My Journey from Theory to Thesis



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.



The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 12

I just wanna speak the name of Jesus
‘Til every dark addiction starts to break
Declaring there is hope and there is freedom
I speak Jesus

These powerful lyrics are from the song “I Speak Jesus.” They were written by a team consisting of Raina Pratt, Kriston Dutton, Charity Gayle, Jesse Reeves, Dustin Smith, Carlene Prince, and Abby Benton. The entire song is found on the album “Endless Praise,” recorded by Charity Gayle and released on September 10, 2021.

I have included this brief excerpt from “I Speak Jesus” in this post for more than one reason. First, I recall the strong spiritual impact of singing the song for the first time during the worship set at our home church, The Sanctuary UPC in Hazelwood, Missouri, where Mitchell Bland is pastor. Second, these lyrics name addiction for what it is: It is a dark, binding force that must be broken. Third, those who suffer from addiction are not left without hope. There is hope and there is freedom! Fourth, the source of this hope and freedom is the name of Jesus.

In Lesson 11 of this series on the addiction of sin, I mentioned that in Lesson 12 we would think about Keith Miller’s proposed adaptation of the Twelve Step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. We will do that now, but if you have not been following this series, you may want to go back and review the previous eleven posts first.

We will list Miller’s twelve steps individually, which means we will complete our examination of his work in a series of posts. With each point, we will compare Miller’s insight to relevant biblical truth.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over our Sin — that our lives had become unmanageable.

This admission immediately calls to mind Paul’s confession recorded in Romans 7:15-25. We have already thought about Paul’s frank acknowledgment of his struggles in this series of posts, and it would be helpful to read his words again.

Some who read Paul’s words find it almost impossible to believe the great apostle could honestly say, “For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Romans 7:15, NKJV). Could he really mean it when he wrote, “I do what I will not to do” (Romans 7:16, NKJV)? But Paul did not back away from this transparent stream of thought. He continued:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (Romans 7:18-19, NKJV).

This sounds a lot like Miller’s admission of personal powerlessness over sin. It calls for help from another source. And of course, that is where Paul’s struggles took him. As he came to the conclusion of his confession, Paul wrote, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25, NKJV).

Some who read Paul’s words are so surprised, even shocked them, that they insist Paul could only be describing something in his past. Surely Paul could not be referring to anything in the days after his conversion!

But Paul wrote in the present tense. There is no hint that all of this is behind him.

I graduated from Western Apostolic Bible College (now known as Christian Life College) in 1967. When I returned to teach in the school in 1982, one of my delights was to discover that Olive Haney, the widow of the school’s founder, Clyde J. Haney, was still a member of the faculty. Her husband had been one of my teachers, and he had a profound influence on me.

One day Sister Haney brought to me her husband’s handwritten notes on the Book of Romans. I was happy to see that Brother Haney acknowledged the significance of the fact that Paul’s words in Romans 7 were written in the present tense. They do not describe some bygone struggle in Paul’s life. They describe the kind of struggle any person of faith may face. They call for admission of personal powerlessnenss apart from Jesus Christ our Lord. Apart from Him, our lives are unmanageable.

In future posts, we will continue to examine Keith Miller’s proposals from a biblical point of view.