How to Read 1 Corinthians

The Book of 1 Corinthians


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

1 Corinthians is Paul’s pointed letter to the disobedient church in Corinth. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate 1 Corinthians, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 




Now that you have an overview of 1 Corinthians in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in 1 Corinthians. Read about the attributes of love in 1 Corinthians 13:1–13. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about 1 Corinthians 13:1–13. 


1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV)

The Way of Love

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.9For we know in part and we prophesy in part,10but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Love does not boast.


Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about 1 Corinthians 13:1–13? (Consider the major characters, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Love does not boast. (Interpretation) True love for God and others does not involve selfish boasting.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of 1 Corinthians 13:1–13? How does its message connect with the main message of all of 1 Corinthians? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: Biblical characters who boast rarely end up well. Samson boasted of his strength and the Philistines defeated him, for example. Jesus never boasted—He maintained humility throughout His ministry. The church should follow His example of humble, servant-hearted love, as Paul presents in 1 Corinthians. 


Contextualize: What themes does 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 present? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of 1 Corinthians? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: When I love others by feeding the homeless or giving money to a friend in the hospital, I should keep a humble attitude. I shouldn’t brag about my actions to others to make myself look good. Instead, I should keep my generosity a secret, to be seen and honored by God alone.


Apply: How does the truth from 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of 1 Corinthians to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about 1 Corinthians, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through 1 Corinthians this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.