Within our modern church context, what are the pastoral implications of 1 Cor 13:13.

Part 1


In this essay I look at the pastoral implications of 1 Cor 13:13 and why it is that love is considered greater than faith and hope. I did this this by reflecting on the history and background of the Corinthian church and showing how they and our modern era have much in common. I critiqued the idea of biblical love being separated from our emotions, and the idea that faith, hope and love are separate stand-alone virtues. Finally I showed how love is not only “the” intrinsic foundation to hope and faith it is also deeply embedded and entwined within the two and therefore love is the greatest.


Before I became a Christian, I was searching for meaning of life and a purpose of being. Part of this search led me to being involved in a new age type three day seminar, where we were supposedly meant to gain some insights into our spiritual purpose for life. During one of the sessions, the participants had to sit facing each other, and ask one question of each other. That question was, “What do you want?” And each time we answered it, we would be asked again, “What do you want?” My final gut wrenching answer to this question was that I wanted love. Within this context of love, I am going to explore what are the pastoral implications for our modern church of love being the greatest of faith, hope and love, which is found in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians.

Historical Background

Corinth was originally a flourishing Greek city / state, which was destroyed by Rome in 147 B.C. and was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. as a Roman colony. It was a unique port city, built on a narrow strip of land, allowing it to control the trade between Asia and Italy. With harbours straddling both sides, it provided access to a number of major shipping lines.[1] Therefore the city was well positioned to be became a financially, political and multicultural prosperous cosmopolitan within the Roman Empire. Unlike Athens, it was deemed to lack cultural finesse and was known for its licentiousness.[2] Despite the lack, it provided the opportunity to partake in a number of diverse and significant religious practices towards a variety of deities, such as to Apollo’s and Asclepius, with the most significant being Aphrodite’ who overlooked the city from high. [3] No matter ones social standing, nationality, gender and background it was a city of opportunity for the political, business and the unsavoury savvy. To understand the city within our modern context it’s worth noting that Fee says it was a “combined New York, Los Angeles and Los Vegas of the ancient world.”

Against this backdrop, we come to the first Epistle to the Corinthians of which there is little dispute about its authorship and is most likely Paul’s third letter to the Corinthian church. Paul founded this fellowship around AD 49-51 and is notable for his lengthy stay, Acts 18. A few years later, he writes another letter from Ephesus, 1 Cor 5:9, which most likely dealt with the issue of fornication, idolatry, covetous, and robbery. This letter therefore is an occasional letter addressing issues that have risen from previous communication; both from the already mentioned letter exchanges as well as some verbal communication from Chloe’s household. Fee believes there are some pastoral tensions which Paul must address: The first is how he can maintain the essence of servant imagery while correcting false theology and behaviours that threaten to destroy the Gospel integrity; the other is to reconcile where bad blood had previously developed with a church that opposed him.[4] Witherington disagrees with this later thought, and instead he draws from Ch. 13 where Paul holds himself up as an example to the church, and that the Apostle is still in good relationship with them, and on that point, I believe that Witherington has the better of the argument. Within a rhetorical framework, we discover that Paul begins to persuade his listeners with the propositio for all within the church to be in agreement with each other on essential matters of faith and practice.[5]

Corinth had an aura of dog eat dog, independence, the haves and the have nots along with the lure of becoming self-made. Not surprisingly this attitude permeated through the church, where there were factions, jealousies and the sense of a completed realised eschatology in the now.

[1] Gordon. D. Fee, “The New International Commentary on the New Testament”,The First Epistle to the Corinthians, ( Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987),1.

[2] Norman Hillyer, “1 & 2 Corinthians” in New Bible Commentary 3rd Edition, ed. D. Guthrie (England, Intervarsity Press, 1970),1049. Athens was highly regarded for its contribution to the arts, theatre and philosophy.

[3] Ben Witherington 111, Confilct & Community in Corinth, A Socio- Rhetorical Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians,(Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans,1995),12. She was the goodness of love, beauty and fertility and was also considered the patron saint of prostitutes and the goddess of seafaring. It could be therefore that the tradition of Aphrodite’ becoming the patron of prostitutes and the goddess of seafaring came about from Corinth being a major sea travelling destination, and a place of rest for weary sailors..

[4] Gordon. D. Fee, “The New International Commentary on the New Testament”,The First Epistle to the Corinthians,( Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987),3.

[5] Ben Witherington 111, Confilct & Community in Corinth, 266 & 96. Witherington says that within a rhetorical framework, it would be a bad strategy if Paul held himself up as an example, when he was not accepted and instead was opposed by the church.

About Craig Benno

I'm an average aussie guy who has lived perhaps a not so average life.
This entry was posted in 1 Corinthians, assignments and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Within our modern church context, what are the pastoral implications of 1 Cor 13:13.

  1. Pingback: Within our modern church context, what are the pastoral implications of 1 Cor 13:13. « Trinitarian Dance

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