1 Corinthians 13:3 reads as follows in King James Bible:

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

By contrast, here's the verse in the NIV:

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Looking over the many translations of this verse, I notice there is some variation in whether or not the the words "that I might boast" are included, and that it is typically included at the expense of the language about being burned. As best as I can tell, the issue is whether or not the original Greek word (καυχήσωμαι) was transcribed correctly.

The boast language seem to change the meaning of the verse. In KJV, it seems to say that even if you willingly suffer hardships with good intentions, but don't have agape, you gain nothing. By contrast, the NIV version makes it seem like that'd only be the case if you do it to make yourself look better.

What are the arguments for and against the "burn" interpretation? Is there a majority view among biblical scholars?

  • 1
    This is a textual issue. Some manuscripts have καυθήσωμαι and others have καυχήσωμαι. They differ by only one letter, but have totally different meanings, as reflected by the different English translations that you quoted.
    – fdb
    Aug 7 '14 at 19:58
  • The NET Bible chooses the word καυχήσωμαι (I might boast) vs καυθήσομαι (I will burn). I am studying and preaching through I Cor right now and have been struck with the theme of pride in the book in a way that I did not see before. So to find this textual option and so strong an argument for it at that, I find it very compelling. The link to the NET notes discussion is ..... lumina.bible.org/bible/1+Corinthians+13
    – user6465
    Dec 11 '14 at 18:32

The translation discrepancy can be boiled down to different readings of the Greek words καυχησωμαι, “I may boast”, and καυθησομαι, “I may be burned.”

Kevin Brown wrote a well-cited textual criticism on this topic. Here is the conclusion that he came to:

There is no obvious answer to this textual dilemma in 1 Cor. 13:3 as both the external and internal evidence can be marshaled to support either reading. With that said, it is the conclusion of this short study that the reading of καυθησομαι is to be slightly favored due to its widespread early attestation, together with the internal coherence it can bring to the larger pericope of 1 Cor. 13:1-3. The variant of καυχησωμαι no doubt entered the Alexandrian textual tradition quite early, possibly either as the result of an inadvertent scribal mishap, or as a deliberate attempt to correct what was thought to be an erroneous reading of an indicative καυθησομαι in a ινα clause.

Here is the popularity breakdown for the translation possibilities:

Καυχησωμαι (aorist middle subjunctive of καυχαομαι, “I may boast”)

  • Manuscripts: P46, 01, 02, 03, 048,[12] 0150, 33, 1739*
  • Versions: Coptic(Sa, Bo)
  • Patristics: Origen, Didymus, Jerome

Καυθησομαι (future indicative passive of καιω, “I may be burned.”)

  • Manuscripts: 04, 06, 010, 012, 020, 81, 104, 263, 1175, 1881*
  • Versions: Old Latin, Italian, Vulgate, Syriac, Ethopic, Slavonic
  • Patristics: Tertullian, Ambrosiaster, Jerome

Καυθησωμαι (future subjunctive passive of καιω, "be burned")

  • Manuscripts: 044, 6, 256, 365, 424, 1739c, Byzantine
  • Versions: None
  • Patristics: Tertullian, Origen, Basil, Gregory-Nyssa, Chrysostom, Cyril, Cyprian, Ambrosiaster, Pelagius, Augustine
  • @FrankLuke - thanks for adding the verb parsing info. FrankLuke or ckirksey3 - I'd love to hear your thoughts about whether a future subjunctive or ίνα + indicative are grammatical possibilities...
    – Susan
    Aug 8 '14 at 14:56
  • There are 9 occurrences of ἵνα followed immediately by an indicative in the SBLGNT: Ac 21:24, 1Co 13:3, Re 3:9, Re 6:11, Re 8:3, Re 9:5, Re 13:12, Re 14:13, and Re 22:14. I didn't find any future subjunctives.
    – fumanchu
    Aug 9 '14 at 3:03
  • All 9 of those indicatives are future tense, by the way. 3 active, 3 middle, 3 passive.
    – fumanchu
    Aug 9 '14 at 3:10
  • @fumanchu - Thank you for this info! I have to note that the Acts verse has a text variant (subjunctive), 1Cor is the verse in question, and the rest are from Revelation which is known for its...interesting...grammar.
    – Susan
    Aug 9 '14 at 17:05
  • @fumanchu - I was trying to figure out how to obtain this info myself - can I ask if you were using some freely available software? (I doubt you went through every occurrence of ίνα manually, but if so....wow!)
    – Susan
    Aug 9 '14 at 17:10

Paul is giving his body over to the Word.

To understand how Paul means by “giving his body over” we look at the big picture of what Jesus is teaching. Forgiveness. Now this forgiveness can be learned from The Parable of the Shrewd Manager.

There was the word whose disciple was accused of losing the Truths being told him. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your "Listening", because you cannot be the "Listener" any longer.’

“The disciple said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? The speaker is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg. I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their heart.’

“So he called in each one of the Word’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much truth do you owe the Word?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons of truth,’ he replied. “The disciple told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of truth,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ “The master commended the dishonest disciple because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I say to you, make friends for yourselves by what they say that is wrong, that when it fails they might recieve you into eternal dwellings.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. Therefore if you have not given memory to the incorrect things that have been said, who will entrust to you the Real Truth? And if you have not given memory to what has been given to you by another who will give memory with what Truth you give?

No one is able to serve two masters either he will hate what is being said and love what he is about to say, or he will be devoted to the word and despise his disrupting thoughts. You are not able to listen to the word and be prepared to say something. (Luke 16:1-13 Decoded)

They define καυθήσωμαι by the root καίω meaning "to burn" but can also means "to Light".

ἔχω also means "hold" besides the usually translated "have".

ὑπάρχοντά also means "already have" besides the usually translated "possessions".

And if I give away all of the thoughts I already have and if I deliver up my body that I might light the fire of Love, but do not hold on to the words, I profit nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3 Decoded)

  • 3
    I'm the one who gave the downvote. Frankly, you didn't even come close to answering the question and I really don't even understand your answer. Why, for example, does Luke 16 have anything to do with Corinthians 13? And your translation strikes me as extremely dubious. Aug 7 '14 at 18:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.