The Time When Revelatory Gifts Cease (1 Cor 13:8-12) -- By: James W. Scott
WTJ 72:2 (Fall 2010) p. 267
The Time When Revelatory Gifts Cease (1 Cor 13:8-12)
James W Scott is Managing Editor of New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Publications Coordinator for the Committee on Christian Education of the OPC.
In the debate over the continuance or cessation of revelatory gifts, a key text is 1 Cor 13:8-12, which indicates that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away “when the perfect comes” (v. 10). But when is that? According to noncessationists, this passage teaches that these gifts will cease only when Christ returns, and thus will continue to be manifested in the church until that time. But according to some cessationists, this passage predicts the cessation of these gifts when the NT canon is completed or when the church reaches maturity (around the end of the first century). According to other cessationists, this passage does indeed refer to the time of Christ’s return, but tells us only that knowledge once gained from revelatory gifts will come to an end at that time, and thus does not indicate when the gifts themselves will cease. In this article, we will propose a new interpretation of the passage.
First Corinthians 13:8-12 (plus v. 13) reads in the ESV:1
8Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
I. The Context: 1 Corinthians 12-14
Paul addresses the subject of “spiritual gifts” (τὰ πνευματικά) in 1 Cor 12-14 (see 12:1; 14:1). First, in ch. 12, he discusses the diversity of spiritual gifts and the unity of the Spirit (and thus of the church). This general discussion ends with the instruction to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (
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