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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 13

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

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Verse 1

With the tongues (ταις γλωσσαις). 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 (εαν and present subjunctive, λαλω κα μη εχω, though the form is identical with present indicative) is of the third class, a supposable case.

But have not love (αγαπην δε μη εχω). 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 αγαπη (a back-formation from αγαπαω) occurs before the LXX and the N.T. Plutarch used αγαπησις. 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 αγαπη made it easier for Christians to use this word for Christian love as opposed to ερως (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 αγαπη 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 (γεγονα). Second perfect indicative in the conclusion rather than the usual future indicative. It is put vividly, "I am already become." Sounding brass (χαλχος ηχων). Old words. Brass was the earliest metal that men learned to use. Our word echoing is ηχων, present active participle. Used in Luke 21:25 of the roaring of the sea. Only two examples in N.T.

Clanging cymbal (κυμβαλον αλαλαζον). Cymbal old word, a hollow basin of brass. Αλαλαζω, 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 (verse 1 Corinthians 13:1) are worthless. Equally so are the teaching gifts (prophecy, knowledge of mysteries, all knowledge). Crasis here in καν=κα εαν. 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 μεθιστανειν) 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 (ουθεν ειμ). Not ουθεις, nobody, but an absolute zero. This form in θ rather than δ (ουδεν) had a vogue for a while (Robertson, Grammar, p. 219).

Verse 3

Bestow to feed (Ψωμισω). First aorist active subjunctive of ψωμιζω, to feed, to nourish, from ψωμος, 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 καυθησωμα). First future passive subjunctive (Textus Receptus), but D καυθησομα (future passive indicative of καιω, 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 καυχησωμα, first aorist middle subjunctive of καυχαομα (so Westcott and Hort), "that I may glory." This is correct.

It profiteth me nothing (ουδεν ωφελουμα). Literally, I am helped nothing. Ουδεν in the accusative case retained with passive verb. See two accusatives with ωφελεω in 1 Corinthians 14:6. Verb is old and from οφελος (profit).

Verse 4

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

Suffereth long (μακροθυμε). Late Koine word (Plutarch) from μακρος, long, θυμος, passion, ardour. Cf. James 5:7.

Is kind (χρηστευετα). From χρηστος (useful, gracious, kind) and that from χραομα, 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 ζηλο). Present active indicative of ζηλοω (contraction οει=ο, same as subjunctive and optative forms). Bad sense of ζηλος from ζεω, to boil, good sense in 1 Corinthians 12:31. Love is neither jealous nor envious (both ideas).

Vaunteth not itself (ου περπερευετα). From περπερος, vainglorious, braggart (Polybius, Epictetus) like Latin perperus. Only here in N.T. and earliest known example. It means play the braggart. Marcus Anton. V. 5 uses it with αρεσκευομα, to play the toady.

Is not puffed up (ου φυσιουτα). Present direct middle indicative of φυσιοω from φυσις (late form for φυσαω, φυσιαω from φυσα, bellows), to puff oneself out like a pair of bellows. This form in Herodas and Menander. Is not arrogant. See on 1 Corinthians 4:6.

Verse 5

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

Seeketh not its own (ου ζητε τα εαυτης). Its own interests (1 Corinthians 10:24; 1 Corinthians 10:33).

Is not provoked (ου παροξυνετα). 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 παροξυσμος (paroxysm) in Antioch (1 Corinthians 15:39). See good sense of παροξυσμος in Hebrews 10:24.

Taketh not account of evil (ου λογιζετα το κακον). Old verb from λογος, to count up, to take account of as in a ledger or note-book, "the evil" (το κακον) done to love with a view to settling the account.

Verse 6

Rejoiceth not in unrighteousness (ου χαιρε). 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 (συνχαιρε δε τη αληθεια). Associative instrumental case after συν- 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 (verse 1 Corinthians 13:4) after the remarkable negatives.

Verse 7

Beareth all things (παντα στεγε). Στεγω is old verb from στεγη, roof, already in 1 Corinthians 9:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:5 which see. Love covers, protects, forbears (suffert, Vulgate). See 1 Peter 4:8 "because love covers a multitude of sins" (οτ αγαπη καλυπτε φηθος αμαρτιων), throws a veil over.

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

Hopeth all things (παντα ελπιζε). Sees the bright side of things. Does not despair. Ενδυρεθ αλλ θινγς (παντα υπομενε). 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 (Hη αγαπη ουδεποτε πιπτε). New turn for the perpetuity of love. Πιπτε correct text, not εκπιπτε, as in Luke 16:17. Love survives everything.

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

They shall cease (παυσοντα). Future middle indicative of παυω, to make cease. They shall make themselves cease or automatically cease of themselves.

Verse 9

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

Verse 10

That which is perfect (το τελειον). The perfect, the full-grown (τελος, end), the mature. See on 1 Corinthians 2:6. Hοταν ελθη is second aorist subjunctive with οταν, temporal clause for indefinite future time.

Verse 11

A child (νηπιος). See on 1 Corinthians 3:1 for νηπιος in contrast with τελειος (adult).

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

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

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

Now that I am become (οτε γεγονα). Perfect active indicative γεγονα, I have become a man (ανηρ) and remain so (Ephesians 4:14).

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

Verse 12

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

Darkly (εν αινιγματ). Literally, in an enigma. Old word from αινισσομα, 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 προσωπον). Note triple use of προς which means facing one as in John 1:1. Προσωπον is old word from προς and οπς, eye, face.

Shall I know (επιγνωσομα). I shall fully (επι-) know. Future middle indicative as γινωσκω (I know) is present active and επεγνωσθην (I was fully known) is first aorist passive (all three voices).

Verse 13

Abideth (μενε). Singular, agreeing in number with πιστις (faith), first in list.

The greatest of these (μειζων τουτων). Predicative adjective and so no article. The form of μειζων is comparative, but it is used as superlative, for the superlative form μεγιστος had become rare in the Koine (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.

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/1-corinthians-13.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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