By: Michael J. Sullivan
It is my purpose in this article to tackle an issue that I struggled with a lot as a young Christian–namely 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 and the abiding or cessation of the miraculous gifts of tongues and prophecy. Are they for today or have they ceased? As a young Christian my Pastor was Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa), but I also briefly attended an Assembly of God College and as well began attending John Wimber’s church (The Vineyard). So in my walk with the Lord, I have had a wide range of “experience” within Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and institutions. As I began to grow in my understanding of God’s Word and His grace in my life, I became more Reformed or Sovereign Grace in my thinking. As I moved more into Reformed and Sovereign Grace circles, the less I saw “tongues” being spoken. Yet at the same time, I was not getting the exegetical evidence from Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 13, and Matthew 28:18-20/Mark 16:15-20 that I needed to be 100% convinced that these gifts had ceased. I had experienced the same frustration while briefly attending John MacArthur’s church (Grace Community) and The Master’s College. After many years of prayer over this subject, God led me to the preterist view of Bible prophecy to settle my mind and heart on this issue once and for all. Therefore, it is my purpose in this article to comfort and help others with the comfort God has given me through a correct understanding of His Word.
My proposition is simple — Christ promised to return within the lifetime and generation of the first century Church (Mt. 10:22-23, 16:27-28; Lk. 21:20-32) and He in fact did keep that promise. The New Testament inspired authors bore witness to the testimony of their Lord’s teaching (Romans 13:11-12, 16:20; 1 Peter 4:5-7; James 5:7-9; Hebrews 8:13-10:37; Revelation 1:1, 3:11; 10:6-7, 22:6-7, 10-12, 20) that He would in fact return in a “very little while” and would “not tarry.” Therefore, in this article, I will defend that “that which is perfect” and the “face to face” “knowledge” of 1 Corinthians 13:10-12, are references to Christ’s return and the arrival of the new heavens and earth by AD 70 (cf. Revelation 22:4). In so defending this position, it is my sincere prayer to help those ensnared in the false teachings of Charismatic and Pentecostal doctrine. This would also include those within the Reformed community such as John Piper and the churches that have been planted through his ministry.
Let’s begin with how Reformed and Evangelical Charismatic’s and Pentecostal’s understand and interpret 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 and then we will move into how others have sought to teach that the gifts have ceased for us today. Does either party make exegetically credible claims? Is it possible that both parties can be both right and wrong at the same time? If so, what pieces of this exegetical puzzle are missing to bridge the gap in this debate?
Charismatic Reformed Theologians
John Piper is both Reformed and a Charismatic. Most within Reformed circles consider this a “contradiction,” but is it really a contradiction to be charismatic if one is a futurist at the same time? I don’t believe it is– it is just unbiblical to be a futurist and a Charismatic. Piper graciously mocks the attempts of his fellow Reformed futurist colleagues such as Richard Gaffin who claims the gifts have ceased,
“There is no text in the New Testament that teaches the cessation of these gifts. But more important than this silence is the text that explicitly teaches their continuance until Jesus comes, namely, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.
So the key question is: When does the “perfect” come which marks the end of the imperfect gifts like prophecy? The answer is plain in the text if we follow Paul’s line of reasoning. Verse 8 says, “Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away” (RSV). Why are these gifts temporary? The answer is given in verse 9: “For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect.” So the reason these spiritual gifts are temporary is their incompleteness or imperfection.
How long then are they to last? Verse 10 gives the answer: “When the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.” But when is that? When does the perfect come? The answer is given in verse 12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.” The “now” of incompleteness and imperfection is contrasted with the “then” of seeing face to face and understanding even as we are understood.
“So the answer to the question of when the perfect comes and when the imperfect gifts pass away is the “then” of verse 12, namely, the time of seeing “face to face” and “understanding as we are understood.” When will this happen?
Both of these phrases (“seeing face to face” and “understanding as we have been understood”) are stretched beyond the breaking point if we say that they refer to the closing of the New Testament canon or the close of the apostolic age. Rather, they refer to our experience at the second coming of Jesus. Then “we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2) The phrase “face to face” in the Greek Old Testament refers to seeing God personally (Genesis 32:30; Judges 6:22). Thomas Edwards’ hundred-year-old commentary is right to say, “When the perfect is come at the advent of Christ, then the Christian will know God intuitively and directly, even as he was before known of God” (First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 353, italics added).
This means that verse 10 can be paraphrased, “When Christ returns, the imperfect will pass away.” And since “the imperfect” refers to spiritual gifts like prophecy and knowledge and tongues, we may paraphrase further, “When Christ returns, then prophecy and knowledge and tongues will pass away.”
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.”
Another Charismatic with a Reformed background would be Wayne Grudem, who paraphrases the context of 1 Corinthians 13:10 this way,
“But when Christ returns, prophecy and tongues (and other imperfect gifts) will pass away. Thus we have in 1 Corinthians 13:10 a definite statement about the time of the cessation of imperfect gifts like prophecy: they will “be made useless” or “pass away” when Christ returns. And this would imply that they will continue to exist and be useful for the church, throughout the church age, including today, and right up to the day when Christ returns.”
Another one of my former Pastor’s Chuck Smith is a charismatic whom offers some good comments on identifying “that which is perfect” as Jesus’ Second Coming. He correctly considers men like Kenneth Gentry’s attempts at exegesis on this text to be “expositional dishonesty” and “prejudicial blindness-not at all scholarly or conclusive” and on this point I would agree:
“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”
Donald Lee Barnett
Unfortunately since Charismatic’s offer a better exegesis than Gentry and the rest of our futurist Reformed brothers, I will allow them to make our case on “that which is perfect”:
“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…”
These Charismatic arguments connecting teleieos with “the end of the age” and the Second Coming of Jesus elsewhere in Scripture are valid and powerful. Likewise, Barnett makes a valid point when he says that the fulfillment of Scripture at the “end” is the issue and not the writing of it. However, we must point out that the Olivet discourse is about the destruction of the temple which marks the end to the Old Covenant age in AD 70, and not the age we are currently in or the end to the planet earth (Mt. 24:1-3, 34). As Milton Terry wrote in his classic work on hermeneutics,
“The ‘end of the age’ means the close of the epoch or age—that is, the Jewish age or dispensation which was drawing nigh, as our Lord frequently intimated. All those passages which speak of ‘the end,’ “the end of the age,’ or “the ends of the ages,’ refer to the same consummation, and always as nigh at hand. In 1 Cor. 10:11, St. Paul says, ‘The ends of the ages have stretched out to us;’ implying that he regarded himself as his readers as living near the conclusion of an aeon, or age.”
The immediate context is only dealing with the destruction of the temple and eschatological events that would be fulfilled in Jesus’ “this generation.” Therefore, it is abundantly clear that He is predicting the end of the Old Covenant age in AD 70 and no other! When we take a combined look at some of the best theologians within the Reformed and Evangelical communities, we find a preterist interpretation of every eschatological de-creation prophecy in the Bible. Combined, John Owen, John Locke, John Lightfoot, John Brown, R.C. Sproul, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, James Jordan, Peter Leithart, Keith Mathison, H.T. Fletcher-Louis, Hank Hanegraaff, and N.T. Wright teach that the passing away of heaven and earth (Matt. 5:17-18; 24:3, 29, 35; 1 Cor. 7:31, 10:11; II Peter 3; I Jn. 2:17-18; Rev. 21:1) refers to the destruction of the temple or to the civil and religious worlds of men —either Jews or Gentiles; and that the rulers of the old-covenant system or world, along with the temple, were the “sun, moon, and stars,” which made up the “heaven and earth” of the world that perished in AD 70.
I also concur with the Charismatic argument that the issue is not when all things were written, but rather when all things would be fulfilled! And once again Scripture is clear that all prophecy would be fulfilled within Jesus’ “this generation” (Luke 21:22; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Peter 1:4-12; Revelation 1:1, 10:6-7, 22:6-7, 10-12, 20). This brings an abrupt AD 70 “end” to the Charismatic futurist assumptions and their arguments on teleios.
So how has the Reformed community sought to respond to such basic and straightforward Charismatic and Pentecostal interpretive claims as these? Oddly the Reformed community thought Richard Gaffin’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13 would help,
“Such knowledge will not cease until the arrival of “perfection” (v.10), at Christ’s return; only then, in contrast, will full “face to face” knowledge be ours (v.12).” “To argue, as some [Kenneth Gentry] cessationists do, that “the perfect” has in view the completion of the New Testament cannon or some other state of affairs prior to the Parousia is just not credible exegetically.”
Obviously, there are some problems with how Reformed futurists defend that1Corinthians 13 teaches the cessation of the gifts while at the same time admitting that the text refers to a future Second Coming!
One of our opponents Kenneth Gentry, gives this interpretation of our text,
Gentry’s interpretations of the “end of the age” in the Gospels and his interpretations of 1 Corinthians 13:10 along side that of the 70 weeks of Daniel 9:24-27 are confusing to say the very least. He claims the 70 weeks of Daniel 9:24 and 1 Corinthians 13:10 involves the revelatory process and yet also teaches in his book, He Shall Have Dominion, that the first 69 weeks ended 3 ½ years after the cross and that the end to the 70th week is not so clear. He claims the redemptive aspects of Daniel 9:24 were fulfilled in the cross or perhaps 3 ½ years after this event. So were the Scriptures (the revelatory process) completed by AD 35? He also seems to want to claim that “the end of the age” in the Olivet discourse is both a reference to AD 70 and the end of the planet (see my article “KENNETH GENTRY’S PROPHETIC CONFUSION AND THE ANALOGY OF SCRIPTURE”). He fails to admit that the New Covenant age was breaking in and being revealed “bi-by-bit” while the Old Covenant age would “soon pass away” at Christ’s Second and final redemptive Coming (Heb. 8:13-10:37). It was this event associated with the abomination of desolation which would bring an “end” and cause “vision and prophecy” to be “sealed up”–fulfilled.
It is the fulfilling of “all things [Dan. 9:24-27] which are written” associated with Christ’s one and final Second Coming that is the issue of the texts in question, not the “mode of revelation” (Mt. 24:15/Lk. 21:22-27). Jerusalem “filled up” or “finished transgressions” against God and His Messiah within Jesus’ “this generation” (Mt. 23:31-38; Dan. 9:24a). Christ put an “end to sin” at His imminent Second Coming (Heb. 9:26-28/10:37; Rom. 11:26-27/13:11-12; Dan. 9:24b.). At Christ’s return in AD 70, He brought in “everlasting righteousness” or a “world of righteousness” as even John Owen and John Lightfoot would agree with us in 2 Peter 3. Christ anointed and consummated the New Covenant Church as His Most Holy Place and Bride in AD 70 (Ex. 20, 29-31, 40; cf. Hebrews 8:6-10; Revelation 11:18-19, 19-21:16). Therefore, all the eschatological promises made to Israel concerning vision and prophecy were fulfilled and sealed up by AD 70. Gentry is confused as usual and there most definitely is a clear “end” to the 70th week in the NT – ie. AD 70! The abomination of desolation brings an “end” to the entire complex of redemptive events in Daniel 9:24-27!
Gentry and his fellow partial preterist colleagues end up teaching TWO New Testament: last days, comings of Jesus, “end of the age(s),” great commissions, judgments, and resurrections (one in AD 70 and one at the end of time); whereas the New Testament only teaches ONE. Therefore, the partial preterist position fails miserably to exegetically deal with the cessation of tongues and prophecy.
So far, Reformed futurist theologians are divided with Richard Gaffin stating that Gentry’s exegesis is not “exegetically credible” all the while giving the farm away to the Charismatics by admitting the text in question finds it’s fulfillment at a future second coming. Go figure.
John MacArthur used to be my Pastor and College President and is a well known 5 point Calvinist but unfortunately remains a Dispensationalist. He has also written a lot on the cessation of tongues and the gift of healing. Unfortunately, MacArthur is better at mocking Pentecostal and Charismatic extreme practices instead of being able to give an exegetical refutation of their doctrine. His progressive dispensationalism has caused even more problems with this text and the “last days” passage of Acts 2. Here is MacArthur’s view of what the “perfect” is not referring to and then what it is:
“The Perfect” is Not the Rapture
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,” “…they [knowledge and prophecy] appear to be operative in both the Tribulation and the millennial Kingdom.”
“The Perfect” is Not the Maturing of the Church
“A relatively new interpretation is that the perfect refers to the maturing, or completion, of the church. It is true that perfect often has the meaning of maturity or completion. But such a completion would amount to the rapture, which this view eliminates.”
“The Perfect” is Not the Second Coming
“The Perfect” is the New Creation
MacArthur reasons that since the New Creation follows the “rapture” and a future “Second [third] Coming,” this is what Paul has identified as “the perfect.” It is at this point we see God’s face (Revelation 22:4).
There are several problems with MacArthur’s observations – mainly his dispensationalism and futurist assumptions that he reads into the texts in question.
First, “Prophecy” in Scripture is dealing with divine revelation, not preaching the word. And again, all prochecy would be fulfilled through Christ and the Church in Jesus’ “this generation” and or “shortly” by AD 70 (Luke 21:22; 1 Peter 1:4-12; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Revelation 1:1, 3:11, 10:6-7, 22:6-7, 10-12, 20).
Secondly, the scripture does not distinguish between a “rapture” coming and then the actual “Second [third?] Coming” of Jesus (see my exegesis of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
Thirdly, again, the Tribulation and Second Coming events were predicted to take place within Jesus’ “this generation” and in fact did (cf. Matthew 24 & Luke 21).
Fourthly, the two witnesses in Revelation 11 are not Moses and Elijah as MacArthur speculates. MacArthur refuses to accept the very clear testimony of Jesus that Elijah had already come in the person of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13) to prepare the way of the Great and Dreadful Day of the Lord–which again, would take place within the first century “this generation” (Malachi 3-4; Acts 2:20-40). The two witnesses represent the Old Testament prophets and the Churches witness against Old Covenant Jerusalem for rejecting and killing their Messiah and the prophets which had been sent to her (cf. Matthew 23:30-38).
Fifthly, the Bible does not teach that the “Kingdom” is something future for ethnic Israel to receive in an alleged literal 1,000 year period. Rather, the Kingdom was “at hand” and would be manifested “within” individuals at Christ’s return in their “this generation” (Matthew 3:2-12; 4:17; 21:33-43; Luke 17:20-37/21:27-32). The 1,000 years of Revelation 20 is a figurative or symbolic number communicating the fullness and completeness of the transitionary period before Christ would return “soon” in AD 70.
Sixthly, the “knowledge” of the Messiah and His New Covenant salvation was successfully preached into the entire world before AD 70 (see chart further in this article).
And lastly, “The Perfect” is a reference to all of the following: a) the maturity of the Church by AD 70, b) the Second Coming, and c) the New Creation. Jesus is described as “that Holy thing” and the New Creation (Luke :35/Gen. 1:2). Therefore, when Jesus’ parousia (presence) was completely formed within the Church, this was the maturing and consummating process of the New Creation (Galatians 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:17/Isaiah 65-66). Through the Churches faith and being united “In Christ,” we share in the promise of being God’s New Creation (2 Cor. 1:20/Isaiah 65-66). So quite simply put, when Jesus’ Second Coming came in AD 70, Jesus’ redemptive work in performing and maturing His Church/Bride had been fully accomplished. As the perfect High Priest, He came out of Zion a “second time” and completely took away Her sin (Hebrews 9:26-28/Romans 11:26-27). Redemptively speaking, we are “perfect” in God’s eyes and we are “known” and ought to seek to continue to “know” and commune with Him in this humbled and thankful way, no matter how we might feel from time to time. You may not feel like precious stones and pure gold, but that is what you are in His eyes (Rev. 21:10-11).
If MacArthur could reconcile the above 7 accurate propositions with what he says of God coming in judgment in AD 70, he would have a consistent and exegetical position to defend against the “Charismatic Chaos” troubling many Christians today. For example what he says of Paul quoting Isaiah 28 as being fulfilled in AD 70 is right on target,
“The second evidence that the gift of tongues ended with the apostles is that its purpose as a judicial sign of Israel’s judgment ceased to apply at that time. Paul reminds the Corinthians that “In the Law it is written, ‘By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,’ says the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:21; cf. Isa. 28:11-12). In other words, because Israel refused to listen and believe when God spoke to them in clear language, the prophet said the day would come when He would speak to them in a language they could not understand, as a testimony against their rejection of Him.
Tongues were not given as a sign to believers “but to unbelievers” (1 Cor. 14:22), specifically unbelieving Jews. With the destruction of the Temple by the Roman general Titus in A.D. 70, Judaism ended except as a shadow religion.”
On this passage, MacArthur is spot on, but his futurism causes him to not be consistent in allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture when an imminent AD 70 coming of Jesus and reception of the kingdom is clearly in view. MacArthur constantly refers to tongues ceasing at the “end of the Apostolic age,” and yet there is NO verse mentioning this. There is the phrase “this age” (which the first century Jew understood as the Old Covenant age), and the “age about to come” (which the Jew understood to be the New Covenant or Messianic age). The Old passed while the New arrived in its mature and full state in AD 70. This all took place at Christ’s return in the judgment MacArthur alludes to above.
The Great Commission of Mark 16:15-20/Matthew 28:18-20
We should probably digress a little from our text and quickly cover a common Charismatic point involving the Great Commission and the miraculous sign gifts. It is claimed that the miraculous gifts such as tongues and healings are necessary for the Church in order to fulfill the Great Commission. What they fail to realize, is that the Bible clearly teaches that the Great Commission had been (past tense) fulfilled before AD 70:
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world (Greek oikumene) for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14)
“But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed:
‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world (Greek oikumene)” (Romans 10:18)
“And the gospel must first be published among all nations (Greek ethnos)” “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, (Greek ethnos)…” “…I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Mark 13:10; Mt.28:19-20)
“…My gospel… has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations (Greek ethnos)…” (Romans 16:25-26)
“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world(Greek kosmos) and preach the gospel to every creature” “…And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues (Greek glossa) (Mark 16:15, 17)
“…of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world(Greek kosmos), as is bringing forth fruit…,” (Colossians 1:5-6).
And he said unto them ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Greek kitisis) “ (Mark 16:15)
“…from the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature (Greek kitisis) under heaven, of which I, Paul became a minister” (Colossians 1:23)
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth/land (Greek ge)” (Acts 1:8).
Prophecy had begun to be fulfilled: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues (Greek glossa), as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation (Greek ethnos) under heaven.
“But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth/land (Greek ge), and their words to the ends of the world” (Romans 10:18)
Prophecy would be fulfilled “shortly” : “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth/land (Greek ge), and to every nation (Geek ethnos), and kindred (Greek phule) and tongue (Greek glossa), and people, (Greek laos)” (Rev.1:1; Rev.14:6). See also Revelation 10:6-7; 20:3; 22:10-11 in regards to the Great Commission’s success to the “nations” of Israel and the Roman Empire along with imminent time of fulfillment.
The Great Commission within the context of the imminent “end of the [this] age” judgment in Matthew 13:40, 24:3ff., and 28:18-20 is again–discussing the end to the Old Covenant age in AD 70. The Bible describes the Church or New Covenant age as an age “without end” (Ephs. 3:20-21).
The Marriage Motif “Face to Face”
In 1 Corinthians 13:10, Paul develops the marriage motif as he has done in some of his other letters. His expression of “knowing” God and “being fully known” by Him is clearly an intimate knowing leading to that expression in the marriage union. Reformed theologians correctly understand this Greek word (ginosko) in this way when it comes to being “foreknown” of God in election and predestination (Rms.8:28-29). This is not a knowledge of all facts, but an “experiential” knowledge as in affection leading to the consummation of that affection and love in a marriage relationship. The illustration being, “Now Adam knew Eve and she conceived and bore Cain,…” (Gen.4:1). Strong’s gives ginosko a meaning of, “the Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.” Paul and John in Revelation, are echoing Isaiah’s teaching that when Israel sees their God “eye to eye” (thus “face to face”) is when the New Jerusalem (“the Bride” Rev.21:2) will be “redeemed” and the new-covenant temple completed or “glorified” (Isa.52:8-9; Ephs. 2 & 5/Isa.60; Isa.65-66; 1Cor.13:10; Rev.21-22:4).
When Israel sees God “eye to eye” is when the New Creation has fully come, the marriage consummated, and Israel is completely established and restored. The message of (1Cor.13:10-12/Rev.17-22:4) is that the New Jerusalem is the New Creation and Bride of the Lamb which comes down to earth AFTER the first and Old Covenant Jerusalem/Harlot Bride/Heavens and Earth have passed away in the judgment of A.D. 70.
The 1 Corinthians 13/2 Corinthians 3-5:17 Connections
All futurist positions (Charismatic or not) are very reluctant to connect this “face to face” seeing in (1Cor.13:12) with the transformation and seeing God through a mirror in (2Cor.3-4). Why? The reason is that the contrast of the covenants and the passing of the old (which demands an A.D. 70 fulfillment) and the spiritual and metaphorical seeing of God is not a literal or biological seeing in (2Cor.3-4). Charismatics are just as afraid to make the connections as are reformed cessationalist’s. One would think that the exegete and student of hermeneutics would want to find similar themes and language elsewhere used by Paul (especially in letters to the same church) in order to understand what kind of “seeing” is involved here.
In 1Corinthians 13:8-11 prophecy, knowledge, and tonuges are described as supernatural gifts that were “in part” (not fulfilled), a child maturing into manhood, and would thus be done away when that which is perfect comes to fulfill and complete that which was “in part” and would thus bring to maturity the child state. This “in part,” (unfulfilled) and child like state of maturing, is described as “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.” Therefore, the child was growing into maturity and manhood by viewing the “face” or image of this “perfect thing” in a mirror (1Cor.13:12). This Greek word for “perfect” is teleios and means to bring to maturity, to reach the goal, bring to its end, finished. These miraculous gifts were brought about by the Holy Spirit in Israel’s old covenant “last days” to reveal it’s near end, maturity, and fulfillment as found “in Christ” the mediator of the new and better covenant. The old covenant’s “in part” status had a “goal” and “maturity” process that needed to be fulfilled by the new covenant work of Christ in His redemption performed in the cross and parousia. It is not enough to say that “that which is perfect” is the complete written word of God, because it is the fulfillment of that perfect Word that is in view. This will get clearer as we deal with related texts.
In 2 Corinthians 3 & 4, the Old Covenant glory is described as the fading glory of Moses face. The Old Covenant glory in and of it’s self was incomplete in that it could only bring death (2 Cor.3:6). Therefore, “the glory” of this system was “passing away” (2 Cor.3:11) because the glory of the New Covenant system was in the process of fulfilling the old. It is only at the end of this overlapping of covenantal ages that the old glory is done away by the new fulfilling and completing it. The mirror theme is likewise present here,
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2Cor.3:8)
In context it is clear what the early church was beholding in a mirror:
“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor.4:6)
This transformation from “glory to glory” and beholding the Lord’s face has to do with the transformation of the Old and New Covenants and this transformation has nothing to do with a fleshly resurrection/transformation finding it’s fulfillment when our alleged physical corpses are united to our spirits at the end of time! It is addressing a period in which the Old and New Covenants are existing side by side and we know when the Old would pass and all of the promises to Israel would be fulfilled – AD70. What many fail to recognize is that this passage is teaching the same identical thing as 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. The gifts of tongues, knowledge, and prophecy were a part of giving divine revelation and clarity for the Church in order to bring Her to maturity and fulfill the Old Covenant’s “in part” status with the return of Christ. But how would Christ’s glorious face be seen? Well, the same way it was being seen in 2 Corinthians 3-4! Thus, it is obvious why so many futurists (Charismatics and those seeking to prove the gifts have ceased) avoid the correlation between these two passages! To equate these two passages is to describe the nature of seeing God’s face as spiritual and not literal and to equate these two passages is to find a clear “end” to the “passing” of the Old Covenant age in AD 70. The only one I have seen that attempts to make the correlation is Budgen in quoting Judisch. He does make the correlation to seeing “face to face” with “seeing Christ face to face” in 2 Corinthians 3-4:
“Those who want “the complete thing” of verse 10 to be the state of eternal glory argue that the first clause of verse 12 is referring to seeing Christ in a dim way throughout this life and that the second clause speaks of seeing Christ face to face in a literal sense in heaven. Such as interpretation is dubious, however, for two reasons. First, it takes the “dimly” (ainigmati) of the first clause figuratively, but the “face to face” (prosopon pros prosopon) of the second clause literally; a more consistent approach to the intended contrast seems preferable. If we thought that the object of the verb blepomen (“see”) were Christ, we should note that the concept of seeing Christ face to face occurs elsewhere in the Corinthian letters in a figurative sense (2Cor. 3:18; 4:6).”
Gentry apparently is afraid to bring up 2 Corinthians 3-4 in seeing Christ’s face in this text. He not only doesn’t cite the passage, but tries to lightly brush off the idea,
My friend David Green, has some excellent comments on the harmony of the two passages and connecting them to other related New Testament texts:
“In both passages Paul speaks of certain things being nullified and other things remaining: In II Cor. 3:7-14, he tells us that the old-covenant world was in progress of being nullified (done away), and in I Cor. 13:8-11 he predicts the nullification (doing away) of the revelatory gifts. Is it unlikely, in view of this initial comparison, that the “childish” (I Cor. 13:11; cf. Gal. 4:1-7) revelatory gifts were nullified at the same time that the prophetic old-covenant age was nullified in A.D. 70?
In I Cor. 13:13, “faith, hope and love” are said to remain or abide. In II Cor. 3:11 it is the New Covenant that remains or abides. The New Covenant in Christ’s blood is the very fulfillment and establishment of God’s “faith, hope and love” among mankind.
Note also the striking parallel between I Cor. 13:12 and II Cor. 3:18: In I Cor. 13:12, Paul says that the Church of his day was seeing (God) “in a mirror,” but that when “That which is perfect” (mature) would come (cf. Eph. 4:13), then the Church would see (Him) “face to Face.” (Rev. 22:4 reveals that the face-to-Face Presence of God is that which the saints in Christ realized in the New-Covenant world in A.D. 70.)
In II Cor. 3:18, Paul reiterates what he said in I Cor. 13:12, saying that the church of his day, though worshiping God with “unveiled face,” was yet seeing Him only “as in a mirror,” and was in progress of being transformed into His Image. There should be little question that the predicted seeing of God “face to Face” in I Cor. 13:12 should parallel the consummated transformation into His Image (cf. I Cor. 15:49) which the church realized in A.D. 70.
Now when we attempt to harmonize the teachings of I Cor. 13:8-13 and II Cor. 3:6-18, we find that the two passages are in truth complimentary dissertations on a common New-Testament theme; and that theme is covenantal transformation:
Old-Covenant Age (Moses – A.D. 30)
Covenantal Transformation (A.D. 30-70)
New-Covenant Age (A.D. 70 – Forever)
Old covenant being nullified
Old covenant/revelatory gifts nullified
Unveiled face, as in a mirror, transforming
Face to Face
Slave-Child (Gal. 4:1-7)
Adopted Child (I Cor. 13:9-12; Gal. 4,4,5)
Man (I Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:13)
New Covenant prophesied
New Covenant ratified in Jesus’ blood and old passing Heb.8:13/Heb.9:8/Heb.10:25, 37
One can see the difference between the traditional Reformed position offered by Kenneth Gentry and his inability to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture and our view in refuting Charismatic and Pentecostal false teaching.
We shall now examine another text in which the same Greek word is used for “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 and note some parallel themes once again:
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect (Greek teleios as in 1Cor.13:10) man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” (Ephs.4:11-13)
This “perfect” thing is to be the goal, maturity, and fulfillment of something that is described as developing into manhood—1 Corinthians 13:11. The “perfect” and “stature of the man” is the bringing to maturity the body of Christ – the Church. This same concept is described as the “unity of the faith.” Both in 1Corinthians (1Cor.10:16-17; 1Cor.12:13; & 1Cor.15:28) and throughout Ephesians (Ephs.1:22-23; Ephs.2:11-16; Ephs.3:3-6) the maturing and bringing to fullness the New Covenant Body of Christ is described as the unity of Jew and Gentile – when God would be “all in all.” Paul both describes this Jew / Gentile unity as “the unity of the faith” and earlier in the context as “the mystery” (Ephs.3:6-9). The fulfillment of “the mystery” was the fulfillment of the Great Commission, which was a near sign of Christ’s parousia which Paul defines as “Christ in you the hope of glory”:
“if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Cols.1:23-27)
This maturity process of the “perfect man” (the Church – Body of Christ) was the “mystery of Christ” in which both Jews and Gentiles would become fellow citizens and be mutually built up as the New Covenant Temple:
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a HOLY TEMPLE in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephs.2:19-22).
In 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul quotes and refers to Ezekiel 37:25-28 as seeing Israel’s New Covenant “millennial” temple being built up spiritually as the Body of Christ – the Church. Peter likewise taught this in fulfillment of the Psalms and prophets as did the Jerusalem council witnessing the Gentiles being baptized into the Holy Spirit and thus partaking of Israel’s promises (Acts 4:11/1Pet.2:4-10; Acts 15:8, 16-17). As the Holy Spirit was poured out and enabled the Israelites to erect the tabernacle in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit was poured out in a miraculous way in order to build up the Church into a living temple, tabernacle, or dwelling place of God whereby He would be “all” (all of the promises of God) and “in all” (Jew & Gentile)” (Ephs.1:13-14; 22-23; 1Cor.15:28). It is not only inconsistent but not exegetically sound to say that the Church is still in its maturing infant state and at the same time claim that the gifts have ceased. Nor is it proper to claim that the Church has reached maturity by the completion of the cannon. In Paul’s theology, it is not the writing of prophecy of “that which is perfect” or the bringing to maturity of the “perfect man,” through the giving of the Scriptures, but rather it is the fulfilling of those prophecies and Scriptures that brings the maturing man to his face to face completion. All of these concepts of the maturing of the Perfect Man/Church and seeing “face to face” point us to the second coming of Christ where Christ would dwell in His people in the temple and new Jerusalem. In studying our word “perfect” and staying with this theme of the temple we shall now cover one last passage in the NT where telios is used.
“And the lesson which the Holy Spirit teaches is this—that the way into the true Holy place is not yet open so long as the outer tent still remains in existence. And this is a figure—for the time now present—answering to which both gifts and sacrifices are offered, unable though they are to give complete freedom from sin to him who ministers. For their efficacy depends only on meats and drinks and various washings, ceremonies pertaining to the body and imposed until a time of reformation. But Christ appeared as a High Priest of the blessings that are soon to come by means of the greater and more perfect (Greek telios) Tent of worship, a tent which has not been built with hands—that is to say does not belong to this material creation” (Heb. 9:8-11WEY).
Once again we encounter the “perfect” (Greek telios) in the context of contrasting the Old Covenant with the New. In this particular context in Hebrews, the Old Covenant represents the Holy Place while the New Covenant is represented by the Most Holy Place – in which complete access was soon to come. Also the theme of seeing God’s face is implied since when access into the Most Holy Place would be granted, is when this perfect face to face experience would be realized. A futurist interpretation of this contrast can be found in the comments of the JFB commentary,
“the first tabernacle—the anterior tabernacle, representative of the whole Levitical system. While it (the first tabernacle, and that which represents the Levitical system) as yet “has a standing” (so the Greek, that is, “has continuance”: “lasts”), the way to heaven (the antitypical “holiest place”) is not yet made manifest (compare Heb 10:19, 20). The Old Testament economy is represented by the holy place, the New Testament economy by the Holy of Holies.”
Some Greek scholars do support that this text is teaching that the Old Covenant had an “imposed” “legal” “standing” (symbolized by the presence of the Holy Place) until the time of reformation which would “soon” be upon the Hebrew audience. This validates the earlier context of the validity and readiness of the passing of the law (Heb.8:13) and what Jesus taught concerning the legal validity of all the jots and tittles of the Mosaic Law to be in force until all had been fulfilled (Mt.5:17-19). The veil or the “elements” which separated the two covenant worlds or compartments would soon be completely taken away and the New Covenant Most Holy Place or spiritual New Covenant Creation would be left having the final resurrection standing. This is what we see in Revelation 21:15-16 through chapter 22) in that the New Jerusalem/Bride is the City described as a perfect cube–The Most Holy Place.
Reformed theologian O. Palmer Robertson is not a preterist, and does not even attempt to tackle 1 Corinthians 13:10-12 in his book in seeking to refute Charismatic theology, but he does give a helpful illustration that I can develop while here in Hebrews and Revelation. He writes,
“In accepting this new state of things, the people of God should not mourn out of a sense of loss because of the end of the special gifts of revelation any more than the children of Israel should have mourned when the manna stopped as they entered the land of Canaan. They had arrived at their goal! They were in the land flowing with milk and honey! They had the advantage of a full feast from the produce of the land! Should they begin moaning because they had to plow in the morning rather than simply collect the manna? There were, after all, real advantages related to the manna in the wilderness over the produce of the land. Manna was present in adequate supply every morning without fail. But would it have been appropriate for the Israelites to complain over the cessation of the manna because of the work involved in fulfilling God’s command to ‘subdue the earth’ once they had eterend the land of promise?
The church’s relation to the miraculous gifts may be paralleled to Israel’s experience with the manna. Should the church complain that the miraculous gifts of tongues, prophecy and the ability to work wondrous signs have ceased as a result of the coming of the consummate revelation in the person of Jesus Christ? Obviously not. It would be nothing but childish immaturity for God’s privileged people today to complain about the cessation of the spectacular means to the end when the end itself has arrived.”
Having already examined “the end” or “goal” elsewhere in the NT, we correctly see or understand this term to refer to Christ’s return in AD 70 to fulfill the law and the prophets, not the writing of–or the cannon of Scripture itself. The book of Hebrews describes a second exodus under the New Covenant in which Christ’s second coming is likened to the inheritance and “rest” for God’s people. The “another day” and “day” of “rest” and inheriting “the heavenly country” (cf. Heb. 3-4, 12) throughout Hebrews is discussing Christ’s “in a very little while” second coming that would “not tarry” (Heb. 9:26-28, 10:25-37). When Christ came “soon” to cloth and reward the Church with the New Creation/World of Righteousness, She received the “hidden manna” and beheld Her Lord and Husband’s Face (Rev. 2:17/22:4, 12). Apart of the Churches mission in the New Heavens and Earth is laboring in the work of evangelizing the nations (Isaiah 65/Rev. 22:17). We simply do not need the miraculous and immature gifts when we have God’s presence today being “all” (His wonderful attributes) “and in all” (the Church consisting of all kinds of men) today!
Before concluding, I would like to answer one objection on 1 Corinthians 13:10-12 that Keith Mathison has given,
“If the “perfect” has come and we now see face-to-face rather than in a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:10, 12), why do we have to grow in our understanding of doctrine? In the full-preterist system, it seems that the transitional period when Christ was away was more doctrinally stable than the present perfect age when Christ is here in fullness. Why did the coming of Christ in 70 lead to such a rapid doctrinal decay and confusion?”
First, the passage is not dealing with a perfect intellectual knowledge of all things (ie. all doctrine).
Secondly, the transitionary stage was not more “doctrinally stable” (ex. read 1&2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, etc). It was actually less because the draw of the Old Covenant world through Satan’s influence was still present.
Thirdly and lastly, the “fullness” or maturity of “knowledge” and “face-to-face” is what Daniel said would “increase” and that is a knowledge of Messiah and His Kingdom. Or simply put, it is New Covenant knowledge of His redemptive work in contrast to not looking at Him through the mirror of the Old Covenant world any longer. God and His Church do not have a relationship to each other based upon the Old Covenant order – it, (along with our sins) are “no longer remembered” because that Covenant has “vanished” (Heb. 8:13). Thus, the Church is not in a state of “doctrinal decay” or “confusion” on this matter! The Greek tense of Mark 8:38-9:1 indicates that the Church would know and understand that the Kingdom had “already come” as a result of Christ returning in power (ie. upon Jerusalem in AD 70 – Mark 13). Mathison maintains in the same book, that the coming of Jesus in Matthew 13 happened in AD 70 and that the Church has organically grown in this understanding (ie. postmillennial partial preterism). Therefore, the Church for the most part has understood that the Old Covenant kingdom passed away through the cross and or AD 70 and that the New Covenant Kingdom has come and is here now. The Church understands that She does not “know” Christ based upon Old Covenant standards. Realizing this is the CORE ISSUE of the text, then it can be easily seen how the Church has come to a “face to face” understanding Post AD 70. Is there room to grow in understanding the beauty of the New Covenant world of righteousness and what Jesus has done for us? “Yes.” After all, we are talking about “eternal life” and therefore, we will always be growing in our understanding of His grace and glorious Kingdom.
In AD 70 Christ returned within the first century “this generation” and placed His glory within His Church—thus forming and consummating God’s New Creation (2 Cor. 1:20; Cols. 1:27; Jn. 14:2-3, 23; Lk. 17:20-37/Lk. 21:20-32). The boy/child has reached manhood/maturity and is actively laboring in the work of evangelizing the nations of the world. The Church is God’s glorified New Creation bringing healing to the Nations (Rev. 22:17).
As I stated in my introduction, I was once a Charismatic as a young Christian. It was apart of God’s sovereign plan in my life to attend John Wimber’s church (the Vineyard) and Chuck Smith’s church (Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, CA) so that I could eventually help and comfort Christians coming out of this false teaching. I was extremely zealous and when everyone else was laying hands on the people with headaches and backaches, I was laying my hands on the people in wheelchairs. Nothing ever happened and I saw how others manipulated the people in the wheelchairs with a guilt trip, “you must have someone in your life you haven’t forgiven—please visualize that you forgiving that person etc.” And for a while I was very disturbed that I couldn’t speak in “tongues.” But eventually practically everyone gives in from the peer-pressure and learned behavior of these churches and begins “speaking in tongues.” If you listen, you will find those “speaking in tongues” are usually repeating 3-10 words at the most and they are NOT known foreign languages of nations as was the case of Acts 2. There is no “miracle” here only learned behavior. Nor is there any “demonic” activity taking place causing these people to do this. Just really bad Bible teaching and in many cases a sincere desire to worship God the best they know how—selah. But now you know better J
Many non-Charismatics have claimed that when Pentecostals and Charismatics speak in “tongues” that it must be demonic. After all, the Roman Catholics and Mormon’s even speak in these “tongues,” they reason. Yet again, this is only learned behavior and Satan was crushed and destroyed “shortly” at Christ’s return in AD 70 (Romans 16:20; Revelation 20-22:6-7, 10-12, 20). I recently watched a video of a Charismatic giving a lecture on the influence of demons upon Christians. He went on for about an hour describing every kind of demon possible: demon of lust, demon of bitterness/un-forgiveness, demon of alcohol/nicotine/caffeine, etc. There were even demons you had in you that were passed down from the sins of your long dead ancestors! In other words the entire audience was CONDITIONED to believe they had a demon in them right then and now! So after this “Bible teaching,” he then “prayed” for god to deliver his people from these spirits. Well, everyone and their grandmother (literally) didn’t want a demon in them and surely wanted to get rid of lust, bitterness, etc., so after a little coaching from the more experienced Charismatics (of flailing and spitting demons into handkerchiefs), they began to follow suit!
There simply is no speaking in tongues, no approaching God through an Old Covenant mirror/partial knowledge, no new divine revelations being given to the Church today, etc. Christ as our Perfect New Creation has come and our sins have been forgiven. If this isn’t exciting enough for you, go buy a Hal Lindsey book and watch TBN. But if you do, you will not be worshiping God in spirit and in truth and you will continue to place your hope on things which can be seen and not on those things which cannot be seen.
God had created the Old Covenant with Israel to include “signs and wonders.” God’s miraculous signs demonstrated to the other Nations that Jehovah’s divine revelation and unfolding of Himself and His redemptive plan through Israel’s prophets was true and could be trusted unlike the false gods and prophets of the other Nations. The purpose of miraculous healings in the New Testament were to demonstrate that Jesus (as God) could forgive sin (cf. Mark 2:1-12). Once Messiah finished fulfilling Israel’s promises of redemption for His people, by “putting away the sin” of His people forever (the Church/the transformed Israel of God), the immature and temporal state of these gifts ceased. This is the reason the miraculous gifts have not continued into the New Covenant Church age or the NT’s “age about to come.” To teach otherwise is not exegetical and it brings emotional damage upon professing and even real immature Christians.
It has been my prayer and desire that this article will get widely read and eventually brings healing to Charismatics and non-Charismatics alike. But if real and lasting healing is truly desired and sought after from the reader, it can only come from a solid exegetical treatment of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 and the related texts. The Biblical Preterist position is the ONLY position that does this.