23 September 2021

When supernatural gifts will no longer be needed.

1 Corinthians 13.7-13.

I grew up among Christians who loved to use this passage of 1 Corinthians to make the claim God turned off the miracles. He never did, but a number of Christians claim he did, because they’re entirely sure they never saw a miracle, and consider their experiences the norm. Plus they subscribe to certain End Times theories which kinda require the miracles to be deactivated till the tribulation hits.

So when Paul and Sosthenes wrote the following, they put a cessationist spin on it. Here, I’ll quote it in their favorite translation (and, often, mine) the King James Version.

1 Corinthians 13.8-10 KJV
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

The passage is about love (Greek ἀγάπη/agápi, KJV “charity”) and how we oughta see it in supernatural gifts. That when it’s not there, the gifts are undermined. Pulling a verse from this passage and claiming there are no such gifts anymore, doesn’t just take the verse out of context, but flips its meaning 180 degrees. Just the sort of thing the devil might do, but I don’t blame Satan for cessationism; I blame Christianism. I blame people who claim to believe in God, and love the trappings of church and faith, but don’t know him at all, and think he’s far away instead of near.

When the apostles refer to “that which is perfect” in verse 10, these cessationists claim they mean the bible. Even though this passage is in no way talking about bible; it’s about love. It’s about how love exists forever, but certain supernatural gifts come to an end—at the End, when we interact with Jesus face to face, 1Co 13.12 and there’ll be no reason to receive these things supernaturally when Jesus can just tell us this stuff naturally.

But cessationists insist they came to an end already, once the bible was complete. In the 50s when Paul wrote his letters, the New Testament was still under construction, and wouldn’t be complete till John wrote Revelation decades later—so the apostles still needed prophecy and supernatural knowledge, ’cause they couldn’t write bible without it. But once the NT was complete, and God decided it was “that which is perfect,” the supernatural abilities would fail, cease, and vanish away. Gone till the End Times, ’cause Revelation describes a world where miracles happen (duh), so cessationists figure God’ll have to bring ’em back at that time. But not till then.

The proper context.

The point of 1 Corinthians was to instruct the church of Corinth about the supernatural. What some of the Holy Spirit’s gifts are, why he distributes them throughout his church, and (in this chapter) how they must be done in love. And in case you define “love” the same way your popular culture does, the apostles threw in a definition.

This love, God’s love, the love which God himself is, lasts forever. Whereas these supernatural gifts the Corinthians had wrongly prioritized above love? Don’t last forever. They have an endpoint. Once Jesus returns and inaugurates his kingdom, some of these supernatural gifts will be redundant. Not faith healing; certainly not miracles. But tongues? We pray in tongues because we don’t always know what to pray. After Jesus returns, he’ll plainly tell us what to pray; we’ll know exactly what to pray.

If the cessationists are right, and these gifts were gonna be rescinded as soon as the New Testament was complete, it makes no sense whatsoever for the apostles to include these instructions in the bible. ’Cause they’d be irrelevant. They’d be gone within a generation. It seems ridiculous for the Holy Spirit to waste papyrus and parchment to preserve this text for a thousand generations, when it’s irrelevant.

1 Corinthians 13.7-13 KWL
7 Love puts up with everything, puts trust in everything,
puts hope in everything, survives everything. 8 Love never falls down.
Even after prophecy and knowledge become irrelevant,
even after tongues stop.
9 We know and prophesy partially
10 and once the End comes, partial becomes irrelevant.
11 When I was a kid, I spoke like a kid, understood like a kid, reasoned like a kid—
when I became a man, the kid stuff became irrelevant.
12 Now, we see through a blurry mirror. Then, face to face.
Now, I know partially. Then, I’ll know just as I am known.
13 Now, these three exist: Faith, hope, and love.
And love is the greatest of them.

Revelation is partial. God doesn’t give us comprehensive knowledge about every little thing. He’s pragmatic: He tells us what we need to know. He gives it to us as necessary. Sometimes a piece at a time, so we stay dependent on him—because when we try to act on this knowledge independent of him, we go so wrong. Hence the apostles’ comparison with the stuff a kid knows, versus the stuff an adult knows. Kids don’t yet know how to deal with knowledge, whether it’s basic stuff, or “adult stuff.” It’s why kids are just as capable of lighting a fire as an adult, but we still won’t let ’em play with matches.

Humanity is not ready for comprehensive knowledge. Me, I figure it’s ’cause of sin. We can corrupt anything. Just look at what we’ve already done with the book of Revelation—and that’s only visions of the End. Imagine if God had told us in literal detail. Some of us would actually try to do it, just to get Jesus to return faster. Others would try to stop it—and actually are trying to stop it, even though they have no solid idea what it is!

So currently we gotta settle for blurry mirrors. Lots of scholars have pointed out mirrors, in the first century, were metal. You know, like the mirrors in a public bathroom. They do the job! They’re not as good as a glass mirror, but the ancients didn’t yet have the hang of glassmaking. Their best mirrors were silver, but silver tarnishes—which is what I believe the apostles meant by ἐν αἰνίγματι/en enígmati, “enigmatically,” or as I put it, “blurry.” Our word enigma, meaning riddles and double meanings and mysteries, same as the ancient Greeks meant by it, describes how badly a tarnished mirror would reflect one’s face.

In comparison, at the End it’s gonna be like a really good mirror—so good, looking at yourself is just like when somebody else looks at you. There’s no more partial information, ’cause Jesus reveals all. Now it’s comprehensive knowledge. Stuff we can’t yet be trusted with in this sinful world. Stuff which even mature Christians might struggle with. When the kingdom comes, that struggle’s over.

Any of this stuff sound like it describes our world, now that the first apostles have passed on, and have a complete bible? Not even close.

So yeah, “when that which is perfect is come” is about the End. When there’ll be no more need for partial revelation. When faith will still be necessary—we still need to trust God on various things!—but faith will come easily. When hope will still be necessary, ’cause God will always have things for us to look forward to, but again it’ll come easily. And where love will be the foundation of all of it.

Meanwhile, we need to practice for that day to come. Love must be the foundation of all the supernatural gifts we practice. Prophesy in love. Share knowledge in love. Speak in tongues in love—a subject the apostles will thoroughly get to in the next chapter. Heal in love. Do everything in love. Because love never falls down.

This isn’t a new interpretation, folks.

When I’ve taught the proper meaning of “when that which is perfect is come,” cessationists have of course accused me of inventing a new spin on this passage. Nope; I’m just repeating what my fellow Christians have for centuries. They didn’t believe God had turned off the miracles. Christian cessationism is a modern invention, not an ancient one. It only goes as far back as the 1700s, and Darbyism popularized it in the 1800s.

The two words the apostles used, which the KJV translates “that which is perfect,” is τὸ τέλειον/to téleion, “the complete,” or “the finished,” or yes, “the perfect.” It’s the very same word Jesus uses when he tells his students to be perfect like our Father is perfect—to love everyone without discrimination, same as God does. It’s about being comprehensive, and once we no longer have partial knowledge about the End—once we’re no longer limited to God’s revelations, but have lived through it and know it personally—will we still need End Times theories? Maybe to laugh at how stupid some of our theories were. But otherwise, nah.

When Jesus is standing on the earth, able to speak to us face-to-face, whether at his headquarters in Jerusalem or over video chat (yes, video chats will still exist!) are we gonna need supernatural forms of communication? Gonna need tongues and interpretation? Gonna need words of knowledge? Gonna need prophecy? Gonna need one Christian to confirm to another Christian they actually did hear from God? Nah; no point. Just get Jesus on the phone.

But till Jesus returns and selects a wireless carrier, the usual way to hear from him is through tongues, supernatural knowledge, and prophecy. And bible; his supernatural messages aren’t gonna contradict his written word. (Well, unless it’s to get our attention. Ek 4.9-15, Ac 10.9-16 So know your bible!)

You’ll notice just about every single Christian who cuts off God’s living messages, who insists we must only be guided by God through the bible: Not only do they mangle this passage, but they misinterpret nearly every other scripture they quote. They take everything out of context. Hey, who’s to stop them if God himself went dark?

Except he didn’t. And never will. He 13.5 The supernatural will remain until the End finally arrives—until the point it’s redundant and unnecessary. God’s limited revelation will be superseded by full revelation. Our immaturity will be set aside in favor of full maturity. The perfect will take the place of the partial.

And all our efforts in becoming experts at the supernatural—same as all the time cessationists spend in parsing their End Times Timeline—will be redundant and unnecessary. So go ahead and pursue greater gifts, but remember: They’re not gonna last forever.

But love will. So definitely become an expert in that.