Sunday, October 27, 2013

When the Perfect Comes, We'll Stop Debating What the "Perfect" Is

This is going to be really brief. Many have argued that the phrase in 1 Corinthians 13:10. "when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away," either refers to the canon, in which case the partial is done away at the closing of the canon, or it refers to the parousia, in which case the partial is still alive and well today.

I just want to say that it is neither. The context is not referring to the canon of Scripture or the second coming of Christ. What is the context talking about? Here's an insight from Captain Obvious. The context is about love. Paul's entire point in the book is that the Corinthians think that Christian spirituality is primarily bound up in being philosophically savvy and having spiritual displays of power, and that such an understanding of Christian spirituality is fallacious.

Instead, Christianity is about love. Love doesn't divide up into groups who should all be one in Christ. Love doesn't let sin destroy the congregation because it thinks it's being gracious to the unrepentant sinner. Love doesn't divorce a spouse or even sin against oneself. Love doesn't ruin a fellow believer by getting eating things sacrificed to idols, or eat all of the communion and get drunk by hogging all of the wine before the poor among you can partake of it in communion. Love doesn't criticize a laborer in the gospel for partaking of material support to help him in that endeavor. Love doesn't lift one gift up above another in terms of seeing the Spirit's favor upon one individual versus another. Love allows the congregation to be edified by its gifts, rather than creating chaos that doesn't allow the truth to be heard and distinguished from error. Love seeks to uphold the gospel and the doctrine of the future resurrection, and does not upset others by saying there is no resurrection from the dead. Love loves Christ and all else is anathema.

Hence, love is spiritual maturity, not being heady and having spiritual gifts. Those things may be things of the spirit. They are the means to get to a mature love in Christ, but they are not spiritual maturity themselves. And do you know what the word for "maturity" is in the Greek New Testament? That's right. It's "perfect," i.e., telios "the ends," "the goal," "maturity." In fact, the word often refers to a full grown adult, i.e., one who has come to maturity. So what is the "perfect," Boys and Girls? Love. When maturity in love comes, the partial will be done away. When a true spiritual maturity in genuine Christian love has been obtained, the partial is no longer needed. So the true discussion should center on whether the partial here just refers to "anything God has put in the world at various times to mature us in love," or if it literally refers to sign gifts and philosophical knowledge, so that even if we view more things as a part of the "partial," they must some how always be included in what brings us to maturity. That would really be where the cessationist and continuationist disagree, not on the issue of the perfect, as it does not give us a date in history, but a gnomic designation that simply suggests that when the ends have been reached the means are no longer needed. Hence, the means are subordinate to the ends and are therefore of lesser importance than the ends. Ergo, the Corinthians need to evaluate themselves in terms of the ends, not whether God has provided the means to them, since spiritual maturity and God's pleasure is found in the seeking of the ends, not the seeking of the means as ends in and of themselves.


  1. Thanks Truth.

    I would emphasize that a bit differently, in that once maturity in love has been accomplished for the church, the partial passes away. I think this does not occur until the resurrection. If that's what MacArthur means by "the eternal state," then I would agree with him. If he means, this is what happens when we die, then I would disagree. But the emphasis I would put on it is that the "perfect" refers specifically to love in this chapter, not to a time period when a particular event occurs. So the emphasis is on the event, rather than the time of the event.

    Having said all of that, I think tongues cease at the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and that prophecy begins to pass away as a sufficient amount of Scripture becomes completed and dispersed throughout the Church. But neither of those would I root in 1 Cor 13, so I'm with MacArthur on that point.