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1 Corinthians 13:1

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Though I speak, etc. - At the conclusion of the preceding chapter the apostle promised to show the Corinthians a more excellent way than that in which they were now proceeding. They were so distracted with contentions, divided by parties, and envious of each other's gifts, that unity was nearly destroyed. This was a full proof that love to God and man was wanting; and that without this, their numerous gifts and other graces were nothing in the eyes of God; for it was evident that they did not love one another, which is a proof that they did not love God; and consequently, that they had not true religion. Having, by his advices and directions, corrected many abuses, and having shown them how in outward things they should walk so as to please God, he now shows them the spirit, temper, and disposition in which this should be done, and without which all the rest must be ineffectual.

Before I proceed to the consideration of the different parts of this chapter, it may be necessary to examine whether the word αγαπη be best translated by charity or love. Wiclif, translating from the Vulgate, has the word charity; and him our authorized version follows. But Coverdale, Matthews, Cranmer, and the Geneva Bible, have love; which is adopted by recent translators and commentators in general; among whom the chief are Dodd, Pearce, Purver, Wakefield, and Wesley; all these strenuously contend that the word charity, which is now confined to almsgiving, is utterly improper; and that the word love, alone expresses the apostle's sense. As the word charity seems now to express little else than almsgiving, which, performed even to the uttermost of a man's power, is nothing if he lack what the apostle terms αγαπη, and which we here translate charity; it is best to omit the use of a word in this place which, taken in its ordinary signification, makes the apostle contradict himself; see 1 Corinthians 13:3; : Though I give all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. That is: "Though I have the utmost charity, and act in every respect according to its dictates, yet, if I have not charity, my utmost charity is unprofitable." Therefore, to shun this contradiction, and the probable misapplication of the term, Love had better be substituted for Charity!

The word αγαπη, love, I have already considered at large in the note on Matthew 22:37; and to that place I beg leave to refer the reader for its derivation and import. Our English word love we have from the Teutonic leben to live, because love is the means, dispenser, and preserver of life; and without it life would have nothing desirable, nor indeed any thing even supportable: or it may be taken immediately from the Anglo-Saxon lofa and lufa love, from lufan and lufian, to desire, to love, to favor. It would be ridiculous to look to the Greek verb φιλειν for its derivation.

Having said so much about the word love, we should say something of the word charity, which is supposed to be improper in this place. Charity comes to us immediately from the French charite, who borrowed it from the Latin charitas, which is probably borrowed from the Greek χαρις, signifying grace or favor, or χαρα, joy, as a benefit bestowed is a favor that inspires him who receives it with joy; and so far contributes to his happiness. The proper meaning of the word Charus, is dear, costly; and Charitas, is dearth, scarcity, a high price, or dearness. Hence, as in times of dearth or scarcity, many, especially the poor, must be in want, and the benevolent will be excited to relieve them; the term which expressed the cause of this want was applied to the disposition which was excited in behalf of the sufferer. Now, as he who relieves a person in distress, and preserves his life by communicating a portion of his property to him, will feel a sort of interest in the person thus preserved; Hence he is said to be dear to him: i.e. he has cost him something; and he values him in proportion to the trouble or expense he has cost him. Thus charity properly expresses that affectionate attachment we may feel to a person whose wants we have been enabled to relieve; but originally it signified that want of the necessaries of life which produced dearth or dearness of those necessaries; and brought the poor man into that state in which he stood so much in need of the active benevolence of his richer neighbor. If the word be applied to God's benevolence towards man, it comes in with all propriety and force: we are dear to God, for we have not been purchased with silver or gold, but with the precious (τιμιῳ αἱματι, costly) blood of Christ, who so loved us as to give his life a ransom for ours.

As Christians in general acknowledge that this chapter is the most important in the whole New Testament, I shall give here the first translation of it into the English language which is known to exist, extracted from an ancient and noble MS. in my own possession, which seems to exhibit both a text and language, if not prior to the time of Wiclif, yet certainly not posterior to his days. The reader will please to observe that there are no divisions of verses in the MS.

The XIII. Chapter of 1 Corinthians, from an Ancient MS.

Gyf I speke with tungis of men and aungels sotheli I have not charitee: I am maad as brasse sounynge, or a symbale tynking. And gif I schal habe prophecie and habe knowen alle mysteries and alle hunynge or science . and gif I schal have al feith so that I oder bere hills fro oo place to an other. forsothe gif I schal not have charite: I am nought. And gif I schal deperte al my goodid into metis of pore men. And gif I schal bitake my body so that I brenne forsothe gif I schal not have charite it profitith to me no thing. Charite is pacient or suffering . It is benyngne or of good wille . Charite envyeth not. It doth not gyle it is not inblowen with pride it is not ambyciouse or coveitouse of wirschippis. It seeketh not the thingis that ben her owne. It is not stirid to wrath it thinkith not yvil. it joyeth not on wickidnesse forsothe it joyeth to gydre to treuthe. It suffreth all thingis. it bileeveth alle thingis. it hopith alle thingis it susteeneth alle things. Charite fallith not doun. Whether prophecies schuln be bolde eyther langagis schuln ceese: eyther science schul be distruyed. Forsothe of the party we ban knowen: and of partye prophecien. Forsothe whenne that schal cum to that is perfit: that thing that is of partye schal be avoydid. Whenne I was a litil chiilde: I spake as a litil chiilde. I understode as a litil chiilde: I thougte as a litil chiild. Forsothe whenne I was a maad a mam: I avoydid tho thingis that weren of a litil chiild. Forsothe we seen now bi a moror in dercness: thanne forsothe face to face. Nowe I know of partye: thanne forsothe I schal know and as I am knowen. Nowe forsothe dwellen feith hoope charite. These three: forsothe the more of hem is charite.

This is the whole of the chapter as it exists in the MS., with all its peculiar orthography, points, and lines. The words with lines under may be considered the translator's marginal readings; for, though incorporated with the text, they are distinguished from it by those lines.

I had thought once of giving a literal translation of the whole chapter from all the ancient versions. This would be both curious and useful; but the reader might think it would take up too much of his time, and the writer has none to spare.

The tongues of men - All human languages, with all the eloquence of the most accomplished orator.

And of angels - i.e. Though a man knew the language of the eternal world so well that he could hold conversation with its inhabitants, and find out the secrets of their kingdom. Or, probably, the apostle refers to a notion that was common among the Jews, that there was a language by which angels might be invoked, adjured, collected, and dispersed; and by the means of which many secrets might be found out, and curious arts and sciences known.

There is much of this kind to be found in their cabalistical books, and in the books of many called Christians. Cornelius Agrippa's occult philosophy abounds in this; and it was the main object of Dr. Dee's actions with spirits to get a complete vocabulary of this language. See what has been published of his work by Dr. Casaubon; and the remaining manuscript parts in the Sloane library, in the British museum.

In Bava Bathra, fol. 134, mention is made of a famous rabbin, Jochanan ben Zaccai, who understood the language of devils, trees, and angels.

Some think that the apostle means only the most splendid eloquence; as we sometimes apply the word angelic to signify any thing sublime, grand, beautiful, etc.; but it is more likely that he speaks here after the manner of his countrymen, who imagined that there was an angelic language which was the key to many mysteries; a language which might be acquired, and which, they say, had been learned by several.

Sounding brass - Χαλκος ηχων· That is, like a trumpet made of brass; for although; χαλκος signifies brass, and aes signifies the same, yet we know the latter is often employed to signify the trumpet, because generally made of this metal. Thus Virgil, when he represents Misenus endeavoring to fright away the harpies with the sound of his trumpet: -

Ergo, ubi delapsae sonitum per curva dedere

Littora, dat signum specula Misenus ab alta

Aere cavo: invadunt socii, et nova praelia tentant,

Obscoenas pelagi ferro faedare volucres.

Aeneid, lib. iii. ver. 238.

Then as the harpies from the hills once more

Poured shrieking down, and crowded round the shore,

On his high stand Misenus sounds from far

The brazen trump, the signal of the war.

With unaccustomed fight, we flew to slay

The forms obscene, dread monsters of the sea.

Pitt.

The metal of which the instrument was made is used again for the instrument itself, in that fine passage of the same poet, Aeneid, lib. ix. ver. 603, where he represents the Trojans rushing to battle against the Volsciane: -

At tuba terribilem sonitum procul aere canoro

Increpuit: sequitur clamor, caelumque remugit.

And now the trumpets, terrible from far,

With rattling clangour rouse the sleepy war.

The soldiers' shouts succeed the brazen sounds

And heaven from pole to pole their noise rebounds.

Dryden.

And again, in his Battle of the Bees, Geor., lib. iv. ver. 70: -

- namque morantes

Martius ille aeris rauci canor increpat, et vox

Auditur fractos sonitus imitata tubarum.

With shouts the cowards' courage they excite,

And martial clangours call them out to fight;

With hoarse alarms the hollow camp rebounds,

That imitate the trumpet's angry sounds.

Dryden.

Examples of the same figure might be multiplied; but these are sufficient.

Tinkling cymbal - "The cymbal was a concavo-convex plate of brass, the concave side of which being struck against another plate of the same kind produced a tinkling, inharmonious sound." We may understand the apostle thus: "Though I possessed the knowledge of all languages, and could deliver even the truth of God in them in the most eloquent manner, and had not a heart full of love to God and man, producing piety and obedience to the One, and benevolence and beneficence to the other, doing unto all as I would wish them to do to me were our situations reversed, my religion is no more to my salvation than the sounds emitted by the brazen trumpet, or the jingling of the cymbals could contribute intellectual pleasure to the instruments which produce them; and, in the sight of God, I am of no more moral worth than those sounds are. I have, it is true, a profession; but, destitute of a heart filled with love to God and man, producing meekness, gentleness, long-suffering, etc., I am without the soul and essence of religion."

I have quoted several passages from heathens of the most cultivated minds in Greece and Rome to illustrate passages of the sacred writers. I shall now quote one from an illiterate collier of Paulton, in Somerset; and, as I have named Homer, Horace, Virgil, and others, I will quote Josiah Gregory, whose mind might be compared to a diamond of the first water, whose native splendor broke in various places through its incrustations, but whose brilliancy was not brought out for want of the hand of the lapidary. Among various energetic sayings of this great, unlettered man, I remember to have heard the following: "People of little religion are always noisy; he who has not the love of God and man filling his heart is like an empty wagon coming violently down a hill: it makes a great noise, because there is nothing in it."

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The excellent way had in view in the close of the former chapter, is not what is meant by charity in our common use of the word, almsgiving, but love in its fullest meaning; true love to God and man. Without this, the most glorious gifts are of no account to us, of no esteem in the sight of God. A clear head and a deep understanding, are of no value without a benevolent and charitable heart. There may be an open and lavish hand, where there is not a liberal and charitable heart. Doing good to others will do none to us, if it be not done from love to God, and good-will to men. If we give away all we have, while we withhold the heart from God, it will not profit. Nor even the most painful sufferings. How are those deluded who look for acceptance and reward for their good works, which are as scanty and defective as they are corrupt and selfish!
Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Though I speak with the tongues of men - Though I should be able to speak all the languages which are spoken by people. To speak foreign languages was regarded then, as it is now, as a rare and valuable endowment; compare Virgil, Aeneas vi. 625ff. The word “I” here is used in a popular sense, and the apostle designs to illustrate, as he often does, his idea by a reference to himself, which, it is evident, he wishes to be understood as applying to those whom he addressed. It is evident that among the Corinthians the power of speaking a foreign language was regarded as a signally valuable endowment; and there can be no doubt that some of the leaders in that church valued themselves especially on it; see 2 Corinthians 12:4, where he says that when he was caught up into paradise, he heard unspeakable words which it was not possible for a man to utter. To this higher, purer language of heaven he may refer here by the language of the angels. It was not with him mere “conjecture” of what that language might be; it was language which he had been permitted himself to hear. Of that scene he would refain a most deep and tender recollection; and to that language he now refers, by saying that even that elevated language would be valueless to a creature if there were not love.

And have not charity - ( ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω agapēn de mē echōAnd have not love. This is the proper and usual meaning of the Greek word. The English word charity is used in a great variety of senses; and some of them cannot be included in the meaning of the word here. It means:

(1) In a general sense, love, benevolence, good-will;

(2) In theology, it includes supreme love to God and universal good-will to mankind;

(3) In a more particular sense, it denotes the love and kindness which springs from the natural relations, as the “charities” of father, son, brother;

(4) Liberality to the poor, to the needy, and to objects of beneficence, as we speak commonly of “charity,” meaning almsgiving, and of charitable societies;

(5) “Candor” liberality in judging of people‘s actions indulgence to their opinions; attributing to them good motives and intentions; a disposition to judge of them favorably, and to put on their words and actions the best construction. This is a very common signification of the word in our language now, and this is one modification of the word “love,” as all such charity is supposed to proceed from “love” to our neighbor, and a desire that he should have a right to his opinions as well as we to ours. The Greek word ἀγάπη agapēmeans properly “love,” affection, regard, good-will, benevolence. It is applied:

(a)To love in general;

(b)To the love of God and of Christ;

(c)The love which God or Christ exercises toward Christians, Romans 5:5; Ephesians 2:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:5;

(d)The effect, or proof of beneficence, favor conferred: Ephesians 1:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; 1 John 3:1. Robinson, Lexicon.

In the English word “charity,” therefore, there are now some ideas which are not found in the Greek word, and especially the idea of “almsgiving,” and the common use of the word among us in the sense of “candor” or “liberality in judging.” Neither of these ideas, perhaps, are to be found in the use of the word in the chapter before us; and the more proper translation would have been, in accordance with the usual mode of translation in the New Testament, love. Tyndale in his translation, renders it by the word “love.” The “love” which is referred to in this chapter, and illustrated, is mainly “love to man” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; though there is no reason to doubt that the apostle meant also to include in the general term love to God, or love in general. His illustrations, however, are chiefly drawn from the effects of love toward people. It properly means love to the whole church, love to the whole world; love to all creatures which arises from true piety, and which centers ultimately in God - Doddridge. It is this love whose importance Paul, in this beautiful chapter, illustrates as being more valuable than the highest possible endowments without it. It is not necessary to suppose that anyone had these endowments, or had the power of speaking with the tongues of human beings and angels; or had the gift of prophecy, or had the highest degree of faith who had no love. The apostle supposes a case; and says that if it were so, if all these were possessed without love, they would be comparatively valueless; or that love was a more valuable endowment than all the others would be without it.

I am become - I am. I shall be.

As sounding brass - Probably a “trumpet.” The word properly means brass; then that which is made of brass; a trumpet, or wind instrument of any kind made of brass or copper. The sense is that of a sounding or resounding instrument, making a great noise, apparently of great importance, and yet without vitality; a mere instrument; a base metal that merely makes a sound. Thus, noisy, valueless, empty, and without vitality would be the power of speaking all languages without love.

Or a tinkling cymbal - A cymbal giving a clanging, clattering sound. The word rendered “tinkling” ( ἀλαλάζον alalazonfrom ἄλαλή or αλαλα alalaa “war-cry”) properly denotes a loud cry, or shout, such as is used in battle; and then also a loud cry or mourning, cries of lamentation or grief; the loud “shrick” of sorrow, Mark 5:38, “Them that wept and wailed greatly.” It then means a clanging or clattering sound, such as was made on a cymbal. The cymbal is a well-known instrument, made of two pieces of brass or other metal, which, being struck together, gives a tinkling or clattering sound. Cymbals arc commonly used in connection with other music. They make a tinkling, or clanging, with very little variety of sound. The music is little adapted to produce emotion, or to excite feeling. There is no melody and no harmony. They were, therefore, well adapted to express the idea which the apostle wished to convey. The sense is, “If I could speak all languages, yet if I had not love, the faculty would be like the clattering. clanging sound of the cymbal, that contributes nothing to the welfare of others. It would all be hollow, vain, useless. It could neither save me nor others, any more than the notes of the trumpet, or the jingling of the cymbal, would promote salvation. “Love” is the vital principle; it is that without which all ether endowments are useless and vain.”

Ellen G. White
The Voice in Speech and Song, 283.1

Eloquent Orations As Sounding Brass—The life renewed by divine grace and hidden with Christ in God is eloquent in its simplicity. The orations and speeches made by apparently learned men are in God's estimation as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal in comparison with the words which come direct from a heart refined by belief in Christ as a personal Saviour. Those who are eloquent in God's sight are willing to walk in lowly paths. They are unappreciated by those who are constantly striving for the supremacy, who have no sense of what it means to walk in humble subjection to God's will and way; but God declares: “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word” [Isaiah 66:2].—Manuscript 176, 1899. VSS 283.1

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Ellen G. White
The Upward Look, 66.1

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 Corinthians 13:1. UL 66.1

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