The Question Column
QUESTION: In 1 Corthians 13:10 the words “when that which is perfect is come” are often interpreted as referring to the completion of the New Testament, thus lending support to the argument that the “tongues” of verse 8 ceased at that time. But doesn’t the whole context of verses 10-12 refer to the Rapture and after?
ANSWER: A number of considerations would lead me to believe that the words “when that which is perfect is come” do not refer to the Rapture, as our questioner suggests.
1. The word used in the Greek text (telelos) is never, we believe, used to describe the Rapture and, in fact, does not seem to fit it. On the meaning of the word, W. E. Vine has said, “It indicates something having reached its end (teleos), finished, completed, and is used of persons, primarily of physical development, then with ethical import, fully grown, mature: 1 Cor. 2:6; 14:20 (men, margin ‘of full age’), Eph. 4:13; Phil. 3:15; Col. 1:28; etc.” None of this seems to fit the Rapture, which is not the end of a progressive process, but an instantaneous transformation. It might be added that “perfect” is neuter gender in both languages and can hardly refer to Christ (masc.), while, if we link it to “the coming,” we would have something like: “when the coming has come.”
2. The context, to which the questioner refers as confirming the thought of the Rapture, seems rather to be against it. As pointed out by many, the whole passage of verses 10-12 deals with “immature childhood versus mature adulthood.” The child is seen as “speaking as a child, understanding as a child, thinking (reasoning) as a child.” The entire focus of the passage is not just on child behaviour in general, much less on how a child plays, but on how he communicates. He speaks in child language, he understand or hears in the same way, and he reasons about the meaning (interpretation) of what he has heard in that same way. It is worth noting that the word for “child” is nepios, which Vine says refers to a baby, literally, to “one without the power of speech.”
He does not suddenly burst from this state into adulthood, but, through a gradual process of development, he drops the disjointed, infantile prattle understood only by his intimates, and adopts, just as gradually, adult forms of speech. So much for the context.
Verse 13 is perhaps the strongest argument against the Rapture here. Three gifts are said to be temporary — prophecies, tongues and knowledge — while three graces are marked as “abiding” or permanent — faith, hope and love. If we reason that the first three only cease at the Rapture, then we must in all honesty reason that the other abiding three would continue into the eternal state. While we can readily see love as being as eternal as the God whose nature and character it is, we have difficulty accepting the other two as so doing. “We hope for that we see not” (Rom. 8:25), so seeing and enjoying would end the need for hope (expectation). Again, “Faith is the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). If these two cease at the Rapture, where is the sense in contrasting them with the other three which, the questioner says, disappear at the same time?
Some feel that the words “face to face” and “knowing as also I am known” must refer to the eternal state, but, if considered in the light of the context rather than of our hymnology, this argument loses much of its weight. The words “face to face” are set against “through a glass darkly,” or “in a mirror obscurely.” The “glass” would not, of course, be glass as we know it now, but some semitransparent material making a clear view difficult. The “mirror” would be of hand-polished metal with an uneven surface distorting everything. Even angels desired to look into or have a clearer understanding of the earlier revelations given in different times and disjointed pieces, and the writers themselves often did not understand. As Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, only the Thessalonian letters had been written by him, along with perhaps one by James. Of the Gospels, probably only Mark and possibly Matthew as well had been written, though none of them could have been in wide circulation. It is hard for us to grasp just how “dim” must have been the spiritual “seeing” and how incomplete the “knowing.” During this period of incompleted Scriptures, prophets brought direct revelations from God on certain subjects, but this was certainly an “in part” situation. But when the “complete” thing came, then the “in part” would be done away or, as in one of the words, “cease of itself” as no longer necessary or meaningful. It would be “face to face” with every subject, as against seeing it through a darkening and partial medium. As for the words “knowing even as also I am known,” is this not so for us with the completed Scriptures? Only God knows me completely, and He has now revealed me to myself in Scripture so that I see myself exactly as God sees me, and I may “know” myself even as I am known by God. Since God knows all else as well as He knows me, and has revealed it all to me in His Word, I know (them also) even as well as God knows me.
We must not stumble at the “knowledge” which disappears along with the other sign gifts. God is not speaking of acquired knowledge through study which, of course, would not be done away, but of the special “gift” of “knowledge” which is not explained to us but may have been connected with “discerning of spirits” or some such thing. To admit that “knowledge” of the ordinary sort would be done away at the Rapture, when we begin to know even as we are known, would be a rather strange sort of idea.
—David B. Long
(Please send all questions to Dr. James T. Naismith, 1121 Hilltop St., Peterborough, Ont., K9J 5S6).