Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:8-12)
Cessationists often appeal to this text to support their doctrine. This is strange, because it is one of the worst texts for this purpose, and it is one of the strongest texts for the ongoing manifestations of the Spirit. It implies the exact condition in which each gift will cease, and because it does this so definitely, it also guarantees that each gift must continue until the condition becomes reality.
Verses 9 and 10 say, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” The attention is often focused on the meaning of “perfection.” Cessationists claim that the perfection refers to the completion of the Bible, and because the completion of the Bible has come, this means that prophecy has ceased.
The apostle has in mind an assumption as to how the gifts will cease, and his statement is an application of this broader principle. He places prophecy under the category of knowledge. He says that it is partial knowledge, not complete knowledge, and it would naturally cease when complete knowledge has come. A gift of the Spirit offers a part, a token, or a foretaste of something that belongs in its category. Since prophecy comes under knowledge, it offers a little knowledge. Once we have received the reality of complete knowledge, we would not need a foretaste of complete knowledge.
Thus a gift ceases when the effects that it produces have been delivered in maximum and permanent form. A gift ceases when we have received more than what the gift can offer in that category. A gift ceases when we have as a natural and permanent possession what the gift offers as a miraculous manifestation. A gift ceases when its function has become redundant and meaningless. Thus the time after the cessation of the gifts is a time of more of everything offered by the gifts, not less of everything. This is the evident assumption behind Paul’s statement.
An essential point of this assumption is that a gift ceases when we have received the maximum effect of what that particular gift can offer. So Paul does not say, “Now we prophesy in part, but when we have received total health, prophecy ceases.” And he does not say, “Now we minister healing here and there, but when we have received total knowledge, healing ceases.” He stays in the same category. He says that the manifestation of partial knowledge ceases when the manifestation of complete knowledge arrives.
In other words, the coming of complete knowledge can end only those gifts that come under knowledge. It tells us nothing about the gifts that come under other categories. We add to this the fact that nothing in the text suggests that gifts in different categories must end at the same time. The result is that even if we pretend that the “perfection” refers to the Bible, the only gifts that the Bible puts to rest are those that come under knowledge. It tells us nothing about the gifts of healing, miracles, faith, and so on.
This is so obvious from the text that it is embarrassing having to point it out. If you are poor and short, giving you all the money in the world would not make you taller. Your begging for money would cease, but your losing at basketball would continue. Even if we have received the fullness of knowledge, so that prophecy ceases, it does not mean the gifts that produce other kinds of effects have ceased, because the fullness of knowledge does not render them meaningless or redundant. When will healing cease? When we have received a resurrection body, when we have received immortality, and when sickness has become irrelevant. Healing would then be pointless. If the gifts have ceased, you would have the maximum of all that they represent.
Total cessationism would occur when we have received in permanent form the maximum effects of all the gifts in all the categories. You could eat radioactive waste for breakfast. You could walk on water as if it is cement. You could probably overpower an angel. These would not be miracles, because they would be your natural abilities. Whatever Jesus could do with his body, you could do, because you would have the same kind of body. You would have total access, total wisdom, total health, total power.
At that time, the gifts would indeed seem like child’s play (v. 11). Compare this to our present condition. They say we have cessationism now? This is all that we have after the gifts have ceased? Then this is how much cessationism undermines our redemption. This is how they urinate on the blood of Christ, as if it is some worthless and ineffectual thing.
Return to Prophecy
Paul uses prophecy to illustrate his point. He says that prophecy is partial knowledge, and it will cease when complete knowledge arrives. Cessationists want this to mean the completion of the Bible. However, the “perfection” does not mean just anything that is perfect, or even anything that is perfect that conveys knowledge. Jesus was perfect, but when he arrived as a man, he brought more prophecies and miracles. The Holy Spirit was perfect, but when he was poured out on God’s people, he brought even more prophecies and miracles than when Jesus was here. The Bible is certainly perfect, and if we believe what it teaches, it is God’s written testimony to bring prophecies and miracles to all the generations and all the nations of the world.
What does Paul mean when he refers to the perfection? He writes, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” What is the maximum effect of redemption in the area of knowledge, of which prophecy is only a foretaste? It is “face to face” knowledge. We will “know fully.” The meaning of “know fully” is not just anything we want it to be. It is made definite by “even as I am fully known.” When prophecy ceases, you will have “face to face” knowledge with God. You will know in the same way that you are known.
Paul does not refer to a potential knowledge, but an actual knowledge, as actual as we are “fully known.” As perfect as the Bible is, we do not even know fully the Bible. It takes an extraordinarily delusional person to think that he already knows fully, even as he is known fully. A “face to face” knowledge should not need exegesis, reading, revision, debate, and research. If the way I will know fully is the way that I am known fully, then unless God himself needs to perform exegesis, revision, and debate in order to know me, “face to face” knowledge cannot refer to what we possess at this time. Thus if a person insists on his cessationism on the basis of this text by sheer determination, although even then it can apply only to prophecy, he loses his God, and so his salvation as well.
Worse than the Charismatics
By their use of this text, the cessationists necessarily place us in a time after the resurrection, but in reality we live in a time before the resurrection. Even the worst heresies in eschatology usually seen in charismatic circles do not amount to this. The only way for a cessationist to prove that he is not a heretic is if he is more charismatic than the charismatic — a billion times more, a trillion times more, not only in doctrine, but also in power and experience, so that in the areas of prophecy, healing, miracles, and such things the charismatic only has a tiny token of what the cessationist has as his natural possession.
Many cessationists love to talk about the redemptive-historical approach to Scripture. The principle is sound, but their application is sinister. It is often used as a tactic to divert attention from what the text plainly asserts. They throw “Christ!” in your face so that you would feel like an unspiritual loser if you point out what the text teaches about faith, healing, and other benefits of redemption. Listen, unless a text says what it says, it cannot serve any overarching purpose. If a text that describes how a woman received healing by faith is mainly supposed to teach us something about Christ, then it at least also teaches us that we can receive healing from this same Christ by faith. They even criticize people for using the story of David vs. Goliath to encourage faith. It is all about Jesus, not about you. Jesus is our champion. Jesus defeated the devil for us. Great! But David himself was not Jesus, was he? WAS HE? ANSWER ME!
Anyway, in the name of the history of redemption, they accuse those who teach that we can receive the benefits of redemption by faith as failing to grasp the “already/not yet” distinction in Scripture. However, many of these benefits are promised to the “already” and means nothing in the “not yet.” Something like healing is given in this life (Psalm 103:3, Matthew 8:17, James 5:15), and means nothing in the time of the “not yet,” because by then we will not have healing, but immortality. So when can we have healing? Apparently, never. They accuse people of teaching triumphalism, but if we teach triumphalism, if we declare that we possess the benefits that belong to the “not yet,” we would not teach prophecy or healing — not even perfect prophecy or perfect healing — but we would claim complete knowledge and invincibility.
The truth is that cessationists are heretics because they declare that the next stage of God’s plan has arrived, while we are still living in this stage, and they make the claim without much triumph to show for it. They wish to use the progress of redemption to discard miracles, but the progress of redemption ensures miracles at this time, because Paul’s doctrine pinpoints the exact condition in which the gifts will cease, and the completion of the Bible simply does not match. The Bible is perfect, wonderful, and complete, but it is not what he is talking about. They have created a theological monster. It is an intellectual catastrophe and has produced incalculable damage over the centuries.
Worse than the Corinthians
The Corinthians were divided and competitive. So Paul instructed them to grow up and to walk in love. Some of them who operated in certain kinds of ministries looked down on those who were involved in other kinds of ministries. So Paul told them not to be ignorant about spiritual things. He said that there are different ministries, but the same God. There are different gifts, but the same Spirit manifests them through various people for the common good. The church is like a body. Every part has its function, and every part is important, so one part should not look down on another part. Instead of competing against others, we should value and support all ministries, all gifts, including those that appear less important or glamorous. This is what it means to walk in love in the context of the operation of spiritual gifts.
So charismatics tend to recognize and respect all gifts, whether it is teaching, prophecy, healing, or giving. On the other hand, cessationists do not even acknowledge the existence of probably more than half of the ministries Paul lists in his letters. Immature charismatics might say to some, “I am better than you!” or “I don’t need you!” They need to grow up and walk in love. But cessationists say, “You should not exist!” Cessationists use 1 Corinthians 13 to teach that we should walk in love instead of the gifts, but Paul’s purpose is for the Corinthians to walk in love while they walk in the gifts. Thus cessationists reject both the gifts and the love that the apostle teaches. Paul says, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts” — he says to eagerly desire the gifts, not eagerly deny the gifts.
If you walk in love, you will support the ministry of healing, even if you are stronger in prophecy yourself. If you walk in love, you will support the ministry of teaching, even if the ministry of giving comes more naturally to you. This is the kind of love that the apostle has in mind. This kind of love does not make a profession out of exterminating whole categories of ministers. Cessationists miss the whole point of 1 Corinthian 12-14. They are children, just spiritual kids. They are even more childish than the Corinthians. They said, “I am better than you!” and “I don’t need you!” But the cessationists say, “I must end you!” Therefore, cessationists represent a most heretical and immature section of the church. Cessationists are cancers in the body of Christ. But Jesus can cure cancers, or he can cut them out entirely.
This is the worst text for cessationism for at least the following reasons. First, it does not really support cessationism. One might as well use Genesis 1:1 to prove atheism. Second, the passage in fact guarantees the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit by specifying a condition that coincides only with the resurrection. Third, its use illustrates that the cessationists lack intelligence and integrity, so that their other efforts should also be examined. They are scammers, not scholars. I would not trust them to read a recipe for instant coffee, let alone the Bible. There should be a comprehensive backlash against their abuse of Scripture. There should be total war.
Fourth, their use of this text makes a mockery of redemption in a way unsurpassed even by Satanism. Paul teaches that the gifts will cease when their maximum effects have been received, but the cessationists declare that they have already ceased, suggesting that our present condition is all that Christ has attained for us. Fifth, to use this passage for cessationism implies that, to know us fully, God himself must study us in the way that we study the Bible. This is blasphemy and a rejection of the Christian God. It reveals that cessationism is a non-Christian religion. Sixth, it commits the cessationists to a heretical eschatology. Seventh, it exposes the cessationists as people who show even less love and maturity than the Corinthians.