
"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part."
Here God makes sure that those things that are partial are linked together. We see that we at present have partial knowledge and partial prophecy. These are the same two things that we read will cease. In speaking of these two things God inspired the word [katargeo] to be used for them both illustrating they would cease. And with verse ten, God tells us just when.
1st Corinthians 13:10
When Christ, the perfect completion of all things, comes, those things that we had in part in this world (Knowledge and prophesy) will cease. Because God will speak to us face to face and we will understand and have full knowledge of prophecy. There is no more mystery of God. This verse is simply declaring that now (on this earth) we have partial knowledge of things, and partial understanding of prophecy because we do not know the full mystery of God. Thus cannot understand it all. But when that which is perfect [teleios] or complete is come, then all our partial knowledge and partial understanding of what is to be (prophecy and knowledge) will cease because we will understand the whole prophecy and have full knowledge. That which is Perfect refers to Christ's second advent because He is the consummation and fulfilling of all things.
- "But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away."
Here, that word perfect is the same Greek word [teleios] as in 1st Corinthians chapter 13. He (Christ) is the perfect or complete that, when He returns, will take away all shadows, figures and partial understanding. In heaven, which is a state of absolute perfection or completion, that which is in part or imperfect shall have no part. All imperfection will vanish away as the mystery of God is finished. This is what verse ten means when it says, "when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." And verse eleven uses the analogy of human growth and understanding to illuminate this principle even further:
- "But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;"
1st Corinthians 13:11
Here God is equating our life on this earth with being children who have "little knowledge and understanding" of the world of adults. i.e., the knowledge that we now have, compared with that which we shall have in the consummation in the Kingdom of heaven, is likened unto that which is possessed by children as compared with that of adults. And as a child is humble to trust His father's word that everything will be all right, so we need not fear as Children of God. In this world we prophesy in part and know in part and cannot understand in full, but we trust our Heavenly father that though we have child-like understanding, we all have no need to fear.
- "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
Yet the analogy is that when children grow up, they have greater knowledge, and they put away their childish things. Likewise, we are as children in knowledge and prophesy now, but when that which is perfect is come, He equates it to us growing up and putting away our childish understanding. We will then be given a spiritual heavenly body, as compared to the earthly we have now.
1st Corinthians 15:48-49
The change God has for those of us who receive the image of the heavenly, God likens to the change from childhood to manhood. As the speech, thoughts and goals of the child give way to that of a man, so is our moving from this plain of existence to the next. And this is expounded upon "clearly" in verse twelve of 1st Corinthians chapter 13:
- "As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.
- And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly."
1st Corinthians 13:12
This explanation should clear away any doubt. Because it confirms to us that it's speaking of how, now, as spiritual children, we see as through a glass darkly. The Greek word translated darkly is [en ainigma], and means in a type of riddle or something that is unclear. It's from the root that we get the word 'enigma' from. To use an analogy, it is as if in this life we are looking through a clouded or frosted glass where we can see only outlines and shadows and not the sharp picture. The things of God are somewhat a mystery or enigma to us now. What we see is like enigmatic forms and shapes that only give us "some" idea of what we can expect. We are looking at that which is identifiable, but not enough to see all of God's wonderful and marvelous truths. This is how we see God now, but then (when that which is perfect is come) shall we see God 'face to face.' As when one looks upon something "in person," clearly, and not through an obscure or darkened medium.
- "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
Man can only know God in part in this world, lest he die. But when Christ returns, then we will be changed and see God face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. For then we shall be in the literal presence and Glory of the Lord, without fear of being consumed. Christ is the perfect, the completion, coming at the end of the world, showing Himself the true Tabernacle in heaven, opened for God's people. Then shall we see the Glory of the Lord, and then shall we be like Him.
- "And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.
- And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
- And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:"
1st John 3:2
Here again is the mystery in that "it does not yet appear what we shall be." i.e., here is the knowledge in part, or partial knowledge. But God declares that when He shall appear, "then" we shall see Him and be like Him. We shall see Him face to face just as He is in all His Glory, for if we are on this earth at that time we shall be changed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye into our 'spiritual' bodies wherein this is possible.
- "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."
Thus in understanding all these things we can discern how, now, we see through a glass, darkly. But how, then, face to face. We see how, now, we know in part. But, then, shall we know even as also we are known.
..and we have the conclusion of the matter in this final verse, thirteen:
1st Corinthians 13:13
Now, that is to say, in this life, there remains or continues faith, hope and charity. Faith, the substance of things hoped for, which is the evidence of things not yet seen. And Charity, which is the greatest of these, forever abides in us because it never fails.
- "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the
greatest of these is charity."
It's a rhetorical question, and the conclusion is that "nothing" can separate us from the [agape] of God. It is eternal in us because it is Christ in us. A Christian may temporarily lose hope, or even come to question his faith, but He will never be separated from the charity or [agape] love of God. God in us is that gift that we give wanting nothing in return, and it never fails. Partial prophecy and partial knowledge will someday cease, hope and faith will be rewarded in Christ Jesus, but the love of God lasts forever. The twenty-four elder, the angels, and the spirits around the throne of Heaven sing praises to God for ever, because they have eternal love. Its is the greatest of these, which will forever be with those who are truly in Christ. Not that we love Him, but that we love Him "because" He first loved us. He is our security, so that he that performs a work in us will see it through to the end. He is the author and finisher of our faith, and will come again at the completion of all things.
- "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?"
May the Lord, who is Gracious above all, be merciful that He would grant us the wisdom and understanding to come to some "partial knowledge" of His most precious and Holy Word.
Copyright ©2002 Tony Warren
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