What are the meanings given the original Greek word?

NIV, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 - Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness | τὸ τέλειον comes, what is in part disappears.

This verse is often used as a basis for cessationism, which argues that completeness came at the end of the apostolic age. Is this what Paul was intending?

This passage appears in a discussion on the nature of love, what is the meaning of completeness given the context of this discussion?

Closely Related To:
- 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 13:9-10 - What Does "ἐκ μέρους" Mean?
- 1 Corinthians 13:9 - How Should "Out Of" Be Translated?

  • Interesting. I had always assumed the passage was clearly referring to the resurrection - I had never heard the cessationist position before. – Jas 3.1 Jul 23 '12 at 22:06
  • @Jas3.1 I'm not sure it's fair to call that "the cessation position". Yes this verse gets cited by a lot of cessationists in support of their position, but many others (myself included) will cringe at that handling of this verse even if they agree with the gist of the position. – Caleb Oct 6 '15 at 7:53
  • The word "comes" after the word completeness is missing, its insertion will give the verse a slightly different meaning. Please add. – Ozzie Ozzie Oct 30 '17 at 20:09


The word Paul used that's translated "completeness" is:

teleios <5046>

1) brought to its end, finished
2) wanting nothing necessary to completeness
3) perfect
4) that which is perfect
4a) consummate human integrity and virtue
4b) of men
4b1) full grown, adult, of full age, mature

To as student of philosophy, as I believe both Paul and the Corinthians were, the word naturally would be connected to teleology, the study of the final cause or purpose of things. Paul contrasts it with the "partial" (meros <3313>), which will pass away. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 1, there's a philosophical angle to μέρος as well:

The LXX does not use it for human or animal parts of the body, but Philo has it in this sense, as well as for parts of the soul or the world. Accepting the unity of the cosmos, Philo teaches the Stoic harmony of the parts. The parts share in the totality only for the sake of the totality, and the truly perfect good is a whole. As a part, man cannot be the direct image of God, only an image of the logos.—p. 585

Chapter 13 is sandwiched between two parts of Paul's instructions on spiritual gifts. Chapter 12 addresses the problem that different people get different gifts, which apparently caused dissension among the believers in Corinth. Paul pulls out one of his favorite analogies: the church as a body with a variety of members. He transitions to his definition of love:

But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.—1st Corinthians 12:31 (ESV)

The "still more excellent way", therefore is agape love. It is a power that brings the parts together and provides the ultimate purpose for the spiritual gifts. So Paul follows Philo's argument that as individual parts, we aren't yet direct images of God. So, when will that happen? When will we see "face to face"?

The passage lists several things that will cease:

  1. prophesies
  2. tongues
  3. knowledge (gnōsis <1108>)

The easiest reading is that knowledge will pass away at some point in the future when we have direct communication with God. Prophesies and tongues as specialized gifts provided to communicate with other believers would also be unnecessary at that point in the future. Therefore, the cessationist, must argue that somehow knowledge has also come to an end.


Since I can't think of a plausible argument for why knowledge might continue after other spiritual gifts have ceased, I believe this passage must be looking forward to the future when Jesus will return and the church will meet Him in person.


1 Corinthians 13 is often called the "love chapter" but his theme is actually teaching about the utilitarian nature of the gifts vs the enduring intrinsic value of love. He compares the gifts to children's toys fit only for children:

NIV 1 Cor 13:11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

Exercising a gift with no benevolent purpose is merely noise, like banging a drum for no particular purpose and that no one wants to hear:

NIV 1 Cor 13: 1If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

So to get up in a meeting and to start speaking mysteries in Korean when no one in the room speaks Korean is just silliness and rudeness:

NIV 1 Cor 14: 1Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

6Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

13For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer,d say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.

18I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

20Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.

Prophetic gifts will become irrelevant in the eschaton because the saints will no longer be walking by faith (in the unseen) but rather by sight (in whom they see):

BSB 1 Corinthians 13: 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I set aside childish ways. 12Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.

So in the immediate context the "completeness" to come is in the eschaton.


Complete/τὸ τέλειον.

Paul said in verse 9 " For we know in part and we prophesy in part."

The gifts of prophesy which God gave his prophets the power to make new prophesies , and give us new knowledge were in " part ". These prophesies in other words did not give us full details of the future will and purpose of God for mankind ,and further prophesies were required and given, until the full knowledge was complete concerning that which was prophesied.

Now that the Word of God is complete/τὸ τέλειον, we have all the prophesies and knowledge required for our salvation, so the gifts of prophesies, tongues and knowledge are no longer required, and have therefore been done away with.


τὸ τέλειον at verse 10, refer to πρόσωπον (face, presence) at verse 12.

πρόσωπον neuter singular. πρόσωπον is translated as: 1. face (Matt 17:2, Mark 1:2, 1 Peter 3:2, etc), 2. presence (Acts 3:19, Acts 5:41, 2 Th 1:9, etc).

The complete face (presence) of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in THE FACE OF JESUS CHRIST.

Face to face. We will look at the complete face (presence) of Jesus Christ, and will have the complete knowledge of the glory of God. No more "I know in part".

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