“Charity” or “Love” in 1 Corinthians 8:1 et al.?

“Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” (1 Corinthians 8:1, KJV)

Some critics claim that the word “charity” is either wrong or outdated. Newer translations use the word “love” instead. The Greek word at issue is “αγαπη (agapē)”. Thayer defines this word as “brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence” (Thayer’s Greek Definitions). The definition of “charity” is “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity” (Merriam-Webster). The English word “charity” comes from the Latin “caritas”, which means “Christian love” as opposed to sexual love (Online Etymological Dictionary). Throughout history, Latin theologians such as Augustine have used “caritas” as a term of art to refer specifically to Christian love (On Christian Doctrine, 3.10.16). Whenever “charity” appears in the KJV, it is in reference to Christian love toward fellow Christians (the following are all 24 verses that have “charity”):

  • “Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)

  • “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 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. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,… 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…. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-4, 8, 13)

  • “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1)

  • “Let all your things be done with charity.” (1 Corinthians 16:14)

  • “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” (Colossians 3:14)

  • “But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you:” (1 Thessalonians 3:6)

  • “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;” (2 Thessalonians 1:3)

  • “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:” (1 Timothy 1:5)

  • “Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” (1 Timohy 2:15)

  • “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

  • “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)

  • “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,” (2 Timothy 3:10)

  • “That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.” (Titus 2:2)

  • “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

  • “Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:14)

  • “And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.” (2 Peter 1:7)

  • “Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well:” (3 John 1:6)

  • “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;” (Jude 1:12)

  • “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.” (Revelation 2:19)

“Charity” is therefore an accurate translation of “αγαπη”. Some might say that in our day “charity” only refers to the giving of donations. Even if that were true, it does not follow that “charity” in the KJV is an error or outdated. Rather, it shows that our culture has strayed far from the Bible’s scope of what is meant by “charity”.