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

So the overall function of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 is to show that love is superior to gifts such as prophecy because those gifts will pass away but love will not pass away.

1 Corinthians 13:10: The cessation of prophecy when Christ returns

Paul writes in verse 10, “But when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away” (1 Cor. 13:10, rsv). The phrase “the imperfect” (Greek ek merous, “partial, imperfect”) refers most clearly to knowing and prophesying, the two activities that are said to be done partially, imperfectly in verse 9 (also using in both cases the same Greek phrase, ek merous). To bring out this connection, we could translate,

(8) Love never fails. Whether there be prophecies, they will pass away; whether there be tongues, they will cease; whether there be knowledge it will pass away.

(9) This is because we know imperfectly and we prophesy imperfectly—(10) but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.

Thus, the strong links between the statements are made clear by the repetition of two key terms, “pass away” and “imperfect.”

No doubt Paul also intended tongues to be included in the sense of verse 9 as among those activities that are “imperfect,” but he omitted overly pedantic repetition for stylistic reasons. Yet tongues must be understood as part of the sense of verse 9, for verse 9 is the reason for verse 8, as the word “for” (Greek gar) shows. Thus verse 9 must give the reason why tongues, as well as knowledge and prophecy, will cease. In fact, the repeated “whether . . . whether . . . whether” in verse 8 suggests that Paul could have listed more gifts here (wisdom, healing, interpretation?) if he had wished. But for our purposes it is sufficient that “the imperfect” in verse 10 clearly includes the gift of prophecy. (As we saw in chapter 5, Paul considers prophecy to be imperfect [ek merous] because it gives only partial knowledge of the subjects it treats, because the revelation a prophet receives is indirect and limited, and because the revelation is often difficult to understand or interpret.)

When shall we see “face to face”? When shall we know “even as we have been fully known”? These events can only happen when the Lord returns.

So 1 Corinthians 13:10 means, “When the perfect is come prophecy will pass away.” The only remaining problem is to determine what time is meant by the word “when.” Several factors in the context argue that the time of the Lord’s return is the time Paul has in mind.

(a) First, the word “then” (Greek tote) in verse 12 refers to the time “when the perfect is come” in verse 10. This is evident from looking at the verse: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know even as I have been known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

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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).

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