Notes on “the perfect” in 1 Cor. 13: 10

In the 13th chapter of the book of 1 Corinthians we find that Paul makes the statement, “when that which is perfect has come, then that what is in part will be done away with”.

In this article we want to look at those words more closely and see what this means.

In an effort to do so, it is important that we see these words in the proper context. 

What do we see?  In the beginning of chapter 12 we see that Paul writes: “now concerning spiritual gifts”. 

So, the Apostle Paul starts his thoughts on this already in chapter 12. We also see that the discussion goes on to the end of chapter 14.
So, when we want to do justice to verse 10 of chapter 13 we need to consider it within the greater context.

When we look at these three chapters we give them all a name as to their content:

  • Chapter 12: The distribution of the gifts.
  • Chapter 13: The duration of the gifts.
  • Chapter 14: The regulation of these gifts.

1. Some thoughts on chapter 12.

Paul writes that there are diversities in these gifts. However, the fact that there are diversities does not mean that there are diversities in Gods. There is only one God.

Verse 7 shows us an important principle, namely that different manifestations are given of the Spirit, but these things are for the profit of all.
So, even though not everyone had the gifts or the same gifts, all these gifts were given for the profit off all. 

In verse 8- 10 he names these gifts:

  • For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom.
  • To another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit.
  • To another faith by the same Spirit.
  • To another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit.
  • To another the working of miracles.
  • To another prophecy.
  • To another discerning of spirits.
  • To another divers kinds of tongues.
  • To another the interpretation of tongues. 

He writes in verse 11 that gifts are given individually. These gifts are worked by the same Spirit and they are distributed as He wills. So, not everybody had the same gift, they were given as the Spirit gave them.

This shows that one would have one gift, while the other had another gift.

In verses 12- 27 we find that Paul labours the point that the body of Christ is one body.
Even though the Christians are all different, with all different functions, we are all one body.
Even the parts that might not be as presentable, show to be very presentable after all. It is like our earthly body, can we say that some parts that might be little or small in size that they are not important? No, we cannot say that. As in our body all parts are crucial and important, even more in the body of Christ.

Paul also places great importance on the one-ness that is there in the body. This is a crucial aspect in this chapter.

We have already seen in an earlier part of this book that there was division in this group.

  • Chapter 1: 1- 17

Paul shows the one-ness of the body in several ways:

  • There is one Spirit. (verse 4)
  • We are baptized into one body. (verse 13)
  • There should be no schisms in this body. (verse 25)

In verse 28- 30 the Apostle labours the point that God has appointed.
Now, this should be important to us. God has appointed, we are his workmanship.
There should be no quarrals. They were all given different talents, different works to do.
However, God had given all these gifts for the edifying of the body and for the profit of all.

Then in the last verse of chapter 12 Paul strikes an important point.

Paul encouraged them to seek the greater gift.

Paul was going to show them a better gift. Gifts were for the edification of the body. However, there is one gift that goes over these spiritual gifts and Paul was going to show what it was.

2. Some thoughts on chapter 13

In the first three verses Paul makes three points:

A. If I speak with the tongues of man and of angels, but have not love they had become like sounding brass and clanging cymbal.

B. If I had the gift of prophesy, understand all mysteries, have all knowledge and have all faith, if there is not love there is nothing.

C. If I bestow all my goods to give to the poor, if I give my body to be burned but have not love, I am nothing.

In verse 4- 6 Paul then gives the true meaning of Godly love. And that is the highest gift that we can desire. That gift goes over and beyond the spiritual gifts that God gave to the church.

In verse 8 he labours the point that love will never fail. This is crucial and important.

Fail: G1601 ekpiptō

From G1537 and G4098; to drop away; specifically be driven out of one’s course; figuratively to lose, become inefficient: - be cast, fail, fall (away, off), take none effect.

Love will never fail. So he goes on to say that:

  • Prophesies will fail.
  • Tongues will cease.
  • Knowledge will vanish away.

These words have all in common that they will come to an end. This in contrast with love that will not cease, will not fail and will not vanish away.

He concludes this thought by saying that knowledge is in part and prophesies are in part. (verse 9)

Then he comes to the point that he says: “But when that which is perfect has come, that which is in part will be done away.

Before we reach conclusions about the word “perfect”, we do know what is in part or what will cease. These are knowledge, prophesies and speaking in tongues. So, the “in part” stands in contrast to “the perfect”. That we know.

3. Some thoughts on chapter 14.

Paul concludes that they should reach for this highest gift of love, they should also seek the spiritual gifts but especially to prophesy.

The reason for that is that Paul writes that when one speaks in tongues he speaks to God, nobody understands him, for he speaks mysteries in the spirit. (verse 2) This in contrast to one who prophesies, he is one who speaks edification and exhortation to the comfort of man.

In verse 4- 5 Paul then concludes that one who prophesies is greater then one who speaks in tongues.

From verse 6 he gives a number of reasons why prophecies are better then tongues.

1. There is no profit in a tongue unless these things are interpreted. (6- 11)

It would be better to speak something by revelation, by knowledge, by prophecying or by teaching.

Paul illustrates this with an example from life, how will we make a distinction between instruments when the sounds are all the same. So, a particular sound is needed to make a distinction, so it is with speaking in tongues. It can only be heard when it is interpreted.

Even the trumpet, if it makes the right sound, people will prepare for battle.
However, when there is a sound that is not particular for the trumpet, no one will go to battle.

Even when people speak, it need to be words that we can understand. Otherwise we will be speaking into the air.

There are many languages in this world and they all have a significance but what good does it do when I speak a language that no one understands?

2. Let we seek for those things that are of edification. (12- 19)

When spiritual gifts are sought we need to seek them that edify and them that excel.

When there is someone who speaks in tongues, let him have an interpreter, this shows that speaking in tongues is useless unless there is an interpreter.

If things are said by means of a tongue and it is not interpreted the understanding is unfruitful.

What then is the conclusion?

All things that are done needs to come with understanding.

So in blessing how can the uninformed say amen, since he cannot understand.

One is giving thanks but the other one is not edified.

Paul would rather speak five words that all can understand, so that everyone is edified.
However, when tongues are not interpreted there is no edification.

3. The true identity of tongues. (20- 25)

Tongues are a sign for unbelievers. (Acts 2)

Prophecying is for believers.

So, when unbelievers come into the church and someone speaks in a tongue and there is no interpreter, it will be of no use.

When prophesies are uttered there can be the true conviction.

4. These signs in the church. (26- 40)

Whatever happens, let all things be done for edification.

In the church, Paul wrote, when you speak in tongues let it be three at the most and let there be an interpreter. If there are no interpreters let the ones that speak in a tongue be silent

In prophecy, let two or three of them speak and let others judge. Even better, if one has something to say, let the other one wait.

God is a God of peace, so in all things, let things be done orderly and in peace.

When it comes to the woman, let them keep silent in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to speak in the church. They are to be silent and submissive as also the law says.

And if there is something they want to learn or know, let them ask their husbands at home.

4. The word “perfect”.

In the thirteenth chapter we found the phrase, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away”.

Let us look at the word perfect and how it is used in the New Testament.

Where is this word used, so we get an understanding of this word.
It is number 5046.

(Mat 5:48)  Be2071 ye5210 therefore3767 perfect,5046 even as5618 your5216 Father3962 which3588 is in1722 heaven3772 is2076 perfect.5046

(Mat 19:21)  Jesus2424 said5346 unto him,846 If1487 thou wilt2309 be1511 perfect,5046 go5217 and sell4453 that thou hast,5224, 4675 and2532 give1325 to the poor,4434 and2532 thou shalt have2192 treasure2344 in1722 heaven:3772 and2532 come1204 and follow190 me.3427

(Rom 12:2)  And2532 be not3361 conformed4964 to this5129 world:165 but235 be ye transformed3339 by the3588 renewing342 of your5216 mind,3563 that ye5209 may prove1381 what5101 is that good,18 and2532 acceptable,2101 and2532 perfect,5046 will2307 of God.2316

(1Co 2:6)  Howbeit1161 we speak2980 wisdom4678 among1722 them that are perfect:5046 yet1161 not3756 the wisdom4678 of this5127 world,165 nor3761 of the3588 princes758 of this5127 world,165 that come to naught:2673

(1Co 13:10)  But1161 when3752 that which is perfect5046 is come,2064 then5119 that3588 which is in1537 part3313 shall be done away.2673

(1Co 14:20)  Brethren,80 be1096 not3361 children3813 in understanding:5424 howbeit235 in malice2549 be ye children,3515 but1161 in understanding5424 be1096 men.5046

(Eph 4:13)  Till3360 we all3956 come2658 in1519 the3588 unity1775 of the3588 faith,4102 and2532 of the3588 knowledge1922 of the3588 Son5207 of God,2316 unto1519 a perfect5046 man,435 unto1519 the measure3358 of the stature2244 of the3588 fullness4138 of Christ:5547

(Phi 3:15)  Let us therefore,3767 as many as3745 be perfect,5046 be thus minded:5426, 5124 and2532 if in any thing1536 ye be otherwise minded,5426, 2088 God2316 shall reveal601 even2532 this5124 unto you.5213

(Col 1:28)  Whom3739 we2249 preach,2605 warning3560 every3956 man,444 and2532 teaching1321 every3956 man444 in1722 
all3956 wisdom;4678 that2443 we may present3936 every3956 man444 perfect5046 in1722 Christ5547 Jesus:2424

(Col 4:12)  Epaphras,1889 who3588 is one of1537 you,5216 a servant1401 of Christ,5547 saluteth782 you,5209 always3842 laboring fervently75 for5228 you5216 in1722 prayers,4335 that2443 ye may stand2476 perfect5046 and2532 complete4137 in1722 all3956 the will2307 of God.2316

(Heb 5:14)  But1161 strong meat4731, 5160 belongeth2076 to them that are of full age,5046 even those who by reason of1223 use1838 have2192 their senses145 exercised1128 to4314 discern1253 both5037 good2570 and2532 evil.2556

(Heb 9:11)  But1161 Christ5547 being come3854 a high priest749 of good things18 to come,3195 by1223 a greater3187 and2532 more perfect5046 tabernacle,4633 not3756 made with hands,5499 that is to say,5123 not3756 of this5026 building;2937

(Jam 1:4)  But1161 let patience5281 have2192 her perfect5046 work,2041 that2443 ye may be5600 perfect5046 and2532 entire,3648 wanting3007 nothing.3367

(Jam 1:17)  Every3956 good18 gift1394 and2532 every3956 perfect5046 gift1434 is2076 from above,509 and cometh down2597 from575 the3588 Father3962 of lights,5457 with3844 whom3739 is1762 no3756 variableness,3883 neither2228 shadow644 of turning.5157

(Jam 1:25)  But1161 whoso looketh3879 into1519 the perfect5046 law3551 of(3588) liberty,1657 and2532 continueth3887 therein, he3778 being1096 not3756 a forgetful1953 hearer,202 but235 a doer4163 of the work,2041 this man3778 shall be2071 blessed3107 in1722 his848 deed.4162

(Jam 3:2)  For1063 in many things4183 we offend4417 all.537 If any man1536 offend4417 not3756 in1722 word,3056 the same3778 is a perfect5046 man,435 and able1415 also2532 to bridle5468 the3588 whole3650 body.4983

(1Jo 4:18)  There is2076 no3756 fear5401 in1722 love;26 but235 perfect5046 love26 casteth906 out1854 fear:
5401 because3754 fear5401 hath2192 torment.2851, (1161) He that feareth5399 is not3756 made perfect5048 in1722 love.26

Perfect: G5046 teleios tel'-i-os

From G5056; complete (in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character, etc.); neuter (as noun, with G3588) completeness: - of full age, man, perfect.

When we look at this word and how it is used we see that it never refers to heaven and it never refers to Christ.

It always refers to something that is complete, something that is of full age.

Now, this should tell us something.
It should tell us that we should seek its meaning in the context of how the word is used and in the proper context.

So, this word refers to that which is complete, that which is full.

Now, we have seen that the prophesy, the knowledge and the tongues all have to do with getting to know the mind of God in revelation of the truth in Christ.

Just before Christ left the earth He told His discipes that he would guide them into all truth. (John 16: 13)

So, the truth of Christ was not yet complete. So we see that the apostles were guided into all truth as they were witnesses of the Christ.

The Apostles were given special revelation through the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 2: 12- 13)

So, the Apostles and prophets were given this special revelation.

However, the time came when this revelation was complete. When all truth had been made known to the Apostles and prophets there was no more need for revelation, so what was in part (their revelation) had come to a complete.

All the Apostles, the ones who prophesied and the ones that spoke in tongues were given revelation from God, however none of them got it all, it was given to them in parts.

The complete therefore is the completeness of Gods revelation to mankind.

That came about when the whole new Testament was written and delivered. So, in about 200 AD this revelation was complete, and consequently no more need for the spiritual gifts.

5. What does the Bible say about prophesy?

When we consider what the Bible has to say about prophesy we have another part of our question answered.

 How that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words,  whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generation was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
(Ephesians 3:  3- 6)

Paul wrote here that the mystery of Christ was unknown to past generations, but these things were “now” made known by the Apostles and prophets.
See here the connection between the Apostles and prophets. Both the Apostles and prophets were a part of revealing the truth of God. They all were given parts.

We do know from the scriptures that all the 12 Apostles have died and that there is no need anymore for new revelation. The 12 Apostles and the prophets made it all known. The truth of God has been made known.

In Jude 3 it talks about the faith that has been delivered for the saints.
In 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17 it talks about the concept that all of God's word has the function of making His children mature and ready for every good work.
Gods truth has been presented and God has used Apostles and prophets to do that job.

Prophesies were given to make the truth complete.
When Christ was on the earth he said that the Apostles would be guided into all truth.

Important note:  Remember that when these words were written (book of Ephesians) the Christians did not have the Bible as we have it. They just had the Old Testament and slowly more and more manuscripts were circling around as they were written.
This is very important to understand.

Look at the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John.

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come.

(John 16: 13)

In these chapters (13- 16) Jesus made a promise to the Apostles that he would guide them into “all truth”. That concept has fully been fulfilled when on the day of pentecost the Apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit. From that moment on they made “truth” known to the world.

When Jesus spoke the words in John 13- 16 only the Old Testament was there in written form to read. The Gospels and the the New Testament was not there for them to read, so further revelation was nessecary. And Jesus was going to die, yet He would send the Holy Spirit who would guide the Apostles and prophets into all the truth.

So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone;
(Ephesians 2: 19- 20)

From this verse we learn that the truth known to the Ephesians was the truth that was made known through the Apostles and prophets.
So, in the times of the Apostles living the Christians did not have full revelation. But as the revelation of God became known more and more they became more mature.

6. Some other thoughts.

Back to chapter 13: 8- 13

We would like to consider the immeditate context of where the words “that which is perfect has come”.

A. The child and man illustration.

So, how does Paul use these words?

He compares the growth of the truth to a child. When Paul and the rest of the Apostles and the prophets were revealing truth the church was in infant stages.
But when the truth was fully known then he could compare the truth to a man of full age, a man that is mature.

In all these writings we see that prophesy belonged to the early church, it had an important function. But the function has ceased to be nessecary, the truth is complete and no more new revelations are needed.

Jud 1:3  Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

The complete truth has been delivered by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has completed his work through the apostles and prophets.
The promise that Jesus gave to the apostles have been completed (John. 16: 13)
The truth has been delivered for us all to read and to love. Gods revelation to man is perfect and complete. (2 Tim. 3: 16, 17)

B. What would remain.

Paul wrote that faith, hope and love would remain.
With these principles we also know that this cannot refer to heaven or Christ second coming.
Because with both there would be no need for faith, hope and love.

For in heaven or with Christ second coming there is no need for them because all with be realized.

Why is it unlikely that the expression "that which is perfect is come" in verse ten refers to Christ, or to heaven? - Paul speaks of faith, hope and love abiding (remaining) after spiritual gifts have ceased (13) - Because of the nature of faith (Hebrews 11:1) and hope (Romans 8:24-25), they will cease to exist when Christ or heaven comes - If "that which is perfect is come" refers to Christ or heaven, and spiritual gifts were to last till then, verse thirteen would be meaningless - For this reason it is more in keeping with the context to understand "that which is perfect is come" to refer to the complete knowledge or revelation of God's Will

C. How were these gifts given?

When we look at the Bible we see that these gifts were given by the laying on of the Apostles hands.

  •  Acts 8: 14- 25

We understand from the word that the gifts were given to believers when the Apostles laid hands on them.

Since we do not have Apostles anymore, gifts cannot be bestowed anymore.

In conclusion we can see from the words of God that gifts were given with a time limit.

Gifts of the Spirit were given so that revelation from God would be completed.

When the completed words had been delivered there was no more need for the “in part” and so these things could cease.

Revelation of the truth in Christ was completed when all the books of the new Testament were written.

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