1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Sola-fide states that faith alone brings salvation. In this oft-quoted verse, Paul is clearly saying that love is greater than faith.

How can any attribute be greater than that which is necessary for salvation?

  • Matthew 22:36-40 may shed some light on this.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 13:50
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    If someone told you that faith was the only thing necessary for salvation, and the Bible contradicts that, maybe you should talk to the person who said that. Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 14:33
  • @Flimzy I don't think I'm making the assumptions you claim. The question has been edited. Is it more clear now?
    – user23
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 19:52
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    @JustinY: Yes, it's more clear now. Although I think it still suffers from the assumption that salvation is the goal. Although that's quite a different assumption than the one I got out of it earlier.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 19:56
  • The devils also believe and tremble, James 2:19
    – Dale
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 6:15

6 Answers 6


According to Christ, the greatest command is to "love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength" and the second like is to "love your neighbor as yourself".

Also according to Christ, He is "the way, the truth, and the life" - NO one comes to the Father except through Him.

Paul expands on Jesus' statements through his writings - never in contradiction of our Lord, but always in congruence with Him.

By telling the Corinthians that "the greatest of these is love", he has not excluded faith and hope. Rather, he has pointed the way higher than "mere" faith. Higher than "mere" hope. Paul is telling the Corinthians that faith and hope are only the beginning of the journey - the culmination is in completely fulfilling Christ's own command to "love one another".

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    If faith is only the beginning, then how can faith be all that is required for salvation? Or is there something better than salvation that we earn by loving as Christ did?
    – user23
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 2:25
  • @JustinY - I never said that you earn anything "better" than salvation: I said that love is the culmination of the journey, and fulfills Christ's command to us.
    – warren
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 2:30
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    A fundamental problem here is believing that the purpose of Jesus (and the church) is to get people to be 'saved'; that once they have 'prayed the prayer' they are done with, and we can move on to saving someone else. In fact it's much more than that, and these passages make it clear that 'love' is the central part of it. Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 14:38
  • I dunno, I think Love is just straight up better. If God is Love, as John says, and not God is Faith, then what is higher than God?
    – user304
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 18:05
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    The scripture is our witness on this point. God is faithful, but not faith. God is the source and reason for our hope, but he isn't hope. God is holy, but not holiness; God is just, but he is not justice. All of these, only with love do we get God is loving and God is love. And it is John the Divine who said it.
    – user304
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 12:44

Love is the greatest because it is essential to the very nature of God as seen in

1 John 4:8 (NIV)
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Love is the most prominent message in the Bible for a reason. John has a great passage about Love being your utmost responsibility as a Christian.

John 13:34-35 (NIV)
  34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I found the most convincing passage in Matthew where Jesus refers to Commandments and which are most important. Jesus quotes are always the best, I feel he really knows what he is talking about.

Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Love is also something that everyone can feel and believe in. Its like the first step in the process. It seems to be the most tangible of the three, also the most long lasting. In this book of the Bible Love also enables the Corinthian Christian to sort out their problems with spiritual gifts as well, the main point of the book it seems.

1 Corinthians 14:1 (NIV)
1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.

So this is why its the most important overall as a Christian and to the Corinthians in this part of the Bible.

  • 1
    As one of the community moderators for this site I'd like to welcome you to Christianity.SE! Thanks for participating. Please be sure to check out our FAQ page, but also understand that we're still a beta community and working out exactly how this site works so some things there are not up to speed.
    – Caleb
    Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 10:56
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    I have to disagree with your statement "It is much easier to Love and then have faith and hope" - the only way we can [truly] love, is to be one with God, which comes via Faith in Him. However, once we ARE at one with Him, then love is the natural showcase of that state of grace.
    – warren
    Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 15:12
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    @warren Maybe easier is bad terminology, most tangible of the three better describes what I was trying to say. Most of my verses come out my NIV Bible in case anyone was wondering sorry for not posting I am new to the site. Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 23:15
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    Yes, there are a lot of rules and customs about how SE sites work. It's not your ordinary free-for-all forum. But don't worry about not knowing, we'll try to help you along. I edited your answer so the translations are noted in-line and formatted a little bit for readability. Note that you can also edit to take into account the potential wording issue @warren brought up.
    – Caleb
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 12:35

It is greater than faith in only one way, it is eternal.

Heaven is the culmination of our Faith and Faith is the realization of what is hoped for (Heb 11:1 NAB), we don't need them there.

But in Heaven, love still exists because God is there.*

To your question, on earth, there's no reason to suspect that St. Paul is saying that for us the living a faithless love (of what?) will do anything for our personal salvation.

*I heard a Catholic priest say this a while back on a RelevantRadio Q&A call-in-show.


While Romans is Paul's treatise on salvation by faith alone, 1 Corinthians 13 is written to Christians regarding proper Christian living and specifically with regard to relationships within the church (see chapter 12).

So, the faith he mentions in comparison to love is referring to the faith of a Christian in his daily life--not the initial saving faith of an unbeliever turning to God. And the comparison is to the gifts God gives to believers to serve the church and each other.

So, faith is absolutely not just the chief element of salvation--but the only one.

For Christian living and relating with others in the church, God has given special gifting to believers for this purpose. Some are apostles, teachers, evangelists...

However, Paul instructs us to let love be the overriding principle.


In short, the fathers teach us that while faith and hope are important, it is only Love that ultimately saves us. For Christ himself says, 'He who loves me keeps my commandments'.

While faith and hope may bring one to Christ, it is only Love which keeps the person joined to him and abiding in him. Faith without works is dead, or so says the apostle James, so faith and hope are perfected by Love, and the thing which perfects is greater than the things perfected.

Thus the one who hopes and has faith may be brought to Christ, but it is only the one who loves that endures until the end, and thus is ultimately saved. Paul emphasizes this in saying, 'I may have all faith and know all sciences and mysteries, but if I have not love, I am nothing.'

And finally, if God is love, as the apostle John says, then to truly have love is to truly have God. To have him is to participate in him, which is, as we are taught, the substance of salvation. As Peter says, 'Be ye partakers of the divine nature.'

It should also be noted that while faith and hope are necessary before we have come into the new heavens and new earth, they are not necessary after we have received the thing we believed we would have and hoped for. Then, only love persists.


"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." (Romans 8:22-25)

Who hopes for what they already have? In Heaven we will have all that we need, so there will be no need for hope. There will be no unfulfilled promises remaining for which to hope.

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith is related to a hoped for future. We have faith that God will deliver us, save us, resurrect us, forgive us. Once we are in Heaven, all will be complete.

Today we hope for the fulness of God's love. Tomorrow we will have it. Today we have faith that God will keep his promises. Tomorrow his faithfulness will be sealed.