1 Corinthians


8. Speaking in tongues, 12:1-14:40

iii] The greatest gift - love


It seems that the spiritual gift / manifestation of the spirit that Paul calls "different kinds of tongues", was out of control in the Corinthian congregation, and so in chapter 12 Paul sets about to restore order by pointing out that there are many ministry gifts, and many of these more important than speaking in tongues. Now, in chapter 13, Paul argues that above all the many spiritual qualities that enable us to minister to our brothers and sisters, there is one that exceeds all others; this quality is the gift of love, compassion.


i] Context: See 12:1-11.


ii] Background: See 7:17-24.


iii] Structure: The greatest gift is love:

The proper use of tongue speaking in Christian worship #3:

Proposition, v1-3:

A gift must be guided by love.


The nature of love, v4-7;

The superior value of love - eternal; it "never ends", v8-13.


iv] Interpretation:

It is unlikely that Paul is setting the gift of love up against the gifts of ministry, as if love is a higher gift that can replace all the other spiritual gifts, or as if "love is preferable to spiritual gifts because it has a far superior potential", Naylor. Rather, what we have in this passage is a kind of parenthesis where Paul explains the principle which guides the application of the spiritual gifts. Love determines the proper use of the gifts such that Paul is able to argue that a word gift such as prophecy is of far greater value for the life of a Christian congregation than speaking in tongues, particularly when that tongue is untranslated, because a clear word from God aids in the building up of God's people - love seeks the benefit of the other, "it does not insist in its own way." None-the-less, although the principle of love does not supersede the other spiritual gifts, it is profoundly superior to them, being eternal, divine. As "the highest and unsurpassed gift of God", Fitzmyer, it is indeed "the more excellent way", 12:31, of serving Christ.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 13:1

Love, v1-13: i] Spiritual gifts are of little value when not guided by love, v1-3. There is a better way to build a church which is distinct from the gifts of ministry and which can actually test the worth of a ministry gift. This way is first among the fruits of the Spirit; it is the way of "love". Paul begins by comparing love with other religious qualities, primarily gifts of ministry. The first is most likely tongues, ecstatic utterance. The next is prophecy, which for Paul, is the greatest of the ministry gifts. Yet, without love, even prophecy is nothing. Then comes faith, obviously of the miracle-working type, not the type which all believers exercise when they reach out to Jesus. Then finally self-sacrifice. There is the alms-giving type of self sacrifice and there is the religious suicide type. Both can be done in love, but also without love. Apart from love, self-sacrifice is nothing.

ean + subj. "If [I speak]" - if [i speak]. Introducing a conditional clause, 3rd. class, where the condition has the possibility of being realized; "if, as may be the case, ... then ..." The protasis of the conditional clause is doubled, positive and negative, although in this verse ean is not repeated; "if I speak in tongues ..... but (adversative) [if] I have not love, then ... (apodosis). This construction is repeated in v2, although with a three/four part protasis, "if I have prophecy and [if] I know ..... and if I have faith .... but [if] I do not have love, [then] .... (apodosis). The construction is again repeated in v3, "If I give away all my possessions and if I give over my body .... but [if] I do not have love, [then] ......" Best regarded as a hypothetical condition, certainly not contrary to fact; "if I were to ......" Certainly Paul himself has spoken in tongues, although he has not literally offered his body to the flames, but here the "I" is surely representative of all gifted believers.

taiV glwssaiV (a hV) dat. "in the tongues" - The dative is either instrumental, expressing means, or modal, expressing manner. An interesting statement supporting the view that NT "tongues" are languages, both human and angelic, that can be translated (interpreted) and understood. Clearly "tongues" in Acts fits this model, ie. it has language content, cf., 12:3. None-the-less, non verbal ecstatic utterance, which is both an ancient and modern phenomenon, seems to be part of the miraculous element of tongues and it is probably this element that Paul takes issue with.

twn aggelwn (oV) gen. "of angels" - [of men and] of angels. The genitive, as with "of men", is adjectival, limiting "tongues", possessive, "of men", attributive, "human tongues" or idiomatic / producer, "the tongues uttered by men.". Contra to the note above, it is possible to argue that Paul is describing "tongues / speaking by / in the S/spirit" as the language of angels, although the grammar does not really support the argument. When taken this way the sense is "if I speak not only in a human language, but also in the language of angels", cf. Barrett.

agaphn (h) "love" - [but/and i do not have] compassion. Accusative direct object of the verb "to have." It is not possible to argue that Paul's use of the word "love" takes on a distinctive set meaning every time he uses it; context must always be considered. None-the-less, there is a general sense which does apply. Paul's use of the word moves away from its secular sense where it is used to describe sexual, sensual, emotional, or erotic feelings. For Paul, love is, in substance, an other-person-centered attitude which shows itself in respect and concern for the welfare of others. Such is the character of God and for this reason it is eternal and becomes for us "the power of the new age breaking into the present", Thiselton. The old AV was on the mark with "charity", but since this word has lost its power we are forced to find another. "Compassion" is probably the best modern equivalent.

gegona (ginomai) perf. "I am" - i have become. The perfect expressing a past action with ongoing consequences, here the state of being all noise, not will become all noise, or are becoming all noise; they are "now't but wind and rattle", Yorkshire idiom. Expressed as a condition; "if I have not love then I would have become ....."

hcwn (hcew) pres. part. "a resounding [gong]" - a being noisy, sounding, ringing, echoing [brass gong or a clanging cymbal]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "gong"; "a gong which is noisy", "a noisy gong", ESV. A similar construction for "a symbol which is clanging / clashing / sounding loudly." "I would have become a resonating jar or a reverberating cymbal", Thiselton.


ean "If" - [and] if. Introducing a conditional clause, as in v1.

profhteian (a) "the gift of prophecy" - [i have the gift of] prophecy. The gift of prophecy may be a primary gift of revelation in which case prophets, as with apostles, it is only a NT phenomenon. This argument is maintained by those who appose the ordination of women, given that there were female prophets! The gift is probably a preaching gift, a ministry of Biblical exposition.

ta musthria ..... thn knwsin "mysteries ........ knowledge" - [and know all] the mysteries [and all] the knowledge. Probably Paul is drawing on the technical use of this phrase in Jewish apocalyptic "with regard to the unfolding of God's final eschatological drama", Fee. This sense is obviously applied to the present situation in Corinth where some members claim access to secret spiritual knowledge. "I may know everything there is to know, but if I do not have love I am nothing", Barrett.

w{ste + inf. "[I have faith] that" - [and if i have all the faith] so as [to remove mountains, but i do not have love]. This construction introduces a consecutive clause expressing result, "with the result that, so that." Possibly miracle-working faith is in mind here.

ouqen eimi "I am nothing" - i am nothing. "All such pneumatika amount to zero without the animating force of love", Fitzmyer.


kan "if" - and if. A crasis of kai and ean, so again a conditional clause 3rd. class.

ta uJparconta (uJparcw) pres. part. "[all] I possess" - [i give away all] the things possessing [of me]. The participle serves as a substantive, "if I give away all my possessions".

iJna + subj. "to the flames" - [if i deliver up the body of me] that [i may boast, but i do not have love, i have gained nothing]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that I may boast", or consecutive, expressing result, "so that / with the result that I may boast." The not well attested variant kauqhswmai, "that I may be burned", is followed by the NIV and most translations. The better attested difficult reading should be followed, although the sense is carried by both; "even if I welcome a martyrs death [in the flames]", Barclay.


ii] The nature of love, both from a positive and negative perspective, is now built up with the use of sixteen verbs, v4-7. Rather than describing love in philosophical terms, Paul tells us what it does and does not do. A person who has love does not easily lose patience with another, is kind, not envious, does not brag, not puffed up, does not treat others unfairly, is not selfish, easily provoked to anger, or plots evil against another. love (particularly the loving one) does not ride up on (celebrate at) another's misfortune, but rather celebrates when things are right, when things work out well, are "true". Love supports the world, it never loses faith, never ceases to hope, and endures through hardship and opposition. Fitzmyer says of the passage that "Paul personifies love as a thinking and choosing being which inspires the behavior of the faithful." Although the style of this section is often treated as poetic, Conzelmann argues that it is didactic, defining how love functions; "the ways of love."

makroqumei (makroqumew) pres. "is patient" - [love] is patient, long-suffering.

crhsteuetai (crhsteuomai) pres. "is kind" - [love] is kind. Hapax legomenon. Providing something to someone in an act of kindness.

ou zhloi (zhlow) pres. "it does not envy" - [love] is not jealous. Obviously the negative sense is intended here.

ou perpereuetai (perpereuomai) pres. "it does not boast" - [love] does not brag, boast. A hapax legomenon. "Vaunt oneself".

ou fusioutai (fusiow) pres. pas. "it is not proud" - is not puffed up, arrogant.


ouk aschmonei (adchmonew) pres. "it is not rude" - does not behave disgracefully, shamefully unbecomingly. "Doth not behave itself unseemly", AV; "love never does the graceless thing", Barclay.

ta "[it is not self-seeking]" - the things [of itself]. The article serves as a nomializer turning the genitive reflex pronoun "of itself" into a substantive, direct object of the verb "to seek." The phrase is used in the sense of not seeking one's own advantage, but the good of others; "it does not seek it's own advantage", cf., 10:24, "is not preoccupied with the interests of the self", Thiselton.

ou paroxunetai (paroxunw) pres. pas. "it is not easily angered" - is not upset, angered, provoked, incited. "Not easily provoked to anger by those around him/her", Fee; "is not cantankerous", Garland.

ou logizetai (logizomai) pres. "it keeps no record" - does not reckon [the evil]. "Reckon" in the sense of "to set to someone's account", Conzelmann. Presumably pay-back for a hurt is in mind, and since self-interest is not to the fore, love "is not embittered by injuries, whether real or supposed", Robinson and Plummer.


ou cairei (cairw) pres. "love does not delight [in evil]" - does no rejoice [upon evil]. does not take pleasure. "Is not relaxed / easy going at/with/in."

epi "in" - upon. Here causal, "because of"; "at evil", evil in the sense of "wrongdoing / injustice" rather than the theological sense of "unrighteousness = held accountable before God".

de "but" - but/and. Usually taken as adversative here, although it is possible that this conjunction sets up a second list of qualities illustrating the nature of love, v6b -7, but then "rejoices with the truth" seems to balance "does not delight in evil".

sugcairei (ugcairw) pres. "rejoices with" - rejoices with. "Joyfully celebrates / acclaims", Thiselton.

th/ alhqeia (a) dat. "the truth" - the truth. Dative of direct object after the sun prefix verb "to rejoice with." Possibly "the truth of the gospel", particularly if "evil" is "unrighteousness", or possibly feeling "pleasure with those who are well spoken of", Chrysostom, but better "truth" in the sense of "integrity"; "love is honest and open, not defensive, for it has placed the good of the other above the good of the self", Thiselton.


panta adj. "always" - all, every. Best treated adverbially, as NIV, but it can be taken as a substantive, accusative direct object of the verb, "bears all things", ESV, etc. Expressing continued action; "love never tires of support, never loses faith, never exhausts hope, never gives up", Garland.

stegei (stegw) pres. "protects" - covers, bears, supports. Love "is always ready to make allowances", NJB.

pisteuei (pisteuw) pres. "trusts" - [all] trusts, believes. Probably in the sense of believing the best about people, so Augustine; "love does not necessarily accept as true all that it hears (about other people)", Naylor. Possibly simply love "never loses faith", Barrett; Love "trusts God on behalf of the one loved, hopes to the end that God will show mercy to that person's behalf", Fee.

elpizei (elpizw) pres. "hopes" - [all] hopes. Probably in the sense of taking a positive view of life's situations, looking for the good in people, but our eternal hope may be in Paul's mind. So either, "confidence in others", or "Christian hope in the eternal blessings of the future resurrection", Garland.

uJpomenei (uJpomenw) "perseveres" - [all] endures. "Accept patiently hardship, even persecution", Naylor; "no hardship or rebuff ever makes love cease to be love", Barrett.


iii] The superior value of love - it never ends, v8-13. In the third section, Paul returns to the contrast between love and the gifts of ministry, and points out that whereas spiritual gifts have a ministry-purpose for the present, love endures into eternity. "God is love" and through the Spirit we can possess this divine quality which continues, not just through the rough-and-tumble of life, but beyond life. "It is the pre-eternal thing which man can possess here and now in its true essence", Schweitzer. Unlike love, prophecy (revelation of the mind of God) will vanish in the presence of God. Tongues (ecstatic prophecy) will cease. Knowledge (secret truths) about God will similarly be no more in the presence of God. It is like the limited development of a child as compared with the maturity of an adult, or it is like seeing something in a reflection as compared with seeing the real thing. Our limited understanding of God will be complete in the totality of God, which totality is love.

The exposition of the statement "love never ends" is carried by three temporal 1st class conditional clauses formed by the conditional conjunction eite with a presumed indicative verb to-be in the protasis, "if, as is the case, / whether it be .....", and a fut. ind. verb in the apodosis, "then ... will ...", each linked by "or", "whether ..... or whether ..... or whether", v8, supported by a causal / explanatory clause introduced by gar, "for", v9. Then a temporal clause introduced by o{tan + subj., "when ...", v10, and two temporal clauses introduced by o{te, "when", in v11. Finally two temporal clauses with an arti ....... tote, "now ..... then", construction, v12, concluding with either a temporal or logical statement introduced by nuni de, "but now", (see below), v13. The Greek may be a bit complex, but Paul's argument is simple enough; whereas the gifts of the Spirit will fade away, love will abide forever.

piptei (piptw) pres. "fails" - [love never] falls, fails. The present tense is durative. This clause may sum up the preceding verses, so "love is never defeated", but it seems more likely that it introduces this next section which proclaims that "love endures eternally."

eite ... eite .... eite "-" - [but/and] if/whether ... or if/whether ..... or if/whether. A correlative conditional construction.

katarghqhsontai (katargew) fut. "they will cease" - [prophecies] they will be nullified, made of no effect, abolished. Probably in a temporal sense, as NIV, as against love which "abides / continues".

pausontai (pauw) fut. "they will be stilled" - [whether tongues] they will be stopped, cease. "They will some day be silenced", Barclay.

katarghqhsetai (katargew) fut. pas. "it will pass away" - [whether knowledge] it will be abolished, made of no effect, nullified, cancelled. Obviously the "knowledge" being promoted in the Corinthian congregation, ie., supernatural revelations of divine secrets most probably communicated in a tongue or a word of prophecy. "Will be superseded", Zerwick.


gar "for" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why prophesies will cease etc. Prophecy, tongues and knowledge does not abide / continue because they are "in part".

ginwskomen (ginwskw) pres. "we know" - we know. Who is the "we"? Usually Paul means, "we apostles", "we the missionary team", "we believing Jews", and sometimes, "we believers". Probably here the usual sense "we apostles" applies, indicating a recognition that even the "knowledge" and "prophecy" of the apostles is limited. Interestingly, he does not mention "tongues", which although Paul claims as one of his gifts, he chooses not to tie it to the apostolic ministry.

ek merouV "in part" - of a part [and of a part we prophesy]. Idiomatic adverbial construction expressing manner; "partially" Emphatic by position. The word gifts above provide only a "fragmentary" (Conzelmann) revelation / Spirit inspired word as opposed to the complete and perfect revelation which will be ours in Christ on the day of resurrection.


de "but" - but/and. Here adversative, as NIV.

oJtan + subj. "when" - This construction forms a temporal clause, indefinite time.

to teleion adj. "perfection / completeness" - the complete, perfect, mature [comes]. Adjective serves as a substantive. "The perfect / complete thing" obviously refers to the situation that exists at the coming / the enthronement of Christ. For this age there is imperfection / incompletion, but then perfection / completion. The gifts of the Spirit, which exist for this age, are incomplete / "in part" / imperfect, but in the day of resurrection our knowledge of God will be complete; "the perfect thing will yield a plain, face-to-face exposition of the plan of salvation", Naylor.

to "what [is in part]" - the thing [in part]. As above, the article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase ek merouV, "in part", into a substantive; "the thing that is in part."

katarghqhsetai (katargew) fut. pas. "disappears" - will be made of null effect, abolished. "When the complete will come, the fragmentary will be ended", Barclay.


Paul now gives us two comparative illustrations which describe the relationship between "the thing that is in part" and "the complete thing". It is like the limited development of a child as compared with the maturity of an adult, v11, or it is like seeing something in a reflection as compared with seeing the real thing, v12.

oJte "when" - Serving to introduce a temporal clause.

h[mhn (eimi) imperf. "I was" - The imperfect expressing a past continuous action.

nhpioV adj. "a child" - infantile = a child. Predicate nominative. Here the adjective functions as a noun and the sense is "a child" rather than "childlike".

elaloun (lalew) imperf. "I talked" - i spoke. The imperfect as above, "I used to talk like a child."

wJV "like" - as, like [a child]. Comparative.

efronoun (fronew) imperf. "I thought" - i thought, set the mind upon [like a child]. Probably in the sense of holding an opinion rather than the process of intellectual analysis. "Having childish interests and concerns", Thiselton.

elogizomhn (logizomai) imperf. "I reasoned" - i calculated, thought, reckoned, reasoned [like a child]. "I used to form opinions like a child", Thiselton.

oJte "when" - when [i have become a man]. Temporal conjunction introducing a temporal clause.

kathrghka (katargew) perf. "I put [childish ways] behind me" - i have finished, done with. The perfect expressing an ongoing completeness. "When I grew up I left those infant ways for good", Peterson.

to tou nhpiou gen. adj. "childish [ways] / [the ways] of childhood" - [the things] of childhood. The adjective serves as a substantive, with the genitive being adjectival, possessive. The article to then turns this possessive adjective into a substantive, direct object of the verb "to nullify, abolish"; "the behavior that belongs to childhood."


gar "for" - It seems unlikely that the conjunction here is causal, as NIV, but rather is used as a stitching device to introduce the second illustration, unless, of course, there is only one illustration, namely v11, and v12 serves to explain this illustration. "Now we see bewildering shadows in a mirror", Barclay.

arti .... tote "Now ... then ..." - now ... but then .... An adversative temporal construction. "For the present ..... but then ....."

en ainigmati (a) dat. "only a reflection" - [we see through a mirror] indistinctly, in a riddle, with obscurity. This prepositional phrase is adverbial, modal, expressing manner; "we see indistinctly by means of a mirror." Mirrors in the ancient world were made of polished metal, the best being silver, and so produced a poor image; "what we see now [of God] is little better than our own reflection is muddy pond, but then ...."

dia + gen. "as in [a mirror]" - through, by means of. Probably instrumental, expressing means, but the sense is clear enough with a simple "in a mirror"; "we only see the baffling reflections in a mirror", Moffatt. The illustration serves to reveal "the antithesis between present and future knowledge, and the latter is fullness of vision", Conzelmann.

tote adv. "then" - "But then."

proV "[face] to [face]" - [face] toward [face]. Spacial. This prepositional construction is adverbial, modal, expressing manner, modifying the verb "to see"; "face-to-face" seeing illustrates perfect knowledge as compared to fragmentary knowledge.

ek + gen. "[now] in [part]" - [now] of / from [part]. This prepositional phrase is also adverbial, modal, expressing manner, modifying the verb "to know"; "now I know partially."

de "-" - but [then]. Adversative.

epignwsomai (epiginwskw) fut. mid. "I shall know fully" - [but then] i shall really / fully know. The prefix epi would usually give the sense of knowing toward something, but most translators opt for "know completely / fully". "We don't know everything [now], but then we will", CEV.

kaqwV "even as" - even as, as [also i was fully known]. Usually a comparative, expressing similarity, "even as, just as, in comparison to", but sometimes, while still retaining an implied comparison, the conjunction serves to form a causal clause expressing cause / reason, "because / since / in so much as I am fully known (the passive aorist "known" expresses an existing state, not a past action, "as all along I have been myself understood", Moffatt)", cf., BAGD p391, BDF p236. Most commentators stay with a comparative idea as "a bold way of expressing the completeness of future illumination", R&P; "I shall know just as fully as I am myself known", NJB.


So, the spiritual gifts are, in many ways, limited. What "remains" in this present age is "faith, hope and love." The "faith" that Paul refers to is not the miracle-working kind, but reliance on the faithfulness of Christ, while "hope" is patient endurance in the fulfillment of the promises of God; "what God has given, God will maintain", Bultmann. Finally there is "love", that "manifestation of God himself, proceeding from God himself", Barrett. Love is greater than the other two qualities because love, unlike faith and hope, is eternal.

This verse functions as the conclusion for v8-13, possibly even the whole chapter. It is a problematic verse because it presents us with a number of difficulties: Is nuni, "now", temporal or logical and is menei, "abide / remain / continue" referring to the present or the future? Also, what is the point of the sudden appearance of "faith and hope" with "love" and in what sense is "love" greater than "faith and hope"?

Parry argues that nuni de is logical and this seems to be the intended sense, so Barrett, Carson, although a logical / temporal sense may be intended; "as things are now", Naylor, so Fee. "Abide" probably refers to the present state of affairs, the present situation of life on earth prior to the return of Christ ("remains until the parousia", Meyer), leading to the conclusion that "love" is greater than "faith and hope" because it is eternal, so Calvin, Thiselton, Fee, Fitzmyer. None-the-less, Paul may mean "abide eternally" for all three qualities, so Garland, Conzelmann, Barrett, Robertson and Plummer, with "love" being the greater because "love is the root of the other two", R and P. Conzelmann states that "it is not possible to arrive at an unequivocal interpretation of the statement", so the following is but one possibility: "So as it is (nuni de, logical use), there abides in this age (menei), preeminent out of all the spiritual endowments enabling ministry which we have just considered, faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (having "eschatological permanence", Thiselton) because it is an eternal divine characteristic."

nuni de "and now" - Probably functioning as a marker for a logical conclusion, "so as it is ....", but it may also express a temporal conclusion, "so as it is in the present state of things ....", Fee.

menei (menw) pres. "remain" - remains, abides, continues. The present tense is durative and says nothing of the time, so the three qualities may abide now, or abide into the future. See above.

pistiV, elpiV, agaph "faith, hope and love" - Given that these three qualities are mentioned together elsewhere, it seems that the early believers identified them an fundamentally important for the Christian life. "Faith" here is obviously Paul's usual sense of "reliance upon the faithfulness of Christ" and not miracle-working faith, v2.

meizwn (megaV) comp. adj. "the greatest" - [and] the greater [of these is love]. Predicate adjective with the comparative used for a superlative.


1 Corinthians Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]