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

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.

The phrase “see face to face” is used several times in the Old Testament to refer to seeing God personally. See, for example, Genesis 32:30 and Judges 6:22 (exactly the same Greek wording as 1 Cor. 13:12); Deuteronomy 5:4; 34:10; Ezekiel 20:35 (very similar wording); Exodus 33:11 (same concept, and same wording as some of the preceding passages in Hebrew, but different wording this time in the Greek translation of the Septuagint). So the phrase “face to face” is used in the Old Testament to speak of seeing God personally—not fully or exhaustively, for no finite creature can ever do that, but personally and truly nonetheless. So when Paul says, “But then [we shall see] face to face,” he clearly means, “Then we shall see God face to face.” Indeed, that will be the greatest blessing of heaven and our greatest joy for all eternity (Rev. 22:4, rsv: “They shall see his face”).

The second half of 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now I know in part; then I shall know even as I have been known.” The second and third word for “know”—the one for “then I shall know even as I have been known”—is a somewhat stronger word for knowing (Greek epiginōskō), but certainly does not imply infinite knowledge or omniscience. Paul does not expect to know all things, and he does not say, “Then I shall know all things,” which would have been easy in Greek.1 Rather, he means that when the Lord returns, Paul expects to be freed from the misconceptions and inabilities to understand (especially to understand God and his work) that are part of this present life. His knowledge will resemble God’s present knowledge of him because it will contain no false impressions and will not be limited to what is perceivable in this age. But such knowledge will only occur when the Lord returns.

In conclusion, Paul says in verse 12, in effect,

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then, when Christ returns, we shall see God face to face; now I know in part, but then, when Christ returns, I shall know even as I have been known.

His word “then” has to refer back to something in the previous verses which he has been explaining. We look first to verse 11, but see that nothing in verse 11 can be a future time Paul refers to as “then”: “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” (1 Cor. 13:11, rsv). All of this refers to the past, not the future. It speaks of past events in Paul’s life by way of providing a natural human illustration of what he has said in verse 10. But nothing in the verse speaks of a future time when something will happen.

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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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