Help me understand the word perfection in 1 Corinthians 13:10. Does it
actually mean the Bible or the hereafter? Is it right to conclude the
word is a reference to the Bible?
To begin with, let us consider the Greek word involved here. It is
teleios, which means mature, perfect, finished or complete. Second, let
us consider the context. Paul is talking about love. He is talking about
a transition from what is not complete or perfected to what is becoming
completed or perfected. He uses the illustration of moving from being a
child to being an adult to illustrate this maturation process. It seems
to me that Paul is not making a specific doctrinal point in his statement
“but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” Instead, he is
making the exact same point he made when he said, “When I was a child, I
talked like a child… When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Now, let us expand the context. Paul is talking about what is
important–love–versus what is not important; spiritual gifts such as
prophecy, tongues and inspired knowledge. Paul finishes the thought by
saying that faith, hope and love are all greater than the (temporary)
spiritual gifts, but love is even greater than hope and faith, because,
eventually, even they are to disappear when we reach heaven.
I am aware that some have interpreted the word teleios to be a reference
to the completed Bible as counterposed to the gospel knowledge revealed by
miraculous gifts such as tongues and miraculous knowledge. I would say
that if this is used as a general application of a truism Paul is
teaching, then I agree that it is a legitimate application of the concept
Paul is teaching. However this is only true if we can show from other
scriptures that it is in fact true that tongues and prophecy will in fact
cease. I do not believe that this is a good proof-text for this
doctrine. To say that the imperfect can, in a general way, refer to
miraculous gifts works fairly well with this passage. To day that
perfection (teleios) is a reference to the completed Bible is possible,
but a bit more of a stretch to me. I say this because the scripture does
not seem to be part of the subject in the passage, whereas spiritual gifts
are. I am very skeptical of those who teach that this passage is a
specific doctrinal statement that the completion of the Bible will signal
the end to miraculous gifts of the Spirit. In my opinion, this is a
forced interpretation. It is more a result of a person scanning the Bible
to prove the disappearance of the miraculous gifts than a legitimate
application of this passage. It is not that I disagree the miraculous
gifts may have ceased. It is just that we should be careful to not push
an interpretation beyond what the author had in mind.
What I would say is this. As a truism, we can conclude that in general,
God replaces the less complete thing with the more complete thing. We
could apply this to the New Covenant replacing the Old Covenant. We could
also apply this to the competed New Testament replacing the need for
miraculous teaching (which might also be supported by Hebrews 2:2-4).
However this is using 1 Corinthians 13:10 as a spiritual truism. I do not
believe that Paul is specifically teaching the replacement of the Old with
the New Covenant, or the replacement of the spiritual gifts by the
completed New Testament.
In conclusion, I believe we can use 1 Corinthians 13:10 to tentatively
imply the cessation of miraculous gifts of the Spirit, but I do not
believe we can conclude that this passage is a doctrinal statement that
perfection is a reference to the completed Bible, as opposed to
imperfection which is a reference to miraculous gifts of the Spirit.