1 Corinthians 13 and Weddings by Christopher W. Skinner

Wedding ceremonies in the Western Hemisphere follow a fairly predictable pattern. The service usually begins with instrumental music followed by a processional, after which the couple joins hands, recites vows, exchanges rings, and engages in a celebratory kiss. Readings from the Bible are another common element of the wedding ceremony, and almost without fail one of the “go-to” passages is 1Cor 13. Known by many as “Paul’s Hymn to Love,” this passage is easily one of the most well known in the New Testament. This biblical text is cherished by so many that it is often used in nonreligious weddings by couples with no particular commitment to the Christian tradition.

In 1Cor 13, Paul describes what many intuitively regard as an ideal understanding of romantic love. After all, who would not want one’s spouse to be an endless reserve of patience, kindness, perseverance, and protection? Add to this idealistic thinking the eloquence of Paul’s description of love, and this text has all the makings of a wedding-day Scripture reading.

However, if we were to pause to read through the entire chapter, we would find that Paul introduces a few topics that seem quite out of keeping with the occasion of a wedding. For instance, what are we to make of Paul’s comment about being able to “speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels” (1Cor 13:1), or having “prophetic powers” and the ability to “understand all mysteries and all knowledge” (1Cor 13:2)? In the context of a wedding, these statements seem strange indeed. However, in the context of Paul’s relationship to the church at Corinth, these statements would likely have hit a nerve.

The Corinthian church has been described as Paul’s problem child for numerous reasons. The church was awash in controversy and interpersonal conflicts. Various factions had arisen in the community (1Cor 1:10-17, 1Cor 3:4-5, 1Cor 11:18-19); church members were embroiled in lawsuits against one another (1Cor 6:1-11) and were also abusing the Eucharist (1Cor 11:17-22). One man was even engaged in a very public affair with his stepmother (1Cor 5:1-2). Perhaps most troubling to Paul is that the church seems to have accepted a spirituality that led some to deny the resurrection (1Cor 15:12-19). Paul spends the majority of this first letter to the Corinthians addressing and attempting to correct these problems.

Another concern Paul addresses is the Corinthians’ misuse and abuse of their spiritual gifts (1Cor 12:1-11), and this is the immediate context in which he describes the nature of love. The Corinthians were reveling in their newfound spiritual gifts, and they had missed the point that one’s gifts are ultimately to be used for the edification of others. Chapter 12 ends with these words, “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1Cor 12:31). From here, Paul begins his famous description of love—a gift greater than the ability to prophesy, fathom spiritual mysteries, and speak in other tongues.

An awareness of this background might cause some to think that 1Cor 13 is not appropriate for a wedding day, but this would be a mistake. If marriage is ideally a lifelong commitment in which both parties pledge themselves to one another, with the goal of loving the other person more than oneself, then the words of 1Cor 13—to be patient and kind, to persevere, to keep no record of wrongs, and to seek not one’s own benefit—provide a poignant “how-to” for a lasting marriage, and so remain the ideal reading for a wedding day.

Christopher W. Skinner, "1 Corinthians 13 and Weddings", n.p. [cited 29 Apr 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/passages/related-articles/1-corinthians-13-and-weddings

Contributors

Christopher W. Skinner

Christopher W. Skinner
Associate Professor, Mount Olive College

Christopher W. Skinner is associate professor of religion at the University of Mount Olive in North Carolina. He has authored numerous articles and written or edited seven books, including What Are They Saying about the Gospel of Thomas? (Paulist, 2011), Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of John (Bloomsbury/T & T Clark, 2013), and (with Kelly R. Iverson) Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect (Society of Biblical Literature, 2011). He blogs, along with Nijay Gupta, at cruxsolablog.com.

A song or poem that is religious in nature.

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

The act of relating a prophecy, or inspired message.

1Cor 13

The Gift of Love
1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2And if I have prophetic powe ... View more

1Cor 13

The Gift of Love
1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2And if I have prophetic powe ... View more

1Cor 13:1

The Gift of Love
1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

1Cor 13:2

2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am ... View more

1Cor 1:10-17

Divisions in the Church
10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no ... View more

1Cor 3:4-5

4For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?5What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom ... View more

1Cor 11:18-19

18For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it.19Indeed, there have to be ... View more

1Cor 6:1-11

Lawsuits among Believers
1When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before t ... View more

1Cor 11:17-22

Abuses at the Lord's Supper
17Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. ... View more

1Cor 5:1-2

Sexual Immorality Defiles the Church
1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for ... View more

1Cor 15:12-19

The Resurrection of the Dead
12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?13If there is n ... View more

1Cor 12:1-11

Spiritual Gifts
1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed ... View more

1Cor 12:31

31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

1Cor 13

The Gift of Love
1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2And if I have prophetic powe ... View more

1Cor 13

The Gift of Love
1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2And if I have prophetic powe ... View more

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.