Questions From Readers
● What does 1 Corinthians 13:8 mean in saying that ‘knowledge will be done away with’?—R. M., U.S.A.
An examination of the context reveals that the apostle Paul meant that the supernatural knowledge that was a miraculous gift of the holy spirit would in time cease.
In the previous chapter Paul wrote about the “varieties of gifts” of the spirit. The miraculous gifts included healing, prophesying, speaking in different tongues, and speech of knowledge. (1 Cor. 12:4-11) These were not ordinary abilities, such as healing or speaking in tongues because of studying medicine or various languages. They were miraculous abilities. Consistently, then, the “knowledge” mentioned was not ordinary knowledge obtainable through experience, observation or study of books, even the Bible. It was a supernatural knowledge provided by means of the holy spirit.
Illustrating that Jehovah could give supernatural knowledge are these examples: At the death of Lazarus, Jesus’ traveling companions had not learned that sick Lazarus had died, yet Christ knew it. (John 11:5-14) On an earlier occasion, a Samaritan woman at a well recognized Jesus as a prophet because he had supernatural knowledge of her past and present marital status.—John 4:16-19.
Note this case involving the apostles after Pentecost 33 C.E.: When Ananias secretly played “false to the holy spirit,” the apostle Peter miraculously knew about it.—Acts 5:2-4.
Though the Bible does not describe in detail the use of miraculous “knowledge,” it seems likely that it was used in another way too. During Christianity’s infancy God might have supplied supernatural knowledge to strengthen congregations. Though early Christians were intensely interested in the Scriptures, copies of God’s Word were not as available as they are today. Nor would congregations have published reference books dealing with the Bible and setting forth the understanding held by the “governing body” of apostles and older men in Jerusalem. Furthermore, means of communication were limited. It might take months to get a reply to a question sent by letter or messenger to an apostle or the “governing body.”—Acts 15:2, 30; 16:4.
So at a meeting of a congregation in some isolated location amidst a pagan community, a miraculous display of supernatural knowledge would greatly upbuild and encourage the Christians. There might be a question or problem, and God could supply the solution through one having the gift of “speech of knowledge.” That one might recall and grasp the application of a Bible text that he read before, even though the congregation did not have the scroll available.
Would this supernatural knowledge always be present among Christians? No. In fact, not all had it in the first century. (1 Cor. 12:28-30) Furthermore, in time Christianity would be firmly established and organized. Then the need for the miraculous gifts, including “knowledge,” would end. Hence, Paul wrote: “Whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will be done away with.”—1 Cor. 13:8.
Today the Bible is available world wide in hundreds of languages. Unlike the earliest Christian congregations, we now have the complete Christian Greek Scriptures, containing prophecies that we can see being fulfilled as well as information on the application of Hebrew Scripture prophecies. Numerous books and magazines with Scriptural material prepared by the “faithful and discreet slave” class of anointed Christians are accessible to true worshipers.—Matt. 24:45-47.
Hence, even though God is not now providing the miraculous gift of knowledge, we are in no way at a loss. We have much to study as we seek the accurate knowledge that leads to life. (John 17:3) And shortly we will experience the time when “the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.”—Isa. 11:9.