The Meaning of the Perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 -- By: Andy M. Woods

Journal: Chafer Theological Seminary Journal
Volume: CTSJ 10:2 (Fall 2004)
Article: The Meaning of the Perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Author: Andy M. Woods

The Meaning of the Perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Andy M. Woods

Andy Woods earned his B.A. from the University of Redlands, his J.D. from Whittier College School of Law, and his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. Prior to attending seminary, he pastored Rivera First Baptist Church in Pico Rivera, CA. He has published various website articles, journal articles, and book chapters. He is member of the California State Bar, Pre-Trib Study Group, Grace Evangelical Society, and Conservative Theological Society. His e-mail address is [email protected]


Much controversy persists within evangelicalism regarding the use and existence of the gifts of tongues, knowledge, and prophecy. Charismatics maintain that all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit remain in operation today. These gifts, in their view, include not only those that are edificatory in nature, such as teaching and preaching, but also revelatory or confirmatory ones, such as tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, word of wisdom, word of knowledge, prophecy, and miracles. On the other hand, cessationists contend that the sign and revelatory gifts have not functioned in the church since the close of the apostolic age, and thus only the edificatory gifts remain.

A key battleground text in this ongoing debate is 1 Corinthians 13:8–10, which teaches that certain gifts will cease when that which is perfect has come.1 The obvious question is, what does Paul mean? If the coming of the perfect is associated with something that is yet future, then it becomes difficult to argue that the gifts of knowledge and prophecy have ceased. On the other hand, if the coming of the perfect refers to an event that has already taken place, a reasonable conclusion is that the gifts of knowledge and prophecy have ceased. Thus, the interpretation of the perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:8–10 plays a monumental role in the cessationist-experientialist conflict.2

Three Views

There are three primary positions on the issue. The first interprets the adjective perfect (teleion) as a reference to something ideal, flawless, or unblemished that is typically associated with something yet to transpire in the eschaton. This position understands the various temporal indicators in 13:8–13 to refer to the “now” on earth and the “then” in the eschatological presence of the Lord.

The second position understands teleion as referring t...

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