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It is written:
1 Corinthians 13:8-13-Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Let me tell you about a Bible study I had with some friends a few years back.
My friends, Sam and Angie (not their real names) had been life-long members of the Pentecostal church, and firmly believed that the miraculous gifts of the Apostolic Age had continued unabated throughout the Christian era.
When I pointed out to them that the miraculous gifts were designed to be temporary, we turned to an intense study of 1 Corinthians 13. In that passage, Paul discusses how the Corinthians were misusing their miraculous gifts. In so doing, they had lost sight of the greatest gift of all: the gift of love!
So, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes how love is superior to all of the miraculous gifts. One reason that love is superior is that love is eternal, whereas the miraculous gifts were designed to be temporary. Indeed, those miraculous gifts would cease when the “perfect” had come.
What was the “perfect?” My friends had an explanation that their preacher had told them.
Sam: Mark, the “perfect” is Jesus Christ in Heaven!
Mark: That is one possible interpretation. What evidence do you have for that?
Sam: Jesus is perfect.
Mark: It is true that Jesus is perfect (Hebrews 5:8-9). But the word “perfect” used here in 1 Corinthians 13:10 is neuter gender in the Greek New Testament, which suggests that whatever the “perfect” is, it likely is not referring to a person. More probably, it is a thing.
Sam: I don’t see any evidence of that in the passage.
Mark: Let’s look a little closer. Do you see that in verse 12, Paul illustrates what the perfect is? He says that now he is seeing in a mirror, dimly, but then, he will see “face to face.” Now he knows in part, but then he will be known just as he also is known.
Sam: That proves that Paul is talking about Heaven!
Mark: Actually, it doesn’t. You see, Paul is referring here to the Old Testament Scriptures. Whenever God would reveal a new revelation of Himself to mankind, it was said that people would then see Him clearer, “face to face.” Let me share some examples with you:
Exodus 33:11-So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.
Deuteronomy 5:4-The LORD talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire.
Deuteronomy 34:10-But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,
Mark: In all of these passages from the Old Testament, the idea of seeing “face to face” was that of a person who was given a more full revelation of God.
Sam: That is interesting, but it doesn’t really tell us what the “perfect” is in 1 Corinthians 13:10.
Mark: Actually, it does! You see, whatever the “perfect” is in 1 Corinthians 13:10, it is set in contrast to that which is “in part.” Look carefully: what is that which is “in part?”
Sam: The verse says that “we know in part, and we prophesy in part.”
Mark: Yes. Now, what is the “knowledge” that Paul is talking about here?
Sam: I’m not sure. Is it regular knowledge?
Mark: That’s a good thought, but I think the passage actually shows us that there is more to it. Look back earlier in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 12:7-10-But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
Mark: Whatever the “knowledge” is in the context, it is miraculous. It is knowledge that comes directly from the Holy Spirit. Do you see that?
Angie (Not her real name): Yes. So are you saying that whatever the “perfect” is, it is connected to supernatural knowledge?
Mark: I’m not saying it…Paul is. He wants us to see that whatever the “perfect” is, it is in contrast to that which is “in part.” But that which is “in part” is the Word of God of the Spirit. So the “perfect” will be the “complete” Word of God.
Sam: I don’t know…
Mark: Don’t take my word for it, my friend. Paul is the one who gave the illustration of this being the Word of God by using a well-known Jewish expression for Scripture in his day and age (“face to face”). Plus, there are some more exciting things to show you about this from the text!
Sam: Okay, like what?
Mark: Do you see the word “dimly” in 1 Corinthians 13:12?
Mark: It is from a Greek phrase, “en ainigmati.” It literally translates into English as “in a riddle.”
Mark: The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but it was translated into Greek about 200 yeas before Christ. Now, here is where it gets interesting: that same phrase is used in a passage in the Old Testament!
Numbers 12:8-I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant Moses?”
Mark: Do you see anything that stands out to you about that passage?
Angie: Umm….the same phrase “face to face” is used.
Mark: Yes! So then, what is the idea of the passage from that phraseology?
Sam: The Word of God.
Mark: Excellent! Now, check this out: the word “dimly” that Paul quotes from in 1 Corinthians 13:12 is used in Numbers 12:8 and translated as “in dark sayings.” The passage is telling us that Moses is a very special Prophet compared to the other Prophets because God’s Word is given more clearly to him than to the others. In fact, the phrase that is used here and translated as “dark sayings” had specific reference to a less perfect revelation of God as compared to a more “perfect” revelation of God!
Angie: I don’t know what to think about this.
Sam: Are you saying that the “perfect” of 1 Corinthians 13:10 has reference to the complete Word of God?
Mark: Yes, that is what I am saying. But, there is more!
Angie: What else could there be?
Mark: Well, here is another thing: there are two other times in the New Testament where the Bible talks about looking in a mirror.
2 Corinthians 3:7-18- But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. 11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious. 12 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech— 13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. 15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Mark: Do you see that Paul here is comparing the Old and New Testaments?
Angie: Yes. He is telling us that the New Testament is better than the Old Covenant of the Jews.
Sam: Right. And Moses is a good example of this. There was going to be a better covenant that God would make-through Christ.
Mark: Very true. And notice what we have: an inferior covenant from God (something “in part”) that would be superseded and replaced by a new covenant from God (something “perfect”). And look at how it is described: as something which is seen in a mirror. Do you see how a more complete Word of God is described as in a mirror?
Sam and Angie: Silence.
Mark: There is another passage that shows the same thing.
James 1:23-25-For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
Mark: Guys, do you see here that the idea of a mirror is compared to it being “the Word?”
Mark: Notice something else: James called this “Word” the “perfect” law of liberty. That word “perfect” is the same Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 13:10!
Angie: I was always told the “perfect” was Jesus.
Mark: Many have been told that my friend.
Sam: Can you document what you are saying about this stuff from the Old Testament?
Mark: Yes, I can. I will share this excellent study from a great author. But remember that we have seen it straight from the Bible ourselves. Here is that documentation:
“The key to this understanding is the Greek phrase en ainigmati, translated “dimly.” Literally it means “in a riddle.” (I seriously recommend that everyone read the article on the word ainigma, “riddle,” in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [TDNT], I: 178ff.) When we follow the trail of the word ainigma, it leads us to the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament (the LXX), in Numbers 12: 8. Here Yahweh is explaining to Aaron and Miriam the difference between the way He usually spoke to Moses, in contrast with the way He spoke to most prophets. “With him [Moses] I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles.” The phrase “mouth to mouth” is equivalent to “face to face” in 1 Corinthians 13: 12; and “in riddles” is the same as “dimly” in 13: 12. What we see here is that the apostle Paul is using the language of Numbers 12: 8 to contrast the partial and the complete in 1 Corinthians 13. And the contrast in both cases is between two kinds of revelation: the less clear, and the more clear. It has nothing to do with an alleged heavenly form of speaking as distinct from a this-age revelation. Even the idea of “seeing in a mirror” should be understood in terms of the Rabbinic reflections on Numbers 12: 8. First, we must certainly reject the idea that Paul is talking about seeing “through a window” at all, whether dimly or clearly. The reference is to seeing “in a mirror.” According to the article cited above from Kittel’s TDNT, this concept comes from an idea common in Rabbinic literature, i.e., depicting revelation in terms of occultish mirror-gazing or crystal-ball gazing. This is by no means an endorsement of such a practice, but we should note that in reference to Numbers 12: 8 the Rabbis said that Moses saw God in a clear mirror, while other prophets saw Him in a cloudy mirror (TDNT, I: 178). As applied to 1 Corinthians 13: 12, the distinction is not between (1) seeing ONLY in a mirror—all ancient mirrors being cloudy by nature, and (2) seeing IN PERSON. This is not the point. Rather, the distinction is between (1) seeing in a cloudy mirror, and (2) seeing in a clear mirror—which were available in Paul’s day, contrary to a popular myth. See TDNT, I: 179. The point is simply that the present gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge were like looking into the cloudy mirror; whereas using the coming teleion would be like looking into a clear mirror. We should also note that the text does not say that when we look into the clear mirror, we shall “see HIM face to face.” There is no “him,” and no object at all. The expression “see face to face” is not about whom we will see, but how we will be seeing once the teleion comes. The expression refers to the kind of seeing, namely, to the clarity of the revelation. It will be as clear as seeing one’s face in a sharp and clear mirror. (See Numbers 12: 8; Genesis 32: 30; Judges 6: 22; Deuteronomy 34: 10.) Incidentally, the Greek expression for seeing another person “face to face” was kata prosōpon, as in Acts 25: 16; 2 Corinthians 10: 1, 7; Galatians 2: 11, not the expression in our text, prosōpon pros prosōpon. See the article on prosōpon in Kittel, TDNT, VI: 768-779. This is not the only New Testament reference to “looking in a mirror,” and the other such references to “looking in a mirror” and seeing clearly refer to looking into the Word of God in the form of the New Testament. See 2 Corinthians 3: 7ff. (verse 18 specifically) and James 1: 23-25. In 2 Corinthians 3: 18 especially, the comparison is between the Old Covenant Scriptures, the reading of which is like looking through a veil, and the New Covenant Scriptures, the reading of which is like seeing Christ without a veil, i.. e., face to face. The point is that we do not have to wait until the second coming to see Christ, as it were, “face to face.” See TDNT, VI: 776. Also, 2 Corinthians 4: 6 refers to seeing the face of Christ in the gospel. The comparison with 1 Corinthians 13: 12 is obvious. The piece-meal revelations (tongues, prophecy) are to the completed New Testament what the Old Testament is to the New Testament. Here is an extended paraphrase of the first part of 1 Corinthians 13: 12–“For now, while we depend on occasional revelations through prophecy or interpreted tongues, it is like trying to see yourself in a scratched and cloudy mirror. But then, when the completed New Testament has been given, it will be like seeing a sharp, clear image of yourself in a bright new mirror.”” (Jack Cottrell, Spirits: Holy and Unholy (The Collected Writings), 2241-2294 (Kindle Edition); Mason, OH; The Christian Restoration Association)
Mark: But guys, there is one more thing to share with you about this. There is an ancient Hebrew history book called the Ancient Book of Gad the Seer. It isn’t part of the Bible, but the Bible does reference it. It was written during the time of the Old Testament.
Sam: What does it have to do with any of this?
Mark: Just this. Gad describes a time in the future (from his vantage point) where the Lord would bring a greater revelation of Himself to the people. Listen to what he says:
“15Only He can defeat your spiritual enemies and physical enemies and put them under your feet; 16only He can bring you into the New Jerusalem[ xxxii] of the future, 17where you will see Him face to face, and be in the presence of the living God that is seen face to face. And you are one people; if you grow in belief, you will be filled with gates of intelligence.” (Ken Johnson, Ancient Book of Gad the Seer: Referenced in 1 Chronicles 29:29 and alluded to in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and Galatians 4:26, 77-78 (Kindle Edition); Biblefacts.org)
Angie: Doesn’t that compare “face to face” with Heaven?
Mark: In a way. More specifically, it compares God’s Word (His fuller revelation of Himself) with being revealed at the time that the New Jerusalem is in Heaven. And there are other references here to what God is going to do in Heaven that Paul refers to. Putting our enemies under our feet, for example, is possibly likened by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:25, 27, and Hebrews 2:8 to refer to putting everything under Christ’s feet at the end of the world.
Sam: Well then, that means that 1 Corinthians 13 IS talking about Heaven!
Mark: Actually, it doesn’t. At least, not fully. Remember everything we have learned so far: “face to face” was an expression that referred to a more perfect or complete revelation of God.
Angie: Okay. So then what does this mean?
Mark: Notice that this seeing God “face to face” is likened to being filled with “gates of intelligence.” In other words, it is talking about a fuller revelation of God to His people.
Sam: But isn’t this talking about in Heaven?
Mark: Yes and no. Let’s look closer. The passage talks about the seeing God “face to face” in the New Jerusalem. This is a phrase that is used in the New Testament to refer to the church.
Revelation 3:12-He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.
Revelation 21:2-Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Sam: Don’t those verses say that the New Jerusalem is Heaven?
Angie: No. It says that the New Jerusalem comes out of Heaven.
Mark: Correct. And notice that it is as a bride prepared for her Husband. Paul (in Ephesians 5:22-33 and 2 Corinthians 11:2) says that the church is the bride of Christ. Granted, this passage in Revelation is talking about the church coming to the New Heavens and the New Earth out of Heaven after the Day of Judgment at the end of the world. But notice that the “face to face” reference of a more complete Word of God takes place when the people are in the New Jerusalem. We are in the New Jerusalem (the church) now! Acts 2:47 says that God adds us to the church when we are saved. So this place where we will see God “face to face” is in the church. Yes, the fullest revelation of God that we will have will be in Heaven. Yet that doesn’t take away from the fact that the perfect Word of God for us in this age has arrived in the New Testament Scriptures. So here we have confirmation from a book outside the Bible (which the Bible refers to) to further demonstrate that these phrases that Paul quotes as the “perfect” refer to the complete Word of God.
Sam: I don’t see any reason to believe that the Bible isn’t the perfect that Paul was writing about.
Mark: Same here brother. Adding it all together, the evidence from the Bible itself indicates at least five reasons to believe that the “perfect” of 1 Corinthians 13:10 is the complete Word of God found in the New Testament Scriptures. First: the imagery of “face to face” was from the Old Testament and had reference to the revealed Word of God. Second: the contrast between “perfect” and “in part” had reference to the Word of God. Third: the word “dimly” was used in the Old Testament to have reference to a less perfect Word of God as opposed to a more perfectly revealed Word of God. Fourth: the idea of a “mirror” was used as a symbol of the Word of God. Fifth: the extra biblical evidence shows that this terminology also applies to the perfect Word of God.
(End of Conversation)
My friends, the “perfect” of 1 Corinthians 13:10 is God’s perfect Word, found in the 66 Books of the Holy Bible.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.