1 Corinthians 13:12

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

As with other passages of Scripture (such as John 8:32; Isaiah 11:6; 1 Corinthians 2:9), this verse is one that is often misquoted in such a manner as to give a meaning contrary to what the context states. Many use this verse to justify ecumenical gatherings and doctrinal confusion by stating that now we can only see through a glass darkly, and we will not be able to see clearly (ie. understand the Scriptures completely – at least in a way to remove all doctrinal confusion) until we get to Heaven, but is this verse really teaching that? I emphatically say, “no, it isn’t!”

As a matter of fact, this verse and whole passage is stating that when we get the perfect (complete) canon of Scripture we will be able to see clearly. The Holy Spirit has revealed the truth and opened up many things to us in the New Testament that clearly shed light on the Old Testament, things that the believers living prior to the end of the first century could not fully understand apart from that inspired written revelation.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God.

I know that my study on this verse will be controversial to some, but I have studied out each word in its proper context, as well as diligently compared parallel passages, and I believe that I am interpreting this verse correctly, and not according to my own private interpretation. (See 2 Peter 1:20; Isaiah 28:9-13; 1 Corinthians 2:12-14) I have also studied out what solid men of God had to say on this verse, and I believe that I am standing on the same ground as they stood on, as declared in their own writings. This would include fundamental Baptist preachers such as Charles Spurgeon, Oliver B. Greene, Dennis Corle, David Cloud, among others.

In this study on 1 Corinthians 13:12, I want to first cover a little bit of the context, and then take an in-depth look at the 12th verse. Chapters 12 to 14 of this book are dealing with the use of spiritual gifts in the church, to build up the body and equip the individual believers for service – so that the Gospel of Christ would be proclaimed to a lost and dying world. (See chapter 15)

Chapter 12 deals how all the members of a local New Testament church are to work together, and all need to have a part and be in their place in order for the whole body to work effectively. The gifts were distributed by the Holy Spirit to equip the believers for service (they were not given to unbelievers, nor for personal gain or edification). Notice that not all Christians have the same gift(s). (See verses 7, 11, 29-30)

Chapter 13 deals with charity (love towards God and man), and how it is more important than any specific spiritual gift. The spiritual gifts – especially what is referred to as the sign gifts – were temporary, and it is only charity (the greatest motivation) that will endure forever. (See 13:13)

Chapter 14 deals with the edifying of the body and the proper use of these spiritual gifts, especially tongues (which were literal foreign languages) and prophesying (which is preaching). In Acts chapter 2, the tongues spoken of were earthly languages that the Apostles and other early Christians did not know; though in 1 Corinthians 14 the tongues spoken of there were foreign languages that the members of a local church assembly did not know – hence the need for an interpreter.

It is also interesting to note that chapter 15 goes to show that preaching and witnessing of the Gospel are more important than any specific gift – as that is how an individual receives the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In fact, it was a shame when a church was not actively engaged in witnessing to their community or city and people did not know the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (See verses 1-4, 34)

First a little of the context. All I am presenting here, in verses 8-11, are word definitions as defined by Strong’s Concordance and Webster’s 1828 Dictionary. I am asking you to prayerfully consider each definition in its context.

1 Corinthians 13:8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.


Strong’s Concordance defines this word as: to be (render) entirely idle (useless), literally or figuratively.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary gives these definitions:
To decay; to decline; to sink; to be diminished.
To be extinct; to cease; to be entirely wanting; to be no longer produced.
To be entirely exhausted; to be wanting; to cease from supply.
To cease; to perish; to be lost.

Cease = to stop (transitively or intransitively), i.e. restrain, quit, desist, come to an end.

To stop moving, acting or speaking; to leave of; to give over;
To fail; to be wanting.
To stop; to be at an end;
To be forgotten.
To put a stop to; to put an end to.

Vanish away = to be (render) entirely idle (useless), literally or figuratively.

Eng. to wane. The primary sense is to withdraw or depart.
To disappear; to pass away; to be annihilated or lost.

From the context of 1 Corinthians chapter 13 and from this verse we can see that these sign gifts were only intended to be temporary, that there would come a time when they would be done away with. When would that be? Read on:

1 Corinthians 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

Part = (to get as a section or allotment); a division or share.

A portion, piece or fragment separated from a whole thing;
A portion or quantity of a thing not separated in fact, but considered or mentioned by itself.

These sign gifts were needed because we had only partial knowledge at the time of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians. This first letter to the Corinthian church was one of the first New Testament books written. The early church did not yet have God’s complete revelation; they only had it in part up till this point in time.

1 Corinthians 13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

Perfect = complete.

Finished; complete; consummate; not defective; having all that is requisite to its nature and kind;
To finish or complete so as to leave nothing wanting; to give to any thing all that is requisite to its nature and kind.

There would be coming a time when the church would have the complete Word of God. That did not happen until the Apostle John wrote the last word of the New Testament in the final chapter of the book of Revelation. This was approximately 96 A.D.

1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

The three concepts expressed here (spake, understood, thought) correspond to the three specific temporary sign gifts mentioned in verse 8 (the gift of tongues, prophecy, knowledge). According to this verse, they were intended until the church became more mature – in this case, until the church received God’s complete, finished, inspired revelation. Once the Bible was completed, there was no more need for the church to have or use these “childish things.”

The following verse, taken in its context and cross-referenced with related passages in the New Testament, will bear out this meaning and help us better to grasp what the Apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit are teaching us.

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

The word for “see” here means “to behold; perceive.” “Glass” means “mirror”, and is a compound word. The second part (Strong’s #3700) means “to gaze (i.e. with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable.)” This is in contrast with Strong’s #3708, which means “to stare at, i.e. (by implication) to discern clearly (physically or mentally).” “Darkly” is from the Greek word that we get “enigma” from. Webster’s defines enigma as “A dark saying, in which some known thing is concealed under obscure language; an obscure question; a riddle.” In other words, something that we haven’t figured out yet, or that we don’t have the whole picture. This corresponds to having only part of the New Testament written at this point in time. (Remember that the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, letter he penned.)

“Face to face” doesn’t necessarily mean that we see someone’s face, but that we see the front of an object, i.e. that it is towards our view. (#4383) “Now” means “just now; this day (hour); present.” The first word for “know” (know in part) is “ginosko” which means “be aware (of), feel, (have) know(-ledge), perceived, can speak, be sure, understand.” In other words, at that point in time the believers only had partial revelation, partial knowledge.

The second word for “know” is “epiginosko”, and means “to know upon some mark, i.e. recognize; by implication, to become fully acquainted with, to acknowledge.” This doesn’t have to refer to when we get “full knowledge” in Heaven, but when we get the finished (perfect), full canon of Scripture, which was completed when the Apostle John wrote the final book of the Bible: the book of Revelation. Now that we have the complete Bible we can understand the types and pictures of Christ, prophecies, etc. in the Old Testament which were just enigmas to us before. We need the New Testament to completely understand and properly interpret the Old Testament. Up until the end of the first century, believers were missing part of the picture; they only knew in part. Now we can know fully what the Lord intends to reveal to His children, by interpreting the Old Testament in light of the New. (See 2 Peter 1:3-4 and Deuteronomy 29:29) There will not be further revelation beyond the complete (perfect – Psalm 19:7; James 1:25) Bible. (See the warning at the end of the Bible: Revelation 22:18-19)

James 1:22-25 is a perfect capstone to this train of logic, and is a parallel passage of Scripture speaking about the same things.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Here we have many of the same Greek words again. “Beholding” (#2657) means “to observe fully:–behold, consider, discover, perceive.” “Face” is Strong’s #4383 again. The idea here is being face to face with our own reflection, not face to face with the Saviour. I believe the first passage I covered is referring to the same thing. And James said that as we look into the Scriptures we “observe fully” ourselves. The word for “looketh” in verse 25 means “to bend beside, i.e. lean over (so as to peer within); look (into).”

Finally, there is one more parallel passage:

2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

The word for “open” means “to unveil.” Face is the same word. To “behold as in a glass” means “to mirror oneself, i.e. to see reflected (figuratively).” We are seeing ourselves (our own reflections) in the glass (mentioned in all three passages.) As we see ourselves as we really are, and as we see Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we are changed into His image, His likeness. We are transformed, “metamorphosized” (Strong’s #3339) through the reading and studying of God’s Word! (See Romans 12:2 and Colossians 3:10)

I have written a poem based on Romans 1:17 and 1 Corinthians 13:12. I hope it is a blessing to you.

Faith To Face

Looking through a glass darkly,
I find many things hard to explain,
But as I steadfastly gaze within God’s Word,
The Lord makes all things plain.

Faith to faith is what I’m living.
Day by day, I learn to see,
In a life that’s so uncertain,
I know that Jesus still walks with me.

Faith means I learn to trust Him
And forget walking by sight.
As I’m filled with His peace and wisdom,
God’s Word lights up the night.

Faith to face, it’s a tiring journey,
Walking through this pilgrim land.
Though I cannot see around every corner,
I’m clinging tightly to my Saviour’s hand.

He’s preparing me for service,
Enabling me to walk through open doors;
I fight the battles that Christ gives me,
Knowing that He’s already won the war.

Face to face, the day of His return is coming,
Until then, there are mountains to climb.
I will keep looking for that blessed hope –
Someday soon – It’s just a matter of time.

Faith to face, I look forward to seeing Jesus –
What a glorious day that will be.
It will no longer be by faith,
Because, face to face, my Lord I will see.

Faith to face.

Poem written November 23rd, 2002
Study written September 22nd, 2004
Jerry Bouey

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