DBSJ 9 (2004): 97–1441 CORINTHIANS 13:8–13 AND THECESSATION OF MIRACULOUS GIFTSbyR. Bruce Compton1INTRODUCTION8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be doneaway; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will bedone away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when theperfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I usedto speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became aman, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly,but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully justas I also have been fully known. 13But now abide faith, hope, love, thesethree; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:8–13).2As recent publications indicate, the debate over the present versus thefuture cessation of miraculous gifts continues unabated.3 Central to this1Dr. Compton is Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition at the DetroitBaptist Theological Seminary, Allen Park, MI. This article is written in recognition ofDr. Rolland McCune’s seventieth birthday. My association with Dr. McCune began inthe fall of 1982 when he called to invite me to join the faculty of the seminary. Although I was not able to accept at that time, he called again the following year, and Iagreed to begin teaching in the fall of 1984. In the intervening twenty years I havecome to appreciate Dr. McCune as a fundamentalist separatist and as a systematic theologian. He has proven himself a leader in fundamental Baptist circles and as one of ourforemost professors of systematic theology. I have found myself on numerous occasionssitting down in his office to discuss the interpretation and theological implications of aparticular passage. I have greatly benefited from those discussions. Dr. McCune hasasked me several times to put in print our mutual understanding of 1 Cor 13 and thecessation of miraculous gifts. I am pleased to dedicate this article to him as a colleagueand friend in celebration of his seventieth birthday.2AllScripture references are from theNASB,1995 edition, unless indicated other-wise.3The following titles are representative of those published within the last ten or soyears: Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993);O. Palmer Robertson, The Final Word: A Biblical Response to the Case for Tongues andProphecy Today (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1993); Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation ofthe Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Postbiblical Miracles (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993); Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in theLetters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994); Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and
98Detroit Baptist Seminary Journaldebate has been Paul’s discussion of prophecy, tongues, and knowledgein 1 Corinthians 13:8–13. The two key questions addressed in this passage are the interpretation of “the perfect” in 13:10 and the point atwhich prophecy, tongues, and knowledge cease.An interpretation that has enjoyed support over the years is that“the perfect” refers to the New Testament canon and that miraculousgifts ceased with the closing of the canon at the end of the first century.4 However, this interpretation has come under fire by representatives from both sides of the cessation issue. As one advocate for futurecessation has declared, “Evidence from the context that ‘the perfect’refers to the second coming, together with the impossibility that Paulcould have expected the Corinthian Christians to think he meant thecanon, has left few evangelical scholars who continue to use this text tosupport a [present] cessation of the gifts.”5Such criticisms notwithstanding, the purpose of this article is to reexamine the exegetical evidence from 1 Corinthians 13:8–13 and todefend the above interpretation, namely, that “the perfect” in 13:10refers to the completed New Testament canon and that with the closingof the canon miraculous gifts ceased. To do this, the various views onthe interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:10 are surveyed to highlight thesignificant interpretive issues in the overall debate. Following this, theverses within the immediate context are examined in sequence in orderto establish a proper interpretation of the debated constructions and todemonstrate the validity of the canon view.Spiritual Gifts Then and Now (Exeter: Paternoster, 1996); Thomas R. Edgar, Satisfied bythe Promise of the Spirit: Affirming the Fullness of God’s Provision for Spiritual Living(Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996); Christopher Forbes, Prophecy and Inspired Speech inEarly Christianity and its Hellenistic Environment (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997);Robert L. Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Verse by Verse Study of 1 Corinthians12–14, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999); Wayne A. Grudem, The Gift of Prophecyin the New Testament and Today, rev. ed. (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 2000); Craig S.Keener, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001).4Forproponents and a discussion of this view, see the following section.5Keener,Gift and Giver, p. 106. See also Turner, The Holy Spirit and SpiritualGifts, p. 294. Addressing the canon view, Turner states, “This position is exegeticallyindefensible, and is not held in serious New Testament scholarship.” Richard Gaffin, aproponent of the present cessation of miraculous gifts, states, “The coming of ‘the perfect’ (v. 10) and the ‘then’ of the believer’s full knowledge (v. 12) no doubt refer to thetime of Christ’s return. The view that they describe the point at which the New Testament canon is completed cannot be made credible exegetically” (Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit [Phillipsburg, NJ:Presbyterian & Reformed, 1979], p. 109; idem., “A Cessationist View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, ed. Wayne A. Grudem [Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1996], p. 55). This last title is part of a recent survey on contemporary views where thecompleted canon view is not represented.
1 Corinthians 13:8–1199MAJOR VIEWSAllowing for minor differences, the views on the interpretation of“the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 may be catalogued under fourheadings.6 These are that “the perfect” refers to (1) the completed NewTestament canon; (2) the spiritual maturity of the church; (3) the return of Christ, with the miraculous gifts ceasing before then; and(4) the return of Christ, with the miraculous gifts continuing untilthen. These views are presented below in terms of their interpretationof the key elements in the passage. Specifically, each view is discussed interms of the nature of the gifts mentioned in 13:8, the meaning of theexpression “in part” in 13:9–12, the time when these gifts cease, theillustration contrasting the activities of a child with those of an adult in13:11, the analogies concerning seeing and knowing in 13:12, and thepoint of the comparison involving faith, hope, and love in 13:13.7The Completed New Testament CanonProponents of the canon view argue that the gifts mentioned in13:8, prophecy, tongues, and knowledge, all entail direct revelationfrom God. The three gifts in 13:8 are said to be “in part” or partial inthe sense that each gives only a portion of the revelation God has intended for the church. Accordingly, that which is described as “the perfect” in 13:10 refers to the counterpart of the piecemeal revelation thesegifts provide. In other words, “the perfect” refers to the full or completebody of revelation God intended for the church and preserved in theNew Testament canon. As such, with the completion of the New Testament at the end of the apostolic era, and, thus, with “the perfect” having come, these gifts ceased.86SimilarlyThomas R. Edgar, Miraculous Gifts: Are They for Today? (Neptune, NJ:Loizeaux, 1983), pp. 341–44; D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Expositionof 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), pp. 68–69; F. David Farnell,“When Will the Gift of Prophecy Cease?” Bibliotheca Sacra 150 (April–June 1993):191–95; Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy, pp. 194–207.7Similarly8WithThomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts, pp. 236–40.minor variations, see John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit: A ComprehensiveStudy of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1958), pp. 173–88; Merrill F. Unger, New Testament Teaching on Tongues (GrandRapids: Kregel, 1971), pp. 92–101; idem, The Baptism and Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), pp. 138–45; Robert L. Reymond, “What About ContinuingRevelations and Miracles in the Presbyterian Church Today?” A Study of the Doctrine of theSufficiency of Scripture (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1977), pp. 30–36;Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Charismatic Gift of Prophecy: A Reformed Response to WayneGrudem, 2nd ed. (Memphis, TN: Footstool, 1989), pp. 51–60; Myron J. Houghton,“A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8–13,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (July–September1996): 344–56. Reymond argues that “the perfect” refers to the completed New Testament revelatory process rather than to the New Testament canon per se, but
100Detroit Baptist Seminary JournalThe illustration in 13:11 contrasting the activities of thinking andspeaking as a child with those of an adult is generally understood byadvocates as contrasting the church’s ability to communicate and understand revelation prior to and after the completion of the New Testament canon. Prior to the completion of the canon, those having thesegifts communicated revelation in a limited or piecemeal fashion, andthe church’s understanding of revelation was for that reason limited aswell. This would correspond to the limited thinking and speaking skillsof a child. Once the canon had been completed, these limitations wereremoved. Adulthood having arrived, the limited communicative andcognitive skills of a child were, in effect, laid aside.9The analogies of seeing and knowing in 13:12 are generally understood in a similar way. To “see in a mirror dimly” is a metaphor andrefers to seeing or perceiving God’s will unclearly because of limitedrevelation. To “see face to face,” likewise a metaphor, simply meanshaving the lack of clarity due to limited revelation removed. The fullorbed revelation of God having been given, the church is able to seeclearly and distinctly the whole counsel of God intended for this age.The same may be said of the contrast in the last half of the verse between to “know in part” and to “know fully.” With the completed NewTestament canon, believers are able to know the revealed will of Godfully and distinctly. It is as if they were able to know themselves as God(or others) knows them, that is, directly and clearly, unobstructed bythe use of a mirror.10Finally, from the perspective of the canon view, the point of 13:13is that faith, hope, and love continue throughout the present age, incontrast to the revelatory gifts which cease with the completion of thecanon. Beyond this, love is said to be the greatest of these in that it willcontinue on into eternity. The same is not true with faith and hope.recognizes that the New Testament canon is a corollary of the completed revelatoryprocess (p. 32).Some define “the perfect” in terms of the next view, identifying “the perfect” withthe spiritual maturity of the church, but limit Paul’s discussion in this passage to thechurch’s maturity reached at the completion of the New Testament canon. For thisreason, these are listed as supporting in principle the first view. See Robert G. Gromacki, The Modern Tongues Movement, rev. ed. (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed,1972), pp. 122–29; Walter J. Chantry, Signs of the Apostles: Observations on Pentecostalism Old and New, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), pp. 49–54. Gromackiappears to combine the two definitions of “the perfect” to include both the completedcanon and the maturity of the church at the end of the apostolic era.9E.g.,Unger, New Testament Teaching on Tongues, pp. 96–97.10E.g.,Reymond, “What About Continuing Revelations Today,” pp. 34–36. Theconsensus among supporters of the canon view takes the phrase in 13:12, “just as I alsohave been fully known,” to mean “fully known by God.” See Houghton, “A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8–13,” pp. 353–55.
1 Corinthians 13:8–11101When Christ returns, faith in Christ is replaced with seeing Christ,while hope in the promises of God is replaced by the realization ofthose promises. Thus, 13:13 reinforces the point made at the outset ofthe passage in 13:8 where the apostle declares that “love never fails.”Unlike the revelatory gifts which cease with the completion of thecanon, and unlike even faith and hope which cease with the return ofChrist, love never ceases.11The Spiritual Maturity of the ChurchAdvocates of the maturity view take prophecy, tongues, and knowledge in 13:8 in roughly the same way as the previous view. Prophecyand knowledge involve direct revelation from God. Tongues, althoughfunctioning primarily as a sign gift, also entails direct revelation fromGod when combined with the gift of interpretation. These are said tobe “in part” in 13:8 in the sense that the knowledge gained from theserevelatory gifts is only a portion of what can be known of God. Just asthe revelation provided by these gifts is partial, so too the knowledgegained from these gifts is partial as well. The expression “in part” refersto the knowledge provided by these gifts, however, rather than the revelation upon which it is based. Furthermore, the extent of the church’sknowledge goes hand in hand with the level of its maturity. Thus, todescribe the church’s knowledge as “in part” is, at the same time, todescribe its level of maturity as partial or limited.Consequently, “the perfect” in 13:10 refers to the state of thechurch where it has attained full maturity and has full knowledge ofGod. All of this will take place, proponents argue, at the rapture of thechurch, when the church is taken from the earth to stand in the presence of the Lord. It should be noted that this view is heavily influencedin its definition of the “perfect” from Ephesians 4:1–16. There Pauldescribes the growth of the church from its initial, childhood level to itsadult or mature level, the latter described by the expression “perfect,”the same word used here in 13:10.12The illustration contrasting the activities of thinking and speakingas a child with those of an adult in 13:11 is generally understood byadvocates as something of a parenthesis. While the verses before andafter depict the maturity of the church in terms of its ultimate end,13:11 views the church’s maturity as a process involving several stages.11E.g.,Houghton, “A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8–13,” pp. 355–56.12Withminor variations, see Joseph Dillow, Speaking in Tongues: Seven CrucialQuestions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), pp. 119–33; Farnell, “When Will the Giftof Prophecy Cease?” pp. 171–202; Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts, pp. 77–84,123–32, 236–40, 259–62; Donald G. McDougall, “Cessationism in 1 Cor 13:8–12,”The Master’s Seminary Journal 14 (Fall 2003): 207–13.
102Detroit Baptist Seminary JournalThe specific stage in view with this verse is that attained by the churchwith the completion of the New Testament writings.Paul knows that when the Lord returns, the church will attain itsfinal state of maturity and knowledge. He also understands that withthe completion of the New Testament canon a significant milestonewill be reached in the life of the church in these same areas. Not knowing if the Lord’s return and the completion of the canon will coincide,Paul addresses the issue of the canon here in case this event precedes theLord’s return. Speaking, thinking, and reasoning as a child representthe initial level of the church’s knowledge and maturity provided by therevelatory gifts. Engaging in these same mental and verbal activities asan adult represents the increased level of knowledge and maturity thechurch attains with the completion of the canon.13The analogies of seeing and knowing in 13:12 are generally takenas contrasting the initial, limited level of the church’s maturity with itsultimate level gained in connection with the Lord’s return. To “see in amirror dimly” refers to the limited level of knowledge and maturity thatis available for the church based on the revelatory gifts. To “see face toface” and to “know fully” both refer to the final state of knowledge andmaturity the church will enjoy when it stands in Christ’s presence.14Lastly, adherents generally understand 13:13 in the same way as thecanon view. Faith, hope, and love continue in the present age, in contrast to the revelatory gifts which cease with the completion of the NewTestament canon. Love, nevertheless, is the greatest in that it continuesafter the Lord returns whereas faith and hope do not.15The Return of Christ; MiraculousGifts Ceasing Before ThenProponents of this view generally take all three gifts mentioned in13:8, prophecy, tongues, and knowledge, as involving direct revelationfrom God. Similar to the previous view, the expression “in part” in 13:9refers to the knowledge gained from these gifts rather than to the giftsthemselves. In contrast to the previous view, however, it is the qualityof knowledge, not simply the quantity of knowledge, that is being described. What the church is able to know of God from these gifts is notonly fragmentary but temporary and indirect and, in that sense, partial13E.g., Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts, pp. 80–82. Contra Dillow, Speaking in Tongues, p. 132, and McDougall, “Cessationism in 1 Cor 13:8–12,” pp. 209–13.Both take “the perfect” in 13:10 as referring specifically to the relative level of maturitythe church reaches with the closing of the New Testament canon rather than to thefinal level of maturity at the return of Christ.14E.g.,Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts, pp. 82–83.15Ibid.,pp. 83–84.
1 Corinthians 13:8–11103and imperfect.Accordingly, “the perfect” in 13:10 points to the return of Christand specifically to the rapture of the church and the perfect knowledgethat results when the church is in the presence of the Lord. Yet thisdoes not mean that the gifts mentioned in 13:8 continue until thattime. Since the contrast between the partial and the perfect in theseverses refers to the kind of knowledge the church has rather than to thegifts themselves or even to the revelation they provide, the cessation ofthe gifts is not directly addressed. Based on passages such as Ephesians2:20, this view concludes that these gifts ceased with the completion ofthe New Testament canon. All that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians13 is the replacing of the church’s partial and imperfect knowledge ofGod with full and perfect knowledge at the return of Christ.16In 13:11, the contrast between speaking, thinking, and reasoning asa child with that of an adult is seen as essentially contrasting the level ofknowing God before Christ returns with the level of knowing God afterChrist returns. Before Christ returns, the church’s knowledge of Godand its communication of that knowledge are both partial and imperfect. After Christ returns, these deficiencies are removed. The same maybe said of the analogies of seeing and knowing in 13:12. Before Christreturns, the church is limited in its ability to see and know God, duelargely to the inherent limitations of the revelation it has received. Butwith the return of Christ and the gathering of the church to Christ,limited sight will be replaced by the presence of Christ, and imperfectknowledge will be replaced by full and complete knowledge. At thattime, the church will see God face to face and know Him as they are16With minor variations, see Stanley D. Toussaint, “First Corinthians Thirteenand the Tongues Question,” Bibliotheca Sacra 120 (October–December 1963): 311–16; Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost,
in the New Testament and Today, rev. ed. (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 2000); Craig S. Keener, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001). 4For proponents and a discussion of this view, see the following section. 5Keener, Gift and Giver, p. 106. See also Turner, Th