Thursday, May 20, 2010

Through a Glass Darkly

1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly…”.

At the time the KJV was written, “glass( or looking glass) meant mirror . The Greek word that the KJV translates “glass” means “mirror,” and that is the way all modern translations read.

However, the literal translation “mirror” can give the wrong impression. Today’s mirrors are so clear that we see a very good image in them, so saying we see a poor reflection, or a dim reflection, does not seem to make sense.

To understand the verse properly we must realize that at the time of Paul, the glass mirrors we have today had not been invented. In Paul’s day, and for centuries later, mirrors were generally bronze or brass that had been pounded flat and polished. The best reflection a person could get from a bronze mirror was dark and distorted, and that is the point the Bible is making: the best knowledge we have today is unclear and distorted—not crisp and clear like in today’s glass mirrors.

We could translate the verse something like, “now we see in a bronze mirror, darkly,” but many people may never have heard of a bronze mirror. It seems best to use the word “mirror,” and explain the verse more fully in study notes.


  1. This is a very useful example of how scripture must be examined in its proper context as well as simply reading its content. I find that almost all scripture -- even modern revelation -- needs a good contextual background, based in considerable research in some cases, before it can be understood. That is even more true of prophecy and our temple rituals. Even when the context seems self-evident to the reader, a little research will usually yield surprising results, as in this case. Thanks.

  2. I have an antique mirror through which I can only see "darkly" but (for some reason) I did not make the connection! It never dawned on me that the word "glass" was a synonym for "mirror". I thought it was referring to a "window".