From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 13-16   Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011












Chapter 13—Part 1:

Theme Development and Old Testament Usage




            Some have found Paul’s short treatise on the subject of love as strangely placed where it is currently located—in the midst of two chapters on supernatural gifts.  We have four possibilities:  the scenario that 1 Corinthians is actually a compilation of shorter Pauline works that have been preserved together by an editor, that the chapter originally appeared elsewhere in the epistle,[1] that Paul inserted something separate he had written on a different occasion, or (in our judgment the most probable) that Paul wrote it intentionally at the time and place it appears. 

In all of these approaches there was motive behind the placement.  In other words, it did not appear “out of place” to the person placing the text here.  It has to be here with a specific reason(s) in mind. 

And what might that be?  Viewing the epistle as a whole may well provide us the solution.

Throughout the letter, he has challenged them on a number of tolerated local practices that he rejects as reflecting improper reasoning, presenting the church in a bad light, and compromising one’s individual spiritual integrity.  “Envy, strife, and divisions” were rampant (3:3).  They were conceited and puffed up toward others and in their own self-evaluation (4:6).  One man committed incest, some went to court.  A good percentage implicitly insulted their poorer brothers and sisters by turning the worship into a meal time and not just that, but for themselves alone.  By itself, such behavior justified a lecture on the nature of love for they were repeatedly insulting the very concept.[2]

But he leads into his discussion not by referring to these varied transgressions but referring to a form of pride they seemed to all have:  a glorification of their personal supernatural gifts.  Virtually every member seems to have had a spiritual gift of one nature or another at one time or another (12:11).  The closer we take this as representing literal fact--rather than exaggeration to convey that such supernatural gifts were present in abundance and all, potentially, could have them--then the more immediately applicable is his teaching.     

This very “universality” makes it, perhaps, the most potentially explosive of the various issues he confronts.  Much or most of the rest he speaks of, can be blamed on “somebody else.”  The proper use and limitations on supernatural gifts in and out of the [Page 4]   assembly potentially affected everyone.  Think “ruffled feathers,” annoyed readers, brethren who felt Paul was now getting just a little too personal on matters they all took such joy in. 

Hence Paul’s “digression” on love is deeply relevant after all.  If they had true love they wouldn’t begrudge other’s having a specific Divine gift--and they themselves not having it.  Nor would they be upset that others had an opportunity to utilize it in (or outside) a church service and they did not. 

And if they allowed love to triumph here, would it take much thought to recognize that its application on other subjects would have removed so many of their problems?  Their internal divisiveness?  Their mistreatment of each other?  Their trying to use the law courts against each other?  (It’s far from impossible that as Paul wrote these words, he had in mind the faces of certain individuals who had demonstrated a unloving mentality while he had been with them.)[3] 

And just to remind them—and us—that love has a relevance beyond the immediate problem, he ends the chapter with clear cut warning that the days of such gifts would ultimately end.  Wonderful and beneficial as they were, one day they would only have love available to express their commitment to the Lord and each other.  And if that was the case, wasn’t it about time they starting showing that love in the here and now?         






How the Themes Are Developed  






Even the most respected supernatural gift did

not ethically benefit its possessor if love was

lacking from one’s lifestyle (13:1-13:3)



ATP:  1Even if I speak in the languages of both mortals and of angels--but lack love--I am still nothing better than a noisy gong or a clashing cymbal.  2Even if I have the gift of inspired teaching, and understand all divine secrets and all knowledge; and if I have absolute faith so powerful it could move mountains, if I lack love, I am still nothing.  3And even if I give away all I own to benefit the poor and permit myself to be burned to death, but lack love, I will gain nothing by it.”

            Development of the argument:   Having stressed the importance of miraculous gifts in general in chapter twelve, he will speak in detail of the value of two of them (prophesying and speaking in unknown languages) in chapter fourteen.  Here he begins [Page 5]   with the relative value of tongue speaking, perhaps because of the local preoccupation with it.[4]  Yet Paul throws in a thought that should have humbled even the most energetic and effective recipient of such gifts:  they were worthless without love. 

Although the Corinthians professed to speak in supernaturally given tongues, on the purely human level any citizen of the city could hardly avoid picking up at least a smattering of several languages due to the wide variety of tradespeople who passed through the community:  “Greek in all its dialects, Latin, Oscan from southern Italy, Phoenician, Egyptian, and a dozen lesser tongues were heard in its streets.”[5]  The more of these one knew, the greater the seeming achievement.

            Yet in the absence of accompanying love, even supernaturally granted languages (or naturally learned ones, for that matter) became the spiritual equivalent of “sounding brass or a clanging cymbal (ATP:  a noisy gong or a clashing cymbal)” (13:1).  Pagan writers used the comparison of a man to a cymbal (or equivalent) to rebuke the gap between overblown oratory and the actual meager content of a speech.  Whether Paul consciously borrows from such a source or not, he certainly alters the thought to the contrast between empty words that one does not understand (in tongue speaking) and acts of love that one can see and comprehend.[6]

Then he makes the strongest theoretical case that he can:  let us assume, he argues, that we have a person who has such a strong prophetic gift that the individual “understand[s] all mysteries” (spiritual truths that could be known only by revelation—hence the ATP’s “all divine secrets”).  Let us go further and assume that he has possession of all spiritual “knowledge” about such matters (in this context of supernatural gifts, surely that which has been supernaturally revealed—though the principle would apply to that acquired by personal effort as well).[7] 

Furthermore (and this often gets overlooked) let us assume that you “understand” it all (13:2).  You don’t just have the facts, you grasp what they intend and imply—“all” of it (the word being repeated of both “mysteries” and “knowledge”).  The Biblical interpreter’s dream come true!

Let us go even beyond this and suppose that person possesses such an intense and pervasive faith that even mountains can be moved by it.  Theoretically, what more could anyone have?  Paul promptly points out what:  without “love” all of these great talents are worthless.  “I am nothing,” he insists (13:2). 

That emphatic “nothing” should never be overlooked.  He lays it bluntly on the line:  without love being manifested along with the gifts, the practitioner has stripped himself of any special respect or honor or status from having the gifts.[8]  They were obviously taking great glee and pride in such things as manifesting superb spirituality.  Yet in God’s sight, they had neglected the moral underpinning that must accompany all such things--love.

            Then he moves on to other examples:  the person who gives away everything they have so the poor may have food to eat.  The person who suffers martyrdom by fire.  What could be greater sacrifices than these?  Yet one could do so out of a desire to prove one’s spiritual “superiority,” out of psychological imbalance, or from seeking a painful but relatively brief “short-cut” to heaven—perhaps even out of all at one time.[9]

So Paul properly warns that without love even these extreme sacrifices “profit me nothing (ATP:  I will gain nothing by it)” (13:3).  Unfortunately human history is full of too many zealots who were willing to risk even death, but who seemed to understand [Page 6]   nothing of the need of constructive, active love to accompany their passion for the strictest orthodoxy.  Horribly high is the price of death, but death is a one time affair; paradoxically, living a loving life can be even more difficult for you have to do that day by day, year by year. 

There remain many today, even in our highly secular age, who elevate humanitarianism as one of the supreme ideals of life.   Yet Paul’s implicit message is that serving the human race, also, does not count as moral virtue unless it is accompanied by real concern (love) for those being assisted.  It isn’t exactly a secret that some people “give it away” to make sure that relatives they do not like—even close family—do not receive any of it.  This isn’t love of the poor or charity but dislike of those who would otherwise inherit it.[10]

Others do it simply to impress others (cf. Jesus’ rebuke in Matthew 6:1).[11]  (Similarly, you have to wonder when you see a prominent person helping out at a soup kitchen—on the day cameras just happen to be there.)  Yet a different breed of “giver” will do it out of a sense of cold obligation and the humanity is stripped from it.  It is simply another “duty” or “obligation.”  Nothing more.  At the most it is viewed as simply a means of earning “credit” with God.  Shakespeare has King Henry V reminding God of this when he stands in special need of assistance, “Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay.”[12]

Today, too many love the poor as a class abstraction, but not the poor as individuals.  (For example, the many modern politicians who are happy to give your money to help others, but not their own.)[13]  The story (perhaps apocryphal) is told of one prominent political theorist who was challenged to give some of his own wealth to the poor.  He allegedly responded, “I am not a Christian; I’m a socialist!”  (Translation:  Charity has nothing to do with individual obligation; it’s a government responsibility.)  Judge his politics good or bad as you wish, but Paul gives the example of a person so dedicated to helping the poor he does it to his personal economic injury.  Yet even that, Paul insists, is of no real value without love as the motivating factor.

Jesus never ordered anyone to die for their faith.  He Himself ordered the disciples that if they were in the Jerusalem area at the time the Romans besieged it, “Let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains” to escape the danger of death (Matthew 24:16).  Likewise when the Jewish religious authorities in that city targeted the church, we read that everyone fled except for the apostles themselves (Acts 8:1).  Being willing to die was essential; needlessly courting it something very different.

We find the situation only marginally different in regard to giving away one’s wealth—always honorable, but that is far different from essential.  A wealthy young ruler came to Jesus, enquiring what he needed to do “to have eternal life” (Matthew 19:16).  Jesus replied with the contents of the Ten Commandments (19:17-19).  That was all Jesus demanded.  It was the young man himself who insisted that there must be more, “All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?” (19:20).  Then and only then—when challenged for a test even sterner than the one he had been meeting for years—did Jesus throw back the challenge to “go . . sell what you have . . . give to the poor” and follow Jesus about as He preached (19:21).  It was given only because something more than was needed was demanded.               



[Page 7]



Love in practice rather than empty boast,

involved many types of

constructive behavior (13:4-13:7)



            ATP:  4Love is patient, love is kind and is not envious; love is not boastful and is not conceited, 5nor does it act ill-mannered.  It does not demand its own way, is not quick tempered, does not keep a record of wrongs suffered. 6It does not find happiness in evil behavior, but is jubilant with the truth.  7It is supportive, always accepts the other’s good intentions, has no limit to its hope, never gives up no matter what happens.”

            Development of the argument:   Paul proceeds to a discussion of the characteristics of love in verses 4-7 (see the problem text section below for detailed analysis of the characteristics of love).  If God showed love not by merely claiming it,  but by sending Jesus to die for us (John 3:16), it is no surprise that the same writer should later stress that “we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11) because God had sent “His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). 

But if God demonstrated His love by His action, how are we to demonstrate it?  As Paul shows in this list, love is really not about an emotion or a sentiment, it is about how one behaves and treats others in a positive, constructive, and beneficial manner rather than centering our lives just on our own self-advancement.[14]  Hence it is manifested not so much in an attitude of mind as in forms of behavior.[15] 

It is fascinating that the apostle provides no one word, one phrase, or even one short sentence definition of “love.”  It affects so many aspects of our attitude, conduct, and mind-frame that it is probably impossible to do so.   

Paul is not merely giving a standard of behavior for others; he is also describing his own personal goals as well.[16]  He does not demand of others what he will not demand of himself.

            Note also that Paul is not offering love as an alternative to miraculous gifts.[17]  In chapter 14 he stresses that gifts of prophecy and tongue speaking were potentially available to every one of them; note the repeated use of the word “all” in this connection:  14:5, 14:23, 14:24 (three times!), and 14:31 (again three times).  From the standpoint of  their frame of mind and actual behavior, the danger was actually the opposite—using their miraculously given abilities as an excuse for avoiding the obligation to act rightly with each, i.e., avoiding the actual fruits of love. 

What he is trying to get them to see is that love must walk hand-in-hand with the gifts.  Hence, contextually, his core point is to stress the need in divided Corinth for loving behavior while utilizing the gifts.[18]  Primarily during their use and, secondarily, in the rest of their worship service and everyday life.  Hence it has a broader lesson for both then and today, but that was the reason it was originally given.  And their varied forms of treating other less respectfully than they should, shows it was a well needed admonition.



[Page 8]



Useful though supernatural gifts were,

they would ultimately pass away (13:8-10)



ATP:  8Love never fails.  In contrast if there are inspired messages, they will be done away with; if there are unknown languages, they will no longer be given by God; if there is supernaturally granted knowledge, it will vanish.  9For the knowledge we have is only partial and the prophecy we have is not complete; 10but when the fully complete comes, that which provides only a part will no longer be necessary.”

            Development of the argument:   There is a day coming, Paul warns, when prophesying, speaking in tongues, and the giving of supernaturally imparted knowledge “will vanish away” (13:8).  Divinely granted knowledge and prophecy allowed a person to know “part” of the entire truth (13:9), but the day would come when the “perfect” (in the sense of complete and lacking nothing) would arrive.  Then such tools would no longer be needed (13:10). 

            It has been argued that “we know in part”—favored though it is by so many translations—actually misleads the reader.  “In part” can easily suggest the result of our learning—we now have “the part.”  (And, in a sense, they did)  Thiselton, however, argues that something more involved is at work, that the Greek describes an ongoing process of accumulation:  “we come to know bit by bit, piece by piece, part by part, or in piecemeal stages.”[19]  We are gradually adding to the sum total that is needed.  In short, though they may know, in total, a goodly amount, they are nowhere near all that can be known.  In a pride centered congregation, this dismissal of their puffed up egos about their “wisdom” hit at a major, widespread fault.       

There is also a “shot across the bow” at the Corinthians’ excessive veneration of miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit:  true they are useful, true they are valuable, true they should be respected and honored.  Yet the time was coming when the Corinthians would have to do without them.  For them to become “addicted” (so to speak) to that which would not last forever was ultimately self-defeating to their spirituality.

            Yet even without the miraculous, they would not be destitute; they would still have love by which to manifest their spirituality.  One might say that supernatural gifts were a means a person could “show” they were religious; love was the means by which they could “be” religious--for it affects both frame of mind and conduct, both in church services and outside them, and how one treats both friend and foe.  In comparison to this, the impressive supernatural talents they were granted should fade considerably in importance.  Love was the eternal reality; miraculous gifts only the temporary blessing.   





[Page 9]

When that point of cessation arrived,

a full understanding of God’s will would be

available—yet love would still be necessary




ATP:  11When I was a child, my speech was that of a child, I had the emotions of a child, I reasoned like a child, but when I became fully grown, I set aside all those childhood characteristics.  12For now we see an imperfect image in a mirror, but then we will see as if looking directly in another’s face.  Now what I know is incomplete; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.  13So faith, hope, and love abide--these three--but the greatest of these is love.”

Development of the argument:  At the point when supernatural revelationary gifts were no longer needed (13:8-10), such things would be set aside as if elements of one’s childhood (13:11).  At that time it would not be like looking in a mirror of their day--the pieces of metal commonly used showed one’s image only “dimly” and vaguely.  Even the best and most expensive of them suffered from this defect.[20] 

Or, at least, that is the commonly stated interpretation, now coming into greater question.  Some doubt whether they were all really that bad, especially the higher quality ones made in Corinth.[21]  Polished bronze ones were a major export of the city for that very reason—they were both manufactured well and, by their standards, reflected a good image.[22]  Even if we take that approach, the reflection still can never give us a full insight into what “I” look like and am inside.[23] One writer compared this to the difference between even a photograph of an individual and the “real” person.  There is simply something even the highest quality one can not convey.

In that future day, it would be a perfect reflection “face to face:”  one that would be as clearly grasped and “read” by us as we are understandable by God (13:12).  The time to fall back on “misunderstanding” or a “partial grasp being the best we can do” would be past.  We would have all we need immediately available.

Even when these gifts that led up to it—which the Corinthians so cherished--would vanish, “faith, hope, love” would still survive and the greatest of these would be love (13:13).  There is an implicit word of consolation to the Corinthians:  you will feel like you are giving up so very much, yet in the very act of giving up much, you will retain something that, in the long range, is actually far more useful and important.            

            But why is love counted as superior to both faith and hope?  Ronald Trail has summed up the variety of interpretations that have been suggested,[24]


                        (1)  Love is greater because it alone makes us like God.

                        (2)  Love is greater because faith and hope are born out of love.

            (3)  Love is greater because it is eternal while faith and hope are temporary.

(4)  Love is greater because it is the end while faith and hope are the means to it.

(5)  Love is greater because it is more useful—faith is self-directed but love is directed toward others.

(6)  Love is greater because it is unchanging while faith and hope change when the age to come arrives. 

(7)  Love is greater because it is basic to the relationship between God, His Son and His people—it is the foundation on which the relationship between God and man is laid.


[Page 10]

            In my judgment, the first and last explanations probably play the greatest role in causing Paul to express the judgment that he does—though it is far from impossible that others play a supplemental role as well.  Perhaps because it is easy to see the superiority of love being rooted in so many causes, that Paul chooses to end his “lecture” the way he does.







Invoking of Explicit Old Testament

Quotations to Justify His Teaching:










How Old Testament Concepts Are

Repeatedly Introduced and Woven

into the Heart of His Argument







13:3:  Without love the greatest self-sacrifice is still valueless.   Paul mentions what are probably the two greatest acts of selflessness that are imaginable:  giving away all one’s possessions to the poor and subjecting oneself to martyrdom.  Although the first is not mentioned in the Old Testament, we do find an example of the second.  In Daniel, we read of the three young Hebrews who are threatened with just such a death if they refuse to worship a pagan image (3:13-30).[25]

            Although the Old Testament demands love it does not make the deduction from [Page 11]  love that Paul makes, though one can immediately see how it is a logical and appropriate one and one fully consistent with the Torah.  On the other hand, the Old Testament does speak of religious behavior and even self-supposed moral excellence that is futile because it lacks something vital.  In Isaiah Yahweh rebukes the people, “I will declare your righteousness, and your works, for they will not profit you” (57:12). They thought themselves exemplars of good behavior and religion, but their religious practice was married by idolatry (57:13) and their professed virtues overlooked such failures.



            13:4-8:  The characteristics of love in the Old Testament.  Paul does not claim to present an all inclusive list of what love involves; it may well be impossible without making the “requirements” so lengthy that they seem a greater burden than even the most detailed ritual requirements of the Torah.  Likewise the Old Testament does not provide an exhaustive definition of love or what it demands but, like Paul, it does sketch some of its obligations. 

            Indeed, all the characteristics Paul presents are embraced within its pages, though only the ninth one appears to be explicitly connected with the idea of love.  On the other hand, how would one be able to cultivate a consistent pattern of such behavior without love being he foundation?  Whether as motive or result of such a lifestyle, love seems irretrievably interlocked with it.


1.  “Love suffers long (ATP:  is patient)” (13:4):   The “patient” individual is inherently better than the proud individual who hastens into anger and needless conflict (Ecclesiastes 7:8-9).  A basic characteristic of Yahweh Himself is being “slow to anger” (Nehemiah 9:17).


2.  Love “is kind” (13:4):  The Proverbist speaks of how that “what is desired in a man is kindness” (19:22a).  Kindness is manifested not only in what one does but also in what one says (31:26)


3.  “Love does not envy” (13:4):  Envy is condemned by its results in the Pentateuch:  The brothers of Joseph so envied their younger brother Joseph (37:11) that they eventually faked his death and sold him into Egyptian slavery.  In describing this in Acts 7:9, Stephen speaks of how “the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt,” utilizing the same Greek word found here.[26]  


            4.  “Love does not parade itself (ATP:  is not boastful)” (13:4):  It does not swagger in word or deed, insisting that others look upon us as their superiors.  It is pride (the following point) manifested in behavior that annoys and antagonizes others. 

            It can involve claiming superiority that is not rightly ours in any sense while attributing that very fault to others.  Hence when Korah rebelled against Moses’ leadership, he and his followers insisted, “Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3).  Ironically enough it was the protesters, the text emphasizes, who were the ones who were actually guilty of pretense and usurpation (16:4-35).  It was they who wished to arrogantly claim in public rights that were not properly their own.          


[Page 12]         5.  Love “is not puffed up (ATP:  conceited)” (13:4):   Pride is repeatedly denounced in the Old Testament.  For example, the Proverbist warns that “by pride comes nothing but strife” (13:10a), tying in this theme with that of domineering condemned in point 7 below.  


            6.  Love “does not behave rudely (ATP:  is not ill-mannered)” (13:5):   In contrast,  the pervasively self-centered individual is pictured as one who is so self-confident of escaping all difficulties that he even “sneers” at his enemies (Psalms 10:5-7).  He is pictured in these verses as the embodiment of one who seeks his or her own way regardless of the cost to others (the mind-frame rebuked in the following point). Isaiah speaks of a generation that would so mistreat each other that it would breed arrogance where prudence or guilt should have normally produced guilty silence, “The people will be oppressed, every one by another and every one by his neighbor; the child will be insolent toward the elder, and the base toward the honorable” (Isaiah 3:5).  


            7.  Love “does not seek its own (ATP:  does not demand its own way)” (13:5):  The writer of Proverbs points to lawsuits as a very practical example of why one should not attempt to domineer their way over others:  we don’t know what will come out of it and we may actually lose the case to our embarrassment and shame (25:8-10).  Compare Jesus on a similar theme in Matthew 5:25.


            8.  Love “is not provoked (ATP:  quick-tempered)” (13:5):   The Proverbist denounces the mentality that is easily provoked, “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of wicked intentions is hated” (14:16).  The flip side of this condemnation is the implicit endorsement of restraint under provocation--of “not being provoked.”  There is a very practical (as well as idealistic) reason for this:  once started, it feeds on itself and seems impossible to stop (Proverbs 17:14).

            The word in 1 Corinthians 13 is paroxynein and is used as a description of Korah in the Septuagint of Numbers 16:30 and is “an attitude that is joined in Numbers 17:6 with grumbling, goggyzein, a verb associated with the Corinthians’ disaffection according to 1 Corinthians 10:10.”[27]


            9.  Love “thinks no evil (ATP:  does not keep a record of wrongs suffered)” (13:5):   It places the best interpretation on what is seen and known, rather than the worst.  Perhaps this is at least partly what the Proverbist has in mind when he writes, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sin” (10:12) 

            Zechariah 13:17 is relevant here as well, “ ‘Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath.  For all these are things that I hate, says the Lord.’ ” In the Septuagint, the Greek term “think no evil” is identical with the one used by Paul.  Some think that in Zechariah the idea is one of “plotting evil.”[28] 

            But why would a person do such?  Doing so in retaliation for the list of supposed wrongs one has mentally maintained over the years is certainly one obvious reason.  Paul is trying to stop the process of retaliation hunting before it begins by urging believers to not save up a list of excuses to do evil to others.[29]  Indeed, unless one has some such [Page 13]   Zechariah type condemned retaliation ultimately in mind--or, at least, in one’s hopes--why persevere in this way of negative thinking to begin with?


            10.  Love “does not rejoice in iniquity (ATP:  does not find happiness in evil behavior)” (13:6):  The person who takes conscious pride in personal sin or that of others is inevitability the individual who has “wicked intentions” (Proverbs 14:17) for one fuels the other.  There will, typically, be a grudging--sometimes not so grudging--appreciation of others who have gotten away with something as well, “For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, he blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord” (Psalms 10:3).  The very idea of moral restraints becomes repugnant to such individuals, “Fools mock at sin” is the censure of Proverbs 14:9a.

            An example of going out of one’s way to help another do wrong comes from the example of the Ziphites.  They traveled to Saul’s camp to report that David was hiding out in their region and that they would--and the implication seems to be, with pleasure--capture him and hand him over to the man who desired to kill him (1 Samuel 23:19-23).

            If we think in terms not so much of “iniquity” as offending God directly but as evil done to our enemy, then we have the example of David refusing to yield to this way of thinking.  In the hope of currying favor, certain men murdered the son of Saul and carried the severed head to David (2 Samuel 4:5-9).  2 Samuel 4:10 quotes him as recalling of Saul’s own earlier death, “When someone told me, saying, ‘Look, Saul is dead,’ thinking to have brought good news, I arrested him and had him executed in Ziklag--the one who thought I would give him a reward for his news.’ ”  To show his contempt for these murderers, he had them promptly executed (4:11-12).

            David’s mind-frame reflects that of the latter proverbial warning, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him” (Proverbs 24:17-18).  The punishment is not being inflicted for your “viewing pleasure” and, therefore, it is not your role to unduly exult in his discomfort.        


            11.  Love “rejoice in the truth (ATP:  is jubilant with the truth)” (13:6):  The  flip side of the previous assertion is that one is made sad by individuals when they reject the truth.  Hence we read of the Psalmist describing his profuse tears because his generation did “not keep” the Divine law (119:136).  Sorrow at such carries with it the implication of joy when such obedience was present.

            Truth both in the abstract sense as well as the practical one (i.e., good news) is worthy of personal pleasure.  Hence we read of rejoicing in the true and reliable report of what God had done for His people, “Jethro rejoiced for all the good which the Lord had done for Israel whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 18:9).


            12.  Love “bears all things (ATP:  is supportive)” (13:7):  In times of difficulty,  we are tempted to panic and when we panic we usually make the situation worse.  Hence Ecclesiastes 9:4 urges advisers of important officials, “If the spirit of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your post [= don’t flee in panic and despair]; for conciliation pacifies great offenses.”  Even when you are in the wrong things can usually be set right.  Endure the discomfort, “bear” the hostility.  Things can be settled peacefully.


[Page 14]         13.  Love “believes all things (ATP:  always accepts the other’s good intentions)” (13:7):   In the context of the Torah, the idea is full acceptance of its teachings.  Hence, the Psalmist speaks of Yahweh “teach[ing] me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe Your commandments” (119:66).  At its fullest development, it carries the idea that even if God seems to do something inappropriate and hurtful to us, yet there must be some greater interest involved to explain it.  As Job has it, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:15a). 

            Applied in relationships with other people, the idea is putting the positive interpretation upon what they do and say so long as it is reasonable to do so.  The leaders of the people of Ammon exhibited the exact opposite, the attitude of suspiciousness and refusing to believe good will in others.  Hence when David send them a delegation to show the new ruler that he remembered the good his father had done for him, the leaders refused to believe this was his true purpose, “Has David not rather sent his servants to you to search the city, to spy it out, and to overthrow it?” (2 Samuel 10:1-3).  As the result the envoys were treated with disrespect and sent back home (10:4).   


            14.  Love “hopes all things (ATP:  has no limit to its hope)” (13:7):    As applied to God it means putting one’s “trust” in God even when one is “disquieted within,” as the Psalmist urges (42:11; cf. 43:5).  The reasonableness of such “hope” in Yahweh (146:5) is that He continues to have the power to intervene upon behalf of the hurt and needing (146:6-10).

            It also has an application to everyday life.  Problems, pain, injury, and rejection now do not necessarily mean it will remain the same tomorrow.  This is the essence of “hop[ing] all things” as it applies to the individual’s own life.  Micah warned his listeners, “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (7:8).

            As applied to others, it means that one hopes that things will work out right for others even when things are going in the wrong direction at the moment.  It is an application of optimism toward others that Micah expresses in regard to his own future.  


            15.  Love “endures all things (ATP:  never gives up no matter what happens)” (13:7):  The final three characteristics are all exhibited in the Pentateuch in its depiction of the life of Moses during the Exodus:  he “believed” that God would fulfill His promise of giving the people a new land, he “hoped” that God would stick to His pledge in spite of rebellious and mutinous conduct by the people, and he “endured” criticism of the masses for leading them to potential destruction in the wilderness.  To make it even more personal, he had to endure criticism from his close relatives for the woman he chose to marry (Exodus 12:1-3).



            13:8-10:  Does the Old Testament speak in terms of the gift of prophecy coming to an end?  Paul’s assertion that such would occur (see the difficult texts section below) comes as a surprise. Such supernatural gifts were so commonly referred to in both testaments, that one would normally anticipate their perseverance rather than their cessation.  Yet there is at least one text from the Minor Prophets that may well foreshadow such a situation.

[Page 15]         Zechariah 13:1-5 speaks of a day when a person who has previously had the gift of prophecy awakens and discovers it is no longer present.  Shall he “fake” it in order to preserve his self-respect and societal status or shall he resume whatever normal occupation that is his and abandon all claim to being a prophet?  Unlike the false prophet, he is honorable and does the latter,


                        “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the           inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.  It shall be in that day,”             says the Lord of hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land,           and they shall no longer be remembered.  I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land.  It shall come to pass that if anyone still            prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the name of the Lord.’  And his father and mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesies.  And it       shall be in that day that every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he            prophesies; they will not wear a robe of coarse hair to deceive; but he will say, ‘I           am not a prophet, I am a farmer; for a man taught me to keep cattle from my           youth.’ ”          



            The event is to occur in a period when idolatry is no longer the plague of the land among the Israelites (13:2).  This is certainly true of the first century.  Furthermore it was to be a period in which the means to remove “sin” and “uncleanness” (13:1) are available in Jerusalem and for Israel.  The New Testament links this with the redemptive death of Jesus and the preaching of it by the apostles (Acts 2:38, as to Jerusalem in particular).  Hence Paul could easily read this passage as referring to the kind of cessation of prophecy that he predicted (for other approaches to Paul’s position, see the problems text section below).

            That true rather than pseudo-prophecy is under consideration seems clear by the language:  first of all, the blanket term “prophets” (13:2, 4) is utilized. The epithet “false” is conspicuously not interjected, which suggests—barring significant contrary evidence—that these are considered true prophets.  Further support that false prophets are not the subject is found in the fact that in the future each would be “ashamed of his vision.”  Conmen, both religious and secular, rarely seem to feel guilt over gulling the public; it is a reaction one would expect only from the honest soul; in this context, the true prophet whose gift has disappeared.  Hence, their temptation is to begin false prophecy (in order to perpetuate their spiritual status) rather than to continue in false prophecy. 

            Most interpreters, to the extent that they explicitly take the question into consideration at all, judge the text to be a description of the action of false prophets .[30]  In one form, this is taken to mean an era would arise in which false prophecy would vanish and only true prophecy would exist.  In behalf of this one can argue that we are to interpret with similar overtones how “the prophets and the unclean spirit” are “to depart from the land:”  demon possession as well as the unclean spirit that motivates the false prophets are to vanish.  Alternatively false prophets and unclean spirits are to be both driven from the land.

[Page 16]         On the other hand, it is hard to see how God could guarantee that false prophecy would disappear.  Barring the destruction of individual human freedom that is always a potential.  All that is within His direct control would be the removal of the true gift of prophecy and the prohibition of genuine demons from again entering the world.  Anything beyond that would be within the freedom of will still possessed by individuals, which includes the freedom to become self-deluded.  Hence they could still make a claim to prophesy (when the contents actually reflect only their inner hopes and fears).  Likewise they could continue to be demon possessed (in this case, by virtue of the self-created “demons” of a disintegrating personality or split personalities).

            One team of commentators concedes that  Zechariah’s “critique of prophecy seems to depict a removal of all prophecy,” i.e., true prophecy.[31]  Yet, they object, this can not be the author’s intent since both Jewish tradition and New Testament writings refer to and accept the existence of a genuine gift.[32]  The counter to this would most naturally be that Zechariah 13:1 has in time a specific time frame--when salvation would become available.  In that period when the redemption was finally an accomplished reality, the gift of prophecy would vanish--not before.  Hence the two types of data are quite compatible.  Zechariah speaks of the certainty of prophecy ending at some point after salvation becomes available through the Messiah; Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 provides a more exact time frame for it occurring after that initial stage had been reached.        

              The “absolute” sense of false prophecy ending is likely to arise in discussions with those believing the true gift remains a twenty-first century bestowal of the Spirit.  In commentaries, however, one is far more likely to find Zechariah interpreted as referring not to the practice of false prophecy, but to the denial that one is personally among the practitioners of prophesying.  In this approach, the individual is repudiating the status of “prophet” solely in order to escape punishment.[33]   But does this not assume the popular belief that all prophecy had ended--otherwise why would the supposed exercise of the gift bring an immediate danger of popular wrath?          

            Some commentators do indeed believe that there was a growing feeling in some Israelite circles in Zechariah’s day that prophecy had already come to end.[34]  If this were the case why would Zechariah openly describe himself as “the son” of a “prophet” (1:1) and present himself as receiving a revelation from God (1:1-4) as if he, also, deserved the label?  He could have avoided the problem entirely.  Rabbis of a later day were non-prophetic teachers of the Torah.  Surely he could have claimed to be the equivalent in his day without embracing the “prophet” designation! 

            Furthermore the wording of chapter 13 as to prophecy ending is clearly intended to convey the idea of it being yet future.  “In that day a fountain shall be opened . . . for sin and for uncleanness.  It shall be in that day. . .” (13:1-2).  In addition to unclean spirits being removed “I will also cause the prophets” to cease (13:2).  He isn’t disavowing there being true prophecy in his day; he describes God as putting that off to some future day. 

How does this fit the scenario that he is lying to get himself out of trouble by denying he himself is a prophet?  He’s “hit them over the head” repeatedly with the implicit affirmation that there were such in his day and that would surely anger them as much as the claim that he himself is one.  

            To make their scenario work, the words “I am not a prophet, I am a farmer; for a man taught me to keep cattle from my youth” must be Zechariah’s own defense (13:5).  But the wording is “it shall be in that day” that such will occur (13:4).  He is distancing himself from the language and making it apply to unknown (but honest) individuals in the future. 

[Page 17]         One can attempt to deal with this by contending that henceforth revelation would come by “messengers” rather than prophets,[35] but is that not shifting the label rather than the substance?  Furthermore Zechariah 13:1ff. puts the point when this would occur as in the future rather than contemporary with the current prophet/messenger.      

            The view that prophecy and related supernatural inspiration would terminate—the concept is often called “cessationism”—is commonly based upon the belief that a day would come when God had fully revealed all He ever intended to.  When the New Testament canonical works were completed the gifts would no longer be needed and the long trail of prophets would come to an end.  (See the discussion in the difficult texts section below.) 

            Some see the possibility of cessation resulting for a very different reason.  Rex Mason wonders whether, in spite of the view that is “usually taken,” Zechariah’s words could, indeed, refer to the permanent ending of all prophecy.  Prophecy would not be needed in that day because “God Himself would again be present in His temple” and “there would no longer be any need for those who meditated His word.”[36] 

            Although having a certain appeal, the prophetess Anna is spoken of praising the future of the new-born Jesus while in the Temple itself (Luke 2:36-38).  Although the term “prophetess” is explicitly applied to her (2:36), the male equivalent is not use of Simeon although he is also described as exercising a prophetic office within the temple (2:25-35).  Hence there was no contradiction viewed between God having a sanctifying presence in the temple and the propriety of the prophetic gift being exercised, even within its precincts.  On this precedent, there seems no good grounds on which to argue that a literal personal presence of Yahweh would ever change the situation.  (Not to mention the problem of defining in what sense He was already in the temple in Anna’s day as versus anything to occur in the future:  Was He “really” there or not?)

            Mason is on stronger ground, however, when he suggests that a prediction of the termination of prophecy “would be an application of the promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34:  ‘No longer need they teach one another to know the Lord. . . .’  To appear as a prophet would be to cast doubt on the finality and totality of God’s final act of salvation.”[37]   



            13:11:  A time to grow up.  Paul speaks of how when we reach adulthood we “put away childish things (ATP:  set aside all those childhood characteristics).”  That of course is the theory and the desired course.  (That many don’t, is one of the main seedbeds of much adult psychological instability.)  The ancient Jews recognized the propriety and desirability of a period of growth before one took upon adult responsibilities.  This period was to be enjoyed in all honorable ways (Ecclesiastes 11:9).  But even in this period there were rights and wrongs of behavior that were recognized as such by others (Proverbs 20:11).  



13:12:  Seeing ourselves “face to face (ATP:  as if looking directly in another’s face).”  In this case, what God was revealing is portrayed as a mirror and how, when it was completed, one would see a perfect reflection rather than the cloudy and [Page 18]   partially unclear one available before the process was complete.   What was uncertain would become unambiguous.  This visual distortion was true of the imperfect mirrors of Paul’s day.  The reference, however, would not only be one to the physical resources of existing society.  It would certainly also bring to mind to Torah familiar readers the Old Testament allusion of Moses seeing God, so-to-speak, face to face (Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:7-8).








Historical Allusions to the

                                    Old Testament:  None









[1] For a discussion of whether chapter 13 originally occurred here or at a different place in the epistle, see Carson, 181-189.    


[2] Witherington, Conflict, 265.


[3] J. Barrie Shepherd, Aspects of Love:  An Exploration of 1 Corinthians 13 (Nashville, Tennessee:  Upper Room Books, 1995), 47.


[4] Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Corinthians (2010 edition), 144.  At: [November 2010, February 2011].  Also Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin, “The Most Excellent Way—1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13,”  IIIM Magazine Online (Volume 4, Number 23; June 12-19, 2002), 3.  At:

20Corinthians%20C13%20V1-13%20%28Sermon%29.pdf [February 2011].


[Page 46]   [5] E. M. Blaiklock,  The Way of Excellence:  A New Translation and Study of 1 Corinthians 13 and Romans 13 (London:  Pickering & Inglis, Ltd., 1968), 12.    


[6] Spicq, 146.   


[7] Defying the context, Lesie M. Grant, Comments on First Corinthians (2007), at: [November 2010, February 2011], makes the subject matter the latter.


[8] Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord:  A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 273.


[9] For examples, see Blaiklock, Excellence, 12-13.   


[10] Deffinbaugh, Robert L., “What Is This Thing Called Love?  1 Corinthians 13:1-13.”  At: [February 2011].


[11] Nelson M. Smith, Nelson M, What Is This Thing Called Love?  (Abilene, Texas:  Quality Publications, 1970), 26.


[12] Henry V, Acts IV, Scene 1, as quoted by Leslie J. Tizard, A More Excellent Way (London:  Independent Press, Ltd., 1953), 37.


[13] Drew Worthen, 1 Corinthians Commentary, part of the Double Edged Sword website.  At:  [November 2010, February 2011.]


[14] At length on this theme, see Witherington, Conflict, footnote 38, page 272.


[15] Cf. Kinney, 62, and Charles R. Erdman, Paul’s Hymn of Love:  First Corinthians Thirteen—An Interpretation (New York:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1928), 16.    


[16] Jan Lambrecht, Pauline Studies:  Collected Essays (Leuven, Belgium:  Leuven University Press, 1994), 87-88.


[17] David Guzik, Commentaries on the Bible:  1 Corinthians 13.  At: [November 2010, February 2011].  


[18] Gorman, Apostle, 273.


[19] Thiselton, Corinthians:  Shorter Commentary, 230.


[Page 47]   [20] Gordon Lyons, Expository Notes on 1 Corinthians, 163.  At:  [November 2010, February 2011].   For a description of ancient mirrors, see Baez-Camargo, 250.         


[21] Thiselton, Corinthians:  Shorter Commentary, 232, and Witherington, Conflict, 271.


[22] Thiselton, Corinthians:  Shorter Commentary, 232; cf. Quast, 83.


[23] Quast, 83..


[24] Trail, Exegetical 10-16, 201-202.  To facilitate the presentation, we have taken out the abbreviations of the commentaries and simply numbered each individual approach.


[25]Spicq, 147-148, sees this text as the probable basis of the allusion.   


[26] Shepherd, 83.


[27] Ralph P. Martin, Spirit, 50. 


[28] Bruce, Corinthians, 127.  


[29] Ralph P. Martin, Spirit, 50. 


[30] Baldwin, 196; Barnes, 97; Carol and Eric Meyers, 361, 399; Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” in Daniel-Minor Prophets, in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Regency Reference Library/Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 685; E. Henderson, The Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets (Andover:  Warren F. Draper, 1868), 427; Theo. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (Saint Louis, Missouri:  Concordia Publishing House, 1956), 489; Thomas E. McComiskey, “Zechariah,”  in Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, volume 3 of  The Minor Prophets:  An Exegetical and Expository Commentary, edited by Thomas E. McComiskey (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Books, 1998), 1220, and D. W. Watts, “Zechariah,”  in Hosea-Malachi, in the Broadman Bible Commentary series (London:  Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1972; British Edition, 1973), 358.    

            Katrina J. A. Larkin, The Eschatology of Second Zechariah:  A Study of the Formation of a Mantological Wisdom Anthology (Kampen, Netherlands:  Kok Pharos Publishing House, 1994), 172-173, puts the emphasis on the ending of false prophecy but appears to accept the possibility that the other type might end as well:  Zechariah “portrays a time when good prophecy will be recognized (albeit retrospectively)” (173). 


[31] Caroll and Eric Meyers, 402.


[32] Ibid., 403.


[33] Barker, 685-686; Henderson, 428; Laetsch, Minor, 489-490; McComiskey,

[Page 48]   “Zechariah,” 1220-1221; Marcus Dods, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, in the Hand-books for Bible Classes series (Edinburgh:  T. & T.Clark, 18--), 117-118; Charles L. Feinberg, God Remembers:  A Study of Zechariah (Portland, Oregon:  Multnomah Press, 1965), 186-187; Homer Heater, Jr., Zechariah, in the Bible Study Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Lamplighter Books/Zondervan Publishing House, 1987). 108-109; Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi, in the Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco, Texas:  Word Books, 1984), 281.


[34] Paul L. Redditt, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, in the New Century Bible series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 19--), 135, believes that point where any prophet would automatically have to be regarded as a false prophet had already been reached in Zechariah’s day.  David L. Peterson, Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 128, argues that this was simultaneous with others continuing to exercise the alleged gift.


[35] Edgar W. Conrad, Zechariah (Sheffield, England:  Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 185-186.  Conrad regards this point as already reached, creating the difficulty we refer to next.


           [36] Rex Mason, The Books of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, in the Cambridge Bible  

           Commentary:  New English Bible series (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press,

           1977), 121.


[37] Ibid.