Notes

“Faith, Hope, Love” in Martin’s The Spirit and the Congregation

Martin says that “faith, hope, love” in 1 Corinthians 13:13 is a citation, a preformed and well-known formula.

So we reach the puzzling verse 13. … Yes, love is the greatest of all attributes since faith and hope will be fulfilled in eternity while love is eternal, and while faith and hope are essential ingredients of the Christian’s existence only God may be said to be “love” (1 John 4:8) — a theological appeal Wischmeyer rightly rejects, not because it is wrong, but because it fails to respect the eschatological structure of Paul’s thinking here. …

[T]he phrase “faith, hope, love” looks to be a preformed triad of Christian “virtues” attested in Paul, who in turn derived it from his predecessors, and in other Christian literature (1 Thess. 1:3; 5:8; Col. 1:3f.; Rom. 5:3ff.; cf. Gal. 5:5, 6; Eph. 4:2–5 in the Pauline corpus; and in the NT elsewhere Heb. 6:10–12; 10:22–24; 1 Pet. 1:3–8, 21f.; outside the NT Barn. 1:4; 11:8; Polycarp, Phil. 3:2f.). The expression reads here in a way that suggests that Paul is appealing to a well-known formula. “Faith, hope, love” — these, you know, are “the three” traditional qualities that mark out the life of the Christian. The singular verb, “remains” (menei), confirms the citation of a formula.

… Perhaps they retorted to Paul that they did know the current formula: “faith, hope, love.” What they missed was to set “love” at its head since Christ’s love is the only constraining force (2 Cor. 5:14) that can enable a person to break out of the imprisoning circle of egocentricity and selfish pride and have a “genuine concern” (1 Cor. 12:25) for one’s neighbor.

Ralph P. Martin, The Spirit and the Congregation: Studies in 1 Corinthians 12–15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), pp. 54–56.