Most people have heard:

“Through a glass, darkly (phrase), a Biblical phrase from 1 Corinthians 13:12″


So, what does that scripture mean?

What do the words mean?
In Greek that is:  βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι’ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι (blepomen gar arti di esoptrou en ainigmati)

What Paul is writing about has been described as either a window, in accord with the ” rabbinic use of the term אספקלריה (aspaklaria), a borrowing from the Latin specularia. This has the same ambiguous meaning, although Adam Clarke concluded that it was a reference to specularibus lapidibus, clear polished stones used as lenses or windows.”

Others reframe it as “a poor reflection as in a mirror (New International Version).”

However, it was a reference that Paul, who had seen Christ and heard the voice of God more than once and who had the heavens open themselves to him in open vision, was explaining that his knowledge of God and of eternal things was limited, like seeing through a bad window or seeing a poor reflection in a bad mirror.

Other authors in the New Testament expressed their understandings of things in a similar fashion.  Consider 1 John:

Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.


What does the meaning mean?

After all, it is more than words.  The words are pretty clear.  We don’t see things clearly.

But the meaning of the words, is that people like John, remembering that he knew Christ, was taught for 40 days by the risen Christ after the resurrection and had visions and visitations would say that there were core matters that he did not know in any clear way.

The entire thing is a warning that we know in part, we believe in part, we hope in part, but our understanding — assuming we are one of the people who has talked to Christ face to face — is still extremely limited and imperfect.  It also suggests that we draw conclusions from our imperfect knowledge that are much too firm.

So what was Paul trying to teach us?

The phrase is part of 1 Cor. 13.  In that chapter, Paul is writing about how “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”  He was explaining that everything except for charity (loving kindness) will fail, that what we know, and believe and understand is faulty and that what we really should embrace is kindness to others.

 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.


He was teaching that our supposed knowledge is far less than faith.  Faith is less than hope. But that love is greater than all, and the one thing that does not fail us.  As a result, no matter how much we know, how great our faith, how strong our hope, the one thing that matters is the kindness with which we act.

What do you think?

Do you think that we have better mirrors and windows than Paul had into the mind of God and the knowledge of Christ? Do you think there is a greater commandment than to love God and our neighbors? What is your takeaway from Paul’s words here?