The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 13
(Part 6)

Paul (being inspired of the Holy Spirit) now clenches his whole discussion with a marked contrast in their current system with that which is perfect:

1 Cor 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.

For now: considering all of this, they were currently seeing darkly. Seeing through a glass is reminiscent of how the prophets of old saw as they were being inspired to write what had been given them by the Holy Spirit.

God spoke to the fathers by the prophets:

Heb 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit:

2 Peter 1:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

The prophets saw darkly; they did not understand all they wrote. It is usually taught that, because their mirrors were just polished brass, it did not reflect their image clearly, but was somewhat blurred, or obscured. Such was their revelation then, being only in-part. Their mirrors were not like ours today, which reflect about 95% of incident light, having crisp resolution and very minimal aberrations. However, this reflection of Paul’s meaning is flawed.

Gary Workman, in his lecture at the first annual Denton Lectures expressed it thusly:

Many have misunderstood the meaning of “that which is perfect” because of misunderstanding the “mirror darkly” – “face to face” contrast of I Corinthians 13:12. It is not a new illustration, but rather Paul’s explanation (in figurative terms) of the illustration he just gave (notice the “for”). So many see the afterlife in this verse, but it is not here. The “then” (when we shall see face to face) is not “at the final end” or “evidently in heaven,” as two brethren (and others) have suggested.
To see in a mirror was a figurative expression which meant “to receive revelation from God.” “Mirror” in Hebrew is the same word as “vision.” In contrast to other prophets who had to depend on the “dark speeches” of a vision or a dream, Moses experienced a mouth-to-mouth (clear) understanding of God’s will (Num. 12:6-8). The rabbis of the Midrash said the prophets saw God in clouded mirrors whereas Moses saw him in a clear one. So also Paul says that while revelation is still incomplete “we see in a mirror darkly.” The mirror is clouded or obscure – literally, “in an enigma.” But ;later, when all spiritual knowledge and prophecy were to be finished, the image would be “face to face.” It is not necessarily the mirror that is done away but the obscurity.
“Face to face” expresses the clarity of our understanding. Jacob (Gen. 32:20), Moses (Ex. 33:11; Deut. 34:10) and the Israelites (Deut. 5:4-5) were said to have encountered God “face to face.” It was not meant literally, for God said, “My face shall not be see” (Deut. 34:23). So also Paul (1 Cor. 13:12) refers not to seeing the face of God or Jesus in heaven (I John 3:2; Rev. 22:4), but rather to the here and now as “with unveiled face” we behold “as in a mirror the glory of the Lord” (II Co. 3:18). God has revealed himself “to give the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 4:6). And we “receive with meekness the implanted word” (Jas. 1:21) when we look into the “mirror” (v. 23) of “the perfect law of liberty” (v. 25). That mirror reflects “face to face” now that God’s word is finished. (“When That Which Is Perfect Is ComeStudies in 1 Corinthians, The First Annual Denton Lectures, Nov. 14-18, 1982, Valid Publications, Inc., pp. 175-176)

Moses knew God face to face (like we of the Christian dispensation; not dimly).

So, just as Moses knew God face to face, those Corinthian Christians, and all other Christians, would see face to face, not darkly nor dimly like they did when Paul penned this epistle.

Curtis A. Little, Royse City, TX
Curtis A. Little
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