What Does “When The Perfect Comes” In 1 Corinthians 13:10 Mean?

10 but when the perfect comes, the partial passes away. -1 Corinthians 13:10 BSB

Many Christians and biblical scholars who adhere to Reformed theology lean toward cessationism. They translate the word “perfect” to mean the close of the biblical canon (having the complete bible). The reason why they go that route is that they reject speaking in tongues, performing miracles, and maybe some other spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit.

A side note: I am not a Pentecostal or a Calvinist. And, I believe that many of the charismatics in the Pentecostal denomination are faking the gifts of the Holy Spirit for personal gain like money, I am referring to the word of faith movement who adhere to a prosperity gospel which is condemned in the Scriptures. Nonetheless, I do believe that God still uses those gifts in true believers today according to His will.

But, is that interpretation accurate? Let’s see what the Scripture says in its proper context.

The context starts in verse 8. The words “the perfect” in verse 10, when it comes will put to an end “prophecies”, “tongues”, and “knowledge.”

11 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 set aside childish ways. 12 Now we see but a dim 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 13:11-12 BSB

Paul gives us the answer in verses 11 and 12 (read the verses above) by giving a couple of illustrations. The first one is using the perspective of the difference between a child and an adult. A child does not understand mature things and can’t reason complex things. The mind of a child is at a very low level. But, when we grow into adults, things become more clear and we will understand things that were impossible for the mind of a child.

The child represents having an earthly mind which is limited in understanding. While we are here in this world, the Holy Spirit continues to give us knowledge and understanding on how to properly apply the Word of God. As such, the spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit continue to play a role in our development into the image of Christ. See Ephesians 4 below.

11 And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for works of ministry and to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ. -Ephesians 4:11-13 BSB

The second illustration that Paul gives is when one looks into a mirror. We must understand that the mirrors used in biblical times were not the same as our mirrors today. The mirrors they used were polished bronze or other precious metals. It only gave a partial image of the one looking into it. Paul uses that to give us the insight that the spiritual understanding of God’s Word we possess through the Holy Spirit while we are in our physical bodies is dim, meaning lacking the full knowledge of everything that is found in the Scriptures.

The reason we do not receive the full biblical knowledge all at once is that it will make many or all prideful and, instead of growing in the Lord, it will destroy our faith. So the Holy Spirit gives every believer, depending on where they are at in their spiritual walk with the Lord, the knowledge that is required for them to do God’s will at the time it is given to them. The more we grow and mature in the faith, which is a process, the more knowledge He will instill in us.

What does the phrase “when the perfect comes” mean? It refers, according to the context and everything said above, that when we leave our physical bodies and enter into glory, receiving our spiritual bodies, we will receive the full knowledge that God has for us. In verse 12, it says “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” which means that we will continue to only receive some insights and understanding of God’s Word, but in heaven, we will know God fully and completely.