A verse that troubled me since my childhood days was 1 Corinthians 13:3.
To me the problem was this: Directly preceding this statement, Paul mentions quite a few achievements that could be deemed reachable and really plausible, contributing to the overall growth of Christianity. To speak with tongues, and prophesy, and have faith, and care for the less privileged would all contribute to the growth of the congregation, and its esteem in the world. Even giving up one’s body, meaning one’s life, rather than disown one’s faith during persecution, is plausible. But why the stipulation that it should be by the burning of one’s body? I could make no sense out of this, whether with love, or without. In my mind I could not fathom a person stepping forward and announcing: “here I am, you may give me up to the flames!” For what reason? To achieve what? It just made no sense to me.
On the other hand, if this had to do with being threatened with persecution and possible execution for one’s faith, could you have any say in the method? “Okay, so I am to be executed. In my case, you give me up to the flames!” Does one have any say in the way one would be executed if condemned to death due to one’s faith? Or were people executed that way reckoned of a higher esteem than those beheaded or crucified? Why did Paul add this stipulation?
That the faithful have given up their bodies through the ages, is well known. Daniel and his friends did so. (Dan. 3:28) Even Paul and Barnabas made that choice, “…men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 15:26)
KJV: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have no charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
But then I discovered that there are versions of the Bible that translate this verse in another way. Instead of “burning”, they have “exulting” one self. New Living Translation: “If I gave everything I have to the poor, and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” Common English Bible: “…to feel good about what I’ve done…”
Now I was even more confused. In the United Bible Societies Text, two versions are found with two words differing by only one letter. And they give their own choice of self exultation a “C – rating”, meaning “there is a considerable degree of doubt whether the text or the apparatus contains the superior reading.” The two words found in manuscripts are: “kauthēsomai” burning and “kaugēsomai” exulting. The purpose of exulting oneself, might be for the exultation of Christ as Paul says in Philippians 1:20: “…according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.”
The question remains, did Paul write that one should give one’s body for the flames, or for exultation?
Let us first examine the available manuscript evidence. The table below gives the manuscripts in their time of copying containing the two versions.
1 Corinthians 13:3
|Versions:||To exult:||To be burned:|
|Manuscripts:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:|
|201-300||Sahidic||Clement, Origen*||Tertullian, Cyprian|
|301-400||Sinaiticus, Vaticanus||Bohairic||Vulgate, Gothic||Basil, Rebaptism|
|401-500||Alexandrinus||Pelagius, Jerome||Ephraemi, Bezae||Armenian, Syriac||Chrysostom*, Cyrel- Alexandria, Theodoret, Chrysostom*, Euthalius|
|701-800||Atous- Laurae||2 Old Latin||John-Damascus|
|801-900||Minuscule 33||Mosquensis, Audiensis, Boernerianus, Angelicus||4 Old Latin|
|901-1000||3 Minuscules||16 Minuscules||Old Latin|
|1001-1600||Ethiopic||5 Byzantine Lectionary,||Old Latin, Ethiopic|
According to the manuscript evidence “to exult” is found in the older Greek manuscripts, while “to be burned” is more often in the later manuscripts.
In the time of Caesar Nero execution by burning had been popular. But Paul could not have referred to this practice, since this letter was written 10 years before the reign of Nero. It is however clear that Paul mentions quite a few matters where one does have the possibility to exercise a choice. Yet in this verse, the choice is made whether one would give up one’s body, that means rather be executed than to abandon one’s faith. A “choice” cannot be exercised on the method of execution.
In short the two versions can be paraphrased as follows:
“Even if I give up my life to be executed by fire and not by another method, and I have no love, I would gain nothing.”
Or: “Even if I give up my life to be executed to exult myself, and I have no love, I would gain nothing.”
But I ask myself whether anyone would give up his life so that he could boast about it? Then I remembered a story I heard many years ago of soldiers storming into a little church in Russia, threatening to kill everyone confessing Jesus. After the cowards had fled, the soldiers put down their rifles saying they wanted to worship with true Christians. And guess in which group I fathomed myself!
The tragic reality is that I see myself as this giant in faith who would look death in the eye for the sake of faith. And yet, at an unexpected moment in the courtyard I find that I, like Peter had already said: “I don’t know the man!”
In both versions the decision to rather give up one’s life for the sake of faith, stands firm. In the first case, the method would be measured whether with love or not, something one would not have a choice. In the second version the motive would be measured, something one does have the choice.
Both the manuscript evidence as well as the context favour “kaugēsomai”, exulting.
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