1 Corinthians Chapter 13 (in toto)

Chapter 13 is quite short, so we’ll consider as a single unit. As there are sixteen chapters in this letter, we are, numerically, three-quarters of the way through.  Of course, there is no real significance to this, but it is gratifying to see progress towards an end.

1 Ἐὰν ταῖς γλώσσαις τῶν ἀνθρώπων λαλῶ καὶ τῶν ἀγγέλων, ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω, γέγονα χαλκὸς ἠχῶν ἢ κύμβαλον ἀλαλάζον.

If in the tongues of men I speak, and of angels, but I do not have love, I become I sound like brass or tinkle like cymbals.

No doubt this is the most popular and most recognized passage in all of Paul. How many times have I heard this read at weddings? And justifiably so, because it is a beautiful piece of writing. The thought is wonderful, and quite possibly encapsulates what a lot of people think when they think of Christianity. Or, at least, it is what I think of and I wish it came more to the mind of others.

Now a word about << ἀγάπη >>. Of course the word means ‘love’; but which love? Well, it’s not sexual desire; that is ‘eros’. It’s not brotherly love, or dispassionate love, like the love of wisdom or of stamp collecting. That is philo-, as in Philadelphia, or philo-sophia, or phila-tely. It’s some other kind of love. One thing I did not realize is that this is largely a word of the NT. It does not appear in the works of profane ancient authors, per Liddell and Scott. The Latin translation is “caritas”, which comes from the word for heart. The Greek root for heart is “kardio”. The Latin is what gives us our word ‘charity’, and I think that’s probably a pretty good start. In fact, the KJV renders this as ‘charity’. Unfortunately, ‘charity’ has come to mean the assistance one gives to the poor; however, I think that is a good sense. We give because we love our fellow humans and wish to assist them.

I would really like to say that this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote this. Unfortunately, I cannot do that, because I don’t actually know that. No one really knows that. The best we can do, I think, is go back to the KJV, and trace the development of the word ‘charity’. This is a Christian word, and it has come to be defined in terms of later Christian thought on this.

1 Si linguis hominum loquar et angelorum, caritatem au tem non habeam, factus sum velut aes sonans aut cymbalum tinniens.

2 καὶ ἐὰν ἔχω προφητείαν καὶ εἰδῶ τὰ μυστήρια πάντα καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γνῶσιν, καὶ ἐὰν ἔχω πᾶσαν τὴν πίστιν ὥστε ὄρη μεθιστάναι, ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω, οὐθέν εἰμι.

And if I have prophecy, and I know all the mysteries and all the knowledge, and if I have all the faith as to move mountains, and I do not have love, I am nothing.

Just a quick comment: “mysteries” here does not mean the whodunit sort of thing. We’ve come across this before; it’s the term for religious rites, kept secret except to the initiated. So he’s saying if he’s a devotee of all the ancient mystery religions, such as Isis worship, or the Eleusynian mysteries, or any of the many others, and he’s been initiated into their secret rites, he’s still nothing without love.

2 Et si habuero prophetiam et noverim mysteria omnia et omnem scientiam, et si habuero omnem fidem, ita ut montes transferam, caritatem autem non habuero, nihil sum.

3 κἂν ψωμίσω πάντα τὰ ὑπάρχοντά μου,καὶ ἐὰν παραδῶ τὸ σῶμά μου ἵνα καυχήσωμαι, ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω, οὐδὲν ὠφελοῦμαι.

And if I feed all that I have, and if I give over my body in order to be burned, and I do not have love, I am not profited.

I don’t know if I need to comment further on this. The meaning is so plain, and has been made so clear through so many repetitions, that I doubt I can add much to this.

3 Et si distribuero in cibos omnes facultates meas et si tradidero corpus meum, ut glorier, caritatem autem non habuero, nihil mihi prodest.

4 Ἡ ἀγάπη μακροθυμεῖ, χρηστεύεται ἡ ἀγάπη, οὐ ζηλοῖ, [ἡ ἀγάπη] οὐ περπερεύεται, οὐ φυσιοῦται,

Love is patience; love is kind; it is not contentious (lit = ‘it does not compete’), love is not vain, it is conceited.

Just about the Greek: first, note that ‘love is patience’, not ‘patient’.  Second, the ‘love is kind’ and ‘love is vain’ should be rendered as verbs. Love is not kinding; love is not vaining. But that doesn’t work in English. And “love does not compete” is probably a reading that you’ve never quite encountered, but that really is the sense of the word. We’ve run across it before: it can mean envy, or jealousy, or even to emulate someone. But the ’emulation’ is done in order to compete with them. Hence, ‘love does not compete’.  I changed it to ‘it is not contentious’ because that does get the sense of the original, even at the expense of a little rigour.

4 Caritas patiens est, benigna est caritas, non aemulatur, non agit superbe, non inflatur,

5 οὐκ ἀσχημονεῖ, οὐ ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς, οὐ παροξύνεται, οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν,

It is not ambitious, it does not seek the things that are its own, it does not provoke, it does not think bad thoughts.

I may not have much to say for the rest of this…

5 non est ambitiosa, non quaerit, quae sua sunt, non irritatur, non cogitat malum,

6 οὐ χαίρει ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδικίᾳ, συγχαίρει δὲ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ:

It does not delight in wrong, it celebrates the truth.

6 non gaudet super iniquitatem, congaudet autem veritati;

7  πάντα στέγει, πάντα πιστεύει, πάντα ἐλπίζει, πάντα ὑπομένει.

It bears all, it believes all, it hopes all, it sustains all.

7 omnia suffert, omnia credit, omnia sperat, omnia sustinet.

8 Ἡ ἀγάπη οὐδέποτε πίπτει. εἴτε δὲ προφητεῖαι, καταργηθήσονται: εἴτε γλῶσσαι, παύσονται: εἴτε γνῶσις, καταργηθήσεται.

Love never falls, when there are prophecies, they will be made ineffective; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be ineffective.

8 Caritas numquam excidit. Sive prophetiae, evacuabuntur; sive linguae, cessabunt; sive scientia, destruetur.

9 ἐκ μέρους γὰρ γινώσκομεν καὶ ἐκ μέρους προφητεύομεν:

For from the part we know, and in part we prophecy;

9 Ex parte enim cognoscimus et ex parte prophetamus;

10 ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ τὸ τέλειον, τὸ ἐκ μέρους καταργηθήσεται.

For when the completion comes, those of the part  will be destroyed.

<< τέλειον >> literally means ‘the end’. Hence, ‘teleology’ is the study of end times. By extension, it can mean ‘completion’, and by further extension, it can mean ‘perfection’. This is how it’s usually rendered. I just wanted to retain some of the more basic meaning of the word. The idea is that those who are only partial, who have not been completed, or perfected, will be actively destroyed. Here we are on track towards the idea of the sinners going to Hell. The idea is that the imperfect ones will not be saved, or will not enter the life; so, logically, they will be destroyed. But the idea is still very vague. 

10 cum autem venerit, quod perfectum est, evacuabitur, quod ex parte est.

11 ὅτε ἤμην νήπιος, ἐλάλουν ὡς νήπιος, ἐφρόνουν ὡς νήπιος, ἐλογιζόμην ὡς νήπιος: ὅτε γέγονα ἀνήρ, κατήργηκα τὰ τοῦ νηπίου.

When we were children, we spoke as children, we understood as children, we thought as children; when I became a man, I put away the things of children.

11 Cum essem parvulus, loquebar ut parvulus, sapiebam ut parvulus, cogitabam ut parvulus; quando factus sum vir, evacuavi, quae erant parvuli.

12 βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι’ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, τότε δὲ πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον: ἄρτι γινώσκω ἐκ μέρους, τότε δὲ ἐπιγνώσομαι καθὼς καὶ ἐπεγνώσθην.

For we look now through a glass in an enigma, then (we will see) face to face; now I know in part, then we will know also as I am known.

I’ve seen this as ‘through a glass and darkly’. If you transliterate <<αἰνίγμα>>, you get ‘ainigmati’, or ‘anigma’.

12 Videmus enim nunc per speculum in aenigmate, tunc autem facie ad faciem; nunc cognosco ex parte, tunc autem cognoscam, sicut et cognitus sum.

13 νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις, ἐλπίς, ἀγάπη, τὰ τρία ταῦτα: μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη.

Now remain these three things, faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.

13 Nunc autem manet fides, spes, caritas, tria haec; maior autem ex his est caritas.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on June 5, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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