Understanding 1 Corinthians 13 and the Ceasing of Prophecy

By Christ’s Spirit, Paul contrasts love’s constancy to the limitation of gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 13. In this, Paul reveals that the gifts of prophecy will fail, tongues will cease, and knowledge will vanish unlike love. “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (1 Cor 13:8–10 NASB).

When is the coming of the complete when the partial gifts will be done away? Jesus told His Apostles on the night of His arrest that He had more to say to His Apostles. Therefore, He said that He would send His Spirit to reveal all the Truth to them (John 16:12–13). “All the Truth” is complete revelation of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. “All the Truth” was to come in the time of the Apostles. This is how Jesus passed on His words, which words and instructions in the writings of the Apostles and prophets from Acts to Revelation.

This partial knowledge and partial prophecy would come to completion. Paul said, “But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1 Cor 13:10). The word for perfect, telion, is also and better translated complete. The gifts of prophesying and revealing of knowledge are the essential modes to bringing forth the words of Christ.

Yet, the Holy Spirit speaks through the Apostle Paul revealing that these gifts were for a state of immaturity. This is seen in verse 11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Speaking in tongues, prophesying, and healing were for those in a state of childhood and immaturity. From Moses working wonders to Christ working wonders, the Scriptures reveal that these signs of wonder were used to confirm men and their messages were from God (Mark 16:20, Heb 2:3–4). These were wonders initiating the beginning and establishing God’s covenant with His people. Wonders done through the hands of men were not meant to last, but to establish the complete necessary for a state of maturity.

The Spirit’s gifts were incomplete in allowing man to fully examine himself. This is seen in verse 12, which says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” Paul says that the complete is a clear mirror rather than the dim one of partial prophecy and knowledge. In other words, this is a change from a partial revelation to a full revelation. The reference to the mirror is found two other times in the New Testament Scriptures. In Paul’s next writing to the Corinthians, he refers to “the ministry of the Spirit” and “of righteousness” where Christians behold in a mirror “the glory of the Lord” in contrast to the Old Testament (2 Cor 3:7ff), which this mirror is the Gospel by the which “the glory of Christ” shines (2 Cor 4:3–4). James also describes “the Word” as a mirror (Jas 1:22ff). Knowledge will go from partial to complete. The “complete” is the completion of the necessity of the gifts for knowledge and prophecy. For verse 12 shows that the Christian knew himself in part and now he will know himself in full. The “perfect” is the complete revelation of the Gospel, which we have in the Scriptures since Jesus revealed all Truth to the Apostles.

The limitations of the gifts of the Spirit is in contrast to a better way, love (1 Cor 12:31). Those “Christians”, who concentrate on their “gifts” looking down on others as “dead”, have little understanding of the lasting love that is to be among Christians. Those who invent false gifts are the result of a delusional pride. No more should believers try to gain preeminence over one another by their gifts from the Spirit. Christians see the enduring principle even after the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased. All of our gifts are given to everyone by God (Rom 12), and the unity of Christians in love goes far beyond Christians showing off their talents before the congregation. Yet, many churches are filled with shows of false gifts supposedly from the Spirit or performances of God-given talents. These churches are where worship is more about them than God. Just as the Christians in Corinth, many church leaders have made the Assembly into a talent show (also see Matt 6). These talent shows lead to strife and disputes. May all Christians stay as far away from these deceptions and draw near to God in His love and in their love for one another.

“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Cor 13:8–12).

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of Christ, Holy Spirit and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Understanding 1 Corinthians 13 and the Ceasing of Prophecy

  1. This article is not to say that miracles have cease or that God does work in this world and continues to do great wonders. The conclusion would be in light of only the Apostles being able to pass on the gifts of the Spirit is that miracles are no longer done through the hands of men. I’d also add that the word “miracle” does not have its own Greek word. When signs, wonders, and powers are mentioned for supernatural workings of God, the translators will usually translate the word for “signs” as “miracles”.

    If you define a miracle as the birth of a child or someone’s bewildering survival, then I cannot disagree. I will not dispute over the definition of a miracle.

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