Re: TO TELEION / 1 Cor. 13:10

From: David Moore (
Date: Fri Nov 24 1995 - 00:15:56 EST

Bruce Terry <> wrote:

>[A]round 1830, Edward Irving, a noted
>Presbyterian preacher in London, began preaching that I Cor. 13:10 (When the
>perfect comes, the thing in part will be done away) implies that these gifts
>should still be in use today since Jesus had not yet come again. To counter
>this argument, some changed their exposition of TO TELEION from perfection at
>the second coming to completion when all prophecy was finished. In a 1976
>lecture here at Abilene Christian, Carroll Osburn noted that the earliest that
>he had been able to find this revised argument (which both Byron and I grew up
>hearing) was in the 1878 commentary by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown. I
>suppose that was in reaction to Irving's position some 50 years before.
>For me, a more crucial question than the meaning of TO TELEION is the
>significance of hOTAN in verse 10. Edward Irving argued that this implied
>that TO EK MEROUS "the thing in part" would not cease (except for times of
>corruption in the church) *until* TO TELEION should come. I no longer believe
>this follows. In verse 11, Paul says, hOTE GEGONA ANHR, KATHRGHKA TA TOU
>NHPIOU "When I became a man [NRSV adult], I put away the things of the child."
>Paul did not retain all his childish speech, thinking, and reasoning until the
>age of manhood. Those things gradually passed away as they were no longer
>needed or appropriate. I see no real difference between hOTE in verse 11 and
>hOTAN in verse 10 as regards this; he uses hOTAN in verse 10 because the time
>of the coming of TO TELEION was indefinite and hOTE in verse 11 because he
>knew when he had become a man. But neither means "At the time of and not a
>whit before" as oft imagined both by Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals alike.

        Edward Irving is rather a wild card, both for Pentecostals and for
other premillennial Evangelicals. Although strong emphases appeared in his
theology which antedated similar themes in both these groups, it is
difficult to find anyone who knows about him that doesn't maintain
reservations about certain aspects of his theology. Bruces comments
about his position on 1Cor. 13:10 and context, however, are of interest as
an explanation of the rise of the interpretation equating TO TELEION with
the completion of the canon.

        Caution is certainly advisable when we are dealing with a
passage the carries as much theological weight, practically speaking, as
this one. Bruce has mentioned hOTAN and hOTE. The first, used with the
aorist subjunctive, indicates that the action of the subordinate clause
precedes that of the main clause (BAGD s.v. hOTAN). I.e., TO TELEION will
come before "that which is in part" will be done away. hOTE, used in v.
11 with the imperfect, refers to some extended time that, with his use of
the perfect of 11b, Paul simply indicates came to an end with the
establishment of a new situation. It is important to understand that these
matters from Pauls personal life simply serve as an illustration of what
he is trying to convey. We must not put more weight on such an
illustration than it is able to carry.

        To catch his meaning here, the pericope must be considered as a
whole and understood in the context of the entire matter of the spiritual
gifts being treated especially in chapters 12 through 14. And it wouldn't
hurt to keep in mind the larger context of the whole of 1Cor. and the rest
of the Pauline corpus. But, to limit my discussion to vv. 8-13, it seems
good to recall Ken Litwak's comments on this passage in which he called
attention to the language of v. 12 that practically doesn't admit any
understanding other than reference to the perfection we, as believers,
shall experience in the eschaton. Also, it seems that Paul is lifting up
AGAPH as something that will not be affected by the coming of the
eschaton. Although most take faith and hope as equally eternal with love,
Paul may have in mind an implicit argument here in which he is saying that
love will never pass from the scene but even faith and hope, as important
as they now are, will no longer be needed one day. (Cf. Rom. 8:23-25).

        Nevertheless, we must recognize that Paul is cautioning about the
use of spiritual gifts. But his cautions do not have the purpose of
ending the use of the gifts (1Cor. 14:39; 1Thes. 5:20, 21). Rather he is
saying that they must be exercised in AGAPE if they hope to be of any real
and eternal benefit.

Regards to all,

David L. Moore Southeastern Spanish District
Miami, Florida of the Assemblies of God Department of Education

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