In 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 - What does "ἐκ μέρους" mean here? Is Paul talking about "knowing only partially" (i.e. incomplete knowledge), or "knowing as only part of the body" (i.e. of Christ), as in 12:27?

1 Corinthians 13:9-10 - ἐκ μέρους γὰρ γινώσκομεν καὶ ἐκ μέρους προφητεύομεν· ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ τὸ τέλειον, τὸ ἐκ μέρους καταργηθήσεται. (Westcott and Hort)

In other words, is Paul saying our gifts only give us part knowledge instead of complete knowledge, or is he saying we know as individuals in the body, as against the perfected or mature church knowing?

I ask this because ἐκ μέρους in 12:27 means individually. Also, Romans 15:14; 1 John 2:20,27 and Jude 3 seem to be speaking of all Christians having all truth, and needing no one to teach them anything else. Are these latter Scriptures speaking of the church having reached a state of unity and perfection that the Corinthians had yet to reach?

Closely Related:
- 1 Corinthians 13:10 - What does Paul mean by "Completeness"?
- 1 Corinthians 13:10 - What does "The Perfect" Refer to?
- 1 Corinthians 13:10 - Should "The Perfect" Be Interpreted in an Eschatological Sense?
- 1 Corinthians 13:10 - What Will Cease when "The Perfect" Comes?
- 1 Corinthians 13:8 - What is the Significance of the Intransitive verb "παύσονται"?
- 1 Corinthians 13:9 - How Should "Out Of" Be Translated?

  • A.) Very, Very closely related to: In 1 Corinthians 13:9 - What does "Out From" Mean? B.) However, that question is solely regarding the meaning of the construction: "verb + ἐκ + genitive" - as it can be derived from other textual examples; C.) Granted, that answer there could inform the answer of this question. Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 8:28

6 Answers 6


Grammatically, 1 Corinthians 13:9 is ambiguous enough that Paul could be referring to the parts of the body of Christ ("individually"). However, the context makes it clear that this is not the case and that he has the more common meaning of "partially" in mind.

Paul's argument

In chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul first lists a number of possible spiritual gifts and uses a "one body, many parts" analogy to explain why different believers receive different gifts. Toward the end of the section, Paul says:

ὑμεῖς δέ ἐστε σῶμα Χριστοῦ καὶ μέλη ἐκ μέρους. (12:27, Westcott & Hort)

Now you are the body of Christ and individually (ἐκ μέρους) members of it. (ESV)

Here, the meaning "individually" is clear, as is makes little sense for Paul to be saying believers are only partially member of the body - surely he does not mean believers are only partially members of the church. He concludes the section by saying one should "earnestly desire the higher gifts" and says:

And I will show you a still more excellent way. (12:31)

This phrase is more logically connected to chapter 13, where Paul outlines the better way, that is, love. In verses 1-3, he states that various spiritual gifts are worthless without love. In verses 4-7, he describes what love is. And then in verse 8-12, he makes his argument as to why love is the "more excellent way". Verse 13 is the conclusion to his argument.

With this is mind, it will become obvious that ἐκ μέρους in these verses means "partially." Paul's first argument is that love is unending whereas prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will not last forever.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (13:8)

Paul explains continues this argument in the next two verses:

For we know ἐκ μέρους and we prophesy ἐκ μέρους, but when the perfect comes, the ἐκ μέρους will pass away.

In verse 10, Paul is thus contrasting "the in part" with "the perfect". When the perfect comes, the imperfect ceases to exist. When the believer achieves the "higher gift" of love, the lesser gift of prophecy/tongues/knowledge ceases to be relevant. The moment when the perfect comes is not referring to an eschatological event (the return of Christ), but rather to the spiritual maturity of the believer - a theme that Paul has been discussing throughout the letter. If in verse 10, ἐκ μέρους means partial/imperfect, it is only natural that in means likewise in verse 9, which is part of the same sentence/thought.

Verse 11 continues the argument:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

reinforcing the conclusion that Paul has the spiritual maturity of the believer in mind. Does the believer achieve maturity by leaving the body of Christ? Certainly not. Maturity is achieved when the partial gifts ("childish things") are left behind for the superior gift of love.

Paul's three-fold argument is thus:

  1. Love doesn't end; other gifts do
  2. The perfect gift comes; partial gifts are obsolete
  3. Maturity is reached; childish things are put aside

Verse 12 provides further evidence that Paul means "partially" here. In this verse, he draws an analogy with looking in the mirror. To understand the analogy, we must realize that in ancient times looking into a mirror provided a poor representation of the individual. Thus, there was a significant difference between an unclear image in a mirror and seeing someone's true image "face-to-face". This analogy makes perfect sense with a "partially" understanding, but makes no sense in a "individually" interpretation.

No contradictions

The question implied that the "partially" understanding creates a contradiction with some other Bible verses, which perhaps imply that the mature church has complete knowledge. However, this is not the case. As already noted, Paul is talking about the "immature" believer in 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 and I argue this supports a "partially" interpretation. As such, even if the other verse are saying as the OP suggests, there is no contradiction. Even so, I don't think the same idea is in mind in any of them.

First, Romans 15:14:

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

Here Paul is addressing the Roman church as a whole ("my brothers"). Even if they are collectively filled with "all knowledge", there is no reason to equate that with meaning individual believers (which is who is in view in 1 Corinthians) are filled with all knowledge. Furthermore, it is really unlikely that Paul literally means "all knowledge of any kind", but rather he only means sufficient knowledge in spiritual matters to allow mutual correction and learning.

1 John 2:20,27:

But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. ... But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

The key to understanding what John means by "knowledge" is found in verse 19:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

Essentially, John is saying "some apparent believers left the faith (v. 19), following false Christs (v. 18), but you won't leave the faith because you have the proper knowledge (v. 20)." The knowledge he refers to is thus an element of true belief, something all believers have, not the spiritual gift that Paul is talking about.

Jude 1:3:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

It's not clear to me why the questioner feels this verse implies "all Christians [have] all truth". Perhaps a misunderstanding of the archaic "needful" of the King James? In any case, I can't see how this offers even an apparent contradiction with the "partially" interpretation of 1 Corinthians.


I think the problem with suggesting 'ἐκ μέρους' is implying a part of a specific 'body' as referenced in 1 Corinthians 12:27 is firstly that there is no such mention of any 'body' in the context of the sentence:

ἐκ μέρους γὰρ γινώσκομεν καὶ ἐκ μέρους προφητεύομεν· ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ τὸ τέλειον, τὸ ἐκ μέρους καταργηθήσεται.

It is the latter half of this chunk of text that is indicative the connotation of 'ἐκ μέρους' is referring to incomplete knowledge rather than to a part of some greater whole of the existent Church. To suggest that the 'part' shall be 'done away' causes some unneeded confusion if we think the 'part' in this case refers to individual membership, as implied in 1 Corinthians 12:27 and its surrounding verses (which are not provided here due to hopes of avoiding excessive bodies of text):

ὑμεῖς δέ ἐστε σῶμα Χριστοῦ καὶ μέλη ἐκ μέρους.

Where 1 Corinthians 12:27 is referring to existent members being only 'part' of the Church, 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 is referring to a 'part' that shall 'be done away with'. It would seem odd to believe that the part that 1 Corinthians 12:27 is referring to, namely the 'individual' in the Church, would be 'done away with'. It is more likely that what is to be 'done away with' is incomplete or temporal knowledge.

Also, 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 suggests that the 'part' shall be 'done away' with when 'that which is perfect is come'. This is again contrary to 1 Corinthians 12:27, which indicates that the 'part' is existent insofar as it is contextualized by an already existent entity. Where the former is referring to a 'part' that is contextualized by an entity not yet existence (perfection, fullness, completion), the latter is contextualized by any entity already existent (the Church). This difference, if we were not to consider the point above mentioned, would be enough to disprove any hopes of thinking 'ek merous' was implying the same meaning in both cases.

The nearly universal agreement between scholars on the translation of these texts is thus as follows:

1 Corinthians 12:27

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 13:9-10

For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.


At the present, the spiritual gift of knowledge and/or the supernatural communication of knowledge through foreign languages ("tongues"), has value because the gifts of intelligible oral communication by definition mitigate human ignorance. In other words, in the future we will know fully just as we are known (1 Cor 13:12). These spiritual gifts of intelligible communication (useful in the present time where ignorance prevails) will become superfluous or redundant in the future, because no such ignorance will exist at that time when we are to know just as we are known (1 Cor 13:12).

Thus the "ἐκ μέρους" means that we live and operate within the present, where partial ignorance prevails. We only know in part ("ἐκ μέρους"), which is why gifts such as knowledge (and/or the supernatural communication of that knowledge through foreign languages) are so important in the present time: i.e., these special gifts edify when they are understood, which occurs through the exercise of love. Apart from the exercise of love, these gifts will operate like "self-licking ice-cream cones" since the one exercising the gift apart from love will only aggrandize/edify oneself. How will anyone care what you know, until they know how much you care?

To recap, the spiritual gift of knowledge (and/or the supernatural communication of that knowledge through foreign languages) are gifts useful in the present time, if and when they are intelligible and thus will edify because of love. In this regard, these gifts will dispel ignorance. However, without love, these temporal gifts become self-serving (especially when they are unintelligible and/or cause confusion). In this regard, the gifts instead draw attention to the one with the gift instead of their specific purpose, which is to edify others.

  • Thank you, Joseph and Jecko. I am thinking through your responses which have considerable merit. I wasn't suggesting that individual members would be done away; what I was getting at is that knowing in part by an individual will pass away as no longer necesssary, because when the perfect comes, the whole church will know, as against a few individuals knowing. This is why I believe Romans 15:14 and 1 John 2:20-27 are helpful. Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 4:39
  • 1
    @DownunderwriterDavid - The idea is mutual edification. The self-licking ice-cream cone is the illustration. If your knowledge is not edifying, or if that knowledge is sealed inside an untranslated language, then you are the self-licking ice-cream cone. The gift of knowledge and the communication of that knowledge in foreign languages are intended to edify, because we perceive in part. When we one day will "know as we are known," then those communication gifts will no longer be necessary. The bottom line is that you should love the people around you enough in order to edify them.
    – Joseph
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 14:00

1. Question Restatement:

In 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 - What Does “ἐκ μέρους” Mean?

2. Answer - "ἐκ μέρους" Should be: "From a Part" :

Personal Translation - 1 Corinthians 13:9 - For from a part [of the whole], we know; and from a part [of the whole], we are prophesying;

Personal Translation - 1 Corinthians 13:10 - and whenever the whole comes, that which is from a part, will be nullified | καταργηθήσεται.

"ἐκ μέρους" should be translated literally, in the quantitative sense of measurement :

"From a Part", "From an Edge", "From a Border", "From a Side", (See Literary Examples, and the Greek Septuagint, below).

"ἐκ μέρους" can be consistently translated throughout Scripture:

... as : "from a part, (or: "from a portion", or "from a border")".

Personal Translation, 1 Corinthians 11:27 - ... and you all are the body of Christ - limbs from a part | μέλη ἐκ μέρους.

"ἐκ μέρους" cannot be understood as "partly", or "in part" - elsewhere in Scripture.

See Greek Septuagint and New Testament Instances, (katabiblon.com):

3. Ensuring "ἐκ" is Represented in the Translation:

Logeion, "ἐκ" : A Preposition - "from", or "out of", or "out from";

See Also: 1 Corinthians 13:9 - How Should "Out Of" Be Translated?

4. What "μέρος" Means by Itself:

Many contexts clearly show "μέρος" denotes "a portion of a whole": a part, a side, an edge, the outskirts.

See "μέρος" - at Perseus Lexicon, at Logeion.

LXX, Exodus 26:5 - καὶ πεντήκοντα ἀγκύλας ποιήσεις ἐκ τοῦ μέρους τῆς αὐλαίας, (lit. and fifty loops you shall make from a part of the curtain). In Hebrew: "בִּקְצֵ֣ה | in the side, in the edge" is translated into "ἐκ τοῦ μέρους"1;

3 Kings 13:33, (1 Kings) - καὶ ἐποίησεν ἐκ μέρους τοῦ λαοῦ ἱερεῖς; lit. and made from a portion of the people: priests);

Parallel to the Hebrew: "מִקְצ֤וֹת", (lit. "from a whole", or "from a cutting off");

DnOG 2:42, (Daniel) - As the toes of the feet were part | μέρος of iron and part | μέρος of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly | μέρος strong and partly | μέρος broken;

Parallel to the Hebrew Text: "מן־קצת", (lit. "a part", "some", "ends")


Concerning the phrase, ἐκ μέρους Danker translates it as "the piecemeal way", which may suggest that the inappropriate usage of gifts is taking the congregation piece by piece, which may end up in the schism, deterioration, or division of the whole church.

So when Paul says ἐκ μέρους γὰρ γινώσκοµεν he is saying because we speak knowledge (which is done in disorder) we are (tearing the congregation) piece by piece, and when he says καὶ ἐκ µέρους προφητεύοµεν he is saying "and because we speak prophecies (which is done in disorder) we are (tearing the congregation) piece by piece.

And finally, ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ τὸ τέλειον, τὸ ἐκ µέρους καταργηθήσεται he is saying But when the unfailing/the effective (contrasted with οὐδέποτε πίπτει) comes the tearing up congregation will be fixed, whole or unified.

I beg to differ with the above interpretations of the phrase.


1Cor. 13:9-13. Ver.9 speaks of spiritual knowledge (compared to the whole) is now only in part, here on earth. Ver. 10 speaks of full comprehension in heaven. Ver.11, the child, speaks of ourselves, now, with our knowledge being limited, or childlike. Ver. 12 repeats ver. 11, as looking into a dim mirror but later clearly, or fullness of the kingdom (face to face) with God. Ver.13 speaks of CHARITY,(a Holy CHARACTER) not LOVE, which are the actions of doing rightly. Note the world can do rightly, but their character, without Christ is flawed.

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