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Bible Commentaries

Godet's Commentary on Selected Books

1 Corinthians 13

IX. On Spiritual Gifts. Chaps. 12-14.

We have here one of the richest and most interesting parts of our Epistle. These chapters are to us like a revelation of the power of that spiritual movement which went forth from Pentecost, and of the wonderful spiritual efflorescence which at the outset signalized the new creation due to the power of the gospel.

The link which connects this passage with the two preceding is certainly the common idea of public worship; this comes out particularly in chap. 14, where the apostle treats of the exercise of spiritual gifts in the assemblies of the Church; now that chapter is the conclusion to which the two previous ones point. At the same time there is progress from the two subjects, treated in chap. 11 to this third: the first, that of chap. 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 (the demeanour of women in the assemblies), was of a more external nature; the second, chap. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (the abuses in the Holy Supper), already went much deeper. The passage chaps. 12-14 comes to what is more vital in the worship of the Church; the subject in question is the Holy Spirit Himself and His Divine manifestations. The Spirit, in the Christian community, may be compared to the nervous fluid in the human body. Thus it is that the apostle advances from the external to the internal.

What general idea ought we to form of the spiritual forces treated in this passage? We mean those new powers which in the apostle's writings often bear the name χαρίσματα , gifts of grace, which the Holy Spirit developed within the Church, and about which we have already stated our view, 1 Corinthians 1:7. The term χάρισμα indicates rather their origin, the word πνευματικά ( 1Co 14:1 ) their essence. But for that very reason the former of these expressions has a wider meaning: for it may denote in general everything we owe to the Divine favour.

The Church is the body of Christ, the apostle tells us ( 1Co 12:27 ), that is to say, the organ which the glorified Christ since His departure has created on the earth to realize His design and carry out His purposes, as He formerly did by means of His body, strictly so called, when He was here below. This glorified Christ Himself dwells in believers by His Spirit, who thereby become His active members; and the action which He carries out through them proceeds from the extraordinary forces which He communicates to them. But these new powers may have their point of attachment in natural talents. It is even most frequently the case that the operation of the Spirit fits in to natural aptitudes; He impresses on them a higher direction, a new bent to the service of God, and He exalts their power by consecrating them to this sublime object.

But so long as the spiritual man, who possesses any of these gifts, has not reached absolute holiness, his personal consecration, and consequently that of his gift, remains still imperfect. Hence arises the possibility of the deterioration of the spiritual forces, either in their use or in their inward essence, by selfishness, pride, vanity, hypocrisy, falsehood, jealousy, or hatred. Was not this what the apostle himself, 2 Corinthians 7:1, called defilement of the Spirit?

Now this is exactly what happened at Corinth, and in the most serious manner. The members wished to shine, to take the lead, to surpass one another by means of those spiritual manifestations; they sought those particularly which took the most surprising forms, and they disdained those which, though less showy, were yet the most practical and useful. In this we recognise thoroughly the Greek mind, which turns everything to amusement, even things the most serious; those children everlastingly, ἀεὶ παῖδες , as one of their own has called them; comp. 1 Corinthians 16:21.

The principal error which misled the Corinthians and produced their spiritual ignorance ( 1Co 12:1 ) on this subject, seems to have consisted in this: they imagined that the more the influence of the Divine Spirit deprived a man of his self-consciousness and threw him into an ecstasy, the more powerful was that influence and the more sublime the state to which it raised the man; whereas the more the inspired person retained his self-possession, the less did his inspiration partake of a Divine character. From this point of view, the teacher was far beneath the prophet, and the prophet beneath him who spoke in tongues. Their rule was: the more πνεῦμα ( Spirit), the less νοῦς ( intelligence). This judgment accorded with Greek and even Jewish prejudices (see Heinrici, pp. 352-357). Plato said in the Phaedrus: “It is by madness (the exaltation due to inspiration) that the greatest of blessings come to us;” and in the Timaeus he says: “No one in possession of his understanding has reached Divine and true exaltation.” The numerous sayings of Philo expressing the same thought are well known; and certain sayings of the Old Testament regarding the influence of the Spirit, when it took hold of the prophets, may have given countenance to such an interpretation; comp. Numbers 24:4 (Balaam); Amos 3:8; Hosea 9:7, etc.

How was it possible to set about the disciplining of such forces, which, from their very origin, a Divine impulse, seemed to escape from the control of the intellectual judgment and to defy all rule? The Pythia obeys only the god who subjects her to his will; the inspired one is above all remark and admonition: The Spirit impels me; what answer can be made to that? The task which the apostle now undertakes is the most difficult and delicate of all that were imposed on him by the state of the Corinthian Church. He has to bank in the most impetuous of torrents. He will require, it is easy to see, all his wisdom and dexterity, and will require to put forth more than ever the apostolic gift which has been conferred on him for the government of the Church.

He begins, in chap. 12, by ascending to the loftiest principles which govern this mysterious and profound region. In chap. 13 he points out to the Corinthians the beneficent genius under whose patronage spiritual gifts should always be placed to exercise a salutary influence, viz. love. After having thus paved the way for the result he desires to reach, he passes, in chap. 14, to the practical treatment of the subject, and lays down some precise and even finical rules for the advantageous exercise of these gifts, particularly those of prophecy and speaking in tongues. After the principles developed in chap. 12 and 13, these rules do not seem to be imposed by authority; they spring, as it were, of themselves from the conscience of the Church, now sufficiently enlightened.

Chrysostom complained even in his day of the obscurity of these chapters; he explained it by the fact that the circumstances to which this whole treatment applied no longer existed in the Churches of his time. We are still further removed from the apostolic age and from the extraordinary manifestations which characterized it. But the living forces of which the apostle speaks are not entirely withdrawn from the Church, they ought to accompany it to the end of its earthly career ( 1Co 13:10-12 ). They appear only in another form, so that the study to which we now proceed will not have a merely archaeological interest, but is capable of assuming a present and practical value for every believer and especially for every pastor.

The efforts of certain critics (Baur, Räbiger, etc.) to connect the following discussion, in one way or another, with the opposition between the different parties which divided the Church of Corinth ( 1Co 1:12 ), have not issued in any probable result. The text offers no data fitted to favour the hypotheses made in this direction.

I. General Survey of the Domain of Spiritual Gifts. Chap. 12.

In the first three verses of this chapter, the apostle sets himself to mark out rigorously the domain of which he is about to treat, distinguishing it strictly from the analogous, but alien, religious manifestations, with which it might be confounded, and uniting by a common bond all the various manifestations which belong to it.

Verse 1

Vv. 1. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am only a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

Hitherto the apostle had put the gift of tongues at the end of each of his lists (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1Co 12:28 ; 1Co 12:30 ). Here he puts it foremost, because now he rises from the least valuable to the most useful gift. To give assurance of his perfect impartiality in the valuation he proceeds to make, he supposes himself exercising this gift, as indeed he really possessed it in a rare degree ( 1Co 14:18 ). And to express its insufficiency more forcibly, he does not consider it only as it appeared in the Church of Corinth, and was an object of ambition to its members; he raises it hypothetically to the most magnificent realization of it possible. Paul supposes himself in possession of the languages of all thinking and speaking beings, terrestrial and celestial. Some, Thiersch for example, refer the term tongues of men to the various tongues spoken by the apostles on the day of Pentecost, and tongues of angels to the gift of tongues as it flourished at Corinth. The former of these terms would thus designate the real tongues spoken by different nations: Arabic, Latin, etc. But independently of the question relating to the nature of the gift of tongues on the day of Pentecost, a question which we shall afterwards treat (chap. 14 end), by thus identifying the gift of tongues at Corinth with the tongues of angels, the apostle would have raised it even above that gift in the form in which it appeared at Pentecost, which is impossible. For the gift in its original form remains of course the perfect type of that kind of spiritual manifestation. Paul therefore simply means: “Imagine a man endowed with all the powers of terrestrial and celestial language....” It is inconceivable how Meyer, with this passage before him, can persist in applying the term tongue to the physical organ of speech, which would lead to the meaning: “Though I had in my mouth, I, Paul, the tongues of millions of men and of angels.”

In translating I have rendered the word ἀγάπη by the term charity, rather than by love. And for this reason: our word love combines two notions which are expressed in Greek by two different words: ἀγάπη and ἔρως . The second denotes the love of desire, which seeks its own satisfaction in the being loved, love as it appears to us in Plato's beautiful myth (in the Symposium), where it is represented as the son of poverty and wealth; it is this shade of meaning particularly which attaches in French to the word love (amour). But the Greek language knows another love, the love of complacency, which is much more disinterested, which contemplates, approves, and yields itself: this is ἀγάπη , a word which is certainly related to the verb ἄγαμαι , to admire. To this term it seems to me the word charity better corresponds. In our passage the feeling expressed by ἀγάπη is mainly love of our neighbour ( 1Co 13:4-7 ); now this love, being according to Paul an emanation from the love of God, takes the character of disinterestedness, purity, and freeness which distinguishes Divine love.

But how are we to suppose speaking in tongues apart from faith, and faith divorced from charity which is its fruit? Is not the apostle's supposition merely a threat fitted to alarm his readers? Experience proves that a man, after opening his heart with faith to the joy of salvation, may very soon cease to walk in the way of sanctification, shrink from complete self-surrender, and, while making progress in mystical feeling, become more full of self and devoid of love than he ever was. Such is the issue of the religious sybaritism of which revivals furnish so many examples. Christianity, instead of acting as a principle of devotion, turns into poetry, sentimentality, and fine speaking. It may even happen that, after a real and serious conversion, love may be at first developed in the heart and life, but afterwards, in consequence of some practical unfaithfulness, and through a want of vigilance, leading to spiritual pride, charity may be gradually chilled. The gifts originally received remain in some measure, but the inner life has disappeared. In this second case, the perfect γέγονα , “ I have become and am for the future,” is still more easily explained than in the first. The apostle's thought might therefore be rendered thus: “If, after giving myself to Christ, I became the most eminent Christian poet the Church had, and my heart were void of charity...”

The two terms brass and cymbal, which denote, the one a piece of unwrought metal, struck to produce sound, the other the concave plate, used so frequently in the East as a musical instrument, perfectly describe the inflation of an exalted imagination, and an over-excited sensibility. Religious language is then no longer the natural over-flowing of a heart filled with love; it resembles the resonant sound of a dead and hollow instrument. We might apply the word χαλκός , brass, as we sometimes do in French, to the trumpet; but, as Meyer says, Paul begins with a vague expression to pass to one more specific. Suidas says that the expression δωδωναῖον χαλκεῖον was a proverbial name for those who speak much and do nothing (Heinrici). The word ἀλαλάζον denotes in general what makes a great noise, such as a war-cry.

Verses 1-3

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 .

Without love, the most eminent gifts confer no real worth on their possessor.

Verses 1-13

II. The Way par excellence. Chap. 13.

This chapter has been called a hymn. In tone indeed it is truly lyrical, especially in the first verses. Charity is poetically personified. In this respect the passage resembles some others in St. Paul's writings, such as the end of chap. 15 of our Epistle, that of chap. 8 of the Romans, or that of chap. 3 of the First Epistle to Timothy. These are, so to speak, specimens of a sublime speaking in tongues, interpreted by the glossolalete himself. “There is here,” as Heinrici well says, “such warmth as could only proceed from the purest experience of charity. It is as if love itself stood before us, filled with its holy peace and profound sympathy.” The apostle develops three thoughts: (1) the uselessness of gifts, even the highest, without charity, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3; (2) the intrinsic excellence of charity, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; (3) the eternal duration of charity, and of charity alone, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Thus is proved the assertion of 1 Corinthians 12:31, that to walk in love is the way par excellence; for it alone guides us to the absolute end.

Verse 2

Vv. 2. “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and [though I have] all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not charity, I am nothing.”

The apostle rises to the higher gifts. The gift of the prophet and that of the teacher ( knowledge) are here joined together by the expression: knowing all mysteries, which, from its position, seems to be connected with both. And in fact both relate to the understanding of God's plan of salvation. Now this plan is the supreme mystery, and contains within it all particular mysteries (comp. 1Co 2:7 ). It is to the latter, to certain details as to the final accomplishment of salvation, for example, that the revelations granted to the prophets specially refer; whereas knowledge denotes the understanding of salvation itself in its totality, and as already accomplished and revealed in Christ. The expression εἴδεναι γνῶσιν , to know knowledge, is a familiar form in Greek. To be remarked is the article before γνῶσις , the knowledge, a form by which Paul means: all it is possible to have; and the adjective πᾶς , all, thrice repeated, with the words mystery, knowledge, and faith, supposes each of those gifts possessed in its ideal perfection, like that of tongues in 1 Corinthians 13:1.

Commentators explain otherwise than I have done the relation between the three propositions concerning prophecy, the understanding of mysteries and knowledge. Heinrici finds two gifts here: (1) prophecy, with which he connects the understanding of mysteries, and (2) knowledge properly so called. But how can knowledge ( γνῶσιν ) be thus separated from ( εἰδῶ ) knowing? Edwards rather connects the second proposition with the third. Meyer applies the three propositions to one and the same gift, prophecy; but 1Co 12:8 expressly distinguishes prophecy from knowledge.

Faith is taken here in the same sense as in 1 Corinthians 12:9; the assurance, founded on the feeling of reconciliation, that nothing can resist us when we are really doing the work of God. Possible obstacles are represented under the figure of a mountain to be removed, as in Matthew 17:20. The abrupt brevity of the phrase which closes this paragraph: I am nothing, contrasts with the long developments given to the preceding propositions. Behold the fruit of all those magnificent gifts: all speech, all knowledge, all power, and yet nothing! What such a man has done may be of value to the Church; to himself it is nothing, because there was no love in it. Love alone is anything in the eyes of love.

But how is it credible that a man can reach this height of knowledge and power in God without love? Here, again, are we not face to face with an impossible supposition? No; the faith of first days may develop more or less exclusively in the direction of knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:2 a) or of force of will (1 Corinthians 13:2 b), as well as in the direction of sensibility ( 1Co 13:1 ); comp. Luke 9:54, where James and John ask the Lord to bring down fire from heaven on the Samaritan village. Faith is there, but where is charity? This is what Jesus points out to them. Or there are believers who may have preserved the gift of prophesying, of driving out demons, of working miracles, while in the eyes of Him who tries the heart and reins they are only workers of iniquity; comp. Matthew 7:22. In our day, too, one may be a celebrated theologian, the instrument of powerful revivals, the author of beautiful works in the kingdom of God, a missionary with a name filling the world; if in all these things the man is self-seeking, and if it is not the Divine breath of charity which animates him, in God's eyes this is only seeming, not being. The apostle goes further still.

Verse 3

Vv. 3. “And though I distributed all my goods, and though I gave my body to be burned, but had not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

The apostle here comes to acts which appear to have the greatest value, because they seem identical with charity itself. In the first, it is the office of ἀντίληψις , help ( 1Co 12:28 ), rising to the most magnanimous sacrifice, the complete giving away of all possessed in behalf of the poor. We must read, not the present ψωμίζω , but the aorist: ψωμίσω . The second denotes a summary gift bestowed once for all; the first would apply rather to a continuous giving day by day; ψωμίζειν , to break down into pieces to give away. Edwards rightly observes that the term implies two things: (1) the gift bestowed by the giver's own hand; (2) on a multitude.

Finally, to the sacrifice of means made for men, Paul adds the highest sacrifice, that of life, offered to God. How are we to conceive of this sacrifice? Can it be that of a man who rushes into a house on fire to save one in sickness? But the ἵνα , in order that, seems to imply the intention of perishing. It is rather the acceptance of martyrdom which is in question. If there is a case in which the Alexandrine reading should be set aside without hesitation, it is that of the variant καυχήσωμαι , that I may glory. Either the copyists have read χ for θ , or more likely they have been too eager to introduce the reason which would annul the value of the martyrdom, and have anticipated the following words: but have not charity, which become superfluous. In any of the cases previously pointed out, the expressed cause of nothingness is no other than the absence of love; it is also the only one which suits the context. Here, again, is one of the cases in which Westcott and Hort, by maintaining this reading, abandoned even by Lachmann and Tischendorf, have only proved the inconvenient consequence of partisanship. It is probable that of the readings καυθήσωμαι of C K (future subjunctive) and καυθήσομαι of the Greco-Lats. (future indicative), we ought to prefer the second. The form of the future subjunctive is a barbarism only found in later writers. The indicative with ἵνα often occurs in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 9:15; Galatians 2:4; 1 Peter 3:1, etc.).

But how can such acts be done otherwise than from love? The sacrifice of goods may be carried out in the spirit of ostentation, or may proceed from a desire of self-justification, and consequently be dictated by a wholly different feeling from love. It may be so likewise with the sacrifice of life. Witness the funeral pile of Peregrinus, in Lucian, or that of the Hindoo who had himself burned at Athens, under Augustus, and whose tomb was pointed out, according to Strabo, with a pompous inscription, relating how “he had immortalized himself.” The pagan Lucian himself calls such men κενόδοξοι ἄνθρωποι . Certainly it is not such the apostle has in view, but a Christian carrying to this degree the appearance of love to Christ, while seeking at bottom only his own fame or self-merit in the eyes of God. There is the well-known case of the presbyter who, when giving himself up to death as a confessor of the faith, was accompanied by a Christian, with whom he was at variance, and who asked him to forgive him before dying. He absolutely refused him the reconciliation asked with such importunity. Arrived at the place of execution, he faltered, denied, while the other boldly confessed and perished in his place. He might have persisted from shame of denying His Lord, and to avoid being taxed with cowardice. His martyrdom would not have been on that account more acceptable to God. The trickeries of self - love are unfathomable, and deceive the very man who is their instrument.

The οὐδὲν ὠφελοῦμαι , it profiteth me nothing, is here substituted for the οὐδὲν εἰμί , I am nothing, of 1 Corinthians 12:2, because now it is not the worth of the person but of the acts which is in question. What was intended to assure me of salvation, has no value in the eyes of God, whenever the object of it becomes self, in the form of self-merit or of human glory. Love accepts only what is inspired by love.

Such is the first reason fitted to justify the καθ᾿ ὑπερβολήν of 1 Corinthians 12:31, the supreme excellence of the way which is called charity. The most eminent gifts, the most heroic acts avail nothing the instant they are not inspired by it. The absolute worth of charity also appears from the opposite consideration: while without it, all is nothing, it produces all of itself. It is the mother of all the virtues, “the bond of perfection,” as St. Paul himself says, Colossians 3:14.

Verses 4-7

Vv. 4a. “Charity suffereth long, it is kind.”

Suffereth long, in regard to wrongs, even repeated, from our neighbour; here is the victory over a just resentment. The term μακροθυμεῖν denotes the long waiting time during which the man refuses to give way to his θυμός .

Kind, full of goodness, animated by the constant need to make oneself useful; it is the victory over idle selfishness and comfortable self-pleasing. The verb χρηστεύεσθαι , from χρηστός ( χράομαι ), strictly denotes the disposition to put oneself at the service of others.

In tolerandis malis, says Calvin, in regard to the former of these terms; in conferendis bonis, in relation to the latter.

There follow eight negative qualities, which unfold the contents of the former of these two terms, the μακροθυμεῖ .

Vers. 4b-6a. “Charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, charity is not puffed up, 5. doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not easily provoked, taketh not account of evil; 6a. rejoiceth not in unrighteousness.” The connection between the first four dispositions is obvious. With envy, which bears on the advantages of others, there is naturally connected boasting in regard to one's own. The word περπερεύεσθαι is of unknown origin. Perhaps it is an onomatopoeia, the reduplication of the first syllable expressing vain boasting, or perhaps it is connected with πέρα , beyond, and denotes the act of transgressing the just measure. It has also been derived from the Latin perperam (praeter operam). The ancient commentators sometimes take it for the vice of precipitancy, sometimes for that of boastfulness. Others, affectation, petulance, or frivolity (see Edwards). The most probable meaning is that of ostentation. It is easy to understand from the passages 1 Corinthians 12:14-17; 1 Corinthians 12:21-26, the application of these first two terms to the state of the Church of Corinth. The inconsiderate use of the dictum: “All things are lawful for me” ( 1Co 6:12 , 1Co 10:23 ), serves also to explain the second. Hence the transition to inflation, as the inward source of the two preceding evils. The word φυσιοῦσθαι was used, 1 Corinthians 4:6, to denote the presumptuous self-satisfaction with which certain Corinthians were filled; comp. in general chaps. 1-4.

Vers. 5, 6a. Finally the want of propriety, ἀσχημοσύνη ; forgetfulness of seemliness, respect, politeness; this term points back to the rebukes 1 Corinthians 11:5 (the demeanour of women) and 21, 22 (the conduct in the Holy Supper). We shall see in chap. 14, from the limits which the apostle sees himself forced to put to the use of certain gifts, how those who possess them set themselves above the respect due to the Church and to those who possess different and still more useful gifts.

These four terms relate rather to the abuse of gifts; the following four bear on the Christian life in general.

It is impossible on reading the phrase: seeketh not its own, to avoid recalling what was said, chaps. 8-10, of the use which many members of the Church without charity made of their spiritual liberty, showing not the least concern for the salvation of the weak, provided they might enjoy pleasures in which they thought they had a right to indulge. The term to be provoked no doubt alludes to the dissensions and lawsuits (chap. 6).

The phrase λογίζεσθαι τὸ κακόν , to reckon the evil, has been explained in the sense of suspecting evil or meditating it with a view to injuring others; but the article before κακόν seems to indicate that the evil in question is there, realized, rather than an evil to be done; and as to the first meaning, it has been remarked, not without reason (see Edwards), that it would rather require ἐνθυμεῖσθαι ( Mat 9:4 ). It is better, therefore, to understand: “does not rigorously take account of the wrongs it has to bear from its neighbour;” comp. 2 Corinthians 5:19; Romans 4:6. Charity, instead of entering evil as a debt in its account-book, voluntarily passes the sponge over what it endures.

Finally, it feels no criminal joy on seeing the faults which may be committed by men of an opposite party. Rather than eagerly turn to account the wrong which an adversary thus does to himself, it mourns on account of it. This last proposition is the transition to the first of the five positive qualities which are afterwards mentioned.

Vers. 6b, 7. “But it rejoiceth with the truth; 7. covereth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”

It is impossible to leave out of account the σύν , with, which enters into the composition of the verb συνχαίρειν ( to rejoice with), and to translate simply: rejoiceth in the truth. Truth is here personified as charity itself is. They are two sisters; when truth triumphs, charity rejoices with it. We might understand by truth the preaching of salvation; but it seems more natural here to give it a general meaning, corresponding to the word unrighteousness, in the preceding proposition; the subject in question is truth in opposition to falsehood. Love chooses to see the truth coming to light and triumphing, even if it should be contrary to the opinion cherished by it, rather than to see error which might be most useful to it holding its ground.

Vv. 7 continues to develop the positive good done by charity. Here properly begins the development of the second fundamental feature of charity, the χρηστεύεται , it is kind. In four master-strokes the apostle draws in a complete and indelible manner the portrait of this angel of goodness come down from heaven. The verb στέγω ( tego), to cover, might here signify, as usually in Paul's style ( 1Co 9:12 ), to bear; but it would be difficult to avoid a tautology with the fourth term, ὑπομένειν , to endure. It is better therefore to understand the word in the sense of to excuse. Charity seeks to excuse others, to throw a mantle over their faults, charging itself, if need be, with all the painful results which may follow. This conduct is explained by the following term: it believeth all things. The term believe usually refers to God; here it denotes apparently confidence in man; but in reality this confidence has for its object the Divine in man, all that remains in him of God's image. For it is this which leads charity to interpret the conduct of fellowmen rather in a good sense.

Of course this faith goes only to the point where sight arrests it by discovering distinctly the opposite of the good which it loved to suppose. But, even then, the task of charity is not at an end: where it must cease to believe, it still hopes. While recognising with pain the present triumph of sin, it cherishes the hope of the future victory of good.

And in this generous hope it does not weary; it holds on, ὑπομένει . Taking part with the Divine long-suffering, it endures with perseverance; ὑπομένειν , literally: to hold on under (a burden). Here the matter in question is not evil in general, as in the στέγει , but personal wrongs. By this last word, the apostle returns to that with which he had started: love is long-suffering, and thus he finds the transition to the third idea of the chapter: the objective permanence of charity.

Verses 8-10

Vv. 8-10. “Charity never faileth. As to prophecies, they shall be done away; as to tongues, they shall cease; as to knowledges, they shall be done away. 9. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10. But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.”

The first words: never faileth, are, as it were, the theme of the following passage. This is why the subject: charity, is repeated. The best proof of the absolute value of charity is its eternal permanence in contrast to everything else, even the most excellent; and the subjective persistence of charity in the believer ( 1Co 13:7 ) is the prelude, as it were, of this objective permanence.

It seems as if the verb ought to be in the future; but the present is here, as often, that of the idea.

The two readings: πίπτει and ἐκπίπτει , have almost the same meaning: the former, however, is the simpler and more probable. An allusion to the spot from which the fall takes place ( ἐκ ) is unnecessary. The verb πίπτειν , to fall, cannot, as Holsten would have it, refer solely to the value of charity in this sense: It never loses its worth. The following antitheses: shall be done away, shall cease, prove clearly that its duration is the point in question. Prophesying and speaking in tongues will cease, but not loving.

The transient character of gifts, even the most eminent, such as prophecy and knowledge (between which Paul introduces, as an inferior gift, speaking in tongues), proves their relative and secondary value. The Vatic. reads the singular προφητεία ; all the other documents have the plural.

To what epoch does the abolition of prophecy belong? If history is consulted, it seems to answer: toward the end of the second and during the third century. For the Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles shows us the prophets still in full activity in the first half of the second century. But the apostle's answer, in 1 Corinthians 13:10, certainly makes the abolition of prophecy, as well as that of tongues and of knowledge, coincident with the advent of the perfect state; consequently with Christ's glorious coming, which will introduce this state. It is vain to attempt to fix an interval between the abolition announced in 1Co 13:8 and the τὸ τέλειον ἐλθεῖν , the advent of perfection, of 1 Corinthians 13:10. But if, according to this text, the total abolition of gifts cannot take place before the end of the present economy, there may come about a modification in their phenomenal manifestation. The very figure which the apostle uses in 1Co 13:11 easily leads to the idea of a gradual metamorphosis, which will pass over their mode of manifestation. For the speaking of the child, its mode of feeling and thinking, do not give place suddenly to the analogous faculties of the mature man; the change in these three respects takes place insensibly and progressively. So the spiritual gifts granted to the primitive Church, while accompanying and supporting the Church to the very threshold of the perfect state, need not do so necessarily in the same form as at the beginning. Prophecy may be transformed into animated preaching; speaking in tongues may appear in the form of religious poetry and music; knowledge continue to accomplish its task by the catechetical and theological teaching of Christian truth (see on chap. 14 conclusion).

In speaking of tongues Paul substitutes for the word καταργεῖσθαι , be done away, the term παύεσθαι , to cease, become silent. This feverish agitation of discoursings in tongues, which uplifted the Church of Corinth, will calm down.

The reading γνώσεις , knowledges, of the Sinaït. and the Greco-Lats., is regarded by most, even by Tischendorf, as an assimilation to the preceding substantives. But sufficient account has not been taken of Rückert's remarks. It is not the true knowledge which shall cease; it is only the various fragments of knowledge, received here below ( γνώσεις ), which shall pass away to give place to perfect knowledge ( 1Co 13:12 ).

Verses 8-13

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 .

The absolute duration of charity is developed in these last verses: first, in opposition to gifts, then even in contrast to the other two fundamental virtues, faith and hope. Thus the apostle completes the demonstration of his thought: charity is the supremely excellent way.

Verse 9

Vv. 9. The reading γάρ , for, is evidently preferable to the δέ , then, of the Byz. The apostle wishes to explain why this doing away shall take place. Prophecy lifts on each occasion only a corner of the veil which covers the plan of God and its final accomplishment. Similarly the isolated acts of spiritual knowledge grasp the truth of salvation only in fragments, and consequently every particular point of the great fact. Even to possess the complete knowledge of one point, the whole would require to be known distinctly. Now this full and only true knowledge is not granted us in the present economy. As to tongues, the apostle does not think it necessary to justify their disappearance. The reason for it is too evident: it is their ecstatic character. The only ground for ecstatic transport is that we are not yet living fully in the reality of the Divine. When we live in God, we are in Him without going out of ourselves. This is why there is no ecstasy in the life of Jesus, at least after His baptism.

Verse 10

Vv. 10. But far from being an impoverishment of the Church, this loss of gifts, on the contrary, will coincide with her rising to the possession of perfect fulness; it will be the imperfect melting into the perfect. In contrast to the term ἐκ μέρους , in part, one would expect τὸ πᾶν , the whole, the entire. But it is not without reason that the apostle says τὸ τέλειον , the perfect, substituting the idea of perfection in quality for that of completeness in quantity. For the future knowledge will differ from that which we have here in mode, still more than in extent. Our view will not only embrace the totality of Divine things; but it will contemplate them from the centre, and consequently in their real essence. At present not only do we know only fragments, but even these we discern but indistinctly.

The aor. ἔλθῃ , shall have come, alludes to a fixed and positively expected moment, which can be no other than that of the Advent.

The apostle uses a comparison to illustrate the necessity of this substitution of the perfect for the imperfect.

Verse 11

Vv. 11. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child; when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Man's natural growth is a figure of that of the Church; both follow the same law, that of development and transformation. In proportion as the faculties, in course of development, acquire a higher mode of activity, the previous mode ceases of itself.

It seems evident to me, as to most commentators, that by the three terms, λαλεῖν , to speak, φρονεῖν , to feel, aspire (this term expresses the unity of feeling, thought, and will), and λογίζεσθαι , to think, the apostle alludes to the three gifts mentioned, 1 Corinthians 13:9-11; speaking corresponds to tongues, aspiration to prophecy, and thinking to knowledge. The gift of tongues corresponds in the Divine domain to the babbling of the child in its first joyous experience of life. Prophecy, whose glance penetrates to the perfection yet to come, corresponds to the ardent aspiration of the childish heart, which goes out eagerly into the future, expecting from it joy and happiness; and knowledge, which seeks to penetrate Divine truth, corresponds to the simple thoughts whereby the infant mind seeks to find an explanation of things. It is therefore a groundless objection which Holsten makes to this triple and obvious correlation when he alleges the absence of all relation between the φρονεῖν , aspire after, and prophecy.

The active verb κατήργηκα , I put away, I put an end to, denotes the spontaneity of this surrender. As it is with pride that the young man shakes off the puerilities of childhood, so it is with profound satisfaction that the mature man substitutes the manly activity of the profession which he has embraced for the passionate dreams of childhood and youth. Such is the image of what will be experienced by the faithful when the perfect state for which they are preparing shall be unveiled to them, at Christ's coming. Then they will willingly let fall all those rudiments of the spiritual life with which they were delighted, inflated perhaps, as was the case at Corinth. It is from this point that we can perfectly understand the delicate allusion, 1 Corinthians 1:7.

M. Sabatier ( l'Apôtre Paul, p. 7), failing to understand the comparison which the apostle makes, thinks that he is here speaking of himself, that he wishes to describe his spiritual state immediately after his conversion, and that in the same sense in which he applied the image of the child to the spiritual state of the Corinthians, 1Co 3:1 seq. He thus finds in our 1 Corinthians 13:11 a proof of the considerable changes which took place in the apostle's convictions from the time of his conversion up to the date when he wrote this letter.

Such a misunderstanding is without parallel.

The following verse contains the explanation of this comparison.

Verse 12

Vv. 12. “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I have been known.”

The ordinary application of the two parts of this verse to the gift of knowledge seems to me mistaken. Why should the apostle in this application omit the gift of prophecy? We shall find that the terms of the first half of the verse apply as naturally to the last gift as those of the second half to knowledge. As to tongues he omits them, as already in 1 Corinthians 13:9. He does not think it necessary to revert expressly to their future disappearance.

The object of βλέπειν , to see, is here God Himself, with His plan of grace and glory toward us. The mirrors of the ancients were of metal; those made at Corinth were famous. The image which they presented could never be perfectly distinct. There is no ground for Rückert's idea that what is meant is a window formed of semi-transparent glass or of a square of horn. Tertullian already understood it so: Velut per corneum specular (see Edwards). The διά , through, on which this view rested, may signify: by means of. Or the term through may be suggested by the fact that the image seems to be placed behind the surface of the mirror.

We perceive Divine things, says the apostle, only by means of their image in a mirror. Plato had already expressed a similar idea in his famous comparison of the cave. This figure signifies two things: knowledge of a mediate character, and for that very reason always more or less confused. ᾿Εν αἰνίγματι , literally: in the form of enigma. The word αἴνιγμα denotes a sentence which, without expressly saying the thing, leaves it to be guessed. It thus serves to bring out the relative obscurity in the manifestation of Divine things, which we now possess. If we apply the expression exclusively to the gift of knowledge, we shall see in the mirror, with some, space and time, those necessary forms of all our ideas, or the categories of reason which determine all its processes; Paul in that case would have here anticipated Kant. Or, according to others, Paul is thinking of the facts of sacred history as manifesting God's character and essence, or of the revelations of Scripture in general. Holsten combines these two last interpretations. But do we not arrive at a more natural explanation of the apostle's words, if we apply them to the gift of prophecy? The image in the mirror corresponds in this case to the inward picture which the Spirit of God produces in the prophet's soul at the time of his vision, and in which the Divine thought is revealed to him. And the expression: in the form of enigma, which we have translated darkly, exactly renders the character of such a picture. The prophet required in every case to apply his whole attention to the vision to extract from it the idea of the fact revealed to him; comp. 1 Peter 1:10-11. What seems to me to confirm this meaning is the analogy of the terms used by Paul to those of the Pentateuch, particularly in the passage Numbers 12:6-8, where the Lord says: “If there be a prophet among you, I will make Myself known unto him, ἐν ὁράματι , in a vision, and I will speak unto him, ἐν ὕπνῳ , in a dream; but My servant Moses is not so....With him I speak mouth to mouth, στόμα κατὰ στόμα , and he seeth Me, ἐν εἴδει , manifestly, and not δἰ αἰνιγμάτων , in enigmas (confused representations).” With this mediate view of the Divine, by means of prophetic picture, the apostle contrasts the immediate intuition which will be the character of future contemplation; and he here uses expressions which remind us of what is said in the Old Testament regarding the incomparable mode of communication between God and Moses (Deuteronomy 34:10: mouth to mouth, and Exodus 33:11: ἐνώπιος ἐνωπίῳ , face to face). The communication which God granted to Moses, and to Moses only, was a kind of anticipation of the final mode of intuition here described; comp. Numbers 12:8 (LXX.): καὶ τὴν δόξαν τοῦ κυρίου εἶδε , and he saw the glory of the Lord.

The second part of the verse relates to the gift of knowledge. With the fragmentary, successive, analytic, discursive mode of our present knowledge, there is contrasted the intuitive, central, complete, and perfectly distinct character of our future knowledge. The verb γινώσκω , strictly: I learn to know, denotes effort and progress. Then Paul substitutes for the simple active verb γινώσκω , the compound ἐπιγινώσκω in the middle form to denote the complete assimilation of the knowledge to come: to put the finger on the object, so as to possess it entirely. And, to give the fullest idea of this kind of knowledge, he uses the boldest conceivable parallel, identifying the knowledge which we shall have of God with that which He now has of us. The καθώς , according as, as, indicates the immediate and perfectly distinct character, and the καί serves still more to emphasize the notion of identity.

The first person singular is substituted in this second part of the verse for the first plural, we see, to emphasize more strongly the absolute inwardness of this wholly personal relation. Meyer, Kling, Hofmann, Holsten think that the aorist I have been known refers to the date of conversion; comp. Galatians 4:9; but this restricted sense is unnatural in our passage. Paul is speaking of the knowledge which God has of man during the whole course of his life. From the standpoint of the life to come, at which the context puts us, this knowledge appears to him as a thing of the past.

With this whole view opened up, what became of the superiority of knowledge and speech on which the Corinthians prided themselves so greatly (comp. 1 Corinthians 1:5; 1Co 1:7 )? As the faint glimmer of dawn gives place to the brightness of the rising sun, so those confused conceptions and those fragmentary knowledges in which they glory will vanish in the brightness of immediate vision granted at the hour of the Advent (the ἀποκάλυψις , 1Co 1:7 ). What will then remain of the present state? Nothing? No; that would mean that all the present labour of the believer is vain. Something will remain, undoubtedly: but it will not be gifts, it will be the virtues which constitute the essential elements of the Christian character, without which, as Heinrici says, the Christian personality itself is extinguished:

Verse 13

Vv. 13. “But now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

As Paul so often does ( 1Th 1:3 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4; Col 1:4-5 ), he here sums up the Christian life in the three dispositions: faith, which takes salvation as already accomplished, Christ come; hope, which goes out to the part of salvation yet to be accomplished, Christ coming again; finally, charity, which embraces the ever-abiding Christ, and in Him all beings, and which is already salvation itself realized in the individual. Such are the three elements of the Christian life which will not pass away with the coming of the perfect state. Holsten has asked, with good right, why Paul here brings in the comparison of charity with those other two virtues, whereas, considering the passage as a whole, he was not called to compare it with anything but gifts; and he gives himself up to a rather subtle lucubration to show that faith was to replace, throughout the present era, the knowledge of the early days, and hope the prophecies of the apostolic epoch. There is not in the text the least trace of this idea, which is besides excluded by the true meaning of the word abide. The answer seems to me simple. To exalt charity supremely, Paul contrasts it not only with gifts which pass away, but also with the virtues which remain as well as it, and declares its superiority even over them.

The particle νυνὶ δέ , but now, might be taken in the temporal sense, as it is sometimes, perhaps, in Paul's writings (see Rückert on 1Co 5:11 ). In that case we must explain thus: “But at the present time there abide faith, hope, charity.” This meaning is inadmissible for the following reason: The three virtues are contrasted with the three preceding gifts, which are to cease with the future era, and not to enter into the perfect state. Now, if these three virtues also only belonged to the present epoch, there would be no contrast to set up in respect of duration between them and gifts. We must therefore give the particle a logical sense; comparison of charity with the two other virtues contains the indication of a new element, of the true state of things. “In reality, this is what abides, and by no means what you suppose.” The contrast between virtues and gifts is likewise emphasized by the apposition τὰ τρία ταῦτα , that is to say: “ these three, and not the three gifts of which we have been speaking.” What has only an intellectual, oratorical, or lyrical character is transient; what edifies, what produces self-renunciation, the giving oneself to God and men, this is what abides.

How are we to understand the expression abide? At the first glance one is disposed to give it, in contrast to the abolition of gifts, the most absolute sense: abide eternally. Gifts will be done away at the coming of the perfect state; but these three virtues will remain in the perfect state itself. But against this idea there rises an objection which from the earliest times has struck all commentators. It is, that according to St. Paul, faith, in the perfect state, must give place to sight ( 2Co 5:7 ), and hope to possession ( Rom 8:24 ). According to this, faith and hope would pass away as well as gifts. Various ways have been sought of solving this difficulty. Osiander imagines he can distinguish two epochs in the perfect state, the one embracing the thousand years' reign, the other beginning at the end of this reign and belonging to eternity. Gifts cease, according to him, on the threshold of the first of these epochs; faith and hope only at the beginning of the second. But the text presents not the slightest indication of this distinction; the perfect state is represented in it as one single era from which gifts only are excluded. Some, like Beza, Bengel, Rückert, refer the term μένειν , abide, to the entire duration of the present economy. But what becomes in that case of the contrast between the three virtues which remain to the end of the present period and the three gifts which are to cease at the coming of the perfect state?

Several commentators, such as Calvin, Holsten, Heinrici, are thus led to take the word abide in a logical sense. These three things, says Holsten, remain in full value, while gifts lose theirs, knowledge is replaced by faith, and prophecy by hope. But if this explanation is to give a clear meaning, it always amounts to making Paul say that gifts were to cease with the first ages, while faith and hope were to preserve their value to the present day, and until the end of this economy. How can any one help seeing that by this contrast the notion of time still remains attached to the word abide, from which indeed it is inseparable in the context? For it springs from the evident antithesis between the word abide and the preceding verbs: shall cease, shall be done away, I put away. This has been felt by most commentators, while fully acknowledging the difficulty of harmonizing the permanence of faith and hope with Paul's other sayings in which their transformation and, consequently, their future cessation are taught. Grotius observes that faith and hope, while formally transformed, will abide in their fruits. According to Hofmann, likewise, Paul's expression is justified by the fact that believing remains in seeing, as hoping in possessing; for sight has come through faith, and possession through hope. But is not this to do violence to the meaning of the word abide? And might not the same be said of gifts?

Meyer, nearly to the same effect: These virtues will remain in the salvation we have obtained through their means, and moreover in this sense: that faith remains eternally the means of our communion with Christ, and that hope will never cease to catch new perspectives of glory, even in the perfect state. Kling (in Lange's Bible) says better still, as it appears to me: While love is the real possession of the Divine, faith and hope belong to its acquisition; now is this acquisition a fact which can ever cease? Indeed, eternal blessings are not like a bag of gold pieces, which are received once for all. The permanent essence of the creature is to have nothing of its own, to be eternally helpless and poor; every instant it must take possession of God by faith, which grasps the manifestations which He has already given, and by hope, which prepares to lay hold of His new manifestations. It is not once for all, it is continually that in eternity faith changes into vision and hope into possession. These two virtues, therefore, abide to live again unceasingly.

But notwithstanding this permanence of faith and hope, the palm belongs to charity, as the greatest of the three. The apostle does not say the most durable, for the duration of all three is absolute. The τούτων might refer to the other two virtues only; μείζων would then have its regular comparative sense: “ greater than they two.” But as τούτων necessarily refers to τρία ταῦτα , we must give to μείζων the superlative meaning: “ the greatest of the three;” comp. Matthew 18:4. This superiority of charity has been variously explained. Some, like Calvin, say: Greater in virtue of its eternal duration; but this duration belongs also, as we have just seen, to the other two. Others: Because faith and hope belong only to the individual's inward life, while charity exercises a salutary influence beyond him (Meyer, Heinrici, Holsten). But is not faith also an active force outwardly? De Wette: Because love is, according to 1 Corinthians 13:7, the true principle of faith and hope. But in 1Co 13:7 faith and hope referred solely to conduct toward our neighbour, and not to the appropriation of salvation and our relation to God. According to Paul, it is, on the contrary, faith which is the principle both of hope and of true love ( Gal 5:6 ).

We have just seen that faith and hope abide continually, but undergoing incessant transformation, the one into sight, the other into possession. It is not so with charity. Love does not see, does not acquire, it is the Divine. God does not believe nor hope, but He loves. Love belongs to His essence. Like God Himself, it could not change its nature except for the worse. Love is the end in relation to which the two other virtues are only means, and this relation remains even in the state of perfection. Hence it is the greatest, and hence also the apostle called charity and the work of charity: “The way par excellence. ” So he resumes, 1 Corinthians 14:1, by saying: “Follow after charity.” In this verse the apostle returns, as we have said, from the digression on charity to his subject strictly so called: the exercise of spiritual gifts. He has now placed them under the aegis of the one principle which can render their exercise truly beneficial and make up for them, if they should ever come to an end.

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Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/1-corinthians-13.html.