“Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish.” 1 Corinthians 13:8.
The gift of prophecy in the apostolic church was not forthtelling the truth of the written Word, but declaring truth which had been specially and directly revealed by the Holy Spirit to the “prophet” in the absence of the written New Testament revelation. It was, like the gift of “knowledge,” the sovereign enduement of special direct revelation of truths now contained in the canonical New Testament Scriptures.
Both “prophecy” and “knowledge,” therefore, were of necessity “tie-overs” to supply the church’s practical needs until the New Testament Scriptures became available. In exactly the same way, although not so directly and indispensably useful as “prophecy” and “knowledge,” were tongues, unless interpretation of the tongue’s message was present (1 Corinthians 14:1-22).
These truths are exactly what the apostle declares in 1 Corinthians 13:8. “Love never faileth; but whether there are prophecies, they shall fail [shall be superseded, be rendered useless, unnecessary, and meaningless, because no longer practical or needful, shall be canceled, done away with or put away]; whether there be tongues, they shall cease [be caused to cease, stop altogether]; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away [shall be superseded; the same word used of prophecy is used here also].”
Accordingly, in the original Greek, 1 Corinthians 13:8 is a strong assertion of the truth of the temporary nature of three apostolic gifts, at least: prophecy, tongues, and knowledge.
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” 1 Corinthians 13:9.
“In part [Greek-piecemeal, partially, bit by bit] we know and in part [same word] we prophecy.” The apostolic gift of knowledge by direct inspiration because it received truth only partially and piecemeal- here in this church assembly a little, there in that church assembly a little, the gift was incomplete and gave only a part of God’s truth. The same was true of declaring the truth of the partial and piecemeal revelation. Therefore the gift was lacking and temporary until the complete revelation was given which is the complete New Testament.
“But when that which is perfect is come [Greek-‘to teleion’, the completed and final thing, which means ‘the New Testament Scriptures’], then that which is in part [partial or piecemeal revelation through the gift of directly inspired prophecy and knowledge before the New Testament was given] shall be done away with [shall be superseded, rendered unnecessary and meaningless, because no longer needed and so shall be canceled and done away with].” This is the same Greek word used of “prophecies” and “knowledge” in verses 8 and 11, “I put away childish things.”
The Apostle Paul employs two graphic illustrations to make his point. The first is that of a person growing up from up from childhood into adulthood. The second is that of looking into a mirror to see oneself. Concerning the first illustration the apostle says: “When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, I used to think as a child, I used to reason as a child. But when I became an adult I put away childish things.”
He is contrasting “that which is perfect” [the completed, final, and fully authoritative Scriptures of the New Testament], which he likens to an adult male, with “that which is in part” [the piecemeal incomplete revelation directly from the Holy Spirit through the exercise of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge], which he likens to a child.
Having to depend upon prophecy, tongues, and knowledge for instruction and edification until the completed New Testament became available was similar to childhood in the experience of the church. Speaking in tongues, for instance, had a purpose in the apostolic church like the chatter of the child has a similar purpose in childhood and like the child’s thinking and reasoning processes have a similar purpose in his growing up into manhood. The same was true of knowledge and prophecy. But now that the church has grown up into adulthood, so to speak, with a complete revelation given it, it has ‘put away childhood things’; that is, it has set aside as superseded [same word as in verse 8] tongues, prophecies and knowledge, as having no needful place in its adult life, and belonging only to its childhood requirements.
Concerning the second illustration the apostle says, “For now [just now, at this present moment, close upon it before or after] we see through a mirror, indistinctly, but then distinctly. Now [just now] I know partially, but then I shall understand as I am understood”. The apostle is comparing the state of the church before the New Testament Scriptures were added to the Old Testament Scriptures to a person looking into a mirror made of polished metal and which reflected only a blurred image. Piecemeal and partial revelation by prophecy, tongues, and knowledge to tide the church over yielded only an imperfect understanding of divine truth. “But then distinctly” refers to the time when the New Testament revelation would become available and enable accurate and full comprehension of spiritual truth, as a person sees another “face to face” and so clearly recognizes him.
“Now I know partially,” in fragmentary fashion, as a result of the limited revelation possible through the exercise of gifts of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues. “But then I shall know” fully and completely, because a complete written revelation will be available to me for personal study, “even as I am known” by God who reveals my true condition through His Word.
“And now abides [remains permanently throughout the church age in contrast to prophecy, tongues, and knowledge, which are to be superseded and cease] faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13.