NO CONTINUATION OF PROPHETS TODAY
By: Victor T. Stephens
"People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it's served up."
~ George R.R. Martin
When that which is Perfect has Come: A Closer Look
Let's now turn to a very important reference in the Bible which when examined in proper exegetical context, supports the teaching about the cessation of prophecy as well as other spiritual gifts in the post-apostolic church. First Corinthians 13:8-13 states:
"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. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor. 13:8-13)
While 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 points out that the prophetic office no longer exist, ironically it is this passage that represents the pivotal area of conflict in this continuous disputation. Contrasting interpretation of this decisive passage emerges from dissension over the identification of the phrase "when that which is perfect" in verse ten.
The non-cessationists view of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 presents an out of context perspective without forethought of the various definitions of the original Greek word "perfect". They maintain that the word "perfect" means "ideal, without defect, or untainted". Therefore, according to the non-cessationists, the word "perfect" is referring to Christ or an eschatological event such as His Second Coming. Allegedly, it will be at that time when we will reach a state of perfection. Thus, our partial knowledge will be replaced by all knowledge as we become face to face with Christ.
At this juncture I believe it is essential that we examine and refute the notion that "when that which is perfect has come" is referring to Jesus; as well as gain greater insight to the proper context of this passage.
The Greek word for "perfect" is "teleios". According to the Greek Dictionary - Greek to English Concordance (Strong's Concordance, # 5046, Greek # 5455), "teleios" means:
"perfect, mature, finished; brought to completion; fully accomplished, fully developed, Jas. 1:4a; fully realized, thorough, 1Jn. 4:18; complete, entire, as opposed to what is partial and limited, 1 Cor. 13:10; full grown of ripe age, 1 Cor. 14:20; Eph. 4:13; Heb. 5:14; fully accomplished in Christian enlightenment, 1 Cor. 2:6; Phil. 3:15; Col. 1:28; perfect in some point of character, without shortcoming in respect of a certain standard, Mt. 5:48; 19:21; Col. 4:12; Jas. 1:4b; 3:2; perfect, consummate, Rom. 12:2; Jas. 1:17, 25; compar. of higher excellence and efficiency, Heb. 9:11" (Strong's Concordance, # 5046, Greek # 5455)
As we can see, the word "perfect" does not inexorably reference one's personage. Pursuant to the Greek Dictionary – Greek to English Concordance, the word "perfect" in 1 Corinthians 13:10 is rendered as "complete, entire, as opposed to what is partial and limited."
"… but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears." (NIV, emphasis mine)
"... But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded)." (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine)
"... But when what is complete comes, then what is incomplete will no longer be used."
(GOD'S WORD Translation, emphasis mine)
"... But when what is complete comes, then what is incomplete will be done away with."
(International Standard Version, emphasis mine)
"... but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with."
(World English Version, emphasis mine)
Since the Greek word "teleios" ... rendered "complete" stands as the appropriate contraposition of partial knowledge and partial prophecy (verse 9), it should be understood that Paul was referring to completion of the New Testament canon. By contrast, non-cessationists combine a qualitative with a quantitative. As such, this linking presents an improper contraposition to the text.
The word "perfect" is also not in reference to Jesus' Second Coming. As aforementioned, the Greek word for "perfect" is "teleios". By contrast, the Greek word that references Jesus' Second Coming is "Parousia". The Greek word "Parousia" is defined as Strong's G3952:
"... The coming, arrival, advent; The future visible return from heaven of Jesus, to raise the dead, hold the last judgment, and set up formally and gloriously the kingdom of God." ("Strong's G3952", Blueletterbible.org.)
In any case, prior to the completion of the Word of God, the apostles and prophets knew in part in the context that they were still acquiring periodic knowledge by direct revelation from God. First Corinthians 13:9 says:
"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part." (1 Cor. 13:9)
Obviously, since the apostles and prophets "knew in part", they could only "prophesy in part". Verse 10 says,
"But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away." (1 Cor. 13:10)
Here, the word "perfect" is in the neuter gender. If this word was referring to Christ it would be in the masculine gender. Therefore, as aforementioned, it is referring to the completed Word of God. Rendering the word "perfect" as "complete" is an intrinsic contraposition to the phrase "in part". In other words, when full, complete, and perfect revelation comes, partial knowledge will be replaced. At that stage, partial knowledge will be annulled. It is exegetically coherent that complete and perfect revelatory knowledge would supplant that which is "in part". Verse 11 states,
"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." (1 Cor. 13:11)
This verse illustrates a transition between childhood and adulthood. The "child" depicts partial knowledge during the infancy of the early church. Comparable to a child without sufficient knowledge to function as a mature adult, the early church lacked sufficient scripture to fully guide their spiritual lives. "When I became a man" depicts an adult who attains maturity when he is complete with the knowledge required for life. Likewise, the church today has the completed Word of God (The Bible) which is sufficient for every need in this age (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Non-cessationists interpret verse 11 as symbolically moving from childhood (partial knowledge) to adulthood (full knowledge) after we get to heaven. However, such an interpretation is flawed. A child growing into adulthood illustrates a gradual progression of time as compared to an instantaneous event such as the Second Coming of the Lord. Therefore, the non-cessationists' perspective of the distinction between childhood and adulthood is a very weak comparative example of the immense differentiation between the believer's current condition and that following the Lord's Second Coming. Thus, the gradual revelation of God's Word over a period of time (partial knowledge of that of a child) to the complete revelation of God's Word (full knowledge of that of an adult) is the appropriate rendition of verse 11. Verse 12 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." (1 Cor. 13:12)
Since the apostles and prophets knew God's will only in part, their knowledge was likened to observing themselves through a dim mirror. But, once the Bible was completed, they could understand with complete perfection ... which was symbolically likened to seeing themselves "face to face" in a clear mirror.
The expression "face to face" is an axiomatic aphorism which symbolizes how visibly something should be perceived. For example, today we say "I came face to face with the truth" or "I can no longer face myself." In the scriptures of the New Testament, God is speaking with us "face to face" in a direct manner.
Non-cessationists render verse 12 as "seeing Jesus face to face" with His Second Coming. They form their conclusion by referring to Genesis 32:30, Deuteronomy 5:4, Exodus 33:11, Numbers 12:8, 1 John 3:2, and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10.
"So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared." (Gen. 32:30)
"The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain." (Deut. 5:4)
"The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent." (Exodus 33:11)
"With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" (Num. 12:8)
"Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." (1 John 3:2)
"and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed." (2 Thess. 1:7-10)
These six verses do not support the non-cessationists rendition of seeing Jesus "face to face" at His Second Coming. To draw an association between Genesis 32:30, Deuteronomy 5:4, Exodus 33:11, Numbers 12:8, 1 John 3:2, and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 to 1 Corinthians 13:12 is a poor hermeneutical cross reference known as "illegitimate totality transfer". ITT occurs when a person takes a word or expression with multiple definitions and applies them to one distinct meaning in any specific text or narrative.
For example, the expression "face to face" has different renditions depending upon the context of the verse or passage. It can mean seeing God "face to face" or seeing oneself "face to face". In Genesis 32:30, Deuteronomy 5:4, Exodus 33:11 and Numbers 12:8, "face to face" means a personal encounter with God. Thus, in these verses, the Old Testament diction of "face to face" indicates the perfection of the prophetic revelation given to Moses by God.
In 1 John 3:2 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, these verses are alluding to the Second Coming of Christ. However, when we understand 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 in its proper context, it will be discovered that they are not related to 1 Corinthians 13:12. For anyone to attempt to draw a connection between these passages would be engaging in "illegitimate totality transfer."
Now ... the expressions "face to face" and "we shall see Him as He is" have different meanings than in 1 Corinthians 13:12. As pointed out, the leading clue to the proper interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:12 is to take a closer look at the word "mirror". The Greek word for "mirror" is "esoptron". This Greek word is only mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:12 and James 1:23. Notice the similarities with Psalm 19:7-8 and James 1:23-25 ... particular the latter passage. Psalm 19:7-8 states:
"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes .... (Psalm 19:7-8)
This passage says the Word of God is perfect; and that it is "enlightening the eyes". In the context of our main theme ... and relatively speaking from the "then" to "now", the completed Word of God fully opens our eyes and convicts our hearts and conscience. James 1:23-25 says:
"For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:23-25)
Notice the parallel of 1 Corinthians 13:12 with James 1:23. James uses the same mirror analogy as Paul. Without the complete and perfect Word of God "we see in a mirror, dimly”. This is similar to the man who "is a hearer of the word and not a doer". He observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was." In other words, he then sees himself "dimly"; and thus is immature as a child.
Take note of the man who "looks into the perfect law ...." What is he looking intently into? It is the "perfect law" ... scriptural revelation of the Word of God. In this verse (25) the Greek word "teleios" delineates the Word of God. Thus, the man who looks intently into the scriptures is symbolically comparable to observing himself through a clear mirror ... "face to face".
The context of this passage is associated with the capability of God's Word to provide us with a criterion for a sound self-check of character ... as we observe the "man in the mirror". Full revelation of Scripture (The Bible) provides the perfect means by which to judge ourselves; and thus, brings us to spiritual maturity. Therefore, the phrase "face to face" in 1 Corinthians 13:12 cannot be in reference to seeing Jesus without causing conflict with the mirror analogy. Someone observing himself through a reflection in a mirror is not comparable to a personal encounter with Jesus. When a man observes himself through a mirror, he sees himself; not Jesus.
Non-cessationists interpret the later segment of verse 12 ("Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known".) as possessing limited knowledge of themselves during the current church age; but after we enter heaven, we will know ourselves completely as God sees us. They refer to Deuteronomy 34:10 to support their case.
"Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face." (Deut. 34:10)
Non-cessationists allege it is inappropriate to render verse 12 as believers fully knowing themselves through the completed canon of Scripture just as God knows them. Such extensive knowledge, they say, is not achievable at this point in time.
While such an interpretation may appear convincing; it does not validate present day apostolic and prophetic offices. As with their reference to other verses, again ... non-cessationists are employing "illegitimate totality transfer"; and thus, are failing to interpret the true context of verse 12. In order to understand the text in proper context, we must continue to follow this verse by Paul's use of the mirror analogy.
Paul is saying that partial knowledge of God's will is symbolically equivalent to observing himself through a dark mirror. Conversely, full knowledge of God's will is symbolically equivalent to Paul seeing himself "face to face" in a clear mirror. Using the same mirror analogy, once Paul sees himself clearly, he then observes himself in a similar fashion as God views him.
The expression "Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" does not mean Paul will know himself to the same measure of clearness as God knows him. Even when we get to heaven, we’ll never gain absolute knowledge of everything. The angels as well do not know all things (1 Peter 1:12). Only God alone is omniscient.
Paul's idea of comparing his knowing to God’s knowing is that he would know in the context of authentically but not exhaustively. As a result, he would gain sufficient insight of himself to bring complete spiritual maturity. To expand this point, let's take a look at John 14:26 and John 16:13.
"But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:26)
"But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." (John 16:13)
Notice John 14:26 says the Holy Spirit would remind the apostles and prophets of all the teachings of Jesus before His ascension. Moreover, the Holy Spirit would teach them "all things". This is further evidenced in John 16:13. The Holy Spirit did this first through the revelatory ministry of the apostles and prophets, then through the completed Word of God ... the Bible.
Again, bear in mind that the Holy Spirit would "teach", "remind", and "guide" the apostles and prophets "into all the truth" ... telling them "what is yet to come”. Thus, the apostles and prophets began their revelatory ministry with incomplete knowledge; and it ended with the deliverance of God's final will to the church. These truths were ultimately recorded and completed in the New Testament Canon. After the close of the New Testament Canon, the apostles and prophets knew "all things" which was needful for growing into spiritual maturity and edification of the church.
Lastly, the word "now" in verse 12 does not share the exact definition as the word "now" in verse 13. In verse 12, the word "now" is translated from the Greek word "arti"; whereas the word "now" in verse 13 is translated from the Greek word "nuni". Why does Paul make this shift? There is much comparability and overlap within these two Greek words; but when they are expressed in the same context, "arti" means "immediately at this time". By comparison, "nuni" is used in a wider, more general sense. Paul is simply contrasting a result of something that was transitioning at one point in time to its conclusion at another point in time. To put it another way, Paul is distinguishing between his immediate "present now" (pre-canon period) while revelation was still partial to the "future now" after complete revelation was concluded (post-canon period). This is further evidenced in verse 13 where it concretely states,
"And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor. 13:13)
Take note that verse eight (8) says, "Love never fails”. This is compared with prophecy, tongues, and knowledge which were destined to cease. After their cessation, ("And now") what remained were faith, hope, and love; with the greatest of these being love.
The word "abide" in verse 13 means "remain"; and is the translation of the Greek word "meno". The NIV states:
"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”. (1 Cor. 13:13)
Thus, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 is contrasting what would cease and what would remain. Omitting this contrast does an injustice to the meaning of the entire passage; and thus, it is open to faulty interpretation. Other references to the word "abideth" ("remain") include:
"If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward." (1 Cor. 3:14)
"And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence." (Matt. 10:11)
"But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.” (Luke 24:29)
Next, notice there is nothing in 1 Corinthians 13:13 which reference Christ or His Second Coming. Thus, in proper context, this verse points out that when the Word of God reaches completion, the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will cease. What will remain are faith, hope, and love. Will the perfect church in heaven still require faith and hope? Clearly, faith and hope will not exist in eternity. We only need faith and hope before the rapture and return of Christ. Second Corinthians 5:7 states:
"For we live by faith, not by sight." (2 Cor. 5:7)
Hebrews 11:1 says:
"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Heb. 11:1)
Romans 8:23-25 states:
"Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." (Romans 8:23-25)
These three passages of Scripture indicate that 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 cannot be referring to the Second Coming of Christ. Faith cannot remain when Christ comes on account that "faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Hope will not remain because we will no longer need to "live by faith", but by sight”. Furthermore, "hope that is seen is no hope at all”. Thus, it should be indisputable that "which is perfect is come" is not in reference to Christ; for "Who hopes for what they already have?"
As we should be able to objectively discern, when we carefully examine the verses in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 and exegete them in context with other passages of Scripture, then we should be able to confirm the conclusion that the gift of prophecy has ceased. The term, "that which is perfect" is the complete revelation of God's will for the church rather than the perfection that believers will experience in the rapture.