by Spiros Zodhiates
Dr. Zodhiates continues to explore the implications of Paul’s teaching on our future state, when we shall live eternally in the light of God’s glory.
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“But then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Many of us look forward to heaven as a time when all our questions will be answered. We endeavor to possess our souls in patience here, to walk by faith where we cannot see, confident that what we cannot understand now will be made plain in the life to come.
The Apostle Paul understood our longing to possess a fuller knowledge of God and His dealings with men. That is evident from the reassuring words of 1 Corinthians 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.”
Paul doesn’t specify just what it is that he is going to know in heaven. There is no object of the verb in the clause, “but then shall I know.” The verb in the Greek text is epignoâsomai, “I shall know [recognize] fully,” and the object is to be understood as “myself, God, everything around me and beyond me.” My essential knowledge, my capacity to know, will be more like God’s than it is now. The International Critical Commentary says, “This is a bold way of expressing the completeness of future illumination; human knowledge is to equal divine” (299). If this statement implies that redeemed and glorified men will know as much as God does, then the implication is a bit too strong. The verb epignoâsomai does mean to know or recognize fully, but in this context and in the context of biblical theology it means to know or recognize as fully as is possible for redeemed humanity in glory. This verb cannot be taken to mean that redeemed men, even in Christ’s image, can or will ever know as much as their Creator.
Why did Paul use himself as the object of God’s knowledge in this verse, “even as also I am known”? This is indeed suggestive. “I am the most difficult enigma of all,” may be the thought he had in mind. Of all things in the universe, it would seem that the hardest to understand is man. It takes God to understand us fully. but if God can exhaustively understand man, then He can be depended upon to explain not only man but everything else, even Himself.
If we carry Paul’s thought one step further, we see that his saying that God knows us fully was to imply that in spite of this He loves us. If we human beings knew all that God knows about us and others, we might find it very hard indeed to love either ourselves or others. Love, in spite of full knowledge of human sin and failure, is typical of divine love, not human love. But seeing in part and knowing in part, which is man’s present state, should be no hindrance to our loving others if we are indwelt—dynamically, of course—by Christ. We are to love in spite of our partial knowledge, for a fuller love will actually bring about a fuller knowledge. Thus Paul makes love an essential element of the deepest knowledge.
Does it sometimes give you a great sense of loneliness to feel that no one fully shares and understands your thoughts, feelings, and desires? Do you sometimes despair of ever understanding yourself? As for understanding God, you must confess that many of His ways are beyond you. Then take comfort from this verse that tells you that God fully understands you, and that one day you shall know as you are known. Your half–knowledge will become full knowledge in the radiant light of heaven.
But let us not be so beguiled by the complete fulfillment that awaits us in heaven that we neglect to learn all we can of God, of ourselves, and of others while here on earth. There is no excuse for the individual believer not knowing as much as God has revealed of Himself and of spiritual truths in the Bible, to the degree that he can take it in on his various levels of maturity. Clear thinking and simple honesty will go a long way toward helping us to understand ourselves and the rightness or wrongness of our motives, thoughts, and actions. Humility and love will give us a greater appreciation and understanding of our fellow Christians, as we recognize that they face the same temptations as we in this life and that they need our encouragement and prayers rather than our censure and rejection.
Love (agápe) is the one factor that makes knowledge more than just an accumulation and registration of intellectual materials. Love alone makes it possible basically to understand another man or woman. Love, which plays so great a part in our knowledge of one another, plays an even greater part in our spiritual development. It is God’s instrument that makes us like–minded with Him, who in His essential being is love. It establishes a harmony between our will and His will, and removes every barrier to the free approaches of His Spirit to ours. There is, therefore, nothing incongruous in the transition from knowledge—partial on earth, completed in heaven—to the affirmation of the supreme greatness of love with which 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen closes (Bowie, When Christ Passes By, 26–37).
© From To Love Is to Live, an exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 13, 1967, revised 1998. Available from AMG Publishers.
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