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

So we look back to verse 10: “But when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away” (1 Cor. 13:10, rsv). Here is a statement about the future. At some point in the future, Paul says “the perfect” will come, and “the imperfect” will pass away, will be “made useless.”

The time when “the perfect” comes must be the time of Christ’s return.

When will this happen? This is what is explained by verse 12. Then, at the time the perfect comes, we shall see “face to face” and know “even as we are known.”

This means that the time when “the perfect” comes must be the time of Christ’s return.2

Therefore, we can paraphrase verse 10: “But when Christ returns, the imperfect will pass away.”3

Or, to use our conclusion above that “the imperfect” certainly included prophecy, we can paraphrase, “But when Christ returns, prophecy will pass away.”

Here, then, we find a definite statement about the time of the cessation of imperfect gifts such as prophecy. They will “be made useless” or “pass away” when Christ returns. And this would imply that they will continue to exist and be useful for the church all through the church age, including today, and right up to the day when Christ returns.

The imperfect gifts such as prophecy will continue to exist and be useful for the church all through the church age, including today, and right up to the day when Christ returns.

(b) Another reason why the time when “the perfect” comes is the time when Christ returns is also evident from the purpose of the passage. Paul is attempting to prove the greatness of love, and in so doing he wants to establish that “love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:8, rsv). To do so, he argues that it will last beyond the time when the Lord returns, unlike present spiritual gifts. This makes a convincing argument: Love is so fundamental to God’s plans for the universe that it will last beyond the transition from this age to the age to come—it will continue for eternity.

(c) A third reason why this passage refers to the time of the Lord’s return can be found in a more general statement from Paul about the purpose of spiritual gifts in the New Testament age. In 1 Corinthians 1:7 Paul ties the possession of spiritual gifts (Greek charismata) to the activity of waiting for the Lord’s return: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul saw the gifts as a temporary provision made to equip believers for ministry until the Lord returned.

This suggests that Paul saw the gifts as a temporary provision made to equip believers for ministry until the Lord returned. So this verse provides a close parallel to the thought of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, where prophecy and knowledge (and no doubt tongues) are seen, similarly, as necessary until Christ’s return but unnecessary beyond that time.

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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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