Ecclesiology 029: Spiritual Gifts 91 Corinthians 13:8-13 • Dr. Andy Woods • July 15, 2018 • Ecclesiology
Dr. Andy Woods
Ecclesiology 29, Spiritual Gifts 9
7-15-18 Lesson 29
Father, we’re grateful for today, grateful that this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. We’re mindful, Father, of the fact that even waking up this morning is not a guarantee but You in Your mercy and Your grace allowed us another day of life and so I pray, Father, that we would be good stewards of today and this day, the first day of the week, the Lord’s day will really set the tone for the rest of our individual weeks as we start it off on the right path with our focus on You. We specifically ask for the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit today in Sunday School and in the main service that follows, and with the missions lunch that some are going to following the service, for our missionaries and I just pray that through all of these things that You will be glorified and I do ask, Father, that we would leave here not just having gone through the Christian motions today but we would leave here changed people and we’ll need your Holy Spirit to accomplish that. I ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said… Amen.
Good morning everybody. Let’s take our Bibles if we could and open them to 1 Corinthians 13 and verse 8. As we in Sunday School continue our study on Ecclesiology, which is the doctrine of the church. One of the great purposes of the church is to equip the saints so that they can use their spiritual gifts. So that being the case we need to figure out what does the Bible say about the issue of spiritual gifts. By the way, you should have a handout, actually two, the paper I wrote, you might have that from last week and this week’s power point. If you need either of those just put your hand up and then we’ll give you a handout, not a monetary one but a boring paper one.
If the purpose of the church, one of its great purposes is to edify the saints in such a way that they can use their spiritual gifts, that really calls for a study to some extent on the issue of spiritual gifts. So that’s the path and trajectory we’ve been taking for the last few weeks. I think this is lesson 9 on spiritual gifts. So we’re trying to ask and answer four questions: number one, what are some observations about spiritual gifts; we’ve given those to you. The second major question is an issue that divides Christians, are all the spiritual gifts for today. And that’s quite an excursus, isn’t it, into that subject. Believe it or not I’m trying to keep it brief on this but I feel it’s such an important subject we also need to spend some time wrestling with this issue.
There are seven gifts mentioned in the New Testament that we don’t practice here at Sugar Land Bible Church. These are what you call the charismatic gifts, charismatic churches believe that these gifts are in full operation today. We do not believe that; we believe that most of the spiritual gifts are in operation today but these seven gifts that I have there on the screen ceased in the first century. [1. Apostle 2. Prophet 3. Worker of Miracles 4. Tongues 5. Interpretation of tongues 6. Healing 7. Knowledge] And that’s the doctrinal position of our church and more importantly than you understanding that’s the doctrine position of our church we want to explain why we believe this way.
And part of the battle on this whole subject involves taking the spiritual gifts and putting them into four categories: foundational, confirmatory, revelatory and edificatory. Can you say that five times fast: foundational, confirmatory, revelatory and edificatory. A lot of big words there. But we believe that two gifts, apostles and prophets, are what you call foundational gifts. God built the church on the foundation of those two gifts and since the foundation is laid only once we believe that those gifts ceased in the first century. And if you want all of the proof for that we went into it in prior lessons; I’m just sort of reviewing where we are.
And then there’s a series of gifts that are confirmatory, workers of miracles, tongues, and the gift of healing. And we believe those are confirmatory because certain gifts in the Bible have a tendency to cluster around time period where God is doing something new. So those gifts were in operation in early Acts when the church got off the ground but those gifts ceased as well and we explained why that’s the case. And then we moved to I think about three gifts, three or four depending on your count, the revelatory gifts and that’s where we are right now.
And basically these are spiritual gifts that involve God using a human being as a conduit for a direct word from God. A person is a conduit of divine revelation. In other words, when they speak God is speaking. And those gifts would include prophet (in the New Testament sense, New Testament prophets), tongues and interpretation of tongues, and then the gift of knowledge. The gift of knowledge is, if you watch the 700 Club, I like Pat Robertson and I like a lot of the things he says but when you watch him on there he’ll basically say he’s got a word from the Lord, a direct word from the Lord and he basically claims that’s the gift of knowledge. And to his embarrassment one of the things, and you can find this on You Tube that he had a word from the Lord on is Mitt Romney would become President of the United States and beat Obama… when was that election? In 2012, something like that. And he’s on his television show claiming this is a direct word from the Lord, claiming it’s the gift of knowledge and we all know that that’s an example of a prophecy that didn’t materialize. And one of the problems I have with that is if it’s from God it can’t be wrong. Amen! And he was wrong on that count. So that would be an example of the gift of knowledge, where someone is claiming a direct word from the Lord; the gift of prophet the same sort of thing.
And we’ve explained why prophet, knowledge, tongues and their interpretation can be categorized as revelatory gifts. So why would we, at Sugar Land Bible Church, say that those revelatory gifts ceased in the first century? The key passage on it is 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, so let’s re-familiarize ourselves with that passage. I’m going to read these verses again to you.
It says: “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge,” the gift of knowledge “it will be done away with.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part;  but when the perfect” telion in the Greek, the lexical form of that word is telios [ [telios] but it’s telion [ [telion] in this passage which is just that word as a neuter adjective, “but when the perfect,” the telion comes, “the partial will be done away with.  When I as a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.  But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
So what’s the key issue in this passage? What in the world is the telion, because when the telion comes” specifically “told that prophecy knowledge, tongues and their interpretation will cease.” So there’s a battle within the evangelical church on what the telion is. It’s very controversial.
View one, and I’m trying to get rid of the incorrect views and explain to you why they are a problem before we get to the right view. View one we covered last week and this is probably the most popular view today. They interpret the telion, or the perfect as the coming of Jesus Christ or some sort of event related to His return. That’s how they define the perfect. And you’ll recall that last week I gave you six problems with that, and I don’t want to repeat this, if you’re interested in why that view is a problem I would encourage you to go back to the archives and take a listen or take a look at that lesson. But that’s no doubt the most popular view out there and that’s the view that most people believe is true because they’re really never heard any other view.
Now we’re moving on into view two which I think is closer to the truth; it’s much closer to the truth than the first view because if the first view is true then prophecy, tongues and knowledge, you can expect those to continue until the second coming. But that view has a lot of problems with it and that leads us to view number two, which is closer to the truth but I still don’t think view number two is the right view.
The second view is the telion represents the maturity of the church. So what does that mean, “the maturity of the church.” People say well, that’s when the church became unified because it had a closed canon, and it had a central body of truth to rally around and it’s also the time period when the church became independent. You look at a child in terms of their maturity, his or her maturity, by its independence from its parents and it’s argued that the canon sort of completed this unified body of truth, making the ministry of the apostles no longer necessary because their ministry was recorded to us in the pages of God’s Word. So the completion of the canon, the unity of the church that it provided, the independence of the church from the apostolic gifts and the death of the apostles.
And they would also argue for maturity when the church finally made a break from Judaism. The church is all Jewish, you don’t even have a Gentile convert in the church until Acts 10, a guy named Cornelius, so the church is very Jewish. It’s sort of looked at, even by the religious authorities of that time period as just a denomination within Judaism. So when did the church finally cut its cord with Judaism? That happened (we’re told, in A.D. 70) when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and there was no longer a functioning temple. And the Jews were pushed into worldwide dispersion so there was no Judaism to go back to. In fact the land of Israel was renamed at that time, around that time by Emperor Hadian, it was named Palestine which is a name designed to remove any vestige of Jewish thinking from that land.
And so people say well, that happened in A.D. 70 so the church reached its maturity in A.D. 70, so you’ve got a combination of things happening here: a canon that’s completed, a unity of the church, independence from the apostles, death of the apostles, the final break with Judaism, which occurred in A.D. 70 and people say that’s when “the perfect” came. And that’s when, in that general time period, is when these revelatory gifts ceased.
So just a couple of things on that. You notice verse 12, the language “now,” verses “then.” Did you catch verse 12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face, now I know in part but then I will know fully,” the “now” is the time period before the church reached maturity, according to this view.
So the revelatory gifts are in effect until the church reaches maturity. Then is when the church finally reach maturity based on the criteria that we’ve just talked about and that’s when the revelatory gifts ceased. And so as that transition happened the church moved from immaturity to maturity, verse 11, and they moved from limited sight to full sight, verse 12. That’s basically the maturity of the church view, which I think is very close to the truth but it has some problems in it as I’ll show you.
Why do people believe this view? Why do they believe that the telion equals the maturity of the church? Well, it fits very well, doesn’t it, with verse 11, “When I was a child I used to speak like a child and think like a child and reason like a child; when I became a man I did away with childish things. So Paul is talking about maturity in the context and so a lot of people gravitate towards this view because of its context. Beyond that it fits really well with 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, about ten chapters earlier, same book, where Paul, the Apostle, is dealing with the subject of the immature believer versus the mature believer. [1 Corinthians 3:1-3, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,  for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?”
This is where he takes the world and divides it into two, unbelievers and believers, but then he takes the ranks of believers and divides them into thirds. There’s the mature Christian, the infant and then the Christian that keeps returning to the sin nature. And you’ll find Paul’s whole discussion on that in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, so people say well, you know, maturity is a big point that Paul is making in 1 Corinthians so obviously the telion in chapter 13,verse 10 is dealing with the subject of the final maturity of the church.
Beyond that the word telios means maturity; that’s its dominant usage. You’ll find Paul using that word that way in the same book, 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 14:20. [1 Corinthians 2:6, “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away;” 1 Corinthians 14:20, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.”]
And even beyond that, telion when you study it all the way through the New Testament that’s what the word typically means. Not just in Corinthians but elsewhere. I’ve got the verses on the screen for you to look up if you’re ever interested, Philippians 3:, Ephesians 4, Colossians 1, Colossians 4. In other words, when Paul uses this word and when this word is used in the New Testament it typically refers, not to sinlessness but to growth in Christ.
So there are many, many people that believe that the telion is the maturity of the church which basically happened in the first century, maybe a little bit into the second century when that combination of factors came together. The church was no longer Jewish; the church was unified around a central canon of Scripture. The apostles had died so no longer was the church dependent upon the revelatory gifts of the apostles. So people believe that’s when the telion came and that’s when the revelatory gifts ceased.
However, as attractive as that view is, and there are a lot of really good people, for example, the late Robert Thomas of Master’s Seminary was an advocate of this view. As popular as this view is I think it does have some problems with it. One of its problems is the same problem that I tried to surface with the eschaton view, is it pits two ideas that really do not go together because when you look at 1 Corinthians 13:10, the telion is being contrasted with the things that are in part. In verse 10 you’ll see the word telion and then verse you’ll see the word “in part” a couple of times, ek maris, and so really what’s being contrasted here, as I’ll show you is partial revelation versus full revelation.
Partial revelation would be prophecies, tongues and the gift of knowledge. Full revelation would be a completed canon. But the eschaton view pits quantity, partial quantity with a quality, perfection, which is very awkward. And the maturity of the church view basically does the same thing. It’s pitting something that’s a quantity, partial revelation, with a quality, maturity. The maturity view does not provide a suitable antithesis to impart or ek maris, in verse 10 and verse 12 which is quantitative. The closed canon view seals the deal in my opinion because it allows you to put competed revelation with partial revelation. More on that in a second.
So there’s this kind of awkward antithesis that’s taking place with the first two views. Beyond that the maturity view suffers because the criteria used to depict the church, to me is very subjective. I mean, what are we told? The church reached maturity when it was unified around a canon and experienced independence from the apostles. Those are all very subjective pieces of criteria. People say the church reached maturity in A. D. 70. Well, the problem is the church was still very Jewish even after A. D. 70 and really didn’t experience their final break from Judaism until something called Bar Kokhba’s Revolt, A. D. 135. So which is it, is it A.D. 70 that the church reached maturity or is A.D. 135?
And beyond all of that I would say this, when you look at what Paul says about the church I would say the church is still immature today. Amen! In the 21st century, because how does the Apostle Paul define maturity? He doesn’t define it as A.D. 70, A.D. 135, independence from the apostles, unity, all of these kinds of things; he defines it very clearly in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. He says, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk and now with solid food; for you were not able to receive it, even now you’re still not able,  for you are still carnal.” Now how do you know there’s carnality? “For where there is envy, strife and divisions among you, are you not carnal, are you not behaving like mere men.”
I look at the 21st century church in America and it still has those characteristics. People get bent out of shape over the most minor things in churches and they say well, I’m just going to go down the street and find a church the way I want it done. What people want in churches to a large extent is not truth, and this is a tough pill for me to swallow because I’m all about truth, and it’s sort of painful to realize that the average Christian, with very few exceptions, you people being exceptions to the rule, coming to a church like this, but your average person really isn’t interested in truth. What they’re interested in is somebody reinforcing their existing presuppositions. So if they want to be happy they’re interested in a happy preacher that tells them how to be happy. If they want to be successful in business they’re interested in a preacher that tells them how to be successful in business. But when you get into actually talking about holiness and repentance, heaven, hell, all of these kinds of things you’ll find your audience sort of dwindles a tad.
And so Paul defines carnality as these petty divisions and a church that really can’t take in deeper truth. They can’t sit through something more than twenty minutes. Now it’s interesting, I went to the… I’m not publicly confessing my sins or anything but I did to go see the Hans Solo movies with my family, I think it was on Friday. And I watched everybody in that theater, unbroken concentration for two hours, including my twelve year old. And we’re told that people can’t sit through a sermon that goes for fifty minutes or an hour, in our case maybe a little bit over.
And you know, the Christian education people come out with all of their statistics saying you can’t teach long, and have a lot of jokes, have a lot of illustrations, don’t make too many references to the Bible because people just can’t take in a lesson like that. And yet they can sit through Star Wars, no problem. In fact, I was with my wife many times during Vacation Bible School and it’s very interesting to watch these kids. I was a crew leader, we were taking the kids through different stations and my wife was doing [can’t understand word] cinema upstairs and so when we brought the kids into the room it’s interesting that they’re all looking around and it’s like they have no attention span but the moment she clicked on a two to three minute video it was like mesmerization, I mean, there wasn’t a peep in the room. And so it’s sort of frightening the power of media.
But all of that to say people can concentrate if they want to. Your average evangelical Christian today is not interested in that. And so I would say the church is still immature. I don’t think the church has ever reached maturity by Paul’s definition. And Paul explains that immaturity is marked by “children being tossed here and there by waves and carried away by every wind of doctrine and by the trickery of men.” [Ephesians 4:14, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;”]
It never changed in the first century. This is the case today, it’s lake fashions and fads that kind of blow through the body of Christ and the immature just jump on every fashion or fad that comes through. It’s the mature Christian that’s stable and sticks with the Word of God when fashions and fads come and go.
So if that’s the definition of immaturity versus maturity I would say the church, at least in the United States, really never reached maturity. At least it’s not in a state of maturity today, maybe it’s mature in other parts of the world but not here in the United States. Now I’m not saying every Christian, you people, obviously being here, would be an exception to the rule. I’m just talking about what’s the norm out there in evangelicalism.
So for all of these reasons I think the maturity of the church view is a lot closer to the truth than the eschaton view but I don’t it really seals the deal at all, which now takes us to view number three. All of that to say here’s what I think is the right view.
What is the perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:10? [1 Corinthians 13:10, “but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.] The “perfect” is the completion of the canon. The canon was completed when John wrote the final verse in the Book of Revelation on Patmos in A.D. 95. The moment that happened the revelatory gifts, tongues, prophecy, interpretation of tongues, gift of knowledge, ceased.
So how does the completed canon view, which I think is the correct view, handle the now/then language? Well, the “now” of verse 12, when he says, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully….” “Now” is when Paul is writing these things in A. D. 56, A.D. 57, a good forty years before the canon closed. But once the canon closed and God’s revelation to mankind was complete that’s the “then” that Paul is talking about. So when he says “Now” he’s talking about a brief period of time in between the apostles and when the canon closed. The “then” is when the canon close, making the revelatory gifts unnecessary.
How does the canon view handle the two illustrations in verse 11 and verse 12. [Verse 11, “] When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.]
The transition from immaturity to maturity in verse 11 is a transition of the church before the canon closed and after the canon closed. How about the transition in verse 12, between limited sight and full sight. [Verse 12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.:”] The limited sight is before the church had a completed canon; the full sight is when we had all 27 books of the New Testament, 66 books total. That’s when the church entered full sight. So we don’t define full sight as when we get to heaven and see Christ. We define full sight as we have the completed picture, everything God wanted to disclose available for us in these sixty-six books. So that’s how we handle the illustrations in verses 11 and 12 and also the now/then language of verse 12.
So all of this to say that the canon view, canon just means measuring rod, a completed measuring rod of everything God wanted to disclose with the sixty-six books of the Bible that we have. The completed canon view holds that the first century revelatory gifts were in part. So when Paul talks about tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy and knowledge what were those gifts as they were functioning in the times of the apostles. They were, verse 12, “in part.” They were never designed by God to be a completed revelation.
So let me give you some words, if you’re into synonyms, which describe those revelations during that time period of early church history, before the canon closed. You can use words like “impart,” that’s how Paul describes them; sporadic, piecemeal, incomplete, partial, fragmented, limited, they were just glimpses, they were splintered, and they only provided temporary insight to the church in comparison to a completed sixty-six books. Those were so good you want those again, don’t you? Sporadic, piecemeal, incomplete, partial, fragmented, limited, glimpses, temporary, temporary guidance and splintered. That’s how the Apostle Paul looks at through his expression “in part,” tongues in their interpretation, knowledge and prophecy.
Those things were functioning in early Christianity because early Christianity needed those things because early Christianity was without the light of a completed revelation from God. So those things were very necessary because as Paul is writing the New Testament is in the process of being compiled and written but yet it’s incomplete. So how did the church function without a completed canon of Scripture during that time? They were completely dependent on these prophecies, tongues and their interpretation, word of knowledge, but once the canon is completed now you have the full package of everything God wanted to reveal. And once that full package came into existence in the first century with the last words of the Apostle John on Patmos, A.D. 95, what did the church then possess? Not something partial, not something incomplete, not something that’s a mere glimpse, but they had something that was complete which therefore superseded incomplete revelation.
And see what I’m trying to give you is the logic as to why we believe the completed canon put an end to these revelatory gifts. They were very much partial and incomplete by Paul’s own phraseology; that’s why he calls them “in part.” But once the Bible itself has come into existence you have a gift from God that’s amazing; you have a completed package, completed revelation and beyond that you have something that is, and this is a doctrine that’s dying today in evangelicalism, you have something that’s sufficient. The Bible claims for itself sufficiency.
In other words, if you become a student of the Word of God you have everything you need to become all that God has called you to become in Christ Jesus. You do not need some partial revelation somewhere, some partial word of knowledge, some partial prophecy. And what you have today all over evangelicalism is people waiting for some kind of voice from God. The reality of the situation is God has already spoken in His Word and He’s given to us a gift called a completed canon which is sufficient. Sufficient for what? All matters of faith and practice. It is something that is completely sufficient as church leadership to base decisions upon. And this is a claim that the Bible makes for itself, sufficiency.
See, a lot of people believe in inerrancy, the Bible is without error but they don’t believe in sufficiency. Oh, the Bible is without error but it’s not complete, you need to tap into management theory to govern the church, you’ve got to tap into manmade psychology to counsel people, you’ve to be dependent on the latest word of knowledge from the Lord. So an awful lot of people out there will say yeah, we believe in inerrancy but that’s not even on the battleground today. Most Christians believe in inerrancy, what you have to ask them is the question of sufficiency. That’s the point of demarcation.
So should I drop dead of a heart attack and you get another pastor I hope one of the questions that you’ll ask HIM, and I hope it will be a “him” by the way, we’ll teach more on that down the road, is not just do you believe in inerrancy of the Bible but what is your belief in the sufficiency of the Bible, because anybody you get in here will say oh, I believe the Bible is inerrant. But what about the question of sufficiency? That’s completely different, isn’t it?
So what does the Bible claim for itself? It claims sufficiency. You know this verse, “All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for reproof, correct, training in righteousness so the man of God may be equipped for” 99% of good works… “every good work.” Every good work—sufficiency. See that?
How about 2 Peter 1:3-4, talking about Scripture as it was being compiled. “seeing that His divine power has granted to us” what? some things? “everything pertaining to life and godliness, [through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.  For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”] And you can see the context of this, the promises of God.
So not only was the canon that was completed in the first century all sufficient, but it was designed by God to be His final say. Jude 3 tells us that the faith was what? “once for all handed down to the saints. [Jude 1:3, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”] There is no additional insight, there is no additional revelation from God’s perspective that what a person needs to somehow supplement this book, to understand Christianity, to get saved and to live the Christian life.
And of course we looked at last time and eventually we’ll get to this in our study of the Book of Revelation, assuming the rapture doesn’t happen first, but at the end of the Book of Revelation we’re specifically told not to add or subtract from anything. Why? Because the package is complete! Not only is the package complete but what God has given to us in these sixty-six books is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice. So a lot of people will come to me with their private interpretation, their private prophecy for my life, ever had people do that to you? I have a word of the Lord for you… and my reaction… well, how come God didn’t tell me first of all, and secondly, do I really need this? I mean, it’s interesting to think about but do I really need this to develop correctly as a Christian when the Bible is telling me over and over again that revelation is complete and it’s all sufficient. See that?
Completed revelation and sufficient revelation! What does that mean? This superseded, supplanted, finalized God’s compiled New Testament canon upon which church leadership and Christians could base all decisions. If all of that is true, then the gifts impart, which would be what? Prophecy, tongues and knowledge no longer had a purpose, so this is one of the reasons we believe that those gifts ceased when the canon of Scripture was shut. The partial gifts, the impart gifts, the piecemeal gifts have been superseded by something that is complete and sufficient.
And if you’ll notice what Paul says here he analogizes prophecy, tongues, and knowledge to what? Speaking as a child, thinking as a child and reasoning as a child. See, when people get into these gifts, prophecy, tongues and knowledge, from Paul’s perspective you’re just speaking like a child again in immaturity; you’re thinking like a child and you’re reasoning like a child because these gifts were necessary before the completed picture was given to the church. Now that all of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are available you look back at those prior gifts that the church was dependent on as simply a child in a state of immaturity. Do you see that?
Robert Dean, pastor of West Houston Bible Church, he’s on our board at Chafer Seminary, write this: “The child represents the incomplete knowledge available to the infant, pre-canon church. Just as a child has inadequate knowledge to live as a mature adult, so the pre-canon church lacked a sufficient canon and doctrine to lead the spiritual life of the new Church Age. An adult reaches maturity when he is complete with the knowledge and skills necessary for life. So, too the post canon church has the completed canon of Scripture which is sufficient for every need, every problem, every difficulty in life. Through the learning of the doctrines of the Word under the filling of the Holy Spirit the believer is able to pursue spiritual maturity.” [Robert Dean, “Three Arguments for the Cessation of Tongues” (paper, Conservative Theological Society, Fort Worth, TX, 2002), 9.]
In other words, in God there is no longer an excuse for a Christian not to mature because they have all of the tools they need for the job. What would that be? A completed canon which superseded the partial incomplete revelation that the church was experiencing prior to that period of time.
Kenneth Gentry, now this is interesting because I usually speak against the teachings of Kenneth Gentry, because he’s what you call a replacement theologian and a preterist. But it’s interesting, I think he’s got it completely right on the subject of the canon of Scripture. And see, that’s part of growing up in Christ is you can quote somebody because you agree with them on one point but you don’t have to carte blanche believe everything they say. And the mature child of God is able to make that distinction. There’s a lot of people out there that disagree with one thing someone says and they throw out everything and that’s not growth in Christ. If you’re growing in Christ you have a completed canon and you can say well, I agree with that but I don’t agree with this.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, right? He said “all men are created equal,” do you agree with that? I agree with that. But does that mean I agree with everything Thomas Jefferson ever said or did? No, the guy in his life made some sort of wild statements about theology that I don’t think are orthodox although at other times in his life he sounds very much like an orthodox Christian. Thomas Jefferson, for whatever reason owned slaves. So you could say well, I disagree with him there and I disagree with him there but I sure agree with what he said over here in the Declaration of Independence. See? And that’s what you have to do with people that you listen to; you have to sort of develop the skill of sifting. I hope you’re doing that with me when I talk any time at this church, I hope you don’t just believe something because “out pastor says it.” And I hope you don’t just disagree with something because you don’t like something I said three years ago.
So Kenneth Gentry writes, “When Paul was in his childhood, he thought as a child was expected to think. But when he became a mature man, he naturally put away childish thought modes. Similarly,” by way of analogy, this is the analogy that Paul is making here, “when the church was in her infancy, she operated by means of bit by bit piecemeal revelation. But when she grew older, she operated by means of finalized Scripture. Thus, tongues were related to the Church in her infancy stage (cp. 1 Cor. 14:19, 20).” [Kenneth Gentry, Robert Dean, “Three Arguments for the Cessation of Tongues” (paper, Conservative Theological Society, Fort Worth, TX, 2002), 9.] So what I’m trying to give you is the logic of the canon view, the logic as to why we think that telion represents the New Testament canon.
You’ll notice from our doctrinal statement that we say those gifts ceased when the perfect came which we define as the closed canon of Scripture. It made those piecemeal gifts in Revelation unnecessary. So there’s a lot of people out there that say Lord, talk to me, and what does God do? He gives them a Bible. There are so many people out there that are listening for some kind of extra voice from God, Lord speak to me, speak to me. The reality is God has already spoken, number one, through creation, you learn an awful lot about God just by looking at creation. I mean, there’s a big debate today about homosexuality, I don’t even know if I want to get into that; that ought to be resolved just by looking at creation, right? You can’t have two people of the same sex reproducing. Now I could figure that out, not by even reading the Bible, I could figure out that homosexuality is outside of the norm in terms of how God created the world, because God has spoken in creation. He’s also spoken in these sixty-six books. And people say well, you don’t understand pastor, I need to hear an audible voice. Okay, read the Bible out loud then, is my suggestion. [Laughter]
I mean, what does the Bible say? If you’re faithful in the small things He’ll trust you with what? A greater thing. All these people listening for a voice from God, why in the world would God ever entrust Himself to them in that way when they haven’t fulfilled this small task of trying to understand these sixty-six books. I mean, thank God this is only sixty-six books, this could read like the United States tax code, couldn’t it? God only gave us sixty-six books and I’ll probably die before I teach all sixty-six books at this church. But at least I’ll have taught ten percent of them. Amen.
So why would we believe this? Let me give you the strengths of this view. It solves the problem of pitting two quantitative ideas together. The other views, the eschaton view, the maturity view pit a quality against a quantity in part and that’s (to my mind) not very satisfying. The canon view solves that problem because it takes a limited quantity in part and juxtaposes it against a one hundred percent completed canon, a one hundred percent quantity. So when Paul says “when the perfect comes the in part will be done away with.” So that handles well taking two quantitative ideas and juxtaposing them.
Myron Houghton writes: “Is it possible to determine the nature of partial gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge? Yes, the answer is they are revelational in quality.” That’s why we’re dealing with them here, these are the revelatory gifts. “Since this is so, then the perfect must also be” what, what’s the last word? “revelational.” [Myron J. Houghton, “A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8–13,” Bib Sac 153 (July-September 1996): 350.] You’ve got to pit revelation with revelation. Complete revelation with partial revelation, the other two views don’t do that .
Charles R. Smith writes, ““‘That which is complete’ should logically be of the same kind as ‘that which is partial’ and is therefore most naturally understood as a reference to the completion of” what? “revelation for the Church Age.” [Charles R. Smith, Tongues in Biblical Perspective (Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1972), 75] So we don’t have that awkward problem of quantity/quality being juxtaposed. We take quantity, partial, ek maris, with quantity complete, the full disclosure revelation of God and the picture is complete. So that’s the first reason why I think this view is very attractive. Now the twenty-five dollar question is well, this is all very interesting but can you give me an example anywhere where the word telios, which typically means maturity, refers to part of the Word of God? Does telios ever refer to the Word of God? And what’s my answer? Yes, it’s in the Book of James.
By the way, can I ask you a question. What was the first New Testament book written? I’ve got it on the screen, the Book of James, the very first book ever written. So this meaning was well established early on. James 1:25 says, “But one who looks intently at the perfect” that’s our word telios, isn’t it, “the perfect” what? “law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” There telios as an adjective is used to describe the Word of God in the earliest book of the New Testament.
Beyond this, the canon view handles well the analogy of the mirror in verse 12. Take a look again at 1 Corinthians 13:12. “For now we see in a” what? “mirror” that’s the word esoptron and that word “mirror” is used only one other time in the whole New Testament. And guess where it’s used? The passage I was just quoting from, where the Word of God is called the perfect. James says, “But prove yourselves doers of the Word and not merely hearers who delude themselves for anyone who is a hearer of the word and not a doer of the Word is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror.” Same word, esoptron, that’s the only other time in the whole New Testament it’s used.
So Paul is using telion and esoptron the way those words were used in the very first book of the New Testament, the Book of James… well established meanings. And isn’t that what the Word of God does to us? Isn’t it a mirror? The interesting thing about a mirror is it won’t lie to you; it’s kind of like your bathroom scales, you know, that satanic device that lies to you all the time? [Laughter] That scale can’t be right. The reality is numbers are objective. So when people say wow, you know, you’re looking good. Well, thanks, but the numbers don’t lie to me. And that’s what the Word of God does, it will not lie to you, it will give you an accurate picture of portrayal of who we are and why we need redemption. And so this view, what I’m trying to say, handles the mirror example really well.
In fact, in Corinth it was known for its mirrors. Craig Keener, in his Bible Background Commentary says, “Corinth was famous as the producer of some of the finest bronze mirrors in antiquity.”…“But even the best mirrors reflected images imperfectly.” [Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1993), 480; Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, ed. F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 647-48.]
So they weren’t advanced mirrors like we have today; you would look at it and it would be sort of an imperfect replica and so Paul is using analogies from their own time period that they would understand as he compares the partial revelatory gifts, which are like a mirror with a poor reflection, with the final completed canon which gives you a perfect visions of yourself.
Robert Dean says, ““Paul envisioned a time, yet future when believers would have the entire realm of mystery doctrine to objectively know themselves as never before and be spiritually self-sustaining. Only God has a complete knowledge of the believer and only with a complete canon can the believer have sufficient, objective knowledge of himself. Through learning and applying doctrine from the completed and sufficient Scripture a mirror is constructed in his soul. This mirror of truth enables the believer to accurately and objectively evaluate his own life and circumstances from the divine viewpoint. Prior to the completed canon the believer could only have an incomplete understanding of who he is and what he possesses as a member of the royal family of God, and all the vast assets that God has provided for him. It is the completed Word of God that provides this sufficient, perspicuous understanding of ourselves as we truly are. Prior to the revelation of the mystery doctrine the believer looked into the mirror of God’s Word dimly and saw a riddle, due to incomplete revelation.” [Robert Dean, “Three Arguments for the Cessation of Tongues” (paper, Conservative Theological Society, Fort Worth, TX, 2002), 11.]
The revelations in part were just riddles; they were mirrors that didn’t do their job correctly. They did their job partially but the completed canon is that accurate mirror which is necessary for self-assessment.
Myron Houghton says, “Because believers today possess complete revelation, they are able to understand what God’s Word teaches about themselves, their potential, their limitations, and the means that God has made available for them to obtain victory over sin in a clear and detailed manner that was not possible before the completion of the canon. The Scriptures equip a believer for every good work by being profitable for teaching, reproving, correcting, and training” in righteousness. (2 Tim 3:16–17).” [A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8–13,” BibSac 153 (July-September 1996): 353]
So the canon view also handles the mirror example really well; it also handles the face to face example well because face to face everybody says well, that’s when I’m going to see God face to face. You see God in verse 12? “For now we see in a mirror dimly but then face to face,” you see the word God there before “face to face”? It’s not even talking about seeing God face to face. It’s seeing your own face in a mirror, that’s what it is talking about, which was an accurate impossibility before the canon of Scripture was completed.
Does the Scripture give us an honest assessment? What do you think? I mean, sometimes reading the Bible can be very depressing because you see yourself as how you are without resources for grace and the need for grace. But you’ve got to get the bad news before you can get the what? The good news. A mirror doesn’t lie. Romans 5:20, jot that down, Romans 7:7, Galatians 3:24 and I’ve already given you James 1:20-25.
[Romans 5:20, “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Romans 7:7, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” Galatians 3:24, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” James 1:20-25, “Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.)  Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ;  but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.”  And they were glorifying God because of me.”
One other thing is the canon view handles really well the “nows,” there’s a “now” in verse 12 and another “now in verse 13. Look at what verses 12 and 13 says. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” “But now” verse 13, “faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” See the “nows” there?
What we’re saying is the “now” in verse 12 was immediate, it was coming at any minute. But the “now” in verse 13 would continue on up until the second coming, because even though the canon has been completed and the revelatory gifts in part has ceased, faith and hope continue today. Right! So if that’s true why am I taking the “now” in verse 12 in the immediate sense but the “now” in verse 13 in more of a sense describing something larger, the time period between the two advents. How could I do that? Because you’ll notice in Greek that the “nows” are different. The English doesn’t tell you this; the Bible wasn’t written in English. But the Greek does; the immediate “now” verse 12, is arti. The “now” which is talking about a larger period of time between the two comings of Christ is nun, or nuni.
You say wow, you’re really getting microscopic on us, is it that big a deal? What’s our doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture? The Scripture is inspired right down to what? Every word!, Matthew 4:4. [Matthew 4:4, “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”]
The Scripture is also inspired right down to the smallest letter or strokes of the pen that make up the words. That’s the claim of the Bible. The claim of the Bible is you have to pay attention to the words and even the smallest stroke of the pen, because the doctrine of inspiration goes right down to that detail level. So that’s why you have to pay attention to the shift in “nows” Why in the world would Paul say arti, verse 12,and then verse 13 switch to a totally different word? A lot of people say well, it’s just stylistic. NO, it’s not just stylistic. When the Holy Spirit was guiding Paul to write the Holy Spirit was guiding Paul’s pen right down to the very words and the very strokes of the pen. You cannot dismiss something like this as stylistic. Now when inspiration is involved.
So what’s the bottom line? When arti, verse 12, and nun, verse 13, are used together, arti means something imminent, something that’s going to happen very quickly, very shortly, maybe within the lifetime of the apostle Paul. The nun is talking about something that is much broader. You say well where are you getting this from? I have the quote for you there in a very refutable book called The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. I don’t have time to read you the whole quote but what you’ll see is when arti and nun are used simultaneously together arti means something that’s going to happen very fast, nun means something that’s much more extensive in terms of time.
You say well, what’s your point? My point is that is what Paul is doing, when he says “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face,” he’s talking about a shift that’s probably going to occur within his own lifetime. But then the canon of Scripture is shut, the revelatory gifts cease and then he says, “but faith hope and love abide, the greatest of these is love.” Now he uses a completely different word and he’s talking about faith, hope and love continuing right on through the second coming, and yet when Jesus comes back will faith and hope be necessary? It will not. But what will always be necessary? Love.
So what am I trying to get at here? I’m trying to get at the fact that the canon view pits two quantitative ideas. It’s faithful to the meaning of the word telios as revealed in the first book of the New Testament. It’s faithful to the concept of a mirror; the word “mirror” is only used one other place (in James). And it also handles really, really well the shift from the arti to the nun in verses 12 and 13. And you say well, pastor, are there any problems with the canon view. And yes there are and so next week I’m going to give you what many consider to be the major problems including the problems with cessationism in general and I’m going to show you how all of those problems can be overcome. And that’s kind of the direction that we’re going next week. I just want you to have time to digest this information. This is kind of high powered stuff, amen.
Let’s pray. Father, we are grateful for what we have in Scripture, maybe we walked in here not understanding everything but we can understand this, the Scripture is a tremendous gift You’ve given us, it’s a completed sufficient revelation. And help us here at Sugar Land Bible Church to honor that, not to deify the Scripture or to worship the Scripture but to see it as a great gift from You which is communicative, you’ve communicated to us already and we’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said… Amen.