1Cor 13.12 (DBH translation): “For as yet we see by way of a mirror, in an enigma, but then face to face; as yet I know partially, but then I shall know fully, just as I am fully known.”
I’ve lately been pondering just what Paul proposes as the object of our knowledge here. I grew up thinking something like this – ‘I know God partially (not fully) now, and someday I’ll know God just as completely as he knows me’. I took the ‘just as’ to measure the completeness or depth of the knowledge and God as the object known. And since God’s knowledge of me is utterly exhaustive, I looked forward to the day when I’d know him ‘just as’ he knows me.
I’m thinking now this is probably not what Paul had in mind. I suspect that it was his own self which he confessed to knowing partially and so his own self he looked forward to knowing completely, as God knows him. The fact that he compares this knowledge to that which we gain ‘by way of a mirror’ suggests as much. It is ourselves, not others, we behold in mirrors. We should also pause here to appreciate that mirrors then did not yield the near perfect, high-resolution reflections we enjoy today. They were cloudy and imperfect. In antiquity there was no way a person could see him/herself with anything like the clarity and exactitude with which people beheld others. How different ‘self-perception’ and even our very relationships have been affected by the modern advancement of quality mirrors and photography. Today you don’t need others in order to gain an appreciation of your own image; you can look into a mirror or take a selfie and have a perfect image instantly.
What I’m wondering is:
(1) Do you agree that what we know partially now (and completely later) is in fact ourselves?
(2) Depending on what we understand the object of knowledge here to be, what’s the larger point? If ‘self-knowledge’ is in view, how’s that impact Paul’s point in the chapter?
The fact that the main point has to do with ‘love’ makes interpreting this as ‘self-knowledge’ a bit odd. I’d expect the knowledge to be outward, knowledge of others. But I can’t construe it as our coming to know God as completely as God knows us. And if the ‘face to face’ knowledge which will also be ‘knowing as we are known’ is our ‘knowing ourselves as God knows us’, that does change how the passage is understood.
If the ‘depth’ of knowledge is not the point of comparison, however, perhaps it’s the ‘mode’ of knowledge that’s in view, i.e., ‘face to face’ (unmediated presence/knowledge) as opposed to ‘by way of a mirror’ (partial, mediated knowledge). But this seems strange too, for ‘face to face’ describes a mode of relation/knowledge that is other than ‘by means of a mirror’, and if self-knowledge is what’s in view, what’s the switch from ‘by means of a mirror’ to ‘face to face’ even suggest? Self-knowledge is already by definition a kind of unmediated knowledge in which ‘face to face’ and ‘in a mirror’ are essentially the same.
That said, the real (risky) point I want to make is this. I suspect that as we are known is not particularly a reference to God’s knowledge of us at all, but to the immediate (unmediated) mode in which others know us. This whole context (mentioning prophecy, gifts of knowledge, etc. which transpire between believers) is about human-human knowing and relations. If we can’t imagine knowing anything as completely, fully, and exhaustively as God knows that thing (including ourselves), then perhaps the point here is that someday our knowledge of each other will be free of the limitations and ambiguities that constrain us now (hence our need for prophecy and other gifts). But someday such limitations (and the gifts they occasion) will be eclipsed by a more direct face to face knowing (immediate presence) of one another.