Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


1 Corinthians 13:12

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Now we see through a glass, darkly - Δι 'εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι . Of these words some literal explanation is necessary. The word εσοπτρον which we translate a glass, literally signifies a mirror or reflector, from εις, into, and οπτομαι, I look; and among the ancients mirrors were certainly made of fine polished metal. The word here may signify any thing by which the image of a person is reflected, as in our looking, or look in glass. The word is not used for a glass to look through; nor would such an image have suited with the apostle's design.

The εσοπτρον or mirror, is mentioned by some of the most ancient Greek writers; so Anacreon, Ode xi. ver. 1: -

Αεγουσιν αἱ γυναικες,

Ανακρεων, γερων ει·

Ααβων ΕΣΟΠΤΡΟΝ αθρειπ

Κομας μεν ουκετ 'ουσας .

The women tell me,

Anacreon, thou art grown old;

Take thy mirror, and view

How few of thy hairs remain.

And again, in Ode xx. ver. 5: -

Εγω δ 'εσοπτρον ειην,

Ὁπως αει βλεπης με .

I wish I were a mirror

That thou mightst always look into me.

In Exodus 38:8, we meet with the term looking glasses; but the original is מראת maroth, and should be translated mirrors; as out of those very articles, which we absurdly translate looking Glasses, the brazen laver was made!

In the Greek version the word εσοπτρον is not found but twice, and that in the apocryphal books.

In the book of the Wisdom of Solomon 7:26, speaking of wisdom the author says: "She is the brightness of the everlasting light, και εσοπτρον ακηλιδωτον, and the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness." In Ecclus. 12:11, exhorting to put no trust in an enemy, he says: "Though he humble himself, and go crouching, yet take good heed and beware of him, and thou shalt be unto him, ὡς εκμεμαχως εσοπτρον, as if thou hadst wiped a looking glass, (mirror), and thou shalt know that his rust hath not altogether been wiped away." All these passages must be understood of polished metal, not of glass, which, though it existed among the Romans and others, yet was brought to very little perfection; and as to grinding and silvering of glass, they are modern inventions.

Some have thought that the apostle refers to something of the telescopic kind, by which distant and small objects become visible, although their surfaces become dim in proportion to the quantum of the magnifying power; but this is too refined; he appears simply to refer to a mirror by which images were rejected, and not to any diaphanous and magnifying powers, through which objects were perceived.

Possibly the true meaning of the words δι 'εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι, through a glass darkly, may be found among the Jewish writers, who use a similar term to express nearly the same thing to which the apostle refers. A revelation of the will of God, in clear and express terms, is called by them מאירה אספקלריא aspecularia maira, a clear or lucid glass, or specular in reference, specularibus lapidibus, to the diaphanous polished stones, used by the ancients for windows instead of glass. An obscure prophecy they termed נהריא דלא אספקלריא aspecularia dela naharia, "a specular which is not clear."

Numbers 12:6; : If there be a prophet - I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and I will speak unto him in a dream; Rab. Tanchum thus explains: "My Shechinah shall not be revealed to him, מאירה באספקלריא beaspecularia maira, in a lucid specular, but only in a dream and a vision."

On Ezekiel 1:4, Ezekiel 1:5; : And I looked, and behold a whirlwind - a great cloud, and a fire unfolding itself, etc.; Sohar Chadash, fol. 33, says: "This is a vision נהרא דלא באספקלריא beaspecularia dela nahara, by an obscure or dark specular."

From a great variety of examples produced by Schoettgen it appears that the rabbins make a great deal of difference between seeing through the lucid glass or specular, and seeing through the obscure one. The first is attributed only to Moses, who conversed with God face to face, i.e. through the lucid specular; and between the other prophets, who saw him in dreams and visions, i.e. through the obscure specular. In these distinctions and sayings of the ancient Jews we must seek for that to which the apostle alludes. See Schoettgen.

The word αινιγματι, which we render darkly, will help us to the true meaning of the place. The following is Mr. Parkhurst's definition of the term and of the thing: "Αινιγμα, from ηνιγμαι, the perfect passive of ισυιττω, to hint, intimate, signify with some degree of obscurity; an enigma, in which one thing answers or stands in correspondence to, or as the representative of, another, which is in some respects similar to it; occurs 1 Corinthians 13:12; : Now - in this life, we see by means of a mirror reflecting the images of heavenly and spiritual things, εν αινιγματι, in an enigmatical manner, invisible things being represented by visible, spiritual by natural, eternal by temporal; but then - in the eternal world, face to face, every thing being seen in itself, and not by means of a representative or similitude."

Now I know in part - Though I have an immediate revelation from God concerning his great design in the dispensation of the Gospel, yet there are lengths, breadths, depths, and heights of this design, which even that revelation has not discovered; nor can they be known and apprehended in the present imperfect state. Eternity alone can unfold the whole scheme of the Gospel.

As - I am known - In the same manner in which disembodied spirits know and understand.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

For now we see through a glass - Paul here makes use of another illustration to show the imperfection of our knowledge here. Compared with what it will be in the future world, it is like the imperfect view of an object which we have in looking through an obscure and opaque medium compared with the view which we have when we look at it “face to face.” The word “glass” here ( ἐσοπτρον esoptron) means properly a mirror, a looking-glass. The mirrors of the ancients were usually made of polished metal; Exodus 38:8; Job 37:18. Many have supposed (see Doddridge, in loc. and Robinson‘s Lexicon) that the idea here is that of seeing objects by reflection from a mirror, which reflects only their imperfect forms. But this interpretation does not well accord with the apostle‘s idea of seeing things obscurely. The most natural idea is that of seeing objects by an imperfect medium, by looking “through” something in contemplating them.

It is, therefore, probable that he refers to those transparent substances which the ancients had, and which they used in their windows occasionally; such as thin plates of horn, transparent stone, etc. Windows were often made of the “lapis specularis” described by Plint (xxxvi. 22), which was pellucid, and which admitted of being split into thin “laminae” or scales, probably the same as mica. Humboldt mentions such kinds of stone as being used in South America in church windows - Bloomfield. It is not improbable, I think, that even in the time of Paul the ancients had the knowledge of glass, though it was probably at first very imperfect and obscure. There is some reason to believe that glass was known to the Phenicians, the Tyrians, and the Egyptians. Pliny says that it was first discovered by accident. A merchant vessel, laden with nitre or fossil alkali, having been driven on shore on the coast of Palestine near the river Belus, the crew went in search of provisions, and accidentally supported the kettles on which they dressed their food upon pieces of fossil alkali.

The river sand above which this operation was performed was vitrified by its union with the alkali, and thus produced glass - See Edin. Encyclopedia, “Glass.” It is known that glass was in quite common use about the commencement of the Christian era. In the reign of Tiberius an artist had his house demolished for making glass malleable. About this time drinking vessels were made commonly of glass; and glass bottles for holding wine and flowers were in common use. That glass was in quite common use has been proved by the remains that have been discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. There is, therefore, no impropriety in supposing that Paul here may have alluded to the imperfect and discolored glass which was then in extensive use; for we have no reason to suppose that it was then as transparent as that which is now made. It was, doubtless, an imperfect and obscure medium, and, therefore, well adapted to illustrate the nature of our knowledge here compared with what it wilt be in heaven.

Darkly - Margin, “In a riddle” ( ἐν αἰνίγματι en ainigmati). The word means a riddle; an enigma; then an obscure intimation. In a riddle a statement is made with some resemblance to the truth; a puzzling question is proposed, and the solution is left to conjecture. Hence, it means, as here, obscurely, darkly, imperfectly. Little is known; much is left to conjecture; a very accurate account of most of that which passes for knowledge. Compared with heaven, our knowledge here much resembles the obscure intimations in an enigma compared with clear statement and manifest truth.

But then - In the fuller revelations in heaven.

Face to face - As when one looks upon an object openly, and not through an obscure and dark medium. It here means, therefore, “clearly, without obscurity.”

I know in part - 1 Corinthians 13:9.

But then shall I know - My knowledge shall be clear and distinct. I shall have a clear view of those objects which are now so indistinct and obscure. I shall be in the presence of those objects about which I now inquire; I shall “see” them; I shall have a clear acquaintance with the divine perfections, plans, and character. This does not mean that he would know “everything,” or that he would be omniscient; but that in regard to those points of inquiry in which he was then interested, he would have a view that would be distinct and clear - a view that would be clear, arising from the fact that he would be present with them, and permitted to see them, instead of surveying them at a distance, and by imperfect mediums.

Even as also I am known - “In the same manner” ( καθὼς kathōs), not “to the same extent.” It does not mean that he would know God as clearly and as fully as God would know him; for his remark does not relate to the “extent,” but to the “manner” and the comparative “clearness” of his knowledge. He would see things as he was now seen and would be seen there. It would be face to face. He would be in their presence. It would not be where he would be seen clearly and distinctly, and himself compelled to look upon all objects confusedly and obscurely, and through an imperfect medium. But he would he with them; would see them face to face; would see them without any medium; would see them “in the same manner” as they would see him. Disembodied spirits, and the inhabitants of the heavenly world, have this knowledge; and when we are there, we shall see the truths, not at a distance and obscurely, but plainly and openly.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Charity is much to be preferred to the gifts on which the Corinthians prided themselves. From its longer continuance. It is a grace, lasting as eternity. The present state is a state of childhood, the future that of manhood. Such is the difference between earth and heaven. What narrow views, what confused notions of things, have children when compared with grown men! Thus shall we think of our most valued gifts of this world, when we come to heaven. All things are dark and confused now, compared with what they will be hereafter. They can only be seen as by the reflection in a mirror, or in the description of a riddle; but hereafter our knowledge will be free from all obscurity and error. It is the light of heaven only, that will remove all clouds and darkness that hide the face of God from us. To sum up the excellences of charity, it is preferred not only to gifts, but to other graces, to faith and hope. Faith fixes on the Divine revelation, and assents thereto, relying on the Divine Redeemer. Hope fastens on future happiness, and waits for that; but in heaven, faith will be swallowed up in actual sight, and hope in enjoyment. There is no room to believe and hope, when we see and enjoy. But there, love will be made perfect. There we shall perfectly love God. And there we shall perfectly love one another. Blessed state! how much surpassing the best below! God is love, 1Jo 4:8,16. Where God is to be seen as he is, and face to face, there charity is in its greatest height; there only will it be perfected.
Ellen G. White
Lift Him Up, 361.4

Jesus is waiting with longing desire to open before His people the glory that will attend His second advent, and to carry them forward to a contemplation of the landscape of bliss. There are wonders to be revealed. A long lifetime of prayer and research will leave much unexplored and unexplained. But what we know not now will be revealed hereafter. The work of instruction begun here will be carried on to all eternity. The Lamb, as He leads the hosts of the redeemed to the fountain of living waters, will impart rich stores of knowledge; He will unravel mysteries in the works and providence of God that have never before been understood. LHU 361.4

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Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 670

The disciples still failed to understand Christ's words in their spiritual sense, and again He explained His meaning. By the Spirit, He said, He would manifest Himself to them. “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things.” No more will you say, I cannot comprehend. No longer will you see through a glass, darkly. You shall “be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” Ephesians 3:18, 19. DA 670.1

The disciples were to bear witness to the life and work of Christ. Through their word He was to speak to all the people on the face of the earth. But in the humiliation and death of Christ they were to suffer great trial and disappointment. That after this experience their word might be accurate, Jesus promised that the Comforter should “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” DA 670.2

“I have yet many things to say unto you,” He continued, “but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you.” Jesus had opened before His disciples a vast tract of truth. But it was most difficult for them to keep His lessons distinct from the traditions and maxims of the scribes and Pharisees. They had been educated to accept the teaching of the rabbis as the voice of God, and it still held a power over their minds, and molded their sentiments. Earthly ideas, temporal things, still had a large place in their thoughts. They did not understand the spiritual nature of Christ's kingdom, though He had so often explained it to them. Their minds had become confused. They did not comprehend the value of the scriptures Christ presented. Many of His lessons seemed almost lost upon them. Jesus saw that they did not lay hold of the real meaning of His words. He compassionately promised that the Holy Spirit should recall these sayings to their minds. And He had left unsaid many things that could not be comprehended by the disciples. These also would be opened to them by the Spirit. The Spirit was to quicken their understanding, that they might have an appreciation of heavenly things. “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come,” said Jesus, “He will guide you into all truth.” DA 670.3

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Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 804

The resurrection of Jesus was a type of the final resurrection of all who sleep in Him. The countenance of the risen Saviour, His manner, His speech, were all familiar to His disciples. As Jesus arose from the dead, so those who sleep in Him are to rise again. We shall know our friends, even as the disciples knew Jesus. They may have been deformed, diseased, or disfigured, in this mortal life, and they rise in perfect health and symmetry; yet in the glorified body their identity will be perfectly preserved. Then shall we know even as also we are known. 1 Corinthians 13:12. In the face radiant with the light shining from the face of Jesus, we shall recognize the lineaments of those we love. DA 804.1

When Jesus met with His disciples, He reminded them of the words He had spoken to them before His death, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalm concerning Him. “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” DA 804.2

The disciples began to realize the nature and extent of their work. They were to proclaim to the world the wonderful truths which Christ had entrusted to them. The events of His life, His death and resurrection, the prophecies that pointed to these events, the sacredness of the law of God, the mysteries of the plan of salvation, the power of Jesus for the remission of sins,—to all these things they were witnesses, and they were to make them known to the world. They were to proclaim the gospel of peace and salvation through repentance and the power of the Saviour. DA 805.1

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Ellen G. White
Education, 303

“These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.... They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters.” Revelation 7:14-17. Ed 303.1

“Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:” now we know in part; but then shall we know even as also we are known. 1 Corinthians 13:12. Ed 303.2

“They shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads.” Revelation 22:4. Ed 303.3

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