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Praying in the Spirit: That Glorious Day When Tongues are Not Needed: Until Then … Part 2

Three well-respected Greek lexicons confirm that “the perfect thing” may indeed refer to persons or to the absolute quality of perfection: Cremer cites the use of perfect in classical Greek as referring “to the gods and their exaltation” (p.543). Under perfect Thayer writes, “The perfect state of all things, to be ushered in by the return of Christ from heaven” (p.618). Kittel’s respected word study cites perfect as being used to refer to the sacrificial lamb without blemish (VIII, pp. 67, 72).

Has this happened? As a result of the completed Scriptures, do we know as God knows us?

Even non-Pentecostal Greek scholars, Gaebelein and Mare for example, write that the idea of “the perfect thing” being the New Testament is “alien to the context” (p. 269); Robertson and Plummer say that Paul “is full of thought of the Second Advent” here (p. 297). Figure 1 lists more than sixty non-Pentecostals who accept “the perfect thing” as a reference to the coming of Christ with the eternal Kingdom. No major non-Pentecostal commentary accepts the cessationists’ argument on “the perfect thing.”

Not only does the word perfect work against the cessationist theory, but its verb, come, also does. Non-Pentecostal Conzelmann says that it “points to the parousia” (p. 226); Edwards and also Cook claim that it is an allusion to the parousia (pp. 349, 352, 341). Elbert cites references in 1 Corinthians 4:5 and 11:26, as well as in the Thessalonian epistles which Paul wrote from Corinth, that support Conzelmann’s and Edwards’ claims (pp. 9-10). When at Corinth and when writing to the Corinthians, the parousia was clearly a concern of Paul’s (Elbert, pp. 2-3).

Two other passages in 1 Corinthians argue against the cessationist theory of “the perfect thing” being the completion of Scripture or the matured Church. First, in chapter seven Paul advises virgins not to marry because Christ will come very shortly. In light of this, it is unlikely that Paul, as he wrote chapter thirteen, was thinking of a time when the worship practices of the Church would be radically changed by a “New Testament” or “matured” Church (Cottle, p. 47).

Second, Paul tells us that there is a current practice in the Church that will also cease when Christ comes. Not only that, but Christians are exhorted to continue this practice until Christ comes. In verse 26 of chapter eleven, Paul tells the Corinthians, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (The verb comes is identical to that used in 13:10.) Without a doubt, just as we partake of the blood and body of Christ until He comes, so we should edify the Body of Christ on earth until He comes to perfect it (Ephesians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 1:7; l3:8-l3).

As a result of a matured Church, do we know as God knows us? No, we do not have this full revelation.

Very little needs to be said about Unger’s argument that the gender of the noun for “the perfect thing” is neuter not masculine and, therefore, does not refer to the Person of Christ. First, it need not refer to Christ alone but to His eternal Kingdom. Second, Christ is referred to with the neuter gender on other occasions. He calls Himself “the Beginning and the End,” using the neuter gender (Revelation 21:6). Also, John refers to Him with a neuter gender pronoun in 1 John 1:1 (Elbert, pp. 32-33).

Issue #6: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me,” verse 11. The purpose of this verse, it is argued, is to illustrate “the perfect thing.” Cessationists argue that the image in the illustration is that of a child maturing to a man, and that the perfect must reflect this process of maturation. Since the parousia is an event, not a process, cessationists reason that the perfect must be either the Scriptures or the Church (Gromacki, p. 127; C. R. Smith, pp. 84-85; Thomas, pp. 109, 111, 204; Unger, New, pp. 96-97).

Actually, the illustration does not demonstrate the process of maturing at all: The beginning (childhood) and the end (adulthood) are the points of the illustration, not the growth in between (Morris, p. 187). As the Broadman Bible Commentary says, “Paul is not interested . . in emphasizing continuity between a child and a man. His concern is not to establish continuity but dissimilarity” (p. 374). Furthermore, we cannot squeeze the idea of maturation out of the second illustration Paul gives using the reflection (verse 12). Only the Pentecostal/charismatic interpretation is consistent in both illustrations: Our knowledge of God in this world is incomplete, partial, fragmentary, and indirect whereas in the world to come, it is complete and direct.

Issue #7: “Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (verse 12). This is the second of two illustrations that Paul gives to clarify “the perfect thing.” Since nothing in this verse specifically suggests that the “perfect” is the Church or the Scriptures, cessationists usually offer explanations such as “Receiving the Scripture was coming ‘face to face’ with God” (Chantry, p. 53) or “We can now meet the Lord face to face in His Word” (John Williams, p. 230) or “All who view matters through the apostolic teaching and who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit behold the face of Jesus Christ—face to face” (Coppes, p. 60).

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2000

About the Author: Robert W. Graves, M. A. (Literary Studies, Georgia State University), is the co-founder and president of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting Pentecostal scholarship through research grants. He is a Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). He edited and contributed to Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture and is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (1987 and Second Edition, 2017) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998).

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