A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 -- By: Myron J. Houghton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 153:611 (Jul 1996)
Article: A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Author: Myron J. Houghton

A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Myron J. Houghton

[Myron J. Houghton is Chairman of the Department of Systematic Theology, Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, Ankeny, Iowa.]

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:8–13).

This passage has been used as a primary support for cessationism, the view that at least some of the spiritual gifts no longer exist today.1 Obviously those who believe that all the gifts are in operation in the present age reject such an understanding of this text. Even some cessationists reject this passage as supporting their view.2 Nevertheless this writer is a cessationist who believes 1 Corinthians 13:8–13 offers support for such a view.

The Context

Before this passage can be interpreted properly, its setting must be examined. First Corinthians 12:1–3 serves as a general introduction to Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in chapters 12–14. In 12:2–3 Paul sought to move the Corinthian believers away

from their emphasis on the outward, more sensational gifts by reminding them of the ecstatic experiences they had in their former years as pagans (“you were led”) and by stating that truly Spirit-controlled persons will be pointing to Jesus as Lord rather than to themselves or even to the Holy Spirit.

Thus in his opening paragraph Paul has set the guidelines for his entire discussion of spiritual things which follows. Paul is saying, “When you were non-Christians, the essence of your higher religious experiences was the feeling of being ‘carried away’ by spiritual forces; now, however, you experience the Holy Spirit, and you experience him supremely in your desire to honor Jesus in the intelligible and simple ascription of deity to him.”

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