Subscribe via RSS Feed

Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Learning Context, Part 2, by Craig S. Keener

14. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 in Context

You need not agree with our interpretation of every example cited below, but these examples will suffice to illustrate how frequently we have ignored context. They should also illustrate how context makes a difference in our understanding.

Paul says that spiritual gifts like prophecy, tongues and knowledge will pass away when we no longer need them (1 Cor. 13:8-10). Some Christians read this passage as if it said, “Spiritual gifts like prophecy, tongues, and knowledge passed away when the last book of the New Testament was written.” This interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13 ignores the entire context of 1 Corinthians, however. It is a letter to the Corinthians in the middle of the first century, and they had never yet heard of a New Testament in the middle of the first century. Had Paul meant the completion of the New Testament, he would have had to have made this point much more clearly—starting by explaining what a New Testament addition to their Bible was.

In the context we find instead that Paul means that spiritual gifts will pass away when we know God as He knows us, when we see Him face to face (13:12; when we no longer see as through a mirror as in the present—cf. 2 Cor 3:18, the only other place where Paul uses the term). In other words, spiritual gifts must continue until our Lord Jesus returns at the end of the age. They should remain a normal part of our Christian experience today.

A broader examination of the context reveals even more of Paul’s meaning in this passage. In chapters 12-14, Paul addresses those who are abusing particular spiritual gifts, and argues that God has gifted all members of Christ’s body with gifts for building up God’s people. Those who were using God’s gifts in ways that hurt others were abusing the gifts God had given to help others. That is why Paul spends three paragraphs in the midst of his discussion of spiritual gifts on the subject of love: gifts without love are useless (13:1-3); love seeks to edify (13:4-7); the gifts are temporary (for this age only), but love is eternal (13:8-13). We should seek the best gifts (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1), and love gives us the insight to see which gifts are the best in any given situation—those which build others up.

The context of Paul’s whole letter drives this point home further: Paul’s description of what love is in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 contrasts starkly with Paul’s prior descriptions of the Corinthians in his letter: selfish, boastful, and so on (1 Cor 3:3; 4:6-7, 18; 5:2). The Corinthian Christians, like the later church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22), had a lot in their favor, but lacked what mattered most of all: the humility of love.

 

15. Persevering Faith in Hebrews 11:1

Hebrews 11:1 declares that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Although the verse expresses faith in terms of what we hope for—suggesting a future emphasis—some popular preachers have emphasized the first word of the verse in many translations: “Now.” They read “now” as an adjective describing faith: “Hebrews says ‘now-faith,’ so if it’s not ‘now,’ it’s not ‘faith.’” Thus, they claim, one must have faith for the answer now; if one merely believes that God eventually will answer the prayer, they claim that one does not have faith.

Paul’s description of what love is in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 contrasts starkly with Paul’s prior descriptions of the Corinthians in his letter: selfish, boastful, and so on. The Corinthian Christians, like the later church in Laodicea, had a lot in their favor, but lacked what mattered most of all: the humility of love.

Other passages may stress the importance of believing God in the present, but that is not the point of this passage. First, the English word “now” is not an adjective but an adverb; thus the English text, if it referred to time at all, would not mean, “Now-faith is,” but “faith currently is” (i.e., “now” does not describe faith). But second, the passage was not written in English; it was written in Greek, and the Greek word translated “now” here does not have anything to do with time at all. It simply means “but” or “and”—“And faith is.” (It is “now” only as in “Now once upon a time”—this particular Greek word never has to do with time.) The popular preachers apparently were in such a hurry to get their doctrine out that they never bothered to look the verse up in Greek.

Context makes it clear that this verse addresses reward in the future, not the present. The first readers of Hebrews had endured great sufferings (Heb. 10:32-34), but some were no longer pursuing Christ with their whole hearts, and some were in danger of falling away (10:19-31). The writer thus exhorts the readers not to abandon their hope, which God would reward if they persevered (10:35-37); he trusted that they would persevere in faith rather than falling back to destruction (10:38-39). That persevering faith was the faith that laid hold on God’s promises for the future, the kind of faith great heroes of faith had exhibited in the past: for instance, we know Enoch had this faith, for the Bible says that he pleased God, and no one can please God without such faith (11:5-6).

Spiritual gifts must continue until our Lord Jesus returns at the end of the age. They should remain a normal part of our Christian experience today.

Most of Hebrews 11’s examples of faith are examples of persevering faith in hope of future reward: Abraham left his present land seeking a city whose builder and maker was God (11:8-10); Joseph looked ahead to the exodus which would happen long after his death (11:22); Moses rejected Egypt’s present treasures in favor of future reward (11:24-26); and so on. The writer concludes with those heroes of the faith who suffered and died without deliverance in this life (11:35-38). In fact, though history commended the faith of all the heroes of this chapter, the writer declares that none of them received what God had promised them (11:39-40).

Finally the writer points to the ultimate hero of the faith—the author and perfecter of our faith, who endured the cross in hope of His future reward, the joy of His exaltation at God’s right hand (12:1-3). If all these men and women of faith had endured in the past, why did the Hebrews balk at the shedding of their blood (12:4), at the trials which were just the Lord’s temporary discipline (12:5-13)? Instead of falling away (12:14-29) because of their persecution, they were to stand firm in Christ, not being moved away from the hope of their calling. “Faith” in this context means not a momentary burst of conviction, but a perseverance tested by trials and time that endures in light of God’s promises for the future.

Pin It
Page 2 of 812345...Last »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2003

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. sites.google.com/site/drckeener

  • Connect with PneumaReview.com

    Subscribe via Twitter 1242 Followers   Subscribe via Facebook Fans
  • Recent Comments

  • Featured Authors

    Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degree...

    Jelle Creemers: Theological Dialogue with Classical Pentecostals

    Charles Carrin, D.D., has served the body of Christ for over 65 years. Educated at University of Georgia and Columbia Theological Seminary, he denied, in belief and practice,...

    Interview with Charles Carrin about his book Spirit-Empowered Theology

    Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books<...

    Listening for God’s Voice and Heart in Scripture: A conversation with Craig S. Keener

    William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major w...

    Exorcism in Public Places