Νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις, ἐλπίς, ἀγάπη, τὰ τρία ταῦτα…
So now ‘faith, hope, love’ remains, these three…
—1 Corinthians 13:13
Consider how “faith, hope, love” are set apart in 1 Corinthians 13:13:
- They group as “these three,” though they’re in a context in which “faith” and “hope” are not discussed.
- The verb is singular, not plural (“remains,” not “remain”).1
- There is no conjunction separating the three (“faith, hope, love,” not “faith, hope and love”).
The emphasis of this verse is “love.” Paul shows that it is supreme with the beautiful language of 1 Corinthians 13. Why do faith and hope go with love here? “Faith, hope, love” does not make sense as a conclusion unless the three were an established unit in Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian believers.2 The grammar says as much.
“Faith, hope, love,” is a category of gifts that is “better” (12:30) than all the spiritual gifts mentioned in this section (chapters 12–14). This triad, or triplet, is a set of gifts for all believers. Paul contrasts them with other gifts which the Spirit gives individually, like prophesy, tongues and knowledge (12:11). The other gifts are also given temporarily, but the three “remains” into Christian maturity (13:8–13).
Paul puts the three on a pedestal, so to speak. Love is among these better gifts, and is the “best.” Love is what makes every other spiritual gift good to build up others in the church (chapter 14). Love is what makes us most like God, whom we are coming to know fully (13:12). To lift love beyond compare, Paul stands upon this pedestal of universal and abiding gifts of the Spirit, “faith, hope, love.”
Sometimes plural Greek nouns that are neuter take singular verbs, but these three nouns are feminine. The adjective “three” is neuter and could govern the verb. Commentators and translations differ. The other points stand. ↩
Paul could have given this previous teaching when he was with the Corinthians (Acts 18:1–11) or in a previous letter (1 Cor. 5:9). “Faith, hope, love” was in Paul’s other teachings, from his earliest (1 Thess. 1:3) to his latest (Col. 1:4–5). ↩