What is love? (Baby, don’t hurt me.)

There is a lot to be said for the Musslemen and their religion. There are, no doubt, some sections in the writings of Mahomet that can be found objectionable, but this is the case for almost all writers. What Mahomet, or at least his followers, did that is certainly praise-worthy is forbid the translation of his work. Strictly speaking, there are no “English translations” of the Coran; there are only “English interpretations.” This helps prevent quite a number of misunderstandings.

If one has been to three English language Christian weddings, then he has heard a reading from Chapter 13 of  The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians at least twice. “Love is patient. Love is kind.” Love is… not what St. Paul was writing about. At least not love the way people commonly think about it. And certainly not the sort of love that is typified by that of a blushing bride for her bridegroom. The original Greek is “αγάπη.” Agape is a selfless love for humanity as a whole. It is not brotherly love or erotic love, but a detached, spiritual love. Earlier English translations used “Charity” since they were actually translating from the Vulgate of St. Jerome, a 4th century Latin translation which used “Caritas” for Agape. The use of “Charity” today sounds pretty funny when one gets to the third verse: “Suppose I give everything I have to poor people. And…I don’t have Charity.”

For a long time, the Catholic Church held that the Bible could not be translated from Latin into the common tongue. (Of course, the fact that the Latin Bible was itself a translation of the original didn’t seem to bother anybody.) But then Martin Luther and his buddy Gutenberg came along and pumped out a whole heap of German language Bibles. No doubt there are subtle problems in the German version, but what can you do? Such is the price one pays for not reading every written work in its original language. The problem is simply unavoidable and one must either suffer through it or become fluent in every language that has interesting authors.

Beer of the Week: Löwenbräu Original – There are a few beers that I love for their taste, their history and the memories they invoke. This beer is one of them. The reader can determine for himself what sort of love can exist between man and beer. Löwenbräu is a nice example of the Munich Helles Lager. It is golden and has some of the spicy hops character of a pilsner, but is maltier and not quite as bitter. Löwenbräu has a pleasant but somewhat weak aroma which has some nice earthy tones. The flavor is light and malty, but the crisp hops are present throughout. This is just a really good beer.

Reading of the week: The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 – Paul names Agape, Faith and Hope as the three most important things to have, and Agape, the most important of all. Not only does he outline the importance of Agape, he makes a bold and inspiring statement: “When I was a child, I talked like a child. I thought like a child. I had the understanding of a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

Question of the week:  Although more evident in poetry, are the difficulties of translation more important in spiritual/philosophical texts?


6 Comments on “What is love? (Baby, don’t hurt me.)”

  1. angel_kaye13 says:

    You’ll pardon me for being nit-picky? Strictly speaking, I’m no pro, where linguistics are involved. But it would be a passion of mine, if I were only a wee-bit smarter.

    Granted, you are undoubtedly right, that – situationally – wedding ceremonies misuse the word “agape.” But you certainly cannot make such a blanket-statement, that all such instances in wedding ceremonies are incorrect. For “agape” IS a love for humanity as a whole. And, though the word itself may not have been inherently religious, at least the usage of it in the New Testament was meant/intended thus; that’s why it was chosen.
    The role of a Christian marriage is simply this: to serve God, and, in choosing a spouse to which he/she will forever-be joined, only further honor and offer praise to God. Truly committed Christians realize this, though they may or may not have it at the forefront of their minds on the specific day of wedded bliss. However, can you really say that it is wrong to use “agape,” in this sense? When two committed individuals are dedicating their lives not wholly unto themselves but to the service and honor of a holy God? which, in turn, is ultimately for the salvation and care of mankind? (albeit always to the honor and glory of God?)

    Granted, I’ve just turned this entire schpiel into a giant rumination on something religious, something you may well not be. My intent was merely to suggest that, while many weddings may not comprehend the verity/intent of the passage, does that make it any less appropriate? That is, considering what a marriage ought to be.

    As to your question of the week, that’s just silly: no, of course translation is crucial, to feel/understand the strength and passion in a writer’s writing – be it religious, philosophical, or otherwise. I do tend to think the former have deeper implications, but we can always contest that that is a matter of opinion that each man must determine for himself. At least in the most general sense.

    • It is a fair and well-made point that there is a certain understanding of Christian marriage that makes it all about the glory and honor of God and therefore (taking the long way around) about agape. So it seems possible that the Bible verses can be both appropriate and totally misunderstood. Although I still doubt the positive effects of quoting scripture at people without any intention of them properly understanding it.

      Ironically, Paul seems to view marriage as a distraction, fit only for people who simply cannot resist the temptation of eros: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry.”

      And as to my question, it is not silly. Take, for example, dry-cleaning instructions. Because a translation of these instructions would be purely utilitarian, a good translation gets the clothes clean, a bad translation ruins them. There is not room for the subtleties of translating more intellectual works. From there, one may argue that, by degrees as instructions become more involved and ideas become less concrete (as the writing shifts from simple and physical to complex and moral/metaphysical), differing levels of writing admit of different levels of translational difficulty and with increased difficulty, increased precision is required. Or one may argue simply that there is more value in one text than another and is therefore more important to have translated well. Your relativistic claims that “each man must determine for himself” is not granted from the outset. See? Not silly.

  2. angel_kaye13 says:

    Ok, first? Paul was an old bachelor. Whether you agree with me in these terms matters not. I’m still going to maintain, and I doubt whether you can prove me wrong. So he’s a biased old codger.

    Secondly, forgive me for not accepting as truth something that some boy just assumes, without understanding the cultural and historical times of which he is speaking. Not to mention the given text itself, the implications of the original greek (throwing around words like agape and eros does little to convince me), and to what the author was particularly paying mind to. Unless you tell me that you are a Bible scholar? I’d be very surprised, given how you write. But I’ve also been known to be wrong. So enlighten me.

    But to keep matters simple, just look at the text you are citing, that of it being better for man not to marry. What precedes it? A section based on sexual immorality. What follows? Words on sacrificing food to idols. The portion between talks further on the topic of marriage, particularly in the case of marriage to unbelievers. Foregoing any textual considerations (Greek to English), one can still easily see that these matters are issues which the church in Corinth had previously written to Paul, as matters of concern. Not only this, but in a climate pervaded by persecution and the-end-is-nigh proclamations, tensions were high: people selling off property, not working, and yes, questioning probably, whether it was better to marry, in such exacerbated circumstances, or to merely live quietly and take a woman, ’til the Lord returned. Translation: mass confusion and misunderstanding. Also, I think there was some sort of Gentile code, whereby if you weren’t married, you were looked down upon and somehow mildly persecuted; I read that somewhere, but didn’t verify yet.

    Anyway. Paul, of course, counsels to these matters, because…that’s what he does. Being a man in control of himself, he can easily counsel to that fact. If you want to take that to your own life and be a man proud of his ability to not have sex, more power to you. But I think you’re taking some liberality in saying that Paul considered himself better and any other man better that could also remain unmarried. I think it much more likely that he was fighting some sort of issue whereby the Church were engaging in sexually immoral situations, and that was the crux of the problem. Not marriage. Add in the possibility that Christians were considering the necessity of marriage, in the face of the impending coming of Christ.

    We could also add that some translations have been worded: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” Would that translation appease your sensibilities any further? I find it difficult to believe you’d be touting Paul’s words, in that case. Just for consideration.

    But just so I don’t seem to be playing the mean crone, let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 13, in the same manner. It’s talking about love, right? And that’s the point you were taking issue with anyway: that of it being used for marriage.

    Again, let’s take a look at what precedes: passages on spiritual gifts and the body of Christ [the use of said-gifts within the body of Christ]. What follows? More talk about gifts and their proper usage. So we have love, snugly wedged between two matters of spiritual gifts.

    I will throw you this one bone: you’re right in that we shouldn’t merely quote scripture at people who do not understand it. But I think that’s why most pastors, who by and large preach in addition to that little blurb of scripture, speak to the matter of love. In what way or how they speak to the matter of love, I cannot say. But that does not in anyway lesson the usage of said-scripture for wedding services. Particularly in light of its textual placement.

    What are spiritual gifts for? To be used to the betterment of another. You can notice, in the way Paul transitions from chapter 12 to 13, that he means love to be attributed in this similar light: “But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I…have not love, I am only a resounding gong…” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1)
    This, if you are not incredibly obtuse, should easily be construed as Paul viewing love as the greatest spiritual gift; ergo, the greatest service that one Christian can offer to another person. Or even the means by which a person in the body of Christ may strive to best offer their other spiritual gift – that being in the embodiment of love. …I think I’m getting off on a tangent, and rambling, but…I simply cannot imagine how you can view this as an inappropriate text. Especially when Paul himself – he whom you cite so proudly – uses marriage several times as THE mode and metaphor of exemplifying/explaining the body of Christ.

    Your turn.

    By the by, I still think your translation question was silly. Just a little. But you’ll have that.

    • I keep beginning to reply to this, but am so put off by the insulting and aggressive tone of your comment that I regard it as a matter of self-respect that I not.

      • angel_kaye13 says:

        My apologies. I do see it does come off a bit harsh, doesn’t it? I guess I just get a little passionate about things that interest me, at times. And it’s quite possible I misinterpreted something you wrote. Although, at the moment, I haven’t the foggiest what it could have been…

  3. angel_kaye13 says:


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