08 February 2024

1 Cor 13 - but why love?

Consider 1 Corinthians 13. This is Paul's famous letter describing love. Love is patient, love is kind, you know the drill and you probably chose it for your wedding. Actually, it is well known by us exegesis writers that Paul was not referring to romantic, marital love. Paul wrote to the Christian community in Corinth in response to troubling reports of conflicts within the community. Paul compliments them on their many gifts, but the conflicts must be resolved. Paul tells them they must go beyond their usual gifts of speaking and healing, etc., and use love to fix their problems. Paul proceeds to define what is meant by love.

My intent today is not to dissect each line. My question is, "Why love?" What was it that led Paul to determine that the answer to the conflicts was something called "love"?

Jesus certainly refers to love at times. Jesus says the most important commandments are to love God and love our neighbors (Mt 37 and Mt 39). However, Jesus stops there, apparently assuming everyone knows the definition of love, so why wouldn't Paul just tell the Corinthians to love each other and leave it at that? The Greeks used multiple words that are translated as love, which may explain Jesus' assumption (sort of).

So far, in my journey through the Bible, I have not come across a narrative similar to Paul's description of love. Hosea has a couple interesting but brief comments on love. The Magnificat (which is modeled after Hannah's song in 1 Sam 2) and Beatitudes (and the Sermon on the Mount in general) do not discuss love. The book of Isaiah, with its shocking messianic prophecies, does not predict a messiah who will love us.

Plato argues we must understand the "Form of the Good", through truth goodness and beauty, in order to live a virtuous life. Christians can easily build on that to be faithful in order to find a path to righteousness. But again, why does Paul settle on love? Along with the Magnificat and Beatitudes, 1 Cor 13 is one of the most beautiful bits of prose in the Bible and literature. What is the root inspiration for choosing to define love?

Have no doubt, I think Paul was right in 1 Cor 13. Paul had achieved a miraculous level of spiritual maturity and gives us most of the New Testament.

At this point in my Bible studies, I think 1 Cor 13 is a new idea by Paul. I will continue to look for examples. Let me know if you find anything.

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