1 Corinthians 13
Vincent's Word Studies
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.

Mentioned first because of the exaggerated importance which the Corinthians attached to this gift.


Referring to the ecstatic utterances of those who spoke with tongues.

Charity (ἀγάπην)

Rev., love. The word does not occur in the classics, though the kindred verbs ἀγαπάω and ἀγαπάζω to love, are common. It first appears in the Septuagint, where, however, in all but two of the passages, it refers to the love of the sexes. Eleven of the passages are in Canticles. See, also, 2 Samuel 13:15, Sept. The change in the Rev. from charity to love, is a good and thoroughly defensible one. Charity follows the caritas of the Vulgate, and is not used consistently in the A.V. On the contrary, in the gospels, ἀγάπη is always rendered love, and mostly elsewhere, except in this epistle, where the word occurs but twice. Charity, in modern usage, has acquired the senses of tolerance and beneficence, which express only single phases of love. There is no more reason for saying "charity envieth not," than for saying "God is charity;" "the charity of Christ constraineth us;" "the charity of God is shed abroad in our hearts." The real objection to the change on the part of unscholarly partisans of the A.V. is the breaking of the familiar rhythm of the verses.

Sounding brass (χαλκὸς ἠχῶν)

The metal is not properly brass, the alloy of copper and zinc, but copper, or bronze, the alloy of copper and tin, of which the Homeric weapons were made. Being the metal in common use, it came to be employed as a term for metal in general. Afterward it was distinguished; common copper being called black or red copper, and the celebrated Corinthian bronze being known as mixed copper. The word here does not mean a brazen instrument, but a piece of unwrought metal, which emitted a sound on being struck. In the streets of Seville one may see pedlers striking, together two pieces of brass instead of blowing a horn or ringing a bell.

Tinkling cymbal (κύμβαλον ἀλαλάζον)

The verb rendered tinkling, alalazo, originally meant to repeat the cry alala, as in battle. It is used by Mark (Mark 6:38) of the wailings of hired mourners. Hence, generally, to ring or clang. Rev., clanging. Κύμβαλον cymbal, is derived from κύμβος a hollow or a cup. The cymbal consisted of two half-globes of metal, which were struck together. In middle-age Latin, cymbalum was the term for a church or convent-bell. Ducange defines: "a bell by which the monks are called to meals, and which is hung in the cloister." The comparison is between the unmeaning clash of metal, and music; between ecstatic utterances which are jargon, and utterances inspired by love, which, though unintelligible to the hearers, may carry a meaning to the speaker himself and to God, 1 Corinthians 14:4, 1 Corinthians 14:7.

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.
All mysteries (τὰ μυστήρια πάντα)

The mysteries, all of them. See on Romans 11:25. The article indicates the well-known spiritual problems which exercise men's minds.

All faith (πᾶσαν τὴν πίστιν)

All the special faith which works miracles.

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.
Bestow (ψωμίσω)

Only here and Romans 12:20. See on sop, John 13:26. The verb means to feed out in morsels, dole out.

To be burned (ἵνα καυθήσωμαι)

The latest critical text reads καυχήσωμαι in order that I may glory, after the three oldest MSS. The change to burned might have been suggested by the copyist's familiarity with christian martyrdoms, or by the story of the three Hebrews. Bishop Lightfoot finds a possible reference to the case of an Indian fanatic who, in the time of Augustus, burned himself alive at Athens. His tomb there was visible in Paul's time, and may have been seen by him. It bore the inscription: "Zarmochegas the Indian from Bargosa, according to the ancient customs of India, made himself immortal and lies here." Calanus, an Indian gymnosophist who followed Alexander, in order to get rid of his sufferings, burned himself before the Macedonian army (see Plutarch, "Alexander"). Martyrdom for the sake of ambition was a fact of early occurrence in the Church, if not in Paul's day. Farrar says of his age, "both at this time and in the persecution of Diocletian, there were Christians who, oppressed by debt, by misery, and sometimes even by a sense of guilt, thrust themselves into the glory and imagined redemptiveness of the baptism of blood.... The extravagant estimate formed of the merits of all who were confessors, became, almost immediately, the cause of grave scandals. We are horified to read in Cyprian's letter that even in prison, even when death was imminent, there were some of the confessors who were puffed up with vanity and pride, and seemed to think that the blood of martyrdom would avail them to wash away the stains of flagrant and even recent immoralities" ("Lives of the Fathers," ch. vi., sec. 2).

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Suffereth long (μακροθυμεῖ)

See on James 5:7.

Is kind (χρηστεύεται)

Only here in the New Testament. See on χρηστὸς, A.V., easy, Matthew 11:30, and see on χρηστότης good, Romans 3:12.

"The high charity which makes us servants

Prompt to the counsel which controls the world."

Dante, "Paradiso," xxi., 70, 71.

Vaunteth (περπερεύεται)

From πέρπερος a braggart. Used of one who sounds his own praises. Cicero introduces a compound of the word in one of his letters to Atticus, describing his speech in the presence of Pompey, who had just addressed the senate on his return from the Mithridatic war. He says: "Heavens! How I showed off (ἐνεπερπερευσάμην) before my new auditor Pompey," and describes the various rhetorical tricks which he employed.

Puffed up (φυσιοῦται)

See on 1 Corinthians 4:6, and compare 1 Corinthians 8:1. Of inward disposition, as the previous word denotes outward display. The opposite is put by Dante:

"That swells with love the spirit well-disposed."

"Paradiso," x., 144.

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Easily provoked (παροξύνεται)

Easily is superfluous, and gives a wrong coloring to the statement, which is absolute: is not provoked or exasperated. The verb occurs only here and Acts 17:16. The kindred noun παροξυσμός, in Acts 15:39, describes the irritation which arose between Paul and Barnabas. In Hebrews 10:24, stimulating to good works. It is used of provoking God, Deuteronomy 9:8; Psalm 105:29; Isaiah 65:3.

Thinketh no evil (οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν)

Lit., reckoneth not the evil. Rev., taketh not account of. The evil; namely, that which is done to love. "Love, instead of entering evil as a debt in its account-book, voluntarily passes the sponge over what it endures" (Godet).

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Rejoiceth in the truth (συγχαίρει τῇ ἁληθείᾳ)

Rev., correctly, rejoiceth with. Truth is personified as love is. Compare Psalm 85:10.

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Beareth (στέγει)

See on suffer, 1 Corinthians 9:12. It keeps out resentment as the ship keeps out the water, or the roof the rain.

Endureth (ὑπομένει)

An advance on beareth: patient acquiescence, holding its ground when it can no longer believe nor hope.

"All my days are spent and gone;

And ye no more shall lead your wretched life,

Caring for me. hard was it, that Iknow,

My children! Yet one word is strong to loose,

Although alone, the burden of these toils,

For love in larger store ye could not have

From any than from him who standeth here."

Sophocles, "Oedipus at Colonus," 613-618.

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.
Faileth (ἐκπίπει)

Falls off (ἐκ) like a leaf or flower, as James 1:11; 1 Peter 1:24. In classical Greek it was used of an actor who was hissed off the stage. But the correct reading is πίπτει falls, in a little more general sense, as Luke 16:17. Love holds its place.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
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.
A child

See on 1 Corinthians 3:1, and see on 1 Corinthians 2:6.

I understood (ἐφρόνουν)

See on Romans 8:5. The kindred noun φρένες occurs only once in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 14:20, where also it is associated with children in the sense of reflection or discrimination. Rev. renders felt; but the verb, as Edwards correctly remarks, is not the generic term for emotion, though it may be used for what includes emotion. The reference here is to the earlier undeveloped exercise of the childish mind; a thinking which is not yet connected reasoning. This last is expressed by ελογίζομην I thought or reasoned. There seems to be a covert reference to the successive stages of development; mere idle prating; thought, in the sense of crude, general notions; consecutive reasoning.

When I became (ὄτε γέγονα)

Rev., better, giving the force of the perfect tense, now that I am become. Hence I have put away for I put away. Lit., have brought them to nought.

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.
Through a glass (δἰ ἐσόπτρου)

Rev., in a mirror. Through (διά) is by means of. Others, however, explain it as referring to the illusion by which the mirrored image appears to be on the other side of the surface: others, again, think that the reference is to a window made of horn or other translucent material. This is quite untenable. Ἔσοπτρον mirror occurs only here and James 1:23. The synonymous word κάτοπτρον does not appear in the New Testament, but its kindred verb κατοπτρίζομαι to look at one's self in a mirror, is found, 2 Corinthians 3:18. The thought of imperfect seeing is emphasized by the character of the ancient mirror, which was of polished metal, and required constant polishing, so that a sponge with pounded pumice-stone was generally attached to it. Corinth was famous for the manufacture of these. Pliny mentions stone mirrors of agate, and Nero is said to have used an emerald. The mirrors were usually so small as to be carried in the hand, though there are allusions to larger ones which reflected the entire person. The figure of the mirror, illustrating the partial vision of divine things, is frequent in the rabbinical writings, applied, for instance, to Moses and the prophets. Plato says: "There is no light in the earthly copies of justice or temperance or any of the higher qualities which are precious to souls: they are seen through a glass, dimly" ("Phaedrus," 250). Compare "Republic," vii., 516.

Darkly (ἐν αἰνίγματι)

Lit., in a riddle or enigma, the word expressing the obscure form in which the revelation appears. Compare δἰ αἰνιγμάτων in dark speeches, Numbers 12:8.

Face to face

Compare mouth to mouth, Numbers 12:8.

Shall I know (ἐπιγνώσομαι)

American Rev., rightly, "I shall fully know." See on knowledge, Romans 3:20. The A.V. has brought this out in 2 Corinthians 6:9, well known.

I am known (ἐπεγνώσθην)

The tense is the aorist, "was known," in my imperfect condition. Paul places himself at the future stand-point, when the perfect has come. The compound verb is the same as the preceding. Hence American Rev., "I was fully known."

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
And now (νυνὶ δὲ)

Rev., but; better than and, bringing out the contrast with the transient gifts. Now is logical and not temporal. Thus, as it is.


Not merely in this life. The essential permanence of the three graces is asserted. In their nature they are eternal.

Vincent's Word Studies, by Marvin R. Vincent [1886].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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