Recently the debate over the ceasing or continuing of spiritual gifts as in the time of the New Testament Apostles, a.k.a. Cessationism or Continuationism debate, has been all over the blogosphere (Challies w/ Grudem (you’ll find the links to Waldron), From the Head of the Moor, PyroManiac, Fide-O amoung others), and it has been educational to read views from all sides. I was reading 1 Corinthians 13 today and was surprised by what I found in reading and meditating on it.

Consider with me the following:

(starting with verse 2) “…[I]f I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

So far so good right? Love is the chiefly valuable part of exercising prophetic powers and removing mountains, without it we’re just hosers.

(then continuing from verse 8) “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

Notice that Paul says that currently we prophecy and know in part. Also, he says that our knowledge, prophecy, and tongues (speaking) will pass away or cease. It seems as though he is saying the gifts themselves will expire. I stopped at this point and thought, “that doesn’t make sense…while I can accept that prophecy and tongues cease…it does not make sense with knowledge? Won’t we know God more? Why would knowledge cease?” Well, let’s read on:

(continuing with vs 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. 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.

This analogy flips the passage back around when we consider the shift from child to adult. As a child understands in a childish way, but a man understands fully (in the analogy.) Paul then presses home the point by highlighting how our knowing of God will deepen at this point (the coming of the ‘perfect’), and with how we will see fully as opposed to seeing darkly through a glass. It seems as though the ceasing and passing away is only applicable to the partial nature of the gifts. This leads me to the following conclusions and questions:

1.) Pre-“perfect” knowledge, prophecy and tongues are “partial.”

2.) Post-“perfect” knowledge, prophecy, and tongues will be in fullness.

3.) The ceasing of these gifts will be the partial component and they will be replaced with fullness of gifts.

4.) Has the “perfect” come?
A.) whether the perfect is Christ in his return, or the Holy Bible in it’s closed canon, the result is still a fullness of these gifts in the presence of the perfect.

5.) This passage says nothing of the experience of these gifts as a metric for determining thier presense in a specific epoch or the time of thier cessation.
A.) I am not saying that there are not other passages that deal with cessation of gifts, but it doesn’t appear to say they will end here, but rather come into greater fullness!
B.) Although, I do find it interesting and educational that Phil Johnson (for whom I have great respect) begins his discussion at this point (specifically that we don’t experience, or shouldn’t claim to experience, the fullness of the spiritual gifts.)

(finally finishing with 14:1) “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

I find it interesting that Paul who clearly had all these gifts in great measure, did not encourage the church at Corinth to look for the perfect and then the complete ceasing of gifts, but encouraged them to earnestly desire gifts as a means of loving the body of Christ. By doing this they were “pursuing love” in action by using the grace God provided in the spiritual gifts.

Now for the provisos:

1) I am not a greek exegete (yet)
2) This is only one passage among many (and only part of Paul’s letter) that deal with spiritual gifts and timing, and is not an exhaustive study.
3) I am apt to make logical errors.
4) I learned these things today and would like to share them, I am not however the sole holder of truth and spiritual enlightenment on this matter, and am eager to be corrected and set in the right if mistaken.

So please comment! 🙂

(all passages here quoted are the ESV, emphasis and brackets my own)

Advertisements