1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


In this section, Paul completes the list of qualities possessed by love, started in the previous section, and he finishes the explanation of how this relates to gifts. The point, as we will cover, is that virtues (faith, hope, love) are higher and eternal, while spiritual gifts are transient tools in service to the higher virtues.

Now that we have covered verse 8, we can add “eternal” now to complete the list of love’s description from the previous section of verses:

Love IsLove is Not
Celebratory about TruthArrogant
Bears all thingsRude
Believes all thingsInsistent on its own way
Hopes all thingsIrritable
Endures all thingsResentful
Never endingCelebratory about wrongdoing

The Greek word translated “never ends” has some nuance with respect to its translation. For some guidance on that, we’ll look at The Pulpit Commentaries note on the verse:

1 Corinthians 13:8

Never faileth. The word “faileth” (ἐκπίπτει) has two technical meanings between which it is not easy to decide.

1. It means, technically, “isnever hissed off the stage like a bad actor,” i.e. it has its part to play even on the stage of eternity. This is its meaning in classic Greek.

2. it means “falls away” like the petals of a withered flower (as in James 1:11; comp. Isaiah 28:4). Here, perhaps, the meaning is not technical, but general, as in Romans 9:6 and in the LXX. (Job 21:1-34 :43). But the reading may be simply πίπτει (falleth), as in א, A,B,C. They shall fail. This is not the same word as the one on which we have been commenting; it means “shall be annulled” or “done away;” and is the same verb as that rendered in the next clauses by “vanish away,” “be done away” (Romans 9:10), and “put away” (Romans 9:11). Thus in two verses we have the same word rendered by four different phrases. No doubt the effect of the change sounds beautifully to ears accustomed to the “old familiar strain;” but it is the obvious duty of translators to represent, not to improve upon, the language of their author. In the Revised Version the stone word is rightly kept for the four recurrences of the verb. Tongues. Special charisms are enumerated to show the transcendence of love. Knowledge. This shall be only annulled in the sense of earthly knowledge, which shall be a star disappearing in the light of that heavenly knowledge which shall gradually broaden into the perfect day.

Love is contrasted with prophecy, tongues, and knowledge in verse 8, with Paul describing each of the three types of spiritual gifts as being, unlike love, temporary. Adding more context to the passage, we can see that love is the “more excellent way” that Paul referred to at the close of Chapter 12. Continuing on the note for verse 9 in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(9) We know in part.—Knowledge and preaching are incomplete; therefore, when this dispensation ends, and the complete dispensation is brought in, these imperfect gifts shall cease. Gifts are but the implements of the divine husbandry; graces are the seeds themselves. When the great harvest-time comes, the instruments, however useful, will be cast aside altogether; the seeds will, by the very process of death, be transformed into blossoms and fruits, and in that perfected form remain for ever.

(10) That which is perfect.—This verse shows, by the emphatic “then,” that the time when the gifts shall cease is the end of this dispensation. The imperfect shall not cease until the perfect is brought in. (See Ephesians 4:11-13.)

I don’t really have anything to add to the note, which sums it up well. Gifts are tools for the present age, but they are temporary because the age will eventually change. We won’t need them in the age to come because we will live in perfection. Love – by contrast – spans the past, present, and the future age to come. Returning to The Pulpit Commentary, we’ll look at its note for verse 11:

1 Corinthians 13:11

I understood as a child, I thought as a child; I felt as a child, I reasoned as a child. Butwhen I became a man, I putaway childish things; now that I am become a man, I have done away with childish things. No specific time at which he put away childish things is alluded to, but he means that “manhood” is a state in which childishness should have become impossible.

This verse is one of the most well known in the Bible, and though the meaning makes sense even outside of its context, Paul uses this as a description of how humanity operates in the present age, before perfection comes. We are all as little children, but later, we will become adults. Ellicott describes verse 11 as follows, noting a parallel between the three actions of childhood and the three spiritual gifts being discussed:

(11) When I was a child.—The natural childhood and manhood of this life are analogous to the spiritual childhood of this life and the spiritual manhood of the life to come.

I understood as a child, I thought as a child.—The first word expresses mere simple apprehension, the second word implies active intellectual exertion. It has been suggested that the three words here used refer back respectively to the gifts previously mentioned. “I spoke” corresponds to the “tongues,” “understood” to the “prophecy,” and “I reasoned” to the “knowledge.” Without intending any such very definite correspondence of these three expressions, the Apostle probably naturally made the points of analogy correspond in number with what they were intended to illustrate.

But when Ibecame a man.—Better, but now that I have become a man I have given up the ways ofachild. The point brought out is his present state as a man, and not, as the English version might seem to imply, some fixed point of transition in his past history. The contrast he seeks to make clear is between two states of life.

Paul makes another analogy, concerning the present age, and its gifts, and the age to come and its lack of need for those gifts. (Remember that the larger pint here is that the gifts are temporary, while love is not.) From The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 12, we get a very interesting history lesson regarding the text and its meaning:

1 Corinthians 13:12

Through a glass; rather, through (or, by means ofa mirror. Our “glasses” were unknown in that age. The mirrors were of silver or some polished metal, giving, of course, a far dimmer image than “glasses” do. The rabbis said that “all the prophets saw through a dark mirror, but Moses through a bright one.” St. Paul says that no human eye can see God at all except as an image seen as it were behind the mirror. Darkly; rather, in a riddle. God is said to have spoken to Moses “by means of riddles” (Numbers 12:8; Authorized Version, “in dark speeches”), Human language, dealing with Divine facts, can only represent them indirectly, metaphorically, enigmatically, under human images, and as illustrated by visible phenomena. God can only be represented under the phrases of anthropomorphism and anthropopathy; and such phrases can only have a relative, not an absolute, truth. Theni.e. “when the perfect is come.” Face to face. Like the “mouth to mouth” of the Hebrew and the LXX. in Numbers 12:8. This is the beatific vision. “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). “Now we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Then shall I know even as also I am known; rather, then shall I fully know even as also I was fully known, viz. when Christ took knowledge of me at my conversion. Now, we do not so much “know” God, but “rather are known of God”.

Paul finishes the section describing three things which, unlike the gifts, survive.

abide = μένω ménō, men’-o; a primary verb; to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy):—abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry (for), × thine own.

We’ll look at the note from Ellicott to conclude the chapter:

(13) And now abideth . . .—Better, Thus there abide . . . The “now” is not here temporal, but logical. It is not “now” (i.e., this present life) contrasted with the future, but it is the conclusion of the whole argument. From all that has been urged in the previous verses it follows that these three graces—faith, hope, love—remain imperishable and immortal. Gifts such as the Corinthian Church rejoiced in shall pass away when the perfect succeeds the imperfect; the graces of faith, hope, love shall remain in the next life, exalted and purified. But even in this trinity of graces there is an order, and love stands first. The contrast is not between love which is imperishable and faith and hope which are perishable, but between ephemeral gifts and enduring graces. It is strange how completely in popular thinking this has been lost sight of, and hence we find such words as these—

“Faith will vanish into sight,
Hope be emptied in delight,
Love in heaven will shine more bright,

Therefore give us love;”which express almost the opposite of what the Apostle really wrote.

There need be no difficulty in understanding that “faith,” in the sense of trust in Christ as our Saviour, may continue in the heavenly state; indeed, when we see Him face to face, and see actually how great a salvation He hath obtained for us, that faith may’ be expected to glow with a new and increasing fervour Hope, too, need never cease if that new life is to be progressive. If hope lives by feeding on the present as the promise of the future, surely it will have a more abundant sustenance in that life than in this. Yet love stands supreme; indeed, both faith and hope would perish without her. (See Matthew 26:35Galatians 5:6.)

The note describes a frequent misinterpretation of the text. You should note though that if you look at Paul’s description of what love is, you’ll find hope and faith therein. Love is the greatest of the three because it is the source of the other two, not because it will outlast the other two.

Having made the case that all of the gifts are of lesser importance than love, and thereby also showing the Corinthians how to have unity in tandem with their diversity of gifts, Chapter 14 returns more explicitly to the discussion surrounding those spiritual gifts.