Love Does Not Disgrace Others
Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:5, love “does not act unbecomingly.” Here Paul uses the word aschemoneo, the negative of schemon, “deformed, shapeless, indecent, unseemly.” Paul is the only New Testament writer who uses this term, and he uses it only one other time when he says it in 1 Cor. 7:36 in the context of a man’s potential mistreatment of his unmarried daughter.
This Greek word aschemoneo is used in the Septuagint translation of Deut. 25:3,
3 And they shall scourge him with forty stripes in number, they shall not inflict more; for if thou should scourge him with more stripes beyond these stripes, thy brother will be disgraced [aschemoneo] before thee.
This is the only time the word appears in the law, but its adjective form (aschemosune) is found in Ezekiel 16:7, 22, and 39, where it describes Israel as a woman who was left “naked and bare.” It is perhaps better rendered, “naked and disgraced” or “indecent.”
Paul says that love does not act disgracefully or indecently, but instead acts in accordance with the law of God. A man who is given more than forty stripes is said to be “disgraced” (Septuagint) or “degraded” (NASB) in the eyes of the people. It is unlawful to strip people bare of all dignity or to rob them of their humanity, even when punishing them for sin.
Simply put, love does not disgrace others.
Divine justice puts limits on punishment, because God is love, and love does not over-punish sinners. To punish sinners beyond the limits of the law is a violation of the law of love, for it violates the very character of God. That is why there is no eternal punishment in Scripture. All judgment for sin is limited either by forty stripes (for misdemeanors) or by the law of Jubilee (for felonies).
Judgment is said to be olam, a hidden, unknown, or unspecified time, because its length depends upon the nature of the crime. The root of olam is alam, which means “to hide.” Yet we know that the law of Jubilee limits debts (liability for sin) to a maximum of 49 years.
The New Testament equivalent is aionian, which must be defined by the Hebrew meaning of olam. The Greek word aionian is from aion, “an eon, or age.” Most translations render aionian as “eternal” or “everlasting,” but this is inaccurate and actually violates the law of love. Divine judgment is an indefinite or unknown period of time.
For example, Jesus says in Matt. 25:46, “these will go away into eternal punishment” (NASB). The KJV renders it “everlasting punishment.” But Young’s Literal New Translation renders Matthew 25:46 as “punishment age-during.” Rotherham’s The Emphasized Bible renders the same phrase, “age-abiding correction.”
Benjamin Wilson’s The Emphatic Diaglott refuses to enter the debate and leaves it as “aionian cutting-off.” By doing so, Wilson seems to admit that it does not mean everlasting but is afraid of offending those who insist upon translating the word incorrectly. I suspect also that he was afraid that Christians would reject his translation and refuse to use it.
The point is that when Paul says that “love does not act unbecomingly,” he surely must include the law’s injunction against over-punishment in Deut. 25:3, where the term aschemoneo is used. After all, this is one of the laws hanging upon the law of love (Matt. 22:40). All of God’s judgments hang upon love, for all of His verdicts and decrees are rendered by the God of love.
Homosexual Behavior is not Agape
Getting back to Paul’s statement that “love does not act unbecomingly,” the Septuagint uses the same word in its adjective form in Ezekiel 23:29, saying, “and the shame of thy fornication shall be exposed.” Paul uses the same adjective in Rom. 1:27, in regard to homosexual relationships, saying,
27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent [aschemosune] acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
Hence, homosexual acts are said to be “indecent,” or deformed, and in 1 Cor. 13:5 Paul excludes such behavior from his definition of agape, that is, divine love. It may be eros (physical attraction) and, though unlawful, it may even rise to the level of phileo (brotherly love), but it can never be defined biblically as agape.
These two issues, over-punishment and homosexual behavior, are clearly outside Paul’s definition of agape, for they are deformed, or warped, as the word implies. Many Christians have been taught that God over-punishes sinners, which deforms their concept of agape. Meanwhile, the world now follows a deformed definition of love by recognizing homosexual behavior in its standard of love.
Yet in spite of men’s distorted understandings of love, the God of love remains unchanged.