In 1 Corinthians 13:10 it says when perfection comes, the imperfect
disappears. What does ‘perfection’ represent in this passage? I’ve heard
that it’s talking about the NT Canon, but how do we know? People have told
me that perfection is being face to face in Heaven with God. I understand
somewhat that spiritual gifts don’t exist anymore but this passage is kind
of misunderstood to me.

The debate over how to interpret 1 Corinthians 13:10 is a long one. I am
sure it will not end with my own input on the subject. To really get to
the heart of the question, you may want to consult an expert on the Greek
language, which I certainly am not. Nevertheless, let me give you at least
a tentative answer to your question.

Those who say that “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 refers to the
complete New Testament canon do so on the basis of a claim that the Greek
word here, teleon is in the neuter case. Based on this, they would claim
that “the perfect” cannot refer to Jesus Christ. Like I already said, I am
certainly no expert in Greek (I am not even an amateur), but I would say
that this does not seem a likely interpretation of the passage. In my
opinion, those who interpret “the perfect” to mean the complete New
Testament canon have an agenda leading their conclusion. These people want
to use 1 Corinthians 13 to prove that the miraculous gifts of the Holy
Spirit have disappeared. These people would claim that when in 1
Corinthians 13:10 it says “but when the perfect comes, the imperfect
disappears”, the imperfect is referring back to the miraculous gifts
mentioned earlier in the chapter. I personally agree that the handing down
of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ended when the apostles died
and when the New Testament canon was completed. However, I would not
suggest using a dubious interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:10 as a proof
text for this view.

What then, does “the perfect” refer to? I can make a couple of suggestions
and leave it to you to decide. Perhaps it refers to the phrase in 13:12,
“Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face.” In
this case, the perfect may represent the coming of the new heaven and the
new earth. But then again, it may refer to the time that we were saved–a
time when we were changed from imperfect and sinful to perfect, at least
in God’s eyes. Either of these explanations would certainly allow for the
use of the neuter case. Perhaps the perfect is not referring to any exact
and specific thing. Perhaps it is a general spiritual truism that
perfection always replaces the need for imperfection.

To summarize, the interpretation that 1 Corinthians 13:10 is referring to
the coming of the completed New Testament appears a bit forced. It
certainly would not be a good proof-text for the existence or lack of
miraculous gifts! The exact meaning of “the perfect” in this context would
be a matter of some speculation and one would do well to reach their own
best conclusion and to avoid being dogmatic about it.

John Oakes, PhD

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