When Paul states, “When I became a man, I put away childish things” in 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NKJV), he is utilizing a common illustration that everyone experiences in life—the growth and maturing process. He employs this illustration to convey the idea that, at the moment he was writing, he and the audience only had part of God’s revelation, but at some point in the future, the partial would be completed. Paul and the Corinthians knew in part as they awaited the full revelation of Scripture; however, at some time in the future, they would have complete knowledge of God’s will. At that time, they would put away the partial; they would leave behind “the ways of childhood.”
First Corinthians 13 is in the middle of a discussion regarding particular gifts God gave people with the purpose of establishing the authority of the church and providing further revelation (Hebrews 2:4). Chapter 12 establishes the unity and purpose of the gifts provided to the church by God (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11). Chapter 13 establishes the primary motive for the utilization of the gifts provided; namely, love. Chapter 14 provides information regarding the superior gift of prophecy as well as instructions for the church on how to properly employ the gifts given within the congregation.
In the middle of 1 Corinthians 13, as Paul is discussing the primary motivation for the employment of the spiritual gifts, he tells us, “When I became a man, I put away childish things” (NKJV). In leading up to this statement, Paul states, “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). At the time Paul writes this, there was yet a point in the future when these gifts—prophecy, tongues, and supernatural knowledge—will disappear. These three gifts involve further revelation. The need for further revelation would one day be set aside like a mature adult puts away childish things.
In 1 Corinthians 13:10, Paul states that “when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.” What is this “completeness”? The original Greek word can be translated as “maturity” (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:20), “perfection” (cf. James 3:2), or “completeness” (cf. Colossians 1:28). Due to the nature of Paul’s writing style—he often writes antithetical statements such as in 1 Corinthians 2:6 and 1 Corinthians 14:20—it would seem “completeness” is the best translation, to balance “what is in part.” Paul could have in mind the complete revelation of God’s Word (cf. Revelation 22:18). Alternately, he could be referring to the eternal state, that is, the glorification of believers.
When Paul states, “When I became a man, I put away childish things,” he is pointing to either 1) the putting away of the revelatory gifts in light of a complete revelation in the Bible or 2) the completion of God’s plan for His children. In any case, when the complete comes, the partial will disappear (Hebrews 2:3–4).