Carson on 1 Cor 13:8–13—What Am I Missing?

On Sunday I’m teaching our Sunday school class on the subject of tongues. I’m basically going to do an overview using the paper I wrote for Dr. Reimers’s Pneumatology class. In doing a little review, I reread Gaffin’s article in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views and found it insightful and solid. I then decided to take a look at Carson’s Showing the Spirit since I bought it recently for my Libronix Digital Library System. Carson takes issue with Gaffin on a few points, but I’m at a loss to understand one of Carson’s objections. Maybe you can help me see what I’m missing.

Gaffin says,

It is gratuitous to insist that this passage teaches that the modes of revelation mentioned, prophecy and tongues, are to continue functioning until Christ’s return. Paul is not intending to specify the time when any particular mode will cease. What he does affirm is the termination of the believer’s present, fragmentary knowledge, based on likewise temporary modes of revelation, when “the perfect” comes. The time of the cessation of prophecy and tongues is an open question so far as this passage is concerned. (Perspectives on Pentecost, 111; quoted in Showing the Spirit, 69 n. 57)

According to Gaffin all we can say for sure from this passage is that the sign gifts will have ceased by the parousia. Maybe they will have ceased earlier than the parousia; maybe they will cease at the parousia. That will have to be decided outside this passage, since that is not what Paul is addressing. So neither the cessationist nor the continuationist can make an argument for his position based on 1 Cor. 13:8ff.

Carson responds,

In other words, Gaffin recognizes that this passage cannot be used to teach that prophecy and tongues ceased in the first or second century, so he tries to neutralize the connection with the parousia by saying that the exact time of cessation is not specified at all, which can then be dealt with on dogmatic rather than exegetical grounds. But Paul specifies that prophecy and other gifts will cease when perfection comes; and if with Gaffin that perfection is connected with the parousia, then his interpretation sees too little in the text. (Showing the Spirit, 69 n. 57)

Carson seems to counter argue that that all of these gifts will cease at the parousia. In other words, they will remain valid gifts until then. That’s what it seems to me. Yet Carson goes on to conclude,

If this point [“the perfect”] is located at the parousia, then there is nothing in this passage to preclude a valid gift of tongues or prophecy today. This would not necessarily mean, of course, that each contemporary claim of a particular gift is valid. Nor would it necessarily mean that a charismatic gift or gifts could not have been withdrawn earlier than the parousia. But it does mean that Scripture offers no shelter to those who wish to rule out all claims to charismatic gifts today. (70, italics mine)

Notice the italicized text. It appears to me that Carson concludes the exact thing that he chides Gaffin for arguing. The fact that Paul says the gifts will cease when the perfect comes does not mean that they will remain until “the perfect” comes, only they will not remain beyond that point. What am I missing? It seems that Carson is being inconsistent, but there’s a greater probability that I’m not thinking clearly or misreading something. Am I misreading Gaffin, Carson’s response to Gaffin, or Carson’s conclusion? I’d appreciate any feedback.

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One Response to Carson on 1 Cor 13:8–13—What Am I Missing?

  1. Sam November 11, 2006 at 8:01 am #

    I concur.