The comment in the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) for 1 Cor 13:4-7 reads
“The Greek contains fifteen verbs; it is natural to translate many of them by adjectives in English”
That got me intrigued. Verbs are great, they’re where the action is. Love does not just have beautiful attributes, no: God’s love, the very reason creation exists, is working in us and through us. So it would make sense if a deeper understanding could be garnered from looking at these characteristics as agents of change, powerful, transformational inner and outer workings.
In my Hebrew studies, I’m always fascinated how basically all words have a three-letter verbal root, a concrete action that all other meanings stem from. This regularly leads to having my mind blown. Just some examples:
- the root of “forever” is the verb “to conceal”!
- Craving (תָּאַב ‹ta’ab›) can be greedy or yearning, depending on what it is directed at, e.g. meat in Num 11:4 or God’s Torah in Psalm 119:20;
- “instruction” is a much better term for Torah, rather than “law”. חֹק ‹choq› is a law or statute, and it comes from חָקַק ‹chakak› to grave in or inscribe;
- the concept of חָ֫סֶד ‹chesed› has much more to do with grace, devotion and fierce loyalty, rather than “mercy”;
- a “wonder” – פֶּ֫לֶא ‹pelei› – is something separate (from the physical world), something remarkable and distinguished…
For embarking on a journey of Hebrew discovery of the scriptures, I cannot recommend warmly enough the Holy Language Institute.
But back to Ancient Greek, wherewith I’ll have to go with the interlinear translation, even though I find some of its interpretations, of Hebrew at least, strange and not very reliable. First point to note, that this is talking about ἀγάπη ‹Agape› here, not Phileo, Stergo or Eros – see this forthright article for an excellent summary of these four words. In the King James Bible, Agape actually gets translated “Charity” rather than “Love”. This is working, engaged, beneficent love, not a feeling of association or friendship, not erotic attraction or infatuation. All the more fitting that we should work at this kind of Love’s inner workings and outer actions!
Here is an overview of those 15 actions
that turn out to be 16, when including the first bit of verse 8.
(I put a table in this page first but it burst its banks).
Overall I would definitely say that the depth of meaning in those Greek verbs widens or even alters the perception of the usual translations. It is good to go deep into these meanings, because it is good to understand and meditate upon just how, and how much, our Creator loves us, and consequentially, how we can love one another.