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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament
1 Corinthians 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

1 Corinthians 13:1. This way will be described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, but first its necessity must be proved: this is shown by the five parl(1961) hypotheses of 1 Corinthians 13:1 ff.,—respecting tongues, prophecy, knowledge, and devotion of goods or of person. The first supposition takes up the charism last mentioned (1 Corinthians 12:30) and most valued at Cor(1962): ἐὰν τ. γλώσσαιςλαλῶ, ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω (form of probable hypothesis—too prob. at Cor(1963)), “If with the tongues of men I be speaking, and of angels, but am without love,”—in that case, “I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal”—I have gained by this admired endowment the power of making so much senseless noise (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:6-11; 1 Corinthians 14:23; 1 Corinthians 14:27 f.). With love in the speaker, his γλωσσολαλία would be kept within the bounds of edification (1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:12-19; 1 Corinthians 14:27), and would possess a tone and pathos far different from that described.—“Tongues of men” does not signify foreign languages (so Or(1964), Hf(1965), Al(1966), Thiersch), such as are supposed to have been spoken on the Day of Pentecost (see note on 1 Corinthians 12:10); they are, in this whole context, ecstatic and inarticulate forms of speech, such as “men” do sometimes exercise: “tongues of angels” ( καὶ of the climax: “aye, and of angels!”) describes this mystic utterance at its highest (cf. λαλεῖ θεῷ, 1 Corinthians 14:2)—a mode of expression above this world. Possibly P. associated the supernatural γλῶσσαι, by which he was himself distinguished (1 Corinthians 14:18), with the ἄρρητα ῥήματα heard by him “in paradise” (2 Corinthians 12:4); cf. the “song” (Revelation 14:2 f.) which only “those redeemed out of the earth” understand. The Rabbis held Hebrew to be the language of the angels.— χαλκὸς denotes any instrument of brass; κύμβαλον, the particular loud and shrill instrument which the sound of the “tongues” resembled.


Verse 2

1 Corinthians 13:2. Prophecy in its widest range, and faith at its utmost stretch—in those lacking love, both amount to “nothing!” ( ἐὰν) εἰδῶ τὰ μυστήρια πάντα κ. τ. λ., “If I know all the mysteries (of revelation) and all the knowledge (relating thereto),” explains καὶ ἐὰν ἔχω προφητείαν by stating the source, or resources, from which “prophecy” is drawn: πᾶσαν τ. γνῶσιν (attached somewhat awkwardly to εἰδῶ), combined with τ. μυστ., posits a mental grasp of the contents of revelation added to the supernatural insight which discovers them (see notes on λόγος γνώσεως and προφητεία, 1 Corinthians 12:8 ff.), as e.g. in the case of Isaiah. Hn(1967) supplies ἔχω, instead of the nearer εἰδῶ, before τ. γνῶσιν (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 8:10), reading “if I have all knowledge” as a second, distinct assumption following on “if I know all mysteries,” on account of the incongruity of Prophecy and Knowledge; but the point of P.’s extreme supposition lies in this unusual combination—the intellect of a philosopher joined to the inspiration of a seer.—For μυστήρια, see note on 1 Corinthians 2:1.— πίστιν (see note on 1 Corinthians 12:9) ὥστε μεθιστάνειν ὄρη—an allusion to the hyperbolical sayings of Jesus ad rem (Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21; see notes in vol. i.); in the pr(1968) (continuous) inf(1969)—“to remove mountain after mountain” (Ed(1970)). Whatever God may be pleased to accomplish through such a man (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9), he is personally worthless. On the form οὐθέν, see Wr(1971), p. 48; for the thought, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:18, 2 Corinthians 12:11, Galatians 6:3.


Verse 3

1 Corinthians 13:3. The suppositions of these three vv. cover three principal forms of activity in the Church—the spheres, viz., of supernatural manifestation, of spiritual influence, of material aid (1 Corinthians 13:3); loveless men who show conspicuous power in these several respects, in the first instance are sound signifying nothing; in the second, they are nothing; in the third, they gain nothing. Those who make sacrifices to benefit others without love, must have some hidden selfish recompense that they count upon; but they will cheat themselves.— ἐὰν ψωμίσω κ. τ. λ., “If I should dole out all my property”. The vb(1972) (derived from ψωμόςf1ψωμίον, John 13:26 ff.—a bit or crumb) takes acc(1973) of person in Romans 12:20 (LXX), here of thing—both regular: “Si distribuero in cibos pauperum” (Vg(1974)), “Si insumam alendis egenis” (Bz(1975)).—The sacrifice of property rises to its climax in that of bodily life: cf. Job 2:4 f., Daniel 3:28, Galatians 2:20, etc.; John 10:2; John 15:13.—But in either case, ex hypothesi, the devotion is vitiated by its motive— ἵνα καυχήσωμαι, “that I may make a boast” (cf. Matthew 6:1 ff.); it is prompted by ambition, not love. So the self-immolator forfeits the end he seeks; his glorifying becomes κενοδοξία (Galatians 5:26, Philippians 2:3; cf. John 5:44). οὐδὲν ὠφελοῦμαι signifies loss of final benefit (cf. Galatians 5:2, Romans 2:25, Luke 9:25). This entire train of supposition P. puts in the 1st pers(1976), so avoiding the appearance of censure: cf., for the usus loquendi, 1 Corinthians 14:14-19, 1 Corinthians 8:13, 1 Corinthians 9:26 f.— καυθήσωμαι is a grammatical monstrum,—a reading that cannot well be explained except as a corruption of καυχήσωμαι; it was favoured by the thought of the Christian martyrdoms, and perhaps by the influence of Daniel 3:28. Hn(1977), Gd(1978), Ed(1979), El(1980), amongst critical comment., are in favour of the T.R., which is supported by the story, told in Josephus (B.J., vii. 8. 7), of a Buddhist fakir who about this time immolated himself by fire at Athens.


Verses 4-7

1 Corinthians 13:4-7. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul’s utterance began to rise with the elevation of his theme into the Hebraic rhythm (observe the recurrent ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω, and the repeated οὐδέν) which marks his more impassioned passages (see e.g., Romans 8:31 ff., Ephesians 1:8 ff.; on a smaller scale, 1 Corinthians 3:22 f. above). Here this rhythm dominates the structure of his sentences: they run in seven couplets, arranged as one (affirm.), four (neg.), and two (aff.) verse-lines, with the subject ( ἀγάπη) repeated at the head of the 2nd line. The ver. which closes the middle, longer movement becomes a triplet, making a pause in the chant by the antithetical repetition of the second clause. The par. then reads as follows:—

“Love suffers long, shows kindness.

Love envies not, makes no self-display;

Is not puffed up, behaves not unseemly;

Seeks not her advantage, is not embittered;

Imputes not evil, rejoices not at wrong.

but shares in the joy of the truth.

All things she tolerates, all things she believes;

All things she hopes for, all things she endures.”

The first line supples the general theme, defining the two fundamental excellencies of Love—her patience towards evil, and kindly activity in good. In the negative movement, the first half-lines set forth Love’s attitude—free from jealousy, arrogance (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:6 b), avarice, grudge-bearing; while the second member in each case sets forth her temper—modest, refined in feeling, placable, having her joy in goodness. The third movement reverts to the opening note, on which it descants.—For the individual words: μακροθυμέω is to be long-tempered (longanimis est, Er(1982))—a characteristic of God (Romans 2:4, etc.)—patient towards injurious or provoking persons; this includes οὐ παροξύνεται, οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν, πάντα στέγει; whereas ὑπομένει, closing the list, signifies patience in respect of adverse and afflictive circumstances; the two unite in Colossians 1:11 : see Trench, Syn., § liii.— χρηστεύεται—a vb(1983) perhaps of Paul’s coining—plays the part of a χρηστός (benignus), one who renders gracious, well-disposed service to others (Trench, Syn., § lxiii): P. associates μακροθυμία and χρηστότης repeatedly (see parls.).— οὐ ζηλοῖ qualifies the ζηλοῦτε of 1 Corinthians 12:31 : directed towards right objects, ζῆλος is laudable ambition; directed towards persons, it is base envy; desire for excellencies manifest in others should stimulate not ill-will but admiring love.—The vb(1984) περπερεύεται (parl(1985) in form to χρηστεύεται) occurs only in Marc. Anton., v., 5 besides, where it is rendered ostentare se (the Vg(1986) perperam se agit rests on mistaken resemblance) to show oneself off: πέρπερος, used by Polybius and Epictetus, signifies braggart, boastful (see Gm(1987), s.v.), its sense here.—He who is envious ( ζηλ.) of superiority in others is commonly ostentatious ( περπ.) of superiority assumed in himself, and arrogant ( φυσ.) towards inferiors. Such φυσιοῦσθαι is a mark of bad taste—a moral indecency, from which Love is clear ( οὐκ ἀσχημονεῖ: see parls.); she has the instinct for the seemly; Love imparts a delicacy of feeling beyond the rules of politeness.—The absence of pride is the burden of the two former of the negative couplets, the absence of greed of the two latter. For οὐ ζητεῖ κ. τ. λ., cf. parls.; 2 Corinthians 12:13 ff. supplies a fine illustration in the writer. Selfishness generates the irritability denied concerning Love in οὐ παροξύνεται; intent on one’s own advantage, one is incessantly angered to find the world at cross purposes with him. Except Hebrews 10:24, the only other N.T. parls. (Acts 15:39; Acts 17:16) ascribe to P. himself the παροξυσμὸς which he now condemns; as in the case of ζῆλος (see 1 Corinthians 3:3), there is a bad and a good exasperation; anger may be holy, though commonly a sin. To “rejoice at iniquity,” when seeing it in others, is a sign of deep debasement (Romans 1:32); Love, on the contrary, finds her joy in the joy of “the Truth” (personified: cf. Romans 7:22, Psalms 85:10 f., 3 John 1:8; 3 John 1:12)—she rejoices in the progress and vindication of the Gospel, which is “the truth” of God (cf. Philippians 1:7, Colossians 1:3-6; 3 John 1:4): ἀδικία and ἀλήθεια are similarly contrasted in 2 Thessalonians 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:12.—The four πάντα clauses form a chiasmus: the first and fourth relating to the bearing of ill, the second and third to expectation of good in others; the first pair belong to the present, the last to the future. For στέγει, see parls.; Bz(1988) and a few others render the clause “omnia tegit,” in accordance with the radical sense of the vb(1989); but suffert (Vg(1990)) is its Pauline, and also prevalent cl(1991) sense.— πίστις appears to bear in Galatians 5:22 the meaning of faith in men belonging to πιστεύει here. Hope animates and is nourished by endurance: ὑπομένει (sustinet, not patitur), the active patience of the stout-hearted soldier; see Trench, Syn., § liii., and N.T. parls.


Verses 4-13

1 Corinthians 13:4-13. § 43. THE QUALITIES OF CHRISTIAN LOVE. The previous vv. have justified the καθʼ ὑπερβολὴν of 1 Corinthians 12:31. The loftiest human faculties of man are seen to be frustrate without love; by its aid alone are they brought to their proper excellence and just use. But this “way” of Christian attainment has still to be “described,” and the promise of 1 Corinthians 12:31 b fulfilled. So while 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 have proved the necessity, the rest of the chap. shows the nature and working of the indispensable ἀγάπη. The Cor(1981) may see in this description the mirror of what they ought to be and are not; they will learn how childish are the superiorities on which they plume themselves. (a) The behaviour of Love is delineated in fifteen exquisite aphorisms (1 Corinthians 13:4-7); (b) its permanence, in contrast with the transitory and partial character of the prized χαρίσματα (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).


Verse 8

1 Corinthians 13:8. Love, that bears, also out-wears everything: “Love never faileth”. That πίπτει denotes “falling” in the sense of cessation, dropping out of existence (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:8, Luke 16:17), not moral failure (as in 1 Corinthians 10:12, etc.), is manifest from the parl, clauses and from 1 Corinthians 13:13. The charisms of chh. 12. and 14. are bestowed on the way and serve the way-faring Church, they cease each of them at a determined point; but the Way of Love leads indefinitely beyond them; οὐ διασφάλλεται, ἀλλʼ ἀεὶ μένει βεβαία καὶ ἀκίνητος (Thd(1992)).—“Prophesyings, tongues, and knowledge”—faculties inspired, ecstatic, intellectual—are the three typical forms of Christian expression. The abolition of Prophecies and Knowledge is explained in 1 Corinthians 13:9 ff. as the superseding of the partial by the perfect; they “will be done away” by a completer realisation of the objects they seek,—viz., by intuition into the now hidden things of God and of man (1 Corinthians 14:24 f.), and by adequate comprehension of the things revealed (see note on 1 Corinthians 13:12). Of the Tongues it is simply said that “they will stop” ( παύσονται), having like other miracles a temporary significance (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:22); not giving place to any higher development of the like kind, they lapse and terminate (desinent, Bg(1993)).


Verse 9-10

1 Corinthians 13:9-10 : reasons why Prophecy and Knowledge must be abolished. Though amongst the μείζονα (1 Corinthians 12:31) and rich in edification (1 Corinthians 14:6), these charisms are partial in scope, and therefore temporary: the fragmentary gives place to the complete.— ἐκ μέρους (see note, 1 Corinthians 12:27, and parls.): coming of a part, our knowledge and prophesying are limited by the limiting conditions of their origin. For the conscious imperfection of Prophecy, cf. 1 Peter 1:10 f.; this text has some bearing on the much-discussed “inerrancy” of Scripture.— ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ τὸ τέλειον, τὸ ἐκ μέρους καταργηθήσεται, “But when there comes the perfect (full-grown, mature; see note on 1 Corinthians 2:6), the ‘in part’ will be abolished”: cf. Ephesians 4:13 f., where τέλειος is contrasted with νήπιος as here; also Philippians 3:11 ff. This τελείωσις is brought about at the παρουσία—it “comes” with the Lord from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:7 above); that of Ephesians 4. is some what earlier.


Verse 11

1 Corinthians 13:11 illustrates the abolition of the partial by the perfect through the transition from the child to the man—in speech ( ἐλάουν), in disposition and aim ( ἐφρόνουν), and in mental activity ( ἐλογιζόμην). These three points of diff, can hardly be identified with the γλῶσσαι, προφητεία, and γνῶσις respectively; though “spake as a babe” may allude to the childish fondness of the Cor(1994) for γλωσσολαλία (cf 1 Corinthians 14:18 ff.), and “to reason” is the distinction of γνῶσις. On the later-Gr. mid(1995) form ἤμην, see Wr(1996), pp. 95 f.— ὅταν with sbj(1997) is the when of future contingency, ὅτε with ind(1998) the when of past or present fact.— ὅτε γέγονα ἀνὴρ κατήργηκα κ. τ. λ.: “now that (ex quo) I have become a man (vir factus sum: cf. ἀνὴρ τέλειος in Ephesians 4:12), I have abolished the things of the child”. Such is the κατάργησις which Prophecy and Knowledge (Scripture and Theology), as at present known, must undergo through the approaching “revelation” (1 Corinthians 1:7). “Non dicit, Quum abolevi puerilia, factus sum vir. Hiems non affert ver; sed ver pellit hiemem: sic est in anima et ecclesia” (Bg(1999)).— γέγονα and κατήργηκα, in pf. of abiding result; for καταργέω, cf. 1 Corinthians 1:28 and parls.


Verse 12

1 Corinthians 13:12 figures in another way the contrast between the present partial and the coming perfect Christian state, in respect particularly of knowledge: it is the diff(2000) between discernment by broken reflexion and by immediate intuition. “For we see now through a mirror, in (the fashion of) a riddle; but then face to face.”— βλέπω, as distinguished from ὁράω, points to the fact and manner of seeing rather than the object seen (see parls.). On ἄρτι, see note to 1 Corinthians 4:11; it fastens on the immediate present.— διʼ ἐσόπτρου, “by means of a mirror”: ancient mirrors made of burnished metal—a specialty of Cor(2001)—were poor reflectors; the art of silvering glass was discovered in the 13th century.— ἔσοπτρον = κάτοπτρον (2 Corinthians 3:18), or ἔνοπτρον (cl(2002) Gr(2003)); not διόπτρα, speculare, the semi-transparent window of talc (the lapis specularis of the ancients), as some have explained the term. cf. Philo, De Decal., § 21, “As by a mirror, the reason discerns images of God acting and making the world and administering the universe“; also Plato’s celebrated representation (Repub., vii., 514) of the world of sense as a train of shadows imaging the real. Mr(2004), Hf(2005), Gd(2006), Al(2007), El(2008) adopt the local sense of διά, “through a mirror,” in allusion to the appearance of the imaged object as behind the reflector: but it is the dimness, not the displacement, of the image that P. is thinking of.—Such a sight of the Divine realities, in blurred reflexions, presents them ἐν αἰνίγματι, enigmatically—“in (the shape of) a riddle” rather than a full intelligible view. Divine revelation opens up fresh mysteries; advanced knowledge raises vaster problems. With our defective earthly powers, this is inevitable.— πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον, Heb. panîm ’elpanîm (see parls.), with a reminiscence of Numbers 12:8, στόμα κατὰ στόμακαὶ οὐ διʼ αἰνιγμάτων (referring to the converse of God with Moses): the “face” to which ours will be turned, is God’s. God is the tacit obj(2009) of 1 Corinthians 13:12 b, which interprets the above figure: “Now I know ( γινώσκω, a learner’s knowledge: see 1 Corinthians 1:21, etc.; contrast οἶδα, 2 above and 1 Corinthians 2:11) partially; but then I shall know-well ( ἐπιγνώσομαι), as also I was well-known”. God has formed a perfect apprehension of the believing soul (1 Corinthians 8:3); He possesses an immediate, full, and interested discernment of its conditions (Romans 8:27, etc.); its future knowledge will match, in some sense, His present knowledge of it, the searching effect of which it has realised (Galatians 4:9, etc.).


Verse 13

1 Corinthians 13:13. νυνὶ δὲ μένει κ. τ. λ.—final conclusion of the matter, μένει being antithetical to πίπτει κ. τ. λ. of the foregoing: “But as it is (nunc autem), there abides faith, hope, love—these three l” they stay; the others pass (1 Corinthians 13:8 ff.). Faith and Hope are elements of the perfect and permanent state; new objects of trust and desire will come into sight in the widening visions of the life eternal. But Love, both now and then, surpasses its companions, being the character of God (1 Corinthians 8:3, 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16); in Love is the fruition of Faith’s efforts (Galatians 5:6) and Hope’s anticipations; it alone gives worth to every human power (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The popular interpretation, since Cm(2010), has read νυνὶ as temporal instead of logical, identifying it with the ἄρτι of 1 Corinthians 13:12, as though the Ap. meant that for the present Faith and Hope “abide” with Love, but Love alone “abides” for ever. But P. puts the three on the same footing in respect of enduringness—“these three” in comparison with the other three of 1 Corinthians 13:8—pointedly adding Faith and Hope to share and support the “abiding” of Love; “love is greater among these,” not more lasting.—For μείζων with partitive gen(2011), cf. Matthew 23:11, and see Wr(2012), p. 303. For the pregnant, absolute μένει, cf, 1 Corinthians 3:14, 1 John 2:6, 2 John 1:2.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/1-corinthians-13.html. 1897-1910.

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