While serving as a pastor, I developed a theory on the identity of “that which is perfect.” Paul wrote, “But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (I Corinthians 13:10, NKJV). I knew some interpreters think this refers to the completion of the New Testament canon, which leads them to believe spiritual gifts would cease when the writing of the New Testament was finished.
Others think the perfect thing is some aspect of the last days, placing it in the realm of eschatology. Another notion is that Paul was referring to the maturity into which the church would grow, the maturity into which individual believers grow, to the death of a believer, or the general principle that completeness supersedes incompleteness.
I had a different idea.
I’m a big believer in the interpretive influence of context, and it was obvious to me that the context of I Corinthians 13, from beginning to the end, is about love.
But how could this work with I Corinthians 13:10? I knew there was no way I could prove this point to my satisfaction or write convincingly about it unless I had a sufficient command of the first-century Greek language. And I didn’t have it.
By the way, in later life, I have often told my students to stay away from the original languages of Scripture unless they have received formal training from academically qualified teachers. Otherwise, one is almost certain to misinterpret the text. There is far more to accurate use of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek than the ability to look at numbers in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance or other tools keyed to that number system.
So I waited.
Finally, the day came when I faced the necessity of completing advanced academic requirements. I’ve written about that elsewhere, so I won’t take the time to say more about this now.
In short, I enrolled in the Master of Arts in Exegetical Theology degree program offered by Western Seminary (Portland, Oregon). Over the period of three and one-half years, I completed all requirements for this degree, graduating with highest honors. This included fulfilling all the language requirements (i.e., Hebrew and Greek) that would eventually enable me to enroll in the Ph.D. program Regent University School of Divinity offered. Since the Ph.D. requirements included Theological German, I finished that as well.
Now back to I Corinthians 13:10.
As I neared completion of the M.A.E.T., it was necessary to choose the topic for my thesis. Some students refer to this as the “big paper,” but it is more than that.
Now I had the necessary skill in Koine Greek to tackle the project. Could my theory face the test of the Greek language? It did, and the thesis, titled “That Which is Perfect (I Corinthians 13:10): A Non-Eschatological Approach,” was accepted and passed with an A.
As I sat in the final class session leading to graduation, the professor lectured on I Corinthians, specifically I Corinthians 13. As I listened, I realized he was teaching in a way that harmonized with my understanding of this text.
He looked at me and said, “I am almost completely convinced.”
This post is because I recently decided to share the thesis on this blog in short sections. They will be coming soon, and I hope you enjoy them.