“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”
The word “for” is a term of explanation, indicating that the analogies in this verse are explaining and reinforcing the analogy in verse 11.
The word “now” refers to the present state at Paul’s time of incomplete revelation in contrast to a finished revelation. The delimited gifts of prophecy and knowledge were a limited revelation, but there would be a finished revelation at some point future to Paul’s time.
we see in a mirror, dimly,
Paul introduces a second illustration of the difference of understanding between finished revelation and his present state of incomplete revelation – the mirror. The city of Corinth produced some of the best-polished bronze mirrors in the world at that time. Mirrors of the first century were not as clear as the mirrors of today, for they were dim. Paul’s present knowledge was dim and indistinct, but when the canon would be complete, Christians would have a clear knowledge of God’s mind.
The word “dimly” means an enigma. Secondary means of knowledge cannot convey a clear image; only direct knowledge can. An enigma is a puzzle. If three-quarters of a jigsaw puzzle were missing, we would have an enigma, a puzzle. None of the gospels was written when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. John had not written his gospel, his three letters, or the book of Revelation. Paul had only partial revelation in the time he lived.
“Then” is when the “perfect” of verse 10 will have come.
face to face.
At the completion of the canon, there would be a clear perspective through which we would look at things. As seeing in a mirror dimly is a metaphor, so is the phrase “face to face” a metaphor. Neither expression is literal, so this does not refer to seeing God in heaven. This is nothing like a theophany (seeing God in a physical manifestation) but is a revelation of God through His Word.
Now I know in part,
Again, we have the term “in part.” Paul knew, “in part.” This is the same meaning as 13:9. What Paul knew in part was God’s mind through the gifts of prophecy and knowledge. The knowledge of God mediated through revelatory gifts was partial, for the gifts could provide only a partial revelation of God’s mind.
but then I shall know
Note the “now”/“but then” contrast. When the “perfect” comes, it will supersede the partial. The word “know” in the previous phrase, and this phrase picks up the partial knowledge found in the gift of knowledge. When God’s revelation would be complete in the canon, Christians would know God’s revealed truth fully. Full revelation would bring full knowledge of God’s mind.
just as I also am known.
The phrase “just as” needs qualification. We do not have similar knowledge to God as He has to us in an exact correspondent fashion. The words “just as” mean exact correspondence, so we cannot know God fully. “Face to face” is a metaphor for seeing something clearly as over against dimly and is not a reference to seeing God “face to face.” Paul’s knowing in part, repeats his statement of 13:9, where knowing in part was knowledge of God’s revelation. Paul’s knowledge of God’s mind was similar to knowing or seeing himself in a mirror (not distinctly), but when the “perfect” would come, Christians would fully know the revealed mind of God. Others saw Paul clearly and distinctly, not through the mediation of a mirror as the pre-canon period is to a child, so the post-canon period is to the adult. We have a much more fully developed revelation in a complete canon.
As the pre-canon period is to the child, so the post-canon period is to the adult.
The permanent revelation of God’s mind is more important than the temporary revelation of God through the gifts of prophecy and knowledge. We remind ourselves of our loved ones by pictures. That falls short of seeing them in person. We love the Lord through the Word of God, but one day we will have direct knowledge of Him and fellowship with Him personally. We have a faith once delivered to the saints:
Jude 3, Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
The more we know the Word, the more we know Christ. The only way we can know Him today is through the Word.
2 Co 3:18, But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror (the Bible) the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.