By William V. Beasley
Most gospel preachers with whom I am acquainted are more than happy to answer questions and/or preach on a requested subject. Especially is this true when the question/request is specific, and asked/requested in written form. A verbal “How about a sermon on repentance?” can be forgotten, and it is a bit discouraging, after a lesson on “Repentance in the Gospel Plan of Salvation” (Lk. 24:47; Acts 2:38) to learn that the questioner was really wanting to know what was meant when Judas “repented himself” (Matt. 27:3).
A sister-in-Christ, nearly fifteen years ago, asked the following question(s), in written form, requesting that the response be given in a sermon. “Discuss meaning of the verse: ‘. . . when that which is perfect is come, when that which is in part shall be done away. . .’ (a) What is ‘that which is perfect?’ (b) What is ‘that which is in part’ (c) When did (will) spiritual gifts cease?” A verbal response (sermon) was -liven shortly after the request; now, in order to share the study with others, a written response (article) is also presented.
A second reading of the request shows that there were really three specifics asked. Each of these we will attempt to answer, but in a different order. She understood, or assumed rightly, that the subject of the passage (1 Cor. 13:8-12) is spiritual gifts. This we intend to prove, by turning to the word of God.
“What Is ‘That Which Is In Part’?”
Notice that “that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Cor. 13:10b). This, to me, is the key to understanding the passage. The actual doing away was to be accomplished “when that which is perfect is come”; thus, we begin to establish the time. The context tells us plainly what was to be “done way” and thus what was “in part.” That which was to be done away was “prophecies … .. tongues,” and “knowledge” (1 Cor. 13:8). Each of these is a gift of the Spirit: (1) The “word of knowledge” (miraculous knowledge) is presented in 1 Corinthians 12:8; (2) “prophecy” is listed two verses later; as also is (3) “divers kinds of tongues.” These stand not for the individual, specific gift of the Spirit, but for the whole of spiritual (miraculous) gifts. This is a good example of a figure of speech called synecdoche (a part given for the whole). At the Pima County Adult Detention Center we take a head-count of the inmates at least four times each day. We are, in reality, counting the whole of the inmates and not just the heads. If we had a two-headed inmate that would still be counted as only one inmate. If we had a Herodias (“Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist” – Matt. 14:8) the extra head would not be counted. The miraculous gifts of the Spirit (all of them, and not just the three mentioned) were, in the days of the apostle Paul, to cease in the future.
This part being done away was, once again, to be accomplished “when that which is perfect is come” (1 Cor. 13:10). We can learn when these were to cease by learning when “that which is perfect is come”; or we can learn when “that which is perfect is come” by learning when these (the miraculous gifts of the Spirit) did cease. The two events are tied together.
“When Did (Will) Spiritual Gifts Cease?”
The common/denominational view of this is that spiritual gifts (miraculous gifts) will continue until either Christ comes again, or we are in heaven. The basis for so arguing is the use of the words “perfect” (1 Cor. 13:10a – both Christ and heaven could be described as perfect), and also the use of “face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12 – in heaven we will see Christ face to face).
Miraculous gifts of the Spirit were given by the laying on of the hands of the apostles (Acts 8:17-18; 19:6; Rom. 1:8-11). When the last apostle (evidently John) died, the age of passing on miraculous gifts ceased; when the last man on whom an apostle had bestowed such a gift died, the age of miraculous gifts was totally gone. When the last of these men died, that which was in part was gone, and, of necessity “that which is perfect” had come . . . and it wasn’t the second coming of Christ, nor was it heaven.
“What Is ‘That Which Is Perfect’?”
Already we know what is not. Neither the second coming of Christ nor heaven appeared with the cessation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. Niether of these meets the divine requirement.
The purpose of miracles was to confirm the spoken word; miracles produced faith (Acts 9:42; 1 Cor. 14:22) in those who beheld or heard of the miracle. Today we have the written word of God, a record of the miracles (Jn. 20:30-31; 2 Tim. 3:16-17) to produce faith. When we see the what (the written word of God, the New Testament) and the why (it begets faith unto salvation) we can readily understand James speaking of the “perfect law, the law of liberty” (Jas. 1:25). James is speaking of the very same thing as was Paul (1 Cor. 13:10); both are perfect. Does the New Testament meet the divine time qualification? The “perfect” was to come at the cessation of “the part.” The New Testament was fully written by the time of the death of the last apostle, or by the time of the death of the last man who received the laying on of apostolic hands.
There are two “now . . . then” comparisons in 1 Corinthians 13:12. It is not a comparison of physical, earthly life (“now”) versus spiritual, heavenly life (“then”). It is “now” (the condition in Corinth, with the miraculous spiritual gifts, that which was “in part”) compared with I ‘then” (the time when “that which is perfect is come,” the condition possible when men would have “the perfect law, the law of liberty” – Jas. 1:25). In actuality, it is a comparison between Paul’s now and our now,- we have, beloved, the perfect law of liberty. God has given us, the recipients of the “perfect law,” complete instructions (2 Pet. 1:24) on how to live before him.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 24, pp. 750-751
December 17, 1992