Why the controversy?
To tell you the truth, I don’t completely understand why there is so much controversy. I think the scripture is rather clear on the subject, but I will make an attempt at explaining it. There actually isn’t much disagreement about the fact that there are spiritual gifts operating in the church today. The question is, are ALL of these gifts operating legitimately and are all of them necessary in the church today?
There are bible teachers whom I respect greatly, that teach that some of these gifts are natural and some are supernatural. Look at the list again, you can probably recognize which ones they are putting in the supernatural category. Prophecy (in its’ “foretelling” sense, all would agree that it is in operation in the “forth telling” sense), utterance of knowledge, utterance of wisdom, healing, miracles, distinguishing of spirits, and most especially, tongues. They might also use the term “miraculous” for these particular gifts.
These teachers usually claim that these gifts stopped when the canon of scripture was completed. The reason they cite, is that those gifts are not necessary anymore because we have the revealed Word of God to use, rather than rely on those gifts. The verse they most often quote to defend that position is in 1 Cor 13:8-10 “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”(ESV)
Clearly, the passage does mention three gifts as examples of gifts that which will pass away, but in order to make that passage work, “the perfect” has to be the Bible. “In part or partial” has to represent those supernatural gifts.
Though that is a possibility, it certainly could be considered a stretch. There is room for debate about what this verse means and one proof text is not really sufficient to “hang your hat on.” Many Bible commentators lean toward the “perfect” being that state of being we are in when we are in heaven or the presence of the Lord. Here are some examples:
“[But when that which is perfect is come] Does come; or shall come. This proposition is couched in a general form. It means that when anything which is perfect is seen or enjoyed, then that which is imperfect is forgotten, laid aside, or vanishes. Thus, in the full and perfect light of day, the imperfect and feeble light of the stars vanishes. The sense here is, that "in heaven" - a state of absolute perfection-that which is "in part," or which is imperfect, shall be lost in superior brightness. All imperfection will vanish. And all that we here possess that is obscure shall be lost in the superior and perfect glory of that eternal world. All our present unsatisfactory modes of obtaining knowledge shall be unknown. All shall be clear, bright, and eternal.” (from Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database Copyright © 1997, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)
“[But when that which is perfect] the state of eternal blessedness; then that which is in part-that which is imperfect, shall be done away; the imperfect as well as the probationary state shall cease forever.” (from Adam Clarke's Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)
‘A few have suggested that this state of perfection will not be reached until the new heavens and new earth are established. Another point of view understands perfection to describe the state of the church when God's program for it is consummated at the coming of Christ. There is much to commend this view, including the natural accord it enjoys with the illustration of growth and maturity which Paul used in the following verses.” (from Bible Knowledge Commentary/Old Testament Copyright © 1983, 2000 Cook Communications Ministries; Bible Knowledge Commentary/New Testament Copyright © 1983, 2000 Cook Communications Ministries. All rights reserved.)
The often quoted Greek scholar, Kittle says this. “In the Pauline corpus the meaning "whole" is suggested at 1 Cor 13:10 by the antithesis to Spiritual gifts —
Tongues, knowledge and prophecy are mentioned — do not give full knowledge of God .This will be granted to the Christian only with the immediacy of face-to-face,” (from Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Copyright © 1972-1989 By Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. All rights reserved.)
Verse 12 of this same passage seems to support the idea that the “perfect” is when we are face to face with Jesus. 1 Cor 13:12; “12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”(ESV) I think that it is obvious that when we are face to face with Jesus Himself, we will no longer need any of the spiritual gifts.
Let me ask you another question. As you look back at the lists given in Romans and 1st Corinthians, keeping in context with the verses surrounding them, do you see Paul making any distinction as to the nature of these gifts? Does He give any indication that any of these gifts are natural? I would have to say no!
The fact that these gifts are imparted by the Holy Spirit, makes every single one of them supernatural! We have nothing in our natural state that is valuable for spiritual growth for ourselves or anybody else. The only thing of spiritual value we have, is that which has been bestowed upon us by God! Therefore there cannot be two categories of spiritual gifts, but only one. They are unmerited gifts of grace, given to us by the Holy Spirit. Now, Paul did say that we are to desire the greater gifts (v 31) and that even more excellent than this was LOVE. But it is interesting to look at which gifts did Paul consider greater,
1 Cor 14:1 “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” He goes on to explain why and yet still says he wishes all spoke in tongues. He also seem to indicate that interpretation is greater because of its value to the body. Let us ask some more questions.
If some of these gifts were going to pass away after just some sixty to one hundred years (after all the New Testament scripture was completed), Why would Paul have spent so much time in instructing the church about their use? Yes, he was correcting the Corinthians in misuse of the gifts, but in so doing giving instructions to the whole body of Christ. Why did Paul make no other distinction of the gifts? Why did he say to earnestly desire all of these gifts?
TO BE CONTINUED: