Before examining the various views of “that which is perfect” in (1 Cor. 13:10), let’s briefly review part 1 which was a an examination of MacArthur’s historical arguments and his appeals to exhort his readers and listeners into “Reformed Theology.” As we saw, if we are “consistent” (something MacArthur values) in following Reformed theology (and eschatology since it cannot be separated from Reformed Theology), it will lead us to Full Preterism and in doing so, give us the antidote to Charismatic false teaching.
a) Classic Amillennial View
- The NT’s use of the “last days” covers the time period between Christ’s first and second comings.
- There is only ONE “The parousia” or eschatological coming of Christ in the NT – the ONE hope of the Apostle Paul and the Church.
- This is to take place at the end of the age at which time–the judgment and resurrection of the dead and arrival of the New Creation occurs.
b) Partial Preterism (mostly Postmillennial)
- The NT’s use of the “last days” covers the time period between Christ’s first coming and His return to close the Old Covenant age by AD 70.
- The imminent time texts in the NT “demands” that “a” parousia of Christ took place in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
- The NT’s use of “this age” is the Old Covenant age and the “age to come” is the New Covenant age. A parousia of Christ took place at the end of the Old Covenant age in AD 70 at which time–there was a spiritual judgment and resurrection of the living and dead and arrival of the New Creation that took place.
c) Full Preterism (synthesis / “Reformed and always reforming”)
- The NT’s use of the “last days” covers the time period between Christ’s first and second comings which brought an end to the Old Covenant age in AD 70.
- The imminent time texts and the analogy of Scripture principle of interpretation in the NT demands that “THE (ONE) parousia” took place in AD 70.
- The NT’s use of “this age” is the Old Covenant age and the “age to come” is the New Covenant age. “THE (ONE) parousia” of Christ took place at the end of the Old Covenant age in AD 70 at which time–there was a spiritual judgment and resurrection of the living and dead and the arrival of the New Creation that took place.
Reformed eschatology teaches (both at the same time) that when Christ came “soon” in the book of Revelation that this is descriptive of: 1). His one Second Coming event (classic Amillennial and creedal view) and yet at the same time 2). It was His coming in AD 70 (Partial Preterist view). Therefore (“Reformed and always reforming”), at the one Second Coming event that took place “soon” in AD 70, the Church is beholding God’s face in the NC New Jerusalem and New Creation (Rev. 22:4-7). Using the analogy of Scripture principle of interpretation, while at the same time appealing to the orthodox historical views of Reformed theology/eschatology, I am proposing and affirming that Revelation 22:4-7 is the spiritual fulfillment that Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 13:10-12 – and therefore the gifts Paul mentioned “ceased” in AD 70.
Before doing an exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, I wanted to review the various positions and approaches in identifying what “that which is perfect” is in 1 Corinthians 13:10 and interact and refute MacArthur’s view.
NT Cannon View
This is a relatively new view. Those that have espoused the theory that teleios is referring to the completed NT cannon would include such men as Vine (1951), Gromacki (1967), Unger (1971) and Chantry (1976). Vine gave a double application which included the Second Coming. Since this this double application is rather confusing, it should not surprise us that it has not gained a following. However, there are many whom still believe the NT cannon is “that which is perfect.
The issue is not the arrival of the completed NT cannon that is in view, but rather the fulfilling of those promises at the “end” (telos) of the OC age in AD 70 (Dan. 9:24-27/Lk. 21:20-22, 27-32).
Charismatics are accurate in their frustration of this view:
“There is not a single verse in the Bible where the Greek adjective teleios (“that which is perfect”-1 Cor. 13:10) refers to the completed New Testament.” “The related noun, … telos refers to an end, perfection, or consummation. Here again, as with the related adjective teleios, not one instance refers to the completion of the written Scriptures. But significantly, there are several passages where telos does refer to the end of this age, when Christ shall return. And even more significantly, two uses of telos refer to Christ Himself, the “end” or “consummation” of God’s plan.” The writer goes on to quote:
1) Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end [telos] come.
2) 1 Corinthians 1:8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end [telos], that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3) 1 Peter 4:7 But the end [telos] of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
4) Revelation 21:6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega , the beginning and the end [telos].
“The related… verb form of teleios is teleioo, “to perfect.” It is used 24 times in the New Testament. And, as with its companion word teleios, not one usage of teleioo refers to the completed New Testament. In fact, the only instance that is even remotely connected with the Scriptures is John 19:28: “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were not accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled [made complete or perfect], saith, ‘I thirst’.” This verse is not talking about completing the Scriptures by writing them, but rather by fulfilling them. To be ‘completed’ in this sense, the New Testament will have to be fulfilled. This will not happen until the kingdom of God is fully ushered in…”
Pastor Chuck Smith of the Calvary Chapel movement correctly observes of this view,
“The idea that the Greek word teleios, translated “perfect,” referred to the full Canon of Scripture did not occur to some of the greatest of all Greek scholars from the past century. It is more of an invention or creation of recent vintage to counteract the modern tongues movement. Thayer, in his Greek-English Lexicon, says of teleios as used in 1 Corinthians 13:10, “The perfect state of all things to be ushered in by the return of Christ from heaven.” Alford, in his New Testament for English Readers, says of it, “At the Lord’s coming and after.” When the only Scriptural basis for rejecting the validity of speaking in tongues rests on such a questionable and tenuous interpretation of the Greek word teleios, which was wrested from the context in which it is used, one has to sincerely challenge the expositional honesty of such scholarship. To be kind, I will say that, at best, it is prejudicial blindness-not at all scholarly or conclusive”
And I agree with Craig S. Keener’s frustrations over this view,
“Paul in fact tells us quite clearly when to expect the cessation of gifts, which are partial: when we have complete knowledge at Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 13:8-12).
Even as a young believer, when a Baptist elder whom I greatly respected tried to explain this passage as referring to the completion of the New Testament, I simply looked at the context and pointed out to him that this is clearly referring to when we see Jesus face to face—at His second coming.”
Corporate Maturity View
One maturity view advocate Ron McRay wrote,
“When this ministry [Paul’s personal apostolic work as the apostle to the Gentiles] had been completed and the church throughout the empire had accepted its implications, to teleion came.”
McRay believed that through using the analogy of Scripture in Paul’s writings we could understand 1 Corinthians 13:10 better giving seven parallels:
|Ephesians 4:7-16||1 Corinthians 13:8-12|
|1 Jew/Gentile discussion 2:11; 3:1; 4:17||1 Gentiles 12:2; Greeks 12:13|
|2 Emphasis on “all” 4:6||2 “All in all” 12:6, 12|
|3 Emphasis on “oneness & unity 4:4-6; 2:16ff.
4:2 Unity of the Spirit
4:4 One body, one Spirit, one body
4:5 One Lord, one faith, one baptistm
4:6 One God & Father of all
2:16 One body
2:18 One Spirit
|3 Emphasis on “one, one & the same” giver of the gifts 12:4-14
12:4 Same Spirit; 12:5 same Lord
12:6 Same God; 12:8 same Spirit
12:9 Same Spirit; one Spirit
12:11 One and the same Spirit
12:12 One body; 12:13 one Spirit, one Spirit
|4 Divine gifts 4:7-11||4 Divine gifts 12:4-11, 27-31; 13:1-3; 14:1-40|
|5 Human body illustration of unity 4:12-16||5 Human body illustration 12:12-13, 14ff.|
|6 Human growth illustrates progress of the spiritual body (church) 4:13-16||6 Paul’s growth illustrates Corinthian progress 13:11|
|7 Telios||7 Telios|
One version of the maturity view proposed by Rothhaar asked – when did the church arrive at this “mature” state(?), and his answer was when the Church broke from Judaism in AD 70. Excellent observation, but let’s make it better, more consistent, and harmonize it with other Scriptures and views to make it stronger!
Some within this view see “maturity” taking place corporately (in AD 70), but because of its futurist bias, it unfortunately tries to give other places where the Church reaches maturity beyond AD 70 – instead of one point (which the text is teaching). When the corporate body/maturity view is harmonized correctly with the eschatological view, then we can see how when Christ came in AD 70 to fulfill “all” the promises contained in the law and prophets (Lk. 21:20-22, 27-32) the NC Body/Man/Temple stood spiritually complete/mature without being dependent upon the “weak” “in part” “shadowy” pointer or school master that the OC system served as.
Individual Maturity View or the “Love View”
Others see 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 as a discussion of the individual maturing in this life and coming to a place where the gifts no longer are necessary (a form of progressive sanctification or at death) for them. However, they pretend the text has no “end point” within time and history that the gifts cease for the corporate body – the Church throughout the ages. This is somewhat similar to MacArthur’s individual body view – at the point of one’s death he or she “sees” God’s face.
The individual maturity view or “love view” (a form of progressive sanctification) makes no sense. Paul’s context within chapters 12-14 is a corporate body context. This view logically infers that as one becomes more loving and mature in this life, then the gifts begin to cease in their walk with the Lord. The Apostle Paul was very loving and possessed the gifts at the same time.
John MacArthur’s / Tom Pennington’s View – at death (individual) or arrival of the New Creation (corporate)
Pastor MacArthur’s view is a combination of the individual maturity view (at death) or when the Church inherits the New Creation at the Second Coming. He writes,
“In 1 Corinthians 13:10, Paul noted that partial knowledge and partial prophecy would be done away with “when that which is perfect has come.” But what did Paul mean by the perfect? The Greek word (teleion) can mean “perfect,” “mature,” or “complete,” and commentators have widely disagreed to tis precise meaning—offering numerous possible interpretations. For example, F.F. Bruce suggests that the perfect is love itself; B.B. Warfield contends it is the completed canon of Scripture (cf. James 1:25); Robert Thomas argues it is the mature church (cf. Eph. 4:11-13); Richard Gaffin asserts it is the return of Christ; and Thomas Edgar concludes it is the individual believer’s entrance into heavenly glory (cf. 2 Cor. 5:8). Significantly, though these scholars disagee on the identification fo the “perfect,” they all reach the same conclusion – namely, that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have ceased.
Nonetheless, of the possible interpretations, the believer’s entrance into the Lord’s presence best fits Paul’s use of “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10. This makes sense of Paul’s later statement in verse 12 about believers seeing Christ “face to face” and possessing full knowledge—descriptions that cannot be realized this side of glory.”
To determine the point in church history when the miraculous and revelatory gifts would pass away, we must look elsewhere than 1 Corinthians 13:10, to passages like Ephesians 2:20, where Paul indicated that both the apostolic and prophetic offices were only for the foundational age of the church.”
In Tom Pennington’s lecture (“A Case for Cessationism”) he basically just reiterated John’s points here and flew by 1 Cor. 13:8-12 as fast as he could. And this is where so many Charismatics were put off by John’s book and conference — they simply did not deal with 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 and the issue of cessation with any kind of depth or exegetical honesty for that matter. Pennington claims he just didn’t have enough time in one lecture to deal with it. But didn’t John have plenty of time in writing his book to cover it more? Couldn’t other speakers have dealt with it? After all isn’t this at the heart of the debate?!?
Let’s go elsewhere in MacArthur’s teachings to examine why he disagrees with other views and then I will respond to each one.
“The Perfect” is Not the Rapture or Second Coming
MacArthur argues with his Dispensational and futurist colleagues that “the perfect” here could not be referring to the rapture, because knowledge and prophecy are in use during the tribulation and millennial period. Since he understands the Church will be “raptured” before the tribulation, and that there will be two witnesses (Rev. 11:3) “prophesying” during the tribulation period, the rapture cannot be “the perfect.”
Of the Second Coming view he writes,
“The problem, however, is that to teleion is neuter. If it were referring to the second coming the word would be feminine, and if it were referring to Christ, it would be masculine. Christ isn’t a thing.”
As I pointed out in part 1 of this series, in embracing Pre-trib. Premillennial Dispensationalism, MacArthur has come up with a very new interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and Matthew 24. There is not a “secret” “rapture” “coming” of Christ and then seven years later the second coming takes place. The analogy of Scripture confirms this is one and the same event.
In mathematics and logic: If A bears some relation to B and B bears the same relation to C, then A bears it to C. Or the property of equality is transitive – for if A = B and B = C, then A = C. Therefore, things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another. If equals be added to equals, the wholes are equal.
A = (Matt. 24:27-31, 34)
B = (1 Thess. 4:15-17)
C = (1 Cor. 15)
If A (Matt. 24) is = to B (1 Thess. 4-5) and B (1 Thess. 4) is = to C (1 Cor. 15) Then A (Matt. 24) is = to C (1 Cor. 15)
|Since A (Mat. 24) = B (1 Thess. 4)|
|Christ Returns from Heaven||24:30||4:16|
|With Voice of Arch Angel||24:31||4:16|
|With Trumpet of God||24:31||4:16|
|Caught/Gathered Together with/to Christ||24:31||4:17|
|“Meet” the Lord in the Clouds||24:30 & 25:6||4:17|
|Exact Time Unknown||24:36||5:1-2|
|Christ Comes as a Thief||24:43||5:2|
|Unbelievers Caught Off Guard||24:37-39||5:3|
|Time of Birth Pangs||24:8||5:3|
|Believers Not Deceived||24:43||5:4-5|
|Believers to Be Watchful||24:42||5:6|
|Exhorted to Sobriety||24:49||5:7|
|Son/Sunlight Shinning From E. to W. / Sons of the Day||24:27, 36, & 38||5:4-8|
|And B (1 Thess. 4) = C (1 Cor. 15)|
|The Sleeping to Be Raised||4:13-14||15:12-18|
|The Living to Be aught/Changed||4:15-17||15:51-52|
|Christ’s Coming (Greek: Parousia)||4:15||15:23|
|At the Sound of the Trumpet||4:16||15:52|
|Encouraged to Stand Firm||4:18||15:58|
|Same Contemporary “We”||4:15-17||15:51-52|
|Then A (Matt. 24) = C (1 Cor. 15)|
|Christ to Come (Greek: Parousia)||24:27||15:23|
|His People to Be Gathered/Changed||24:31||15:52|
|To Come with the Sound of a Trumpet||24:31||15:52|
|To Be “The End” (Greek telos, the goal)||24:3, 14||15:24|
|Kingdom Consummation (goal reached)||Luke 21:30-32||15:24|
|All Prophecy Fulfilled at This Point||Luke 21:22||15:54-55|
|Victory over the Law/Temple||Mat. 24:1||15:55-56|
|Same Contemporary “We”||Mat. 24:2ff||15:51-52|
|Two or More Things that Are Equal to Another Thing Are Also Equal to Each Other.
Matthew 24 1 Thessalonians 4 1Corinthians 15
|At His Coming (24:27-31)||=||At His Coming (4:16)||=||At His Coming (15:23)|
|At the Trumpet (24:31)||=||At the Trumpet (4:16)||=||At the Trumpet (15:52)|
|Dead Raised, All Gathered (24:31)||=||Dead Raised (4:16)||=||Dead Raised (15:35-44)|
|All Living Gathered
|=||Living Caught Together to Him (4:17)||=||Status of Living Changed (15:51)|
If Jesus can be referred to as that “holy thing” (with the Holy Spirit overshadowing Marry as He did in Genesis 1:2 and here in Luke 1:35 – as the foundation of God’s NC New Creation), in His first coming, then I see no problem with Christ and the decent of the New Jerusalem at His Second Coming being described in the neuter.
MacArthur did point out that Reformed authors such as Richard Gaffin believe our text is referring to a future to us Second Coming event, while at the same time trying to prove these gifts have ceased. I think everyone should find this view perplexing and not very plausible exegetically or logically. As Charismatic Calvinist John Piper wrote,
“Here is a definite statement about the time of the cessation of spiritual gifts, and that time is the second coming of Christ. Richard Gaffin does not do justice to the actual wording of verse 10 when he says, “The time of the cessation of prophecy and tongues is an open question so far as this passage is concerned” (Perspectives on Pentecost, p. 111). It is not an open question. Paul says, “When the perfect comes [at that time, not before or after], the imperfect [gifts like prophecy and tongues, etc.] will pass away.”
“The Perfect” is Not the Maturing of the Church
“What would the church do if it were complete and there weren’t anyone left to win to Christ?”
“…if prophecy and knowledge cease when the church is mature and taken out of the world, then how does one explain the existence of prophecy and knowledge in the Tribulation and the Kingdom?”
MacArthur assumes that it is God’s will to remove the Church from the earth – when He expressly says it is not (John 17:15).
The “Tribulation” was a period between AD 66 – AD 70 and is not in our future. And the increasing of knowledge (i.e. of Messiah’s NC salvation) was fulfilled as the gospel was preached to every creature under heaven (throughout the known world or Roman world) before AD 70 (Cols. 1:5-6, 23; Rms. 10:18; Rms. 16:25-26). After the Church/New Jerusalem was “complete” or “matured” in AD 70, it continues its work of evenagelism in the New Creation or NC age –post AD 70, which has always been its function (cf. Isa. 65-66/Rev. 21-22:17).
“The Perfect” is the New Creation
MacArthur reasons that since the New Creation follows the “rapture” and a future “Second [really third in his view] Coming,” this is what Paul has identified as “the perfect.” It is at this point we see God’s face (Revelation 22:4):
“After John saw the new Jerusalem and a new earth, John saw the new Jerusalem descend from God to the earth (Rev. 21:1-2). Then in Revelation 21:11 and 23 he speaks of the glory of God being present there, lighting the city. In this place of our eternal abode, we will see His glory face to face (cf. Rev. 22:4).”
First, like Richard Gaffin’s view, this makes very little sense within a futurist paradigm. To claim the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 have ceased, while at the time trying to affirm the Second Coming and arrival of the New Creation is still future – makes no sense of the passage either logically or exegetically.
Secondly, as I pointed out in part 1 of this series, if John wants to get serious and consistent about returning to Reformed Theology/Eschatology, then he would see that Partial Preterism is Reformed and Orthodox in teaching that the New Creation arrived in AD 70 and that we are seeing God’s face spiritually in the NC age today. Therefore, I have no dispute (holding to Reformed Theology) in taking 1 Corinthians 13:10 and Revelation 22:4-7 as the same event while exegetically and logically affirming the gifts have “ceased” in AD 70.
And lastly, I do reject John’s other individual application or interpretation to the text – i.e. at a persons death prior the Second Coming and arrival of the New Creation. John’s futurism implies that Abraham’s Bosom and Hades has not been emptied or the resurrection taken place yet. Without these event’s there can be no “face to face” prior to the Second Coming and arrival of the New Creation – individually or corporately. Selah.
“The Perfect” is a reference to all of the following:
- The “maturity” or “unity of the Faith” for the Church (Ephs. 2-4/1 Cor. 13:10-12) by AD 70.
- The Second Coming/Rapture in AD 70 (1 Thess. 4:15-17/Matt. 24:30-31/1 Cor. 13:10-12).
- The “soon” Second Coming and arrival of the New Creation in AD 70 – of which the Church in the matured NC age, sees God “face to face” (Rev. 22:4-7/1 Cor. 13:10-12).
In part 3 of this series I will give an accurate and positive exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.
 Donald Lee Barnett, Speaking in Other Tongues, A Scholarly Defense, (Seattle Community Chapel Communications, 1986), 176, 178-179.
 Chuck Smith, Charisma vs. Charismania, (Harvest House Pub., 1983), 122-123.
 Michael Brown, Authentic Fire A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, (Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, 2015), 352.
 John McRay, To Teleion in 1 Corinthians 13:10, 180, 1971.
 Ibid. 73-74
 James E. Rothhaar, An Exegetical Investigation of 1 Corinthians 13:10, M. Div. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1984
 John MacArthur, STRANGE FIRE THE DANGER OF OFFENDING THE HOLY SPIRIT WITH COUNTERFEIT WORSHIP, (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2013), 148-149
 John MacArthur, Speaking in Tongues, 1 Corinthians 13:8—14:40 (Panorama City, CA: Word of Grace Communications, 1988), 67.
 Ibid., 68
 John Piper, I apologize their site moved this article (the link is broken) and I can’t find it’s new location).
 Ibid., 68
 Ibid., 72