1Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Aug 22, 2012


I have decided to skip around - ch 13 today and next, part of ch 15.  The fact that we are now focusing on 1Cor 13 and not 1Cor 12 is not to say there are no structures in ch 12 or that a larger rhetorical structure doesn’t exist over the several chapters dealing with spiritual gifts (or more intriguingly, the larger context including also ch 11 - note the dual topics of women and the repetition of “when you come together” in ch 11 and ch 14). 

The overall structure is easily apparent so I won’t discuss what is obvious from the outline above.  I listed several (conjectural) structure ideas for the central section.  There is an alternation between positive and negative characteristics of love so there may be an ABAB structure that turns nicely between those two halves at 13:6.  Since, IMHO, Paul doesn’t use his words carelessly (as we do), I wondered why he referred to love with the definite article (lit. “the love”).  He uses this term four times.  It is no surprise that he uses it at the beginning and end of the center section, but why does he use this term twice, back to back, in 13:4 as he begins his string of negatives?  The first use would be understandable (since he is beginning the negatives).  My hypothesis is that this repetition is a signal for another (chiastic) structure, probably in addition to the ABAB outline.  Note also the minor chiastic structure in 13:7.  Since the center of this minor structure consists of the twin concepts of faith and hope, we might take a moment to consider how his ethical description of love at this point relates to the theology of faith and hope.  Certainly these three graces form a comprehensive whole, but where do they connect?  Normally in Paul, doctrine leads to praxis; faith works through love. However, in this section, the opposite is true - love is in control.  Love is what is believing and hoping “all things.”  I doubt that “all means all and that’s all all means.”  I might be gullible, but love is not gullible. Paul probably intends some more restricted, possibly theological, scope, by this reference.  I think that love is intended to be related to believing and hoping in what the apostles taught.  Love believes that Christ arose from the dead.  Love hopes in the resurrection.  There is a certain selflessness required to believe and hope in these things, possibly because their reception and application begins and ends in God, not us.

Lastly, the paired numbering of the individual descriptions of the central section is very conjectural.  I added it to at least help show the total number of characteristics listed and to give food for thought for a few possible pairs, at least those established at the beginning of the list.

The last section definitely has an overall chiastic structure, but note that the inner B terms have been given their own dual structure - both ABAB and ABBA.  The alternating parallelism moves from 1st person plural (we) to 1st person singular (I).  The chiastic aspect of the interior is shown in the outline above with two inner illustrations and two “now/then” scenarios.

I think the outer portion of this last chiastic structure has great implications for the present day.  People debate about whether tongues are for today. (In retrospect, I probably should have translated this term “languages.”)  We don’t hear much debate about knowledge or prophecy though.

In any case, Paul says these three gifts will cease, but more importantly he says three graces will remain. Why is there no popular seeking and striving for faith, hope, or love today?  These graces are what we ought to be concerned about.  For more on the subject, check out the older, but classic book by Gene Getz, “The Measure of a Church.”  He shows from the Pauline epistles that Paul judged the spiritual status of the churches by these three graces - faith, hope, and love. These are the energies of God given to us in Christ.  If Paul judged the church in this manner, then we ought to take a good look at our selves in the same way.