The Complete Thing
1 Corinthians 13:8-12 The love never falls, but whether prophecy, it will be caused to be idle1, whether languages,2 they will cause themselves to cease3, whether knowledge, it will be caused to be idle. For out from a part we experientially know and out from a part we prophecy, but when the complete thing comes, then what is out from a part will be caused to be idle. When I was a baby4, I spoke as a baby, I thought as a baby. When I became a man, I made the things of the baby idle. For now I see through a mirror obscurely, but then face to face. Now I experientially know out from a part, but then I will be fully experientially know just as I am fully known.
Paul speaks of a day when the Church will no longer require the use of the Spiritual gifts of prophecy, languages5, and knowledge. When the full Word of God comes, He will stop giving revelation; therefore, prophecy will become idle. Languages, or better known as speaking in tongues, will cause themselves to stop existing because the purpose for speaking in another language ceases to exist. Speaking in another language was a sign to the Jews. It is no longer active since the Jewish nation has fully rejected Jesus and the Church6. Paul explains what knowledge he is referring to further down in the context where he states that the knowledge comes from only a partial revelation. Paul did not have the full cannon of Scripture at this time. He only had access to the Old Testament. Although he was involved in writing the New Testament, other Apostles were also writing additional revelation which he did not have access to at this point.
The use of “perfect” to translate the Greek word “τέλειος (telios)” causes confusion with the English reader. “τέλειος (telios)” does not have the meaning of “perfect” in the sense of having no flaw; but rather, of something that is “complete” in the sense of “brought to its end” or “accomplished”. Often times this word is used for maturity, such as when a boy grows into a man. Because of the confusion caused by the use of “perfect”, some take this passage as meaning when we are in our “perfect state”. However, the context does not support this interpretation. To find out what the “complete thing” is, we have to trace it back to its antecedent7. A Greek adjective must agree with its antecedent in case, number, and gender. “Complete” is neuter in gender, accusative in case, and singular; therefore it must modify a neuter accusative noun that is also singular. “Prophecy” is a feminine noun and therefore cannot be what “complete” refers back to. In addition, the prophecy that Paul is giving is only a partial revelation of Scripture, therefore it cannot be the “complete thing”. The words “languages” and “knowledge” are both feminine nouns so neither of these are the antecedent of “complete.” As a matter of fact, there is no noun in the immediate context that can be connected to the word “complete”. Therefore, the greater context must be considered. In 1 Corinthians 2:1 Paul writes about when he came to the Corinthians, he brought the message concerning the testimony of God. “Testimony” agrees in case, number, and gender to “complete”. Remember, the verses and chapter breaks that we have in our Bibles are not inspired. Although they are there for our convenience, we should not allow them to divide the letter into parts that are not connected to each other. The logical connection is that prophecy is from the revelation of the testimony of God concerning that which was kept secret from the foundations of the world, but is revealed now8.
Now that we have all of the revelation that God will give to the Church, which includes how the Church is to function, how saints are to live, and what is in the future for not only the saints, but also the entire world and spirit beings, the Spiritual gifts that were designed to facilitate the completion of the cannon of Scripture and proving that the Word was from God are no longer required. Note that Paul does not say that prophecy and knowledge ceased to exist whereas he states that speaking in another language will cease. Prophecy and knowledge are idle until the time when more revelation will be given to men, which is after Christ seizes the Church9.
Also, the “complete thing” is not referring to our state of existence when we receive our full redemption. Scripture never uses “τέλειος (telios)” to describe our condition after the rapture; rather, it uses “blameless” and “without spot” before Him10. The use of “τέλειος (telios)” in relation to the Church implies maturity in the life of the saints prior to their resurrection11. The rest of the passage in 1 Corinthians 13 also assists in understanding that Paul is referring to the testimony of God concerning the mystery12 because he speaks of the difference between being a baby and a man. The word translated “child” means “a baby”13. There is a large significance between “child” and “baby”. Paul used “baby” because of its meaning in Scripture: one who is unable to articulate the basics of the Oracles of God. “Baby” describes a saint that is immature and unable to receive the meat of the Word even though this saint has had enough time to mature. It is a saint that must be fed only with milk14and is unable to articulate even the basics of his or her Christian life. Also, Scripture uses the different concept of a child in contrast to a son to show maturity. Under law, no one could mature in their relationship with God; they were children. The Law garrisoned them around15. However, now that we are no longer under law, we can mature in Christ; we are sons and we are to act as men16. In addition, since God has given His entire testimony to the Church represented in the cannon of Scripture, we no longer have need for the Spiritual gifts