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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 13

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

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Verse 1

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

The New Testament psalm of love, as the 45th Psalm (see its title) and Canticles in the Old Testament. While Paul's chief theme is faith, he handles love also with the unction of the beloved disciple.

Tongues. From these he ascends to "prophecy" (1 Corinthians 13:2); then to "faith;" then to benevolent and self-sacrificing deeds: a climax. He passes from addressing them (1 Corinthians 12:31) to putting the case in his own person - "Though I." etc. "speak with the tongues" - with the eloquence so much admired at Corinth (e.g., Apollos, Acts 18:24: cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12) and with the command of various languages, which some abused to mere ostentation, 1 Corinthians 14:2, etc.)

Of angels - higher than "men;" therefore speaking a more exalted language.

Charity - the principal of the ordinary and more important gift of the Spirit, contrasted with the extraordinary, (1 Corinthians 12:1-31.)

Sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal - sound without soul: such are "tongues" without charity.

Cymbal. Two kinds are noticed, Psalms 150:5 - the loud or clear and the high sounding: hand cymbals and finger cymbals, or castagnets. The sound is sharp stud piercing.

Verse 2

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

Mysteries (Romans 11:25; Romans 16:25). Mysteries refer to God's deep counsels heretofore secret, but now revealed; knowledge, to truths long known.

Faith, so that I could remove mountains (Matthew 21:21) - confidence in God that the miraculous result will surely follow the exercise of the will at the Spirit's secret impulse. Without "love," prophecy, knowledge and faith are not what they seem (cf. Matthew 7:22; 1 Corinthians 8:1-2; 1 Corinthians 13:8; James 2:14), and so fail of the heavenly reward (Matthew 6:2). Thus Paul, who teaches justification by faith only (Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:7-14), agrees with James, who teaches "by works" (i:e., by LOVE, which is the "spirit" of faith, James 2:24; James 2:26) a man is justified, and not by faith only."

Verse 3

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Bestow all my goods to feed the poor, [ psoomisoo (G5595)] - dole out (crumble away) in food all my goods; one high function of the "helps" (1 Corinthians 12:28).

Give my body to be burned - literally give up my body to such a degree as that I should be burned. As the three youths (Daniel 3:28) "yielded their bodies" (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:15). So C Delta G f g, Vulgate, But A B 'Aleph (') read [ kaucheesoomai (G2744)] 'that I may glory' or 'boast.' These acts, when done in love, area most noble. Yet they may be without love: then the "goods" and "body" are given, but not the soul, which is the sphere of love. Without the soul, God rejects all else, and so rejects the man (Matthew 16:26; Luke 9:23-25). Men will fight and die for Christianity, but not live in its spirit which is love.

Verse 4

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Suffereth long - under provocations of evil from others. The negative side of love. Is kind - the positive; good to others. Compare the future of the "wisdom from above" (James 3:17).

Envieth The Greek [ zeeloi (G2206)] includes jealousy. It is the same as 1 Corinthians 12:31, "covet earnestly."

Vaunteth not - ostentatiously, even of gifts which it really possesses [ perpereuetai (G4068): from Latin perperam: whereas alazoneuein (G213) is to boast of gifts which one does not really posses (Romans 1:30)]: a rebuke of those at Corinth who used the tongues for mere display.

Not puffed up - with party zeal, as some at Corinth were (1 Corinthians 4:6).

Verse 5

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Not behave itself unseemly - in not uncourteous.

Thinketh no evil - imputeth not (Romans 4:8; Hebrew, chashab) evil; literally, 'the evil' which actually is there (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). Love makes allowance for others, and puts on their acts, as far as truth admits, a charitable construction. Love doth not take into account [ ou (G3756) logizetai (G3049)] 'the evil' which another inflicts on her, and so meditates no evil against him.

Verse 6

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Rejoiceth in the truth. Greek, 'rejoiceth with the truth.' Exults not at unrighteousness perpetrated by others (cf. Genesis 9:22-23), but rejoices when the truth (which is on the side of righteousness) rejoices: sympathizes with its triumphs (2 John 1:4). See the opposite, 2 Timothy 3:8. So, the same contrast, Romans 2:8. "The truth" is the Gospel truth, the inseparable ally of love (Ephesians 4:15; 3 John 1:12). The false charity which compromises "the truth" by glossing over "iniquity" is thus condemned (Proverbs 17:15).

Verse 7

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Beareth all things. The same Greek as in 1 Corinthians 9:12. It endures without divulging to the world its distress. Literally holding fast, like a water-tight vessel: the charitable man contains himself from giving vent to what selfishness would prompt under personal hardship.

Believeth all things - all that is not palpably false, all that it can with a good conscience believe to the credit of another. Compare James 3:17, Greek, 'easily persuaded.'

Hopeth - what is good of another, even when others have ceased to hope.

Endureth - persecutions in a patient and loving spirit.

Verse 8

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

Never falleth - never 'falleth' to the ground (Greek), so as to be out of use: always holds its place.

Shall fall ... vanish away, [ katargeetheesetai (G2673)]. The same Greek for both; different from the Greek for "faileth" [ piptei (G4098)]. Translate, 'shall be done away with' - i:e., shall be dispensed with at the Lord's coming, superseded by their more perfect analogues; for instance, knowledge by intuition. Of "tongues," still more temporary, the verb is "shall cease." Begun in sin (Genesis 11:1-32), they shall cease with it. A primary fulfillment took place when the Church attained its maturity: then 'tongues ceased,' and 'prophesyings' and "knowledge," as supernatural gifts were superseded, as no longer required, when the Scriptures of the New Testament had been collected together.

Verses 9-10

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

In part - partially and imperfectly. Compare a similar contrast to the "perfect man," Ephesians 4:11-13.

That which is in part - fragmentary and isolated.

Verse 11

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

When I was a child (1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 14:20).

I spake - alluding to "tongues."

Understood - `I was minded,' or 'had the sentiments of:' alluding to "prophecy."

I thought - Greek [ elogizomeen (G3049)], 'reasoned:' alluding to "knowledge."

But. So G. But ['Aleph (')] A B Delta f omit it.

When I became a man, I put away - rather, 'now that I am become a man, I have done away with (the same, Greek as in 1 Corinthians 13:8; see note) the things of the child.'

Verse 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 am known.

Now, [ arti (G737)] - in our present state.

See - appropriate in connection with the "prophets" or seers (1 Samuel 9:9).

Through a glass - i:e., in a mirror: the reflection seeming behind, so that we see it thorough the mirror. Ancient mirrors were of polished brass or other metals. The contrast is between the inadequate knowledge gained by seeing an object reflected in the dim mirror of the ancients, compared with the perfect idea we have by seeing itself directly.

Darkly - literally, in enigma. As a 'mirror' conveys an image to the eye, so an enigma' to the ear. But neither 'eye nor ear' can fully represent (though the believer gets now a revealed glimpse of) "the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Paul alludes to Numbers 12:8, "not in dark speeches;" the Septuagint, 'enigmas.' Compared with the visions and dreams vouchsafed to other prophets, God's communications with Moses were 'not in enigmas.' But compared with the intuitive, direct vision of God hereafter, even the revealed Word is now 'a dark discourse,' shadowing forth by enigma God's likeness. Compare 2 Peter 1:19, where the "light," or 'lamp,' "in a dark place" is contrasted with the "day" dawning (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Then - "when that which is perfect is come" (1 Corinthians 13:10). Face to face - not merely "mouth to mouth" (Numbers 12:8). Genesis 32:30 was a type (John 1:50-51).

Know even as also I am known - rather [ epignoosomai (G1921)] 'fully know even as also I am fully known.' Then first the saints shall enjoy full mutual recognition-as the disciples recognized Moses and Elijah, whom they had never seen, at the transfiguration. Previously, "sleep in Jesus" implies not unconsciousness, but that the sleeping saints are shut up unto Him in trance-like vision. Now we are known by, rather than fully know, God (note, 1 Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4:9). Whatever knowledge God's people have is due to God first knowing them. Hereafter we shall "see Him as He is:" here we see Him only as He is in us (Olshausen, 1 John 3:2).

Verse 13

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

And now, [ nuni (G3570)] not the same Greek as "now," 1 Corinthians 13:12. Translate 'But now,' As 1 Corinthians 13:8 already showed, "love" extends beyond this present time; "now" here expresses not time, but opposition, as in 1 Corinthians 5:11. Such being the case, that the three - "prophecy," "tongues," and "knowledge" (specimens of the whole cycle) - "fail" (1 Corinthians 13:8), there abide permanently only these three-faith, hope, charity. In one sense, faith and hope shall be done away-faith superseded by sight, and hope by fruition (Romans 8:24; 2 Corinthians 5:7); and love alone never faileth (1 Corinthians 13:8), But in another sense, "faith" and "hope," as well as "charity" ABIDE, after the extraordinary gifts have ceased: for those three are necessary and sufficient for salvation at all times, whereas the extraordinary are not at all so (cf. "abide," 1 Corinthians 3:14). Love is connected specially with the Holy Spirit, the Agent of union between the brethren (Romans 15:30; Colossians 1:8). Faith is toward God. Hope, in behalf of ourselves. Charity is love to God, creating in us love toward our neighbour. In an unbeliever there is more or less of the three opposites-unbelief, despair, hatred. Even hereafter, faith, in the sense trust in God, "abideth;" also "hope," in the anticipation of ever-new joys in prospect, and ever-increasing blessedness, sure never to be disappointed. Their objects also "abide." Love alone in every sense "abideth:" it presupposes "faith," which without "love" and its "works" is dead (Galatians 5:6; Jas: 2:17-20 ;, and "hope," 1 Corinthians 13:7.

But, [ de (G1161)] - rather, "moreover:" as there is not so strong opposition between charity and the other two, which like it also "abide."

The greatest. Greek, 'the greater,' as compared with the other two.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-corinthians-13.html. 1871-8.
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