Posts tagged

“‘Faith, hope, love’ remains, these three…”: The Best Spiritual Gifts /

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 puts it in the good company of these universal and abiding gifts of the Spirit, “faith, hope, love.”

  1. 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.

  2. 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 present in Paul’s other teachings, from early (1 Thess. 1:3) to late (Col. 1:4–5).

“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.