Chapter 13 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians
The first epistle of Paul the apostle to the Corinthians, often referred to as First Corinthians , is the seventh book of the New Testament of the Bible...
, written by Paul the apostle covers the subject of love, principally the love that Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...
s should have for everyone. In the original Greek
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...
, the word αγαπη agape
Agape is one of the Greek words translated into English as love, one which became particularly appropriated in Christian theology as the love of God or Christ for mankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term...
is used throughout. This is translated into English as charity
In Christian theology charity, or love , means an unlimited loving-kindness toward all others.The term should not be confused with the more restricted modern use of the word charity to mean benevolent giving.- Caritas: altruistic love :...
in the King James version; but the word love
is preferred by most other translations, both earlier and more recent.
Historical and literary context
1 Corinthians illuminates the early church's efforts to define itself, not only in terms of doctrine, but also allegiance to spiritual leaders such as Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...
, Paul, Apollos
Saint Apollos is an apostle who is also a 1st century Alexandrian Jewish Christian mentioned several times in the New Testament...
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...
. A significant portion of the preceding chapter (1 Corinthians 12:1-10) focuses on the issue of spiritual gift
In Christianity, spiritual gifts are endowments given by the Holy Spirit. These are the supernatural graces which individual Christians need to fulfill the mission of the church. They are described in the New Testament, primarily in , , and . also touches on the spiritual gifts...
s, and there appear to have been interpersonal conflicts based upon the possession of such gifts, including speaking in tongues or prophecy. Paul tells his audience that they may have all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but unless they first have love, these gifts mean nothing:
Description of agape
A description of agape
forms a major passage in 1 Corinthians 13, running from verse 4 to the end.
According to the author, agape
- (verse 4)
- is long suffering (i.e. tolerant, patient)
- is kind
- is free of jealousy, envy and pride
- (verse 5)
- does not display unseemly behavior
- is unselfish
- is not touchy, fretful or resentful
- takes no account of the evil done to it [outwardly ignores a suffered wrong]
- (verse 6)
- hates evil
- is associated with honesty
- (verse 7)
- trusts [implying faith in God and trusting in righteousness]
- (verse 8)
- (verse 13)
- is greater than either faith or hope
"Through a glass, darkly"
1 Corinthians 13:12 contains the phrase βλεπομεν γαρ αρτι δι εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι (blepomen gar arti di esoptrou en ainigmati
), which is rendered in the KJV
The Authorized Version, commonly known as the King James Version, King James Bible or KJV, is an English translation of the Christian Bible by the Church of England begun in 1604 and completed in 1611...
as "For now we see through a glass, darkly." This passage has inspired the titles of many works.
The word εσοπτρου
("esoptrou", from εσοπτροv
, "esoptron") here translated glass
is ambiguous, possibly referring to a mirror
A mirror is an object that reflects light or sound in a way that preserves much of its original quality prior to its contact with the mirror. Some mirrors also filter out some wavelengths, while preserving other wavelengths in the reflection...
or a lens
A lens is an optical device with perfect or approximate axial symmetry which transmits and refracts light, converging or diverging the beam. A simple lens consists of a single optical element...
. Influenced by Strong's Concordance
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, generally known as Strong's Concordance, is a concordance of the King James Bible that was constructed under the direction of Dr. James Strong and first published in 1890. Dr. Strong was Professor of exegetical theology at Drew Theological Seminary at...
, many modern translations conclude that this word refers specifically to a mirror. Example English language translations include:
- Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror (New International Version
The New International Version is an English translation of the Christian Bible. Published by Zondervan in the United States and by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK, it has become one of the most popular modern translations in history.-History:...
- What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror (Good News Bible
The Good News Bible , also called the Good News Translation , is an English language translation of the Bible by the American Bible Society, first published as the New Testament under the name Good News for Modern Man in 1966...
Paul's usage is in keeping with rabbinic use of the term אספקלריה (aspaklaria
), a borrowing from the Latin specularia
. This has the same ambiguous meaning, although Adam Clarke
Adam Clarke was a British Methodist theologian and Biblical scholar, born in the townland of Moybeg Kirley near Tobermore in Ireland...
concluded that it was a reference to specularibus lapidibus
, clear polished stones used as lenses or windows. One way to preserve this ambiguity is to use the English cognate, speculum
. Rabbi Judah ben Ilai
Judah bar Ilai, also known as Judah ben Ilai, Rabbi Judah or Judah the Palestinian , was a tanna of the 2nd Century and son of Rabbi Ilai I. Of the many Judahs in the Talmud, he is the one referred to simply as "Rabbi Judah" and is the most frequently mentioned sage in the Mishnah.Judah bar Ilai...
(2nd century) was quoted as saying "All the prophets had a vision of God as He appeared through nine specula" while "Moses saw God through one speculum." The Babylonian Talmud states similarly "All the prophets gazed through a speculum that does not shine, while Moses our teacher gazed through a speculum that shines."
There are two other passages from 1 Corinthians 13 which have been notably influential.
Firstly, verse 11: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (KJV).
U.S. President Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...
referenced verse 11 in his inaugural address to the nation on January 20, 2009.
Secondly, verse 13, in praise of the Theological virtues
Theological virtues - in theology and Christian philosophy, are the character qualities associated with salvation, resulting from the grace of God, which enlightens human mind.- In the Bible :The three theological virtues are:...
- νυνι δε μενει πιστις ελπις αγαπη τα τρια ταυτα μειζων δε τουτων η αγαπη
- "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." (NRSV
The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is an English translation of the Bible released in 1989 in the USA. It is a thorough revision of the Revised Standard Version .There are three editions of the NRSV:...
British Prime Minister
A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...
read 1 Corinthians 13 at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana, Princess of Wales was the first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, whom she married on 29 July 1981, and an international charity and fundraising figure, as well as a preeminent celebrity of the late 20th century...