And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity – 1 Corinthians 13:13
Meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:13
The meaning of the verse, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” from 1 Corinthians 13:13 is that when everything else fails, faith, hope, and love will remain. The word “charity” in Kings James’ version means love. Hence, Paul, who wrote the letter to Corinthians, says that the greatest gifts and graces of all are faith, hope, and love. Faith is the trust in the divinity of God, Jesus, and the holy spirit. Hope is the expectation of future happiness through dependence on God. Love is about being devoted to God and humans through kindness. He says that love is above the other two because love is an act of selflessness, whereas the other two are only for oneself.
Interpretations of 1 Corinthians 13:13
1 Corinthians 13:13 is a very commonly quoted verse by Christians and non-Christians alike, with different interpretations. Here are a few interpretations of this verse.
Interpretation #1 Faith and hope are not as important as love
The first interpretation of the verse, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” is that faith and hope are not as significant as love. Although Apostle Paul mentions faith, hope, and love together and claims that all three remain for eternity, he says that love is the greatest of all three. The reader may choose not to have faith or hope and just believe in love in spite of the negative influences. This might be because faith and hope in God are believed to be an act of self-centeredness or a sign of weakness. However, love is an act of kindness, as people can help anyone without prejudice.
Interpretation #2 Loving oneself is the most important virtue
The act of taking care of oneself is possibly the most important quality one can possess. For example, when one works hard at their job, has a self-care routine, buys expensive items or plans luxurious trips, etc. While the interpretation may be assumed as a selfish endeavor, the reader can refuse to go out when one isn’t in the mood. Others may find it selfishness, but it is just called loving oneself. This quality is great for any person, as prioritizing can lead to immense mental peace. Hence the meaning of the verse, “but the greatest of these is charity” is that the reader must have kindness and love for oneself first before paying attention to others. This interpretation is not taught in churches, but the reader applies it in his or her personal life.
Interpretation #3 Self-love gives rise to faith and hope
In this interpretation of the verse, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” love mentioned here is prioritizing self-love and being kind so that the reader can get close to God and increase their faith and hope. The churches believe that the younger generation must learn to love themselves in order to be kind towards others, like church members, family, and even the community. Learning to be kind or charitable will help them to extend charity to others as well. Thus, this means that self-love is above all and leads to faith and hope.
Interpretation #4 Hope in God can lead to happiness
The verse here can be interpreted as a promise for the future. As the reader might believe, ‘Hope in tomorrow is both relieving and a reason to be happy’. When a Christian or the reader loses hope, he or she may stop going to church, or praying and might isolate themselves from their close friends. The verse 1 Corinthians 13:13 debates about hope in God. It also means divine power can make a person keep his or her worries and troubles aside and teach them to be happy. This results in contentment and a positive attitude. Thus, the meaning of the verse, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” is that hope in God leads to happiness.
Interpretation #5 Faith, hope, and love bring peace and prosperity
The final interpretation of the verse, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity”, is that all three gifts, faith, hope, and love, bring peace and prosperity to anyone who practices them in their daily lives. The reader believes that faith in the power of God, hope in the future through God, and love for God and others can result in the greatest blessings. This version encourages the reader to follow the godly virtues to experience inner peace, joy, and prosperity in life. As the author, Paul calls them the greatest of every spiritual gifts a man could possess and also share it with others. Thus, charity is considered slightly above hope and faith but much-needed virtues of bringing peace among people as well as resolving most world crises.
Historical background of 1 Corinthians 13:13
Paul’s first letter to the Corinths is the 1st book of Corinthians in the Bible. Paul writes the letter to help the people of Corinth with their problems, struggles, and questions. He looked to strengthen the converts who were struggling with conforming to new traditions and beliefs. He also addresses the problems he saw rising when he visited Corinth in the year between c.50-51. Chapter 13 talks about spiritual gifts and the misconceptions surrounding them. This led to him declaring the best three gifts of all; faith, hope, and love.
Literary Devices of 1 Corinthians 13:13
The verse 1 Corinthians 13:13 looks like a statement and is commonly used in the churches and as quotes. It also consists of many notable literary devices. Below are a few examples.
Consonance – The verse has a good example of using consonant sounds. For example, the sound of /th/ in ‘And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three’ and the sound of the /z/ in ‘but the greatest of these is charity’.
Repetition – The word ‘charity’ is repeated twice in the same verse to emphasize its importance.