For those holding to such a doctrine, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 is interpreted as saying that not only the miraculous and other gifts of the Holy Spirit have ended today, but that the Holy Spirit has done all of the work He was ever going to do; we have the perfect written, completed-canon word of God in the Bible and that is all we will ever need. That doctrine is extrapolated from these few words:
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 NKJV
And I quote the King James Version because I think most of this doctrine’s proponents would, without much variation.
What troubles me is that this interpretation – which keystones the doctrine that the days of an indwelling Holy Spirit are over and done, because the perfect word of God has come in the form of the Bible – this interpretation casts His previous work through men (at the least) and possibly even the Holy Spirit Himself (at the worst) in the role of being less than perfect.
Is that really what Paul is trying to say in these verses (which do not even mention the written word as perfect, nor does scripture ever describe itself as anything more than “useful” or “profitable” – 2 Timothy 3:16)?
Was that his purpose in writing these lines at all – and, if we believe in inspiration by the Holy Spirit – was that the Spirit’s purpose? Prophetically warning the self-minded and misbehaving believers of Corinth to shape up and stop misusing their gifts because in about three hundred years a final canon would be decided upon by ecclesiastic council and scribes would copy the manuscripts for about 1,200 more years so that a handful of people would have access to them until they would be printed giving a few more people access to them in a language that most didn’t speak until different versions in many native languages would be mass-produced and nearly everyone would have access to the perfect written word which has been the only way the Spirit would deign to bless anyone over all those centuries?
Because – put that way – the doctrine sounds a little short-sighted historically and modern-day arrogant to me. It sounds as if God is going through another four-hundred-year phase of not talking to His people again; another Egypt; another Babylon.
Exactly what impact would that prophecy have had upon the folks in Corinth of century one?
Is that really the way God operates in the Christian age … promising something to all and forever through His prophets and His Son, and then withdrawing it?
Is the work of the Holy Spirit or the Spirit Himself “imperfect,” “immature,” “incomplete,” or however you wish to translate ek merous?
I can understand that God could repent of creating mankind and then all but obliterate every trace of him from the earth. But I also believe I understand that He could not have completely done so because there was a promise involved, a promise just hinted at to Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3:15) But that hint was as good as a promise in God’s mind, and God is not a slacker concerning His promises (Psalm 145:13; 2 Corinthians 1:20) … and to believers in Christ He has made better promises than to the patriarchs (Hebrews 8:6).
With the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer, there is great power – reminding the believer of what Jesus has said; guiding him/her into all truth (truth that believer might not have previously seen in the written word, but would with the Spirit’s reminder); and instructing him/her about when, where, how and to whom that truth might be most effectively shared.
With the Holy Spirit dwelling in the community of believers, there is a bond of peace and a unity that fosters the growth of the truth and the perception of nonbelievers that good is being spoken and done by those who profess and live Christ.
Without the Holy Spirit, the word may be read … but will its meaning be unanimously understood?
Without the Holy Spirit, the word may be recited … but can it be proclaimed?
Without the Holy Spirit, a life may be changed for the good … but can it be changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ?
Without the Holy Spirit, life can be lived … but can it be lived to the fullest and forever?
My Bible says no. The power isn’t in the word alone, or the logic and cleverness and skill and will of the one who shares it, but in Christ.
Shut Him out; retire and reject and limit His Spirit to the printed words on the pages of a book … and the power is gone. Because to the unbeliever, there are lots of books out there; lots of religious books; lots of enlightenment to be had by reading. If there is no power behind it, the Bible is just another book among many.
Satan is the one who gains when the power is removed; when he can persuade us that one of God’s hands is tied behind His back; only what He said and did matters, not what you might think He is saying or doing now. He isn’t speaking or active now; that was only then. He’s retired now; it’s all up to you to do His work, and do it perfectly all on your own because He’s given you this perfect book and that’s all you ever need: just what He said and did for all those dead people back then.
If the Holy Spirit – or His work done while living in the believer – is imperfect, doesn’t it stand to reason that God would not have given those gifts even temporarily in century one; that they were not good enough for believers in his perfect Son?
Isn’t it, at the very least. on the thin edge of blasphemy to designate anything connected with God – His work; His choices; His Holy Spirit – as imperfect, immature, incomplete? That’s a serious charge to face!
“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” ~ Matthew 12:31
Jesus pulls no punches about the sin that cannot be forgiven. I’m not going to go into the ring and challenge Him on the point. If I’m going to err about the Holy Spirit, I’m going to err on the side of generosity. I’m going to say that He is just as powerful today as He was then, if not moreso. I’m going to say that He still reflects God’s desire to live with man, transform man, and give him gifts – including eternal life. I’m going to say that He still politely waits to be asked into the hearts of those who desire His presence; that He remains the Spirit of Jesus as well as the Spirit of God, knocking at our door.
Because all of that I can find in scripture, and I cannot find a prophecy which traps Him between the covers of our Bible.
I will venture to say that the gifts over which we quibble and divide now will seem inconsequential one day.
In view of how 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 continues, I’ll even propose that the perfect which is yet to come is most likely to be Jesus Christ, and that while we await His return, prophecy and preaching in different languages and knowledge still are useful, even if in part. We should act as maturely as we can in the meantime, especially in using those gifts in love – with no misconception that we will attain His perfection/maturity/completeness on our own – because now we can only see dimly, as in a mirror with imperfect silvering – but when He comes, we will see His perfect glory face to face; our partial knowledge will be eclipsed by being fully known; our faith and our hope will be overshadowed by the brilliance of His eternal love.