Have the Revelatory Gifts Ceased to Function?
A Response and Refutation of Joel McDurmon on 1 Corinthians 13- #2
This is the second part of a short series examining an article by Joel McDurmon in which he addressed the question of the charismatic, revelatory gifts, and particularly 1 Corinthians 13. In that article, McDurmon denied that 1 Corinthians 13 discusses the end of the charismatic gifts, and he denied that the text has any eschatological content: “I think that the whole endeavor to see 1 Corinthians 13:9ff as an indicator of any major eschatological, doctrinal, covenantal, or revelatory shift is to miss the point of the passage entirely.” Be sure to read the first article in this series.
McDurmon set out to show that “that which is perfect” is “spiritual maturity” on the part of individuals, and does not deal with the corporate body. In other words, the miraculous gifts were given to individuals (which no one denies), and the purpose, intent and goal of those gifts was to bring those individuals to spiritual maturity. When those particular individuals reached that state of maturity then the operation of the gifts in that individual would cease: “It is most reasonable to view the passing here (of the active function of the gifts, DKP) as the passing away in relationship to the individuals who were actually using the gifts- not as a type of gift taken as a bibilical abstraction.”
Now, it is significant, that on the one hand McDurmon denies that Corinthians speaks of an objective terminal point for cessation of the gifts, but then, is forced by the text to acknowledge that the time statements of the text, “when, will” etc. (and of course, the “now” versus the “then” contrast in the text) does indicate a temporal contrast between Paul’s “now” when the gifts were operative and the “then” time when they would cease. He admits that the text does in fact speak of “the temporality of the revelatory gifts.”
1 Corinthinians 13 Does Speak of the Cessation of the Revelatory Gifts
So, 1 Corinthians 13 does speak of the temporary nature of the gifts, and it does speak of a time when they would cease. However, McDurmon denies that Paul was speaking of an objective and specific terminal point at which the gifts would (or will) cease. He applies the temporality of the gifts to the subjective experience of the individual believers as they reach that goal of spiritual maturity. In this scenario, interestingly enough, the gifts are “in the church” corporately speaking, but, they are in a constant state of being given and taken away (or ceasing) as the individuals to whom they have been given arrive at the desired goal of spiritual maturity.
But notice Paul’s emphasis in 1 Corinthians 12. He observes that the Spirit distributed the gifts to the members “to whom He wills.” At the same time, he emphasizes that the impartation of those gifts was for the corporate good. They were not individually focused, they were corporately designed. Paul did not emphasize the gifts as intended to bring those individuals to spiritual maturity; he showed that they were bestowed for the good of the body.
A note here: McDurmon says that the word translated as “pass away” “may be a little strong”, because, he says, it has “a range of meanings.” McDurmon is seeking, clearly, to mitigate the force of the text as a declaration of the cessation of the gifts. This is somewhat disingenuous to say the least. The word translated as pass away is from katargeo, and to suggest that the idea of pass away is too strong is specious. To suggest that it has a wide range of meanings is also a bit misleading.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives two primary definitions of katargeo: 1.) To render idle, unemployed, inactive and inoperative”…2 To cause to cease, put an end to, do away with, annul, abolish.” (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1973336). Likewise, in the newest lexicon on the market (that I am aware of) Robinson and House give this for katargeo: “1.) I make idle (inactive), I make of no effect, I annul, abolish, bring to naught; 2.) With apo, (Which is not applicable in 1 Corinthians 13-DKP) I discharge, sever, separate from.” (Analytical Lexicon of New Testament Greek, Peabody, Mass, Hendrickson, Maurice A Robinson and Mark A House, 2012)196).
When one examines the use of katargeo in the rest of the New Testament, it becomes undeniably evident that the word is used in the two ways listed in the lexicons. It does not exhibit a wide range of meaning, and particularly does not allow for a definition other than the cessation of function. There is nothing in the text of 1 Corinthians to suggest that Paul was using the word in a way outside of its normal meaning. It is clearly not “a little strong” therefore, to say that Paul was predicting the cessation of the charismata. It is in fact a misuse of the Greek text to suggest otherwise. (Note also that the other Greek word in the text pauomai (“tongues shall cease”) demands the cessation of the charismatic function).
With these things in mind it certainly strikes one as strange that McDurmon denies that Paul is discussing, except in some tangential, peripheral way, the cessation of the gifts. Now, is Paul focused on emphasizing the importance of love? No question! That is not in question.
The question is, was Paul positing the end of the charismatic gifts? The Greek words in the text indisputably teach this: “Where there be prophecies, they shall fail (from katargeo). Where there be tongues, they shall cease (from pauomai). Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish (from katargeo).” Words could hardly be clearer, or more emphatic. To downplay this part of the text therefore is, for all of McDurmon’s claims that we must honor “context”, a denial of the context.
What we see then is that in the text and context of 1 Corinthians, Paul most assuredly did speak, clearly and unambiguously, of the temporary nature of the charismatic gifts. He spoke of the fact (chapter 12, and we could add chapter 14) that while the gifts were given to individuals, the focus and function of those gifts was for the good of the body. They were not centered on the individual, but on the body. We will have more on this in a later article.
In our next article, however, we will show that McDurmon’s emphasis on the individual in regard to the gifts and his open ended cessation only when a given individual reached a point of spiritual maturity, flies in the fact of other texts which posit an objective given time and framework for the cessation of the charismatic gifts. So stay tuned. Be sure to read my Into All The World, Then Comes The End, for a discussion of the “last days” work of the charismatic gifts.