1 Corinthians 13:1 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

1 Corinthians 13:1, NIV: "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."

1 Corinthians 13:1, ESV: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

1 Corinthians 13:1, KJV: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."

1 Corinthians 13:1, NASB: "If I speak with the tongues of mankind and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

1 Corinthians 13:1, NLT: "If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

1 Corinthians 13:1, CSB: "If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

What does 1 Corinthians 13:1 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Chapter 12 revealed another problem in the Corinthian church. They misunderstood the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts. The fact that some spoke in tongues and exercised more obvious gifts, while others did not, seems to have been yet another source of division among them. At the least, it led to the wrong idea that some were more spiritual than others. Paul carefully corrected their thinking, showing that every gift is needed in the church, especially those gifts that were exercised out of the view of others.

Paul ended those thoughts by encouraging his readers to desire that the higher gifts of apostles, prophets, and teachers be given by God to their church, lowering the importance placed on the perhaps more impressive-seeming gift of tongues. Then he promised to show them "a still more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Now Paul launches into one of the most loved and meaningful chapters in the Bible. It is brief, but it powerfully describes the very heart of what it means to live together as believers in Jesus. He begins by showing just how pointless even the most impressive spiritual gifts are without love. Even the God-given, supernatural ability to speak in a language one doesn't know, even the language of angels, becomes as the sound of a noisy gong and clanging cymbal if it is not exercised with love. The specific word used here is agape, meaning a self-sacrificing and godly love.

The "tongues of men" are understood to be proper human languages. This is a gift given so that those who do not know the speaker's language can understand the message given by God. The language of angels may very well refer to the actual language spoken among heavenly beings, who apparently participated in some way in the worship gatherings of the early church (1 Corinthians 11:10). Or, this might simply be a figure of speech Paul uses to make his larger point about the primacy of love.

No matter how impressive such a display would be, it becomes nothing but repulsive noise when practiced without love for other believers.