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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
1 Corinthians 13



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. ἐάν. Even suppose I were to.

καὶ τῶν ἀγγέλων. The Rabbis (see Lightfoot in loc.) speak of the languages of angels. It is possible that St Paul may be referring to this notion. And he himself also speaks (2 Corinthians 12:4) of hearing ‘unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter,’ when he was ‘caught up to the third heaven.’ But it is very possible that he is only using the language of rhetorical hyperbole and means no more than languages of angelic beauty and power.

ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω. Yet if I have not love. The A.V. makes ἕχω subjunctive here. It is doubtless indicative. And so the Revised Version takes it. The A.V. has unfortunately departed here from the earlier rendering love of Tyndale and Cranmer (which the Revised Version has restored) and has followed the Vulgate caritas. Thus the force of this eloquent panegyric on love is impaired, and the agreement between the various writers of the New Testament much obscured. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 8:1. The aim no doubt of the Vulgate translators was to avoid the sensuous associations which the Latin word amor suggested. But the English word charity has never risen to the height of the Apostle’s argument. At best it does but signify a kindly interest in and forbearance towards others. It is far from suggesting the ardent, active, energetic principle which the Apostle had in view. And though the English word love includes the affection which springs up between persons of different sexes, it is generally understood to denote only the higher and nobler forms of that affection, the lower being stigmatized under the name of passion. Thus it is a suitable equivalent for the Greek word here used, which (see Dean Stanley’s note) owes its existence to the Bible, since it does not appear in Classical Greek, and is first found in the Septuagint translation of the O. T. See also Mr Carr’s note on Matthew 24:12. It is material to note [1] that the N. T. takes a word unknown to Classical Greek to express the relation of Christians to God and to each other, because that relation was unknown to the heathen world (though known to the Jew, as its use in LXX. proves). And [2] it is worth observing how, while in English we have but one word to express the three Greek ones ἔρως, φιλία, ἀγάπη, such is the strength of the Christian element in our thought, that the latter idea dominates the rest. Meyer compares the eulogy of ἔρως in Plat. Symp. 197 C, D, E.

χαλκὸς ἠχῶν ἢ κύμβαλον ἀλαλάζον. The Apostle refers here to Psalms 150:5, where the Hebrew speaks of ‘cymbals of sound’ and ‘cymbals of clangour,’ and the Septuagint renders almost by the same words as St Paul. Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 14:7, where the difference between an unmeaning noise and real music is spoken of. Also Xen. De Re Equestri I. 3 ὥσπερ κύμβαλον ψοφεῖ πρὸς τῷ δαπέδῳ ἡ κοίλη ὁπλή.

Verses 1-13

1 Corinthians 12:31 to 1 Corinthians 13:13. THE EXCELLENCIES OF LOVE

καὶ ἔτι καθ' ὑπερβολὴν ὁδὸν ὑμῖν δείκνυμι. And moreover I shew you a way of superlative excellence. This, St Paul would have us understand, is the best gift of all. Even faith and hope come short of it. How much more then, those inferior gifts (however useful in their way) about which Christians at Corinth were wrangling. And the search after this gift of infinitely higher value will effectually prevent all jealousies about the lesser gifts by which the natural man is inclined to set store. For καθ' ὑπερβολήν in the sense of the superlative see Polyb. IX. 22. 8, of Hannibal, τινὲς μὲν γὰρ ὠμὸν αὐτὸν οἴονται γεγονέναι καθ' ὑπερβολήν. Calvin complains, and not without cause, of the ‘inepta capitis sectio’ here. The words at the head of this note belong to what follows, rather than to what goes before.

Verse 2

2. εἰδῶ. See note on 1 Corinthians 2:11.

πίστιν. In the sense of ch. 1 Corinthians 12:9, where see note.

ὥστε ὄρη μεθιστάναι. A quotation of words recorded in Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21. Whether St Matthew’s Gospel were already written or not (as some have asserted, but without any definite evidence in support of the assertion), these words had reached St Paul, and this must be regarded as a confirmation of the truth of the Gospel narrative. It is most remarkable, when we consider the relation between St Luke and St Paul, that they appear in a different form in St Luke (Luke 17:6).

οὐθέν εἰμι. The Apostle does not say that it is possible for a man to have all these gifts without love. He only says that if it were possible, it would be useless. But real faith, in the Scripture sense, without love, is an impossibility. Cf. Galatians 5:6; Ephesians 3:17; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13-16; James 2:18-26. True Christian faith unites us to Christ, Who is Love.

Verse 3

3. ψωμίσω. Literally, to feed with small mouthfuls as a nurse does a child. See Aristoph. Lysistrata 19 ἥ δὲ παιδίονἐψώμισεν: and Chrysostom. It usually takes two accusatives, one of the person, the other of the thing. Here the first of these is not expressed but understood. If I feed people one by one with all my goods, or as Coleridge (see Dean Stanley’s notes in loc.), though I dole away all my property in mouthfuls. See John 13:26, where the word ψωμίον, translated sop in our version, is used. In no part of this passage is the inadequacy of the word charity to express St Paul’s meaning more clearly shewn than here. The passage might be rendered: ‘if I give all my goods away in charity and have not love … it profiteth me nothing.’

ἵνα καυθήσωμαι. See Critical Note. Other instances of this form are found in the MSS. but their authority is questioned. See Winer, Gr. Gram. § 13. Instances may be found of such mistakes as that in the text in the very best MSS. καυχήσωμαι seems to be a conjectural emendation of καυθήσωμαι, itself a mistake for καυθήσομαι. For the sentence though I deliver up my body in order that I may boast seems to convey no very satisfactory meaning.

ἵνα here is in order that. There is such a thing even as martyrdom in a hard, defiant spirit; not prompted by love of Christ, but by love of oneself; not springing from the impossibility of denying Him to Whom we owe all (compare Polycarp’s noble words, ‘Eighty and six years have I served Him, and what has He done that I should deny Him?’), but from the resolution not to allow that we have been in the wrong. Such a martyrdom would profit neither him who suffered it, nor any one else.

Verse 4

4. ἡ ἀγάπη μακροθυμεῖ, χρηστεύεται ἡ ἀγάπη. The first the passive, the second the active, exercise of love; the one endurance, the other beneficence. The punctuation of this verse is different from that of the rec. text.

οὐ ζηλοῖ. The word is here used in a bad sense. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:31.

οὐ περπερεύεται. See Marc. Aur. Med. 1 Corinthians 13:5. He classes the temper of mind here implied with γογγύζειν, κολακεύειν, τὸ σωμάτιον καταιτιᾶσθαι as things which a man can overcome if he will.

Verse 5

5. οὐκ ἀσχημονεῖ. The Vulgate renders by ambitiosa; Erasmus by fastidiosa; Wiclif by coveitous; doth not frawardly, Tyndale. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:23. Also ch. 1 Corinthians 7:36; and cf. Romans 1:27; Revelation 16:15. Here it means ‘is not betrayed into forgetfulness of what is due to others.’

ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς. See ch. 1 Corinthians 10:24; 1 Corinthians 10:33.

οὐ παροξύνεται. The ‘contention’ between Paul and Barnabas is called a παροξυσμός, Acts 15:39. We can see from this passage that St Paul regretted it.

οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν. Imputeth not the evil, i.e. bears no malice. Chrysostom explains it by ‘is not suspicious.’ See Romans 4, where the word is translated indifferently ‘reckoned’ and ‘imputed.’

Verse 6

6. οὐ χαίρει ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδικίᾳ. Cf. Psalms 5:4-5, ‘Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.’ And for the opposite, Hosea 7:3; Romans 1:32; 2 Thessalonians 2:12.

συνχαίρει δὲ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ. Rejoiceth with the truth. Love rejoiceth with the victory of Truth in the world, and at the consequent decline of unrighteousness, which is the opposite of truth. Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10; 2 John 1:4.

Verse 7

7. πάντα στέγει. Suffers, Vulgate, and so Wiclif and Tyndale. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 9:12. Here it means to endure patiently indignities and affronts, save of course where the well-being of others requires that they should be repelled.

πάντα πιστεύει. ‘Not that a Christian should knowingly and willingly suffer himself to be imposed upon; not that he should deprive himself of prudence and judgment, so that he may be the more easily deceived; but that he should esteem it better to be deceived by his kindness and gentleness of heart, than to injure his brother by needless suspicion.’ Calvin. ‘It is always ready to think the best; to put the most favourable construction on anything; is glad to make all the allowance for human weakness which can be done without betraying the truth of God.’ Dr Coke. Similarly Erasmus and Wesley.

πάντα ἐλπίζει. [1] Of man, of whom love will ever hope the best, and deem reformation possible in the most hardened offenders; and [2] of God, that He will bring good out of evil, and that all the evils of this life will issue ultimately in the triumph of good.

πάντα ὑπομένει. Sustains to the end, with unshaken confidence in the goodness of God, all the persecutions and afflictions of this life.

Verse 8

8. πίπτει. See Critical Note. πίπτω is found in the sense of come to destruction in Plat. Phaed. 100 E καὶ τοῦτο ἐχόμενος ἡγοῦμαι οὐκ ἄν ποτε πεσεῖν, ἀλλ' ἀσφαλὲς εἶναι.

προφητεῖαι. The allusion is to the spiritual gifts mentioned in the last chapter. The gift of prophecy (see note on ch. 1 Corinthians 14:1) will be no longer needed when all men are in the presence of the eternal verities for which this life is a preparation.

καταργηθήσονται. As far as verbal accuracy is concerned the A.V. is remarkably misleading in this passage. It translates ἐκπίπτει and καταργηθήσονται by fail, and καταργηθήσεται by vanish away. See ch. 1 Corinthians 1:28 note, and 1 Corinthians 13:10-11 of this chapter.

γλῶσσαι. Both [1] speaking with tongues, which as a sign (see ch. 1 Corinthians 14:22) will be unnecessary when we are in that heavenly abode where no signs are needed, but we are in the presence of the things signified, and [2] divers languages, which shall cease when the curse of Babel is removed in the ‘holy city, New Jerusalem’ which shall come down from heaven, and in which all things shall be made new.

καταργηθήσεται. See last note but one. Earthly knowledge (see note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:8), as the result of a process, as acquired by labour, observation, argument, the comparison of facts, the balancing of probabilities, is of little use to us when we enjoy the actual vision of things as they are. Even the analogy of our earthly experience may lead us to this conclusion.

‘Our little systems have their day,

They have their day and cease to be.’

TENNYSON, In Memoriam.

Philosophic doctrines are in fashion for a while, and are then supplanted by others. The learning of one generation is the ignorance of the next. Theories which are popular to-day provoke a smile of derision to-morrow. The discovery which is the pride of one age is superseded in a subsequent one. Thus is earthly knowledge prone to lose its value. Wisdom, says Estius, is not thus to be set aside, because its perfection consists in the vision of God.

Verse 9

9. προφητεύομεν. All inspired utterances are but partial revelations of Divine Truth.

Verse 10

10. καταργηθήσεται. See note on 1 Corinthians 13:8.

Verse 11

11. ἤμην. Middle form for ἦν. See Jelf, Gr. Gram. p. 286. It is common in N.T. See Matthew 25:35; John 11:15, &c.

ἐλογιζόμην. I used to reason. See note on 1 Corinthians 13:5. Observe the three imperfects of habitual action in the past.

ὅτε γέγονα ἀνὴρ κατήργηκα τὰ τοῦ νηπίου. Now that I am become a man, I have brought to an end the things of the child. This rendering preserves the sense of the perfects. The perfect also denotes, not merely the act, but its completeness. Cf. Xen. Cyrop. VIII. 7. 6 ἐγὼ γὰρ παῖς τε ὢν τὰ ἐν παισὶ νομιζόμενα καλὰ δοκῶ καρπῶσθαι, ἐπεὶ τε ἥβησα, τὰ ἐν νεανίσκοις, τέλειός τε ἀνὴρ γενόμενος τὰ ἐν ἀνδράσι.

Verse 12

12. δι' ἐσόπτρου. Literally, by means of a mirror. Per speculum, Vulgate. Bi a mirour, Wiclif. Meyer reminds us that we are to think rather of the mirrors of polished metal used in ancient times, the reflections of which would often be obscure and imperfect, than of our modern looking-glasses.

ἐν αἰνίγματι. In an enigma. Connected with αἶνος, a fable, this word means any saying that is difficult to understand, like the aenigma the Sphinx proposed to Oedipus. There is a confusion of metaphor therefore here, but it conveys a fulness of meaning. We see here [1] by means of a mirror, i.e. not directly, but through a medium, and [2] we have to deal with things of which it is difficult to penetrate the meaning. See Soph. Oed. Tyr. 393 καίτοι τό γ' αἴνιγμ' οὐχὶ τοὐπιόντος ἦν | ἀνδρὸς διειπεῖν, ἀλλὰ μαντείας ἔδει.

πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον. Cf. Numbers 12:8, to which the Apostle is evidently referring. Also Job 19:26-27; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4.

ἐπεγνώσθην. ἐπιγινώσκω signifies thorough, complete knowledge. ‘I am known’ should rather be translated I was known, i.e. either [1] when Christ took knowledge of me (Meyer), or [2] I was (previously) known, or [3] the aorist may be altogether indefinite, ‘as God hath been wont to know me.’ It is God’s knowledge of us, His interpenetrating our being with His, which is the cause of our knowledge. Cf. Galatians 4:9; ch. 1 Corinthians 8:3. Also Matthew 11:27, and John 17 throughout.

Verse 13

13. νυνὶ δὲ μένει. All these will remain in the life to come. Faith, the vision of the unseen (Hebrews 11:1), with its consequent trust in God; hope, which even in fruition remains as the desire of its continuance; and love, as the necessary condition of our dwelling in God and God in us. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:31. ‘Now’ is not to be understood of time, but as equivalent to ‘so,’ at the conclusion of the argument.

μείζων. ‘Because faith and hope are our own; love is diffused among others.’ Calvin. According to Winer, Gr. Gram. § 35, the passage is to be rendered ‘among these love is the greater.’

ἡ ἀγάπη. Faith is no more than the means whereby we unite ourselves to God; hope concerns itself with what we expect from Him. But love is a part of God Himself, 1 John 4:16. Compare with this chapter Clement’s panegyric on love in ch. 49 of his Epistle to the Corinthian Church, written shortly after St Paul’s death. Had this chapter never been written, Clement’s praise of love would have been more famous than it is.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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