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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

1 Corinthians 13

Verse 1

With the tongues (ταις γλωσσαιςtais glōssais). Instrumental case. Mentioned first because really least and because the Corinthians put undue emphasis on this gift. Plato (Symposium, 197) and many others have written on love, but Paul has here surpassed them all in this marvellous prose-poem. It comes like a sweet bell right between the jangling noise of the gifts in chapters 12 and 14. It is a pity to dissect this gem or to pull to pieces this fragrant rose, petal by petal. Fortunately Paul‘s language here calls for little comment, for it is the language of the heart. “The greatest, strongest, deepest thing Paul ever wrote” (Harnack). The condition (εανean and present subjunctive, λαλω και μη εχωlalō kai mē echō though the form is identical with present indicative) is of the third class, a supposable case.

But have not love (αγαπην δε μη εχωagapēn de mē echō). This is the crux of the chapter. Love is the way par excellence of 1 Corinthians 12:31. It is not yet clearly certain that αγαπηagapē (a back-formation from αγαπαωagapaō) occurs before the lxx and the N.T. Plutarch used αγαπησιςagapēsis Deissmann (Bible Studies, p. 198) once suspected it on an inscription in Pisidia. It is still possible that it occurs in the papyri (Prayer to Isis). See Light from the Ancient East, p. 75 for details. The rarity of αγαπηagapē made it easier for Christians to use this word for Christian love as opposed to ερωςerōs (sexual love). See also Moffatt‘s Love in the N.T. (1930) for further data. The word is rare in the Gospels, but common in Paul, John, Peter, Jude. Paul does not limit αγαπηagapē at all (both toward God and man). Charity (Latin caritas) is wholly inadequate. “Intellect was worshipped in Greece, and power in Rome; but where did St. Paul learn the surpassing beauty of love?” (Robertson and Plummer). Whether Paul had ever seen Jesus in the flesh, he knows him in the spirit. One can substitute Jesus for love all through this panegyric.

I am become (γεγοναgegona). Second perfect indicative in the conclusion rather than the usual future indicative. It is put vividly, “I am already become.” Sounding brass (χαλχος ηχωνchalchos ēchōn). Old words. Brass was the earliest metal that men learned to use. Our word echoing is ηχωνēchōn present active participle. Used in Luke 21:25 of the roaring of the sea. Only two examples in N.T.

Clanging cymbal (κυμβαλον αλαλαζονkumbalon alalazon). Cymbal old word, a hollow basin of brass. ΑλαλαζωAlalazō old onomatopoetic word to ring loudly, in lament (Mark 5:38), for any cause as here. Only two N.T. examples.

Verse 2

The ecstatic gifts (1 Corinthians 13:1) are worthless. Equally so are the teaching gifts (prophecy, knowledge of mysteries, all knowledge). Crasis here in κανκαι εανkan̂kai ean Paul is not condemning these great gifts. He simply places love above them and essential to them. Equally futile is wonder-working faith “so as to remove mountains” (ωστε ορη μετιστανεινhōste orē methistanein) without love. This may have been a proverb or Paul may have known the words of Jesus (Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21).

I am nothing (ουτεν ειμιouthen eimi). Not ουτειςoutheis nobody, but an absolute zero. This form in τth rather than δd (ουδενouden) had a vogue for a while (Robertson, Grammar, p. 219).

Verse 3

Bestow to feed (ΠσωμισωPsōmisō). First aorist active subjunctive of πσωμιζωpsōmizō to feed, to nourish, from πσωμοςpsōmos morsel or bit, and so to feed, by putting a morsel into the mouth like infant (or bird). Old word, but only here in N.T.

To be burned (ινα καυτησωμαιhina kauthēsōmai). First future passive subjunctive (Textus Receptus), but D καυτησομαιkauthēsomai (future passive indicative of καιωkaiō old word to burn). There were even some who courted martyrdom in later years (time of Diocletian). This Byzantine future subjunctive does not occur in the old MSS. (Robertson, Grammar, p. 876). Aleph A B here read καυχησωμαιkauchēsōmai first aorist middle subjunctive of καυχαομαιkauchaomai (so Westcott and Hort), “that I may glory.” This is correct.

It profiteth me nothing (ουδεν ωπελουμαιouden ōpheloumai). Literally, I am helped nothing. ΟυδενOuden in the accusative case retained with passive verb. See two accusatives with ωπελεωōpheleō in 1 Corinthians 14:6. Verb is old and from οπελοςophelos (profit).

Verse 4

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 picture the character or conduct of love in marvellous rhapsody.

Suffereth long (μακροτυμειmakrothumei). Late Koiné{[28928]}š word (Plutarch) from μακροςmakros long, τυμοςthumos passion, ardour. Cf. James 5:7.

Is kind (χρηστευεταιchrēsteuetai). From χρηστοςchrēstos (useful, gracious, kind) and that from χραομαιchraomai to use. Not found elsewhere save in Clement of Rome and Eusebius. “Perhaps of Paul‘s coining” (Findlay). Perhaps a vernacular word ready for Paul. Gentle in behaviour.

Envieth not (ου ζηλοιou zēloi). Present active indicative of ζηλοωzēloō (contraction οειοιoeîoi same as subjunctive and optative forms). Bad sense of ζηλοςzēlos from ζεωzeō to boil, good sense in 1 Corinthians 12:31. Love is neither jealous nor envious (both ideas).

Vaunteth not itself (ου περπερευεταιou perpereuetai). From περπεροςperperos vainglorious, braggart (Polybius, Epictetus) like Latin perperus. Only here in N.T. and earliest known example. It means play the braggart. Marcus Anton. 1 Corinthians 13:5 uses it with αρεσκευομαιareskeuomai to play the toady.

Is not puffed up (ου πυσιουταιou phusioutai). Present direct middle indicative of πυσιοωphusioō from πυσιςphusis (late form for πυσαω πυσιαωphusaōπυσαphusiaō from phusa bellows), to puff oneself out like a pair of bellows. This form in Herodas and Menander. Is not arrogant. See note on 1 Corinthians 4:6.

Verse 5

Doth not behave itself unseemly (ουκ ασχημονειouk aschēmonei). Old verb from ασχημωνaschēmōn (1 Corinthians 12:23). In N.T. only here and 1 Corinthians 7:36. Not indecent.

Seeketh not its own (ου ζητει τα εαυτηςou zētei ta heautēs). Its own interests (1 Corinthians 10:24, 1 Corinthians 10:33).

Is not provoked (ου παροχυνεταιou paroxunetai). Old word. In N.T. only here and Acts 17:16 which see. Irritation or sharpness of spirit. And yet Paul felt it in Athens (exasperation) and he and Barnabas had παροχυσμοςparoxusmos (paroxysm) in Antioch (Acts 15:39). See good sense of παροχυσμοςparoxusmos in Hebrews 10:24.

Taketh not account of evil (ου λογιζεται το κακονou logizetai to kakon). Old verb from λογοςlogos to count up, to take account of as in a ledger or notebook, “the evil” (το κακονto kakon) done to love with a view to settling the account.

Verse 6

Rejoiceth not in unrighteousness (ου χαιρειou chairei). See Romans 1:32 for this depth of degradation. There are people as low as that whose real joy is in the triumph of evil.

But rejoiceth with the truth (συνχαιρει δε τηι αλητειαιsunchairei de tēi alētheiāi). Associative instrumental case after συνsuṅ in composition. Truth personified as opposed to unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:12; Romans 2:8). Love is on the side of the angels. Paul returns here to the positive side of the picture (1 Corinthians 13:4) after the remarkable negatives.

Verse 7

Beareth all things (παντα στεγειpanta stegei). ΣτεγωStegō is old verb from στεγηstegē roof, already in 1 Corinthians 9:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:5 which see. Love covers, protects, forbears (suffert, Vulgate). See note on 1 Peter 4:8 “because love covers a multitude of sins” (οτι αγαπη καλυπτει πητος αμαρτιωνhoti agapē kaluptei phēthos hamartiōn), throws a veil over.

Believeth all things (παντα πιστευειpanta pisteuei). Not gullible, but has faith in men.

Hopeth all things (παντα ελπιζειpanta elpizei). Sees the bright side of things. Does not despair.

Endureth all things (Ενδυρετ αλλ τινγςpanta hupomenei). Perseveres. Carries on like a stout-hearted soldier. If one knows Sir Joshua Reynolds‘s beautiful painting of the Seven Virtues (the four cardinal virtues of the Stoics - temperance, prudence, fortitude, justice - and the three Christian graces - faith, hope, love), he will find them all exemplified here as marks of love (the queen of them all).

Verse 8

Love never faileth (η αγαπη ουδεποτε πιπτειHē agapē oudepote piptei). New turn for the perpetuity of love. ΠιπτειPiptei correct text, not εκπιπτειekpiptei as in Luke 16:17. Love survives everything.

They shall be done away (καταργητησονταιkatargēthēsontai). First future passive of καταργεωkatargeō Rare in old Greek, to make idle (αργοςargos), inoperative. All these special spiritual gifts will pass. It is amazing how little of human work lasts.

They shall cease (παυσονταιpausontai). Future middle indicative of παυωpauō to make cease. They shall make themselves cease or automatically cease of themselves.

Verse 9

In part (εκ μερουςek merous). See note on 1 Corinthians 12:27. As opposed to the whole.

Verse 10

That which is perfect (το τελειονto teleion). The perfect, the full-grown (τελοςtelos end), the mature. See note on 1 Corinthians 2:6. οταν ελτηιHotan elthēi is second aorist subjunctive with οτανhotan temporal clause for indefinite future time.

Verse 11

A child (νηπιοςnēpios). See note on 1 Corinthians 3:1 for νηπιοςnēpios in contrast with τελειοςteleios (adult).

I spake (ελαλουνelaloun). Imperfect active, I used to talk.

I felt (επρονουνephronoun). Imperfect active, I used to think. Better, I used to understand.

I thought (ελογιζομηνelogizomēn). Imperfect middle, I used to reason or calculate.

Now that I am become (οτε γεγοναhote gegona). Perfect active indicative γεγοναgegona I have become a man (ανηρanēr) and remain so (Ephesians 4:14).

I have put away (κατηργηκαkatērgēka). Perfect active indicative. I have made inoperative (1 Corinthians 13:8) for good.

Verse 12

In a mirror (δι εσοπτρουdi' esoptrou). By means of a mirror (εσοπτρονesoptron from οπτωoptō old word, in papyri). Ancient mirrors were of polished metal, not glass, those in Corinth being famous.

Darkly (εν αινιγματιen ainigmati). Literally, in an enigma. Old word from αινισσομαιainissomai to express obscurely. This is true of all ancient mirrors. Here only in N.T., but often in lxx. “To see a friend‘s face in a cheap mirror would be very different from looking at the friend” (Robertson and Plummer).

Face to face (προσωπον προς προσωπονprosōpon pros prosōpon). Note triple use of προςpros which means facing one as in John 1:1. ΠροσωπονProsōpon is old word from προςpros and οπςops eye, face.

Shall I know (επιγνωσομαιepignōsomai). I shall fully (επιepi̇) know. Future middle indicative as γινωσκωginōskō (I know) is present active and επεγνωστηνepegnōsthēn (I was fully known) is first aorist passive (all three voices).

Verse 13

Abideth (μενειmenei). Singular, agreeing in number with πιστιςpistis (faith), first in list.

The greatest of these (μειζων τουτωνmeizōn toutōn). Predicative adjective and so no article. The form of μειζωνmeizōn is comparative, but it is used as superlative, for the superlative form μεγιστοςmegistos had become rare in the Koiné{[28928]}š (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 667ff.). See this idiom in Matthew 11:11; Matthew 18:1; Matthew 23:11. The other gifts pass away, but these abide forever. Love is necessary for both faith and hope. Does not love keep on growing? It is quite worth while to call attention to Henry Drummond‘s famous sermon The Greatest Thing in the World and to Dr. J.D. Jones‘s able book The Greatest of These. Greatest, Dr. Jones holds, because love is an attribute of God.

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.