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1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (KJV)

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.
2 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.
3 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.

Those verses are commonly interpreted to mean that charity is also necessary for salvation, even "though I have all faith." That interpretation opposes the doctrine of Sola Fide. How then do Sola Fide adherents interpret this passage?

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Highly relevant: youtu.be/j_MFmoCMbzs?t=11m –  svidgen Aug 2 '13 at 17:42
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3 Answers

The KJV is in the minority, if not unique, in its use of "charity" as opposed to "love" in its translation of that passage. In particular there are two forms of love being talked about here; in verse one the Amplified Version defines it as "that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God's love for and in us" and in the latter verses simply as "God's love in me". So in this answer I talk about "love" as opposed to "charity" - particularly to avoid confusion as verse 3 talks about both the practice of charity (the practice of benevolent giving and caring) and the virtue of charity (the Christian theological concept of unlimited love and kindness).

The first two verses are talking about what a person contributes through particular actions, and the third is concerned with what a person gains through particular actions. The important thing here from a Sola Fide perspective is that these are three distinct sentences. They are related to one another, but they do not say "If I have faith and not love, I gain nothing."

Verse 1 is self explanatory: speaking various languages, including the tongues of angels, without love is just noise.

Verse 2: A person is useless without love, even if they have the ability to prophesy, a deep understanding of mysteries, encyclopaedic knowledge of everything, and sufficient faith to move mountains. Note that it doesn't say such a person is not saved; it just says they contribute nothing of use. This is the only verse that talks about faith, but it doesn't talk about salvation; it says that it's possible to have faith and not contribute anything of use, but it doesn't say that you need more than faith to be saved.

Verse 3 is the only one that relates to salvation, because it talks about what a person gains. It says that without love, giving away all our possessions and even giving our lives, gives us nothing. In other words we are not saved by good works. Note that verse 3 does not mention faith in God; it does not say "if you have faith but not love, you are not saved" it says " if you do good works without love, you don't gain anything". Therefore it doesn't negate the notion that faith is sufficient for salvation.

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Of course what I don't say here is: if that faith in God is genuine, then love and good works stem from it; but that wasn't in the question :) –  Waggers Nov 14 '11 at 14:59
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Actually, this verse says that faith without love (agape) is dead, and it says the same of gifts of the Spirit and works exercised without agape love.

Therefore, reading this to imply that works are necessary for salvation is bad hermeneutics. Now, James, on the other hand has some clear things to say about faith without works:

James 2:14-26 (ESV) (emphasis mine)

Faith Without Works Is Dead

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

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The book of 1 Corinthians is written to address issues in the church at Corinth, so it deals with Christian living rather than salvation.

Paul is telling Christians, "Hey, if you do all the right things but aren't loving, you're completely missing the boat." Jesus' first and second commands are to love God and to love people. That doesn't mention anything about faith either, but that's Jesus isn't talking about salvation there either.

This is akin to the church in revelation that was doing a bunch of good things, but had lost their first love.

So, this passage has nothing to do with salvation, but everything to do with Christian living.

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