Synopsis: We start with conflicting interpretations that lead to broader understanding of what this tenet of St. Paul’s may have hoped to convey; followed by related issues of psychological dynamics; real and false self-love; self-confidence and end with the harm of self-debasement and it’s avoidance.
Translation Troubles That HelpSince we are working from Paul’s list of what love is and is not (First Corinthians 13) in the New Testament, we must enter into the translation puzzlement of what he meant exactly when in Greek he wrote love is not “perpereuetai”. Various translations of the Bible have used quite a few rather different English words in translating this. Some scholars suggest we may not have a sufficiently accurate equivalent word in English for this Greek word. Hence, some translation confusion and controversy exists concerning what is meant here.
To get a broad sense of what Paul probably was meaning to convey, look at these scholarly based interpretations.
Love ... “vaunteth not itself” (King James), “dealeth not perversely” (Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible), “makes no parade” (Moffatt), “does not put on airs” (American Complete Bible), “is not pretentious”(New Catholic Bible), “doesn’t brag” (Common English Bible), “does not strut” (Message Bible), “is not conceited”, (Good News Edition), “Is Never Boastful or Proud” (Living Bible), “is not boastful” (Revised Standard Version).
As you can see there is similarity but also differences among these translations as well as with a the many others that exist.
If today Paul were writing in English he might be inspired to write something like love is not egocentric, self-aggrandizing, narcissistic or braggadocios. Of course, those terms and their particular definitions did not exist in his day so he had to use what was available. For help with original biblical linguistics check out Truth in Translation by Dr. Jason BeDuhn.
I have chosen to use boastful which is a common interpretation in Protestant translations with the more Catholic translation pretentious. To me, that seems to make a decent bridge between what is coming to be understood about the nature of healthy, real love and recent biblical linguistic research findings.
What Does Boastful and Pretentious Mean Psychologically?Boastful means excessively showing off, bragging and presenting oneself or one’s achievements, qualities etc. as superior, more excellent and more worthy of merit than is accurate or necessary. Pretentious means pretending to have greater standing, skill, importance, sophistication, status, qualities, worth, etc. than is accurate or merited in a situation.
Psychologically, boasting and pretentiousness behaviors suggest a person who may be in need of greater self-love and more inner self worth. Such a person also may need to find, own and/or develop their own talents, qualities, attributes, etc. so as not to need pretense. Such a person also may be too outer-dependent and insufficiently able to be interdependent, co-functioning or team functioning which can be quite detrimental to successful love relating (see Recovering Love by this author).
Real and False Self-LoveThose who have healthy, real self-love tend to brag briefly. Those of false self-love go on and on. Those of real self-love tend not to do much politically correct, socially adept humility and self depreciation talk. They avoid modesty-dishonesty as they also avoid over self-glorification because with healthy self-love they do not need it and it takes too much time and effort. Thus, the healthfully self-loving in a close love relationship can see pretending to be more and less than they really perceive themselves to be, as deceitful and a poor way to treat loved ones (“Unselfish Self-Love”).
In false love, there is often a lot of pretense, phony manipulation, fake intimacy and a plethora of small to large deceits. Hiding the truth about many things and other forms of secrecy frequently are common. Many who secretly see themselves as somehow not enough attempt starting toward a love relationship with a lot of overt or covert, boastful falsehoods. They may fake to impress and then work to hide what they have faked. This usually turns out to be a very poor way to grow true love, trust or anything else that can be called real (“False Love Awareness”).
There is an old, silly story that says, on their wedding night she said, “I have to confess something dear” and took out the falsies from her very padded bra. He said, “I too must confess” as he got 2 inches shorter after taking out the lifts in his shoes. She said, “There’s more” and removed her girdle. He remarked, “Me too” and tossed his toupee away, which was then followed by her wig. They then continued that way until there was nobody there.
In a symbolic way, this is a true story about some marriages especially those of the trophy spouse type. Being brave enough to present the truth about yourself, including brief bragging about the good parts along with the not so good, has been known to pay off two big ways. One way is to either garner admiration for self-disclosure and brave, self sharing or the second way, to more quickly screen-out those who cannot relate or deal with honest self-disclosure and probably would not have worked out anyway (see “Growing Closeness – A Love Skill”).
Healthy Self-Love and Self-Confidence vs Boastful and PretentiousSuperiority syndromes or complexes long have been known to hide inferiority syndromes and complexes. Neither of these are to be confused with healthy self-love and its strong, self-confident characteristic. Being overly boastful and pretentious, suggests the dynamics of a person who frequently is attending to and finding importance in how others see them and how they can influence that. Usually, the healthfully self-loving and self-confident attend to and find importance in how their world is functioning and what to constructively do with it. This frequently is confluent with the dictum “love others as you love yourself” and, therefore, is not just focused on self gain, as are boastfulness and pretentiousness (see “Self-Love and Its Five Healthy Functions” and Real Love False Love by this author).
Avoiding the Harm of Self DebasementDon’t ever be boastful, proud, brag, think too well of yourself, like yourself overmuch or care for yourself too much. Instead, always be humble, modest, meek, self-sacrificing, acting with humility, put others first and self last. For many people these concepts and others like them have been the connected and extended interpretation of the “love is not boastful or pretentious” tenant. Add docile and obedient for a possible in between the lines meaning. From a mental health point of view, all that has turned out to be anti-natural, unhealthy, self-destructive and really not good for the well-being of others.
This self-effacing understanding goes against the win-win understanding of the great, core teaching “love others as you love yourself”. Those who healthfully love themselves do sufficient self-care, along with care of others, and end up doing better, longer, more creatively and more good for others than the de-powered self-sacrificing and self demeaning. Being accurately self proud turns out to be a good thin. Sharing what you are proud of is self-disclosure – a love action in intimate love relationships. Socially, a brief, one sentence brag often is positively viewed as refreshing, honest and winsome self-confidence. Three or more sentences, not so much.
One More ThingYou might want to talk all this over with others and, in so doing, create a positive, sharing experience. If you do, please mention this site and its Mini-Love-Lessons along with the free subscription service. Thank you!
As always – Go and Grow with Love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly