on 1-corinthians 13 :3
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor - This is a proof that charity, in our sense of the word, is not what the apostle means; for surely almsgiving can go no farther than to give up all that a man possesses in order to relieve the wants of others. The word ψωμιζω, which we translate to feed the poor, signifies to divide into morsels, and put into the mouth; which implies carefulness and tenderness in applying the bounty thus freely given.
And though I give my body to be burned - Ἱνα καυθησομαι· Mr. Wakefield renders this clause thus:
1. And though I give up my body so as to have cause of boasting: in vindication of which he, first, refers to Daniel 3:28; Acts 15:26; Romans 8:32; Philippians 1:20.
2. He says that there is no such word as καυθησωμαι.
3. That καυχησωμαι, that I may boast, is the reading of the Ethiopic and Coptic, and he might have added of the Codex Alexandrinus; several Greek and Latin MSS. referred to by St. Jerome; of Ephraim; and of St. Jerome himself, who translates the passage thus: Si tradidero corpus meum ut glorier: i.e. "If I deliver up my body that I may glory, or have cause of boasting."
4. He adds that burning, though a common punishment in after times, was not prevalent when this epistle was written.
Some of the foreign critics, particularly Schulzius, translate it thus: Si traderem corpus, ut mihi stigma inureretur: "If I should deliver up my body to receive a stigma with a hot iron;" which may mean, If I should, in order to redeem another, willingly give up myself to slavery, and receive the mark of my owner, by having my flesh stamped with a hot iron, and have not love, as before specified, it profits me nothing. This gives a good sense; but will the passage bear it? In the MSS. there are several various readings, which plainly show the original copyists scarcely knew what to make of the word καυθησωμαι, which they found in the text generally. The various readings are, καυθησομαι, which Griesbach seems to prefer; καυθησεται; and καυθῃ; all of which give little variation of meaning. Which should be preferred I can scarcely venture to say. If we take the commonly received word, it states a possible case; a man may be so obstinately wedded to a particular opinion, demonstrably false in itself, as to give up his body to be burned in its defense, as was literally the case with Vanini, who, for his obstinate atheism, was burnt alive at Paris, February 19th, a.d. 1619. In such a cause, his giving his body to be burned certainly profited him nothing.
"We may observe," says Dr. Lightfoot, "in those instances which are compared with charity, and are as good as nothing if charity be absent, that the apostle mentions those which were of the noblest esteem in the Jewish nation; and also that the most precious things that could be named by them were compared with this more precious, and were of no account in comparison of it.
"1. To speak with the tongues of men, among the Jewish interpreters, means, to speak the languages of the seventy nations. To the praise of Mordecai, they say that he understood all those languages; and they require that the fathers of the Sanhedrin should be skilled in many languages that they may not be obliged to hear any thing by an interpreter. Maim. in Sanh., c. 2.
"2. To speak with the tongues of angels, they thought to be not only an excellent gift, but to be possible; and highly extol Jochanan ben Zaccai because he understood them: see the note on 1 Corinthians 13:1.
"3. To know all mysteries and all knowledge was not only prized but affected by them. Of Hillel, the elder, they say he had eighty disciples: thirty who were worthy to have the Holy Spirit dwell upon them, as it did upon Moses; thirty who were worthy that the sun should stop his course for them, as it did for Joshua; and there were twenty between both. The greatest of all was Jonathan ben Uzziel; the least was Jochanan ben Zaccai. He omitted not (i.e. perfectly understood) the Scripture, the Mishna, the Gemara, the idiotisms of the law, and the scribes, traditions, illustrations, comparisons, equalities, gematries, parables, etc.
"4. The moving or rooting up of mountains, which among them signified the removing of the greatest difficulties, especially from the sacred text, they considered also a high and glorious attainment: see the note on Matthew 21:21. And of his salvation, who had it, they could not have formed the slightest doubt. But the apostle says, a man might have and enjoy all those gifts, etc., and be nothing in himself, and be nothing profited by them."
The reader will consider that the charity or love, concerning which the apostle speaks, is that which is described from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, inclusive: it is not left to the conjectures of men to find it out. What the apostle means is generally allowed to be true religion; but if he had not described it, this true religion would have been as various as the parties are who suppose they have it. Let the reader also observe that, not only the things which are in the highest repute among the Jews, but the things which are in the highest repute among Christians and Gentiles are those which the apostle shows to be of no use, if the love hereafter described be wanting. And yet, who can suppose that the man already described can be destitute of true religion, as he must be under an especial influence of God; else, how,
1st, could he speak all the languages of men? for this was allowed to be one of the extraordinary gifts of God's Spirit.
on 1-corinthians 13 :3
And though I bestow - The Greek word used here ψωμίσω psōmisō, from ψάω psaō, to break off) meant properly to break off, and distribute in small portions; to feed by morsels; and may be applicable here to distributing one's property in small portions. Charity or alms to the poor, was usually distributed at one's gate Luke 16:20, or in some public place. Of course, if property was distributed in this manner, many more would be benefitted than if all were given to one person. There would be many more to be thankful, and to celebrate one's praises. This was regarded as a great virtue; and was often performed in a most ostentatious manner. It was a gratification to wealthy men who desired the praise of being benevolent, that many of the poor flocked daily to their houses to be fed; and against this desire of distinction, the Saviour directed some of his severest reproofs; see Matthew 6:1-4. To make the case as strong as possible, Paul says that if all that a man had were dealt out in this way, in small portions, so as to benefit as many as possible, and yet were not attended "with true love toward God and toward man," it would be all false, hollow, hypocritical, and really of no value in regard to his own salvation. It would profit nothing. It would not be such an act as God would approve; it would be no evidence that the soul would be saved. Though good might be done to others, yet where the "motive" was wrong, it could not meet with the divine approbation, or be connected with his favor.
And though I give my body to be burned - Evidently as a martyr, or a witness to the truth of religion. Though I should be willing to lay down my life in the most painful manner, and have not charity, it would profit me nothing. Many of the ancient prophets were called to suffer martyrdom, though there is no evidence that any of them were burned to death as martyrs. Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego were indeed thrown into a fiery furnace, because they were worshippers of the true God; but they were not consumed in the flame, Daniel 3:19-26; compare Hebrews 11:34. Though Christians were early persecuted, yet there is no evidence that they were burned as martyrs as early as this Epistle was written. Nero is the first who is believed to have committed this horrible act; and under his reign, and during the persecution which he excited, Christians were covered with pitch, and set on fire to illuminate his gardens. It is possible that some Christians had been put to death in this manner when Paul wrote this Epistle; but it is more probable that he refers to this as "the most awful kind of death," rather than as anything which had really happened. Subsequently, however, as all know, this was often done, and thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of Christians have been called to evince their attachment to religion in the flames.
And have not charity - Have no love to God, or to people; have no true piety. If I do it from any selfish or sinister motive; if I do it from fanaticism, obstinacy, or vain-glory; if I am deceived in regard to my character, and have never been born again. It is not necessary to an explanation of this passage to suppose that this ever had been done, for the apostle only puts a supposable case. There is reason, however, to think that it has been done frequently; and that when the desire of martyrdom became the popular passion, and was believed to be connected infallibly with heaven, not a few have been willing to give themselves to the flames who never knew anything of love to God or true piety. Grotius mentions the instance of Calanus, and of Peregrinus the philosopher, who did it. Although this was not the common mode of martyrdom in the time of Paul, and although it was then perhaps unknown, it is remarkable that he should have referred to that which in subsequent times became the common mode of death on account of religion. In his time, and before, the common mode was by stoning, by the sword, or by crucifixion. Subsequently, however, all these were laid aside, and burning became the common way in which martyrs suffered. So it was, extensively, under Nero: and so it was, exclusively, under the Inquisition; and so it was in the persecutions in England in the time of Mary. Paul seems to have been directed to specify this rather than stoning, the sword, or crucifixion, in order that, in subsequent times, martyrs might be led to examine themselves, and to see whether they were actuated by true love to God in being willing to be consumed in the flames.
It profiteth me nothing - If there is no true piety, there can be no benefit in this to my soul. It will not save me. If I have no true love to God, I must perish, after all. "Love," therefore, is more valuable and precious than all these endowments. Nothing can supply its place; nothing can be connected with salvation without it.
on 1-corinthians 13 :3
13:3 And though I - Deliberately, piece by piece. Give all my goods to feed the poor, yea, though I deliver up my body to be burned - Rather than I would renounce my religion. And have not the love - Hereafter described. It profiteth me nothing - Without this, whatever I speak, whatever I have, whatever I know, whatever I do, whatever I suffer, is nothing.