Perfecting by the Spirit

“That which is Perfect”A

By Dr. Joel McDurmon

Many pastors and Christians in general take 1 Corinthians 13:9–10 as a proof-text for the cessation of revelatory gifts in the church. The well-known passage reads, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” In this passage, some readers commonly understand—or are taught to understand—“the perfect” (or “that which is perfect” KJV) to refer to the completed canon of Scripture. The coming of the “perfect” or “complete” written revelation would signal the end for any need to revelatory gifts, prophecy, etc.

AI consider this explanation of “the perfect” to be incorrect. In fact, I think the whole endeavor to see 1 Cor. 13:9ff as an indicator of any major eschatological, doctrinal, covenantal, or revelational shift is to miss the point of the passage entirely. But so many people commonly refer to it in this way, or similarly, that it is worth outlining some of my views. Perhaps at least one person out there can profit from them.

The Context: Gifts of the Spirit vs. Fruit of the SpiritF

To better understand the significance of the passage, we have to look at the context. Pretty much every commentator makes this point when addressing 1 Corinthians 13, as we should. The context is the use—more importantly abuse—of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church. Thus this passage falls directly in the middle of three chapters (12–14), all of which deal with this problem at a very practical, individual level.

OBeyond this even, the entire letter bears a tone of addressing a factious, divisive body of believers wracked with pride, competition, jealousy—constantly vying for preeminence among each other. We see this in the opening chapter as Paul confronts their divisions:

What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:12–13).

It seems these believers were choosing favorite theologians, creating competing branches, perhaps even different schools of thought, and wearing these labels as badges of honor. Paul rebukes this throughout the rest of the chapter as misguided and boastful.

In chapters 1–3, Paul argues that the Corinthians were acting selfishly, foolishly, and carnally—all things which caused them to miss the heart of the message of Christ. Indeed, in 3:1 Paul says, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” “Spiritual people” in the Greek is pneumatikois—literally “spirituals”—the same word used when introducing the context of “spiritual gifts” in chapter 12: “Now concerning spiritual gifts [pneumatikon], brothers. . . .” (Cf. also “The spiritual person” in 1 Cor. 2:15.) For the time being, Paul cannot preach to these people as if they were indeed “spiritual.” They are not mature enough: they are spiritual babies.

Also early in the letter Paul gives another label to those who are able to receive his Spirit-filled message. In 1 Corinthians 2:16, Paul says he does preach wisdom to those who are “mature.” The word here is the same as that in 13:10—teleios—only in a slightly different grammatical form. While we should not be too quick to make a direct connection here—as the word can have different shades of meaning in different contexts—it certainly does invite a close comparison.

So we have two textual connections of note here: First, the overall tone of the letter expressed early on is reflected in the immediate context of spiritual gifts (chapters 12–14). The important theme here is that of true spirituality (pneumatikoi) versus carnality.

Second, the Christian message Paul brings can only be understood via the Spirit—and the spiritual people who are given this gift Paul calls “the perfect” or “the mature” (tois teleiois). I believe this gives some background to the usage in 13:10.

Now the key issue here is Christian maturity. This is the mark of pneumatikoi in other places in Paul’s letters: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual [oi pneumatikoi] should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Obviously, these are the more upstanding, mature, loving, members in the local congregation.

I see no reason we should not treat 1 Corinthians 13 in the same way: Paul was encouraging the carnal members there to move onto teleios—“perfection,” “completion,” or “maturity”—and thus establishment themselves truly as pneumatikoi—spiritual. In fact, while most commentators dismiss it, we should not be so quick to deny the possibility that to teleion should be translated as “that which is mature” or “maturity.”

This background provides some necessary context for understanding 13:10. Paul is not making an eschatological or even doctrinal point, but, as we shall see, merely a pastoral one. The Corinthians were boasting and exercising all kinds of spiritual gifts, but they were demonstrating very little of the most important evidence of the Spirit—the fruit of the Spirit.

Love is way better

Chapter 13 is prefixed by the final exhortation of chapter 12. After explaining all about being many members and one body, about different members having different gifts and different gifts/members having different perceived status and order within the body, he says “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31).

It is this promise that segues directly into his famous discourse on “love”—for love is in fact that “more excellent way.” It is more than that even. The word is hyperbolen—from which we get our word “hyperbole,” meaning “absurdly exaggerated to make a point,” or “over the top.” In Scripture it is often translated as “exceeding,” “beyond measure,” etc. Paul is not just saying that love is more excellent, he is saying there is no comparison. He is essentially saying, “Guys, spiritual gifts are all well and good, but what I am about to tell you is way, way better. Far better. Better beyond any comparison.”

Especially compared to the fighting and posturing—and even blasphemy (1 Cor. 12:1–3)—that was taking place in relation to alleged spiritual gifts among the Corinthians, love was by far the better road indeed. For it is the road to perfection.

With this promise of Paul’s in mind, let us now read 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:1–7).

Indeed, love is exactly the opposite of how the Corinthians were behaving. Despite all their claims to spirituality based on whatever manifestations they had, their poor personal spirituality was betrayed by the way they treated each other.

But to ignore love is to ignore everything! This standard of love, upon which Jesus had said hung everything taught in the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:37–40Deut. 6:5Lev. 19:18), is the basic foundation for all of the Christian religion—the love of God towards us, and us in return back to him, and to each other (1 John 2:7–144:7–21). This is the necessary foundation, the beginning, middle, and end, and without it nothing else Christians do has any meaning.

Indeed, love is the golden thread upon which all the beads of Christian faith and practice must be strung, or else be lost. It alone is the great eternal principle that must run through all other virtues. Thus Paul continues,

Love never ends [fails, falls]. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When 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. For 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.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:8–13).

The comparison here between revelatory gifts and love is threefold: 1) a comparison between temporary and eternal, 2) a comparison between partial and complete, and 3) a comparison between childishness and maturity. These are all three facets of the same general comparison: love is way better.

First, the temporal comparison: “Love never ends [fails, falls]. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” “Pass away” may be a little strong. The verb has a range of meanings. But being contrasted with “love” which “never fails,” the point is to emphasize the temporality of the revelatory gifts. But note, this is all that is in view in this comparison. It is not to emphasize the manner or even time of the passing of these gifts, but merely to note that they are temporal.

Given the theme of individual maturity, spirituality, and personal application throughout the letter as a whole and the immediate context, it is most reasonable to view the passing here as the passing away in relationship to the individuals who were actually using the gifts—not as a type of gift taken as a biblical abstraction. We will note more on this momentarily.

Second, we have the verse which started this whole study: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” This contrasts the piecemeal, supplementary, nature of these revelatory gifts in comparison to “that which is perfect.” There is obviously a timing issue in play here: “when . . . will. . . .” We will address this momentarily also. For now, suffice it to say that the identity of “the perfect” here is “love.” The third facet helps us with this:

Third, there is a comparison of maturity. In light of the theme of spiritual maturity running throughout the book as we’ve noted, this comparison is the most enlightening:

When 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.

The emphasis here is on the contrast between childishness and maturity. And what has Paul been saying this whole time after all? What has been his remedy to all of the ills the Corinthians have brought into their own midst? It is to live by that “better way”—love. Grow up, go on to maturity. Love is that maturity.

It is of some note that Paul uses the same Greek word here as he did above for the prophecies and knowledge that would “pass away”—“I gave up (set aside, passed away, put away) childish things.” So Just as prophecies, tongues, and knowledge would “pass away” in contrast to never failing love, so “childish things” also “pass away” in contrast to maturity—by which we are to understand “love.”

This helps us properly understand the second comparison as well: that which is “in part” versus that which is “perfect.” Were this an isolated sentence, we may be strongly inclined by the grammar alone to translate to teleion as “the perfection” or as “the complete”—since its comparison is to “in part” or “partial.” But there is so much more to the context. That translation is certainly allowable and maybe even best on the surface, but it must be understood in relation to the theme of reaching maturity that permeates the whole. Maturity is the theme throughout the letter, and love is the way better road to maturity. Thus, here we should understand “the perfect” or “maturity” to refer to love as well.

Note the parallelism in Paul’s reasoning:

1)      Love never ends; revelatory gifts end

2)      The perfect comes; the partial becomes obsolete

3)      I reach maturity; I put aside childish things

Notice the structural-grammatical connections here: Love = perfection = maturity. Taking maturity here as spiritual maturity—the theme throughout the book—the connection is clear: love = to teleion = to pneumatikos.

Thus, “the perfect” does not refer to the finished canon of Scripture. Indeed, given a full understanding of the context, that understanding is almost as absurd as it is arbitrary. It is simply a logical leap to think the focus in this sentence is upon God’s grand design for methods of revelation in the history of redemption. Love is the focus as the far better road to travel:

Love is the eternal principle of Christianity: it remains when all else passes away.

Love is the completeness of Christian revelation: if you have mastered this ethic, you need no other revelation.

Love is the full maturity of Christian life: arrive here, and you need to strive for no greater perfection, for all your works will be perfect.

These three comparisons are one and the same argument. By these comparisons Paul is trying to shift the priorities of the Corinthian believers from puffing themselves up against each other via boastings of spiritual gifts, status, etc., to growing up as Christians should do: learning to love and sacrifice for one another. Anyone who learns that will realize what true Christian perfection really is.

Love and Perfect Knowledge

My analysis above leaves off the last couple of Paul’s parallel reasonings. That’s fine, as what follows detracts nothing from the argument above. The following verse raises once again a question we promised to return to above, but also gives a powerful idea that reinforces our main point that to teleion is love. 1 Cor. 13:12 says,

For 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.

Without going to too much length here, the main issue in both of these sentences—which are connected—is completeness in the sense of full clarity. A first century mirror was not like modern mirrors: it would not give the crystal-clear reflections we have today, but rather a blurry (like an out-of-focus photograph) or in some cases colored (by the nature of whatever type of metal had been polished—brass, bronze, etc.). Such a reflection was “in part” not in the sense of being cut, edited, bordered, trimmed, truncated, or anything within physical limits like that; rather, its partialness was in its blurriness. The Greek is ainigmati—from which we get our word “enigma.” It means obscure, dark, or a riddle.

Think about this: before the advent of the modern mirror, no one could have much idea how they themselves truly looked (with the exception of, perhaps, the reflection in a still pond or the work of a highly skilled artist—very limited circumstances). Thus it would be a true revelation to see oneself fully even as others view you—to see your own face as another could see you face to face. So Paul draws this analogy with the fullness of Christian maturity in love: “For 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.” In other words: to the extent that you can’t see your true reflection in a mirror now (then), to that same extent you can’t fully know God without love.

This is the same sense in which Jesus would have us grow spiritually. Compare the unique story of the healing of a blind man of Bethsaida:

And [Jesus] took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly (Mark 8:23–26).

The event is unique in the gospels in that the healing came in stages. It took two attempts—degrees—before the blind man was fully restored. In the first degree, the man has only a dim view, a blurry, obscure vision of things. But after full healing, the man could see clearly. At first touch from the Lord, the man saw dimly—he was yet incomplete. But with the fullness of healing, he could see men as they were. The Venerable Bede says, “By this miracle, Christ teaches us how great is the spiritual blindness of man, which only by degrees, and by successive stages, can come to the light of divine knowledge.”[1] There is a lesson here, then, about full spiritual sight and full spiritual maturity.

To have love, however, is to have perfect knowledge—not book knowledge, but spiritual knowledge. And Jesus demonstrates this for us in every sense imaginable. Thus Jesus, who first loved us and gave himself for us, is God’s perfect revelation to humanity. Jesus Himself, in all that He was and did, is that fullness of knowledge/love of which Paul speaks. Thus, Scripture tells us that Jesus is the full clear revelation of God’s word (John 5:46–7Acts 15:21Heb. 1:1–2). John 1:18 even says that Jesus by His incarnation exegeted [exegesato] the father. Yet Jesus Himself also says essentially the same thing of love (Matt. 22:37–40).

In his first epistle, John draws all of these same connections: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). There that word is again: “perfect.” (Here it is perfect-tense participle, and in the passive voice: teteleiomene, the base form of which is teleioo.) The idea is exactly the same point Paul was making: true Christian spirituality means loving one another, and this is evidence that God’s Spirit dwells in us—true spirituality, in other words—and evidence that love is perfected in us. That is, “the perfect”—love—has come.

And John is here echoing his Gospel, 1:18, in saying “no one has ever seen God.” But just as Jesus dwelt in the bosom of the Father and exegeted Him—gave full revelation of God—so does the Christian who has been perfected in love and thus loves one another. This person has full knowledge and full spiritual vision.

Much of the New Testament makes these same connections. John, as we just noted, is especially strong this regard:

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:21–24; Cf. John 15:7–17).

Thus in love, Jesus is fully manifested to the Christian believer—there is not further need for spiritual revelatory gifts in that case.

Compare John’s first epistle:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:7–21).

For Paul, (as with Jesus in Matt. 22:37–40), love is the fullness of the law:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:8–10).

He repeats the same argument in Galatians 5:13–14. In Galatians 3:3 he connects spirituality with perfection: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). The rhetorical question assumes the answer: “No. You can only be perfected by the Spirit.”

Earlier in 1 Corinthians, Paul gives a direct connection between informational “knowledge,” and spiritual knowledge based on love. The latter leads to maturity, spiritual edification, and being known by God:

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God (1 Cor. 8:1–3).

Consider: this spiritual “he is known by God” is the same “face to face. . . . I have been fully known” that Paul elucidates in 13:12. The power behind both is love.

Paul connects love and knowledge again in Philippians 1:9. It’s almost over-the-top in Colossians 2:1–3:

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

James ties perfection to patience—a fruit of the Spirit and thus mark of maturity—amidst trials. He writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).

James also speaks of Christian ethics as “the perfect law of lberty,” and uses a similar mirror analogy as Paul:

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect [teleion] law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:23–5).

Again, Christian maturity indicates perfection: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect [teleios] man, able also to bridle his whole body (James 3:1–2).

There are dozens more verses to cover, but finally for now consider Ephesians 4:7–16:

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”        (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature [teleion] manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:7–16).

Here Paul says that perfection (here “mature”) is to have knowledge, to be like Christ in His fullness, not childish but mature and steadfast, and reflecting that maturity through words and actions of love. This is essentially the same teaching given in 1 Corinthians 13.

What of the revelatory gifts, then?

I realize the analysis given above leaves open the possibility that the revelatory gifts are still in operation. I have no problem with that, although in my personal experience–which includes at one time nearly five years as a Pentecostal—I can’t say I have every experienced a genuine, undeniable case of tongues, prophecy, or interpretation of tongues. Even if I did, however, any such experience could not stand as an authoritative argument for anyone but the direct witnesses, seeing as it would be anecdotal only. This holds true, by the way, for any of the miraculous gifts.

But textually, scripturally, it seems to me there is no clear or definitive cut off. Scripture itself simply does not describe the total end of all revelatory gifts. It does not describe the close of the canon of Scripture within itself. This is something we assume in God’s providence (and even most Charismatics make a distinction in the degree of authority between the canon of Scripture and the nature of the content of revelatory gifts.)

An important caveat in this regard must be made in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul is not speaking about these revelatory gifts in the abstract or collective sense. I think James W. Scott, in his fairly recent Westminster Theological Journal article on 1 Corinthians 13, makes an important observation regarding the individual emphasis on the gifts in view:

Once again, we should understand that Paul is talking about these revelatory gifts as possessed by individual believers, not as abstract phenomena. He is not saying that a time is coming in history when these spiritual gifts will disappear from the church. Rather, he wants the Corinthians to understand that if they have these spiritual gifts, the time will come when they will no longer have them. Prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will stop coming to them from God. Indeed, the prophecies, tongues, and knowledge that they already have will come to an end. This perspective is required by the comparison [de] with love in v. 8, which, as we have seen, refers to the love that is in individual hearts. Love will not come to an end in one’s personal experience, but these revelatory gifts will.

This interpretation is confirmed by Paul’s manner of referring to the three revelatory gifts. What the ESV translates as “As for . . . as for . . . as for . . .” in v. 8 is more precisely “If . . . and if . . . and if . . .” [eite . . . eite . . . eite . . .]: “But if there be prophecies . . . and if there be tongues . . . and if there be knowledge . . .” Now Paul and his readers knew perfectly well that these spiritual gifts were in existence. So he cannot be saying, “If the gift of prophecy is present somewhere in the church . . .” Yet commentators have universally (it seems) assumed that Paul is talking about these gifts in just such an abstract sense, which may explain why the ESV (like many other translations) alters the construction so as merely to raise an abstract subject. What we must understand is that Paul is talking about these gifts as present in individual Christians. The possibilities implied by “if” are that any particular reader may or may not have the gift in question. Paul is saying to his readers, “If you have one of these gifts, the time will come when you will no longer have it. Your prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will come to an end, but jour love will continue.”[2]

I agree in general. I would go a bit further, however, and say that Paul is not even saying prophecies and knowledge “will stop coming to them” at some single point in the future even as individuals. Even Paul’s strongest timing statements—“but when the perfect comes, the partial will [future] pass away” (13:10), and “now . . . then . . .” twice in verse 12—need not be taken literally, at least not in the sense of predictive time statements. They are, as is more fitting with the literary nature whole passage, speaking upon the backdrop theme of growth and Christian maturity. Arriving at the mature perfection of love is simply not something that changes abruptly, overnight, and is not triggered by any one-time, abrupt event. These contrasting time indicators merely serve as a contrast for two general states of being that would be separated in time during a period of growth.

Put in a way a little more harmonious with Scott’s point, Paul does not have in view here some single event or abrupt change (my point) that does away with all revelatory gifts as a collective gift taken as an abstract whole (Scott’s point). Rather, Paul is simply contrasting a time of childishness with a time of maturity. Putting himself in the shoes of the Corinthian “babies,” that childish time was “now,” and the time of perfection/maturity would be at some point in the future (assuming the Corinthians would embrace the “better way” which Paul had told them). Paul had no idea and gave no indicator of how long that growth period might be, and he also gives no indication of how it comes about.

Thus the Scriptural support for the view that the revelatory gifts may still be operational today is simply that they are listed as gifts multiple times, and there is no clear Scriptural indication that they as gifts in general will end.

But the most important lesson here is the very lesson we’ve just reviewed in 1 Corinthians 13, indeed the whole letter. That is, God desires us to have Christian maturity reflecting in Christian ethics and Christian works far more than to exercise these spiritual gifts. With the understanding we’ve gained here, we can see that perfection—love—essentially nullifies the need for further revelatory gifts for that individual. The closer one gets to genuine spiritual maturity, the less one should be involved in revelatory gifts. This is precisely the meaning of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13.

(Readers must be careful not to affirm the consequent here automatically. Just because a perfected person has no need of extra-revelatory manifestations does not mean that all people who do not engage in revelatory gifts have therefore arrived at perfection. Classic fallacy.)

By no means am I saying I support the modern Charismatic movement in general, and certainly not in all of its permutations, many of which I consider bizarre, misguided, degrading, shameful, and even blasphemous. I only think we have not yet arrived at the clearest scriptural understanding of those gifts, and the frequent misuse of 1 Corinthians 13 in this regard is indicative of that.


  1. See Spence and Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Bickersteth, St. Mark (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1913), I:333. []
  2. James W. Scott, “The Time When Revelatory Gifts Cease” (1 Cor. 13:8–12),” Westminster Theological Journal 72 (2012):275. I have transliterated the Greek font in Scott’s original. []

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