Does 1 Corinthians 13 teach Cessationism?

There are many Christians who believe that the gifts of the Spirit described in 1 Corinthians 12 ended, either with the death of the apostles or the completion of the New Testament (they are not sure which).

Instead of just accepting their assertion, I tend to request some biblical support for this. While I understand the pneumatological paradigm for cessationism, the same people argue for the sufficiency of scripture and so there should be some support.

The primary passage that is offered is 1 Corinthians 13:8-10.

Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)

Does this passage teach that the gifts of the Spirit would end? Well… yes it does. Language like “they will cease” is clearly a type of cessationism.

The question we need to ask is at what point these things will cease. Again, the passage gives us the answer: “when what is perfect comes”.

What is the “perfect”?

Some who identify as cessationists will argue that the “perfect” is the Bible, especially as completed by the New Testament. Please note that I understand that not every cessationist interprets it this way. But I have encountered enough people citing this passage lately to know it is still a live argument.

The problem is that I do not know of any New Testament scholar from a recognized seminary who interprets Paul’s reference to the “perfect” as the Bible.

It is pretty much a consensus among New Testament scholars that what Paul is describing is the return of Jesus, something he will get deeper into not long after this passage.

Interpreting this as the return of Jesus makes perfect sense. While we can imagine a world in which a New Testament and gifts of the Spirit co-exist (as many Christians claim), it is difficult to see the place of the gifts after Jesus comes.

There is no hint in 1 Corinthians 13 that Paul is describing the completion of the Bible. In fact, there is no reason to suspect that Paul even knew that a New Testament was being written when he wrote this letter to Corinth.

If you want to believe that the gifts of the Spirit ended with the completion of the New Testament, that’s fine. But 1 Corinthians 13 is not the right argument. The best you can get is a cessationism that begins with the return of Jesus.

The post Does 1 Corinthians 13 teach Cessationism? appeared first on Stephen J. Bedard.






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