1 Corinthians 13:1
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.
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(1) Though I speak . . .—The more excellent way is “Love.” Without it all moral and intellectual gifts are valueless. If there be love—the love of God, and the love of our brethren—in our hearts, all will be well. This hymn of praise in honour of love is remarkable. (1) as coming from St. Paul, and not from St. John, from whose pen we might naturally have looked for it; and (2), occurring here in an atmosphere of controversy, preceded and succeeded as it is by close logical argument.

On the first point we may observe what a striking illustration it is of the completeness of St. Paul’s character. The clear, vigorous intellect and the masculine energy of the great Apostle are united to a heart full of tenderness. We can almost feel its pulsations, we can almost hear its mighty throbbings, in every line of this poem.

That this passage should be found in the middle of a protracted argument suggests the idea that we have here the result of a sudden and direct inspiration. The Apostle had always been conscious of a mighty power working in him, mastering him, bringing him into captivity to Christ. There suddenly flashes upon him the realisation of what that power is, and he cannot but at once give utterance, in language of surpassing loftiness and glowing with emotion, to the new and profound conviction which has set his whole soul aflame. This chapter is the Baptismal Service of Love. Here it receives its new Christian name. The word (agapè) which is used here for love is peculiar to the New Testament (and a few passages in the LXX.). It is not to be found in any heathen writer. The word “charity,” which signifies either tolerance or almsgiving, is an insufficient rendering of the original, and destroys the force of the passage, especially in 1Corinthians 13:3, where “almsgiving” without love is pronounced worthless. The Latin caritas was used as the rendering of agape, probably because the ordinary Latin word amor (love) was considered too significant of a mere earthly or fleshly affection; and hence the word “charity” in the English version. Perhaps it was hoped that the word “charity,” when planted in such a soil. and with such surroundings, would have grown to have that larger significance to which the original gives expression. If so, the experiment has not succeeded, the word has not become acclimatised to this chapter. The word “love” had better be restored here. The rare purity of its surrounding atmosphere will completely deprive it of any earthly or sensual taint.

This chapter, occupied with the one main thought, divides itself into three parts—

1Corinthians 13:1-3. The greatest gifts are valueless without LOVE.

1Corinthians 13:4-7. The pre-eminent characteristics of LOVE.

1Corinthians 13:8-13. Gifts are transient; virtues are eternal, and chief of them is LOVE.

Tongues of men and of angels.—The gift of tongues (see Notes on 1 Corinthians 14) is placed first as that most over-estimated at Corinth. It is useless without love. It would be impossible to define love, as it is impossible to define life; but the best conception of what St. Paul means by love can be found from the description which he subsequently gave of it. Stanley, contrasting the meaning of the word employed by St. Paul with the various words for love in other literature, remarks: “While the ‘love’ of the New Testament retains all the fervour of the Hebrew ‘aspiration’ and ‘desire,’ and of the ‘personal affection’ of the Greek, it ranges through as wide a sphere as the comprehensive ‘benevolence’ of Alexandria. Whilst it retains the religious element that raised the affections of the Hebrew Psalmist to the presence of God, it agrees with the classical and Alexandrian feelings in making its chief object the welfare of man. It is not religion evaporated into benevolence, but benevolence taken up into religion. It is the practical exemplification of the two great characteristics of Christianity, the union of God with man, the union of religion with morality; love to man for the sake of love to God, love to God showing itself in love to man.”

As sounding brass.—Not a brass trumpet, or instrument of any kind, but simply a piece of metal, which when struck will merely produce noise.

A tinkling cymbal.—Better, a clanging cymbal. This instrument can produce by itself no intelligible tune. (See Psalm 40:5.)

1 Corinthians 13:1-3. Though, &c. — The apostle having observed in the last verse of the preceding chapter, (with which this chapter is closely connected,) that he would show them a more excellent way, that is, a way more wise, holy, and useful, than that of striving to excel each other in miraculous gifts, now proceeds to do this, directing them to pursue the divine grace of love to God and man, as of the highest excellence, and of absolute necessity. Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels — That is, all the languages which are spoken upon earth, and with the eloquence of an angel; and have not charity Αγαπην, love; namely, the love of God shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Ghost given to me, and the love of all mankind for his sake; I am become Γεγονα, I am, or have been, before God; as sounding brass — No better than the sounding instruments of brass used in the worship of some of the heathen gods; or a tinkling cymbal — This was made of two pieces of hollow brass, which being struck together made a tinkling, but with very little variety of sound. Some have thought that the apostle mentions the tongues of angels, because in he patriarchal ages angels often spake with men. But as they then spake in the language of men, their tongues, thus understood, are the same with the tongues of men. And therefore by the tongues of angels, the apostle doubtless meant the methods, whatever they are, by which angels communicate their thoughts to each other, and which must be a much more excellent language than any that is spoken by men. And though I have the gift of prophecy — Of foretelling future events; and understand all mysteries — Both of God’s word and providence; and all knowledge — Of things human and divine, that ever any mortal attained to; and have all faith — The highest degree of miracle-working faith; so that I could remove mountains — From their bases, and transport them from one part of the earth to another, and thus change the whole face of nature with a word; and have not charity — Αγαπην δε μη εχω, but have not love, I am nothing — In the sight of God with respect to piety: I not only have not true religion enough, but in reality I have none at all. And — To go further; though I bestow Εαν ψωμιζω, though I distribute deliberately, piece by piece, with the greatest prudence and care; all my goods to feed the poor: and though I give my body to be burned — Rather than renounce my religion, or any truth or duty of the gospel; and have not the love, hereafter described, it profiteth me nothing — With respect to life eternal. It neither proves my title to it, nor prepares me for the enjoyment of it. Without love, whatever I speak, whatever I have, whatever I know, whatever I do, whatever I suffer, is nothing.

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!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 1 Corinthians 14. To correct this, and to show them that all this would be vain without love, and to induce them, therefore, to seek for love as a more valuable endowment, was the design of the apostle in this passage. Of this verse Dr. Bloomfield, than whom, perhaps, there is no living man better qualified to give such an opinion, remarks, that "it would be difficult to find a finer passage than this in the writings of Demosthenes himself."

And of angels - The language of angels; such as they speak. Were I endowed with the faculty of eloquence and persuasion which we attribute to them; and the power of speaking to any of the human family with the power which they have. The language of angels here seems to be used to denote the highest power of using language, or of the most elevated faculty of eloquence and speech. It is evidently derived from the idea that the angels are "superior" in all respects to human beings; that they must have endowments in advance of all which man can have. It may possibly have reference to the idea that they must have some mode of communicating their ideas one to another, and that this dialect or mode must be far superior to that which is employed by man. Man is imperfect. All his modes of communication are defective. We attribute to the angels the idea of perfection; and the idea here is, that even though a man had a far higher faculty of speaking languages than would be included in the endowment of speaking all the languages of human beings as people speak them, and even had the higher and more perfect mode of utterance which the angels have, and yet were destitute of love, all would be nothing. It is possible that Paul may have some allusion here to what he refers to in 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 echō . And 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 agapē means 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.



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.1 Corinthians 13:1-3 All gifts, how excellent soever, without charity are

nothing worth.

1 Corinthians 13:4-12 The praises of charity,

1 Corinthians 13:13 and its preference to faith and hope.

The apostle had promised, in the close of the former chapter, to show them a more excellent thing than gifts, or a more excellent course than that they were so hotly pursuing, in their emulation of the best gifts; he now cometh to show them that way, that course: the way was that of love; the course was the study and pursuing methods how to show their love to God and to one another. For (saith the apostle)

though I speak, that is, if I could speak, or admit I did speak, with the tongues used in all the nations of the world, and with the tongues of angels; by which some understand the best and most excellent ways of expressing ourselves. Angels have no tongues, nor make any articulate audible sounds, by which they understand one another; but yet there is certainly a society or intercourse among angels, which could not be upheld without some way amongst them to communicate their minds and wills each to other. How this is we cannot tell: some of the schoolmen say, it is by way of impression: that way God, indeed, communicates his mind sometimes to his people, making secret impressions of his will upon their minds and understandings; but whether angels can do the like, or what their way is of communicating their minds each to other, is a great secret, and we ought to be willingly ignorant of what God hath not pleased, in any part of his revealed will, to tell us. Neither do I judge it a question proper to this place, where the tongues of angels unquestionably signify the best and most excellent ways of expressing and communicating ourselves to others; as manna is called angels’ food, Psalm 78:25, that is, the most excellent food, for angels, being spiritual substances, need no food, have no mouths to eat, nor bellies to fill; and this the apostle meaneth. Though I could express myself, or communicate my mind to others, in the most excellent way, or in the greatest variety of expression, yet if I have not agaphn, which we translate,

charity, but possibly might be better translated love, because we usually by charity (in common speech) understand that indication of brotherly love, which is in act of bounty, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving to those that are in want; which it is possible that men do out of mere humanity, or a superstitious opinion of meriting thereby, without any true root of love to our neighbour, which is never true if it doth not grow out of a love to God. If I want love, (saith the apostle), a true root of love to men, flowing from a true love to God, and out of obedience to his precept, I am but

as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, that is, I only make a noise, but it will conduce nothing to my salvation, it will be of no use to me; but if I have this true root of love, then it will be of avail to me. And thus the apostle proveth, that the habit of love to God and man in the heart, is far more excellent than the gift of tongues, which many of the Corinthians had, or coveted, or boasted in, despising those who had it not.

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.

Though {1} I speak with the tongues of men and of {a} angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a {b} tinkling cymbal.

(1) He reasons first of charity, the excellency of which he first shows by this, that without it, all other gifts are as nothing before God. And this he proves partly by an induction, and partly also by an argument taken of the end, for what reason those gifts are given. For, to what purpose are those gifts but to God's glory, and the profit of the Church as is before proved? So that those gifts, without charity, have no right use.

(a) A very earnest amplifying of the matter, as if he said, If there were any tongues of angels, and I had them, and did not use them to the benefit of my neighbour, it would be nothing else except a vain and prattling type of babbling.

(b) That gives a rude and uncertain sound.

1 Corinthians 13:1. Ἐάν] is not equivalent to εἰ καί with the optative (Rückert), but it supposes something, the actual existence of which is left dependent on circumstances: assuming it to be the case, that I speak, etc.

ταῖς γλώσσαις τῶν ἀνθρ. κ. τ. ἀγγ.] To say that γλῶσσαι must mean languages here (Rückert, Olshausen, Baur, Rossteuscher), is an arbitrary assertion.[2042] Why may it not be held to mean tongues? The expression is analogous to the well-known Homeric one—only much stronger: εἴ μοι δέκα μὲν γλῶσσαι δέκα δὲ στόματʼ εἶεν, Il. ii. 489. Comp Virgil, Aen. vi. 625; Theophil. a[2044] Autol. ii. 16 : ΟὐΔῈ ΕἸ ΜΥΡΊΑ ΣΤΌΜΑΤΑ ἜΧΟΙ ΚΑῚ ΜΥΡΊΑς ΓΛΏΣΣΑς. The meaning is: Supposing that I am a speaker with tongues, from whom all possible kinds of articulate tongues might be heard, not simply those of men, but also—far more wonderful and exalted still—those of the angels. Paul thus describes the very loftiest of all conceivable cases of glossolalia. The tongues of angels here spoken of are certainly only an abstract conception, but one in keeping with the poetic character of the passage, as must be admitted also with respect to the old interpretation of angelic languages. Beza says well, that Paul is speaking “ὑπερβολικῶς ex hypothesi, ut plane inepti sint, qui h. 1. disputant de angelorum linguis.” Comp Chrysostom: ΟὐΧῚ ΣῶΜΑ ΠΕΡΙΤΙΘΕῚς ἈΓΓΈΛΟΙς, ἈΛΛʼ Ὃ ΛΈΓΕΙ ΤΟΙΟῦΤΌΝ ἘΣΤΙ· ΚἊΝ ΟὝΤΩ ΦΘΈΓΓΩΜΑΙ Ὡς ἈΓΓΈΛΟΙς ΝΌΜΟς ΠΡῸς ἈΛΛΉΛΟΥς ΔΙΑΛΈΓΕΣΘΑΙ. Others, such as Calovius, Bengel, and several more, have thought of the languages used by the angels in their revelations to men; but these surely took place in the form of human language. The ἄῤῥητα ῥήματα of 2 Corinthians 11 have also been brought in, where, however, there is nothing said of angels.

Why the apostle begins with the γλώσσ. λαλ., is correctly divined by Theodoret (comp Chrysostom, Oecumenius, Theophylact): ΠΡῶΤΟΝ ἉΠΆΝΤΩΝ ΤΈΘΕΙΚΕ ΤῊΝ ΠΑΡΕΞΈΤΑΣΙΝ ΠΟΙΟΎΜΕΝΟς ΤῸ ΧΆΡΙΣΜΑ ΤῶΝ ΓΛΩΣΣῶΝ, ἘΠΕΙΔῊ ΤΟῦΤΟ ΠΑΡʼ ΑὐΤΟῖς ἘΔΌΚΕΙ ΜΕῖΖΟΝ ΕἾΝΑΙ ΤῶΝ ἌΛΛΩΝ. It had become the subject of over-estimation and vanity to the undervaluing of love.

ἈΓΆΠΗΝ] i.e. love of one’s neighbour, which seeks not its own good, but the good of others in a self-forgetting way. 1 Corinthians 13:4 ff.

A sounding metal and a shrill-sounding cymbal, i.e. like these, a mere dead instrument of a foreign impulse, without all moral worth, γέγονα have I become (and am so: perfect), namely, in and with the actual realization of the supposed case. See Buttmann, neut. Gramm. p. 172 [E. T. 199]. To interpret χαλκός as a brazen musical instrument (Flatt, Olshausen, with many older commentators), which would otherwise be admissible in itself (comp generally, Dissen, a[2048] Pind. Ol. vii. 83), is wrong here, for the simple reason, that one such is expressly named in addition. The text does not warrant our departing from the general metal; on the contrary, it proceeds from the indefinite to the definite (cymbal), from the crude to the product of art. Comp Plato, Prot. p. 329 A: ὥσπερ τὰ χαλκεῖα πληγέντα μακρὸν ἠχεῖ, Crat. p. 430 A.

κύμβαλον] brazen basins were so called, which were beaten upon, 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8, al[2050]; Jdt 16:2; 1Ma 4:54; Joseph. Antt. vii. 12. 4; Xenophon, de re eq. i. 3; Pind. Fr. 48; Lucian, Bacch. 4, Alex. 9; Herodian. v. 6. 19.

ἀλαλάζον] screaming, an epithet no doubt purposely chosen, which is manifestly at variance with the theory of the soft and scarcely audible (Wieseler, 1838), nay, noiseless (Jaeger) nature of the glossolalia. The κύμβαλα were ὈΞΎΦΘΟΓΓΑ (Anthol. vi. 51). Comp ἈΛΑΛΑΓΜΌς of cymbals (Psalm 150:5) and other loud-sounding instruments, Eur. Cycl. 65, Hel. 1368.

[2042] Rückert: “If I spoke all languages, not only those of men, but also—which would certainly be a higher gift, higher than your γλώσσαις λαλεῖν which you esteem so highly—those of the angels.” So likewise Flatt. Baur renders strangely: “If I spoke not simply in isolated expressions taken from different languages, but in those different languages themselves; and not simply in the languages of men, but also in the languages of the angels.” This climactic ascent from glosses to the languages themselves is surely a pure importation. Rossteuscher, if his theory of an “angel’s language,” which was the Corinthian glossolalia, were correct, would require, in conformity with the plural expression, and with his view of the human languages (the latter being the languages of the nations spoken in Acts 2), to make the passage refer to many different languages of the angels, which they sought to speak at Corinth. If γλῶσσαι meant languages at all, Hofmann would be in the right in holding that no kind of speaking should be excluded here from the wonderful utterances in question, since the angels also doubtless speak among themselves or to God, so that Paul would go beyond what actually took place by including also the modes of utterance of the angels.

[2044] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[2048] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[2050] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

1 Corinthians 13:1. This way will be described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, but first its necessity must be proved: this is shown by the five parl[1961] hypotheses of 1 Corinthians 13:1 ff.,—respecting tongues, prophecy, knowledge, and devotion of goods or of person. The first supposition takes up the charism last mentioned (1 Corinthians 12:30) and most valued at Cor[1962]: ἐὰν τ. γλώσσαιςλαλῶ, ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω (form of probable hypothesis—too prob. at Cor[1963]), “If with the tongues of men I be speaking, and of angels, but am without love,”—in that case, “I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal”—I have gained by this admired endowment the power of making so much senseless noise (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:6-11; 1 Corinthians 14:23; 1 Corinthians 14:27 f.). With love in the speaker, his γλωσσολαλία would be kept within the bounds of edification (1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:12-19; 1 Corinthians 14:27), and would possess a tone and pathos far different from that described.—“Tongues of men” does not signify foreign languages (so Or[1964], Hf[1965], Al[1966], Thiersch), such as are supposed to have been spoken on the Day of Pentecost (see note on 1 Corinthians 12:10); they are, in this whole context, ecstatic and inarticulate forms of speech, such as “men” do sometimes exercise: “tongues of angels” (καὶ of the climax: “aye, and of angels!”) describes this mystic utterance at its highest (cf. λαλεῖ Θεῷ, 1 Corinthians 14:2)—a mode of expression above this world. Possibly P. associated the supernatural γλῶσσαι, by which he was himself distinguished (1 Corinthians 14:18), with the ἄρρητα ῥήματα heard by him “in paradise” (2 Corinthians 12:4); cf. the “song” (Revelation 14:2 f.) which only “those redeemed out of the earth” understand. The Rabbis held Hebrew to be the language of the angels.—χαλκὸς denotes any instrument of brass; κύμβαλον, the particular loud and shrill instrument which the sound of the “tongues” resembled.

[1961] parallel.

[1962] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

[1963] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

[1964] Origen.

[1965] J. C. K. von Hofmann’s Die heilige Schrift N.T. untersucht, ii. 2 (2te Auflage, 1874).

[1966] Alford’s Greek Testament.

1. the tongues of men] i.e. the languages of mankind. See notes on ch. 14.

and of angels] The Rabbis (see Lightfoot in loc.) speak of the languages of angels. It is possible that St Paul may be referring to this notion. But he himself also speaks (2 Corinthians 12:4) of hearing ‘unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter,’ when he was ‘caught up to the third heaven.’

and have not charity] Tyndale (who is followed by Cranmer and the Geneva Bible), love; Vulgate, caritas. The force of this eloquent panegyric on love is impaired, and the agreement between the various writers of the New Testament much obscured, by the rendering charity, instead of love. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 8:1. The aim no doubt of the Vulgate translators was to avoid the sensuous associations which the Latin word amor suggested. But the English word charity has never risen to the height of the Apostle’s argument. At best it does but signify a kindly interest in and forbearance towards others. It is far from suggesting the ardent, active, energetic principle which the Apostle had in view. And though the English word love includes the affection which springs up between persons of different sexes, it is generally understood to denote only the higher and nobler forms of that affection, the lower being stigmatized under the name of passion. Thus it is a suitable equivalent for the Greek word here used, which (see Dean Stanley’s note) owes its existence to the Bible, since it does not appear in Classical Greek, and is first found in the Septuagint translation of the O. T.

sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal] So Wiclif and Tyndale. The Apostle refers here to Psalm 150:5, where the Hebrew speaks of ‘cymbals of sound’ and ‘cymbals of clangour,’ and the Septuagint renders almost by the same words as St Paul. Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 14:7, where the difference between an unmeaning noise and real music is spoken of.

1 Corinthians 13:1. Εὰν, if) All the gift s [although they may be, in the highest degree, delightful, extensive, and useful.—V. g.] ought to be estimated, exercised, and elevated, according to love and its standard. The apostle introduces into the discussion of the gifts a more efficacious discussion respecting love. So in Disputations, we must always return to those points, which give a higher degree of grace.—ταῖς) all.—γλώσσαις, tongues) A gradation: with the tongues, 1 Corinthians 13:1 : prophecy, 1 Corinthians 13:2 : faith, 1 Corinthians 13:2 : I shall have bestowed, 1 Corinthians 13:3.—λαλῶ, I speak) The tenor of love causes, that, whereas he just before used the expression, to you, he should now however speak in the first person singular. He does not except even himself in the condition supposed [viz., Though I speak, etc., and have not charity, etc.]—καὶ τῶν ἀγγέλων, and of angels) Angels excel men, and the tongue or tongues of the former excel those of the latter. Moreover, they use their tongues at least to address men: Luke 1, 2—ἀγάπην, love) by which the salvation of our neighbour is sought.—μὴ ἔχω, have not) in the very use of the gifts, and in the rest of the life. Many indeed have prophecy and other gifts, without charity and its fruits, 1 Corinthians 13:4; Matthew 7:22, which are called gifts, not so much in respect of themselves, as of others.—γέγονα) I have become, for want of love. The language becomes severe [obtinet ἀποτομίαν].—χαλκὸς, rass) Brass, for example a piece of money of that metal requires less of the skill of the artist, than a cymbal, for instance, of silver. He may be compared to the one who speaks with the tongues of men without love; to the other, who speaks without love with the tongues of angels.—ἠχῶνἀλαλάζον, sounding—tinkling) with any sound whatever, mournful or joyful, without life and feeling. The language varies, I am nothing; it profiteth me nothing, 1 Corinthians 13:2-3. Without love, tongues are a mere sound: prophecy, knowledge, faith, are not what they are [seem to be]: Matthew 7:22; Matthew 7:15; 1 Corinthians 8:1-2; Jam 2:14; Jam 2:8; every such sacrifice [gift exercised without love] is without [the heavenly] reward,[115] however much such a man may please himself, and think that he is something, and promise to himself a great recompense. With love, the good things which are the antitheses to these defects, are understood.

[115] Comp. Matthew 6:2.—ED.

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). 1 Corinthians 13:1Tongues

Mentioned first because of the exaggerated importance which the Corinthians attached to this gift.


Referring to the ecstatic utterances of those who spoke with tongues.

Charity (ἀγάπην)

Rev., love. The word does not occur in the classics, though the kindred verbs ἀγαπάω and ἀγαπάζω to love, are common. It first appears in the Septuagint, where, however, in all but two of the passages, it refers to the love of the sexes. Eleven of the passages are in Canticles. See, also, 2 Samuel 13:15, Sept. The change in the Rev. from charity to love, is a good and thoroughly defensible one. Charity follows the caritas of the Vulgate, and is not used consistently in the A.V. On the contrary, in the gospels, ἀγάπη is always rendered love, and mostly elsewhere, except in this epistle, where the word occurs but twice. Charity, in modern usage, has acquired the senses of tolerance and beneficence, which express only single phases of love. There is no more reason for saying "charity envieth not," than for saying "God is charity;" "the charity of Christ constraineth us;" "the charity of God is shed abroad in our hearts." The real objection to the change on the part of unscholarly partisans of the A.V. is the breaking of the familiar rhythm of the verses.

Sounding brass (χαλκὸς ἠχῶν)

The metal is not properly brass, the alloy of copper and zinc, but copper, or bronze, the alloy of copper and tin, of which the Homeric weapons were made. Being the metal in common use, it came to be employed as a term for metal in general. Afterward it was distinguished; common copper being called black or red copper, and the celebrated Corinthian bronze being known as mixed copper. The word here does not mean a brazen instrument, but a piece of unwrought metal, which emitted a sound on being struck. In the streets of Seville one may see pedlers striking, together two pieces of brass instead of blowing a horn or ringing a bell.

Tinkling cymbal (κύμβαλον ἀλαλάζον)

The verb rendered tinkling, alalazo, originally meant to repeat the cry alala, as in battle. It is used by Mark (Mark 6:38) of the wailings of hired mourners. Hence, generally, to ring or clang. Rev., clanging. Κύμβαλον cymbal, is derived from κύμβος a hollow or a cup. The cymbal consisted of two half-globes of metal, which were struck together. In middle-age Latin, cymbalum was the term for a church or convent-bell. Ducange defines: "a bell by which the monks are called to meals, and which is hung in the cloister." The comparison is between the unmeaning clash of metal, and music; between ecstatic utterances which are jargon, and utterances inspired by love, which, though unintelligible to the hearers, may carry a meaning to the speaker himself and to God, 1 Corinthians 14:4, 1 Corinthians 14:7.

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