"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Friday, November 11, 2011

Love Believes

Like the previous phrase “love stands,” the next phrase Paul presents in the multifaceted description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is open to interpretation as well. “Love believes all things” is the traditional translation. Some more modern translations have opted for “love always trusts.” In actuality, either is perfectly acceptable, which comes to one of the common myths about Koine Greek language; contrary to popular belief it sometimes is more vague than English simply because of the alternative interpretations that are available and acceptable. Here, two pivotal words are open to multiple translations: all, always, etc. and believes, trusts, has faith, etc. These are not subtle distinctions, and major translations fall down on different sides of this fence.

Since the learned scholars who have devoted collective centuries to the translation of the New Testament have not apparently come to a consensus on the translation of these phrases, I will not, in arrogance, presume to know which phrase is more accurate, though I do have a favorite. Rather, I will look at each possibility and try to shine a light, I hope empowered by Spirit, and show the truth in it. One hopes, after all, that the same Spirit has guided the translation and preservation of the Bible through the centuries. Even though those of us who hold to inerrancy of scripture do so in the original manuscripts and languages, and make room for human error in translations, we believe that God has kept enough of the originals intact to provide us the truth we need to come to him and to flourish in him. Sorry for the digression, but I feel that when I point to apparent disparities in translations, and I do not know my audience, it is necessary to lay a little foundation.

“Love believes all things” being the most traditional translation, is the broadest in its meaning and holds great hope for our relationships in the church. It does not necessarily imply that every individual is to be trusted in every situation (which seems unrealistic in light of Jesus’ teachings: “I send you out as sheep among wolves”). I do not take it to mean that a follower of Christ literally believes everything; he is not blown here and there by every wind of doctrine. No, this is a relational passage. A person filled with agape love is able to believe all things for and with the one(s) he loves, even when these things are not yet visible. This, after all, is the very nature of faith (the same greek word, pistis), to trust in things not yet seen. You may have guessed it, and I am not trying very hard to be neutral here (it IS my blog and you are free to comment). This is my favorite translation: Love believes all things.

Then there is the possibility that Paul meant to say “Love always trusts.” If so, what did he mean by it? Certainly he did not trust every one in every situation, and he did not teach others to do so. Even in the same letter, he had harsh words for the behaviors and character of some in the Corinthian church. If we assume that Paul, as an apostle, was a man of character, and that he was more or less consistent in applying what he taught, he cannot mean, literally, trust every person in every situation, no matter their track record. As noted above, Jesus taught his followers to be aware of human nature and to be, as it were, on guard, not casting their pearls before swine, and being shrewd as serpents, gentle as doves. The Bible is nothing if it is not realistic in its portrayal of human nature. There is little written in its pages that inspires us to naively place our faith and trust in humanity, even redeemed humanity.

So much for what I believe “love always trusts” cannot mean. However, what if the trust involved is not so much in other people or circumstances, specifically, but that God is in control in his churches, and things will eventually work out? What if the trust is, primarily, in the Lord, who is ALWAYS trust worthy, versus people, who are, well, let's just say not always trust worthy. That being said, I do believe that we give one another the benefit of the doubt, that there is a sense in which we keep on believing that the Spirit of God will have his way in our brothers and sisters, and that God will complete in one another the work he has begun. That’s something to believe in, because He’s someone to trust.

“Love…believes all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 NASB

“It (love) always trusts.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV