(1 Cor. 13:8-13) Are prophecy and tongues temporary?

CLAIM: Cessationist Richard Gaffin writes, “A basic point of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 is the temporary, that is, less than eschatological significance of prophetic gifts like prophecy and tongues.”[1] Does this passage teach that the charismatic gifts are limited to the first century church?

RESPONSE: If prophecy and tongues are done away with, then so is “knowledge” (v.8). Moreover, in order to interpret this in the Cessationist view, we would need to equate “the perfect” with the closing of the NT canon (v.10). But this refers to our glorification—not the closing of the canon. Earlier in 1 Corinthians, Paul said that believers will have all spiritual gifts until Christ returns (1 Cor. 1:7). This seems to be a good parallel passage with this passage in dispute. Paul chooses the term “perfect” in contrast to the Corinthian’s immaturity and childishness (1 Cor. 13:11). He is “probably picking up on the Corinthians’ language and self-understanding in order to add rhetorical force to his argument.”[2] We see this especially throughout chapters 1-4 (cf. 1 Cor. 14:20).

Furthermore, the expression “face to face” is used repeatedly in the OT to refer to seeing God personally (see Gen. 32:30; Judg. 6:22; Deut. 5:4; 34:10; Ezek. 20:35; 33:11). When will this happen? This must refer to glorification. John explains this clearly, when he writes, “They will see His face” (Rev. 22:4).

[1] Gaffin himself does not believe that this passage refers to the closing of the canon, but rather, he believes that this passage cannot refer to the return of Christ, but some point beforehand. Grudem, Wayne. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views. Counterpoints: Bible and Theology. Zondervan. 2001. 56.

[2] Mark Taylor, 1 Corinthians, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 28, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 317.