|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
13:1-3 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!
Verses 1-13. - The supremely excellent way of Christian love. This chapter has been in all ages the object of the special admiration of the Church. Would that it had received in all ages the loftier and more valuable admiration which would have been expressed by an acceptance of its lessons! Tertullian says that it is uttered "with all the force of the Spirit" (totis Spiritus viribus). It is a glorious hymn or paean in honour of Christian love, in which St. Paul rises on the wings of inspiration to the most sunlit heights of Christian eloquence. Like the forty-fifth psalm, it may be entitled "A Psalm of Love." Valcknaer says that the "oratorical figures which illuminate the chapter have been born spontaneously in an heroic soul, burning with the love of Christ, and placing all things lower than this Divine love." In vers. 1-3 he shows the absolute necessity for love; in vers. 4-7 its characteristics; in vers. 8-12 its eternal permanence; in ver. 13 its absolute supremacy. Verse 1. - Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. The case is merely supposed. The tongues of men are human languages, including, perhaps, the peculiar utterance of ecstatic inspiration with which he is now dealing. It is, perhaps, with reference to this latter result of spiritual exultation, at any rate in its purest and loftiest developments, that he adds the words, "and of angels." It is unlikely that he is referring to the rabbinic notion that the angels only understood Hebrew, and not Aramaic or other languages. The words are meant to express the greatest possible climax. The most supreme powers of utterance, even of angelic utterance - if any of the Corinthians had or imagined that they had attained to such utterance - are nothing in comparison with the universally possible attainment of Christian love. It is remarkable that here again he places "tongues," even in their grandest conceivable development, on the lowest step in his climax. And have not charity. It is deeply to be regretted that the translators of the Authorized Version here introduced from the Vulgate a new translation for the sacred word "love," which dominates the whole New Testament as its Divine keynote. Greek possesses two words for "love." One of these, eros, implying as it did the love which springs from sensual passion, was dyed too deeply in pagan associations to be capable of redemption into holier usage. It is characteristic of the difference between paganism and Christianity, that Plato's eulogy in the 'Symposium' is in honour of eros, not of anything resembling agape. The apostles, therefore, were compelled to describe the ideal of the gospel life by another word, which expressed the love of esteem and reverence and sacred tenderness - the word agape. This word was not indeed classical. No heathen writer had used it. But the verb agapao, corresponding to the Latin diligo, and bring reserved for this loftier kind of love, suggested at once the substantive agape, which, together with the similar substantive agapesis (Jeremiah 31:3, etc.), had already been adopted by the LXX. and by Philo and in Wisd. 3:9. The word is thus, as Archbishop Trench says, "born in the bosom of revealed religion" ('New Testament Synonyms,' p. 41). The Vulgate chose caritas (whence our "charity") to express this love of reason and affection, the dearness which reigns between human beings, and between man and God. This word, like agape, is absolutely unstained with any evil association. If "charity" had been exclusively used for agape, no objection need have arisen, although "love" is English while "charity" is Latin. But it was an Unmixed evil that, by the use of two different words for the same Greek word, English readers should have been prevented from recognizing the unity of thought on this subject which prevails among all the books of the New Testament (Matthew 22:37-40; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 4:7, 8, etc.). To argue that the word "love" in English is not unmingled with unhallowed uses is absurd, because those uses of the word have never been supposed for a single moment to intrude into multitudes of other passages where love is used to render agape. Who has ever dreamed of objecting on such grounds to the favourite hymn? -
"Faith and Hope and Love we see
Joining hand in hand agree;
But the greatest of the three
And the best is Love." It is true that Lord Bacon admired "the discretion and tenderness of the Rhenish Version" in using the word "charitie," "because of the indifferencies and equivocation of the word [love] with impure love." But that objection, if it ever existed, has now been done away with by the use of "love" in such a multitude of other pure and lofty passages of Holy Writ. It is, therefore, a great gain that the Revised Version restored to this passage the word "love," which had been used by Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Geneva Bible. For in modern English usage the word "charity" is almost confined to "almsgiving," and that of a kind which is often made an excuse for shirking all real self denial, and for not acting up to the true spirit of love. Christian love is always and infinitely blessed, but the almsgiving which has usurped the name of "charity" often does more harm than good. I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal; more literally, I have become booming brass, or clanging cymbal. My "tongues" without "love" become a mere discordant, obtrusive, unintelligible dissonance. The Greek word for "clanging" (alalazon) is an onomatopoeia, like the Hebrew name for cymbals, tseltselim (Psalm 150:5).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Though I speak with the tongues of men,.... That is, of all men, all languages that men anywhere speak, or have been spoken by them. The number of these is by some said (i) to be "seventy five"; but the general opinion of the Jews is, that at the confusion of languages at Babel, they were seventy; for they say (k), that then
"the holy blessed God descended, and "seventy angels" surrounding the throne of his glory, and confounded the languages of seventy people, and every nation of the seventy had their own language and writing, and an angel set over each nation;''
whether this may be the reason, why the tongues of angels are mentioned here with those of men, let it be considered. Mordecai, they say (l), was skilled in all these seventy languages, so that when he heard Bigthan and Teresh, who were Tarsians, talking together in the Tarsian language, he understood them. The same is said (m) of R. Akiba, R. Joshua, and R. Eliezer; yet, they say (n), that this was one of the qualifications of the sanhedrim, or of such that sat in that great council, that they should understand these seventy languages, because they were not to hear causes from the mouth of an interpreter. It is affirmed (o) of Mithridates, king of Pontus and Bithynia, that he had "twenty five" nations under his government, and that he so well understood, and could speak the language of each nation, as to converse with men of any of them, without an interpreter. Apollonius Tyaneus (p) pretended to understand, and speak with the tongues of all men; such a case the apostle supposes here, whether attained to by learning, industry, and close application, or by an extraordinary gift of the Spirit, which latter seems to be what he intends; and the rather he mentions this, and begins with it, because many of the Corinthians were greatly desirous of it; some that had it not, were dejected on that account; wherefore to comfort them, the apostle suggests, that the grace of love which they were possessed of, was abundantly preferable to it; and others that had it were lifted up with it, and used it either for ostentation or gain, or to make parties, and not to the edification of their brethren; which showed want of love, and so were no better than what the apostle hereafter asserts: what he says here and in the following verses, is in an hypothetical way, supposing such a case, and in his own person, that it might be the better taken, and envy and ill will be removed: he adds,
and of angels; not that angels have tongues in a proper sense, or speak any vocal language, in an audible voice, with articulate sounds; for they are spirits immaterial and incorporeal; though they have an intellectual speech, by which they celebrate the perfections and praises of God, and can discourse with one another, and communicate their minds to each other; see Isaiah 6:3 and which is what the Jews (q) call,
"", "the speech of the heart"; and is the speech (they say) , "which the angels speak" in their heart; and is the "pure language", and more excellent than other tongues; is pleasant discourse, the secret of the holy seraphim--and is , "the talk of angels"; who do the will of their Creator in their hearts, and in their thoughts:''
this is not what the apostle refers to; but rather the speech of angels, when they have assumed human bodies, and have in them spoke with an audible voice, in articulate sounds; of which we have many instances, both in the Old Testament and the New, wherein they have conversed with divers persons, as Hagar, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Manoah and his wife, the Virgin Mary, Zechariah, and others; unless by the tongues of angels should be meant the most eloquent speech, and most excellent of languages; or if there can be thought to be any tongue that exceeds that of men, which, if angels spoke, they would make use of. Just as the face of angels is used, to express the greatest glory and beauty of the face, or countenance, Acts 6:15 and angels' bread is used for the most excellent food, Psalm 78:25. Dr. Lightfoot thinks, and that not without reason, that the apostle speaks according to the sense and conceptions of the Jews, who attribute speech and language to angels. They tell us (r) that R. Jochanan ben Zaccai, who was contemporary with the apostle, and lived to the destruction of Jerusalem, among other things, he was well versed in, understood , "the speech of demons", and "the speech of the ministering angels": and which they take to be the holy tongue, or the Hebrew language; they observe (s), that
"the children of men (by whom I suppose they mean the Israelites) are in three things like to the ministering angels; they have knowledge as the ministering angels, and they walk in an erect stature as the ministering angels, , "and they speak in the holy tongue, as the ministering angels".''
They pretend that the angels do not understand the Syriac language; hence they (t) advise a man,
"never to ask for what he wants in the Syriac language; for (says R. Jochanan) whoever asks for what he wants in the Syriac language, the ministering angels do not join with him, for they do not know the Syriac language;''
and yet, in the same page, they say that Gabriel came and taught one the seventy languages: but let the tongues of angels be what they will, and a man be able to speak with them ever so well,
and have not charity; by which is meant not giving of alms to the poor, for in 1 Corinthians 13:3 this is supposed in the highest degree it can be performed, and yet a man be destitute of charity; nor a charitable opinion of men as good men, let their principles and practices be what they will; for this is not true charity, but rather uncharitableness, and acting the most unkind part to their souls, to consider and caress them as such, when destruction and ruin are in all their ways; but the grace of love is here meant, even love to God, and love to Christ, and love to the saints, which is a grace implanted in regeneration by the Spirit of God; and which, if a person is destitute of, as he may, who has never so great a share of learning, or knowledge of the languages, or even the extraordinary gift of speaking with divers tongues; all his learning is but an empty sound, his eloquence, his diversity of speech, is but like the man's nightingale, "vox & praeterea nihil", a voice and nothing else; or as the apostle here says, supposing it was his own case,
I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal; or rather, "the loud", or "high sounding cymbal", as in Psalm 150:5 which the Septuagint there render by , a phrase of the same signification with this: for not that little tinkling instrument used by the Heathens is here meant; though what is here said of the cymbal agrees with that; which made a tinkling noise when shaken, or struck with anything, or with one against another; and was an hollow vessel of brass, in form of the herb called "navel wort" (u); but rather that musical instrument which bore this name, used in the Jewish worship under the Old Testament; and which, the Jews (w) say, was an instrument that gave a very great sound; and that the sound of it was heard as far as Jericho (x), which was some miles from Jerusalem; they say (y), that the cymbals were two brazen instruments or pieces of brass, which they struck one against another, and so made a sound. The cymbal was also used in the worship of Heathen deities, and the allusion here in both the things mentioned, is either to the tinkling of brass, and the sounding of cymbals in the worship of idols (z); which were mere empty sounds, and of no avail, as is a man's speaking with divers tongues, destitute of the grace of love; or to the confused clamours and noises made upon going to battle, just upon the onset, by drums and cymbals, and , hollow sounding pieces of brass; as appears from Polytenus, Plutarch, Appianus and others (a); to which confused noises the apostle compares the most eloquent speech without love. The Greeks had a play they used at feasts, I will not say the allusion is to it here, but leave it to be though of, which they call "Cottabisis"; when, the liquor that was left, they cast into cups of brass, and such whose liquor made the greatest sound in the cup, fancied himself to be loved again, by the person he loved (b): sounding brass and tinkling cymbals are inanimate things, things without life, as all such persons are destitute of spiritual life, who are devoid of the grace of love; and though they, by an extraordinary gift, and under a divine impulse, speak with divers tongues, they are but like hollow vessels of brass, and sounding cymbals, which only make a noise when they are stricken, and what they give is a mere empty sound, which is of no profit to themselves; they cannot hear, nor be delighted with it, but are rather hurt, being worn out thereby; nor of no great advantage to others, unless they give a musical sound, and that only delights the ear, but neither feeds nor clothes the body; of such little use and profit are men, speaking with tongues destitute of the grace of love, either to themselves or others.
(i) Eupherus & alii in Clement. Alex. Stromat. l. 1. p. 338. (k) Pirke Eliezer, c. 24. (l) Targum in Esther ii. 22. Misn. Shekalim, c. 5. sect. 1. T. Hieros. Shekalim, fol. 48. 4. T. Bab. Megilla, fol. 13. 2.((m) Juchasin, fol. 36. 2.((n) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 17. 1. & Menachot, fol. 65. 1.((o) A. Gellii Noct. Attic. l. 17. c. 17. (p) Philostrat. Vita Apollon. l. 1. c. 13. (q) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 2. 3. & 13. 4. (r) T. Bab. Succa, fol. 28. 1. & Bava Bathra, fol. 134. 1. Vid. Zohar in Numb. fol. 92. 1.((s) T. Bab. Chagiga, fol. 16. 1. & Sabbat. fol. 12. 2. Vid. Bereshit Rabba, sect. 74. fol. 65. 2. & Vajikra Rabba, sect. 1. fol. 147. 1.((t) T. Bab. Sota, fol. 33. 1.((u) Vid. Pignorium de Servis, p. 163. 165. (w) Bartenora in Misn. Shekaelim, c. 5. sect. 1. & Kimchi in Psal. cl. 5. (x) Misn. Tamid. c. 3. sect. 8. (y) Bartenora in Misn. Eracin, c. 2. sect. 5. R. David Kimchi & R. Samuel Laniado in 2 Sam. 5. (z) Vid. Arnob. adv. Gentes, l. 7. p. 280. Ed. Elmenhorst, & Ovid, Metamorph. l. 3, fab. 7. (a) Vid. Vaa Till. not. in Lydium de re militare, p. 38. (b) Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 3. c. 10.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
1Co 13:1-13. Charity or Love Superior to All Gifts.
The New Testament psalm of love, as the forty-fifth Psalm (see Ps 45:1, title) and the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament.
1. tongues—from these he ascends to "prophecy" (1Co 13:2); then, to "faith"; then to benevolent and self-sacrificing deeds: a climax. He does not except even himself, and so passes from addressing them ("unto you," 1Co 12:31) to putting the case in his own person, "Though I," &c.
speak with the tongues—with the eloquence which was so much admired at Corinth (for example, Apollos, Ac 18:24; compare 1Co 1:12; 3:21, 22), and with the command of various languages, which some at Corinth abused to purposes of mere ostentation (1Co 14:2, &c.).
of angels—higher than men, and therefore, it is to be supposed, speaking a more exalted language.
charity—the principle of the ordinary and more important gifts of the Spirit, as contrasted with the extraordinary gifts (1Co 12:1-31).
sounding … tinkling—sound without soul or feeling: such are "tongues" without charity.
cymbal—Two kinds are noticed (Ps 150:5), the loud or clear, and the high-sounding one: hand cymbals and finger cymbals, or castanets. The sound is sharp and piercing.
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