But when that which is complete is come, then that which is in part will be no longer necessary. 1Co 13:10
Much has been written about this verse. Usually, translations put it different: when the perfect has come, that which is in part will pass or be demolished. The verse has been used to explain so many things and caused much harm. But no verse in the bible is intended to cause harm.
Let’s revisit the train of thought Paul has here. He is talking about perfect love, God’s love, or better, the God kind of love, and contrasts it to prophecy and knowledge. He tells us that prophecy and knowledge will be put to an end, and that tongues will cease, but not so love.
He then explains what he means by that.
We prophecy in part, and know in part. And that will change. Some things will stop, but three things will never stop: faith, hope, and love.
When will this happen? When that which is complete, when completeness is come.
Traditionally, this has been understood to mean the bible. Why? Soon after – and it even started before – the canon of scripture has been fixed, the gifts and the offices started to fade. In my opinion, the two events were by no means related. The church had become a state church with appointed priests, appointed by government, instead of anointed fivefold ministers, with a caste of priesthood and laity, instead of the priesthood of all. Thus the gifts and the offices ceased – apart from a thin red line that carried it through the ages. And since 1515, since Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, et al. we are in a process of restoration of those things – one sub project in God’s overall plan to restore all things.
When around 1904 in Wales and in Azusa street the gifts were restored to the church, the “complete” got redefined. It could not mean the completion of the bible any longer, and therefore – in the light of the teachings of the three blind mice – was put into the future: the second coming of Christ, or even heaven.
This makes much more sense, but poses another set of problems.
- It is put off into the future, not to be obtained during our lifetime. Nothing to strive for, just something we wait for to happen.
- Jesus said on the cross that it is finished. All has been accomplished. That means completeness per definition.
Thus let’s have another look at the passage.
What does knowledge mean in this case? The word used is gnosis. It stands for general knowledge, science, spiritual insight. Prophecy stands for edification, exhortation, and consolation – as we learn in the next chapter – and not so much for foretelling the future. Tongues stand for self-edification by talking spirit to Spirit in heavenly languages, and Paul is not talking about the gift of tongues and interpretation here.
Paul explains what he means in the following verses. He tells us that we now know in part and prophecy in part. But when – and let me use another connotation of the word teleios here – maturity comes, that will be changed.
Therefore, this is how I understand this passage:
Our knowledge, our prophecy is far from perfect. It is only partial. But as we mature, this incompleteness – and in a play of words even partiality,as we are biased between the seen and the unseen, the natural and the spiritual – will come to an end. Even so much that we do not edify ourselves, talking from spirit to Spirit in tongues any longer, but will understand what we say.
In that light, the next verses will make much more sense as well.
In verse 11, Paul talks about his natural maturing.
When I was a child, I made use of a child’s language, I had a child’s feelings and a child’s thoughts: now that I am a man, I have put away the things of a child. 1Co 13:11
So, just as maturing in the natural means to grow up and see things differently, it does in the spiritual. And how does this manifest? In a clear view of things.
For now we see things in a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now my knowledge is in part; then it will be complete, even as God’s knowledge of me. 1Co 13:12
But when will this happen?
We agree that Jesus’ life is a pattern for us to follow. This, in my opinion, includes the transformation of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, which took place before his death. For me, this signifies the manifestation of the sons of God as prophesied in Romans 8:20. Something that will happen here on earth, in the fulfillment of the third feast season, the season of Tabernacles. When we enter the Holy of Holies. When we realize what has been true all along: we are seated in heaven. When we experienced the 7 seals of Revelation personally. Short – when we finally grow up!
One more thing: if faith and hope continue, will not prophecy continue? Prophecy in maturity? For what is faith?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Heb 11:1
Prophecy on the other hand is speaking faith. Encouraging, comforting, exhorting by speaking things hoped for, brought into existence through faith. Building the future through our words – our logos becoming the legos of our future, our words becoming the building stones of our future. No faith without words, no faith without prophecy, no hope without prophecy. Thus, prophecy will only come to an end in its current form: being partial.
Maturity will kill our partiality and imperfection.
So, let’s grow up. Let’s stop handing off our responsibility to inescapable future events and dispensations and do our part: mature.
How about you?