Church Write-Up: I Corinthians 13

At the LCMS Bible study, the topic was I Corinthians 13. Here are some items:

A. The pastor started by talking about the Hebrew word for love, “ahav.” He said that it covers various kinds of love, but it always indicates an emotional or intimate bond. He seemed to suggest that the Hebrew Bible never uses “ahav” for love of objects (as opposed to people). For example, Genesis 3:6(7) employs another verb for Eve’s desire towards the forbidden fruit, ch-m-d. But there actually are occasions in which “ahavah” is directed towards objects: Gen 27:9, 12 refers to Isaac’s love for meat. I will revisit the pastor’s point in (D.).

B. The pastor then went through various Greek words for love. Phileo refers to the feeling of love. Storge is used for love of family, neighbor, or the body politic. Eros is sexual passion or desire. According to the pastor, there were two lines of interpretation of eros within Greek thought. The Platonic line treated eros as an appreciation for the ideal of beauty, for Plato believed that there was a form of beauty in the spirit realm of which beautiful people and objects were imperfect representations. The other line interpreted eros as sexual passion, and Greek thought feared eros in that sense because it was irrational and entailed a loss of control over one’s body, emotions, and life. Ludus is playful love and can encompass children at play, flirtation, or laughter among friends, and it can lead to a deeper relationship. Pragma is a mature love, the sort that sustains marriages. Ludus and pragma are not in the Bible.

C. The pastor defined agape as an esteem for people, which is irrelevant to whether they reciprocate that love. It is seeing another as precious. It occurs in classical Greek but is rare, and the pastor speculated that this could have been why it was chosen to translate ahav: agape was not overused. However, on page 52 of Exegetical Fallacies, D.A. Carson states that agape was prominent in Greek literature from the fourth century B.C.E. on, and that it was replacing phileo because phileo “had acquired the meaning of to kiss as part of its semantic range.”

D. I did a quick search of agapao in the Septuagint. It does seem that what the pastor said about ahav and objects is largely accurate when it comes to agape in the Septuagint. Isaac’s love for meat, for instance, is translated with phileo. But there are occasions in which agapao can refer to a deep devotion or overwhelming preference for something inanimate, such as pleasure, sleep, money, or violence. Agapao appears to go beyond merely liking something, however: it is the devotion of one’s life to something, such that it shapes and defines one’s life. There are times when agapao seems to encompass affection while including more than that: Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons. Jacob obviously had more affection for Joseph, but he had more than affection: he cared about Joseph more. The people of Israel loved David. I would not characterize this as some grand sort of unconditional love, but it may go beyond merely “liking” David. There are times when agapao relates more to action than to emotions. Love for others in the Torah appears to entail refraining from harming them, while exercising compassion towards them in terms of helping to meet their needs. One can do this without a whole lot of emotional affection.

E. The pastor noted that Paul in I Corinthians 13 speaks in the first person. “If I understood all mysteries and have not love….” The pastor speculated that this may be a rhetorical device on Paul’s part as he responds to people who were trying to take his place. There were people in the Corinthian church who believed that they were more gifted than Paul. Paul was away in Ephesus, so they tried to be in charge of the Corinthian church in his absence. Paul was essentially saying, “You want to be like me, well, let me tell you what applies to me, and this applies to you, too.”

F. Several of the Corinthian Christians were using their gifts as a reason to boast. Paul was not only telling them that their gifts exist to serve others, but he was also telling them that their spiritual gifts were only partial. They will be complete when Christ appears at the end. According to the pastor, Paul was essentially saying: “You think you have it all but you don’t so you should be humble rather than puffing yourself up over what little you do have.”

G. Faith, hope, and love, by contrast, are already complete. I cannot say that I fully understood the pastor’s point here, since he acknowledged that, due to our flesh, we often are not loving. But there were things that he did say that may clarify his point. Faith, hope, and love will not be replaced with something more complete when Christ appears at the end. The whole reason for faith, hope, and love is given in Christ. We have all of God’s love now. Christ is the reason for our hope now.

H. Related to (G.), I long thought that faith and hope were temporary, whereas love was permanent, and that was why Paul said the greatest of these was love. When we see Christ, we will no longer need to hope, for the object of our hope will be right there. Love, however, will always be relevant because we will be loving God and neighbor in the eschatological paradise. I wonder if there is a sense in which faith and hope will be relevant after Christ appears.

I. The pastor offered a different reason for Paul’s statement that love is greater than faith and hope. Love is the basis for faith and hope, for it is on account of God’s love for us that we have faith and hope. To quote the pastor’s handout: “faith and hope rely on love (agape) to fill them and love is the basis for and the goal of our works and lives.” Love defines what the church does: whether it preaches the Gospel, feeds the hungry, or lets groups in the community (AA, NA) use the church building. The church communicates that it cares for others.

I will leave the comments on. Please do not ask me to document my points in (D.). This is an informal post.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Church Write-Up: I Corinthians 13

  1. Laura says:

    I spoke on I Cor. 13. Transcript here, but certainly no obligation to look at it.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks, Laura! I think I read it a while back. It referred to multiplying by 0, and you get 0.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jamesbradfordpate says:

    No, I misremembered. It was taking the one off of a billion, and you get zero!

    Liked by 1 person

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