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A Better Argument for Cessation

An Exegesis of First Corinthians 13:10

By Alfred K. Persson

"But when that which is perfect has come,
then that which is in part will be done away"

(1Corinthians 13:10).1

"But whenever the dimension of God has come, then that dimension of man shall be done away."

Paul's idea is one of two distinct realities of existence; he compares the two and notes how they interact: The arrival of the greater (full and complete) "Perfect" sphere of God totally destroys the lesser "in part" (incomplete, imperfect) sphere of our present existence.

The "Perfect" is the Kingdom of the Heavens

[9] For we know in part and we prophesy in part. [10] But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

The natural interpretation of "perfect" is found in the context itself: Now we exist in the meros ("in part") sphere; within it we have childish things and partial knowledge. Then we will exist in the fullness ("Perfect") sphere; within it we have adult things and full knowledge of God.

A parallel argument is found in Galatians 4:1-9: hoton de elthee to teleion "But when that which is perfect has come" is similar to hoton de elttheen to pleerooma tou chronou "But when was come the fullness of time" (Gal 4:4).

The Epistle to the Galatians was written about A.D. 49. Six years later Paul modifies his illustration: In Galatians the "fullness of time" starts at the first coming of Christ; in 1Corinthians "that which is perfect" starts at the Second Coming of Christ.

The contrast in Galatians is in the "time" before and after Christ. In the time before Christ the Galatians were minors (4:1) under guardians and trustees (4:2) enslaved to the (stoicheia) "elements of the world" (4:3). Then in the "fullness of time" they know God and are known by God (4:9) The idea is one of the lesser being replaced by the greater.

The contrast in 1Corinthians is between the "in part" and "Perfect." While in the "in part" we have incomplete knowledge and incomplete prophecy to tutor us (13:9); we are children with childish things (13:11); our vision of God is unclear and partial (13:11). Then in the Perfect we will know God even as we are known (13:12). The idea is one of the lesser being replaced by the greater.

[9] For we know in part and we prophesy in part. [10] But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. [11] When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. [12] For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

To Paul meros can be a place or a portion (Eph. 4:9,16). The present sphere is "in part" because it lacks the revelation of God. Our knowledge and prophecy in this meros sphere is partial; it is like seeing through a mirror, dimly. In it we have only childish things. It is to be completely obliterated by the coming of the "fullness" sphere, the "perfect" sphere of existence, i.e., the Kingdom of God. Then we will see Him face to face and know him even as we are known. Childish and partial things are no more.

There is no connection or link between these two spheres of existence. They are distinct and separate realities. The sphere known as the "in part" will be destroyed by the arrival of the "perfect" sphere of God, by the brightness of Christ's coming (2Thes 2:8), just as light destroys darkness.

Paul's intent in verse 10 is: "Look to the coming Kingdom of God, whenever it comes, then what you now have and are so concerned about cannot exist. It is destined to pass away anyway so do not let its present failing upset you."

The idea behind the contrast can be illustrated by the following:

"Now while we live in the poor side of town, some of us have ice cream cones, but when (whenever) the ice cream truck comes, it will take us to a better part of town, then ice cream cones shall be done away."

The ice cream truck tarries, all ice cream cones melt and pass away, never to return. Generations later the ice cream truck arrives. It comports all those waiting to the good part of town. Once there it only dispenses gallons of ice cream to all. The truck does not even carry ice cream cones to give out, and no one even cares that is no longer possible for them to exist.

Hence when the ice cream truck came, then all lesser forms of ice cream were done away. The very sphere of their possible existence was done away.

Of course, if the truck had arrived before these ceased, their existence would have vanished at that time. But I did not predict that. I did not know when the truck would come. I was looking at the coming greater reality and its total destruction of the former reality.

No teaching for the continuity of these special revelatory gifts is valid in this context. Paul says very clearly "they will cease." (13:8) He does not say when. His future is our past.

This is seen by the nature of their existence. Prophecies, tongues and knowledge, childish things, mirror's reflection, faith and hope operate within the present "in part" sphere which came to into existence at the Fall of Man (Gen. 3:7). They are separate from the sphere itself, they operate within it. For example, people are born and die in this sphere. Governments rise and fall within it. God's dispensation went from Law to Grace, all within the same sphere. These operate within the sphere, they are not the sphere.

The passage is not prophecy, Paul is uncertain about the timing. He says, "But when:"

"'The conditional temporal hotan with the subjunctive form of the verb, "[whenever the end] should come" (v. 10), suggests that Paul felt an indefiniteness about when the end he has in mind would come.'"2

He is teaching by comparison. It is an example of qal wahomer "light to heavy" argumentation practiced "to some extent by first century rabbis" (Cf. Rom 5:15-21; 2Cor 3:7-18. Compare "heavy to light" Rom 5:6-9; 5:10; 8:32; 11:24; 1Cor 6:2; 13:12).3

The present "in part" sphere containing "prophecies, tongues, knowledge, childishness, mirror's reflection, know in part, faith and hope" is lesser than the coming "perfect" sphere where there is "love, face to face revelation, complete knowing."

The Absurdity of Making this Text Prophecy

[12] Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

If this is considered prediction then Paul is open to the charge of being a false prophet. 1) Paul is not predicting that he and the Corinthians would see the completion of the canon of Scripture and that at that time all would know God even as God knows them. 2) Neither is Paul saying the Corinthians will be alive to soon see Christ "face to face." He may have hoped that; but he does not predict it.

[13] "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Paul still carries the "light to heavy" theme forward even as he leaves his analogy and discusses the present situation of the Corinthians: "Now we see but a poor reflection...Now I know in part...Now these three remain." -- "Now even though the gifts are failing, faith hope and love remain." The greater of these is "love" because love remains even after the Perfect arrives at the Second Coming, abolishing the need for "faith" and "hope."

[14] "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy."

Paul still manages to continue "light to heavy" as he says "Follow love" which is permanent and will console you as these gifts disappear but "seek them while they are still available especially seek to prophesy because that is the greater, it benefits the body of Christ." Hence Paul showed them "a more excellent way" (1Cor 12:31).

The Revelatory Gifts were Failing

"Love never fails." Paul's reason for stating the obvious is to answer the Church's questions (7:1; 12:1; 16:1) about the manifest failing of these special gifts of revelation. Faith hope and love are abiding, prophecy tongues and knowledge are not abiding (13:13). Earnestly desire (do not despise) these gifts while they are still available but follow love because it will not fail (14:1).

This failing of these gifts is seen elsewhere: "For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom" (1:22). As a Rabbi, Paul often teaches by allusion (10:1-15). He saw the Corinthians divided into two main camps: Those who sought signs as indicative of God's approval separated themselves from those who did not have them (12:12-31; 11:18-19). Those who did not have these special gifts excluded the former by requiring intellectual wisdom and eloquence (1:17-2:2). These were in the majority and were going to forbid tongues speaking entirely (14:39). Hence Paul devotes more attention to them (chapters 1-6).

"So that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:7).

This is not praise (11:17); Paul would not puff up the Corinthians more than they already were (8:1): Even though the gifts are failing you Corinthians still are a church of God sanctified in Christ Jesus and equal with all who call on His name (1:2). This fact has already been confirmed (1:6). The failing of the gifts is being experienced by all the churches (1:7). God (bebaioosei) "will strengthen" you even though these gifts are declining (1:8). He is faithful (1:9). Do not doubt your calling into the fellowship of His Son (1:9). Let there be no divisions among you over these things (1:10-11).

This passage raises the possibility that Paul briefly connected the decline of the revelatory gifts with the nearness of Christ's return, an "unofficial sign" as it were of His nearness (1:7; 13:8-10; Rom 13:10-13).

The Revelatory Gifts have Ceased

That the lesser forms of revelation ceased is evident from a survey of Scripture written prior to Corinthians (A.D. 55) and after to the end of the canon.

Some of this evidence is based on an argument from silence which no doubt some will object proves nothing. However, as it is against human nature to be silent about these gifts wherever they exist, such objection is moot. The Corinthians themselves are proof that even with the divine factor in operation these gifts are discussed.

Further proof of this truth can be found in modern Pentecostal churches. It can be readily seen they find it impossible for them to keep silent about their "gifts."

The book of Romans, written about the same time as 2 Corinthians, is perhaps a supporting witness to the state of these gifts in the church universal. Here we find a list of the gifts but only prophecy is mentioned and that is referred to in such a way that implies it was not common (Rom 12:4-13).

Survey of the New Testament

Tongues are no longer discussed after 55 A.D. when 1 Corinthians was written. References to prophecy and knowledge in the church pass away entirely so that by 94 A.D. there is nothing of these mentioned in seven Churches of Asia (1:4-3:22) except for a false prophetess called Jezebel (2:20).

A.D. 49: Paul lists fruits of the Spirit rather than special gifts (Galatians 5:2-23).

A.D. 51: Timothy brings Paul news about faith and love, not charismata (1Thessalonians 3:6).

A.D. 51: Paul says love is evidence of God's choosing, not special gifts (2Thessalonians 1:3-5).

A.D. 51: "Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ" (2Thessalonians 3:5).

A.D. 53: The unusual is recorded: Twelve followers of John the Baptist receive the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues and prophesy (Acts 19:1-7).

A.D. 55: Paul appeals to the Corinthians desire to excel in every sign of spirituality to add to their zeal generosity (2Corinthians 8:7).

A.D. 55: New birth confirms one is in Christ, not revelatory gifts (2Corinthians 5:17).

A.D. 55: Paul exhorts unto righteousness and holiness, not revelatory gifts (2Corinthians 7:1).

A.D. 56: Only prophecy is mentioned in a way that implies it is rare and the other gifts surprisingly are not named at all (Romans 12:4-13).

A.D.60: The absence here of revelatory gifts in this context is very conspicuous, it should be here in a number of places. The text lists prophets with apostles, signifying they are few in number (Ephesians 4:2-5:21).

A.D. 60: This context would have been perfect to mention the revelatory gifts, instead he refers to false charismata (Colossians 2:9-18).

A.D. 60: Paul neither hears about revelatory gifts nor does he pray for Philemon to receive them (Philemon 1:4-7).

A.D. 62: No revelatory gifts mentioned here (Titus 3:1-8).

A.D. 62: Revelatory gifts not part of the requirements for the office of overseer or deacon (1 Timothy 3:2-13).

A.D. 62: Paul had to exhort Timothy to use his gift (ministry? cp. 2Tim. 1:6,7) and the example he is to set is for holy living, not gift seeking (1Timothy 4:12-16).

A.D. 67: The special gifts are referred to in the past tense (Hebrews 2:3-4).

A.D. 67: Spur one another unto love and good deeds, not tongues (Hebrews 10:24-25).

A.D. 67: Peter does not mention these gifts amongst those who share the divine nature and this is in contrast to the false prophets in next chapter (2Peter 1:4-9).

A.D. 90: God's love shown not by gifts but by Christ's ransom sacrifice (1John 4:9-10).

A.D. 90: Evidence of having the Spirit is love and true doctrine (1John 4:12-17).

A.D. 94: The seven churches in the book of Revelation make no mention of these revelatory gifts at all, only to a false prophetess called Jezebel (Revelation. 2:20,21).4

A.D. 94: Testimony of Jesus is spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10).

A.D. 94: If prophecy were still in operation in the church, Revelation 22:18 would not forbid adding to the book.

A.D. 94: Ethical imperatives, not gift seeking( Revelation 22:11).

Comments on Survey

Satan has been known to step into a Christian void (John 14:30). With the decline of true Prophets the false increased (2Cor 11:3-12:13). They became numerous enough to upset the Church to the point where believers were despising prophecy altogether. About A.D. 51, five years before Paul wrote 1Corinthians he says: "Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1Thes 5:20-21; cp. 1Cor 14:29; 2Pet 1:20-2:1ff)." By A.D. 90 the apostle John says: "...many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1)."

These became so many they left the apostle John's church (was it revelatory giftless?) to form their own new and exciting church: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us" (1John 2:19).

Tongues were the first to go:
Paul doesn't mention tongues again in any of his twelve later epistles: Peter doesn't mention tongues, John doesn't mention tongues, Jude doesn't mention tongues. To them we add the apostolic fathers who never alluded to or hinted at tongues still being around in their day. This is a great crowd of witnesses.

Tongues do not reappear until the heretic Montanus in the mid to late second century A.D. These appearances, bearing the fruit of false doctrine and prophecy (Deut 18:21-22), are additional proof against the manifestations we see today. God does not inspire heresy and false prophecy: "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron" (1Timothy 4:1).

Tongues were a "sign" to Israel (14:21-22). First Corinthians was written about 55 A.D. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. by Titus. Israel ceased to exist shortly thereafter. Hence, the reason for the very existence of tongues was fulfilled; most of the early church Christians were converted Jews.

Prophecy and Knowledge also ceased as they fulfilled their purpose:
"Prophecies, tongues, and knowledge" are special gifts of revelation. They are to be understood within the context of the Corinthian Church. Prophets spoke revelation from God (14:24-25); it was not necessarily predictive (14:3ff) and it edified the church. Tongues were a sign to unbelievers (14:22) and were lesser revelation needing interpretation (14:23, 28f). Knowledge was God given insight into God and His truth for the church (12:8-9; cp. 2Cor 4:6-7). Hence, the order is significant, they are arranged according to clarity of the revelation thereby received.

Prophecy and knowledge revealed God and guided the church in matters where they had no scripture. The apostle John is the last known prophet in the NT, the book of Revelation was written sometime in A.D. 94-96, although some date it earlier.

Christ has not yet come, but these special gifts of revelation have ceased, that is a fact of New Testament history. Evidently God deemed these revelatory gifts inferior to the completed canon of Scripture. Scripture itself testifies that it is able to thoroughly equip the Church and make us wise unto salvation (2Timothy 3:15-17). Hence these revelatory gifts have ceased never to return again to the Church in general, the two witnesses in Revelation (11:3) excepted.


13:8 - Fails; Cease:
"Love never fails: but whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away" (1Cor 13:8).

The Greek ekpiptei "fails" never fails in contrast to prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. Love never, "Falls 'off' like a leaf or flower, as James. 1:11; 1 Peter 1:24."5

The permanence of "love" is compared to the impermanence of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. As they are grouped together against love they all suffer the same eventuality; they fail never to come back, just as when a leaf falls off a plant it does not return.

The Greek pauo "cease" means "'to stop, to make an end,' is used chiefly in the middle voice in the NT, signifying 'to come to an end, to take one's rest, a willing cessation' (in contrast to the passive voice which denotes a forced cessation)."6

Paul distinguishes the cessation of tongues pauo "will cease" from that of prophecy and knowledge katargeo "will vanish away" knowing these will be around longer than tongues. How much longer he does not say.

13:10 - Perfect:
"'That which is perfect' (to teleion). The perfect, the full-grown (telos, end), the mature. See on 2:6... adults or grown men (common use of teleios for relative perfection, for adults, as in 1Cor 14:20; Phil 3:15; Eph 4:13; Heb 5:14)."7

13:12 - Face to Face:
Compare "face of Christ" 2Cor 4:6) is an allusion to the face of God--The Divine Countenance was seen by Moses (Exod 33:11ff; Num 12:8; 14:14; Compare John 12:41; 1:1). "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2Cor 3:18).

This sphere of full revelation of God will begin at the Second Coming of Christ. Paul himself uses the related telos in vs. 1:8 and 15:24 when speaking of the end. Hence, it is extraneous to the context that "perfection" refer to the completed canon of Scripture. Such was not on Paul's mind when he wrote these words.


The "perfect" does not refer to "the completed canon of Scripture" as many claim. However, tongues, prophecy, and knowledge have ceased. They were ceasing even when Paul penned 1Corinthians 13:10.

This interpretation is easily defended and the timeline of cessation irrefutable. Endless argument over the nature of tongues or any appeal to earlier Scripture is irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent, for they were ceasing well within the timeframe of New Testament History, never to return.

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1 All Scripture quotations are from New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982).
2 W. Harold Mare in The Expositors Bible Commentary. Frank E Gaebelein General Editor, (Zondervan, 1976), Vol. 10, p. 269.
3 See Richard Longenecker. Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1975) p.117.
4 Some argue Revelation may have been written as early as 68 A.D. No matter what date is chosen this argument stands.
5 Marvin Vincent. Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament (William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980), commenting on 1Cor 13:8.
6 Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Macdonald Pub. Co), p. 178.
7 A.T. Robertson. Word Pictures in the New Testament (Broadman Press, 1931), Vol. IV, p. 179, 83-84.

The above article was posted on this Web site October 18, 1998.

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