1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have
not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
1. Et adhuc excellentiorem viam vobis demonstro. Si linguis hominum
loquar et Angelorum, caritatem autem non habeam, factus sum tympanum sonans,
aut cymbalum tinniens.
2. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries
and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove
mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
2. Et si habeam prophetiam, et noverim mysteria omnia omnemque scientiam,
et si habeam omnem fidem, adeo ut montes loco dimoveam, caritatem autem
non habeam, nihil sum.
3. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though
I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
3. Et si insumam in alimoniam omnes facultates meas, et si tradam
corpus meum ut comburar, caritatem autem non habeam, nihil mihi prodest.
The division of the Chapter being so absurd, I could not refrain from
changing it, especially as I could not conveniently interpret it otherwise.
For what purpose did it serve to connect with what goes before a detached
sentence, which agrees so well with what comes after — nay more, is thereby
rendered complete? It is likely, that it happened through a mistake on
the part of the transcribers. However it may be as to this, after having
commanded that regard should be had chiefly to edification, he now declares
that he will show them something of greater importance — that everything
be regulated according to the rule of love. This, then, is the most excellent
way, when love is the regulating principle of all our actions. And, in
the outset, he proceeds upon this — that all excellencies are of no value
without love; for nothing is so excellent or estimable as not to be vitiated
in the sight of God, if love is wanting. Nor does he teach anything here
but what he does elsewhere, when he declares, that it is the end of the
law, and the bond of perfection, (1 Timothy 1:5,) and also when he makes
the holiness of the godly consist entirely in this, (Colossians 3:l4,)
— for what else does God require from us in the second Table of the Law?
It is not then to be wondered, if all our deeds are estimated by this test
— their appearing to proceed from love. It is also not to be wondered,
if gifts, otherwise excellent, come to have their true value only when
they are made subservient to love.
1. If should speak with the tongues of men. He begins with eloquence,
which is, it is true, an admirable gift, considered in itself, but, when
apart from love, does not recommend a man in the estimation of God. When
he speaks of the tongue of angels, he uses a hyperbolical expression to
denote what is singular, or distinguished. At the same time, I explain
it rather as referring to the diversity of languages, which the Corinthians
held in much esteem, measuring everything by ambition — not by fruit. “Make
yourself master,” says he, “of all the languages, not of men merely, but
even of Angels. You have, in that case, no reason to think, that you are
of higher estimation in the sight of God than a mere cymbal, if you have
2. And if I should have the gift of prophecy. He brings down
to nothing the dignity of even this endowment, which, nevertheless, he
had preferred to all others. To know all mysteries, might seem to be added
to the term prophecy, by way of explanation, but as the term knowledge
is immediately added, of which he had previously made mention by itself,
(1 Corinthians 14:8,) it will deserve your consideration, whether the knowledge
of mysteries may not be used here to mean wisdom. As for myself, while
I would not venture to affirm that it is so, I am much inclined to that
That faith, of which he speaks, is special, as is evident from the clause
that is immediately added — so that I remove mountains. Hence the Sophists
accomplish nothing, when they pervert this passage for the purpose of detracting
from the excellence of faith. As, therefore, the term faith is (polu>shmon)
used in a variety of senses, it is the part of the prudent reader to observe
in what signification it is taken. Paul, however, as I have already stated,
is his own interpreter, by restricting faith, here, to miracles. It is
what Chrysostom calls the “faith of miracles,” and what we term a “special
faith,” because it does not apprehend a whole Christ, but simply his power
in working miracles; and hence it may sometimes exist in a man without
the Spirit of sanctification, as it did in Judas.
3. And if I should expend all my possessions. This, it is true,
is worthy of the highest praise, if considered in itself; but as liberality
in many cases proceeds from ambition — not from true generosity, or even
the man that is liberal is destitute of the other departments of love,
(for even liberality, that is inwardly felt, is only one department of
love,) it may happen that a work, otherwise so commendable, has, indeed,
a fair show in the sight of men, and is applauded by them, and yet is regarded
as nothing in the sight of God.
And if I should give up my body. He speaks, undoubtedly, of martyrdom,
which is an act that is the most lovely and excellent of all; for what
is more admirable than that invincible fortitude of mind, which makes a
man not hesitate to pour out his life for the testimony of the gospel?
Yet even this, too, God regards as nothing, if the mind is destitute of
love. The kind of punishment that he makes mention of was not then so common
among Christians; for we read that tyrants, at that time, set themselves
to destroy the Church, rather by swords than by flames, except that Nero,
in his rage, had recourse, also, to burning. The Spirit appears, however,
to have predicted here, by Paul’s mouth, the persecutions that were coming.
But this is a digression. The main truth in the passage is this — that
as love is the only rule of our actions, and the only means of regulating
the right use of the gifts of God, nothing, in the absence of it, is approved
of by God, however magnificent it may be in the estimation of men. For
where it is wanting, the beauty of all virtues is mere tinsel — is empty
sound — is not worth a straw — nay more, is offensive and disgusting. As
for the inference which Papists draw from this — that love is therefore
of more avail for our justification than faith, we shall refute it afterwards.
At present, we must proceed to notice what follows,
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
4. Charity suffereth long, and is kind: charity envieth not: charity
vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
4. Caritaspatiens est, benigne agit, caritas non aemulatur, caritas
non agit insolenter, non inflatur:
5. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not
easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
5. Non agit indecenter, non quaerit sua ipsius, non provocatur,
non cogitat malum:
6. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
6. Non gaudet obiniustitiam, con gaudet autem veritati.
7. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things,
endureth all things.
7. Omnia fert, omnia credit, omnia sperat, omnia sustinet.
8. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they
shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be
knowledge, it shall vanish away.
8. Caritas nunquam excidit: sive prophetiae abolebuntur, sive linguae
cessabunt, sive scientia destruetur.
4. Love is patient. He now commends love from its effects or
fruits, though at the same time these eulogiums are not intended merely
for its commendation, but to make the Corinthians understand what are its
offices, and what is its nature. The object, however, mainly in view, is
to show how necessary it is for preserving the unity of the Church. I have
also no doubt that he designed indirectly to reprove the Corinthians, by
setting before them a contrast, in which they might recognize, by way of
contraries, their own vices.
The first commendation of love is this — that, by patient endurance
of many things, it promotes peace and harmony in the Church. Near akin
to this is the second excellence — gentleness and lenity, for such is the
meaning of the verb crhsteu>esqai. A third excellence is — that it counteracts
emulation, the seed of all contentions. Under emulation he comprehends
envy, which is a vice near akin to it, or rather, he means that emulation,
which is connected with envy, and frequently springs from it. Hence where
envy reigns — where every one is desirous to be the first, or appear so,
love there has no place.
What I have rendered — does not act insolently — is in the Greek crhsteu>esqai.
Erasmus has rendered it, is not froward. It is certain that the word has
different significations; but, as it is sometimes taken to mean — being
fierce, or insolent, through presumption, this meaning seemed to be more
suitable to the passage before us. Paul, therefore, ascribes to love moderation,
and declares that it is a bridle to restrain men, that they may not break
forth into ferocity, but may live together in a peaceable and orderly manner.
He adds, farther, that it has nothing of the nature of pride. That man,
then, who is governed by love, is not puffed up with pride, so as to despise
others and feel satisfied with himself.
5. Doth not behave itself unseemly. Erasmus renders it “Is not
disdainful;” but as he quotes no author in support of this interpretation,
I have preferred to retain its proper and usual signification. I explain
it, however, in this way — that love does not exult in a foolish ostentation,
or does not bluster, but observes moderation and propriety. And in this
manner, he again reproves the Corinthians indirectly, because they shamefully
set at naught all propriety by an unseemly haughtiness.
Seeketh not its own. From this we may infer, how very far we
are from having love implanted in us by nature; for we are naturally prone
to have love and care for ourselves, and aim at our own advantage. Nay,
to speak more correct]y, we rush headlong into it. For so perverse an inclination
the remedy is love, which leads us to leave off caring for ourselves, and
feel concerned for our neighbors, so as to love them and be concerned for
their welfare. Farther, to seek one’s own things, is to be devoted to self,
and to be wholly taken up with concern for one’s own advantage. This definition
solves the question, whether it is lawful for a Christian to be concerned
for his own advantage? for Paul does not here reprove every kind of care
or concern for ourselves, but the excess of it, which proceeds from an
immoderate and blind attachment to ourselves. Now the excess lies in this
— if we think of ourselves so as to neglect others, or if the desire of
our own advantage calls us off from that concern, which God commands us
to have as to our neighbors. He adds, that love is also a bridle to repress
quarrels, and this follows from the first two statements. For where there
is gentleness and forbearance, persons in that case do not, on a sudden,
become angry, and are not easily stirred up to disputes and contests.
7. Beareth all things, etc. By all these statements he intimates,
that love is neither impatient nor spiteful. For to bear and endure all
things is the part of forbearance to believe and hope all things is the
part of candor and kindness. As we are naturally too much devoted to self,
this vice renders us morose and peevish. The effect is, that every one
wishes that others should carry him upon their shoulders, but refuses for
his part to assist others. The remedy for this disease is love, which makes
us subject to our brethren, and teaches us to apply our shoulders to their
burdens. (Galatians 6:2.) Farther, as we are naturally spiteful, we are,
consequently, suspicious too, and take almost everything amiss. Love, on
the other hand, calls us back to kindness, so that we think favorably and
candidly of our neighbors.
When he says all things, you must understand him as referring to the
things that ought to be endured, and in such a manner as is befitting.
For we are not to bear with vices, so as to give our sanction to them by
flattery, or, by winking at them, encourage them through our supineness.
Farther, this endurance does not exclude corrections and just punishments.
The case is the same as to kindness in judging of things.
Love believeth all things — not that the Christian knowingly
and willingly allows himself to be imposed upon — not that he divests himself
of prudence and judgment, that he may be the more easily taken advantage
of — not that he unlearns the way of distinguishing black from white. What
then? He requires here, as I have already said, simplicity and kindness
in judging of things; and he declares that these are the invariable accompaniments
of love. The consequence will be, that a Christian man will reckon it better
to be imposed upon by his own kindness and easy temper, than to wrong his
brother by an unfriendly suspicion.
8. Love never faileth. Here we have another excellence of love
— that it endures for ever. There is good reason why we should eagerly
desire an excellence that will never come to an end. Hence love must be
preferred before temporary and perishable gifts. Prophesyings have an end,
tongues fail, knowledge ceases. Hence love is more excellent than they
on this ground — that, while they fail, it survives.
Papists pervert this passage, for the purpose of establishing the doctrine
which they have contrived, without any authority from Scripture — that
the souls of the deceased pray to God on our behalf. For they reason in
this manner: “Prayer is a perpetual office of love — love endures in the
souls of departed saints — therefore they pray for us.” For my part, although
I should not wish to contend too keenly on this point, yet, in order that
they may not think that they have gained much by having this conceded to
them, I reply to their objection in a few words.
In the first place, though love endures for ever, it does not necessarily
follow that it is (as the expression is) in constant exercise. For what
is there to hinder our maintaining that the saints, being now in the enjoyment
of calm repose, do not exercise love in present offices? What absurdity,
I pray you, would there be in this? In the second place, were I to maintain,
that it is not a perpetual office of love to intercede for the brethren,
how would they prove the contrary? That a person may intercede for another,
it is necessary that he be acquainted with his necessity. If we may conjecture
as to the state of the dead, it is a more probable supposition, that departed
saints are ignorant of what is doing here, than that they are aware of
our necessities. Papists, it is true, imagine, that they see the whole
world in the reflection of light which they enjoy in the vision of God;
but it is a profane and altogether heathenish contrivance, which has more
of the savor of Egyptian theology, than it has of accordance with Christian
philosophy. What, then, if I should maintain that the saints, being ignorant
of our condition, are not concerned in reference to us? With what argument
will Papists press me, so as to constrain me to hold their opinion? What
if I should affirm, that they are so occupied and swallowed up, as it were,
in the vision of God, that they think of nothing besides? How will they
prove that this is not agreeable to reason? ‘What if I should reply, that
the perpetuity of love, here mentioned by the Apostle, will be after the
last day, and has nothing to do with the time that is intermediate? What
if I should say that the office of mutual intercession has been enjoined
only upon the living, and those that are sojourning in this world, and
consequently does not at all extend to the departed?
But I have already said more than enough; for the very point for which
they contend I leave undetermined, that I may not raise any contention
upon a matter that does not call for it. It was, however, of importance
to notice, in passing, how little support is given them from this passage,
in which they think they have so strong a bulwark. Let us reckon it enough,
that it has no support from any declaration of scripture, and that, consequently,
it is maintained by them rashly and inconsiderately.
Whether knowledge, it will be destroyed. We have already seen
the meaning of these words; but from this arises a question of no small
importances whether those who in this world excel either in learning, or
in other gifts, will be on a level with idiots in the kingdom of God? In
the first place, I should wish to admonish pious readers, not to harass
themselves more than is meet in the investigation of these things. Let
them rather seek the way by which the kingdom of God is arrived at, than
curiously inquire, what is to be our condition there; for the Lord himself
has, by his silence, called us back from such curiosity. I now return to
the question. So far as I can conjecture, and am able even to gather in
part from this passage — inasmuch as learning, knowledge of languages,
and similar gifts are subservient to the necessity of this life, I do not
think that there will be any of them then remaining. The learned, however,
will sustain no loss from the want of them, inasmuch as they will receive
the fruit of them, which is greatly to be preferred.
1 Corinthians 13:9-13
9. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part:
9. Ex parte enim cognoscimus, et ex parte prophetamus:
10. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in
part shall be done away.
10. At ubi venerit quod perfectum est, tunc, quod ex parte est,
11. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child,
I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
11. Quum essem puer, ut puer loquebar, ut puer sentiebam, ut puer
cogitabam: at postquam factus sum vir, abolevi puerilia.
12. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
12. Cernimus enim nunc per speculum in aenigmate: tunc autem facie
ad faciem: nunc cognosco ex parte: tune vero cognoscam, quem admodum et
13. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the great
est of these is charity.
13. Nunc autem manet fides, spes, caritas, tria haec: sed maxima
ex his est caritas.
He now proves that prophecy, and other gifts of that nature, are done
away, because they are conferred upon us to help our infirmity. Now our
imperfection will one day have an end. Hence the use, even of those gifts,
will, at the same time, be discontinued, for it were absurd that they should
remain and be of no use. They will, therefore, perish. This subject he
pursues to the end of the chapter.
9. We know in part. This passage is misinterpreted by most persons,
as if it meant that our knowledge, and in like manner our prophecy, is
not yet perfect, but that we are daily making progress in them. Paul’s
meaning, however, is — that it is owing to our imperfection that we at
present have knowledge and prophecy. Hence the phrase in part means — “Because
we are not yet perfect.” Knowledge and prophecy, therefore, have place
among us so long as that imperfection cleaves to us, to which they are
helps. It is true, indeed, that we ought to make progress during our whole
life, and that everything that we have is merely begun. Let us observe,
however, what Paul designs to prove — that the gifts in question are but
temporary. Now he proves this from the circumstance, that the advantage
of them is only for a time — so long as we aim at the mark by making progress
10. When that which is perfect is come. “When the goal has been
reached, then the helps in the race will be done away.” He retains, however,
the form of expression that he had already made use of, when he contrasts
perfection with what is in part. “Perfection,” says he, “when it will arrive,
will put an end to everything that aids imperfection.” But when will that
perfection come? It begins, indeed, at death, for then we put off, along
with the body, many infirmities; but it will not be completely manifested
until the day of judgment, as we shall hear presently. Hence we infer,
that the whole of this discussion is ignorantly applied to the time that
11. When I was a child. He illustrates what he had said, by a
similitude. For there are many things that are suitable to children, which
are afterwards done away on arriving at maturity. For example, education
is necessary for childhood; it does not comport with mature age. So long
as we live in this world, we require, in some sense, education. We are
far from having attained, as yet, the perfection of wisdom. That perfection,
therefore, which will be in a manner a maturity of spiritual age, will
put an end to education and its accompaniments. In his Epistle to the Ephesians,
(Ephesians 4:14,) he exhorts us to be no longer children; but he has there
another consideration in view, of which we shall speak when we come to
12. We now see through a glass. Here we have the application
of the similitude. “The measure of knowledge, that we now have, is suitable
to imperfection and childhood, as it were; for we do not as yet see clearly
the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom, and we do not as yet enjoy a distinct
view of them.” To express this, he makes use of another similitude — that
we now see only as in a glass, and therefore but obscurely. This obscurity
he expresses by the term enigma.
In the first place, there can be no doubt that it is the ministry of
the word, and the means that are required for the exercise of it, that
he compares to a looking-glass. For God, who is otherwise invisible, has
appointed these means for discovering himself to us. At the same time,
this may also be viewed as extending to the entire structure of the world,
in which the glory of God shines forth to our view, in accordance with
what is stated in Romans 1:16; and 2 Corinthians 3:18. In Romans 1:20 the
Apostle speaks of the creatures as mirrors, in which God’s invisible majesty
is to be seen; but as he treats here particularly of spiritual gifts, which
are subservient to the ministry of the Church, and are its accompaniments,
we shall not wander away from our present subject.
The ministry of the word, I say, is like a looking-glass. For the angels
have no need of preaching, or other inferior helps, nor of sacraments,
for they enjoy a vision of God of another kind; and God does not give them
a view of his face merely in a mirror, but openly manifests himself as
present with them. We, who have not as yet reached that great height, behold
the image of God as it is presented before us in the word, in the sacraments,
and, in fine, in the whole of the service of the Church. This vision Paul
here speaks of as partaking of obscurity — not as though it were doubtful
or delusive, but because it is not so distinct as that which will be at
last afforded on the final day. He teaches the same thing in other words,
in the second Epistle — (2 Corinthians 5:7) — that,
so long as we dwell in the body we are absent from the Lord;
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Our faith, therefore, at present beholds God as absent. How so? Because
it sees not his face, but rests satisfied with the image in the mirror;
but when we shall have left the world, and gone to him, it will behold
him as near and before its eyes.
Hence we must understand it in this manner — that the knowledge of God,
which we now have from his word, is indeed certain and true, and has nothing
in it that is confused, or perplexed, or dark, but is spoken of as comparatively
obscure, because it comes far short of that clear manifestation to which
we look forward; for then we shall see face to face. Thus this passage
is not at all at variance with other passages, which speak of the clearness,
at one time, of the law, at another time, of the entire Scripture, but
more especially of the gospel. For we have in the word (in so far as is
expedient for us)a naked and open revelation of God, and it has nothing
intricate in it, to hold us in suspense, as wicked persons imagine; but
how small a proportion does this bear to that vision, which we have in
our eye! Hence it is only in a comparative sense, that it is termed obscure.
The adverb then denotes the last day, rather than the time that is immediately
subsequent to death. At the same time, although full vision will be deferred
until the day of Christ, a nearer view of God will begin to be enjoyed
immediately after death, when our souls, set free from the body, will have
no more need of the outward ministry, or other inferior helps. Paul, however,
as I noticed a little ago, does not enter into any close discussion as
to the state of the dead, because the knowledge of that is not particularly
serviceable to piety.
Now I know in part. That is, the measure of our present knowledge
is imperfect, as John says in his Epistle, (1 John 3:1,2,) that
we know, indeed, that we are the sons of God, but that it doth not yet
appear, until we shall see God as he is.
Then we shall see God — not in his image, but in himself, so that there
will be, in a manner, a mutual view.
13. But now remaineth faith, hope, love. This is a conclusion
from what goes before — that love is more excellent than other gifts; but
in place of the enumeration of gifts that he had previously made, he now
puts faith and hope along with love, as all those gifts are comprehended
under this summary. For what is the object of the entire ministry, but
that we may be instructed as to these things? Hence the term faith has
a larger acceptation here, than in previous instances; for it is as though
he had said — “There are, it is true, many and various gifts, but they
all point to this object, and have an eye to it.”
To remain, then, conveys the idea, that, as in the reckoning up of an
account, when everything has been deducted, this is the sum that remains.
For faith does not remain after death, inasmuch as the Apostle elsewhere
contrasts it with sight, (2 Corinthians 5:7,) and declares that it remains
only so long as we are absent from the Lord. We are now in possession of
what is meant by faith in this passage — that knowledge of God and of the
divine will, which we obtain by the ministry of the Church; or, if you
prefer it, faith universal, and taken in its proper acceptation. Hope is
nothing else than perseverance in faith. For when we have once believed
the word of God, it remains that we persevere until the accomplishment
of these things. Hence, as faith is the mother of hope, so it is kept up
by it, so as not to give way.
The greatest of these is love. It is so, if we estimate its excellence
by the effects which he has previously enumerated; and farther, if we take
into view its perpetuity. For every one derives advantage from his own
faith and hope, but love extends its benefits to others. Faith and hope
belong to a state of imperfection: love will remain even in a state of
perfection. For if we single out the particular effects of faith, and compare
them, faith will be found to be in many respects superior. Nay, even love
itself, according to the testimony of the same Apostle, (1 Thessalonians
1:3,) is an effect of faith. Now the effect is, undoubtedly, inferior to
Besides, there is bestowed upon faith a signal commendation, which does
not apply to love, when John declares that it is our victory, which overcometh
the world. (1 John 5:4.) In fine, it is by faith that we are born against
that we become the sons of God — that we obtain eternal life, and that
Christ dwells in us. (Ephesians 3:17.) Innumerable other things I pass
over; but these few are sufficient to prove what I have in view — that
faith is, in many of its effects, superior to love. Hence it is evident,
that it is declared here to be superior — not in every respect, but inasmuch
as it will be perpetual, and holds at present the first place in the preservation
of the Church.
It is, however, surprising how much pleasure Papists take in thundering
forth these words. “If faith justifies,” say they, “then much more does
love, which is declared to be greater.” A solution of this objection
is already furnished from what I have stated, but let us grant that love
is in every respect superior; what sort of reasoning is that — that because
it is greater, therefore it is of more avail for justifying men!
Then a king will plow the ground better than a husbandman, and he will
make a shoe better than a shoemaker, because he is more noble than either!
Then a man will run faster than a horse, and will carry a heavier burden
than an elephant, because he is superior in dignity! Then angels
will give light to the earth better than the sun and moon, because they
are more excellent! If the power of justifying depended on the dignity
or merit of faith they might perhaps be listened to; but we do not teach
that faith justifies, on the ground of its having more worthiness, or occupying
a higher station of honor, but because it receives the righteousness which
is freely offered in the gospel. Greatness or dignity has nothing to do
with this. Hence this passage gives Papists no more help, than if the Apostle
had given the preference to faith above everything else.