Have charismatic gifts ceased?

1 Cor. 13:8-10 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

One of our biggest internal bones of contention in the church today is the question of what this passage means with reference to the charismatic gifts. Some offer arguments that this points to modern expressions of such gifts today being impossible.

I take the position that whatever this indicates, a person who claims to have one or more gifts needs to prove it. But let's have a look at what the scholars have to say with reference to some popular positions in terms of what "the perfect" is.

  • It means the finishing of the NT canon.

    Fee [1 Corinthians commentary, 643-4] rejects this one on the grounds that Paul could never have conceived of a completed NT canon. I would disagree, given that there was already an OT collection and that Paul could have easily anticipated a new one for the Christian church, and signs are that he may have been the one who first conceived of a canon.

    However, this would be a rather obscure reference to the completed NT canon and must therefore be considered unlikely.

  • It means the eschaton.

    This is the most popular view among commentators (see Collins, 1 Corin. commentary, 486; Conzelmann, 1 Corin. commentary, 226) and it notes that the passage uses the eschatological term "come" (erchomai).

    If this were true then as a partial preterist I would have to decide that the gifts were to cease after the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem. But is it the right way to read this? Counting against this point is that erchomai isn't an exclusively eschatological word. It refers to anything that "comes" or "goes" or moves.

    It is also noted that in v. 12 Paul uses eschatological language: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." This and the "mirror" metaphor Paul uses were used by Jews and pagans alike to describe our encounter with and understanding of the deity.

    Some may then wish to connect this not with the eschaton of 70, but with final resurrection and judgment, and hence claim that the gifts were meant to be sticking around. Perhaps so. But there is one other intriguing answer:

  • It means, love.

    Paul's verbiage, when connected up with the Johnanine literature on love, takes on a significance we may not have expected: Compare "But when that which is perfect" and Paul's "face to face" metaphor to 1 John 4:12: "No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." Then "is come" with 1 John 5:20: "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ."

    Note as well the connection of unity in believers (the ultimate expression of agape) with being "perfect" in John 17:23, and 1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love."

    The contrast is especially interesting because Paul speaks to the Corinthians as immature believers, while John's recipients are obviously at a higher level of maturity (while still needing instruction). This would also fit with Paul's "growth" metaphor in v. 11: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

    If this is correct, tongues, etc. are indeed supposed to cease in the life of each believer once they have obtained a certain degree of maturity.

    In conclusion, while I consider option 2 to be possible, option 3 seems more likely -- and in either case, while option 3 offers no definitive view that the gifts were supposed to cease, it does suggest that charismatic preachers are not offering the genuine article.