The Love Chapter Revisited

Jesus distilled the essence of life with him into one word: LOVE. All the teaching, ministry, service, relationships, and worship of the church is a means to an end: love. Love for God, love for people, love for the world for whom Christ died.

I thought it would be fun to jump into the middle of the Love Chapter in the Bible (1 Cor 13), and decode one of its most enigmatic statements. Are you with me?

But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:10, NKJV).

This verse, tucked into the middle of the Love Chapter, makes for great debate. The question is: what does Paul mean by “that which is perfect”?

The Greek word [to teleion, from telos (w/the definite article)] appears here as a neuter singular, “the perfect thing” or “that which is perfect.” When the “perfect thing comes” then the partial thing will be done away. So what’s the perfect thing? Let’s test drive two major options…

OPTION ONE:  THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST.

When Christ comes, then the spiritual gifts mentioned in vv. 8,9  go away… so we might paraphrase:

8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when [JESUS COMES AGAIN], then that which is in part will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10, NKJV).

This doesn’t really fit the context. Plus, why would Paul use the neuter gender instead of the masculine to refer to the coming of Christ? Option one doesn’t work for me, though you’re welcome to adopt it and we can still be friends.

OPTION TWO: THE COMPLETED BIBLE

The “perfect thing” is the completed canon of Scripture. This is the interpretation I was taught as an impossibly cute little Italian boy. It basically says that all the “partial gifts” like prophecies and speaking in tongues will cease when the Bible is finished. Now that Revelation is complete, there is no room for any so-called “sign gifts.”  They ceased. So, let’s paraphrase again:

8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when THE COMPLETED CANON OF SCRIPTURE HAS COME, then THE PARTIAL REVELATORY GIFTS WILL BE done away. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10, NKJV).

A theological position called dispensationalism (and its nephew, ultradispensationalism) favors this interpretation. It creates a viewpoint called “cessationism” in which certain spiritual gifts have ceased. God no longer gives gifts of tongues, prophecy, or words of knowledge.

I’m not gonna get into this fight, except to say that it’s pressing the bounds of good interpretation to think that Paul had the completed canon of Scripture in mind when he wrote “the perfect thing.” It doesn’t fit the context, and it’s an odd debate to pop into the middle of the love chapter.

So, still no answer. What is the “perfect thing” that does away with the “partial things”?

Let’s save that for tomorrow…

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