Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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. the tongues of men] i.e. the languages of mankind. See notes on ch. 14.
and of angels] The Rabbis (see Lightfoot in loc.) speak of the languages of angels. It is possible that St Paul may be referring to this notion. But he himself also speaks (2 Corinthians 12:4) of hearing ‘unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter,’ when he was ‘caught up to the third heaven.’
and have not charity] Tyndale (who is followed by Cranmer and the Geneva Bible), love; Vulgate, caritas. The force of this eloquent panegyric on love is impaired, and the agreement between the various writers of the New Testament much obscured, by the rendering charity, instead of love. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 8:1. The aim no doubt of the Vulgate translators was to avoid the sensuous associations which the Latin word amor suggested. But the English word charity has never risen to the height of the Apostle’s argument. At best it does but signify a kindly interest in and forbearance towards others. It is far from suggesting the ardent, active, energetic principle which the Apostle had in view. And though the English word love includes the affection which springs up between persons of different sexes, it is generally understood to denote only the higher and nobler forms of that affection, the lower being stigmatized under the name of passion. Thus it is a suitable equivalent for the Greek word here used, which (see Dean Stanley’s note) owes its existence to the Bible, since it does not appear in Classical Greek, and is first found in the Septuagint translation of the O. T.
sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal] So Wiclif and Tyndale. The Apostle refers here to Psalm 150:5, where the Hebrew speaks of ‘cymbals of sound’ and ‘cymbals of clangour,’ and the Septuagint renders almost by the same words as St Paul. Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 14:7, where the difference between an unmeaning noise and real music is spoken of.
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. all faith] In the sense of ch. 1 Corinthians 12:9, where see note.
so that I could remove mountains] A quotation of words recorded in St Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21. Whether St Matthew’s Gospel were already written or not, these words had reached St Paul, and this must be regarded as a confirmation of the truth of the Gospel narrative. It is remarkable that they appear in a different form in St Luke (Luke 17:6).
I am nothing] The Apostle does not say that it is possible for a man to have all these gifts without love. He only says that if it were possible, it would be useless. But real faith, in the Scripture sense, without love, is an impossibility. Cf. Galatians 5:6; Ephesians 3:17; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13-16; St James 2:18-26. True Christian faith unites us to Christ, Who is Love.
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. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor] It will be observed that the words ‘the poor’ are not in the original. Coleridge (see Dean Stanley’s note) says, “the true and most significant sense is ‘though I dole away in mouthfuls all my property or estates.’ ” So Olshausen, Meyer, to feed any one by putting morsels into his mouth. Cf. St Matthew 6:1-2. The word here used is akin to ψωμίον, a morsel; see St John 13:26. Were we to take the word charity in its ordinary English sense of liberality to the poor, the passage would contradict itself. It is quite possible to have charity without love.
and though I give my body to be burned] There is such a thing even as martyrdom in a hard, defiant spirit; not prompted by love of Christ, but by love of oneself; not springing from the impossibility of denying Him to Whom we owe all (compare Polycarp’s noble words, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and what has He done that I should deny Him?”), but from the resolution not to allow that we have been in the wrong. Such a martyrdom would profit neither him who suffered it, nor any one else.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,4. Charity suffereth long, and is kind] The first the passive, the second the active, exercise of love; the one endurance, the other beneficence.
vaunteth not itself] The word here used is derived from the Latin perperus, vicious, boastful. Both this and the next sentence have reference to the manner in which excellencies he actually possesses are regarded by one imbued with the spirit of love. Cf. Romans 12:3.
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;5. doth not behave itself unseemly] The Vulgate renders unseemly by ambitiosa; Erasmus by fastidiosa; Wiclif by coveitous; doth not frawardly, Tyndale. But see note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:23, where a word of similar derivation occurs. Also ch. 1 Corinthians 7:36; and cf. Romans 1:27; Revelation 16:15. Here it means ‘is not betrayed by a sense of superiority into forgetfulness of what is due to others.’
seeketh not her own] See ch. 1 Corinthians 10:24; 1 Corinthians 10:33.
is not easily provoked] οὐ παροξύνεται. The ‘contention’ between Paul and Barnabas is, according to the Greek, a παροξυσμός. Acts 15:39.
thinketh no evil] So the Vulgate and other versions. Rather, imputeth not the evil, i.e. bears no malice. St Chrysostom explains it by “is not suspicious.” See Romans 4, where the word is translated indifferently ‘reckoned’ and ‘imputed.’
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;6. rejoiceth not in iniquity] Cf. Psalm 5:4-5, ‘Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.’ And Hosea 7:3; Romans 1:32; 2 Thessalonians 2:12.
but rejoiceth in the truth] Better, as margin, and Vulgate, with the truth. Love rejoiceth with the victory of Truth in the world, and at the consequent decline of unrighteousness, which is the opposite of truth. Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10; 2 John 1:4.
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.7. beareth all things] Suffers, Vulgate, and so Wiclif and Tyndale. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 9:12, where the same word is used. Here it means to endure patiently indignities and affronts, save of course where the well-being of others requires that they should be repelled.
believeth all things] “Not that a Christian should knowingly and willingly suffer himself to be imposed upon; not that he should deprive himself of prudence and judgment, so that he may be the more easily deceived; but that he should esteem it better to be deceived by his kindness and gentleness of heart, than to injure his brother by needless suspicion.” Calvin. “It is always ready to think the best; to put the most favourable construction on anything; is glad to make all the allowance for human weakness which can be done without betraying the truth of God.” Dr Coke. Similarly Erasmus and Wesley.
hopeth all things] (1) Of man, of whom love will ever hope the best, and deem reformation possible in the most hardened offenders; and (2) of God, that He will bring good out of evil, and that all the evils of this life will issue ultimately in the triumph of good.
endureth all things] Sustains to the end, with unshaken confidence in the goodness of God, all the persecutions and afflictions of this life.
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. Charity never faileth] The Vulgate and some MSS. read falleth. Tyndale renders, falleth never awaye. In the Septuagint (as in Job 15:33, and Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 28:4) the word is used of a fading flower. In Romans 9:6, it is applied to the Word of God.
whether there be prophecies, they shall fail] Another word is here used in the original for the word translated fail. It should rather be rendered be brought to an end, literally be worked out. It is translated brought to nought in ch. 1 Corinthians 1:28, while in 1 Corinthians 13:10 it is rendered done away, in 1 Corinthians 13:11 put away, and in the latter part of this very verse vanish away. The utterances of the inspired man (see ch. 1 Corinthians 14:1) are, we are here told, no longer of any value to us when we are face to face with the facts of which he was wont to speak.
tongues] Either (1) speaking with tongues, which as a sign (see ch. 1 Corinthians 14:22) will be unnecessary when we are confronted with the reality and need no more signs and wonders to compel our attention to it Or (2) divers languages, which shall cease when the curse of Babel is removed in the ‘holy city, New Jerusalem’ which shall come down from heaven, and in which all things shall be made new.
whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away]. Rather, be brought to an end. See last note but one. Knowledge (see note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:8) as the result of a process, the outcome of observation, argument, balancing of probabilities—for all these form part of our earthly knowledge—is but partial and incomplete (see next verse), and vanishes in a moment before the actual presence of what is. Wisdom, says Estius, will not in like manner vanish, because its perfection consists in the vision of God.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.9. and we prophesy in part] All inspired utterances are but partial revelations of Divine Truth.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.10. done away] See note on 1 Corinthians 5:8.
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. I thought as a child] Better as margin, I reasoned. The same Greek word is used here as in 1 Corinthians 13:5, ‘thinketh no evil.’ See note there.
when I became a man, I put away childish things] Rather, since I have become a man, I have brought to an end (see note on 1 Corinthians 13:8) the things of the child, referring, not so much to the act which put away these things, as to the fact that they had been put away finally and irrevocably.
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. For now we see through a glass] Literally, by means of a mirror. Per speculum, Vulgate. Bi a mirour, Wiclif. Meyer reminds us that we are to think rather of the mirrors of polished metal used in ancient times, the reflections of which would often be obscure and imperfect, than of our modern looking glasses.
darkly] Literally, in an enigma. Darke speaking, Tyndale. An enigma (in English, riddle) is properly a question, such as the Sphinx propounded to Œdipus, couched in obscure language, the answer to which is difficult to find. Cf. Numbers 12:8, and Proverbs 1:6, where the Hebrew word is translated in the Septuagint by the word used here by St Paul. Also Tennyson, Miller’s Daughter,
“There’s something in this world amiss
Shall be unriddled by and by.”
face to face] Cf. Numbers 12:8, to which the Apostle is evidently referring. Also Job 19:26-27; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4.
then shall I know even as also I am known] The word in the original signifies thorough, complete knowledge. ‘I am known,’ should rather be translated I was known, i.e. either (1) when Christ took knowledge of me (Meyer), or (2) I was (previously) known. It is God’s knowledge of us, His interpenetrating our being with His, which is the cause of our knowledge. Cf. Galatians 4:9; ch. 1 Corinthians 8:3. Also St Matthew 11:27, and St John 17 throughout.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.13. And now abideth faith, hope, charity] All these will remain in the life to come. Faith, the vision of the unseen (Hebrews 11:1), with its consequent trust in God; hope, which even in fruition remains as the desire of its continuance; and love, as the necessary condition of our dwelling in God and God in us. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:31. ‘Now’ is not to be understood of time, but as equivalent to ‘so’, at the conclusion of the argument.
but the greatest of these is charity] “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” Calvin.