(Revised Edition 12.10.10 - items 2 and 9 below)
John Piper is wrong!

John Piper, in his website on the subject “Signs and Wonders then and now” makes the claim “Both of these phrases ("seeing face to face" and "understanding as we have been understood") are stretched beyond the breaking point if we say that they refer to the closing of the New Testament canon or the close of the apostolic age”.
Here I would disagree with him.
Charismatic have always dismissed the possibility of this word “perfection” being the canon of Scripture that will herald the passing of the gifts, and this is also the general opinion of the majority of evangelical Christians today. But is it correct?
I would venture to say “No”, based on what is to me the very convincing evidence presented by Victor Budgen in his book “The Charismatics and the Word of God” – pp 73-89. He gives no less than 20 reasons that demonstrate that the most obvious meaning of this word is the finalisation of the canon of Scripture. This was given to replace the three revelatory “gifts” given to the early church for its guidance when they were just isolated groups of converts with no authority to lead or advise them.
I will briefly summarise the main points that he makes.

(1) If Paul is referring to the coming of Christ, why did he not expressly say so, as he had done in very many other verses? He usually used the Greek word “telos” = “end”, which clearly refers to the Second Coming. Yet here, he uses quite a different word. Surely his intention, therefore, is NOT the second coming of Christ, but something quite different. I consider this a major indication that he was NOT referring to the return of Christ, otherwise he would have made this quite clear.

(2) In the first writing of this article, I had previously noted that the Greek is “to teleion” which means “The completed thing”. Now this is a NEUTER word and Budgen contended that it cannot apply to the PERSON of Christ? I have, however, since learned that the gender of a word does not necessarily indicate the gender of the object described. For example, the "Holy Spirit" and "child" are both neuter. So although this is NOT a convincing point, there is still the point that it is translated in some Bibles as "the perfect THING" - hardly applicable to the Person of Christ.
In addition, this word is used 18 times in the NT and never once refers to the End Times, but is often translated as “mature”. If the use of a word in the Bble is defined by its use elsewhere, surely this should be a strong proof of it meaning the closing of the Canon of Scripture.

(3) “Knowledge, Prophecies and Tongues” were basically all revelatory gifts to the church. They were infallible but only given in a partial manner to the young church. The final perfect form that was to replace them was surely the complete Bible. Indeed, John, at the end of Revelation condemns anyone who added to or removed anything from the now completed scriptures. Any further “revelations”, which would surely include “prophesies” and “words of knowledge”, from then on are condemned.

(4) Paul used a strong word “katargeo” for the cessation of the gifts. It means “complete obliteration beyond recall”.
There were no gifts exhibited by the church for centuries, which the charismatics claim was due to the unspiritual blindness of the church, but they have now “rediscovered” them.
One charismatic pastor I said this to replied “I have no idea what you're talking about with this. There are records throughout history of miracles occurring in the churches, but in the twentieth century the distinction between cessationists and charismatics became a bit more obvious.”
I found this surprising. The only “church” for centuries was the Roman Catholic church, and if he is referring to the “miracles” they claimed, I would consider he is on very dubious ground in claiming them as authentic miracles. In fact, I expected from him a long list of "miracles" stretching from the early days up to the present time. However, in his reply, he only quoted some records of miracles recorded by a few very early fathers of the church such as Basil (329-379) - hardly convincing!
Nearer today’s times, there were the “French Prophets” during the time of the Wesleys and Whitfield, and later the tongues and prophesies of Edward Irving. Baxter became his close associate, but later he renounced his “gifts” as unscriptural.
All these so-called “gifts” faded, and are little known by most of today’s Christians. So the recent advent of “gifts” is after a long period of silence.

(5) The Charismatics/Pentecostals (C/P) claim that the gifts were lost because the church became too worldly. But Corinth had ALL the gifts in abundance, yet they were so chaotic and ungodly in their whole attitude that Paul condemned them for their gross behaviour. The gifts were NOT given because of the superior spiritual level of a body of believers, and the C/P claim that they have a “special blessing” and more immediate closeness with God is not necessarily authenticated by their claim to have been given these higher “gifts”. Corinth shows that there is no connection between the two.

(6) Surely, the Bible is perfect, for it is often described in such terms, and clearly qualifies for the “perfect thing” that was to replace the three gifts.
In addition, Paul says that “now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face”. This is taken as seeing Christ face to face when He returns. But surely the Bible also is a mirror that portrays exactly what we are truly like, revealing, like a “two edged sword” down to the very “marrow” of our bones just how deep our sin really is.

(7) On this same subject, a fact badly overlooked, is that what we see in a good mirror is not the face of Christ but our OWN face – with all its blemishes and flaws!
In James 1:22-25, he is pointing out that the man who does not do what he reads in the Bible is like a man who sees himself in a mirror but then moves away and forgets what he looks like. But he who looks into the perfect law will be blessed. The words for mirror (“espotron”) and perfect (“teleios”) are exactly the same two words Paul uses in 1 Cor. 13:12. Surely this is not just a coincidence but to deliberately draw our attention to the similarity of the two passages, and show that one is a parallel of the other by two different writers under inspiration.

(8) In his charge to Timothy and Titus, Paul, writing near the end of his life, makes no mention of any of the gifts that had been abundant in the early years of Paul’s ministry. Yet C/P try to dismiss this omission by saying that this was so obvious that Paul did not even have to refer to it. Yet he refers to many very simple and fundamental basics of the faith that he urges Timothy to teach his people, such as the public reading of the Scriptures. Surely, by this time the gifts had virtually ceased – and Paul recognised this. So he turns their attenion to the reading of the Scriptures that would soon be "perfect"

(9) I have had correspondence with several charismatic ministers on this subject, and some have made the point - "You cannot point to a single Scripture that says the gifts have ceased." I thought about this and then realised that "Of course there is no mention that they HAD ceased, because they were still being given and practised at the time the NT was being written!" Imagine a person on a train asked to write about the train journey. Of course he will not say that the journey had stopped because he was still on it! But after completing the description, the train could have come to the end of the line very shortly afterwards. Thus, this is what would apply to the NT accounts of the gifts. However, Paul KNEW that they would cease very suddenly and made this very clear in 1 Cor. 13:8-10.


From all this, surely the evidence is clear that “the perfect thing” is not the return of Christ, but the completion of the Scriptures. There have been some notable theologians of the past who have concurred with this view, such as Jonathan Edwards, Jamieson Fausset and Brown, A.W. Pink and Matthew Henry - and today Stuart Olyott.
Malcolm Bowden
12 October 2010.