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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 13

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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1 Corinthians 13:0


Decorum in Public Worship(1 Corinthians 11:2-40)
LoveThe Greatest GiftLove, the Greatest Gift and WayLoveThe Order of Importancein Spiritual Gifts and Love
1 Corinthians 12:31-3 1 Corinthians 12:31-3
1 Corinthians 13:1-131 Corinthians 13:1-31 Corinthians 13:1-3
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 1 Corinthians 13:4-71 Corinthians 13:4-71 Corinthians 13:4-7
1 Corinthians 13:8-13 1 Corinthians 13:8-131 Corinthians 13:8-101 Corinthians 13:8-12
1 Corinthians 13:11-12
1 Corinthians 13:131 Corinthians 13:13

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

A. This chapter forms an integral part of Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts. This "love chapter" is set right in the midst of the conflict over spiritual gifts.

B. The church at Corinth had tried to magnify some of the gifts. Paul affirms all the gifts and sets the bounds on their function and purpose in gathered worship in chapters 12-14.

C. The second major test of spiritual gifts (see Contextual Insights, chap. 12, B) is, "Are they exercised in love?"


A. The necessity of love as the motive for exercising spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

B. The character of love is expressed in relationships with people (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

C. The ultimacy of love as a characteristic of God's family (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Give the central idea of this chapter in your own words, in one sentence.

2. Why did Paul insert a chapter on love between his discussion of spiritual gifts?

3. Define agapç love in your own words.

4. Why have 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 become a battleground over spiritual gifts in our day?

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:31-3 1 Corinthians 12:31And I show you a still more excellent way. 13:1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

1 Corinthians 12:31b "a still more excellent way" The term "excellent" is a Greek term made up of huper (i.e., over or beyond) and ballô (i.e., to throw). It is metaphorical for that which goes beyond. Paul uses this metaphor often in 2 Corinthians (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 9:14; 2 Corinthians 11:23; 2 Corinthians 12:7). See Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at 1 Corinthians 2:1.

The term "way" is an OT metaphor for godly lifestyle (cf. Deuteronomy 5:32-33; Deuteronomy 31:29; Psalms 27:11; Isaiah 35:8). OT faith, like NT faith, was not simply a correct creed (orthodoxy), but a life of obedience (orthopraxy). The title of the early church was "The Way" (cf. Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23; Acts 24:14, Acts 24:22). God's best is a life of self-giving love, modeled by Himself and His Son.

1 Corinthians 13:1 "If" This is a series of third class conditional sentences, which mean potential action, in 1 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Corinthians 13:2, and 3 (twice).

NASB, NKJV"I speak with the tongues of men and of angels" NRSV"I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels" TEV"I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels" NJB"though I command languages both human and angelic"

This is obviously a reference to the gift of tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 Corinthians 12:28-29, a gift which the Corinthian church magnified and Paul possessed (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1, 1 Corinthians 14:5, 1 Corinthians 14:6, 1 Corinthians 14:18-19).

Since I think that "tongues" in Acts were different from "tongues" in Corinth, this dual reference makes me wonder if possibly Paul also understood tongues to be human languages (i.e., Pentecost) and an ecstatic utterance (i.e., language of heaven). For sure, he affirms that a complete linguistic ability alone is inadequate unless energized by love! Christianity is more than a message; it is a person, a self-giving, loving, obedient person-Jesus.

"love" This is the Greek term agapç. It was one of several words for "love" in Classical Greek, but was used infrequently (i.e., the noun form). The early church seems to have chosen this term and infused it with a new Christian connotation (i.e., God and Christ's self-giving love, cf. 1 John 4:10) because of its use in the Septuagint (e.g., Genesis 22:2) and rabbinical Judaism. In the OT God's covenant love and loyalty to His promises and covenants was expressed by hesed. In many ways agapç expresses this concept of "covenant love" by paralleling it with "the Kingdom of God." It becomes the NT's term for God's character, which He wishes His followers to emulate (cf. 1 John 4:7-21).

Just a note about the relationship of agapç to philos. In some contexts there seems to be a distinction (cf. John 21:15-19). However, in Koine Greek they are regularly synonymous (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:5 and 5:20).


NASB, NRSV"a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" NKJV"as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal" TEV"no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell" NJB"a gong booming or a cymbal clashing"

Historically in the first century Roman world this was used by the cults of Dionysus and Cybele in worship to attract their deities. In the context of the Corinthian abuse it may mean metaphorically "a fanfare of trumpets" (cf. Matthew 6:2), which brought attention to a speaker as did men covering their hair in gathered worship or women uncovering their short hair in gathered worship (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:4-5).

The city of Corinth was known in the ancient world for its bronze ware. One use of this material was for "resonance enhancers" in theaters (cf. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p. 172).

Paul's parallelism shows the intensity of his feelings about spiritual activities without love.

1. "I have become a noisy gong" (perfect tense), 1 Corinthians 13:1

2. "I am nothing" (present tense), 1 Corinthians 13:2

3. "it profits me nothing" (present tense), 1 Corinthians 13:3

1 Corinthians 13:2 "gift of prophecy" In this book this term is best understood as "sharing the gospel message" (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:4, 1 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Corinthians 14:39). The first three terms of 1 Corinthians 13:2 relate to the gifts of wisdom and knowledge (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8). There was a problem in this area as Paul's negative statements of 1 Corinthians 1:17, 1 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Corinthians 1:20, 1 Corinthians 1:21, 1 Corinthians 1:22, 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 2:1, 1 Corinthians 2:4, 1 Corinthians 2:5, 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 3:19 show. Prophecy without love, as wisdom and knowledge without love, is not pleasing to God. Spiritual gifts can be used in appropriate ways.

For the concept of "prophecy" in the OT see Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 12:10 and NT prophecy at 1 Corinthians 14:1.

"and know all mysteries and all knowledge" Paul uses this in 1 Corinthians 4:1 for gospel truths and in 1 Corinthians 15:51 for the specific truths about the resurrection body. In this context this phrase seems to refer to knowledge in its every form, which the believers at Corinth were prizing and seeking. Even perfect knowledge without love is not pleasing to God. See Special Topic: The Mystery at 1 Corinthians 2:1.

"all faith" This refers to miracle-working faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:9, 1 Corinthians 12:28; Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21), but notice in Matthew 7:21-23 that miracle- working power without love does not please God or even know God.

For the concept of "faith" in the OT see Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 1:9 and NT at 1 Corinthians 2:4.

1 Corinthians 13:3

NASB"I give all my possessions" NKJV"I bestow all my goods" NRSV"I give away everything I have" TEV"I may give away everything I have" NJB"I should give away. . .all that I possess"

This implies the giving away of all that one has, personally, piece by piece (cf. John 13:26, John 13:27, John 13:30). This may be an allusion to Jesus' discussion with the rich young ruler (cf. Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30).

NASB, NKJV "to feed the poor" NRSV -omits phrase- TEV -omits phrase- NJB"to the poor"

This phrase is not in the Greek text, but is implied in the action of this verb.

NASB, NKJV, TEV, NJB"my body to be burned" NRSV"my body so that I may boast"

There are two manuscript options: "burned" (i.e., kauthçsomai) and "glory" (i.e., kauchçsômai) are both found in early Greek manuscripts and the early church fathers. The phrase, "that I may glory," has the strongest manuscript support (i.e., MSS P46, א, and B), but UBS4 is unable to make a decision between them. It is also a term used often by Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:24; Philippians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:4). Martyrdom by burning was unknown in the early church, but became more common in later persecutions (i.e., Nero and Domitian). Therefore, one can see how a later scribe might have changed "glory" to "burn."

For a full discussion of the textual variants see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, pp. 563-564. For the opposite opinion see The Expositor's Bible Commentary, p. 270 footnote.

Verses 4-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 This may have been a hymn or poem about love, written or quoted by Paul. All of these descriptions of love are active. Love is an action, not simply an emotion. These all describe the ministry of Jesus (the full and complete revelation of YHWH) as He dealt with imperfect people. Love is a person!

1 Corinthians 13:4 "patient" This verb (present active indicative) has the connotation of patience with people (cf. Proverbs 19:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; James 5:7, James 5:8; 2 Peter 3:9) who act unjustly toward us, without retaliation. This is one of the fruits of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:22). It is a characteristic of God (cf. Romans 2:4; Romans 9:22; 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 Peter 3:20). It (the noun) should characterize new age believers, indwelt by God's Spirit (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:6; Colossians 1:11).

"kind" This verb is found only here and is also a people-focused term. It implies "be gentle to all." Peter also uses the same term for Jesus in 1 Peter 2:3. It is also one of the gifts of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.

"not jealous" This describes a strong desire, literally "to boil." Love does not desire for itself the possessions of or control over people.

"not brag" This rare term refers to a self-flattering person who is seen by others as a braggart or windbag. It was often related to intellectual or rhetorical pride or boasting in Greek literature.

"not arrogant" This term refers to those who overestimate and flaunt themselves. It is used often in 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:6, 1 Corinthians 4:18, 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 8:1) and here. It truly reflects the character of this church. See note at 1 Corinthians 4:6.

1 Corinthians 13:5 "act unbecomingly" This is not an easy term to define. It is used in 1 Corinthians 7:36 in a more positive sense. Here its connotation is negative. The term was used in the Egyptian papyri implying a cursing or oath-taking connected with a violent or inappropriate act (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3). It connotes rudeness instead of graciousness.

"does not seek its own" This is an oft repeated truth (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Corinthians 10:24, 1 Corinthians 10:33; Romans 14:16; Philippians 2:3). This may be theologically related to Ephesians 5:21, being submissive to one another out of respect for Christ.

"not provoked" This term is literally "to sharpen." It is used metaphorically to "stir up." It can be positive as in Acts 17:16 or negative, as here. The Phillips translation has "is not touchy," used in the sense of "not easily irritated or angered." This noun is used of Paul and Barnabas' fight over John Mark (cf. Acts 15:39).

NASB"does not take into account a wrong suffered" NKJV"thinks no evil" NRSV"or resentful" TEV"does not keep a record of wrongs" NJB"does not store up grievances"

This is an accounting term for the ledger of unpaid bills (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 12:6). It refers to someone who harbors a vengeful spirit. An example might be Acts 15:36-41 and 2 Timothy 4:11 over John Mark.

It is possible that this is an allusion to the Septuagint's translation of Zechariah 8:17 "and let none of you devise evil in his heart against his neighbor." However, since the surrounding phrases are not OT allusions, it weakens the possibility that this one is.

1 Corinthians 13:6 This is both a negative and positive statement of truth. In this context it may refer to gossip within the Christian community. It is unusual that the term "unrighteousness" is contrasted with "truth." Probably "unrighteousness" is the opposite of "right living" and "truth" refers to the gospel message.

"with the truth" See Special Topic at 2 Corinthians 13:8.

1 Corinthians 13:7 "bears all things" The term "all things" (i.e., panta) is fronted four times in this verse for emphasis. Love is inclusive. "All things" is used in the sense of "at all times" (i.e., all four verbs are present tense) and "on all occasions."

The term "bear" is from the Greek word for "roof" (cf. Matthew 8:8). It is metaphorical for (1) covering (cf. 1 Peter 4:8, different term, but same concept) or (2) putting up with (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:5). The Moffat translation has "slow to expose."

"believes all things" In this context this implies "sees the best in others" or "gives a fellow Christian the benefit of the doubt." It always keeps the faith (cf. Galatians 5:22).

"hopes all things" In this context love holds out hope of a fellow believer's eventual development in the faith. It does not despair.

"endures all things" This is a strong term for enduring temptation and testing (cf. Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:13; Hebrews 10:32; James 1:12). Here it speaks of voluntary, steadfast endurance. This phrase emphasizes no personal retaliation or rejection, but steadfast perseverance, especially with people.

Verses 8-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:8 Several translations begin a new paragraph at 1 Corinthians 13:8. Paul's discussion about Christian love is slightly changing and developing in a new direction (i.e., qualities and activities of this age versus the consummation of the new age, which has been inaugurated).

"Love never fails" This term had two relevant metaphorical usages: (1) it was used of an actor being hissed off the stage or (2) it was used of a flower that dropped its petals because of inclement weather conditions (cf. James 1:11; 1 Peter 1:24). God's love never gives up!

NASB"if there are. . .if there are. . .if there is" NKJV"whether. . .whether. . .whether" NRSV"as for. . .as for. . .as for" TEV"there are. . .there are. . .there is" NJB"if there are. . .if. . .if

The grammatical form eite (three first class conditional sentences) implies there are spiritual gifts.

"prophecy. . .will be done away. . .tongues. . .will cease. . .knowledge. . .will be done away" Notice the parallel structure. These were the spiritual gifts which the Corinthian Church was magnifying (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). This verse has often been used to depreciate tongues because a different verb and voice are used. However, the context is affirming that all spiritual gifts will stop, but love will never stop. There is no emphasis in this context on the time element of one gift versus another. Spiritual gifts are a part of time, not eternity. Love is eternal!

This term for "done away" is in 1 Corinthians 13:8, 1 Corinthians 13:10, and 11. See Special Topic: Katargeô at 1 Corinthians 1:28.

1 Corinthians 13:9 This begins a series of verses that emphasizes the partiality and incompleteness of spiritual gifts. This partiality is due to human weakness, fallenness, and finitude, not a lack connected with God's giftedness.

1 Corinthians 13:10 "when the perfect comes" This term (i.e., teleios) means "maturity, completeness," or "fully equipped for an assigned task" (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 13:10; 1 Corinthians 14:20). The question has always been, "To what does it refer?":

1. Some have asserted that it refers to the NT. Nothing in this context points toward this. This is only a theory used to claim that the spiritual gifts have ceased in post-apostolic times.

2. Some have asserted that it refers to spiritual maturity because of 1 Corinthians 13:11 (i.e., child then adult) or the proper use of spiritual gifts.

3. Some have asserted that it refers to the Second Coming of Christ and the consummation of the New Age of righteousness because of 1 Corinthians 13:12 (i.e., "see face to face").

4. For me it seems to be a combination of both #2 and #3.

The different uses and connotations of teleios can be seen in its use in the book of Hebrews. See Special Topic below.


1 Corinthians 13:11 "I did away with" This is the Greek term katargeô, which Paul uses so often. See Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 1:28. In this context Paul asserts that

1. prophecies will be brought to an end, 1 Corinthians 13:8 (future passive indicative)

2. knowledge will be brought to an end, 1 Corinthians 13:8 (future passive indicative)

3. every gift will be brought to an end, 1 Corinthians 13:10 (future passive indicative)

4. spiritual infancy will be brought to an end, 1 Corinthians 13:11 (future active indicative)

1 Corinthians 13:12 "mirror" Corinth was famous for its polished metal mirrors. They were the best available in that day, but they reflected a distorted image. Humans, even redeemed humans, are hindered by (1) sin nature; (2) finitude; (3) limited perspective; (4) culture-affected conscience and worldview; (5) time as chronological sequence; and (6) human language to explain and describe a spiritual realm.

Notice the parallelism

1. 1 Corinthians 13:9, know in part, prophesy in part vs. when the perfect comes

2. 1 Corinthians 13:11, a child vs. an adult

3. 1 Corinthians 13:12, a Corinthian mirror vs. face to face and know in part vs. fully known

These seem to reflect a present reality versus a future reality, therefore, the Second Coming, which consummates the New Age, is the focus.

"dimly" This is literally "a riddle" (cf. NJB). The rabbis believed God spoke to Moses in riddles (cf. Numbers 12:6, Numbers 12:8).

"face to face" This is a metaphor for intimate fellowship (i.e., comparable to Numbers 12:8). In the OT seeing YHWH meant death (cf. Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:20; John 1:18). In the new age this will be normal (cf. Matthew 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:7; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4).

"I know in part. . .I will know fully. . .have been fully known" This is obviously a play on the connotation of the Hebrew and Greek terms "know." In the OT it referred, not to cognitive facts (i.e., Greek concept), but personal relationship (cf. Genesis 4:1 and Jeremiah 1:5).

In this verse there is also a play on the Greek word for "know" (i.e., ginôskô). The first usage is the basic term. The second and third are the compound term (i.e., epiginôskô), which implies experiential, full knowledge. Believers will know God in the new age as He has known us (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4:9). The "new covenant" is characterized by God's people each knowing Him (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34). There will be no need for preachers/teachers!

The theological concept of "knowing" is related to the concept of election. The mystery of how election (i.e., God's choice) relates to covenant response (i.e., human choice) is uncertain. Following the logic of these OT verses: Psalms 1:6; Jeremiah 1:5; Amos 3:2 and these NT verses: Romans 8:29; Romans 11:2; 1 Corinthians 8:3; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 4:9, believers are known by God before time, in time, and beyond time. Believers, however, know God in stages similar to justification, sanctification, glorification. We know Him in time through the OT, Jesus, and the gospel; through time by our growth to Christlikeness through the Spirit; and beyond time we will know Him in face-to-face, relational intimacy with perfect knowledge of the New Age of righteousness.

1 Corinthians 13:13 "hope" This Greek term does not have the ambiguity and uncertainly of the English term. It is a confident assurance that God's promises will be reality in His timing.


"But now faith, hope, love abide" The verb is singular (cf. Galatians 5:22). Paul often uses this triad (cf. Romans 5:2-5; Galatians 5:5-6; Ephesians 1:15-18; Colossians 1:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Hebrews) and other NT writers also (cf. Hebrews 6:10-12; 1 Peter 1:21-22).

"the greatest of these is love" It is greatest because these others will cease at the consummation of the new age. Faith will turn to sight and hope will have its fulfillment, but love remains because it is the basic character of God (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/1-corinthians-13.html. 2021.
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