What does 1 Corinthians 13:8 mean when it says prophecies will fail?

How can prophecies "fail" since they are God's word?


In 1 Corinthians:13:8 the apostle Paul wrote: "Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away."

Stepping back to look at the broader context helps us to get the perspective Paul had in mind. This section on the subject of bringing order to the Corinthian church begins with chapter 12 and continues through chapter 14. Chaos reigned as many misused their spiritual gifts. Paul wanted them to see their special abilities in the proper perspective, which is that they should always serve others, rather than simply show off their abilities (1 Corinthians:12:4-7, 25, 27).

Paul was encouraging everyone to work together for their mutual benefit, which leads us to the 13th chapter about the character of love. It opens with several analogies, all of which demonstrate that love is more important than any gift or ability. That is, Christians should have the internal motivation of outflowing concern for others. This reflects God's nature, as opposed to the selfish nature of human beings.

Now, we come to verses 4-8 of chapter 13, which amplify love in a beautiful and poetic manner. Verse 8 concludes and summarizes the definition. "Prophecies" can mean either inspired preaching or foretelling the future. How will prophecies "fail"? The word "fail" can be misleading; as it might give the impression that some of God's prophecies will not occur. The Greek for "fail," katargeo , is defined as, "1. to render idle... 2. to cause to cease" ( Thayer's Greek Lexicon ). Notice the following renderings—"they will cease" (NIV), "they will be caused to cease" (Literal Translation Version), "they shall pass away" (English Standard Version).

The need to speak under God's inspiration will never cease. We cannot understand God's Word, written over thousands of years, without inspired speaking or teaching. On the other hand, in the sense of future events, prophecies are time-sensitive. Consequently, once the prophecy is accomplished, it ceases in that there's no longer a need to wait for the event. For example, prophecies about events preceding the return of Christ will cease, or become idle, after His return. Said another way, prophecies are helpful for a limited time, in contrast to the eternal benefit of love.

The analogy continues with languages. They are only meaningful as long as there are people who speak them. When there is only one language, the need to speak other languages ceases. And knowledge about a specific matter is temporary. For example, knowing how to operate a typewriter is no longer a useful skill. Love, however, never becomes obsolete.


CharlesDavid's picture

"Chaos reigned as many misused their spiritual gifts." I've never heard this before. Where can I get more information?

Lena VanAusdle

Lena VanAusdle's picture

You must look at the whole context of the letter, the Corinthians were misusing their spiritual gifts, all of chapters 12, 13, and 14 are an admonish on the proper use of spiritual gifts, towards the end of these chapters he states, "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians:14:33).


rwp_47's picture

Basically it just means prophecies have a shelf life ... or an end date. After they are fully and completely fulfilled ... they just become history ... no longer prophecy ... as they no longer predict the future.

Login/Register to post comments

More Information

Ask a Question

Ask a Question

Printer-friendly version

Got a question?  If you don't see your question here, ask our team of caring, dedicated ministers for a personal answer. (Please allow a week or so for an e-mail response.)

5 + 13 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.

© 1995-2015 United Church of God, an International Association | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. All correspondence and questions should be sent to info@ucg.org. Send inquiries regarding the operation of this Web site to webmaster@ucg.org.

You may login with either your assigned username or your e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.