Gifts in the Context of Love: Reflections on 1 Corinthians 13 -- By: Russell Morton

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 31:0 (NA 1999)
Article: Gifts in the Context of Love: Reflections on 1 Corinthians 13
Author: Russell Morton

Gifts in the Context of Love: Reflections on 1 Corinthians 13

Russell Morton

Russell Morton (Th.D., Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago) is Research Librarian at A .T.S.


In 1 Cor 12–14 Paul proposes several solutions to divisions within the Corinthian church caused by strife over spiritual gifts. One is through the metaphor of the “body of Christ,” which was intended to alleviate two opposite, but related errors. On the one hand, individuals lacking the more dramatic gifts were denigrating their own contribution to the Christian community. Likewise, those possessing more dramatic and showy gifts held those lacking these manifestations in some contempt.1 In short, we see a situation characterized by stratification. To alleviate this problem,2 to put the role of gifts into perspective, Paul proposes his most profound answer to Corinthian factionalism by inserting 1 Cor. 13, the “love chapter”3 into his argument. This is one of the most cherished portions of the entire NT, and for good reason. Yet, however valuable it is simply to read over the text, to meditate upon it, and to memorize it, one should also take time to analyze its contents and begin to plumb the depths of Paul’s thought.

Linguistic Excursus on the Three Common Greek Words for Love

Often individuals expounding this text to discuss the differences between the three most common Greek nouns used for love, φἱλος (

, ερως (eros) and ἀγάπη (
). ερως
), we are told, is passionate love. φἱλος
), on the other hand, is brotherly love or affection. ἀγάπη
), or disinterested, unconditional love, however, is what we are to strive for. This analysis is convenient, and as it regards hñùr, is even, to a great extent, correct4 . The problem comes in the discussion of φἱλος
) and ἀγάπη
). Here, the comparison breaks down, for the differences between the two words are neither as significant, nor as profound, as is often asserted. The word φἱλος
), for example, had traditionally represented the most significant form of love in classical Greek. Also...
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