What do past commentators tell us about the interpretation of this passage, in particular about the interpretation of the Greek expression to teleion that is often translated by the words “the perfect” in many translations? Many writers have recognized that the preferred translation of the expression would convey the idea of “maturity” (a qualitative idea that was expressing growth in the body of Christ toward maturity), and not the philosophical idea of perfection (i.e., the presence of God). In other words, 1 Cor. 13 is telling us that once a certain level of maturity (13:10) has been reached in the body of Christ by the emerging NT, the partial gifts of prophecy and tongues (et al., 13:8-19) would come to an end.
S. T. Bloomfield (1828) writes, “The gifts spoken of ceased in a very short time after the Apostle wrote, having served the purpose intended by bearing testimony to the divine origin of the gospel. It should, therefore, seem that the ceasing and coming to nought was meant to be gradual, and to take place first in this world, and then in the world to come.” The imminent return of Christ was something all the apostles believed could come at any time, but Paul knew that God was building His church through the developing NT. Fullness and Maturity could come to the body by a gradual growth in the body (1 Cor. 13:11) or by an immediate return of Christ (13:12).
Faussett (d. 1910) writes, “A primary fulfillment took place when the Church attained its maturity; then “tongues ceased,” and “prophesying” and “knowledge,” so far as they were supernatural gifts [emphasis original] of the Spirit, were superseded as no longer required when the ordinary preaching of the word, and the Scriptures of the New Testament collected together, had become established institutions.”
The great Greek scholar A. T. Robertson recognizes that to teleion conveys the idea of maturity and sees this passage as have theological connection with Paul’s discussion about the growth of the corporate body towards maturity in Ephesians 4:7-16 (esp. 4:13): “Robertson explains that interpreters need to recognize the lexical significance of τέλειον as carrying the idea of “adult” or “mature” (in contrast to the idea of immaturity as seen in νήπιος in 13:11). Robertson explains that Paul’s examples of growth from childhood to adulthood, a concept that also Paul employs in Ephesians 4:13ff., include the idea of a maturity that is accomplished in this life through the fresh revelation of the New-Testament Scriptures.”
Christ was building His body toward “maturity” through the new truths of the NT. Paul explains that “maturity” as “attaining to the unity of the faith’ (Eph. 4:13). In our next blog we will explore what Paul intended by this expression.
To get the detailed treatment of this topic, pleas visit our Front Range Bible Institute website where you can find order information for my book The Cessation of the Prophetic Gifts: https://frbible.org/dr-tim-dane/.