Thursday, January 25, 2007

Did the Spiritual Gifts Cease, Based on 1 Corinthians 13:8-11 ("Perfect")?


I Corinthians 13:8-11 Charity never falleth away: whether prophecies shall be made void or tongues shall cease or knowledge shall be destroyed. For we know in part: and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.
These verses are often used by Protestants (often Baptist and/or dispensationalist) to prove that the charismatic gifts are not for today; that they have long since ceased. I have always thought it was one of the poorest, weakest examples of biblical exegesis that I have ever seen, both as a Protestant and as a Catholic. It seems that - for some Protestants - so many things are to "cease," but I see precious little biblical indication of that. Miracles are to cease, gifts are to cease, the institutional Church became corrupt and ceased to exist up to the time of Luther, etc. I just think it is plain silly. Unless the Bible clearly indicates such a state of affairs, we are to assume that the biblical model of Christianity and the Church is normative for all times.
Granted that miracles were greater in apostolic times, but that is not the same as saying they were to cease altogether. What would the point of that be? Why should God remove all the blessings and roles which He had foreordained for each of us to play? But let's get to our passage, I Corinthians 13:8-11:

13:8. Charity never falleth away: whether prophecies shall be made void or tongues shall cease or knowledge shall be destroyed.
The dispensationalists neglect a very important point - one so simple it can be overlooked: if tongues supposedly cease with the coming of Scripture, then so does knowledge! That reduces the whole argument to absurdity. Paul is talking about the consummation of all things and the end of the age, as we shall see shortly. So they falsely interpret the "perfect" or "complete" and then apply a double standard as to what will cease and what won't (according to their preconceived biases).

13:9. For we know in part: and we prophesy in part.
13:10. But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.

Again, the "perfect" is the next life, being with God, enjoying His presence in heaven for eternity. The dispensationalist interpretation is a forced, novel, bizarre one. I shall quote from a Protestant commentary as to Paul's meaning here:
    Love . . . is eternal by nature (1 Jn 4:16), unlike the gifts, which are designed for the present life. Prophecy and tongues will be unnecessary in the immediate presence of God. Knowledge, human and divinely revealed (cf. 12:8), will be superseded by fuller light and understanding. 'When the perfect comes': not perfection in quality so much as totality; i.e., full knowledge about God. 'The imperfect', the partial (cf. Je 31:34), that which is characteristic of our present experience.

{Eerdmans Bible Commentary, edited by D. Guthrie, reprint of 3rd 1970 edition of The New Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987, p. 1068}
Besides, if these gifts were to cease, why would Paul spend the better part of three chapters (1 Cor 12-14) defining and elaborating upon them for use in the Church? Right in 14:1, he urges the Corinthians to ". . . strive for the spiritual gifts . . . " So how are we to accept this notion that Paul is speaking only to the first generation of Christians and to no others? Where does that premise lead us? In fact, it destroys the authority of Holy Scripture because now we ourselves (in the final analysis) arbitrarily pick and choose what is "for us today" and what ceased in the early days of the Church. One simply can't consistently interpret the Bible in such a fashion. Some dispensationalists - true to their own false premises - even go so far as to say that the Sermon on the Mount is not normative for Christians today, but rather, was intended for the Jews alone.
As far as the "perfect" being the Bible, there is no evidence whatsoever that this is the case in the passage itself. It is a gratuitous assumption, an eisegesis, and a preconceived notion with no objective support. Besides, there was no formulated New Testament at the time Paul wrote this. That took until 397 A.D. at the Council of Carthage - a Catholic council, approved by the pope. So the dispensationalist has no leg to stand on here. He either has to ignore the historical facts concerning the development of the NT Canon, or he has to acknowledge Catholic ecclesial authority in order to even have his own Bible. The case collapses of its own weight in either scenario. And it makes no sense on other grounds, since "knowledge" didn't cease due to the Bible!!!!

13:11. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.
In other words, The present life (compared to the next) is analogous to immaturity and maturity in this life. That is made more clear by the following verse:

13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am also known.
I have always thought it obvious that this refers to the next life. This is the context of the "perfect" appearing. It is not the Bible; it is heaven! If the Bible alone was sufficient to make everything so clear, then why do the Protestants who appeal to it as the final authority (i.e., apart from the Church and continuous apostolic Tradition) find themselves unable to reach common accord on a variety of issues? Their own history amply disproves the current thesis.
Quoting from the same commentary:
    . . . in the next life, we shall see 'face to face' (cf. 1 Jn 3:2). Similarly with 'knowledge': partial 'now', perfect 'then' - even as God's knowledge of each Christian is perfect already.
{Guthrie, ibid., p. 1069}
 


Written in 1999 by Dave Armstrong.

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