Either we all should be experiencing tongues, healings, prophesy and miracles, or Jesus has indeed returned in power.
1 Corinthians 13:8-10 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, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
These gifts are a part of the list mentioned in chapter 12, which itself is not exhaustive but rather representative of the outpouring of the Spirit (see Acts 2). The gifts listed by Paul include, in addition to tongues, knowledge and prophesy, words of wisdom, faith, healing, miracles, distinguishing of spirits, and interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
The gifts of prophesy, tongues and knowledge are probably simply a representative sample, showing that these without love are pointless and that they are only temporary anyway. Because all of the gifts are supposed to work together for the building up of the body and for a sign for unbelievers and believers, it seems far-fetched to imagine that these three are singled out to be temporary while the others will remain.
So, if Paul is saying that the gifts are temporary, when would they be abolished?
Answer: When the perfect comes.
The big Question is: What is the perfect, and when was it to come?
Some say ‘the perfect’ is Jesus at His coming. Some say ‘the perfect’ is the full canon of Scripture, which came with the last of the written scriptures of the apostles.
It is not clear just from the word what the ‘perfect’ is. A simple word search shows that the ‘perfect’ (=complete, of full age) word is used to describe a number of things: the will of God (Romans 12:2); the good work begun in Christians by God (Philippians 1:6); our state at the resurrection (Philippians 3:12); Jesus (Hebrews 5:9; 7:28); the heavenly tabernacle through which Christ passed (Hebrews 9:11); every gift from the Father (James 1:17) and so on and so on.
One obvious thing not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament, is the Canon of Scripture. In other words, it would be without precedence to suggest that Paul meant that those gifts were for the time when the Scriptures were incomplete, but would be made redundant when they were complete.
Although we should not always try to ‘logic’ away the Bible, I think there are some pretty logical reasons why the Canon of Scripture answer is not ‘the perfect’ that would come and do away with the gifts.
First of all, what is the purpose of the gifts? They were, primarily, a sign to believers and unbelievers. This is clear in Acts 2:14-36.
And, of course, Paul states later in the Corinthians letter:
1 Corinthians 14:22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.
Jesus Himself, having used miracles to establish His own authority, said that His disciples would also do the same:
Mark 16:17 “These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues…
On the other hand, what was the purpose of Scripture? Were the writings of the apostles for a sign? Of course not. They were for instruction of believers in how to live, and explanation for believers on the works and words of Jesus.
Clearly then, the Canon of Scripture was by no means a perfection of the signs of Spiritual gifts.
The second reason why I think it is illogical to equate Scripture in its completion with ‘the perfect’ comes from the use of words in verse 10 itself:
1 Corinthians 13:10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
We have the perfect, and the partial. Now, in the English, they are two adjectives serving as nouns. As adjectives, the implication is that they are describing the same noun. “When the perfect something comes, the partial something will be done away.”
Could it read, “When the perfect (or complete) Scripture comes, the partial Scripture will be done away.” Obviously, even the least, minutest utterance of prophesy would not be done away. It might not be necessary, but it would still hold.
No, Paul already said that the gifts would be done away. Therefore, the perfect would have to be the counterpoint to whatever the gifts were in part.
Now, of what were the gifts a sign?
Acts 2:16-17 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: (17) “And it shall be in the last days,” God says, “that I will pour forth of my Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…”
The gifts were a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and a sign that the Spirit had been poured out in the last days.
However, the giving of the Holy Spirit, as powerful and as spectacular as that might have been, was only (a) a substitute for Jesus, and (b) a downpayment (pledge), sealing the redemption brought about by Jesus and redeemable upon His return.
John 14:25-26 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. (26) But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
John 15:26-27 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, (27) and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
John 16:7-16 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you… (12) I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. (13) But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. (14) He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. (15) All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. (16) A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.”
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, (22) who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.
Ephesians 1:9-14 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him (10) with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him (11) also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, (12) to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. (13) In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, (14) who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
Even while the Spirit was active, the redeeming work of Christ was incomplete (partial). The inheritance was sealed, but not yet attained.
Hebrews 9:8-28 The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, (9) which is a symbol for the present time… (15) For this reason He (Christ) is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance… (27) And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (28) so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
The timing is given here, also.
When the first tabernacle is out of the way (removed), the new perfect tabernacle takes effect.
When the partial is done away, the perfect comes.
In the meantime, there is a pledge, a downpayment.
When the perfect comes, the downpayment is done away.
The downpayment was the seal, but would be removed, along with the accompanying signs.
Imperfect = partial = downpayment
This was the seal of redemption, the pledge of the Holy Spirit, and the signs that accompanied and proved His presence.
Perfect = New perfect covenant = inheritance
This would accompany Jesus upon His return when the (then) present tabernacle was removed. Yes, God would continue to make His dwelling within us (Jeremiah 31:31ff), but the New Covenant would be fully in effect with the casting out of the old (Galatians 4:22-31).