I Corinthians 13


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.


And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.


And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.


Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,


Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;


Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;


Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.


Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.


For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.


But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.


When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.


For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.


And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.



(In the movie "North Dallas Forty" the final awakening of lead actor is when he quotes from the above about putting away childish things.  "Through a Glass Darkly" is the title of a Bergman film.  This chapter of I Corinthians has inspired authors and artists and philosophers and the common man for centuries.  One of my favorite quotes from another chapter in I Corinthians comes from chapter ten: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." 


When Paul, who is writing the above letter to the Corinthians, established the church in Corinth, it was a wild and cosmopolitan seaport town.  The letters were meant to both chide and instruct the congregation due to various conflicts they were experiencing which were threatening the stability of the church.  He was trying to get them to love one another and rise above the petty conflicts and jealousies they were having.  When he talks about speaking in "tongues" in the opening line of chapter 13, Paul is talking about the ecstatic glossolalia that marked the early church and still occurs in some modern charismatic communities.  The unintelligible babble was, and is, thought to be a direct manifestation of religious experience.  But Paul is urging more rational discourse and compares the speaking in tongues to the noisy gongs and cymbals associated with pagan worship.  The "prophesying" Paul alludes to was probably another form of ecstatic religious experience manifested in physical movement.


I point all of this out as a way of showing how complicated it is to read the bible.  Like many great works of art, it is helpful to know the history of the times in which it was created.  Although you can look at Picaso's "Guernica" and admire it, your admiration is far greater if you are aware of the Spanish Civil War and the bombing of Guernica, the ancient capitol of the Basque people, by the Luftwaffe of Nazi Germany.  So, when people start to interpret the bible for you, watch out.  It is relatively easy to interpret passages of the bible to support just about any strange and degrading idea a person may hold.