Prophecy, "the Perfect," and the End of What?
by John MacArthur
The final argument John Piper made on his podcast in support of the continuation of fallible prophecy has to do with the identity and timing of “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:8–12. Here’s what he said:
The future in view here, I think, is manifestly when Christ comes. When the perfect comes, in the time of adulthood when he’s not speaking like a child anymore, the time of seeing face to face, not in a mirror anymore, but rather knowing fully even as I have been fully known. That’s not any time in this age. That’s the end of the age, when we will know fully even as we have been fully known.
So that’s when the gift of prophecy stops. So, this text is a pretty clear argument, I think, that the gift of prophecy and tongues will continue until Jesus comes back. And it seems to me that the reason they pass away, it says, is precisely because they’re imperfect. They’re not Scripture-level authority, because verse 9 says, ek merous prophēteuomen—that’s the Greek—we prophesy ek merous, we prophesy in part, just like a little child, trying to reason, and think, and talk, and when he grows up and becomes a man, in the age to come, he won’t need that kind of help anymore.
That summary reflects what has become a very common interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8–12. Because of its popularity, many are not aware that it rests upon unfounded assumptions and is entirely at odds with the respected exegetes both of church history and today. But by focusing on what Paul actually said, I believe we can clear away the confusion that continuationists have inserted into this text.
What is “the perfect”?
The word translated “perfect” is from téleios, and is used to describe something that is morally perfect, full grown and mature, or complete. The different nuances of téleios have given rise to various interpretations of what “the perfect” refers to: F.F. Bruce said “the perfect” is love itself; B.B. Warfield, the completed canon of Scripture; Robert Thomas, the mature church; Richard Gaffin, the return of Christ; and Thomas Edgar, the individual believer’s entrance into heavenly glory.
Significantly, though they disagree on the referent of “the perfect,” each one of those respected New Testament scholars is a committed cessationist. Clearly—and contrary to the assertions of so many continuationists—the cessationist case does not stand or fall with 1 Corinthians 13:8–12. As New Testament scholar Anthony Thistleton says, “Few or none of the serious ‘cessationist’ arguments depends on a specific exegesis of 1 Cor. 13:8–11. . . . These verses should not be used as a polemic for either side in this debate.” Even continuationist scholar D.A. Carson admits that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 do not “necessarily mean that a charismatic gift could not have been withdrawn earlier than the parousia.”
That said, I believe the best way to understand the timing of “the perfect” is closer to John Piper’s view. Here’s what I wrote in Strange Fire:
Of the possible interpretations, the believer’s entrance into the Lord’s presence best fits Paul’s use of “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10. This makes sense of Paul’s later statement in verse 12 about believers seeing Christ “face to face” and possessing full knowledge—descriptions that cannot be realized this side of glory.
So just as cessationists can disagree among themselves about what “the perfect” is and still be cessationists, John Piper and I can agree on when “the perfect” comes and yet still disagree about when the miraculous gifts cease.
This demonstrates that a conscientious student of Scripture—whether cessationist or continuationist—should not look to 1 Corinthians 13:8–12 as a trump card in this discussion, imagining that a simple quotation of the passage should make it obvious that his view is the right one. This text has to be carefully handled to make the author’s intention plain (2 Tim. 2:15). In the remainder of this post, I hope to do that by asking two crucial questions of this text.
What (exactly) is lacking in New Testament prophecy?
The contrast in 1 Corinthians 13 is not between the imperfect/fallible and the perfect/infallible, but rather between the partial and complete. Paul clearly said, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (ESV, vv. 9–10, emphasis added).
But Piper takes “perfect” to mean “infallible” and “in part” to mean “fallible.” Here’s what he said while quoting verses 9–10 (his comments are noted in italics):
For now we know in part and we prophesy in part—that’s a very crucial statement: ‘We prophesy in part’; but when the perfect comes—as though the prophecies were not that [i.e., not perfect]—the partial will pass away.
Don’t miss the interpretive conclusion Piper has insinuated there (it’s especially clear in the audio). He sees the contrast between “we prophesy in part” and “but when the perfect comes” as suggesting a qualitative difference between the gift of prophecy practiced among the Corinthians and whatever is going on at the time of the perfect. To him, that means the New Testament gift of prophecy must not be perfect—that is, it must not be infallible.
But there is absolutely no justification for that. Prophesying “in part” doesn’t mean prophesying fallibly or inaccurately; it means that the prophecies do not provide the kind of exhaustive knowledge believers will possess when they enter Christ’s presence. The same can be said of Old Testament prophecy: It was infallible, but it was also “in part” because it did not provide the complete fulfillment of God’s revelation found in the New Testament. Even the two Testaments together do not provide the exhaustive knowledge believers will enjoy in glory, which is precisely Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 13:8–12.
Therefore, we should not understand “in part” to mean “fallible” but rather “partial” or “nonexhaustive.” And we should not understand “perfect” to mean “infallible” but rather “complete.” Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:9–10 is to be understood this way: We know in part and we prophesy in part; but when that which is complete comes, that which is partial will be done away. What was lacking in New Testament prophecy was completeness (a quantitative issue) not accuracy (a qualitative issue). The qualitative perfection of New Testament prophecy was never in question—until the modern challenges of the charismatic movement.
What (exactly) will pass away?
After Piper argues that the timing of “the perfect” is the end of the age when we see Christ (which I agree with), he then draws the conclusion, “So that’s when the gift of prophecy stops.” And that’s where my agreement stops. Verse 8 does not say the gift of prophecy—singular—will pass away; it says prophecies—plural—will pass away. The cessation Paul speaks of does not have to do with the gift of prophecy, but prophecies, which are the result or the product of the gift of prophecy.
Here’s how Sam Waldron explains it:
The emphasis, therefore, is not on the gift of prophecy itself, but on the various revelations or prophecies given through the gift. Thus, verse eight emphasizes not the gift of prophecy, but the contents of prophecy—the prophecies plural given through the gift of prophecy. The emphasis, then, of the preceding context is not on the gifts of tongues and prophecy. It is clearly on the knowledge—the partial knowledge—associated with those gifts.
Now, lest you think Waldron is guilty of making too fine a distinction, take a moment to reflect more deeply on verses 9 and 10.
John Piper believes “the partial” in verse 10 is a qualitative statement referring to the gift of fallible prophecy. He would have us read the passage this way: For we know fallibly and we prophesy fallibly; but when the perfect comes, the fallible gifts will be done away. But in order to maintain Paul’s parallel between “the partial” and “the perfect,” Piper’s interpretation would force us to conclude that “the perfect” refers to a gift. Here’s how that sounds: For we know fallibly and we prophesy fallibly; but when the perfect, infallible gifts of prophecy and knowledge come, the fallible gifts will be done away.
So, are we to expect to receive perfect, infallible gifts of prophecy and knowledge when we see Christ face to face? No indeed. Piper has already told us “the perfect” is not a gift at all but “is manifestly when Christ comes.” This internal inconsistency should make the error obvious. On the one hand, the parallelism shows the contrast between “the partial,” which is fallible, and “the perfect,” which is infallible. But that parallelism is ignored in the next instance to maintain that “the perfect” is not an infallible gift, but the completeness of knowledge believers enjoy when face to face with Christ. You can’t have it both ways.
So Waldron is correct. “The partial” does not refer to the gift of prophecy itself but rather to the partial (and, at the same time, infallible) knowledge that results from the exercise of this gift. This partial knowledge is contrasted not with a perfect gift of knowledge but with the perfect, comprehensive knowledge believers will enjoy when they come face to face with Christ. With that in view, you can back away from the details of the text to discover the point. Paul is not trying to teach the Corinthians when the gifts will cease but that there will come an end to the knowledge conveyed through those gifts. As I wrote in Strange Fire:
It is important to note that Paul’s purpose in this chapter was not to identify how long the spiritual gifts would continue into later centuries of church history, as that would have been essentially meaningless to the original readers of this letter. Rather, he was making a point that specifically pertained to his first-century audience: when you Corinthian believers enter the glorified perfection of eternity in heaven, the spiritual gifts you now prize so highly will no longer be necessary (since the partial revelation they provide will be made complete). But love has eternal value, so pursue love because it is superior to any gift (v. 13).
Thomas Edgar agrees:
If, as seems apparent in the passage, the teleion refers to the individual’s presence with the Lord, this passage does not refer to some prophetic point in history. These factors mean that this passage does not teach when the gifts will cease or how long they will last. It serves to remind the Corinthians of the abiding nature of love in contrast to the gifts, which by their inherent nature are only temporal, only for this life.
So, although it is often used as a slam-dunk text to support continuationism, 1 Corinthians 13 teaches nothing directly about when the gifts cease. Paul is once again correcting the Corinthian believers—the knowledge they so highly prized, which came as a result of prophetic gifts, would one day be outshined by the enduring character of love. Rather than trying to show up one another with ostentatious displays of their giftedness, they should focus their energy on loving one another.
This was the third post dealing with the texts John Piper used to support fallible prophecy (1 Thess. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 11:4–5; 1 Cor. 13:8–12). None of the continuationist interpretations of these passages compels us to abandon the doctrine of cessationism. What I’ve provided doesn’t break any new ground. It is nothing more than the historic position of the church, which is faithful to the biblical view of prophecy.
I hope Christians will see that the support for fallible prophecy and the continuation of the miraculous gifts is exegetically suspect and does not hold up to biblical scrutiny. And I hope they will challenge anyone who attempts to diminish and degrade the full power of God’s prophetic word by redefining it according to continuationist presuppositions.
There is no virtue in allowing error to continue unabated and unchecked. Confronting and correcting it is often unpleasant for all involved, but it is the loving thing to do. I’ll have more to say about the pastoral duty to confront and correct error, as a matter of sincere Christian love, in my next post.
 John MacArthur, Strange Fire, p. 148.
 Anthony Thistleton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC), pp. 1063–64.
 D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, p. 70.
 John MacArthur, Strange Fire, pp. 148–49.
 Sam Waldron, To Be Continued?, pp. 63–64.
 See also Thomas Edgar, Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit, p. 245: “The prophecies and knowledge in this passage are not the gifts themselves, as most interpreters seem to assume, but the content associated with the gifts. There are several reasons for understanding the passage in this way. The gifts are not partial, nor will there be a day when the partial gifts will be replaced by complete gifts.”
 John MacArthur, Strange Fire, p. 149.
 Thomas Edgar, Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit, p. 246; cf. Sam Waldron, To Be Continued?, p. 64: “The conclusion must be that Paul is teaching the doing away of partial knowledge in favor of perfect knowledge in verse 10. He says nothing about when the gifts of prophecy and tongues pass away. He only refers to the passing of the present and partial knowledge that was conveyed through those gifts. He leaves open the question of the time of the passing of the gifts of prophecy and tongues. This passage is, therefore, not conclusive for the continuation of the gift of prophecy. That issue must be decided on other grounds.”
#1 Posted by
Marilyn Grenkow | Thursday, March 20, 2014at
I am thankful for the time Pastor John M. has taken for giving a clear, and comprehensive response to John Piper's, short and not so comprehensive comments to the SF confer. I was surprised to hear John Piper say he had not even taken the time to go to the gty site to listen to what had actually been said about him, he took the interviewer's word for it. With such an important matter, and with the high regard he gave of John M. as a fellow expositor of Scripture in preaching and teaching as well as his friendship, I wonder why John Piper did not give the time needed to respond specifically, to each confronted issue. It seemed to be more safe to stay rather ignorant of what was being said in regards to his continuationalist stance... or maybe fear of what this would then require of him?
#2 Posted by
John Cox | Thursday, March 20, 2014at
Once again, great insight John.
I think the hardest thing "Biblical" Continuationists like myself have to get our heads around..... I always thought that most people believed that IF God sends a Gift - He is going to send it RIGHT.... There may be some Learning Process - of being "Broken to his yoke" of learning Obedience, Faith, and discernment in a safe learning environment.... "New wine in new wineskins" so to speak... but God is still God.
WHY in the world people are willing to swallow a giant Lie that somehow, God would "Teach" his people by directing them with mostly Lies and Deceit in the beginning... and THEN.. Slowly working in more and more truth? That's Gnosticism! When God sends Truth - he sends 100% truth... Not 10% or 35% truth!
Would you believe someone was "Learning" the gift of Giving by spending his tithe money on prostitutes "services" because he was "led" that they needed some money from God...
Would you believe someone was "learning" the gift of Comforting by being "led" to be mostly uncaring, crass, and disrespectful?
Then why would we believe someone was "learning" prophecy by declaring "Thus says the Lord" on matters that are clearly contrary to scripture?
Nope... That's called Deception...
(For the record.. My interpretation of "We prophecy in part" is simply a recognition that the Mysteries of God are not be fully revealed to one prophet. Look at the Old Testament - A prophet would receive a piece of the "Puzzle" relating to some mystery - but typically did not receive the complete revelation of that mystery.... The prophecy received is absolutely 100% Accurate, infallible word of God - but you have to piece together many prophets to get a clearer picture... "Precept upon precept, line upon line.. Here a little, there a little")
#3 Posted by
Wally Young | Friday, March 21, 2014at
What do you do when your pastor is teaching on the baptism and work of the Holy Spirit and teaches that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is separate from initial salvation filling of the Spirit? And then at the end of his message offers to pray for anyone who wants the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I was so disappointed and I think it only brings room for more error as people long to attain those gifts that are unnecessary for believers today. I find it's because people want something quick and don't want to spend time studying God's Word. They take verses out of context and want the Holy Spirit to "teach" them all things (usually using 1 John 2:27).
#4 Posted by
Moises Rubio | Friday, March 21, 2014at
The nouns "prophecy" and "knowledge" (vs. 2, 8) are feminine in the Greek. But in verses 9 and 10 we have verbs, not nouns, thus requiring neuter modifiers. In verse 9 the verbs "know" and "prophesy" are both modified by the adverbial expression ek merous ("in part"). But in verse 10 those verbs and their modifiers are brought together and replaced by the single substantive expression to ek merous ("that which is in part"). Whatever is partial in verse 9 is "that" which is partial in verse 10. And since to teleion ("the perfect") is the counterpart to to ek rmerous ("that which is in part"), it is absolutely clear that the "perfect" also refers to those same verbs. Therefore, the word "perfect" describes the completion of inspired preaching and points to the consequent cessation of the spiritual gifts which enabled and confirmed that preaching.
Greek Definition of perfect: "teleion"
VINE: "Signifies having reached its end, finished, complete, perfect"
THAYER: "brought to its end, wanting nothing necessary to completeness; when used of men it means full-grown, adult, of full age, mature."
BAGSTER: "brought to completion, complete, entire, as opposed to what is partial or limited"
ARNDT & GINGRICH: "having attained the end or purpose, complete, perfect"
The Greek word "perfect" does not denote the idea of blamelessness, perfection or complete holiness as our English word "perfect" does today.
The Greek adjective translated "perfect" (teleios) means "having attained the end or purpose, complete."' It may be applied to people with the meaning of "full-grown, mature, adult" being "perfect and entire, lacking in nothing' Jas. 1:4. Or it may refer to the finality of anything, something which has been "brought to its end, finished." In contrast to the often-heard statement that "nothing in this world is perfect," the New Testament uses this Greek word in some of its twenty occurrences.
Christians are expected to be "perfect" (in the sense of being full-grown or mature)
in loving both friends and enemies (Matt. 5:44-47; cf. Luke 6:36)
in commitment to Christ (Matt. 19:21)
in spiritual discernment (1 Cor 2:6, 14)
in attitude (1 Cor 14:20)
in knowledge of the way of salvation (Phil. 3:15)
in union with Christ (Col. 1:28)
in remaining true to God's will (Col. 4:12), and in being able to distinguish between good and evil (Heb. 5:14).
One does not have to reach heaven before having this kind of perfection.
Paul and others were already "perfect" (Phil. 3:15), though not sinless.
Likewise, God's system of salvation has perfection (wholeness, completeness) in its earthly processes. For example, his gifts to us are complete Jas. 1:17; patience or stead-fastness has its "perfect" (complete) work in our lives Jas. 1:4; and faith is perfected or completed (the verb form here) by our works (Jas. 2:22).
Therefore, some things in this world are "perfect" in the biblical meaning of the word.
#5 Posted by
Moises Rubio | Friday, March 21, 2014at
Some have affirmed that love (Christian maturity) is what "that which is perfect." refers to.
A proper exegeses of 1 Corinthians, chapters 12,13 &14 will show that love is actually an interjected thought apart from the overall message. Chapters 12-14 are about spiritual gifts: Ch 12 = defining the 9 gifts; Ch 13 = gifts will cease; Ch 14 regulating the use of gifts. Love is not the central theme of this section but a side thought!
These views ignore the immediate context of verses 8-13 (a contrast in duration rather than value), and they also ignore the definitive statement of verses 9 and 10 (a contrast in quantity). One writer goes all the way back to I Corinthians 2:6 for the premise of his maturity argument, completely missing the point of 13:9-10 in an unsuccessful attempt to define the contrast in terms of quality (maturity versus imperfection) rather than quantity (totality versus partiality).
Some seem to think that the purpose of spiritual gifts was to mature the love of Christians. But notice: (1) The gifts of prophecy and knowledge were for the purpose of providing information (1 Cor 13:2; 14:3-6, 19). (2) Tongues were a sign to unbelievers (14:22). (3) The spiritual gifts of the Corinthians were contributing to personal immaturity rather than maturity (3:1; 14:20). (4) Spiritual gifts were needed because the early church was "childish" in its level of knowledge (13:11), not in attitude. (5) Paul was certainly mature, but he still had spiritual gifts (2:1-6) and spoke in tongues more than the Corinthians (14:18). (6) People today are just as immature and unloving as ever (maybe more so), yet spiritual gifts have ceased. Why? Nowhere does Paul so much as hint that supernatural gifts were given to the church because Christians were unable to love each other! In the miraculous age of the first century, Paul wanted them to have love and gifts (12:31; 14:1)."Perfect" is neuter gender; "Christ" is always masculine gender.
Does not say, "when He who is perfect comes" but "when THAT"
Perfect refers to a thing, not a person and certainly not Christ.
Jesus is a person, not a thing!
The Greek forbids this interpretation.
#6 Posted by
Moises Rubio | Friday, March 21, 2014at
Neither heaven nor eternity is mentioned anywhere in this context. Gifts must cease before the second coming and that faith and hope must abide LONGER than the gifts. If Paul is saying that the gifts will continue until the Second Coming, then logic must force us to conclude that the Church will never have a complete written revelation of God's truth. And if such is the case, then why did the N.T. end at the close of the First Century? If this view is correct, then the NT would or should contain many more books, especially books from other centuries, besides the First Century. (Like the O.T. books were written from the beginning of prophetic activity, until the end. Matthew 23:35). If the gift of prophecy has lasted for the last 1900 years, they why didn't any of these "prophets" record their works? Why did N.T. writers consider the written revelation to be complete? (Jude 3; 2 Peter 1:3)
Doesn't this view make Jesus' promise in John 16:13 look rather meaningless? 'You shall be guided into all truth. and yet, only the very last generation at the end time will really be in possession of all truth.' ? Paul places 'faith and hope' also above the gifts. (13:13) And yet, hope will be realized at the Second Coming (Romans 8:24) Logically "that which is perfect" must refer to the completeness or perfection IN THE SAME REALM as that referred by the phrase "in part" (13:9). And seeing that "in part" refers to the revelation of God's will, that which is perfect must contextually refer to the complete revelation of the will of God.
When the NT was complete, the means to reveal it (prophecy, knowledge) and confirm it (healing, miracles, tongues, etc..) where not longer needed. Such makes perfect sense. A body of truth would be revealed (John 16:13), it wouldn't be a limitless supply (seeing that no man could comprehend or obey such a limitless and never-ending body of truth). Logic demands that eventually all truth was revealed. At which point, the gifts no longer were needed.
#7 Posted by
Natan T | Friday, March 21, 2014at
Comment deleted by user.
#8 Posted by
Guymon Hall | Friday, March 21, 2014at
"Prophesying “in part” doesn’t mean prophesying fallibly or inaccurately; it means that the prophecies do not provide the kind of exhaustive knowledge believers will possess when they enter Christ’s presence. The same can be said of Old Testament prophecy: It was infallible, but it was also “in part” because it did not provide the complete fulfillment of God’s revelation found in the New Testament."
Spot on, and we have several verses that explicitly support this:
Eph. 3:4-5, "When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." Here Paul explicitly says that the good news of the gospel was not made known to previous generations in the same way it has now been made known.
Heb. 11:39-40, "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." After listing many Old Testament heroes of the faith, the writer says that in contrast to those Old Testament examples, something better (i.e., faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ) has been prepared for us.
This conversation across all three blog posts has been critical, and has been a terrific example on many fronts. First, it's an example to us all of how to "rightly divided the word of truth." Second, it's an example of the necessity to have conversations like these from an objective view of the Scriptures. Third, it's an example of truth confronting error in love.
I've noticed that a large part of human nature is the resistance to humble one's self to Scripture, accept correction, and move on, particularly by those who have built up a base of followers and perhaps feel the need to cling on to it. John Piper has a tremendous opportunity here to be the best Christian example of our generation by accepting this admonition and entreating others to do the same. Rather than gloating it over him or be thought of as "winning the debate," or whatever, it would be a tremendous encouragement and Godly example, and I don't think anyone would think any the worse of him. On the contrary, it would further solidify his reputation and character as among the finest.
#9 Posted by
Natan T | Friday, March 21, 2014at
@#8 Guymon Hall
All of these arguments that you have presented DO NOT prove that MIRACLES have ceased. There is NO WHERE in the Bible where it says that miracles have ceased. Are you better than Paul who said "Now I know in part"1 Corinthians 13:12. Even Paul, who was one of the pillars of Christian faith said "I know in part." John MacArthur is not saying that we have reached that 'perfect' state, as you are assuming in your verses. I think you misunderstand what he said. He is saying that when Jesus comes, the prophetic and sign gifts would be unnecessary because we would have comprehensive knowledge. WE ARE NOT THERE YET! But even if you say you have a comprehensive understanding of the scriptures and say that this portion of the scripture prove the cessation of prophetic and tongue gifts, that's only two of the nine gifts! Tell me where you can find anywhere in the scripture that the gift of miracles have passed away? Why do you impose your understanding of scriptures on others? This is not right because you are standing on the door of the kingdom of God and you are preventing many of your followers from experiencing God's spiritual gifts. If the scripture has to be our standard then lets live by it.
#11 Posted by
Jeremiah Johnson | Friday, March 21, 2014at
You're absolutely right--this series on responding to John Piper's teaching on modern prophecy hasn't proven that miracles have ceased. And (spoiler alert!) it probably won't. Because that's not the issue at hand.
Furthermore, John MacArthur isn't "imposing" his understanding on anyone. You chose to read this post and his previous posts in the series. No one made you do it, and no one will force you to assent to his views. So let's pump the brakes on your indignation--you're here because you want to be here, and no one is making you stay.
And if you do decide to stay, maybe you can tell us how you would defend the doctrine of the trinity against someone who was playing by your "show me a verse in Scripture" tactics.
#32 Posted by
Ken Zuk | Friday, April 11, 2014at
I hope someone can help me with something.
I will keep my question short. I have been reading online (on GTY) resources about spiritual gifts. I found the online booklet that lets me read right through Dr MacArthur’s teaching on the gifts (permanent and temporary).
I am confused. In the permanent speaking gifts, he mentions prophecy and shows how that gift is not always revelatory, therefore today it continues in the sense of speaking God’s Word (non-revelatory).
But then, I just listened to Strange Fire session on prophecy (and reading these blogs), and that session never spoke of prophecy in the non-revlatory way, but said that this is a gift that is no longer for today, it has ceased.
Was there a change in position?
Thank you for helping me clear this up…
#12 Posted by
Rudi Jensen | Friday, March 21, 2014at
1 Peter 1 (Read the whole chapter)
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
#13 Posted by
Guymon Hall | Friday, March 21, 2014at
Hello, Nathan (#9). Despite the vitriol of your comment, I'll go ahead and address a couple of your statements...
"There is NO WHERE in the Bible where it says that miracles have ceased...Tell me where you can find anywhere in the scripture that the gift of miracles have passed away?"
I made an comment about one of the earlier articles in this series that addresses this specific case. Your appeal to "show me one verse" stems from a failure to adhere to Paul's command to Timothy to "study to show thyself approved...rightly dividing the word of truth." As a fellow commenter pointed out, there are many matters of sound doctrine that also do not have specific verses that spoon-feed us the truth. This is one of those matters, and shows us the reason that correct interpretation of the Bible is a skill that must be learned through discipline and training. John MacArthur has provided us a stellar example of sound reasoning and thorough scholarship in this area.
"John MacArthur is not saying that we have reached that 'perfect' state, as you are assuming in your verses. I think you misunderstand what he said. He is saying that when Jesus comes, the prophetic and sign gifts would be unnecessary because we would have comprehensive knowledge."
I'm not assuming such, and I don't misunderstand what he writes. You fail to grasp the distinction he makes, and it is a critical one: the actual gifts themselves vs. the resulting knowledge of the truth that the gifts were designed to impart. John MacArthur addresses that in the post:
"So, although it is often used as a slam-dunk text to support continuationism, 1 Corinthians 13 teaches nothing directly about when the gifts cease. Paul is once again correcting the Corinthian believers—the knowledge they so highly prized, which came as a result of prophetic gifts, would one day be outshined by the enduring character of love. Rather than trying to show up one another with ostentatious displays of their giftedness, they should focus their energy on loving one another."
His point is that where John Piper makes an appeal to this verse as support for the continuationist position, a proper interpretation of the text shows that it has nothing to do with continuationism vs. cessationism, but rather deals with the underlying psychology of pride and self-centeredness that was pervasive in the Corinthian church.
#14 Posted by
Natan T | Friday, March 21, 2014at
@ Guyman Hall
Continuationists never made 1 Corinthians 13 as a base to defend their case. It's the secessionists that use 1 Corinthians 13 to prove that prophecies and tongues have ceased. What John Piper was doing was not making a case for his continuationist view, but debunking the sessationists view that tongues and prophecies have ceased. Continuationists point is simple. Since there is no scripture that says that the gifts have seized, we obey the scriptures that talk about asking for the gift, and we agree with all the scriptures that talk about believers recieving the gifts.
#15 Posted by
Natan T | Friday, March 21, 2014at
There are a lot of scriptures that defend the trinity although the name 'trinity' is not mentioned in the Bible. I'll give you some:
1 John 5:7-8
2 Corinthians 13:14
are just some of the many scriptures that defend trinity. Trinity is a man made word for the three persons in the God head. This has no connection with the gifts of the spirit whatsoever. There is nowhere in the scripture where it 'says' or 'suggests' that the gifts have ceased. The biggest defense that the secessionists bring is 'experience'. They say since there is no one who has the gifts operating like the apostles, they 'assume' that the gifts have ceased. However, experience does not prove truth. You have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there is an indication in the Bible that the gifts of the spirit are not for today. Otherwise you would not be defending the truth of the Scripture.
#16 Posted by
Jeremiah Johnson | Friday, March 21, 2014at
Thanks for helping make my point. None of those verses you mentioned are explicit about God's triune nature, so by employing your tactics, a modalist or any other anti-trinitarian could simply shout you down because you can't provide the specific evidence they demand. That's not what I would call constructive theological debate.
Not every doctrinal debate can be solved by simply deploying a chapter and verse. Some take thorough study, thoughtful exegesis, and careful reasoning. That's what John MacArthur is trying to provide readers with in this series. And whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions, what he's doing is certainly more helpful than shoving your fingers back in your ears and screaming "Show me a verse!"
#17 Posted by
Natan T | Friday, March 21, 2014at
@ Jeremiah Johnson,
I still don't get how you arrived at the conclusion that cessation of the gifts is like proving trinity. There are verses that talk about trinity or at least 'suggest' about it, but there are NONE that talk or suggest about cessation of spiritual gifts. However, there are many, just like trinity, that suggest and talk about continuation of the gifts. What are you trying to prove?
#18 Posted by
Jeremiah Johnson | Friday, March 21, 2014at
I brought up the Trinity as an illustration of an important doctrine that isn't explicitly spelled out in Scripture. What I wanted to prove to you was that your appeals for John MacArthur to show you a verse that says the apostolic gifts have ceased is intellectually inconsistent when there are doctrines you do believe without similar explicit proof.
But after your repeated assertions that there are no verses that talk or suggest the cessation of the miraculous spiritual gifts--in spite of everything John has written in this series and elsewhere--I'm beginning to think you're being intentionally obtuse, and that there isn't any point to further discussion.
#19 Posted by
Natan T | Friday, March 21, 2014at
I don't think you understand my goal. In any doctrinal discussion that I have been or I have seen there are scriptures that either support or debunk the argument being presented. Doctrinal issues such as salvation, redemption, pre/post tribulation do have enough evidential scriptures to be backed up. The thoughtful exegesis, careful reasoning and great writing that is presented by Pastor MacArthur in these three articles are written to correct some of the mistakes in Pastor John Piper's blog. However, none of the scriptures presented in these three articles proves or disproves that the gifts have ceased. How do you expect me to believe something that is not proved by the Bible?
#20 Posted by
Guymon Hall | Friday, March 21, 2014at
While I'm inclined to agree with Jeremiah Johnson (#18), I'll give it one more try: if John Piper is not making a case for continuationism, then what does he mean by this quote from his podcast, in reference to 1 Cor. 13?
"So that’s when the gift of prophecy stops. So, this text is a pretty clear argument, I think, that the gift of prophecy and tongues will continue until Jesus comes back."
MacArthur has simply shown with thorough Biblical study that what Piper suggests is not the correct interpretation of this passage.
In the bigger picture, both correct Scriptural interpretation and the historical record of the New Testament period give strong Biblical warrant that the miraculous gifts have ceased. All of these were highlighted during the Strange Fire conference, so I point you in that direction rather than reiterate them in poorer fashion.
#21 Posted by
Michael Riccardi | Friday, March 21, 2014at
Natan #14: Continuationists never made 1 Corinthians 13 as a base to defend their case. ... What John Piper was doing was not making a case for his continuationist view, but debunking the sessationists [sic] view that tongues and prophecies have ceased.
This is emphatically not the case. First, plenty of continuationists use 1 Corinthians 13 as a proof text. Secondly, John Piper was indeed using 1 Corinthians 13 to making a case for his continuationist view. In Episode 215 of "Ask Pastor John," the interviewer began by referring to comments Piper made the previous day: "You said that there are very good exegetical reasons for your confidence. Explain those reasons for us here." And Piper's comments on 1 Corinthians 13 followed in that episode.
Further, in this podcast, Piper says the perfect is the end of the age, and then says, "So that’s when the gift of prophecy stops. So this text is a pretty clear argument, I think, that the gift of prophecy and tongues will continue until Jesus comes back.
It doesn't get any clearer that he believes 1 Corinthians 13 is a support for continuationism. From your comment, it sounds like you may have been persuaded by Dr. MacArthur's post that that's not a good idea. I hope you continue to grapple with that and see that the exegetical case for continuationism is just as tenuous in other portions of Scripture as it is in this text.
#24 Posted by
Travis Vallinga | Saturday, March 22, 2014at
I would just like to say thank you for helping me come to a better understanding of the of why the gifts have ceased. It has been an area I have been working through for quite some time.
#25 Posted by
C.p. Van Der Merwe | Sunday, March 23, 2014at
At the heart of the issue about the prophetic is whether God still reveals himself and communicates supernaturally apart from the scriptures. If one can prove from the scriptures that God has put no restrictions on Himself and has reason to still reveal himself supernaturally, true prophesy is still possible even though the canon of the Bible is closed. Otherwise true prophesy is impossible because God has to communicate supernaturally for true prophesy to be possible. One can also prove directly, by means of the scriptures that the prophetic age has past or not and then there are no arguments.
When it comes to the subject of motivating whether God is still speaking supernaturally apart from the scriptures and if the prophetic age has past, it seems that everybody is treating it with impartiality. Everyone seams to be more interested in winning the argument than for the truth to triumph. If you combine that with the fact that if you perceive something to be the truth, it is really difficult to convince you otherwise, even with good reasoning. You will simply get blind to the truth because the lie is so well established in your mind. ( Acts 28:23-27 ) The lie you believe is the main obstacle in getting to the truth and you will defend it by all means possible. The only way to cross this bridge is by being impartial and make finding the truth a higher priority than your own image and pride. It will also help if you humbly ask God to help you find the truth. (2Peter 1:20) One can approach your hunt for the truth, either by what you think to be the truth based on your own assumptions, experience and history of the matter and then prove it with the scriptures. The danger with making up your mind beforehand and then defend it with the scriptures is that you can interpret the Bible wrongly because you look at it premeditated. I think that is one of the biggest mistakes people who participate in this debate make. You can also just listen and agree with what other people have said about the subject. Or you can look at the scriptures in a random way and then spot the truth you never knew existed without having any prior knowledge or opinion about the subject: like reading the Bible for the first time. Whichever way you choose the scriptures are the final authority. It seems that it is really difficult to extract the truth from the scriptures even though it is right there in front of you. Just look at all these clever people debating about it. One must approach the scriptures with humbleness and respect, because you might just overlook the obvious if you underestimate it. In James 4:6 it says "God is apposed to the proud, but give grace to the humble. God's grace seems always to be accompanied by his truth. John 1:14 says "And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." John 1:17 says "grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." In 2Timothy 2:25 we also see that gentleness leads to the truth.
#27 Posted by
Jeremy K | Sunday, March 23, 2014at
JM: After Piper argues that the timing of "the perfect" is the end of the age when we see Christ (which I agree with)"...
JM: "Of the possible interpretations, the believer’s entrance into the Lord’s presence best fits Paul’s use of 'perfect' in 1 Corinthians 13:10".
It's possible that this discussion is above my pay grade, because I'm confused. So at the risk of asking a stupid question; is the perfect the end of the age or the believer’s entrance into the Lord’s presence at death?
My point is, if the perfect 'comes' as per scripture, then how can it be interpreted that the perfect would 'come' when we go into the Lord's presence via our death?
#28 Posted by
Gabriel Powell | Monday, March 24, 2014at
Jeremy K (#27),
That's a perfectly legitimate question. I can see how that might be confusing. Allow me to offer two answers.
First, within the context of the article, "the believer's entrance into the Lord's presence" refers to the coming of Christ. So the simple answer is both quotes you mention refer to the same thing.
A second, more nuanced answer would be: We could legitimately say that while Paul (in 1 Cor. 13) wasn't referring to the individual believer's death, the result is the same. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), and when we see Him, we will be like Him (1 John 3:2), so for those who die, they "know fully" at the moment of their death. For those who are alive at the coming of Christ (which has been the expectation of every generation of believers), they will "know fully" at that time.
Hope that helps!
#29 Posted by
John Deckert | Monday, March 24, 2014at
VERY HELPFUL! This blog post was very encouraging and informative. The attacks on the doctrine of cessationism seem to be plenty while a solid defensive of continuationism doesn't exist. It's great to see MacArthur present the fallacies of continuationism logically. If you throw the mud long enough it eventually sticks. I am 35 years old and the unhistorical, non logical doctrines of continuationism began to stick years before I was born. No wonder many people my age have accepted fallible prophesies and prophets so easily while witnessing the bad fruit of it daily.
#30 Posted by
Jeremy K | Monday, March 24, 2014at
@ Gabriel Powell #28
I think I understand now, thanks for your input.