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The Duration of Prophecy: How Long Will Prophecy Be Used in the Church? (Part 1) by Wayne A. Grudem

We can begin by reading the passage again in full:

(8) Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (9) For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; (10) but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. (11) 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. (12) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. (13) So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:8-13, RSV).

The purpose of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Paul connects the function of prophecy with the time of its cessation.

Our earlier analysis of the structure of 1 Corinthians 12–14 [Editor’s Note: Please see The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, Revised Edition by Wayne A. Grudem.] showed that Paul interrupts his discussion of spiritual gifts with chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, in which he intends to put the entire discussion of gifts in proper perspective. It is not enough simply to “seek the greater gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31a). One must also “seek after love” (1 Cor. 14:1), thus coupling proper goals with proper motives. Without love, the gifts are without value (1 Cor. 13:1-3). In fact, Paul argues, love is superior to all the gifts and therefore it is more important to act in love than to have any of the gifts.

In order to show the superiority of love, Paul argues that it lasts forever, whereas the gifts are all temporary (1 Cor. 13:8). Verses 9-12 further explain why the gifts are temporary. Our present knowledge and prophesying are partial and imperfect (v. 9), but someday something perfect will come to replace them (v. 10). This is explained by the analogy of a child who gives up childish thought and speech for the thought and speech of an adult (v. 11). Paul then elaborates further on verses 9-10 by explaining that our present perception and knowledge are indirect and imperfect, but that someday they will be direct and perfect (v. 12).

Prophecy fills a certain need now, but it does so only imperfectly. When ‘the perfect’ comes, that function will be better fulfilled by something else, and prophecy will cease because it will be made obsolete or useless.

In this argument Paul connects the function of prophecy with the time of its cessation. It fills a certain need now, but does so only imperfectly. When “the perfect” comes, that function will be better fulfilled by something else, and prophecy will cease because it will be made obsolete or useless (this is the probable nuance of the Greek term katargeō, “pass away,” used here in verses 8 and 10).

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2001

About the Author: Wayne A. Grudem is Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, Phoenix, Arizona. He has authored over twenty books, including Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (1994), Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (2010), The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (2013), The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, and "Free Grace" Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel (2016). He was also the General Editor for the ESV Study Bible (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Book of the Year, 2009). WayneGrudem.com

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