"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: 1 Corinthians (Page 2 of 5)

1 Corinthians 13:9

Verse 9 – For we know in part and we prophesy in part,

Paul now in a sentence running through verse 10 moves to explain (γὰρ, “For”) the reason for the cessation of the three activities of verse 8. In doing so he addresses only the first and third examples from verse 8. Why might this be? Some conclude that he does so because of the difference in verbs used in verse 8 (see discussion above) and the conclusion that tongues will have ceased in and of themselves before the cessation of knowledge and prophecy. But, as far as its absence here and the reason for it, this is a conclusion reached though the text is silent. We simply are not told why he chose only the first and third items to carry forward his line of logic. And silence is a text difficult to read and ought to yield no firm conclusions, especially in the context of revelatory gifts of the Spirit!

Note that Paul addresses knowledge and prophecy in reverse order from verse 8, first “we know” and then “we prophesy.” The fact is “we know” (γινώσκομεν) some things and these things are brought within the realm of our knowledge by divine revelation. The verb tends to stress the personal and experiential nature of the knowledge (cf. the verb οἶδα in 13:2, which may at times emphasize the informational nature of knowledge). What Paul says certainly is equally true of knowledge acquired by observation and investigation—what we would call the scientific methodology. But Paul has particularly in mind that knowledge which is imparted by divine revelation—whether by a gift of immediate knowledge or supernatural insight in a specific situation or by the revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ or the holy Scriptures through inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What God has revealed to us is true and is in harmony with all else that is true (though as yet unrevealed), but even this knowledge is only “in part” (ἐκ μέρους). The prepositional phrase is used four times in the NT, all of them by Paul and all of them here (12:27; 139 [2x], 10, 12). Each believer is one member of the body of Christ “individually,” or literally, “out of a part” (1 Cor. 12:27). The noun μέρος (“part”) refers to an individual portion/part[1] or a share (“a part due or assigned to one”[2]) as opposed to the greater whole. With the preposition ἐκ (“out” or “from”) it may have the sense of “one part out of the whole” or, as here, simply “in part.” What we “know” is only “one part out of the whole” of all that is true. And what is revealed as one may “prophecy” is only “one part out of the whole.” The prepositional (ἐκ μέρους) phrase is thrown forward in both halves of the pair so that it is emphasized by its position. The Apostle is stressing the partial nature of both our current knowledge and prophetic insight, even when it is a truly divine gift given to the people of God by His Spirit.

This ought to make us careful in what we claim and tentative in what we conclude, particularly when it comes to eschatology. We do not know as much as we believe ourselves to be certain about!
[1] BDAG, 4823.1.

[2] Thayer, 3405.1.

1 Corinthians 13:8

Verse 8 – Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

It is again (cf. v.4), literally, “the love” (Ἡ ἀγάπη)—that love which is above all other loves, that is in a class by itself, that is utterly unique and singular among all other loves. This love “never ends” (οὐδέποτε πίπτει). The verb indicates a descent from one, higher level to another, lower level, often with a sense of rapidity in the descent.[1] It thus is often translated “to fall” (cf. the only other usages in 1 Corinthians 10:8, 12). It can be used of persons (cf. Matt. 17:15; 18:26), or, as in this case, of things. In these instances it may speak of structures which “fall,” “fall to pieces,” or “collapse”[2] and thus become worthless. Here then it means that love never falls, never “fails” (NASU, NIV, NKJV), never comes to an end (cf. ESV, NRSV), never falls in upon itself or is destroyed. Love thus “will last forever” (NLT)!

Now Paul compares this love to three other things which the Corinthian believers placed high value upon. The ESV fails to render the mild adversative (δὲ, “but”), but compare to the NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, and NRSV which all include it in their rendering of the verse. Each comparison is introduced by εἴτε (“As for”) which serves as “a conditional disjunctive conjunction bringing together two objects in one’s thoughts while keeping them distinct from each other.”[3]

The first comparison is to “prophecies” (προφητεῖαι). As for these, “they will pass away” (καταργηθήσονται). Paul will use the verb four times in this immediate context (vv.8 [2x], 10, 11). It can range in meaning from to cause something to be unproductive, to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, or, as here, to cause something to come to an end or to cease to exist.[4] There will come a point when “prophecies” are brought to their finish line, beyond which they will be unnecessary and thus cease to exist among God’s people. The future tense casts this forward to a time beyond the moment of Paul’s writing. The precise nature and timing of that event will have to be determined by the context and other Scriptural evidence. The passive voice indicates that something will happen or someone will act in such a way as to cause “prophecies” to thus cease to exist as necessary among God’s people.

The second comparison (εἴτε, “as for”) has to do with “tongues” (γλῶσσαι). These, we are told, “will pass away” (παύσονται). Luke was especially fond of the verb (nine of its fifteen NT usages). He used it of Jesus concluding a speech (Luke 5:4), causing the winds and waves to cease (8:24), and finishing a time of personal prayer (11:1). It is used of the cessation of the offering of Levitical sacrifices since Jesus’ once for all, eternally effectual sacrifice (Heb. 10:2). The verb has the sense of causing something to stop or, in the middle voice to stop oneself from a certain activity. Here the middle voice (as distinct from the passive forms of the verbs in the comparisons before and after this one) may describe the simple leaving off of speaking in tongues at a certain point because they are eclipsed by something of greater value. It is sometimes argued that the middle voice here must mean that tongues will cease “in and of themselves.” That is to say, they will simply “die out” by their purely temporal necessity (i.e., during the period before the closing of the cannon). Others argue against this on a couple of fronts: it is argued that the verb is deponent and thus the middle form is active in meaning and it is further claimed that the example of Jesus as the personal agent in causing the winds and waves to cease (Luke 8:24) argues against the idea that the middle voice requires of ceasing of their own accord. But Daniel Wallace demonstrates that the verb is not in fact deponent and that the argument that inanimate objects (i.e., winds and waves) cannot cease of their own doing is foiled by the fact that in Luke 8 the winds and waves are personified and set before us as acting in response to Jesus’ word of command.[5] Thus we should make something of the use of the middle voice here in the midst of verbs of passive voice. But just what is to be made of this? As Wallace further demonstrates, this verse tells us nothing about the timing of the cessation of tongues, but simply that it will occur.[6] The way Paul speaks of it here may indicate that they will cease prior to the arrival of “the perfect” (v.10) but it is not definitively proven to mean that.

The third comparison (εἴτε, “as for”) has to do with “knowledge” (γνῶσις). This too “will pass away” (καταργηθήσεται). It is identical in form to its use in the first of these comparisons (“As for prophecies”) except that here it is in the singular to match the noun “knowledge” (γνῶσις).

[1] BDAG, 5936.1.

[2] Ibid., 5936.1.b.β.

[3] Friberg, 8254.

[4] BDAG, 4047.

[5] Wallace, 422-423.

[6] Ibid., 423.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 — exposition

Love is defined both by what it embraces and what it rejects.

I. Love is known by what it embraces.

  • Patience (4)
  • Kindness (4)
  • Joy (6)
  • Forbearance (7)
  • Trust (7)
  • Hope (7)
  • Endurance (7)

II. Love is known by what it rejects.

  • Jealousy (4)
  • Pride. (4)
  • Rudeness (5)
  • Selfishness (5)
  • Touchiness (5)
  • Score-keeping (5)
  • Unrighteousness (6)

But how could such love ever be found in me?

The Spirit’s assignment is to flood across the broad plain of your heart with the love of God, filling every low-lying thought, every hollowed out hurt, every cavernous wrong suffered (Rom. 5:5).

Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said of the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive …” (John 7:37-39a)

Come to the fountain, the Father. Come in Jesus’ Name. Come asking Him for the Spirit, whose job is to pour into your heart an overflowing flood of His love.

1 Corinthians 13:7

Verse 7 – Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Paul closes out his fifteen characteristics of love with four sweeping (πάντα, “all things), positive statements about love.

Love “bears all things” (πάντα στέγει). The verb has led to much speculation about Paul’s meaning here. The cognate noun στέγη designates a “roof” and thus the verb means “to cover” and by extension “to endure” or “to bear.”[1] It is used in non-Biblical Greek to describe covering to keep something from coming inside, like a ship in order to keep the water out[2] or a roof on a building to keep the weather out.[3] It can also be used of a lid that keeps liquid in a container.[4]Thus, it can have an outward reference (to hold off) and an inward reference (to hold in). The meaning “to protect” or “to ward off” and “to defend” allowed for the development of meanings such as “to endure,” “to support,” “to bear.”[5] Thus, the word could be used in a general sense and mean “to bear up against difficulties.”[6] This seems to be how Paul used the term in 1 Thessalonians. He described a set of circumstances “when we could bear it [στέγοντες] no longer” and “were willing to be left behind at Athens alone” (1 Thess. 3:1). Paul added, “I could bear it [στέγων] no longer” and so “sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (v.5). Similarly, he used the term earlier in 1 Corinthians as he discussed the right to financial support from the Corinthian believers, “If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure [στέγομεν] anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:12).

How then are we to understand its meaning here? It is sometimes argued that the more general sense of “to endure” is unlikely here, for he will soon use the more frequently used verb that conveys that idea with the declaration, love “endures all things” (πάντα ὑπομένει). Such a redundancy is viewed as unlikely. For these reasons some view the covering as designed to keep something in and suggest the meaning “to keep confidential” in the sense that love “throws a cloak of silence over what is displeasing in another person.”[7] Spicq suggests the meaning “keep secret, hidden,” so that “in all circumstances, love is characterized by discretion; in particular, it keeps quiet about evils and does not record them on a balance sheet; it covers evil with silence and does not try to exploit it.”[8] This, then, becomes a rough equivalent of the command to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21; cf. 1 Thess. 5:15; Rom 12:17; 1Pet 3:9).[9] This appears to be the intent of the NASB 2020 update, which translates “it keeps every confidence.” But, as we have seen, the covering also may keep something out. The NIV views love as safeguarding others (“It always protects”). Most English translations accept the more general the idea of bearing up under wrongdoing (e.g., CSB, ESV, NASU).

Love “believes all things” (πάντα πιστεύει). The Apostle is not advising gullibility. Love is ever wise and always discerning. Love is willing to follow the evidence, but does not assume the worst in others. It never looks for the downfall of others. Love “does not rejoice” in the possibility of “wrongdoing” (v.6a). When a negative report is received, love holds out for the best possible reality. When wrong is exposed, love holds out for the best possible intentions. Love does not deny painful evidence, but it is not quick to assume what is not proven. Furthermore, where wrongdoing is proven, love holds out for the fullness of God’s best for the wrongdoer. Love lays hold of God’s promises for both the accused and the guilty. Love claims in prayer all God’s promises on behalf of the fallen one. Love views people through gospel-eyes. In this way it “rejoices in the truth” (v.6b).

Love “hopes all things” (πάντα ἐλπίζει). Regarding a person’s present reality, love “believes all things.” Regarding another’s future, love “hopes all things.” When history said the Corinthian Christians could not be trusted, Paul chose to “hope all things” and trust them anyway. He held tenaciously to a great hope for them, believing he would reap a spiritual harvest among them (1 Cor. 9:10), their labors for Christ would not be in vain (15:58), as they shared in his sufferings, they would share in the comfort he received from God. (2 Cor. 1:7), and their faith would continue to grow (10:15).

Love “endures all things” (πάντα ὑπομένει). The verb is a compound, made up of ὑπό (“under”) and μένω (“to remain”). Thus, it depicts remaining under some downward pressure, refusing to move out from under its weight. Paul could say, “we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” (1 Cor. 9:12). At the end of his life, facing martyrdom, he testified, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). He told the Corinthians he served God

… by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Cor. 6:4-10)

… with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”  (2 Cor. 11:23-27)

Truly, with his life Paul proved love “endures all things.”

The Corinthians seemed to believe they had a right to “all things” (πάντα is used three times in 1 Cor. 6:12). Paul turned their self-seeking, right-grabbing attitude on its ear, showing them the “more excellent way” (12:31) of love is not to selfishly grab after and demand “all things” for oneself, but to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things out of love for God and others.

[1] Friberg, 24894.

[2] BDAG, 6804.

[3] TDNT, 7:586.

[4] Spicq, 3:290.

[5] TDNT, 7:586.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Spicq, 3:291.

[9] Ibid.

1 Corinthians 13:6

Verse 6 – it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

One final consideration of love from the negative side reminds us that “it does not rejoice in wrongdoing” (οὐ χαίρει ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδικίᾳ). The verb (χαίρει, “rejoice”) depicts resting in a state of happiness and well-being.[1] The present tense indicates the present and ongoing bliss of that state of mind and heart. But that state is disrupted when “wrongdoing” (τῇ ἀδικίᾳ) takes place. The noun means “unrighteousness” and here stands over against “the truth” (τῇ ἀληθείᾳ) in the next clause.[2] Note the definite articles with both nouns. There is only one truth and every act against it is imagined here. Wherever unrighteousness occurs love recoils over the offense. Where joy recedes, grief fills the void. The preposition (ἐπὶ, “at”) generally depicts something resting “on” something else.[3] Like the dove sent out by Noah, love finds no place to rest over the sea of “wrongdoing” (Gen. 8:8-9). It remains in flight until it can return to “the truth” and at last rest itself again in rejoicing. It is not that love does not discern the presence of “wrongdoing,” it is that it cannot rest upon it in rejoicing. The world and its people, of course, find their joy in acting out their own desires in disregard for “the truth.” For this reason, John commands, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world– the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions– is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16). “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). That is why Paul said, “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (v.6). This raises questions, then, about how those indwelt by the Spirit are to respond to acts and expressions of “wrongdoing” perpetrated in their presence. Dirty jokes and coarse language. Unlawful unions. Breaking the law. Defying authorities. Backstabbing, backbiting, gossip. All these and more grieve the heart of the one where dwells the Spirit whose first fruit is love.

By way of a contrast (δὲ, “but”) Paul returns to viewing love from a positive angle, telling us love “rejoices with the truth” (συγχαίρει . . . τῇ ἀληθείᾳ). The verb (συγχαίρει, “rejoices with”) is a compound comprised of the immediately preceding verb χαίρω (“to rejoice”) and σύν (“with”) as a prefix (“with”). Where love must stay in flight over and find no rest upon “wrongdoing,” here love at the mere sight of “the truth” fills with delight. As already noted, “the truth” (τῇ ἀληθείᾳ) stands in direct contrast to “wrongdoing” (τῇ ἀδικίᾳ). If “wrongdoing” is all that stands in opposition to God’s expressed will, then “the truth” is that will itself, as expressed in the gospel, declared, unfolded, and expounded for us in the written Word of God. Joy breaks out wherever love spies one who finds reality expressed in the gospel and conforms one’s life to it.

[1] BDAG, 7866.1; Louw-Nida, 25.125.

[2] Friberg, 475.

[3] Harris, 137.

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