Pastor Jeffrey Khoo
Let me share with you the answers to certain questions asked of me by a member of the public and a night class student recently.
On the Word “Perfect”
Q: In your tract “Charismatic Tongues Examined” (truelifebpc.org.sg/resources/tracts), you mentioned that the “perfect” thing is the completion of the Canon (ie the 66 books of the Bible). Can I know which verse from 1 Corinthians 13 says that the perfect thing is about the canonisation of the Bible?
A: The word “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 does not mean Christ or heaven. How do we know this? We know this by determining how the word is used in its context. Usage determines meaning!
1 Corinthians 13:10 says, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” It is very clear from this verse that there is a relationship between “that which is perfect” and “that which is in part.” The “perfect” will cause the “part” to cease. The question we need to ask first is: What is “that which is in part”? The answer lies in verses 8 and 9. Verses 8 and 9 tell us that the things partial are “prophecies,” “tongues,” and “knowledge.” All three sign-gifts are revelatory. They are supernatural gifts which communicate the Word and Will of God. Paul says that these revelatory gifts will eventually “fail,” “cease,” and “vanish away.” They will one day cease to exist, or be withdrawn from use.
The next question we want to ask is: When will this happen? This will happen when “the perfect” comes (v10). Paul says that prophecies “shall fail,” and knowledge “shall vanish away.” The words, “fail,” and “vanish away,” are written in the Greek passive. By so writing, Paul is telling his readers that something from the outside will cause the gifts of prophecy and knowledge to fail and vanish away. What is this external element? The answer is found in verses 9 and 10, “For we know (ie, the gift of knowledge) in part, and we prophesy (ie, the gift of prophecy) in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which in part (ie, the gifts of knowledge and prophecy) shall be done away.” There is a cause-and effect relationship between “that which is perfect” and “that which is in part.” It is clear from the context that the gifts of knowledge and prophecy are only temporary gifts, and not permanent. They will be removed once the perfect comes.
Now, what is this which is “perfect” that will cause the gifts of knowledge and prophecy to cease? The word “perfect” here is the Greek to teleion which literally means “the perfect thing.” This perfect thing is inseparably linked to the revelatory gifts of prophecy and knowledge. The cause-and-effect relationship between the perfect and the partial (ie, prophecies and knowledge) clues us to what the perfect is. The revelatory nature of prophecies and knowledge tells us that this perfect thing must of necessity be revelatory as well. It has to do with God’s revelation. The Greek word—teleion—being adjectival functions to describe. Here it describes God’s revelation. The revelatory gifts of prophecy and knowledge are partial, but this coming Revelation is perfect. The “perfect” is thus God’s Perfect Revelation. When God’s Perfect or Complete Revelation comes, the partial will be taken away. God has been revealing Himself to His people part by part through the prophets (cf, Heb 1:1–2), but there will come a time when He will completely reveal what He wants to reveal. When that happens, there will no longer be any need for prophecies and knowledge. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the New Testament was in the process of being written. Prophecies and knowledge will cease when the New Testament is completed. When did this happen?
This happened when the last book of the Bible was written and completed, namely, the book of Revelation. God confirmed its completion by issuing a very severe warning in the last chapter of Revelation, verses 18–19: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” This effectively sealed and finalised God’s Perfect Revelation—the 66 books of Holy Scripture.
Now, we know that the word “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 does not mean the return of Christ because if Paul had that in mind, he would probably have used the clear and unambiguous “until he comes” which he did in 1 Corinthians 11:26, or “then the end will come” in 1 Corinthians 15:24. What is truly significant is the fact that the word “perfect” is used 18 times in the New Testament (Matt 5:48, 19:21; Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 2:6, 13:10, 14:20; Eph 4:13; Phil 3:15; Col 1:28, 4:12; Heb 5:14, 9:11; Jas 1:4,17,25, 3:2; 1 John 4:18), and not once does it refer to the second coming or to heaven. The word “perfect” is mostly used to describe spiritually mature Christians who live in accordance to God’s Word. At other times, it is used specifically to describe (1) the will of God, (2) the wisdom of God, (3) the Law of God, (4) the love of God, and (5) the humanity of Christ.
Therefore, the “perfect” refers to a book, and not to a person (Christ), an event (His return), or a place (heaven). The Holy Bible is the perfect Word or Revelation of God. It is absolutely authoritative, and totally sufficient for Christian doctrine and practice (2 Tim 3:16–17). Revelation has ceased. Consequently, all temporary means of revelation, like the gifts of prophecy and knowledge, have been withdrawn. It is unbiblical to seek a word of prophecy or a word of knowledge today. We are to go straight to the Word of God to seek His will and wisdom.
One must also not neglect Paul’s careful argumentation on why love is supreme in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul chides the Corinthians for placing the supernatural sign-gifts at a level that is above the virtues of faith, hope and love. They got their priorities all mixed up. The gifts of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues are not as important as the virtues of faith, hope, and love. The sign-gifts are meant only for the apostolic age. They are temporary gifts, and will be phased out. What will remain and last throughout the church age are the Christian graces of faith, hope, and love. These virtues should be found in every Christian. The Corinthians should pay more attention to cultivating these virtues in their lives instead of fighting over who has the superior gift (1 Cor 12:1–21, 14:1–5). Of the three virtues, love is the greatest or most important because love will never cease. While faith and hope will both be realised or fulfilled at the time of Christ’s return, love being a divine virtue will last forever. “Charity never faileth” (1 Cor 13:8). Love is eternal, and that is why it is “the greatest” (1 Cor 13:13). Paul is exhorting the Church to pay most attention to love because we are going to need it for eternity (cf, Matt 22:36–40).
The word “perfect” therefore must mean the Biblical Canon—the 66 books of Holy Scripture. If we take the term “perfect” to mean the second coming of Christ or heaven, we will throw into disarray Paul’s careful and thoughtful argumentation in 1 Corinthians 13 on the superiority of faith and hope, and the supremacy of love over the temporariness and relative inferiority of the sign-gifts. (Source: Jeffrey Khoo, Charismatism Q&A, pp35–37, www.febc.edu.sg/v15/publications/febc_press).
On the Term “Only Begotten”
Q: The Greek monogenes is translated “only begotten” in John 3:16 and refers to the Lord Jesus Christ being eternally begotten. However, the same term is used four other times (Luke 7:12, 8:42, 9:38, Heb 11:17). How do we understand the meaning and use of the word monogenes in the context of these other people apart from the Lord Jesus Christ?
A: The word monogenes was certainly used of others (4xs as you have noted) but we do not see any eternality in human generation in those cases. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is different and He can be said to be “eternally begotten” precisely because of His nature, ie He is God the Son in relation to God the Father from eternity past to eternity future. In the four other cases used of human begetting, the term monogenes would in their respective contexts mean the only child born to the parents and therefore precious to them.
In the case of Abraham and Isaac in Hebrews 11:17, the context speaks of promise and therefore Isaac was unique and beloved in that sense. Note that Isaac was not “only begotten” in the sense that he was Abraham’s “one and only” son since Abraham already had another son, Ishmael, born earlier. As such, Isaac was only begotten in the sense that he was the unique and beloved son of Abraham according to the divine promise leading to the Messianic Seed. Isaac was thus only begotten as a type of Christ.
On “the Better Thing”
Q: In Hebrews 11:40, what is the “better thing” and what does it mean that “they without us should not be made perfect”?
A: In my lecture notes, I only gave a very brief comment, “OT believers together with NT saints will experience complete fulfilment of their salvation on the day of consummation when Christ returns (v40).”
Let me elaborate. In the context, all the saints who had gone before are now safe in heaven, but they are not perfect yet in the sense that they are still without their resurrection bodies. It is good that their souls are now in heaven without any more sin, sorrow, and struggles, but they are still incomplete without their glorified bodies. The “better thing” would be the resurrected, glorified state which will come in the future. It will happen when Christ returns, and the dead are raised up incorruptible and those still alive caught up—the resurrection and the rapture (1 Thess 4:13–18). So the saints in heaven are waiting, waiting for us who are still on earth to join them in heaven on that final day when all of us will be perfected as perfect human beings with perfect souls clothed with perfect bodies which will be given to us by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
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