but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
The question I hope to answer with this post is: what is the "perfect" and "partial" that Paul is referring to here? To get us started lets do what any good Bible student should do and look at the context in which it is written.
This passage appears right in the midst of Paul's dealings with spiritual gifts. Leading up to this point, Paul lays out what spiritual gifts are and what they are for.
Then the Apostle tells us how spiritual gifts are useless without love
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
(1 Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV)
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)This is followed by him explaining to the church what love is which is immediately followed by our passage in question
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.I have heard many pastors, preachers and teachers say that the "perfect" in this verse is referring to the closed canon of scripture. Outside of the Pentecostal/Charismatic circles, this is the accepted understanding. But does this line up with what Paul is saying to the church in Corinth?
(1 Corinthians 13:8-10 ESV)
I think not.
To accept that "perfect" is talking about the 66 books we now refer to as the bible is to elevate the gift of teaching above all other gifts. In my opinion, to say that Paul is prophecying that all the other gifts will pass away is to say that only those who can teach from the Bible in the future can exercise their gifts to build up the body. This cripples the body of Christ and leaves the church maimed. Yet this thinking prevails in much of christianity today and contributes to a huge problem in the church. One man's gift is elevated over all the others and the laity remains silent in the gathering while the teacher teaches. This is most certainly NOT what Paul had in mind.
What I believe Paul is saying in this passage is that all spiritual gifts will pass away when the perfect, which is Christ, comes.
Reason with me here, in Ephesians 4 we are told that those gifted individuals were given to the church UNTIL
we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.Again, immediately following our passage in question Paul writes
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:11-12 ESV)Do you see the similarities? In both passages Paul speaks of us as children looking forward to manhood: partial and perfect. He speaks of spiritual gifts leading to our being like Christ: partial and perfect. The closed canon of scripture is not the fullness of Christ. The Bible in every place points to Christ but they are not one and the same. The Bible is not what Paul was referring to when he said that the perfect shall come, he was looking forward to the fullness of Christ coming upon His bride. He was looking forward to the members holding every thought captive to Christ. He was looking forward to us being built up into a new, perfect man and that man is Christ. Christ is the fullness. Christ is the "perfect".
Until we reach the fullness of Christ we will need all of the spiritual gifts.
I leave you with this: desire, be eager, and strive to build up the body into Christ.
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
(1 Corinthians 14:1 & 12 ESV)