Wednesday, 29 July 2020

The Duration of Miraculous Gifts: a Careful Analysis of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

While the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is often referred to as the Bible’s “love chapter,” it is actually the centerpiece of a three-chapter discourse on the use and abuse of miraculous gifts. Superiority of love is the theme of chapter 13, but superior to what?

At the heart of all the problems of the mid-first-century Corinth church was a lack of love (cf. 8:1-3; 16:14). Because of jealousy, arrogance, and strife over the fact that they all did not have the same miraculous gifts, Paul writes chaps. 12–14. The variety of spiritual gifts came from the same divine source and was intended for the common good of the community (12:1-11). Just as the different body parts function as a unit, so the diversity among the Corinthians should be harmonized for the benefit of the whole body of Christ (12:12-30). A better/more excellent way to overcome discord is the way of love (12:31), so Paul highlights the importance of godly love (13:1-3) and gives a brief description of it (13:4-7). He then affirms that love is superior to miraculous gifts because it will endure long after the gifts have fulfilled their intended purpose (13:8-13).

The Comparative Duration of Love (1 Cor. 13:8-13)

Love never fails (13:8a); it is everlasting (cf. 1 John 4:8). In contrast, miraculous gifts are temporary. Prophecies (cf. 12:10, 28, 29; 14:1-6) will be done away. Tongues (cf. 12:10, 28, 30; 14:2 ff.; Acts 2:4-11) will cease. [Miraculous] Knowledge (cf. 12:8; 14:6) will vanish. Note that all these gifts were means by which God’s message was revealed (cf. 12:8, 10; 14:6).

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part” (13:9). God’s revelation came part-by-part, piece-by-piece through spiritually-gifted individuals (cf. 12:29-30; 14:26, 31). “But when the perfect [to téleion]1 comes, the partial will be done away” (13:10). The word téleion is the neuter form of téleios, i.e., not necessarily a perfect person but presumably a perfect thing.2  
Téleios means “brought to completion; fully accomplished, fully developed …. complete, entire, as opposed to what is partial and limited” (H. K. Moulton, Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised 400).

Since the miraculous gifts were providing “parts” that would eventually comprise something “whole” or “complete,” and the gifts enumerated here were each used by God to reveal His will, it appears that to téleion is a reference to God’s complete revelation that would ultimately comprise the Christian canon (cf. Rom. 12:2; Jas. 1:25).3 Despite the cessation of the revelatory gifts themselves, the results of these gifts (communication and confirmation of the divine will) would carry on in the written word (cf. John 20:30-31).

Three “before” and “after” illustrations follow (13:11-12). Before to téleion came, spiritual infancy was the norm; but afterwards spiritual maturity would be possible (cf. 2:6; 3:1-2; 14:20; 1 Pet. 2:2). Before, the will of God was not entirely clear; but after, it would be as clear as looking in a clean mirror (cf. Jas. 1:23-25). Before, knowledge was only partial; but after, it would be full and complete (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 3:1-4).

“But now abide [ménō] faith, hope, love, these three …” (13:13). The term ménō means to abide, remain, continue. The miraculous gifts were only temporary and were to cease, be abolished, vanish away (v. 8). In contrast: faith, hope, and love abide, remain, continue. The greatest of these is love because love “never fails” (v. 8), i.e., is everlasting. Faith will continue until the end of time, but will no longer be needed in eternity (cf. Heb. 11:1). Hope will continue until the end of time, but will no longer be needed in eternity (cf. Rom. 8:24-25). God’s complete word stands as the foundation of our faith and proof of his love.

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Not “perfection” (NIV). The substantival use of the adjective téleios here does not have an explicit referent: the “perfect” what? This word appears eight times in the Pauline writings: Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 2:6; 13:10; 14:20; Eph. 4:13; Phil. 3:15; Col. 1:28; 4:12.
     2 This assessment is not conclusive, however, since the neuter form may simply convey a general principle (see D. B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics 295, 333); cp. 1 John 1:1.
     3 This coincides with the death of the apostles through whom miraculous gifts were imparted (Acts 8:18). Alternatively, it has been suggested that to téleion (cp. Eph. 4:13) may refer to the maturation of the church, which could point to the same historical juncture as the completion of the NT. Others interpret to téleion in view of the believer’s eternal state, whether at death or the Lord’s parousia (see F. D. Farnell, “When Will the Gift of Prophecy Cease?” BibSac 150 [1993]: 191-93).

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Thursday, 23 July 2020

“You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you” (Ezekiel 28:15).

Does the statement in Ezekiel 28:15 make a case against human inherited sin (like 18:20), or is it rather speaking of an angelic being?

Contextually this is a message of judgment issued during the Jewish Babylonian exile, nearly six centuries before Christ, against the Syrian “king of Tyre (vv. 12-19).1 It figuratively portrays his environment of wealth, privilege, and security at the beginning of his life, while he was still in his innocence. The imagery describes him as an anointed “cherub” dwelling in God's “garden” and “holy mountain,” i.e., enjoying divine favor and blessings. 

The king is then reminded that this state of perfection or innocence lasted until “iniquity was found in you” (v. 15). Consequently he was cast out of God's mountain (out of God's favor) to the ground, upon the earth, symbolizing his public defeat and humiliation (vv. 16-19). 

This passage affirms the period of innocence in one's life (not totally depraved at birth!) until sins are willfully committed. Elsewhere in scripture we learn that accountable persons, mentally capable of discerning right and wrong, become sinners when they succumb to temptation and violate the divine will (James 1:14-15; 1 John 3:4).2

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.
     2 See K. L. Moore, “Are Humans Totally Depraved at Birth?” Moore Perspective (1 July 2015), <Link>.

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Wednesday, 15 July 2020

The Beatitudes Beyond the Sermon on the Mount

The Greek word makários (“blessed”) appears thirteen times in the Gospel according to Matthew, all employed in the teachings of Jesus. Nine of these are found in the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, commonly known as “the Beatitudes” (5:3-11). The Latin beatus, from which this designation is derived, means “fortunate,” “blissful,” or “happy.” However, “blessed” is probably the better rendering of the Greek term since it directs our focus upward and implicitly acknowledges God from whom these blessings proceed (cf. James 1:17). The word occurs four more times in Matthew’s Gospel beyond chapter 5, the subject of our current study.

Blessed Are the Faithful

In chapter 11, as the imprisoned John the baptist was seeking words of reassurance, Jesus summarizes the results of His ministry (vv. 2-5) and affirms in v. 6, “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (NKJV). To be a follower of Christ at this time was clearly not easy, and the difficulties would only intensify in the weeks, months, and years to come (cf. 10:16-25; John 15:20-21; 16:1-4, 33). Today being a Christian is still not without its challenges. The world in which we live is consumed with religious turmoil, injustice, unbelief, and sin. God’s people regularly find themselves in the unpopular minority and at times may feel intimidated, discouraged, and overwhelmed. But let us never forget that we are the ones who are truly blessed, ever mindful of the Lord’s exhortation: “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

Blessed Are the Attentive

In Matthew’s 13th chapter the word “blessed” is used again, this time as Jesus explains the reason He taught in parables. Comparing spiritual perception with the physical ability to see and hear, the Lord observes that many have the latter while lacking the former (vv. 10-15). He then says to His faithful followers, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear” (v. 16). When people do not “see” and “hear” the truth, even when it is plainly communicated, it is essentially because their minds are closed and their hearts are hardened. Since the will of God is readily available and understandable to all who genuinely seek it (Matthew 7:7; John 7:17; Ephesians 5:17), may we be among those who are blessed because of eyes that see and ears that hear.

Blessed Are the Receptive

In chapter 16 the Lord asks His disciples what others were saying about Him, and various responses are given. When He then inquires about their own convictions, Simon Peter confidently declares: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Jesus then pronounces a blessing and makes an intriguing observation: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (v. 17). Exactly how the heavenly Father revealed this information to Peter is not disclosed, but to be on the receiving end of divine revelation is obviously a blessing. Today the will of God is conveyed through His written word (Ephesians 3:1-5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). As we therefore read, study, and learn from the sacred scriptures, how blessed we are! Alternatively, if the revealed word is neglected and our Bibles collect dust and cobwebs as they remain unused for extended periods of time, let’s appreciate the converse reality of what we’re missing! Only when the Lord’s directives are wholeheartedly welcomed into our lives can it rightfully be said, “Blessed are you …” 

Blessed Are the Prepared

In view of the unexpectedness of Christ’s second coming, emphasis is given in chapter 24 to the importance of spiritual readiness (vv. 36-44). Accordingly, to be considered “a faithful and wise servant” (v. 45), there are delegated responsibilities that must be fulfilled. Thus Jesus observes, “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing” (v. 46). The rest of the chapter describes the tragedy of unpreparedness, so there can be no excuse for being caught off guard and foolishly ignoring the certainty of divine judgment. To persevere in active, loyal, obedient service to the Lord is to enjoy heaven’s richest blessings.

Blessed are the faithful, whose allegiance to Christ is without reservation. Blessed are the attentive, whose minds are set on things above. Blessed are the receptive, who eagerly embrace the word of God. And blessed are the prepared, who dutifully anticipate the Lord’s return.

-- Kevin L. Moore

*Originally appearing on the website of the Porirua NZ church of Christ (2 April 2012), <Link>, then “We Are Radical,” <Link>; and Voice of Truth International 77 (2013): 86-87. 

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Tuesday, 7 July 2020

In God’s foreknowledge, if he knew the majority of people would spend eternity in hell, why did he create human beings in the first place?

This is admittedly a hard question. As far as I’m aware, the Bible does not give an explicit, complete, or satisfying answer, so I have to wonder if it is something we must figure out before we can believe in and trust God? If he is omniscient and we are not, surely we would expect him to know many things about his own purpose and will that we do not, unless of course he has chosen to reveal it (Deut. 29:29). We know the God of the Bible is sovereign, the creation is for his glory, and he is therefore worthy of honor and praise.1 For believers this ought to be sufficient, but for skeptics not so much.

The Destiny of the Majority?

How does anyone know the majority of people will spend eternity in hell? If the opposite were true, if the majority would spend eternity in heaven, would that affect the impact of this question? The Bible does affirm that most accountable persons tend to choose the path leading to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14), but this does not constitute the majority of people who have ever lived or will live. If we concede the spiritual innocence of young children,2  what about the multiplied millions throughout history who have died by way of miscarriages and stillbirths, disease, war, famine, accidents, neglect, abuse, the death of pregnant mothers, infanticide, pagan sacrifice, exposure to the elements, and abortions? Add to this other innocent souls who have never reached the age of accountability, the mentally disabled, and all who have been justified in faithfulness to the Lord, it would seem that most human beings would in fact be in heaven.3

What About Relationship?

The fact that humans are relational beings seems to indicate that God, in whose image we are created, is relational (cf. 2 Cor. 6:16-18; 1 John 4:8). If he desires a relationship with his human creation that remotely compares to the depth of love and joy my wife and I share with our daughters, despite the inevitable disappointments and heartaches, I might have a slightly better understanding of the divine purpose. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).4

Love, Freedom, and Justice?

Freedom without choice is a logical impossibility. A loving God gives us free will and instructions for making the right decisions (2 Tim. 3:16-17). He desires all to be saved and none to perish (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), but those who reject God’s way ultimately choose their own destiny in following the devil to his. 

The essential message of the Bible is that all accountable persons have sinned and are therefore separated from God’s holiness, but in his love and mercy and grace he provides a way through his Son to be reconciled to him and be saved from condemnation (Rom. 3:23; 8:1). I’m content to let God be the final judge and am confident he is righteous and fair, judging according to each person’s accountability, opportunities, and response (Luke 12:48; Rom. 14:12).

A Better Way?

To think any of us could have improved on the way God has chosen to do things is naively presumptuous. I might have chosen to destroy the devil (if a spirit being can be destroyed? cf. Luke 20:36), or not create any humans, or create only humans submissive to the divine will, or take away the opportunities to be tempted and make bad choices, thus creating a world where I show favoritism, not allowing everyone a chance at life, and no freedom. But since I don’t know everything about God’s mind and purpose, how can I be sure that my “ideal” world would be better than the one he created? 

If I can appreciate my limitations and accept that God’s ways are far superior to mine (Isa. 55:8-9), I trust that he knows what he is doing, even if I struggle to fully comprehend or adequately explain it.

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 See 1 Chron. 29:10-13; 2 Chron. 20:6; Isa. 43:7; 45:15; 46:9-10; Dan. 4:35, 37; Psa. 18:1-3; 96:7-9; 100:3; 115:3; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 4:11; etc.
     2 See K. L. Moore, “One of the Worst Things About Hell,” Moore Perspective (9 Dec. 2012), <Link>.
     3 See Kyle Butt, “Did God Create People—Knowing That Many Would Go to Hell?” AP (2012), <Link>.
     4 Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.

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