Justin Taylor posted a very good summary of Tom Schreiner's book, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter. On the Gospel Coalition website here.
In it, Taylor presents five points that summarize what he thinks are good arguments from a cessationist against cessationists. I thoroughly appreciate Tom Schreiner arguing the idea: cessationists are using bad arguments. However, Schreiner is on the wrong side.
Schreiner is arguing against the good arguments and proposing the bad ones. Allow me to walk through the arguments that he makes and illustrate this point.
1. The difference between the two verbs (“will cease” vs. “will come to an end”) puts too much weight on the grammatical difference. The two different verbs “come to an end” (katargeō) and “cease” (pauomai) are used for stylistic variety, and we should not press any distinction between the two verbs. I am not saying that the verbs are absolutely synonymous, but that we shouldn’t read into them a major distinction
The differences are more than just stylistic. παύσονται is often used with speech. While prophecy and knowledge are obviously spoken, tongues is a word that literally refers to speech and it makes perfect sense why Paul would use παύσονται.
It’s also important to note that both καταργηθήσονται and the second use καταργηθήσεται in the passive voice mean “cease”. Again the differences are more than just stylistic, but they are synonymous words in their respective voices. There are Greek words that go with certain activities. Just like in English, it’s not necessarily correct to say, “delicious” when not referring to food.
Obviously the big crux of the differences has to do with the middle voice. Even if the middle voice means that tongues cease on their own, voice has nothing to do with time and therefore cannot mean that tongues cease before
the perfect. The voice establishes, “who, what or how” but not when. Furthermore, one has to establish what kind of middle παύσονται is. Not all middles are reflexives.
Dan Wallace also shows that,
“The dominant opinion among NT scholars today, however, is that παύσονται is not an indirect middle. The argument is that παύω in the future is deponent”.1
And even though Dr. Wallace argues that παύσονται is middle he also states that the cessation of gifts is when the perfect happens,
“But this is not to say that the middle voice in 1 Cor 13:8 proves that tongues already ceased! This verse does not specifically address when tongues would cease, although it is giving a terminus ad quem: when the perfect comes.”2
2. It is scarcely evident that Christians are more mature post-canonically. It isn’t clear . . . that we are more mature than Christians were in the first century. Such a claim is a rather bold assertion, for it could be read to say that we are even more spiritually mature than the apostles. A quick reading of church history and of the current evangelical landscape raises significant doubts about the assertion as well.
This isn’t the maturity argument and is definitely not my argument. Nor does it seem the Schreiner really grasps the significance of what Paul is saying if the maturity argument is true.
It’s not that we as Christians are more mature than the entirety of Christianity in the first century including Paul himself. It’s that the church itself has moved out of a state of infancy where it needs supernatural means like gifts and apostles.
The church is in a state where it can function without the care of the apostles having grown to the point where it practically conquered the Roman Empire by the time of Constantine.
Having said that, we are more mature than the Corinthians in 1st Corinthians. Consider Paul’s words, that Schreiner ignores,
“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:1, ESV)
This is the same congregation that had immorality that not even unbelievers tolerated (1 Cor 5:1), and the whole congregation was tolerating. Paul said that not only are they immature, he can’t even talk to them as believers.
For Schreiner to argue against the maturity argument, he would have to establish that there are genuine congregations after the 1st century who continued to tolerate incest.
Schreiner’s rebuttal is a bad one that doesn’t even actually attack the real argument. Not to mention that fact that even the Corinthians in 2nd Corinthians ended up being more mature than 1st Corinthians.
3. Paul’s historical location when he wrote 1 Corinthians creates a significant problem with seeing “the perfect” as the completed canon. Paul believed Jesus would return soon, and history would come to an end. This isn’t to take away from Paul’s authority or accuracy, for nothing he wrote is contradicted by two thousand years of history passing. The point I am making is that it is almost impossible that Paul could have meant by “the perfect” the New Testament canon.
This is said with respect to Schreiner’s specific argument that, “It is clear, therefore, that ‘the perfect’ is another way of describing ‘face to face,’ and seeing ‘face to face’ most naturally refers to Christ’s second coming. . . .”
This is stated without any shred of evidence. And although it’s something that could refer to the second coming in which we can see Jesus face to face Paul actually uses similar expressions to refer to fellowship with other believers. The rest of the NT even uses similar expressions to refer to various interactions between each other:
Acts 25:16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him.
1Cor. 13:12 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 rI have been fully known.
2Cor. 10:1 ¶ I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—
Col. 2:1 ¶ For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,
1Th. 2:17 ¶ But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face,
1Th. 3:10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
2John 12 ¶ Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
3John 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
I also find it absolutely fascinating how Schreiner and others who hold to the perfect as the second coming ignore verse 11. Which is a verse that explicitly refers to maturity and doing away things in a state of maturity.
Verse 11 clearly has nothing to do with the second coming of Jesus Christ and has everything to do with maturity. Not to mention that, but everywhere in 1st Corinthians that the word τέλειος is used it refers to maturity. Consider the following examples:
Σοφίαν δὲ λαλοῦμεν ἐν τοῖς τελείοις, σοφίαν δὲ οὐ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου οὐδὲ τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου τῶν καταργουμένων·
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;
ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ τὸ τέλειον Σοφίαν, τὸ ἐκ μέρους καταργηθήσεται.
but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
Ἀδελφοί, μὴ παιδία γίνεσθε ταῖς φρεσὶν ἀλλὰ τῇ κακίᾳ νηπιάζετε, ταῖς δὲ φρεσὶν τέλειοι γίνεσθε.
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.
5. The notion that “the perfect” refers to the canon or to spiritual maturity is also ruled out by what Paul says about knowledge. “When the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end” (1 Cor. 13:10). Now Paul sees imperfectly and knows partially, but when the perfect arrives he will see “face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). Partial knowledge will give way to complete knowledge (1 Cor. 13:12). If the “perfect” refers to the New Testament canon or to spiritual maturity, we no longer have partial knowledge. Those who have the canon or those who are mature know fully. Indeed, they know more than Paul who confesses that he knows only partially! But any notion that our knowledge is perfect or better than Paul’s is clearly false. Our knowledge continues to be imperfect. We know truly but not comprehensively and exhaustively. We will only know fully when Jesus returns, when we see him face to face.
As I mentioned above, there are some very significant issues that Schreiner is missing. He missed the notion that “perfect” literally means mature in 1st Corinthians. He’s missing verse 11 which proves exactly what Paul is talking about.
But on the issue of how Paul understands knowledge, Schreiner also fails to take into account the context again. Maturity is a huge issue of 1st Corinthians as well as their lack of unity and proper Christian fellowship. Just look at how they acted in chapter 11.
It’s essential to understanding Paul’s teaching on knowledge to also understand how Paul uses the phrase, ἐκ μέρους. He uses this phrase to refer to
individuals doing this individually instead of collectively as a group. Again, another word mysteriously translated differently in Chapter 13 (Dr. Collins maintains that translators keep mistranslated this phrase because of how it’s mistranslated in the KJV, and they’re relunctant to change something when it has a KJV precedent).
ἐκ μέρους is translated immediately before in 1 Corinthians 12:27 as “individually” affirming that the translators know what this phrase means. Thus if translated consistently in Chapter 13 it starts to make more sense:
1 Cor 13:9, 10, “For we know individually, and we prophecy individually but when the perfect comes that which is individually will cease”.
ἐκ μέρους Happens to also be used in verse 12, where Schreiner expects us to know how Paul uses the term, “knowledge”. And understanding what Paul said in verse 9 and 10 lays the foundation. He was talking about how they do things individually (with supernatural gifts), but when the perfect comes they do things naturally (with normative gifts / offices).
1 Cor 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face (expression of fellowship, which Corinth is currently failing in), for now I know [ἐκ μέρους, individually], but then I will thoroughly know as I have been thoroughly known.”
So again, here’s another instance where Schreiner doesn’t understand the arguments and the text. The argument is not that someone like me is saying Paul has less knowledge or something like that. The argument is that Corinth does not know each other in a real, complete sense. The issue is personal knowledge of one another, not doctrinal knowledge or something else. And Paul is clearly speaking in context as a collective “I” or “we”.
Furthermore, I presented 1 Corinthians 14:20 where τέλειος is used again, and means, “mature”. Notice what Paul is saying in that verse. Be τέλειος in your thinking not “childlike or immature”. Paul is telling them to be “perfect” in their thinking and said when the “perfect” comes, supernatural gifts cease.
So Paul is telling the Corinthians about the cessation of certain gifts that he absolutely does expect would be fulfilled in their lifetime. This also defines what Paul is referring to with respect to knowledge. It has to do with knowledge that is mature, knowledge that is pure, avoids evil, etc.
So in conclusion, not only does Schreiner fail to make a convincing argument on why we should drop 1 Corinthians 13:8 as an argument, careful examination of the content of 1 Corinthians in response to his claims, proves just the opposite.
1). Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New
Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996. Print.