1 Corinthians 13
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Chapter 13 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, attributed to Paul the apostle, covers the subject of love, principally the love that Christians should have. In the original Greek, the word ἀγάπη agape is used throughout. This is translated into English as charity in the King James version; but the word love is preferred by most other translations, both earlier and more recent.
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 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, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Description of agape
A description of agape forms a major passage in 1 Corinthians 13, running from verse 4 to the end.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 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. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 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. 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. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (King James Version)
So, according to the author, agape:
- (verse 4)
- is long suffering (i.e. tolerant, patient)
- is kind
- is free of jealousy, envy and pride
- (verse 5)
- does not display unseemly behavior
- is unselfish
- is not touchy, fretful or resentful
- takes no account of the evil done to it [outwardly ignores a suffered wrong]
- (verse 6)
- hates evil
- is associated with honesty
- (verse 7)
- trusts [implying faith in God and trusting in righteousness]
- (verse 8)
- (verse 13)
- is greater than either faith or hope
"Through a glass, darkly"
1 Corinthians 13:12 contains the phrase βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι (blepomen gar arti di esoptrou en ainigmati), which is rendered in the KJV as "For now we see through a glass, darkly." This passage has inspired the titles of many works.
The word ἐσόπτρου ("esoptrou", from ἐσόπτρον, "esoptron") here translated glass is ambiguous, possibly referring to a mirror or a lens. Influenced by Strong's Concordance, many modern translations conclude that this word refers specifically to a mirror. Example English language translations include:
- Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror (New International Version)
- What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror (Good News Bible)
Paul's usage is in keeping with rabbinic use of the term אספקלריה (aspaklaria), a borrowing from the Latin specularia. This has the same ambiguous meaning, although Adam Clarke concluded that it was a reference to specularibus lapidibus, clear polished stones used as lenses or windows. One way to preserve this ambiguity is to use the English cognate, speculum. Rabbi Judah ben Ilai (2nd century) was quoted as saying "All the prophets had a vision of God as He appeared through nine specula" while "Moses saw God through one speculum." The Babylonian Talmud states similarly "All the prophets gazed through a speculum that does not shine, while Moses our teacher gazed through a speculum that shines."
Other notable passages
There are two other passages from 1 Corinthians 13 which have been notably influential.
Firstly, verse 11: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (KJV).
Secondly, verse 13, in praise of the Theological virtues:
- νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις, ἐλπὶς, ἀγάπη, τὰ τρία ταῦτα, μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη.
- "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." (NRSV)
A paraphrase of the text is the basis for the song "Love Is the Law" composed and sung by Australian musician Paul Kelly.
- Entry: εσοπτρον (espotron – Strong's 2072), retrieved from blueletterbible.org
- Adam Clarke, Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. II, J. Butterworth & Son, London, 1817; commentary on 1 Corinthians 12.
- Gordon Tucker, translator's footnote to Abraham Joshua Heschel, 'Heavenly Torah as Refracted Through the Generations,' Continum, New York, 2008; page 308.
- Leviticus Rabbah 1:14.
- B.T. Yevamot 49B
- "Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address". The New York Times. 20 January 2009. Retrieved 23 December 2009. "We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things."
- "The Funeral Service of Diana, Princess Wales". BBC. 6 September 1997. Retrieved 23 December 2009.
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