04 August 2009

When the Perfect Comes

Not long ago I asked the question: Was Paul wrong? I proposed that Paul was mistaken in assuming that Christ's return would be without-a-doubt in his own lifetime. After reading a debate on continuation versus cessation of supernatural gifts, I've thought of another implication of Paul's mistaken assumption.

This debate always centers around 1 Cor. 12-14. In my estimation, we can really boil the whole thing down to our interpretation of 1 Cor. 13:10a: "But when the perfect comes..."

For a little more context,

1Co 13:8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
1Co 13:9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
1Co 13:10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
1Co 13:11 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.
1Co 13:12 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.
1Co 13:13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The cessationist argument is that "the perfect" means the completed Scriptures. Once God revealed to us everything he desired to through inspired written words, we would then no longer need supernatural prophecies, tongues, or knowledge. Everything we need is written down. If we follow this through the rest of the passage, it means the "now" referred to in vs. 12 and 13 is the time before finished Scripture, the time of Paul's writing. Once John finished writing the Revelation of Jesus Christ (the completion of God's written word), that must be when men became able to see "face to face." Follow me?

I've never been able to swallow that explanation. It's just way too manufactured. Isn't it obvious that seeing "face to face" means heaven? Why would "the perfect" mean the completion of Scripture, and not instead our state of eternal perfection after this life?

To back me up on this, I did some recruiting (by reading commentaries). Matthew Henry says "the perfect" means heaven. Charles Spurgeon says the same. John Calvin says the same. I figure that's enough.

What does this have to do with our proposed false assumption by Paul? Well, it's pretty simple. If Paul figured Christ's return would be any-day-now, why would he tell the Corinthians that a complete Bible is coming? What does that matter? Doesn't it make a whole lot more sense that "the perfect" means Christ's return? There's just no need for a complete written Word if the appointed time had grown so very short.

With this perspective instead, let's look back at the passage. "Now" of vs. 12 and 13 means this very present moment, since I am not yet glorified in heaven. Some will argue that in heaven there is no need for faith or hope. This is true. They then say that the abiding of faith, hope, and love can't possibly mean "the perfect" is in heaven. But remember, "now" means this very present moment. It's not that hard:

know and prophesy in partpartial passes away, know fully
as a childish understandingas a mature understanding
see in a mirror dimlysee face to face
faith, hope, and love abidelove never ends

Pretty interesting how Paul's assumption plays in to all this, huh?


Scott and Hannah said...

This is good. I read up on a short book i have about this topic addressed by Carson, and he would support this topic as well. What sparks these ideas?

Jordan said...

Sparked by reading Pyromaniacs blog where people think they've got nail-in-the-coffin arguments for everything.