Chapter 13 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians is on the subject of love, principally the love that Christians should have for everyone. In the original Greek, the word αγαπη (agape - sacrificial love) is used throughout. This is translated into English as charity in the King James version; but the word love is preferred by most other translations, both earlier and more recent. Authorship is generally attributed to Paul of Tarsus.[1]

Historical and literary context

1 Corinthians illuminates the early church's efforts to define itself, not only in terms of doctrine, but also allegiance to spiritual leaders such as Peter, Paul, Apollos and Jesus.[2] Who is a "real Christian," and who is not, is a major theme. A significant portion of the preceding chapter (1 Corinthians 12:1-10) focuses on the issue of spiritual gifts, and there appears to have been interpersonal conflicts based upon the possession of such gifts, including speaking in tongues or prophecy.[3] Paul tells his audience that they may have all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but unless they first have love, these gifts mean nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Description of agape

A description of agape, the concept of selfless love, forms a major passage in 1 Corinthians 13, running from verse 4 to the end.

According to the author, agape:

  • (verse 4)
    • is long suffering (i.e. tolerant, patient)
    • is kind
    • is free of jealousy, envy and pride
  • (verse 5)
    • does not display unseemly behavior
    • is unselfish
    • is not touchy, fretful or resentful
    • takes no account of the evil done to it [outwardly ignores a suffered wrong]
  • (verse 6)
    • hates evil
    • is associated with honesty
  • (verse 7)
    • protects
    • trusts [implying faith in God and trusting in righteousness]
    • hopes
    • perseveres
  • (verse 8)
    • triumphs
  • (verse 13)
    • is greater than either faith or hope

"Through a Glass, Darkly"

1 Corinthians 13:12 contains the phrase βλεπομεν γαρ αρτι δι εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι', which is rendered in the KJV as "For now we see through a glass, darkly." The word here translated glass refers to a mirror,[4] not a lens or a drinking glass. In contrast, some examples of modern English language translations are:

This passage has inspired the titles of many works.

Other notable passages

There are two other passages from 1 Corinthians 13 which have been notably influential.

Firstly, verse 11: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (KJV).

U.S. President Barack Obama referenced verse 11 in his inaugural address to the nation on January 20, 2009.[5]

Secondly, verse 13, in praise of the Theological virtues:

νυνι δε μενει πιστις ελπις αγαπη τα τρια ταυτα μειζων δε τουτων η αγαπη
"And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." (NRSV)

Other uses

  • The passage has appeared in Christian wedding liturgies, including the Book of Common Prayer.[6] It is also a commonly chosen reading in denominations which do not have a prescribed liturgy for marriage and even for non-religious weddings,[7] so much to the point where it was on a list of wedding clichés to avoid in the television show How I Met Your Mother.


  1. New Testament Study Helps: Paul's Letters to the Corinthians at
  2. Latourette, Kenneth Scott, A History of Christianity, Volume 1: Beginnings to 1500, p. 114, © 1975 Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., ISBN 0-06-064952-6
  3. Henry, Matthew, Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume VI (Acts to Revelation): First Corinthians Chap. XII, Public domain, Library of Congress call no: BS490.H4, at Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  4. Entry: εσοπτρον (espotron - Strong's 2072), retrieved from
  5. "Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address". The New York Times. 20 January 2009. Retrieved 23 December 2009. "We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things." 
  6. "Marriage Ceremony (Episcopal Book of Common Prayer)". Retrieved 23 December 2009. "1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (Love is patient and kind)" 
  7. "Wedding Ceremony Readings". Retrieved 23 December 2009. "1 Corinthians 13:4-8a" 
  8. "The Funeral Service of Diana, Princess Wales". BBC. 6 September 1997. Retrieved 23 December 2009. 

External links

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