Love believes all things

What does the apostle Paul mean in 1 Cor 13:7 when he says Love “believes all things”? Everyone who has ever commented on this verse qualifies it with this: Paul is not saying be gullible or foolish or believe anything and everything.

Still, the line is powerful one: “love believes all things.” Those who know Greek may remember that Paul begins everything in v. 7 with the Greek word panta (all things or always). So, in English it can look like this:
All things love endures.
All things love believes.
All things love hopes.
All things love remains.
You could replace it with “always” and then it looks like this:
Always love endures.
Always love believes.
Always love hopes.
Always love remains.
Clearly #1 and #4 are almost synonymous, and that suggests the same for #2 and #3, leading us to think Paul means love believes as it hopes. In other words, a characteristic of love is that trusts and believes rather than mistrusts and misbelieves. Or, perhaps better, love doesn’t let us become cynical and skeptical. Instead, love never ceases to have faith as it never loses hope. 
What do you think Paul means?
But that leads us to the question of how this works itself out.


This line from Paul, that love always believes or believes all things (or always), reminds me of an incredible short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer (I.B. Singer) called “Gimpel the Fool.” You can read it in The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer (you can read it online here). Everyone in Gimpel’s village, Frampol, takes Gimpel for a fool because he takes everyone at their word. His wife cheats on him so his children are not really his own, though he believes they are; he believes his wife when he says the man Gimpel saw in the bed was in his dreams. Even the local rabbi gets in on the act of making Gimpel the fool by playing with words. Gimpel comes off in this story as rejected by all, completely filled with integrity and grace and belief, and in the end he is the one who is vindicated. In a world of slippery words and treacherous lies, Gimpel’s rugged commitment to trust the words of others stands out as a unique and solitary person. Better to be the fool who trusts than to participate in evil for a moment. Something like that is an element of this story.

Is this what Paul had in mind? If not, what then did Paul have in mind? How does one practice what Paul says when he says “love believes all things/always”?
About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • John W Frye

    Lutsk, Ukraine
    Wow, Scot, I have used this text so many times when requested as a wedding text. I’ve preached through 1 Corinthians verse by verse. Yet, I’ve not been stopped to delve into the meaning of “love all things/always believes.” Since I know Paul did not believe everything he heard (e.g., the errors of the Galatian heresy), then we must prode the line in its context. My guess is this: “Love always will think the best or give a wide benefit of the doubt in the hope that God is at work through love.”

  • dopderbeck

    I think “believes” here refers to a conviction that what one desires for the other out of love can be achieved.
    Example: though my adolescent child is struggling with her faith and character, whatever happens I will never stop believing that she can flourish as a person loved by God, and therefore I will never stop acting on that belief by patiently praying, instructing, listening, etc.
    captcha: financial corncob (what??)

  • http://r Randy G.

    John (1)
    “Love always will think the best or give a wide benefit of the doubt in the hope that God is at work through love.”
    This is very close to something I have long believed and had difficulty putting into words. I first found it in reading Madeline L’Engle’s youth fiction, “Walking on Water” and reflections on scripture. I see this sensibility as very different from the sensibility that is always looking for and calling out errors or mis-steps in doctrine. Thank you.
    Peace,
    Randy Gabrielse

  • http://odysseusjak.blogspot.com jack

    I think the first thing that should be done is look at is how ‘love’ is described by Paul. According to Paul, ‘Love’ is ‘patient and kind’. It’s not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It doesn’t demand its own way. It isn’t irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. ‘It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.’
    That, to me, speaks of the loving belief reflected upon in the story about Gimpel. And I think it means exactly what Paul stated – that kind of Love, ‘always believes, always hopes’. It looks past the ‘sin addiction’ to the Light within all things.
    What I find interesting is if we exchange ‘love’ for God, since St John stated, ‘God is Love’. With that in mind, I think we get a little closer to what Paul is saying.

  • Mr. Incredible

    jack says:
    August 4, 2010 11:08 AM
    According to Paul, ‘Love’ is ‘patient and kind’. It’s not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It doesn’t demand its own way. It isn’t irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. ‘It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.’
    Mr. Incredible says:
    Give us the biblical definition of “love.”
    jack says:
    It looks past the ‘sin addiction’ to the Light within all things.
    Mr. Incredible says:
    Not quite what Jesus did.
    Jesus loved. What they He do in love? He brought the Word of God — the Message of God’s Reconciliation — to people, sometimes stepping on their toes in order to get their attention. Telling them how to be saved is more important than earthly clothes, earthly food and earthly water.
    John 3:16 says, “For God loved the world so much THAT…” That expresses God’s purpose. What I call, “The Seven Words of Perfection.” God loved. God gave His Son. God loves all through those of us who are born again, and with His Love, we give His Son — that is, the Word. His love is expressed through us, through His Word. It is not expressed through a can of spaghetti. It is not expressed through a pair of shoes. Giving those things may be a vehicle, but they are not the end, will not save you, nor anyone else. It is God, through Christ — the Word — Who saves.
    I don’t have to like you. I don’t have to spend time with you. I don’t have to go to the movies with you. I don’t have to have three meals a day with you. I don’t have to go on bike rides with you. I must, however, give you the Word. You may get mad at me. You may stomp around, hold your breath ’til you turn blue and thrash around on the floor; but I must give you the Word. THAT is biblical love — that is,

    unselfish concern for the Salvation of others, as much concern for others’ Salvation as you have for your own.

  • Mr. Incredible

    CORRECTION
    John 3:16 says, “For God loved the world so much THAT…” — – > John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world THAT…
    My misquote in the first instance makes The Seven Words of Perfection eight words of perfection. 8 is not God’s perfect number.
    The correction makes it seven.


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