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

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011












Chapter 13—Part 2:

Problem Texts





            13:1:  Did they really speak in the tongues of angels?  Some see here an evidence of a multiplicity of languages in heaven.  On this premise, modern tongue speakers base one of the explanations for why the phenomena today so often sounds to us like gibberish—they simply aren’t human languages to begin with.  But language is what communicates comprehensible sense; gibberish does not.[1]  Even heavenly language would have to do so to serve as a means of communication.

Yet others have taken the approach that Paul is utilizing hyperbole—exaggeration to make a point.[2]  Since the apostle is going to return to talking about heavenly gifts, it was natural to appeal to the example of the residents of heaven, angels.  Hence he makes this “even if” argument:  Even if I speak with their tongues, what does it benefit without love as well? 

Does any one really believe that the “moving mountains” of verse 2 is literally intended?  If one doesn’t, one implicitly concedes the use of hyperbole by Paul in this section to make his point on the urgency and superiority of love.  Making quite reasonable the thesis that heavenly tongues are in this category as well.

Notably Paul does not claim that he had spoken in such languages.  We certainly know that he had not been burned to death (13:3) and we have no evidence that he had either given all his goods to feed the poor or had used faith to move mountains (both in [Page 19]   13:3 as well).  Hence Paul is speaking hypothetically in the extremeness of his examples rather than reflecting actual personal experience.[3]  If he had not done any of these, is it wise analysis to assume that any of the Corinthians had?  

Hence it isn’t intended as a direct affirmation that they have a variety of languages—note that it is the plural “tongues” and not the singular—but whatever language(s) they may have.  And if I actually spoke in them, then does my spiritual superiority follow?[4]  To which the answer, of course, was “no.”

            In the book of Revelation we have no hint that heavenly beings are speaking anything but the same language throughout—one language, rather than many.  Furthermore, we assume that it is spoken rather than heard within their minds.  Would heavenly beings even need verbal communication via their lips rather than communicating “out loud” via mental communications with each other?  We don’t know.  Surely it would be considered “speech” either way. 

            (Aside:  To us this sounds somewhat like science fiction, but it’s no great secret that the genre attempts to project what could be under the right set of circumstances rather than what is inherently impossible.  Furthermore, as far back as the late 17th century, the commentator Matthew Poole spoke of how there must be “some way amongst them to communicate their minds and wills to each other” without a verbal expression of it.  Even, to me, more interestingly, he notes that in the Middle Ages the nature of this non-verbal—but very real—method of communication was a subject of theological discussion.[5])

            Furthermore, for ease of communication one would anticipate it all being done in the same language rather than a variety.  Variation creates inherent problems of potential mis-communication.  Consider how translation of the New Testament, even with the best possible motives and the utmost accuracy possible by the translators, can easily leave a “tinge” of ideas being only adequately rendered rather than with 100% fidelity to the original.  The latter can be done in some cases, but depending upon the nature of the text, translation can easily leave out an undertone or implication the speaker of the original language would immediately grasp.  (Consider the Amplified Bible and what it goes through in an effort to more fully bring out all these auxiliary implications!)           

            Finally, whenever we “hear” angels speak in the two testaments, it is never in a language the listener can’t understand but in his or her own.  Hence if there are a multiplicity of languages in heaven it is far more likely that they are ones “borrowed from earth” (so to speak) rather than reflecting strictly heavenly originated ones.[6]   



            13:1:  The “sounding brass” and “clanging cymbal(s):  What were they?  Although the underlying point of worthlessness is crystal clear, exactly what Paul had in mind by the instruments has been the subject of discussion.


            The “sounding brass” of the NKJV tells us what it was made of but not what it was.  The ambiguity is perpetuated by those maintaining that exact rendering (BBE, Darby) while Rotherham substitutes “resounding” for the adjective.

            More assume that it was a “gong” with various appellations being selected to modify the word:  “noisy” (ATP, NASB, CEV, RSV), “loud” (GW), “reverberating” (ISV), and “sounding” (Holman). 

[Page 20]         It could be either a rounded or flat piece of bronze that was hit with a stick or mallet.[7]  (For those who have seen 1930s movies “live” or on television, think of the classic Gunga Din.)  They were not uncommon in polytheistic worship.[8]

            Weymouth opts for a very different instrument, the “loud-sounding trumpet.”  W. E. Vine concedes that the reference might be to a trumpet but that it is “probably” a reference to “a sort of gong.”[9]

            Anthony C. Thiselton notes that the Greek term describes something that conveys sound, “usually through resonating.  Coupled with the Greek alalazon, it denotes endlessly reverberating noise that produces no melody.”[10]

            Craig Blomberg believes the gong is “perhaps better taken to refer to a large ‘acoustic vase’ used for amplification in the Greek theaters.”[11]  William Harris provides more detail, insisting that these are “Echoing Bronzes,” cast in urn form and arranged at the back of a Greek theater to magnify the voices of the actors.[12]  He notes that when the Romans leveled Corinth, they removed these, melted them down, and cast coins from them.[13] 

Poorer towns substituted ceramic urns, reducing the sound quality.[14]  Taking this approach, he believes Paul’s meaning to be, that without love one merely “bounces/repeats” the words that have been spoken rather than providing one’s own input.[15]  You are “reflecting” the right exterior (speaking in tongues) but it has not shaped your interior, the inner person that regulates how you behave and act (i.e., in love).  

            The problem with the “sound system” interpretation—for that would be the closest modern analogy—is that it is a positive one.  “Echoing Bronzes” used by the theater were intended to make the voices more “hearable” and by more people.  Paul’s contrast in 13:1, though, is between that which is useful (love) and that which is of minimal, little, or no use (“sounding brass or a clanging cymbal”).  The sound reflectors of the Greeks, in profound contrast, were useful in the very context Paul speaks—communicating the spoken message (“the tongues of men and of angels”). 

Hence, though Harris’ creative approach could fit, it seems unlikely.  For interpretive consistency, it would be far better for both references (“sounding brass or a clanging cymbal”) to represent something of minimal or no usefulness rather than to fit only the second item and not the first.  (Harris, oddly, provides no discussion of how the cymbal reference would fit into Paul’s discussion beyond noting that the amplifiers represented an example from Greek culture and the cymbal from Jewish.)       


            The “clanging cymbal” reading has been perpetuated by the bulk of translations (Darby, Holman, NASB, Rotherham, RSV, Weymouth), with “clashing” being substituted as the adjective in some (ATP, GW, ISV).

            The “bell” has been suggested as the alternative by a few with the adjective becoming either “clanging” (CEV) or “loud-tongued” (BBE).

            The cymbal of today is round and relatively flat.  In the ancient world though it “often consisted of two half-globes banged together.”[16]  They were thicker than those used today and were hit directly on each other rather than with a sideways motion across each other.[17]

            William Harris (see above) claims that this reference comes from Jewish synagogue practice but provides no illustrating details as he does in regard to the sounding brass.[18]  Most commentators who touch on the social source of the allusion, consider it a reference to polytheistic worship, that of Cybele in particular.         

[Page 21]

Shared characteristics of the instruments.  Assuming a negative reference being intended in regard to both instruments, then what they have in common is the element of making either meaningless noise (or close to it) or disturbing noise or  distracting noise.  The shared element is “noise” in contrast with pleasing sound.    

This carries with it being loud and even painful to the ear drums.  They are things that don’t communicate in human language at all.  They may communicate non-verbal instructions at the best (as in battlefield trumpets) or be attention getters (cymbals in public religious processions), but they fall far short of sharing insights and words. 

If revelation is God sharing information and teaching with His people, then when tongues have been reduced to this level, they have been stripped of their ability to fulfill their intended purpose.  A “sound” is still there (so to speak) but it has been gutted of its intended role.  Instead of being “the icing on the cake of love” tongue speaking has been reduced to “idle noise” in God’s eyes.



            13:1-3:  Paul as the personal exemplar of the miraculous gifts he describes.  Note the repeated “I” throughout these verses—Paul interjects himself firmly into the middle of the discussion.  He tells them, in effect, not even an apostle such as myself can be benefited without love. 

            Carl Holladay notes that these three verses refer to powers Paul had expressly claimed to exercise,[19]


For example, Paul speaks in tongues (14:6, 18).  Called by God, he has prophetic status (Galatians 1:15); he reveals heavenly mysteries (1 Corinthians 2:9-13; 4:1; 15:51); he has knowledge (2:6-16; 2 Corinthians 11:6); he has faith powerful enough to perform miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12; Romans 15:19); he has voluntarily made himself poor for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:11; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 11:7-11); and having given himself up to death for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:11), he can boast. 

In effect, Paul presents himself to the Corinthians as an example to be imitated.  Endowed with spiritual gifts, he is the spiritual person par excellence.  Nevertheless, he understands that all gifts and activity are subject to love.  The Corinthians should do the same.


            Although Paul had sacrificed, even he had not done so to the degree the text cites—for example, giving everything to the poor and martyrdom.   Even so, we can see that same mind-frame in his behavior—after all, he had manifested the willingness to be poor and to risk martyrdom.  Hence the basic point of the analysis remains true:  he is asking nothing of others that they can not see in his own practice.

There is no evidence that the Corinthians claimed apostolic status for their local clique leaders (even if such “outside” names were invoked and hidden behind by the locals).  That being the case, the implicit argument is that since none of the Corinthians can claim even apostolic status, how then could they possibly expect to be accepted by [Page 22]   God without this pivotal, core virtue when even apostles couldn’t?[20]

            It is fascinating that when Paul provides his description of the nature of love, that it is he who exemplified its positive characteristics and they who manifested the characteristics antithetical to true love,[21]


. . . Paul says that love is patient and kind and he later refers to his own behavior in the same way (2 Corinthians 6:6).  Likewise, he writes that love bears all things and endures all things, a frequent description of his own way of life (9:12b; 2 Corinthians 6:6; 12:12).  Negatively stated, ‘love is not envious or boastful or arrogant (physioutai) or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wronging’ (13:4-5). 

Such an attitude, however, describes the Corinthians’ conduct.  There is jealously and quarreling among them (3:3); they have become puffed up and arrogant in their wisdom and knowledge (4:6, 18, 19; 5:2; 8:1); and by taking others to court they appear to rejoice in what is wrong (6:7-8).  While Paul made himself a slave to all (9:19), the Corinthians insist on their own way.  They have yet to heed Paul’s advice, “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (10:24).




            13:3:  The limits of extreme self-sacrifice and spirituality as a means to please God.      It would be hard to imagine any self-sacrifice greater than giving all one’s possessions to help the poor--what greater humanitarianism could there possibly be?  Nor can one easily imagine a spiritual self-sacrifice greater than to be martyred for one’s religious convictions.

            Yet is even that really enough?  When you can’t do more, what is even greater?  Paul answers that question:  daily love in action.  Martyrdom and giving away everything are one time acts and, once completed, it is over with.  In contrast, love involves on-going relationships--sometimes hard and tumultuous ones.  Hence in a very real sense, love can be more difficult because it requires a continuing mind-frame rather than a once-for-all act.

            Paul is certainly not berating either charity or martyrdom.  Rather he insists that they be kept in perspective.  Without an underlying character of love neither will benefit us.

            Some have had problems with the reference to giving one’s body to be burnt within a Roman context since this was simply not a normal Roman punishment.  But Paul is thinking in absolutes, the most that one could sacrifice.  This did not hinge upon cultural norms.  It also seems a very inappropriate objection when one considers that Nero chose this method to maximally humiliate and disgrace the Christian community in Rome when he chose them to be the scapegoats after the Great Fire that swept through his capital.[22]  This was yet in the future when Paul wrote, but it certainly demonstrates that such punishments were not unthinkable to the first century mind.

            Those alive in that time period were aware of examples of voluntary death by fire in the distant and near past and interpreted at least some of them as indications of bravery and/or loyalty to principle.  Empedocles of Agrigentum died when plunging into Mt. [Page 23]   Etna’s volcano.  Two Hindu philosophers burned themselves to death:  Calanos and Zarmanochegas (see below).  Even in the legendary history of Corinth itself, two sisters were remembered for having perished in the burning shrine of Athena when the Dorians conquered the city.[23]

              The cynic philosopher Peregrinus had it done to himself—at an Olympic festival nonetheless.  The setting makes one suspicious.  The ancient Lucian wrote of it as a highly fitting death for a man who was so self-absorbed and a seeker of personal fame.[24]  So even the ancients weren’t unacquainted with how it might not always be as great a “sacrifice” as it might appear but could be done out of baser motives.

            Nor was this the only possible example that would come to mind.  In 20 A.D. Zarmanochegas, a Hindu somehow resident in Athens, decided to end his life.  He chose self-immolation.  On his tomb were the words he had selected, “He made himself immortal.”[25]  The words are fascinatingly elusive:  was the “immortal[ity]” something he gained in the world beyond or something he gained in the present one by the story being passed down through the generations—or both? 

            Others fit in giving the body to be burnt with the “bestow[ing] all my goods to feed the poor.”  In this approach, a person has been branded, by fire, as a slave to denote ownership. The individual has voluntarily chosen slavery to raise money for the destitute.

On the other hand, it was not ordinary practice to brand slaves;[26] it was normally a penalty only inflicted upon recaptured runaway ones or upon those guilty of the most serious offenses.[27]  Furthermore one would expect a clear cut tie in between “giving” and “burning” to show that they are intended to be linked in a cause-effect relationship. 

Hence, to this commentator, the passage makes better sense as two separate issues, not merely the goal (aiding the poor) and the means of accomplishing the goal (selling oneself to help the poor):  As two separate and distinct types of behavior, Paul stresses that there is nothing more we can give (1) to others nor (2) more that we can give of ourselves for our faith.  As one issue, it makes Paul think in terms of charity being the supreme virtue and removes the element of self-sacrifice directly in God’s service.  The modern mind may find this congenial; it is hard to believe that ancient Judaism or even polytheism would have done so.       

            A related approach is to remove the marking by fire entirely but retain the reference to selling oneself as a slave.  This is done by the adoption of a different Greek reading.  Instead of “I give my body to be burned” contemporary Greek texts now typically substitute wording such as, “so that I may boast” (NAB, NRSV main text; GW, NKJV, RSV margin).  They consider this to be better documented by the standards of current evaluation.[28] 

            That leaves us with the problem of what the person is doing with his body:  “I give my body”--to what purpose?  Burning provides an explicit purpose.  Only the potential reason is provided by “so I may boast.”  So we are left uncertain what is done to the body that is so great that it is counted as grounds for bragging.  Although a rebuke of pride and boasting certainly fits well with the tenor of the entire epistle and Paul’s immediate stress on the importance of love,[29] it would still be very odd for Paul to emphasize a self-sacrifice and its motive (boasting) without explicitly stating the nature of that self-sacrifice as well.

            One can deal with this by contending that the giving of all things to the poor is what the individual has given his body for--so he can boast about it.  Although such [Page 24]   reasoning has strongly impressed some,[30] it still appears to this commentator a surprising and oddly indirect way of making the point.  One might “boast” that one had given everything to the poor, but to create the three way linkage between giving the “body,” the “boasting,” and the giving to the poor, stretches the linkage very thin.

            Indeed, in light of the degree of intra-congregational tension in Corinth, it is unimaginable that selling oneself into slavery for each other would have ever entered their minds--they did not even want to wait for each other to eat!  On the other hand, though there was yet no linkage in Christian history between martyrdom of believers and a death by burning, the Old Testament had made such a connection.  The throwing of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into “the burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:23) was certainly an extreme case of punishment for belief[31] and the Torah acquainted members would have been familiar with it.  And that is exactly Paul’s underlying point:  what is the most extreme case we can reasonably imagine?  The Old Testament provided it for them.          

            Another incident—successful, from the standpoint of the persecutor--occurred as the punishment for orthodox Jews during the age of the Maccabees.  In this case, six brothers were all tortured and burned by fire (2 Maccabees 7).



            13:4-7:  The mind-frame of love:  What love means in behavior rather than abstract theory.  Paul does not attempt to provide a one sentence summary of love; rather he attempts to show what it requires and prohibits.  What it really involves.  He does so by fifteen short assertions:  some are immediately grasped; a few require additional explanation.  All cry out for sermonic-style exposition and have been so treated through the ages.  Keeping in mind our need to be concise, let us briefly examine each of these.  Significant differences with our main study text will be noted in parentheses.

            It is immediately obvious that Paul defines love in both its positive and negative characteristics.  Although the latter was obviously of importance in a congregation like Corinth with so many destructive inclinations,[32] there is probably a broader principle here as well:  Love does not just involve how one acts, but also the behavior one shuns.  In human psychology it seems far easier to perform mental gymnastics around the “thou shalts” than the “shalt nots.”  (Not that the truly determined won’t find a way around both.)  The former is dismissed as an “innocent” omission while the later requires an overt excuse. 


            1.  “Love suffers long” (13:4; “patient,” ATP, GW, NAB, NRSV, RSV):  It does not expect today what will take till tomorrow.  It does not expect full maturity (spiritual, physical or any other type) until adequate time has gone by that it can be accomplished.  In regard to those who annoy and treat us ill, it means we reel in our impatience rather than immediately striking back in retribution.[33]  After all, God reins in His anger rather than striking immediately or every time He is challenged.  Can we do less?[34] 

Note that this trait is presented as one we have within our control—it is our choice not to act impetuously.  Hence we wait it out not because we are weak, but because we [Page 25]   have the strength and will not to act.[35]  Indeed, the easiest thing is to simply “lose it” and strike out in verbal anger at the one we are annoyed with.  Self-control requires overt effort to move us in the opposite direction.      

            The Greek word utilized here is not one usually invoked when describing restrained reaction to “impersonal” events that hurt us but do not target us in particular—say losing a job or taking a loss on your investments.  Rather it is generally used of how we react to people and their treatment specifically targeting us.[36] 

            For example, there are some who set out to provoke us; they want us to react vehemently so they can even inflame the situation further.  The best revenge we’ll probably ever get on people like that is not to give them what they are after.

            Others are thoughtless, careless, or plain blind so far as the impact they are having on others.  It isn’t that they are necessarily trying to cause a problem for us; they are simply oblivious to it because of lack of maturity or lack of thinking about how others might react.  An extreme reaction might make us feel better but it won’t do a bit to discourage them from repetition.  A quiet, “Do you realize how people react to remarks like that” is likely to do more positive good than any strident protest. 

            Twisting the meaning of love beyond its true intent.  “One must be careful, however, to distinguish patience from indifference.  Patience bears with an offense, but indifference ignores it altogether.”[37]  There are things over which we (and often others as well) have no control and our alternatives are, basically, only patience or rage.  In contrast, there are things over which we do have at least some degree of control. 

Paul repeatedly rebukes them for their variety of misjudgments and injustices in this epistle.  The fact he does so shows that though love endures unfairness and even evil, it never embraces it or regards it as a morally acceptable option.[38]  Yet Paul still displayed patience by not demanding correction now.  (The closest he comes to that is the case of incest, where a defense was virtually impossible and they full well knew it.) 

He knew things took time.  But he did expect a beginning to be made.  For example, callousness toward the poorer members was not going to end in the blinking of an eye.  It would take the repeated positive behavior to go on for months before the exception became the new norm.  The same is often true of any major change in behavior.    


            2.  Love “is kind” (13:4):  “Kindness” has been so minimized in its modern usage “that it often suggests mere external gentility.”[39]  Even of going along with virtually anything, in at least a passive sort of way.  In Greek it was a far more energetic word, expressing not a blaséness but concerned activity intended to be beneficial.[40]  

Hence in Paul’s use, “kindness” clearly intends far more than contemporary usage:  the apostle is speaking of kindness in action.  Think also in terms of the modern adage:  “words are cheap”—if all Paul intended was verbal sympathy, one could claim to wish the person the best while doing absolutely nothing to help them.  Remember the stern rebuke of James about the encouraging words toward the hungry that are not accompanied by actions to help them (James 2:14-17)?  It illustrates what “kindness” is all about.  They need encouragement and help to go with it. 

Hence true kindness is both mental and external.  Constructive.  Beneficial.[41]  It gives the kind word when needed; the helpful act when required.[42]  Often, both combined.  Patience is more of a frame of mind; kindness a mode of behavior.[43]  And [Page 26]   when we consider the many faults that Paul describes in the Corinthian congregation, it is clearly a virtue that was widely lacked among them.[44]

            Kindness doesn’t even mean you have to necessarily like the person; you can help someone regardless of your personal sentiments.[45]  On the other hand, attitude and behavior are interlinked:  isn’t it hard to harbor ill will—at least passionately—when you are helping that person? 

That person may be a general troublemaker.  On the other hand he may be striking out due to crippling problems you are unaware of.  In the first case, your positive response is to rebuke him by doing the right thing.  Remember it is the same apostle who enjoins kindness who also wrote, “Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Romans 12:20).  You are getting “revenge,” so to speak; that of helping a person who would much rather turn your help down—but can’t.

In the second case, unknown pressures and difficulties may be pushing him into needless hostility.  In such a case, the positive things you do may encourage that person to hope for the best instead of giving over to despair.  You may even have saved a soul from physical death (where else do suicides typically come from but from the despairing?).  If you are able to save their soul from the plague of sin as well—that is icing on the cake.  More important—from the standpoint of your relationship to God—is that you took advantage of the opportunity to help when it was most needed.

            Hence “kindness” carries overtones of mercifulness (“The merciful man does good for his own soul,” Proverbs 11:17) and skipping the retribution that many would regard as essential (the “forbearance” that God exhibits toward us as encouragement to reform, Romans 2:4).  We don’t always appreciate these kindnesses God provides to encourage us.  Those we deal with may be even more oblivious.  Yet whether they embrace the opportunity or not, the important thing is that we give it to them.[46]

            Twisting the meaning of love beyond its true intent.  Kindness does not mean pretending that wrong is right or that bad judgment is brilliant insight.  Indeed, sometimes kindness requires a bit of harshness:  your child wants to touch a burning grill.  What parent doesn’t growl out an emphatic, “No!  You’ll get burned!”  Sometimes behavior is so inappropriate or potentially dangerous that anything else would be clear-cut unloving behavior. 

            Likewise, it’s not an act of unkindness to point out to an enquirer that they’ve seriously misunderstood the scriptures.  Nor to be exasperated when a person has missed what seems to be its obvious point.  Jesus did it (Matthew 15:15-16 in context)—not biting Peter’s head off, but explaining the how and the why of what he should already have understood.[47]        

            A good teacher does it all the time—walking a thin balance between encouragement (lest a student’s potential be needlessly destroyed) and total candor (if they’ve done a piece of lousy home work pretending otherwise is never going to fix the problem).[48]  The minister does it in trying to remedy congregational problems.  And the average member has to do it in regard to their own family, fellow church members, and outsiders.  Hence the appropriateness of a prayer for good judgment as well.


            3.  “Love does not envy” (13:4; “is not envious,” ATP; “is not jealous,” GW, NAB, RSV):  It is content with our own abilities and possessions.  This does not rule out [Page 27]   the desire to improve our earthly condition.  It simply rules out begrudging others who already have such things when we don’t.  Envy eats at our soul while doing nothing to better us or remove the root of the discontent.  Jealousy “separates, accentuates differences, and refuses to accept any inequality.”[49]  Even when there is no practical way to remove the differences.

            We can be blind to our own attitude for “envy” and “jealousy” are not mind frames that even the world orientated soul feels comfortable admitting.  Hence the admonition in James 3:14, “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.” 

In other words, don’t pretend its not there.  Others will see it and recognize it even if we do not.  Furthermore, James warns that the presence of “envy and self-seeking” results in “confusion and every evil thing” (verse 16).  It is an ethical corrosive that confounds our moral judgment.  It utilizes anything and everything to gain our goal of obtaining whatever they have (or are) that has spurred our envy.  Obviously the Corinthian congregation already had far too much of this!    

            Envy and jealousy typically carry additional freight.  For some it is a sense of undue inferiority:[50]  “they have it and we deserve it.”  For others it grows out of egotistical superiority and conceit:[51]  “we deserve it but they are the ones who have it.”  We are obviously not so blind to the perceptions of others that we will admit we feel this way.  Instead we grasp their weaknesses and errors—ideally, real ones, but exaggerated ones will do quite nicely in a pinch.  Having grabbed them like a lobster’s claw we then try to pierce the life out of their reputation.  All in the interest of serving truth and candor of course! 


            4.  “Love does not parade itself” (13:4; “boastful,” ATP, NRSV, RSV; “sing its own praises,” GW; “is not pompous,” NAB):  If you have envy and jealously, you are going to inevitably violate this prohibition.  You are either going to be pompous in your dealings with others (to imply that those you are envious of aren’t “really” that important or significant) or you are going to be boastful to make sure they are fully aware of how important you already are in comparison to them. 

The various renderings of this negative characteristic suggest the conspicuous showoff:  “Look how great I am!”  Paul’s earlier admonition in the epistle would have an obvious application in this context as well, “As it is written, He who glories, let him glory in the Lord’ ” (1:31).  In other words this was not a new, distinctly Christian principle; it was an ethical fundamental from Jewish antiquity.

I recall one coworker who knew how to do anything and everything and would even interrupt the supervisor to “help” them teach the employees.  He had also “done” everything imaginable--at least in his imagination.  The sad part was he did have great abilities but he “paraded” his accomplishments so much you could never tell where the real ones ended and the imaginary ones began.  Not to mention antagonizing every one of his coworkers in the process.  The overreaching bragging was destructive of the very respect and recognition he sought.

            The problem with exactly defining the Greek word that is utilized, lies in the fact that it is only used once in the scriptures—here--and only utilized in one secular text as well.  Ceslaus Spicq suggests that what is common to the various forms of the term in Greek seems to be “that of a certain foolishness of spirit and lack of proportion which [Page 28]   becomes evident in arrogant behavior (cf. 4:6) and thoughtless words, ranging from idle frivolity to downright insolence.”[52]   

            In a congregation where a variety of miraculous gifts were being utilized, human pride could easily encourage one to exercise whatever gift they themselves possessed and not care that others had important ones as well.  Anyone else who lacked their’s was, obviously, in some sense quite inferior.[53]  Then there was their pride in clique loyalties (chapter 1) and their strange “glorying” (5:6) in the case of the incestuous church member.[54]  Boastfulness and conceit had gutted their spirituality in more than one area! 

            The same can occur today.  Some churches brag of their “tolerance” and “broad-mindedness” of life-styles that would have been vigorously denounced by Paul.  Short of brazen incest, is there anything such religious bodies won’t “lovingly” (ah, what a misuse of the term!) embrace, endorse, and actively recruit the practitioners of?

            But those of sounder minds aren’t above collective pride either.  “Look at the size of our congregation!  Look at our many ministries!”[55]  Or at the other fringe of the same mind-frame, “We stand so firmly for the truth that it’s cost us half of our members!”  Perhaps it has or perhaps they have misdefined what the “truth” really is.  Or lacked the virtues of love to accompany the genuine truth they hold dear.  (I recall the lady who told me, “I wouldn’t have left the X church if it had been like this congregation.”  Both believed the same, but in one you had the affectionate concern for each other that Paul wished to accompany the truth and in her original location, well there wasn’t all that much of it, truth be told.)


            5.  Love “is not puffed up” (13:5; “arrogant,” GW, NRSV, RSV; “conceited,” ATP, “is not inflated,” NAB):  The previous characteristic concerned the outward manifestation; this one concerns the inward frame of mind that accompanies it.  Or, possibly more accurately, motivates it.[56]  Outwardly he or she is full of bravado and self-praise; inwardly, the person is puffed up with an exaggerated self-opinion of abilities, merits, and character far above anything that can be justified. 

“It does not exhibit an inflated ego,” is the way one commentator rightly describes it.[57]  Reading the description of the Corinthian excesses, we are left with the impression that this was exactly the way Corinthians, at least privately, felt about themselves.[58] 

A physical illustration:  Imagine a balloon before and after it is inflated.  The latter is the mental image held by the person; the former is what is actually justified.  The latter is “puffed up” (literally); the other is the essence of what is really there.  Far less impressive, far less significant, and yet still having great potential.

Twisting the meaning of love beyond its true intent.  Paul is not telling them to put down their own accomplishments and achievements, either temporally or spiritually.  Rather he wishes us to keep them within the limits of a just evaluation.  I once had a boss who was trying to give me a compliment without it going to my  head, “You are the smartest man I know.  But there are also a lot of other smart men in this town.”  I remember that to this day, perhaps because of its combination of praise and realism—the attitude Paul wished the Corinthians to have toward their accomplishments.

The apostle was annoyed by their contempt for others, but it is no less wrong when we aim it at ourselves.  Our accomplishments are worthy of the same respect that we would automatically give others for the same thing.  “While pride is the opposite of love, self-loathing is contrary to the will of God as well.”[59]

[Page 29]

            6.  Love “does not behave rudely (ATP:  act ill-mannered)” (13:5):  Rudeness involves abruptness, pointed remarks or behavior designed to show at least annoyance and often outright disrespect.  There is an element of contempt and acting in a manner we know is beyond the boundaries of what we, in a better frame of mind, would regard as appropriate.  We intend to degrade the other person but in doing so make ourselves look bad.  Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida suggest such elements of excess are present when they define, in their Lexicon, the Greek term used here as meaning “in defiance of social and moral standards, with resulting disgrace and shame.”[60] 

            Such behavior implies that the other person’s feelings and convictions don’t count, only the aggrandizement of one’s own ego.  They are beneath concern; only my own interests and self-satisfaction matter.  The “I” is virtually worshipped and other people no longer matter.[61]  It may be a personality defect in which we have made ourselves the center of the universe and other people satellites that are supposed to revolve around us.  Or it may be that we have an agenda that is so clearly “right” that any obstacle to it must be rolled over and pushed out of the way.[62]

            In a class format, it would be illustrated by the individual who insists on doing all the talking or who arbitrarily cuts others off and treats what every one else has to say as unworthy of being considered.[63]  Personal example:  few things can be more annoying in a Bible class than to suggest an interpretation, have it dismissed, and to find the same folk, a decade later, drooling over a “name” preacher when he suggests it.  (Alright, the “drooling” is an exaggeration.)

            In a business context this moral lack can involve treating one’s “underlings” as mere human tools rather than worthy of respect in their own right.  After all, “you are the boss.”  That is all that counts.  Whether your changes are actually going to produce greater profits is almost an irrelevancy.  If it doesn’t it must be the subordinates’ fault!

The Corinthians (judging from what Paul says in various chapters of this epistle) had been guilty of this sin in regard to partaking of the Lord’s Supper (i.e., not waiting for each other).[64]  Also in not being willing to wait for the others to finish before exercising their own spiritual gifts.  Quite probably in other contexts as well (could their factionalism have possibly avoided causing such?).  In the case of not waiting for each other, one could argue that they were going far beyond “mere” rudeness into showing  contempt—even if others were already there, there was no concern whether they had food to eat or not (1 Corinthians 11:21).

            The self-centered person who is the spawn of the “me generation” or the one who is blessed with far greater financial blessings than most—worse, when the two categories overlap and merge into one—such individuals easily fall into a nonchalance, even a contempt, for what others think.  If there’s a problem with what they have done or said, well it’s other person’s problem not theirs.[65]  Many learn this from the actions of their parents and assume it is normal and appropriate behavior.

But one doesn’t have to be prosperous to act this way; now it’s the characteristic of the arrogant poor and those barely making it as well.  Think “road rage” and its varied equivalents.  Yet when someone rams their car into us for cutting them off or making an obscene gesture at them, we are still harmed--at the best; dead at the worst.  What has all out insulting behavior accomplished?

The fact that Paul includes this as part of his general picture of love, one aimed at [Page 30]   all the church members, argues that widespread behavior of a parallel type—regardless of social or economic strata—was quite common in his day and in Corinth in particular, as it is in ours.

Courtesy is like oil on engine parts:  it enables the engine of society (and a church) to function with minimal turmoil and self-destructiveness.

            Twisting the meaning of love beyond its true intent.  As we study this epistle, we find Paul bluntly critiquing a variety of local moral and spiritual failures.  That wasn’t rudeness—it was candor and the hopeful desire to help them straighten out a huge mess.  Yet today many in our society would regard the censure of the same evils that Paul rebuked as somehow inappropriate public behavior.  Rudeness if not outright bigotry.[66]  Even the idea that God has a plan whereby to be saved and standards to live by to be saved and that we can’t “choose our own way to get to heaven” are often viewed as manifestations of a horrible narrow-mindedness. 

Yet much of the message Paul taught to both members and outsiders was out-of-step with the temper of his times as well.  But it didn’t stop him from saying what needed to be said.  Anything less would have been a lack of love on his part.  And ours.      

            On the other hand, that doesn’t give us carte blanche to be hectoring, annoying, pestering, and a genuine nuisance.[67]  Some will always be annoyed and even outraged at the truth being shared.  But there is no legitimate reason for our behavior--rather than our convictions--to be the root of the problem.  Perhaps the best test is:  How would we react if someone approached us in exactly the same way we approach others?


7.  Love “does not seek its own” (13:5; “does not seek its own interests,” NAB; “does not demand its own way,” ATP; “does not insist on its own way,” NRSV, RSV; “doesn’t think about itself,” GW): 

            Michael J. Gorman notes that the Greek underlying the translation “contains the verb ‘to seek’ and an abbreviated idiomatic phrase ‘seeking one’s own X’ (Greek zetein ta heautou). . . .  The precise missing element in the idiomatic phrase ‘one’s own X’ must be supplied from the context, though the Greek idiom normally refers to one’s own (proper or improper) interests or welfare.”[68]  He notes that in light of the two other places where similar phraseology is used in the epistle (10:23-24 and 10:33)  it “means to seek one’s own advantage, interest, benefit . . . or edification” (our emphasis).[69]  In short seeking either our own temporal or spiritual interests to the exclusion of others.  The latter is especially relevant in light of the discussion of miraculous gifts found in both the preceding and following chapters.          

In a sense we have to “seek out own:  we must have an income, we must have clothes on our back, we must have a roof over our heads.  But we don’t have to seek our own interests at the expense of others.  Yet many regard life as a zero sum game:  I can gain only if you lose.  This was a bed-rock assumption in Greco-Roman society.  Politicians, the socially prominent, and philosophers all strove after honor and respect—and were convinced that your loss had to be their gain.  The more you drove out the “competition,” the more room there was for them.[70]  

In contrast, Paul sees life as one in which there is room for the good and self-advancement of everyone.  Indeed, the words carry the implication that there may be situations in which it is right and proper for you to give up your own legitimate claims in order to be of assistance to someone who stands in even greater need.[71]           

[Page 31]         Paul has certainly described the kind of behavior he is condemning.  “Seek[ing] its own” was unavoidably manifested in the lawsuits they had against each other.  Eating meat sacrificed to idols regardless of its impact was putting personal preferences ahead of the moral obligation to avoid harming their brothers and sisters in Christ.[72]  Especially when it was done to impress others and advance one’s social standing among them. 

            In the spiritual context there was, like the temporal, a natural desire, need, and even obligation to advance their own knowledge and usefulness in the service of the Lord.  But here, too, the line is crossed when we do it to the harm and abuse of others and their spiritual growth.  The Corinthians were clearly vulnerable on the grounds of seeking their own spiritual interests and running over others to do it, as manifested in Paul’s need to put strict limits on how many tongue speakers and prophets could address the group in one service (chapter 14).  It would not seem unjust to infer—in light of their divisiveness—that their clique religious politics utilized these opportunities, resulting in the abuse of members of other groups and the poorer folks in general.


8.  Love “is not provoked” (13:5; “irritable,” GW, NRSV, RSV; “quick-tempered,” ATP, NAB):  Even Jesus got angry upon occasion (Mark 3:5) as did Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16, using the same Greek word found here),[73] but there is a kind of personality that is constantly getting provoked or angered.  Nothing you can do will please them.  Nothing you can say will gain their praise.  It is a mind-frame constantly looking for a fight.  And it is the exact opposing of anything that can be called “love.”  In politics, think of a campaign manager looking for issues to exploit and denigrate the opponent.

            It is hard to read the description of the internal Corinthian divisions without picturing individuals who allowed real or perceived annoyances to feed upon themselves.[74]  Thereby they created a mind-frame constantly expecting to be unjustly criticized and feeling the need to keep others on the defensive by criticizing them first.  It gave them a false sense of being in control but only resulted in making everybody feel miserable beneath their temporary “victories.”

            When we ourselves suffer from this temptation, love is crudely comparable to a leash on a dog who is rambunctious and troublesome, perhaps even borderline dangerous.  We use the leash to keep the dog in line and under control.  In a similar manner, love works to keep us under control.  It curbs our temptation to act on a vindictive impulse or to verbally dump upon them a (lengthy) list of all their faults and failures.[75]  Or perhaps have upon numerous previous occasions. 

Furthermore doesn’t irritability tend to multiple the verbal indignation and minimize the effort to find solutions?[76]  It makes us “feel better”—temporarily—but it has done nothing to keep the problem from arising again.  Indeed, it may further inflame an endless cycle of irritation, a response of irritation in the other person (now or later), causing us to act that way yet again—fueling further cycles of retaliatory language and actions.

            It is easy to defend yielding to such a temptation if it’s only a few words that are ill spoken rather than the kind of detailed lashing out we just described.  After all it didn’t last.  And it won’t the next time.  But, as has been observed, the explosion of a bomb doesn’t last long either—its just cleaning up all the pieces of wreckage that can take forever.[77]  

[Page 32]

9.  Love “thinks no evil” (13:5; “does not keep a record of wrongs suffered,” ATP; “doesn’t keep track of wrongs,” GW; “is not . . . resentful,” NRSV, RSV; “does not brood over injury,” NAB):  John the Baptist rebuked the moral faults of his generation (Luke 3:7-8) so it is hardly likely that Paul was calling for naiveté in regard to either society or particular individuals--when it is justified by the evidence.  Unfortunately there is a mind-frame that interprets everything evilly.  If there are two interpretations possible, the worst one is automatically assumed.  Such is incompatible with true love.  That requires putting the more generous interpretation on what is said or done until the evidence forces a different conclusion.[78]

            “Think no evil” could refer, however, to “think” in the sense of planning evil.  Don’t plan retribution.  Don’t plan “getting even.”  Don’t plan doing harm to others.  In this sense two texts serve as useful commentaries.[79]  Zechariah 8:17 urges, “Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor.”  Premeditation could easily result in the “false oath” that is then immediately condemned.  Psalms 2:1 refers to how “the people plot a vain thing.” 

            A translation, sometimes suggested, would be “keep a record of wrongs.”[80]  (We have adopted something similar in the ATP.)  This translation or intent fits well with its use as a Greek bookkeeping term.[81]  When married couples (or unmarried, for that matter) start “feuding and fighting” one—or both—are likely to unload an extraordinarily long list of every affront they’ve ever received.[82]  People who can’t recall the date of a birthday can suddenly recall in infinite detail an extraordinarily detailed list of offenses.

            Some church members seem to have that same attitude toward each other.  Concerning annoyances and disagreements they seem to have a photographic memory.[83]  Indeed, in the worst cases, they have a better memory—it seems—for your perceived faults than for finding where the Bible teaches its various principles and demands.  They find it just as impossible to forget the faults as they do to remember the scriptures.

Paul’s words move beyond suppressing such bitterness and even beyond forgiveness.  He is suggesting that one strives to so remove it from mind that it will have no impact upon our attitudes and actions in the future.[84]  Those will be created by the new situations that arise rather than being the legacy of past grievances.

Hence the admonition directly has in mind the mentality that once an injustice is done, one never forgets it.  Some cling to memories of their “mistreatment” (both real and imagined) as if they were some sacred medieval relic; this type of person cherishes injustices, grievances, and hatreds just as fervently as if doing them to him or her was doing it to God Himself. 

There is said to be a tribe in Polynesia that hangs from the roof some visible memento to assure that one properly remembers outstanding grievances.  This is their way to assure they are kept alive--indefinitely.[85]  One day perhaps the opportunity for revenge will come—either through direct action against the person or through neglecting to keep harm (financial, physical, social) from coming on them when they are in a position to avert it. 

[Page 33]

10.  Love “does not rejoice in iniquity” (13:6; “does not rejoice at wrong,” RSV; “does not rejoice in wrongdoing,” NRSV; “does not rejoice over wrongdoing,” NAB; “does not find happiness in evil behavior,” ATP; “isn’t happy when injustice is done,” GW):  Some people flat enjoy treating people dirty.  Some individuals, when they speak of what they’ve done, are obsessed with the con they’ve pulled or how they got the “best” of someone else.  Some people can only define their success in life as how many times they came in drunk to their job or how many people they’ve bedded.  And they are going to repeat ad nauseum their “successes” to you whenever they have the opportunity.  This is the mind-frame of “rejoic[ing] in iniquity.”

            It also describes the attitude of those who take pleasure in seeing others do the wrong thing.[86]  (Thiselton insists that Paul is “clearly” referring to this in particular.)[87]  The Corinthians had certainly manifested such pleasure in their acceptance of the case of incest in their congregation.  Richard L. Pratt, Jr. cites 1 Corinthians 5:1, 2, 6 as proof and then adds, “Here Paul revealed that such enjoyment demonstrated a lack of love for the man and woman living in sin. Sin destroys people’s lives, so to rejoice in their sin is to rejoice in their destruction.”[88]  The Corinthians certainly weren’t doing that consciously, but it was the end result of their attitude.  

The result can also be morally corrosive to our own standards, however.  As Paul described it in Romans 1:32 they not only know that some things are so flat out wrong they even deserve death, yet “not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”  This condoning justifies the person in imitating the same behavior.  If one can cite several cases, then one can boast “every one is doing it.”  Which, of course, is never the actual case.

On the other hand, an unquiet pleasure in the evils of others can spring out of the fact that it makes us feel superior to them.[89]  Or because it “vindicates” our low opinion of them:  “How else would you expect such people to act?”  Or simply because we don’t like them and this proves we were “right” in our hostility.

            Of course there is another way one can rejoice in regard to sin:  we can be taking quiet pleasure in the iniquities, the unjust actions, that have been done to them.[90]  Our hands are innocent, but oh how pleasant it can be to see them have their comeuppance!  Think of it as “non-responsible revenge:  we had absolutely nothing to do with the havoc that has hit their life but it’s about time isn’t it? 


11.  Love “rejoices in the truth” (13:6; “rejoices with the truth,” NAB; “is happy with the truth,” GW; “is jubilant with the truth,” ATP; “rejoices at the right,” RSV):  The modern media (especially television) has no room for good news; it only has room for tragedy.  A person may save ten lives by quick and bold action and it will receive a few minutes of local coverage--and, one is almost guaranteed, bare seconds of national mention, if any.  But if that same person goes out and kills ten people it will be the major story throughout the nation for the next week and subject to analysis by learned individuals on dozens of talk shows.  Now, those words were written years ago, before the bursting out of 24 hour a day cable news, yet on non-“all news” networks, the phenomena remains little changed.  And a clear disproportion seems present even on the former.

            On a personal level the attitude means we are happy when the right thing is being said or done--even if the doer must be counted as a personal enemy.  This was the mind-frame Paul tried to live by.  In Philippians 1:16 the apostle Paul speaks of those who “preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my [Page 34]   chains.”  Even so he could express happiness in the fact that “Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (1:18).


            12.  Love “bears all things” (13:7; “never stops being patient,” GW; “is supportive,” ATP):  The Greek here can mean either “to bear,” “to cover with silence,” or “to suppress.” [91]  The latter two can be read as referring to the same mind-frame:  we are silent when we could strike out; we suppress the anger that could hurt ourselves or others.  These are different ways of producing the same result, “bear[ing] all things.”  It is not that we are unaware of what is doing on;[92] rather we are unwilling to allow it to poison our minds with rage and hate.

            Anyone who has lived a few decades who has not been through one or more brazen injustices has accomplished a nearly impossible feat.  Evil is and every so often it rolls over anyone in the way--dismissing their concerns, their objections, even attempting to silence their reservations and objections.  Some of these actions are so obviously wrong that no one outside the practitioner and his/her cronies would even attempt to justify what has happened.

            Other cases may involve some behavior that used to be nearly always condemned as evil but which has now gained its political and social champions.  Perhaps the fall out is censuring us in the company’s official record for daring to refuse to call sin a moral good, perhaps even denying us promotions, and even outright firing us.  Evil is and it does triumph—temporarily.  But God gives us either strength or deliverance or both.  But either way we endure simply because the bottom line is that it is the right thing to do.[93]

Life inevitably has its difficulties, its impediments, its hindrances in our relationships with others--and even in a more abstract sense as well.  One either learns to endure them or one is crushed by them.  Paul argues that it is love that gives us that capacity to survive.  The emphasis in this and the last three characteristics is not how we act but how we react.

            All three possible renderings could also be read with an emphasis on the other person, rather than with an emphasis upon ourselves. We “bear” with our concerns, “silence,” them and “suppress” them as long as we honorably can.[94]  In this case all three would involve different methods of avoiding reading guilt into other people’s behavior before we can be certain there is any.  In the case of the person trying to change for the better, it means we do not give up hope in the constant rollercoaster of “ups” and “downs” that usually accompany any effort at successful reform.[95]


            13.  Love “believes all things” (13:7; “never stops believing,” GW; “always accepts the other’s good intentions,” ATP):  It puts the best possible interpretation on things until the evidence requires the opposite.[96]  This involves not only what is done but why it is done as well.[97]  Some people have acted against us or our interest because they “have it in for us;” others because of circumstances beyond their control.  Which was it—really?

Love is not required to give the “benefit of the doubt” when there is no longer doubt![98]  (The person who is determined to make life miserable is usually going to make it pretty plain, often explicitly to us or other individuals.)  In such cases, being naïve or gullible would be to become a facilitator of their sin of injustice (cf. the admonition of 1 Timothy 5:22 not to “share in the sins of others” [Holman Christian Standard Bible]).  [Page 35]   The Scots used to have—and, I hope, still do--three judicial verdicts:  “Guilty,” “Innocent,” and “Not Proven.”  The latter precludes punishment but implies serious suspicion that the charge is valid.  In such cases, the Christian should adopt the third option until conclusive evidence requires the first.

Describing this as an admonition that must be targeting exclusively either only those who are believers or only those who are unbelievers[99] seems ill advised:  real and merely apparent causes of grievance will come from both groups.  (Think of some of the things the Corinthians had been doing!)

It is a positive form of the “think[ing] no evil” mentioned in verse 5.  It is prejudice in favor of rather than against the person.[100]  It is a lack of suspiciousness.[101]  Some folk assume the worst of their fellow man and make no effort to determine whether the reality is quite what it initially appears to be.  (Even when the judgment is based on second hand information, that has not been confirmed.)  Perhaps Martin Luther said it best, “Excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”[102]

            An unidentified poet once provided a useful commentary on the need to put the best interpretation on the behavior of others (a trait which obviously ties in with the following one as well):[103]


                        ‘Judge not the working of his brain

                        And of his heart thou canst not see.

                        What looks to thy dim eyes a stain,

                        In God’s pure light may only be

                        A scar brought from some well-won-field,

                        Where thou only wouldst faint and yield.


                        The fall thou darest to despise,

                        May be the angel’s slackened hand

                        Has suffered it, that he may rise,

                        And take a firmer, surer stand;

                        Or, trusting less to earthly things,

                        May henceforth learn to use his wings.


                        And judge none lost but wait and see

                        With hopeful pity, not disdain;

                        The depth of the abyss may be

                        The measure of the height of pain

                        And love and glory, that may raise

                        This soul to God in after days.  



            14.  Love “hopes all things” (13:7; “never stops hoping,” GW; “has no limits to its hope,” ATP):  If Paul is discussing our own attitude toward things in which we are personally involved, then he is stressing the need to be optimistic, hopeful for the future, confident of the future.  We are to avoid pessimism like a plague that can destroy us.  (Easier said than done!)  Good will ultimately win out regardless of whether we can calculate how, when, or why.[104]  In the long term, if not the short.

[Page 36]         Hence “hope” can carry us where objective grounds for faith or confidence do not yet exist.[105]  It is not to deny that things are bad—that would be to lie to ourselves—but to know that, with God’s help, they don’t have to stay that way. 

            If Paul has under consideration our mind-frame toward others (and that is far more likely) then he is stressing that we are to have this attitude not toward our own well-being and destiny, but toward that of others.[106]  We may despair of them but yet we never fully give up the hope, the desire, the aspiration, that change may yet, one day, be possible for them.[107]

            Twisting the meaning of love beyond its true intent.  Paul isn’t urging gullibility, however:  A person who claims they have changed may have or may not.  What President Ronald Reagan said of international relations applies well on the individual basis as well, “Trust—but verify.”  And if that involves another who can potentially compromise the safety or welfare of those in our charge—family and children in particular—that is even more so.  Those are divinely given obligations as well. 

You don’t, for example, trust a man convicted of embezzlement with your family’s money before they establish a long record of good behavior.  You may “believe” he’s changed, you certainly “hope” he’s changed—but it would be anything but good judgment to put them in a position where they might yield to the harmful temptation they have in the past.[108]  Especially when there aren’t safeguards in place to minimize any danger.

You don’t prematurely judge the person innocent or guilty, but you know you hope for the former.  But it is on the basis of established behavior that you make your decision.  You don’t “juggle with the evidence” in either direction;[109] you accept reality as it is.  


            15.  Love “endures all things” (13:7; “never gives up,” GW; “never gives up no matter what happens,” ATP):  Paul is not a blind optimist:  he knows from personal experience that bad times can and have come to him (2 Corinthians 11:23-30).  Yet love will not permit one’s faith to crack into pieces or give up in frustration.   If the primary reference is to ourselves, it means we do not let such phenomena destroy our faith; if the reference is to our attitude toward others, then the emphasis is on our not giving up all hope in their reformation even when the odds seem very, very slim. 

It rides out the discouragements.  Even if “hope” has dimmed to near vanishing, “enduring” keeps us aimed in the same direction.  And by that very act of endurance--when situations shift--“hope” can be reborn.  


            Conclusion:  Paul is not dealing with abstract theory in this fifteen point description of love:  the principles serve a very important role in the Corinthian context.  They have been besieged by internal bickering and divisiveness.  Real love--love in practice rather than mere rhetoric--provides a tool to heal the wounds these divisions have left behind and to take the steam out of future disagreements.  Love is a beautiful abstraction; but love in practice will be the solution to the heartaches they have caused each other.[110]    


[Page 37]

            13:8-10:  When miraculous gifts will pass away.  The word “perfect” here is telios and meant, according to the Abott-Smith Manual Lexicon of the New Testament,  having reached its end, finished, mature, complete, perfect.”[111]  In regard to human beings, it carried the usual connotation of full development into complete or perfect maturity.  Alternatively, as, in effect, a synonym for being completely “good” in a moral sense--with the point being that one had that virtue without the overtone of how they had obtained it.  In regard to things rather than people, it conveys the image of completeness or perfection in the sense of it lacking nothing; they ascribe 1 Corinthians 13:10 to that meaning.[112]   

The dominant interpretation of the text is that Paul has in mind the coming of the “perfect” person, Jesus, at His yet future Parousia.[113]  Alternate variants of the same basic idea are that it refers to the coming of the “perfect” world (heaven)[114] or the gaining of the “perfect” life (eternal).[115]  In other words, “the consummation of God’s purposes at the end of history.”[116]

            We have here, however, a very fundamental conceptual difficulty.  Everything pictured from the return of Jesus on is pictured in terms that have to be described as inherently “miraculous” if they are to occur at all:  the resurrection of the dead (of the entire human species!), the destruction of the cosmos, judgment day, eternal life, eternal condemnation.  If these have any objective, concrete reality they will be a perpetual miracle.  Hence, wrapped up in the very fabric of the New Testament presentation of the final destiny of the human race is the reinauguration of the miraculous.  The only way out of this difficulty would appear to be to say that Paul was wrong in asserting that there would be any period without miracles.        

            Hence we need to seek out a rather different time frame for what Paul has in mind. 


The completion of the New Testament canon scenario.  The key to understanding what Paul has in mind is found in the three miraculous gifts he specifically mentions in 13:8:  “prophecies,” “tongues,” and “knowledge.”  What they all have in common is that they were means believed to reveal the Divine will.  Hence “we know in part and we prophesy in part” (13:9); revelation came in bits and pieces.  But when the totality of what was to be revealed had come--when the revelation was made “perfect,” lacking nothing—“then that which is in part will be done away” (13:10).

            Some deny this fundamental premise that miraculous gifts are all that is under discussion.  Drew Worthen notes that worldly knowledge continues to be gained and then adds, “God’s word is complete, neither to be added to, or taken away; but how many Christians in the world can say with confidence that they’ve learned everything about God from His word?  Knowledge continues.”[117] 

            However, Paul is describing Divine revelation in this verse:  “prophecies, tongues, knowledge.”[118]  The first two are questionably such, the third one offers no hint of being anything else.  Paul is discussing the knowledge embedded in that revelation; not our digging knowledge out of that revelation.  

W. E. Vine is convinced that the knowledge, though religious in nature, could just as easily be “acquired from apostolic instruction” as from personal inspiration.[119]  Note how he embodies the shift in the meaning of “knowledge” we just referred to.  This requires a definition being put on “knowledge” different than that found in the first two of the three phenomena.  Not impossible, of course, but improbable.

[Page 38]         Vine defends this shift by referring to 1 Corinthians 14:6, “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?”  Here, Vine notes, knowledge “is distinguished from revelation.”[120]  We run into some semantic problems at this point:  yes, “revelation” is distinguished from knowledge but so is prophesying, yet was not prophesying Divine revelation as well?  The same point can responsibly be made from the inclusion of “teaching”—was he not inspired while he did it?  So, whatever distinction Paul is intending, it is not one to disown the Divine origin/inspiration of the teaching and knowledge and we are back to the kind of teaching being discussed in 13:8.

Furthermore, if the “knowledge” under discussion is that which we obtain by our own intellectual “sweat and blood” it is hardly likely that will ever end while Paul has in mind a type of knowledge that will cease.  Having ruled out it being “knowledge” gained by our own work, then we are returned to the kind of “knowledge” that fits best with the first two items in Paul’s list—Divinely given revelation that ultimately resulted in the books of what we (retroactively) have called the New Testament. 

            Hence it is far more likely that Paul is looking toward a day when all that needed to be revealed would have been received.[121]  At that point, the need for revelation would be completed and those gifts of the Spirit making it possible and confirming its validity could pass away without harm.  The New Testament itself speaks in terms of being/becoming a completed system (Jude 3, for example).     

Whether one embraces this particular approach or not, there can be no question that the apostle is looking to the day when the miraculous manifestations will cease.  The only real question is at what chronological point it was to occur in his thinking.  And that is incompatible with any interpretation referring it to the return of Jesus and the related events since that will, in his and other New Testament thinking, represent the “reinaguration” of an age of miracles. 

            (Those who dismiss the reliability of Paul’s teaching will regard such a future as improbable if not impossible.  On the other hand, when we are engaged in the exegesis of Pauline and other New Testament teaching it is vital to understand the type of interpretation such writers would have placed upon their teaching, whether or not we accept their premises and conclusions.)

            A number of other objections have been made to the type of interpretation we have suggested.  One objection comes from the mistake of equating the cessation of miraculous revelation as coming immediately with the closing of the canon.[122]  If we assume that some writings of apostolic and prophetic origin have not been preserved, then we should have no difficulty in also granting the temporary continuation of such gifts after the canon was completed.  In neither scenario would what Divine providence considered necessary for the canon be affected.  Truth need be said only once to be “complete” on a given matter; repetition should be counted as a blessed luxury. 

            The argument can also be challenged from the opposite standpoint:  Repeatedly the New Testament acts and speaks as if the sum and total of Divine truth were already in their possession (Jude 3, for example)--at dates before the canon was completed.  This should not be all that surprising either.  “Revelation,” as described in the New Testament, was both situation driven and working toward the end of a comprehensive system.  Until all the desired contingencies were covered in writings available to the faith community, it [Page 39]   would still be needful even though the basic outline—even the bulk of the details--was already available.  Not necessarily yet written down, but available.      

            Another significant objection to the “canon interpretation” lies in the vagueness of Paul’s time frame:  he is very indefinite as to when that “perfect” would arrive.[123]  Assuming Paul wrote in the mid-50s, even accepting the traditional attributions of the New Testament, there would be at least a decade or two more before the last volume was written.  The Apocalypse is usually dated in the 90s (though I prefer a much earlier date) and that would be four decades afterwards.  Assuming any of the New Testament books are of that late an origin, then the vagueness would be even more appropriate.  (Much of modern religious scholarship attributes segments to a date even later than this, though one can’t help but suspect that this is as much their theology creating the conclusion as any evidence that is introduced.)

            The related objection that Paul exhibits no indication that he regards himself as writing near the end of the canon compositional period,[124] seems a rather strange one to this analyst.  Assuming the last book was written c. 68 A.D. then you have c. 15 years before the end and if you date it c. 93 you are speaking of c. 40 years.  He wasn’t near the end of the compositional period in the latter case and the terminology is a bit “iffy” even in the shorter time frame. 

Furthermore, why would Paul give an indication, at all, of where he stood in the revelationary chain?  Remember that it is just a passing remark to reinforce his teaching on the enduring importance of love and not the central thrust of his argument!  Historically, he wasn’t nudging its end and from the standpoint of his argument he never claims that he was.  An argument based on what Paul does not claim in the first place seems an odd one indeed.

            The same commentator makes a better argument from the fact that when the “perfect” arrived, then Christians would no longer “see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face” and would no longer “know (only) in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (13:12).  He takes this and argues, “After the Bible was completed, Christians did not see God ‘face to face’ (only ‘face to book’!) or know Him to the degree that He knew them.”[125] 

But they did have—if one believes the New Testament claim that there would be a complete revelation of the Divine will (John 16:13-15)—the full disclosure of everything God ever intended to tell humans about Himself.  (At least in the current world!)  If one wishes to read into 13:12 a degree of comprehension of Deity above and beyond the intellectual—some kind of mystical or miraculous insight?--one must wonder whether that will even be possible after the return of Christ (where the objector thinks it will occur).[126]  Can the human being; will the human being ever be granted such insight and unity with the Divine?  I have no idea of the right answer to that, though I lean in the direction of skepticism.  Perhaps God will “open up” or somehow “transform” our brain to make it possible.  But perhaps not as well. 


            The church scenario:  the coming to “adulthood,” the coming to maturity and completion of the development of the church.   As to chronological timing, one would expect little difference between the ending of the New Testament canon and the church reaching its full spiritual development.[127]  What came after was either the constructive evolution of the church’s full development or an apostasy (or apostasies) [Page 40]   away from it--according to one’s evaluation of the genuineness of “Christian spirituality” as of a few centuries later and of today, for that matter.  Answered either way, the initial moral/spiritual completing surely had to have been when the full revelation of God’s will was available that made such maturity possible.  Indeed if the church wasn’t spiritually mature / “complete” by that time, why would we ever expect it to occur? 

            Some, however, attempt to postpone the church coming into this state until a much later time frame.  Michael J. Gorman, for example, insists it will occur at the “parousia and resurrection. . . .   This will be when the church . . . reaches its maturity.”[128]  This might, perhaps, be described as the time of the end of the church, as it blends into the redeemed who were part of God’s people before there was either Christianity or the church.  But to describe it as the point of “maturity” seems out of place.  If the church had not reached that stage centuries earlier—at least—had it not been a colossal failure?  And if it had not reached that stage earlier why in the world would one anticipate that it would ever do so?  The physical appearing of Jesus is, somehow, going to change the essence and nature of the church? 

Gorman may have in mind, however, the church reaching its final goal—of having “completed the race” to heaven.  Having “run all the way.”  Ideas that can play off the meaning of “perfect” in our text.  But this requires a redirection of the passage from its subject (revelation) to the recipients of the revelation (the church) and their being brought to “completion” in a chronological rather than spiritual sense.  So even this approach requires a double shift in the meaning of the terminology to make it fully work. 

            Donald G. McDougall argues that the desire of Paul that is being expressed is that the church “reach the maturity of unity.”  What wonderful idealism!  Having reached an awful lot of years in age, though, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Having seen so much of the disunity today and finding absolutely nothing in the past precedent of church history to suggest that the situation will be any different at the return of Christ—at least above the strictly congregational level and often not even then—I find it hard to believe that the world knowledgeable Paul would ever seriously suggest such a thing.  Unless it was a way to say that the gifts would never end, since they would always be needed.  Which would undermine the very argument of 13:10 that they would cease.  

Having examined the arguments for the “church maturity” approach and seen their weaknesses, let us pass to arguments concretely against it.  For example, Robert Hommel lodges two major objections to the church maturity approach.  The first is that, “While teleion can mean ‘a state of maturity’ when speaking of a person, there are no other New Testament examples of it carrying this meaning when used of a collective group or abstract noun (which must be inferred as ‘church’ in this interpretation).”[129]

            He also finds it conceptually difficult to make this approach fit verse 12’s claim that only “ ‘at that time’ (i.e., when ‘the perfect’ comes), he will ‘know fully.’  It does not seem reasonable to understand Paul to be saying that he expected to live to see the maturity of the church and then to ‘know fully,’ ” apparently quoting the NASB.[130]  We would expect the full knowledge to precede the maturation of the church or to be roughly simultaneous.  On the other hand the belief that both the completion of the canon and the full proper development of the church were virtually at the same time, would seem to remove this difficulty rather than it being a hint that the second coming is in mind.  

[Page 41]

The personal scenario:  the individual completion of spiritual development.   In this approach, Paul does not have in mind the ending of miracles, but the end of their importance in the spiritual development of each believer.  To have the supernatural gifts is fine and Paul discusses their manifestations in both the previous and the following chapters; even more useful is to have love. 

            “Perfect” can equally properly be translated as “mature, complete, whole.”  Whatever gifts one did possess (and it appears that it was rarely more than one gift per person), no one individual ever had the full array of miraculous powers:  he or she never had the “whole” or the “complete” collection.  But they could have love in all its manifestations; in that they could be “mature, complete, whole.”[131]   

When the Corinthians had that fully developed love, they would no longer need miracle working manifestations of the Spirit in any form.[132]  They would recognize that love was all they needed and, therefore, was superior to such gifts.[133]  Hence the miraculous gifts would not vanish, but be put in their proper perspective. 

Yet it is odd that if this is Paul’s point, that he singles out only those gifts of the Spirit that were means of revealing the Divine will.  Unless--unlikely as it seems to this particular commentator--that Paul is suggesting that when we possess a fully developed love further revelation of God’s will is unneeded.  When that kind of love is present we have imbedded in our living essence the core of its purpose.  And when we have that central message down pat, all else is but “commentary” upon it.  Admittedly, excellent sermonic material but I question it as exegesis of Paul’s intent.

            Placing them in their proper perception was certainly one of Paul’s goals.  But he speaks in terms of the gifts “ceasing,” “vanishing,” and “failing” (13:8).  That goes far beyond merely putting them in their proper perspective.  It is the gifts that cease, that vanish, that are specified as being lost, not the Corinthians’ false emphasis on them in place of love. 

In other words, they have no control over this—it is going to happen.  So, yes, they had better start looking at the gifts from a balanced perspective.  Not merely because love is so important, but because the day is coming when the gifts won’t be around at all to fall back upon.

             The argument, however, could equally well be constructed to mean that when the Corinthians in general (as representative of Christians in general) put love first, then the gifts would vanish.  (To speak “universally” is so rarely true of any group of Christians that that is not a reasonable, real world scenario.)         

            That, however, would put revelation under the control of humankind and not God.  Instead of having a terminal point in mind, He would be morally obligated to continue so long as many (most?) of His people had not embraced love.

Furthermore, having spoken so highly of both the prophetic gift and speaking in  tongues, would it not be regarded as rather odd if the “reward” for full love was to be denied them?  If a person has to choose between “direct contact with the supernatural” (so to speak) and full love, would a person choose love?  Should a person chose love, which substitutes a “second hand” connection with the supernatural to the “direct exposure” found in the miraculous gifts of chapter 12? 

            Even ignoring this, there is a further difficulty in this approach  The realist can hardly avoid wondering whether any human being can ever master more than some of the aspects of love, strive as we may.  Do we not but “touch the hem of the garment,” even when we give it our best effort?  If so, would the “gifts” ever pass away as predicted?   

[Page 42]

Were tongues to vanish before supernatural revelation via prophecy and knowledge?   Another subject of controversy in regard to these verses is whether Paul is speaking of all three miraculous gifts ending at the same time.  That is how it is normally interpreted by both friends and foes of the modern charismatic movement, but it has been strongly argued that the text distinguishes between the time when tongues vanish and when the other phenomena disappear.

            Prophecies “will fail” and knowledge “will vanish away.”  Both render the same Greek word, katargeo.  In contrast tongues are to “cease,” pauo.  Robert Hommel is one of those who sees great significance in this,[134] 


Katargeo is in the passive voice, indicating that the coming of the "perfect" is the cause of the "partial" passing away.  Tongues, however, will cease of themselves.  Pauo is in the Greek middle voice, which is defined as "an action taken by the subject upon him, her, or itself" (Friberg).  Thus, tongues will "cease" of themselves--not as a direct result of "the perfect" coming.  If this is the case, Paul is not speaking definitively about when tongues will cease--only that when "the perfect" comes, tongues will no longer be operative in the church.  "The perfect" will do away with prophecy and knowledge; but tongues will have ceased at some point prior to that event.



In other words, even if we successfully establish that “the perfect” is an actual reference to the return of Christ (or something conceptually identical in meaning and chronology), tongues would still have disappeared at some earlier point.  Only the supernatural gifts of prophecies and knowledge would remain to be permanently removed.   

            Hommel concedes that one could object that Paul’s use of “done away” (“fail” and “vanish away” in the NKJV) being in the passive voice while the tongues being said to “cease” (middle voice) might be stylistic differences of the apostle and unintended to have an impact on the verse’s interpretation.  On the other hand, he insists, Paul’s care in his choice of language and how he uses it both here and elsewhere, argues strongly that the distinction is intended to make a differing point and not be a variant way of saying the same thing.[135]  

            Some go so far as to dismiss an alleged distinction between “fail/vanish away” and the fate of tongues to “cease” as assuming a terminological significance when there need be done.  Donald G. McDougall, who makes plain he doesn’t really want to get involved in a controversy on this point, responds that dismissing the argument in this manner seems clearly inappropriate “since Paul has no compunction about using katargeo four times in verses 8-11 while only using pauo only once.[136]  In other words, when one word is dominant, the substitution of a different one requires the change to have significance.

            Perhaps, but earlier in this chapter I originally used the same phrase four or perhaps five times in a matter of two paragraphs—within roughly a six sentence space.  I  had to rework the text several times in order to introduce verbal variety into the

[Page 43]   wording—though the substitutions were intended to make exactly the same point.  Why?  One of the few “writing rules” I remember from my youth is to avoid over usage of the same word or expression.  So, at least to a person like me, it does not seem all that unnatural if Paul wished to vary his language as a trait of good authorship.  Perhaps others will judge the matter differently. 

            True as the distinction in Paul’s language clearly is (though its significance is definitely debatable), there remains a not inconsiderable problem:  how in the world would tongue speaking “cause itself” to come to an end?  One can imagine situations in which it could be discredited whether it had come to an end or not—by its widespread use by heretical groups, for example.  However, this would more likely produce only greater caution and the demand for the clearest cut evidence that the phenomena was real, rather than its blanket rejection.  And this would still not be it ceasing on its own, as the argument insists would occur.  It would be a (partial) ceasing because of their misuse. 

            Furthermore the language of “cause itself” carries the clear overtone of self-control, volition.  But tongues are not in control of themselves; they are a gift of the Holy Spirit.  Would not the giver of the tongues (the Spirit) be the one to eliminate the tongues just as the Spirit would eliminate the supernaturally given prophecy and knowledge?[137]  And if the Spirit does it, why and on what basis, while maintaining the existence of other miraculous gifts?  These difficulties, however, brings us back to the real likelihood of both Greek words being used here, effectively, as synonyms and referents to the same point in time.    

            Before departing our digression on the possible distinction of prophecies and knowledge as versus the fate of speaking in tongues, it should be noted that the first two are linked with the word katargeo describing what will be done to remove them (“will fail/vanish away,” NKJV).  It has been argued that this emphatically understresses the significance of katargeo.  Its basic meaning is “to render inoperative or invalid, to abrogate, abolish” and others go so far as say “destroy.”[138] 

The second point is that, since all three uses of this verb in verses 8 and 10 are passive, they denote that the action upon the respective nouns—prophecies and knowledge—is achieved by something outside themselves.”[139] Hence to render “will pass away” seriously understates what is going on.  “They will be made to go away” or “they will be removed from humans” more precisely captures the thought.    

            The NKJV’s rendering touches on the edge of the idea but most others do not seem to bring out this element much better.  In regard to prophecy, however, there are the emphatic “done away” (Darby, Rotherham) and “done away with” (ISV, Weymouth).  In regard to knowledge, there is the rendering “done away” (Darby,  NASB, Rotherham), “done away with” (ISV), and “brought to an end” (Weymouth).  Each brings out this overtone better than more traditional readings. 



            13:13:  Do all three enduring entities (“faith, hope, love”) continue into eternity or just love?  This is a controversy relevant to both those who contend that the gifts end at the return of the Messiah and those who contend they ended in the first century.  According to Paul, after the “prophecies,” “tongues” and “knowledge” have “vanish[ed] away” (13:9), three things abide:  “faith, hope, love” (13:13).  W. B. Harris, who adopts the interpretation that Paul has in mind the first two ceasing at the end of [Page 44]   earth time, struggles with the problem this presents, “It is very difficult to suppose that faith and hope still remain after the End has come, in view of 2 Corinthians 5:7, where faith is contrasted with sight, and Romans 8:24-25, where hope is similarly contrasted.”[140] 

He sees three possibilities:  (1)  that Paul is talking about how these three continue in the current age regardless of whether we personally possess any of the miraculous gifts; (2) that Paul is adopting a kind of verbal “formula” rather than expressing a literal truth; (3) that in some sense faith and hope survive the Parousia.[141] 

In potential favor of the “verbal formula” scenario is the fact that Paul joins the three together in various other texts as well.  Craig Blomberg, though leaning to the eternal survival of all three, lists 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; Colossians 1:4-5; Ephesians 1:15-18.[142]

Now abide faith, hope, love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  If you believe that all three continue on into eternity, then “now” is used to introduce the wrapping up of Paul’s argument.[143]  In effect, “Our conclusion is that faith, hope, love are what survive and not the miraculous gifts.”  But even that does not explicitly say for how long—the rest of the life of the world only or also into the realm that will take the place of this earthly one?    

It has been argued that since love never fails (13:8) that love must carry over into the next life and since everything else must, by implication, “fail,” then so do faith and hope, ending when this world does.[144]  But there is the assumption that even love carries over into the next life; 13:13 doesn’t say any such thing.  It is directly only discussing events in the current world, leaving the issues of continuance or cessation in eternity questions that are not answered directly and explicitly.  Hence our judgment in regard to all three must, ultimately, be inferential. 

Furthermore, we have a profound problem with the language that is utilized to prove the stopping of faith and hope in the next world:  Faith becomes sight and hope becomes present “real life” in the next world, but the term “fails” hardly seems to fit either change.  “Fulfillment,” perhaps; “fail,” no.  Hence the language doesn’t fit with their ending along with the current physical cosmos. 

            In behalf of faith and hope continuing into eternity is how we define those terms.  True, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) but isn’t there a difference between that and faith in someone, in this case Christ and God?[145]  Are faith in that sense is going to vanish?  Would Paul have expected it to? 

In behalf of faith and hope abiding only in the current cosmos are two basic arguments.

            The first is that “abide” is in the present tense:  “Thus, Paul meant that ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ existed at the time he wrote, not that they would always continue to exist.”[146]  The problem is that Paul writes, “Now abide (present tense) faith, hope, love.”  If the present tense requires the first two to be only for this world, why not the love as well?  Of we could flip the argument over and argue, as W. E. Vine does, that abide “is purposely in the singular number, as faith, hope, love are one group, a triplet, indissociable in their permanency.”[147]  In other words, as a triad unit, all survive the same length of time.  Forever.  Literally.

            One could rebut this by noting that “love never fails” (13:8) but is he talking about in this life or into all eternity?  Yet if one argues (rightly) that this means eternity, when we come to “now abide faith, hope, love” why would Paul intermingle two

[Page 45]   temporary abilities with one eternal?  Wouldn’t we expect them all to be one or the other?

            A more powerful argument against faith and hope enduring is found in Romans 8:24:  “hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?”  When what has been hoped for has been obtained, there is no need for further “hope;” it is now a reality.[148]

            On the other hand will there be nothing to be hoped for in heaven?  True the object(s) would be different than those we currently have, but would the mind-frame no longer be present?  As we discover the intricacies of our new world, will there not be things that would be pleasant to have or enjoy or see but which we do not currently?  To remove that response, would require not merely a transformation of our bodies (promised in chapter 15) but a fundamental reordering of our brain processes as well. 

Will God put our minds, so to speak, in a vise to keep the desire for something different from evolving?  Remember, the things Paul regarded as right to hope for were honorable and moral.  Within those boundaries, there are a multitude of options on earth.  There won’t be in heaven?  Different hopes, yes; but hopes nonetheless.  Most likely.  “Most likely” simply because it’s the type of thing not really provable one way or another until we get there.

Will there be no room for faith either?  What we had faith would occur will have been accomplished, of course.  But will there be no new commitments by God that are not performed immediately and which we must wait for for one good reason or another?  Barring a purely static (which means stagnant) society, it is hard to see how it would be otherwise.   









[1] Constable, 145, appears to be moving in this direction without making it explicit.


[2] Worthen, 1 Corinthians.


[3] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin.  “The Most Excellent Way,” 3-4.


[4] W. Graham Scroggie, The Love Life:  A Study of 1 Corinthians 13 (London:  Pickering & Inglis, Ltd., 1935), 24.


[5] As quoted by Guzik, Commentaries:  1 Corinthians 13.    


[6] Worthen, 1 Corinthians. 


[7] Richard J. Krejcir, “1 Corinthians 13:1-3,” part of the Into Thy Word website.  At:

columnid=3803 [March 2011]. 


[8] Ibid.


[9] Vine, Corinthians, 179.


[Page 49]   [10] Thiselton, Corinthians:  Shorter Commentary, 218.


[11] Blomberg, 259.


[12] William Harris, “St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:  Interpretation and Re-Interpetation.”  At: Corinthians.html [March 2011].  He refers the interested reader to the detailed description of VitruviusOn Architecture (28 B.C.) and provides a lengthy extract from it, though the text quoted seems to make the physical placement in the theater, at least partly, significantly different from this. 


[13] Ibid. 


[14] Ibid.


[15] Ibid.


[16] Vine, Corinthians, 179.


[17] Thiselton, Corinthians:  Shorter Commentary, 218.


[18] William Harris, “St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13.”


[19] As summed up by Frank J. Matera, New Testament Ethics:  The Legacies of Jesus and Paul (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 152.


[20] Worthen, 1 Corinthians. 


[21]  Matera, 152-153.  For another listing of their transgressions that violated love, see Gorman, Apostle, 274.


[22] Thrall, 93.    


[23] Spicq, 148.   


[24] Tizard, 42-43.


[25] As quoted by Raymond Bryan Brown, 333.       


[26] Barrett, Corinthians, 302.   


[27] W. B. Harris, 172.   


[28] Accepted as the best reading by, among others Orr and Walther, 291, and  Price, 805.  For an analysis of the textual evidence in behalf of the two possibilities and a discussion of how the difference may have arisen, see Bridges, 92-94.        

[Page 50]   

[29] Orr and Walther, 291.   


[30] Parry, 143.        


[31] Parry, 143, rejects the linkage to this event as hardly likely to have been in Paul’s mind.  On the other hand, the apostle certainly had a profound knowledge of the Old Testament and had himself suffered much.  With that literary and personal background, it is reasonable to believe that such a linkage might have existed.  That they had suffered--and triumphed, as he had so far--would have been of immense comfort to the apostle.        


[32] Hughes, 274; MacGorman, 140. 


[33] Nelson, 149.   


[34] Spicq, 150.   


[35] Lewis B. Smedes, Love Within Limits:  A Realist’s View of 1 Corinthians 13 (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 3.


[36] Worthen, 1 Corinthians. 


[37] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin., “The Most Excellent Way,” 6.


[38] Smedes, 7.


[39] Montague, 166.   


[40] Thiselton, Corinthians:  Shorter Commentary, 221.


[41] Greg Laurie, The Upside Down Churh ([N.p.]:  Tyndale, 1999), p. 169.


[42] Spicq, 151.


[43] Cf. Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin, “The Most Excellent Way,” 7.


[44] For a description of specific examples, see Deffinbaugh, “What Is This Thing Called Love?”


[45] Laurie, 171.


[46] Cf. Worthen, 1 Corinthians. 


[47] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin.  “The Most Excellent Way,” 7.

[Page 51]

[48] Smedes, 17.


[49] Ibid., 152.


[50] Stephen Lewis, “Love As a Way of Life:  1 Corinthians 13:1-13” (2007), 2.  At: [February 2011].


[51] J. B. Fernandes, Becoming Christ (Bandra, Mumbai, India:  St. Paul’s Press, 1986; 12th printing, 2004), 66.


[52]Ibid., 153.   


[53] Worthen, 1 Corinthians,  speaking of a goodly number in modern churches who claim to possess such gifts.


[54] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin, “The Most Excellent Way,” 8.


[55] Cf. Deffinbaugh, “What Is This Thing Called Love?”


[56] Stephen Lewis, 2.


[57] Gordon Lyons, 161.


[58] Ibid., 154.   


[59] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin, “The Most Excellent Way,” 9.


[60] Quoted by Blomberg, 259.


[61] Ted Scroder, “1 Corinthians 13 Series,” at the People of website.  At: [February 2011].


[62] Cf. Ibid.


[63] Cf. Hargreaves, 173. 


[64] Worthen, 1 Corinthians. 


[65] Laurie, 174.


[66] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin.  “The Most Excellent Way,” 9-10.


[67] Deffinbaugh, “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

[Page 52]

[68] Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity:  Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 158.


[69] Ibid., 158-159.


[70] Witherington, Conflict, 270.


[71] Montague, 167.


[72] Worthen, 1 Corinthians. 


[73] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin, “The Most Excellent Way,” 10-11


[74] Spicq, 156.   


[75] Fernandes, 70.


[76] Shepherd, 71.


[77] Cf. Steven J. Cole, “What Love Looks Like” (February 1995), 5.  At: [February 2011].


[78] Nelson M. Smith, 37.


[79] Ibid., 156-157.  


[80] Ellingworth and Hatton, 296.  Cf. Lenski, 558. 


[81] Stephen Lewis, 2.


[82] Cole, 6.


[83] Deffinbaugh, “What Is This Thing Called Love?”  


[84] Montague, 167-168.   


[85] Guzik, Commentaries:  1 Corinthians 13.    


[86] Gordon Lyons, 161.


[87] Thiselton, Corinthians:  Shorter Commentary, 224.


[88] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin, “The Most Excellent Way,” 11.


[Page 53]   [89] A. A. Van Ruler, The Greatest of These Is Love (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), 60.


[90] Fernandes, 67.


[91] Grosheide, 307.  How to best render this into English has led to much discussion and considerably varying translations.  For a discussion of these and their weaknesses see Ralph P. Martin, Spirit, 51. 


[92] Montague, 169.  


[93] Gordon Lyons, 162.


[94] Cf. Spicq, 159.


[95] Cf. Montague, 169.   


[96] Bruce, Corinthians, 127, and Gordon Lyons, 162.


[97] Chafin, 165.


[98] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin, “The Most Excellent Way,” 12.


[99] Gordon Lyons, 162.


[100] Spicq, 159.   


[101] Scroggie, 46, and Stephen J. Ord, Not I but Christ (Wheaton, Illinois:  Crossway Books, 1995), 116.


[102] As quoted by Lenski, 560-561. 


[103] Fernandes, 68.


[104] Spicq, 159.   


[105] Scroggie, 48.


[106] Lenski, 561. 


[107] Constable, 147.


[108] Making this general point but not in this manner is Richard L. Pratt, Jr., “The Most Excellent Way,” 6.


[Page 54]   [109] Scroggie, 48.


[110] On the importance of this teaching on love to a church divided such as Corinth see Sandmel, 87.  


[111] Page 442, as quoted in Donald G. McDougall, “Cessationism in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12,” in The Master’s Seminary Journal (volume 14, number 2 [Fall 2003]), 201.  At: [January 2011, February 2011].


[112] As summarized from the same source by McDougall, 201-202.


[113] For examples of this approach, see, for example, Mare, 269; Ralph P. Martin, Spirit, 53; Parry, 145; McFadyen, 184; and Susan K. Hedahl and Richard P. Carlson, “An Exegetical Analysis of 1 Corinthians 13,” in Preaching 1 Corinthians 13, edited by Susan K. Hedahl and Richard P. Carlson ([N.p.]:  Chalice Press, 2001), 24.                         


[114] Raymond Bryan Brown, 374; Bruce, Corinthians, 128; Ewert, 154; Price, 808; E. H. Robertson, 83.          


[115] Blomberg, 260; Conzelmann, 226.  Frederick C. Grant, 99, refers to it as “the realm of final reality.”      


[116] Baird, Urban Culture, 55.   


[117] Worthen, 1 Corinthians. 


[118] McDougall, 195, in what appears to have been one of those textual inconsistencies we authors can easily fall into inadvertently, first argues at the beginning of one paragraph that “tongues appears here between two other arguably revelatory gifts.”  However, at the start of the next paragraph he describes them all as “three revelatory gifts.”    


[119] Vine, Corinthians, 183.


[120] Vine, Corinthians, 183.


[121] Among those who equate the “perfect” with the New Testament are Gromacki, Called, 163; Blaiklock, Excellence, 33-34; Boyer, 125-126; and Lipscomb and Shepherd, 172. 


[122]MacGorman, 141; Mare, 268-269. 


[123]Mare, 269. 


[124] Blomberg, 260. 


[125] Blomberg, 260.

[Page 55]

[126] Blomberg, 260.


[127] Robert Hommel, “The Apologist’s Bible Commentary:  1 Corinthians 13.”  At: [January, February 2011].


[128] Gorman, Apostle, 274-275.


[129] Hommel, “1 Corinthians 13.” 


[130] Ibid.


[131] Bratcher, Guide, 128, who argues that it is the “love” that is complete that is under consideration.


[132] MaccGuiggan, 176.  For a more lengthy presentation of his intriguing scenario as well as a critique of the “completed revelation” approach see 253-262. 


[133] Ellis, 99.   


[134] Hommel, “1 Corinthians 13.”  Constable, 148, makes the same argument, but explicitly with the return of Christ being the point that prophecy and knowledge is brought to an end.


[135] Hommel, “1 Corinthians 13.” 


[136] McDougall, 196.


[137] Ibid., 198-199 makes the same basic point at length but with God mentioned in place of the Holy Spirit.


[138] As quoted by Ibid., 197.


[139] Ibid.


[140] W. B. Harris, 175.


[141] Ibid., 175-176.   


[142] Blomberg, 260.


[143] Scroggie, 82.


[144] Witherington, Conflict, 272.


[Page 56]   [145] “If by faith we mean trust in God, confidence in God, dependence upon God, surely this will never cease; the clearer vision will issue in more perfect trust, in a confidence which no shadow of doubt shall ever cross.”  So writes Erdman, 56.


[146] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin, “The Most Excellent Way,”17.


[147] Vine, Corinthians, 186.


[148] Richard L. Pratt, Jr., and Ra McLaughlin, “The Most Excellent Way,” 17.