In First Corinthians chapter thirteen verse ten, Paul writes of a time when a complete thing (τέλειος) will render ineffective that which is out from a part. Due to poor translations and hermeneutics applied to this passage, a lot of confusion has resulted from using “perfect”, especially around the conclusion of the use of specific Spiritual gifts and prophecy within the assembly. The Greek word τέλειος (telios), found in First Corinthians chapter thirteen verse ten, does not carry the same meaning as the English concept of “perfect”; rather, it conveys completion through bringing something to its intended end. Whether or not it is without flaw has to do with what the goal, or intent, was for that thing.

When Scripture articulates the concept of maturity concerning a human, it refers to a person’s lifestyle upon the earth, not in their resurrected state. Otherwise, it indicates completion, such as with the greater and more complete Tabernacle in the heavens that Christ entered into to obtain eternal salvation in Hebrews chapter nine verse eleven. In First Corinthians chapter two verse six, Paul writes that he speaks a wisdom for the mature, not a wisdom of this malignantly evil age. Paul uses the same concept of maturity while addressing the Christians in Jerusalem who went back to living under law and, therefore, were not training their senses to discern what is proper from what lacks in character. Solid food is for the mature, whereas milk is for the inarticulate babbler, Hebrews chapter five verse fourteen. Due to their lack of maturity, they need someone again to teach them the basics of the oracles of God. In First Corinthians chapter fourteen verse twenty, Paul uses τέλειος (telios) for maturity in understanding in contrast to being an inarticulate babbler. In doing things that are wrong, lacking in character, we are to be inarticulate babblers but not in understanding, for the Spiritual gift of speaking in another language was prophesied about and is a sign to the unbelieving Jews. Through this, we understand that there are specific Spiritual gifts that are no longer active within the assembly because their purpose has been completed. These gifts are the revelatory and sign gifts such as prophecy, word of knowledge, healing, working of miracles, Speaking in another language, and such like. Therefore, in First Corinthians chapter thirteen verse ten, Paul is not writing about when we are resurrected and in our perfect form, but a time when that which is out from a part has been brought to completion.

Since the English concept of “perfect” is not expressed in the original letter to the Corinthians, Paul refers to something that is brought to completion that must be derived from the context of the letter. “but when the complete (mature) thing comes, the [thing] out from a part is rendered ineffective.” This finished thing cannot grammatically refer to humans because of its linguistic form; it refers to an inanimate object. Up to this point, Paul has been prophesying out from a part; however, when the complete thing comes, that which is out from a part is no longer effective because the mystery has been fully revealed. Prophecy within the assembly provided new information for the Church; therefore, since its purpose is to reveal instructions from God, it cannot be the complete thing. Rather, the complete thing that prophecy reveals in parts is the mystery from God, which had not been fully disclosed when Paul wrote to the Corinthian saints. Paul understood that a day was quickly coming in which the mystery would be completely manifested, and when that happened, prophecy and the gift of knowledge would no longer be effective within the Church because she would have all the revelation of the mystery God intended to disclose to her.

On a technical note, the Greek language is quite an incredible linguistic system, and the original books were letters without chapter and verse breaks. When we abide by the grammatical rules related to the language and apply proper hermeneutics to this first letter to the Corinthian saints, the meaning of First Corinthians chapter thirteen verse ten becomes clear. The Greek word used for “mature”, often translated as “perfect”, has to agree with the noun it is modifying. Its form does not agree with prophecy; therefore, Paul is not referring to the completion of prophecy, for prophecy is out from the part, not the whole thing. It also cannot refer to a person in a resurrected state because the grammatical structure does not agree with the word for resurrection. Grammatically, “mature” in this passage refers back to the beginning of the letter when Paul was writing about the mystery from God in chapter two verse one. There is no other word within the letter prior to First Corinthians chapter thirteen verse eight that agrees with the grammatical form that “mature” is in. Implying that Paul is referring to the resurrected state by using the word “perfect” adds information into the passage that ignores the context. Paul is discussing Spiritual gifts and their use within the assemblies, not the completion of our redemption. Therefore, Paul indicates that when the mystery of God is fully revealed to the Church, she will no longer need that which is out from a part. When we are of full age, we put aside childish things, just as one who matures in understanding leaves behind the things of an inarticulate babbler. At the beginning of the Church, while God was revealing everything He was doing, they saw as in a mirror dimly lit. However, Paul uses the word “then”, indicating that when the Church receives the completed revelation she will see in a clearer manner. Be cautious with interpreting “then” to imply when we see Christ, for that is a major violation of the context of the letter and inserting a concept that Paul is not discussing. Therefore, now that we possess the full revelation of the mystery, we see as face to face, not as in a dimly lit mirror, for God has revealed the entire mystery to us, giving us all things pertaining to life and godliness so that we are able to come to a mature man through the full experiential knowledge of the Son of God to the measure of the stature of who we are in Christ so that we are no longer tossed around by every wind of doctrine by the teachings of men who seek to deceive the saints.