Agapē-love is a choice we make. We make it because we admire and respect a person, and thereby become self-denying in our devotion to him or her. This is often the basis of the marital commitment to another, a good reason why the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is read at weddings.
This is the same kind of love that we are supposed to have for our neighbor (Samaritans and others we despise), our enemies, and each other (including liberals or conservatives). How can we admire, respect, and dedicate ourselves to the well-being of people we despise? Until we take the log out of our own eye, we won’t be able to see that Christ is in our neighbor, enemy, or rival.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he didn’t write it for weddings. The people gathering together to follow the teachings of Jesus were having some trouble admiring, respecting, and dedicating themselves to each other. Go figure. So Paul tried to help them in his letter.
I’ve worked my way through most of the first letter, re-translating it from the Greek using some new terminology. I decided to do this after writing my most recent books about the kingdom of heaven, eternal life, and my newest: Dry Bones: Breathing New Life into Petrified Words of the Bible. I will release it early in January. I’ve been busy inserting what I understand the Greek text to say, hoping it opens the New Testament and makes it more accessible to readers. I thought I’d just give you a sample here, choosing 1 Cor. 13 because most people are familiar with it and because it doesn’t threaten anyone’s theology.
The basis of my upcoming book is that important words in the Bible have developed post-first century theologies that the writers were not necessarily trying to convey. And certain words like “love” have such a wide range of meanings (because one English word – love – replaces four Greek words), leaving too much to the untrained imagination. Therefore, my goal is to identify more clearly what each Greek word means. Every word has a context, and every word has degrees of meaning. Thayer’s lexicon allows these options: affection, good-will, love, benevolence. So I’ve chosen to use one of these that are different from “love” to add a little variety to the text. Here it is:
13:1 If I speak in the languages of humans and of angels, but have not good-will,a I have become one who is sounding brass or clanging a cymbal. 2 And if I may possess divine inspiration declaring the purposes of God, and may have understood all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all the determination so that I could move mountains from one place to another, but have not good-will, I am nothing. 3 If it might be that I supply with food all coming forth in front of me, and even if I commit the work of my body to the service of another, but do not have good-will, it is of no advantage to me.
4 Good-will endures patiently. It is kind. It is not envious. Good-will is not boastful, nor arrogant, 5 not abusive, not self-serving, not frustrated; good-will is not adversely manipulative; 6 does not delight in injustice, but rejoices with another in the certainty of equality;b 7 good-will bears all things, is fully committed in all things, is hopeful in all things, perseveres in all things. 8 Good-will never humiliates.
Consequently, whether having divine inspirations, they will be negated; whether speaking languages, they will stop; whether intellectually proficient, it will be invalidated. 9 Truly, we understand imperfectly and we declare the purposes of God imperfectly. 10 But when completion of one’s being comes, then that which is imperfect will be put to an end.
11 When I was untaught,c I spoke in the manner of one untaught, I was striving as one untaught, I was thinking as one who was untaught; but when I became an informed adult, I put away the things of the untaught. 12 Truly, at this time, we observe with a mirrord vaguely, but at that time, face to face. At this time, I understand imperfectly, but at that time, I will know accurately even as I also was accurately known.
13 Therefore, at this very time, conviction, expectation, good-will ‒ these three continue to be present; but the greater of these is good-will.
a agapē, consistently translated as “love,” a word confused by variations of love. Bullinger’s lexicon describes agapē, as referring to “the love which springs from admiration and veneration [respect], and which chooses its object with decision of will, and devotes a self-denying and compassionate devotion to it.”
b truth: one definition in Bullinger is verity, i.e., “truth as the revealed reality lying at the basis of, and agreeing with an appearance; truth as the representation of what is and the realization of what ought to be.”
c nēpios: an infant that is not old enough to speak; a metaphor for someone untaught, unskilled, childish.
d mirrors in those times were not glass, but polished metal.
So, what do you think? Could you treat your neighbor, enemy, or political rival this way?