What Is That Which Is Perfect In I Corinthians 13:10?

By Osamagbe Lesley Egharevba


Many people today claim that they have miraculous power to perform miracles. But from I Corinthians 13:8-10, we can see that:

  • Miraculous gifts (prophecy, tongues, knowledge) will stop at a certain time and will not continue forever.
  • These miraculous gifts are “in part” (v.9)
  • They will all be done away “when that which is perfect has come” (v.10)

Since these miraculous gifts will come to an end “when that which is perfect has come,” It is important to know what exactly is that which is perfect especially since many people today have given this verse different interpretation. First, let us look at what the perfect is not.

What The Perfect Is Not

The Perfect Does Not Refer To The Second Coming Of Christ

A popular understanding of the “perfect” is that this is a reference to the return of Jesus. So many teach that Paul is saying that miraculous spiritual gifts will continue until Jesus returns. However, there are many problems with this understanding of Paul’s teaching.

First, what is the point of saying that the miraculous spiritual gifts will end at the second coming of Christ? Of course, those gifts would end! Everything is going to end at the second coming of Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 15:23-24.

Second, what is the point of saying that right now we cannot know all of God’s will but when Christ returns, we will know fully? Again, this is not helpful, especially to these first-century Christians who are arguing over spiritual gifts. 

Third, Paul says that three things will remain: faith, hope, and love (verse 13). But faith and hope cannot remain after the Second Coming of Christ. The scriptures are very clear that hope that is seen is not hope (Romans 8:24). No one hopes for what he sees. Hope is necessary until we are joined with Christ. Hope will not remain after the second coming. Further, faith will not remain either. The writer of Hebrews teaches that faith is the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). There is no need for faith in Christ when we are gathered at home with Him. So, Paul is describing a time after the ending of spiritual gifts when faith, hope, and love will remain. 

Also, many jump to verse 12 and state that we have not seen God face to face. Therefore, Paul is talking about the second coming when we will see God face to face. But this is not what Paul says if we carefully read it. The text does not say we will see God face to face. Paul simply says that we will see clearly like being face to face, rather than dimly. Let us read the text from different translations of the Bible: I Corinthians 13:12

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (NKJV)

For now we see only a 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. (NIV)

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (NLT)

Paul does not say we will see God. That is not the time frame. Some say “that which is perfect” refers to Christ. But in both Greek and English, the phrase indicates that some thing or concept which is perfect, complete, and mature will arrive. It is not referring to a person. The spiritual gifts were temporary measures to bring about maturity. That is why Paul stated that as a child you talk, think, and reason as children, but when you grow up the childish things are put aside. The same thing would happen with the spiritual gifts. Things at the moment appear to be riddles, which is what “dimly” means in I Corinthians 13:12. It is the medium that causes the difficulty.

These are just a few reasons why “the perfect” is not referring to when Jesus’ second coming. So what does Paul mean?

What Is The Perfect?

Like a mirror, the spiritual gifts gave an incomplete view of everything a Christian needed. Later we will be seeing things directly with no mirror in between. Later I will know things accurately, as accurately as I know myself. When the perfect arrives, Christians will be able to see so clearly that it will be like seeing face to face. Since the partial refers to the limited knowledge and information the Christians had in the first century through the spiritual gifts, the most natural understanding of “the perfect” is a time when that knowledge would be complete and no longer limited. Thus, the perfect is the complete Word of God. James calls it the “perfect law of liberty”

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:21-25).

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