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 It is no longer active since the Jewish nation has fully rejected Jesus and the Church6.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 that are associated with giving and verifying the truth of the Word. For this reason prophecy, healing, working of miracles, the word of knowledge, discerning of spirits, and the word of wisdom are no longer active, but the gifts for edification are still active.
As Paul continues, he states that now he sees dimly as in a mirror17, but then as if being face to face. It cannot be said that Paul is referring to the eternal state. There is no indication in the context or the text that Paul is changing topics. Paul is not referring to when he is in heaven after the rapture; rather, he is speaking about the difference between knowing out from a part and having the complete revelation of God’s testimony. Since he is only prophesying from a part, the whole picture is not clear to him yet. It is as if he is looking into a mirror; however, when all the revelation is released then he will see as if face to face; he will have a full experiential knowledge of how he is known. At that time, he will be able to fully live up to God’s opinion of him because he will possess the complete knowledge of how he is known to God.
As a part of our salvation, we receive a renewed mind. God expects us to use this mind to approve every situation in our lives as to whether or not it is His desirous will for us.18. Since the Holy Spirit now indwells each believer and His desires influence the behavior of the saints, we have no need for prophecy19. We have all the revelation we need. Now, we just need to use it properly and apply it to our lives.
1 “Idle” comes from a combination of two Greek words “kata”, meaning “down” and “ergew” meaning to “work” resulting in a meaning of “becoming idle, made ineffective powerless, to leave unemployed, or rendered ineffective”.
2 “languages” refers to the languages given to men from the Holy Spirit in chapter 12
3 “Cease” comes from a Greek word that means “to stop performing, or no longer take place”. It is not the same word that prophecy and knowledge are associated with.
4 This word is of a child that is very small and unable to make any discernable words. It is used of a Christian that has not grown in understand and the ability to discern good and evil; hence it has a meaning of an inarticulate babbler.
5 The word often translated “tongues” is the Greek word for “languages”
6 1 Corinthians 14 does not nullify the fact that the use of languages is no longer active within the Church. Paul very clearly states that it is better to speak in a language that is understood than to speak in an unknown language. Speaking in another language was a sign for the Jews only.
7 An antecedent is the noun that a pronoun is replacing or an adjective is modifying
8 1 Corinthians 2:7 Paul is speaking the wisdom of God in a mystery, the one God set before the ages.
9 Acts 2:16-21. The last days are the days of the tribulation when God will again provide revelation to the saints of the tribulation period. Since the Church is in the heavens at this time, no one who is in the Church goes through the wrath of God being poured out on the earth, however, God will save some during this time period.
10 Ephesians 1:4; 5:27
11 Ephesians 4:13 unto a mature man; Philippians 3:15 let the mature be thus minded; Colossians 1:28 present every man mature in Christ; Romans 12:2; Colossians 4:12 standing in the complete will of God; Hebrews 5:14 solid food is for the mature.
12 The mystery reveals our position and possession in The Christ; the new creation of God in which Christ is the head and we are the body, 2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 1:27
13 “τέκνον” means child, Paul uses “νήπιος” which means baby
14 Hebrews 5:14
15 Galatians 3:23 – 4:2 The law controlled everything they did. If they failed to keep the entire law they were punished.
16 “men” is referring to those who are mature 1 Corinthians 16:13; 2 Corinthians 2:17
17 “Dimly” or “Darkly “come from a Greek word that has the idea of a riddle. Paul is stating that he does not have a complete picture yet. A mirror in Roman times was not like our mirrors, they were polished brass, so the picture was distorted.
18 Romans 12:2
19 Galatians 5:16 – 18; Romans 8:13, 14;