Lawsuits, 1-11

6:1 When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints? 6:2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? 6:3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters! 6:4 So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? 6:5 I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians? 6:6 Instead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers?

A link between chapter 5 and the first part of this chapter may be expressed thus: ‘We don’t judge those who are outside; but neither do we ask them to judge us.’

Hays insists that the link between the present section and chapter 5 is that both concern the failure of the church to take responsibility:

‘When the Corinthian Christians take one another to court, they are declaring primary allegiance to the pagan culture of Corinth rather than to the community of faith. This action breaks down the boundaries of the church and damages its unity….when the Corinthian Christians take one another to court, they are declaring primary allegiance to the pagan culture of Corinth rather than to the community of faith. This action breaks down the boundaries of the church and damages its unity.’

Thiselton states the general principle underlying Paul’s teaching here:

‘For the issue which now emerges resolves into a general principle: are the “insiders” within the congregation to draw not only their assumptions about “wisdom” and “rhetoric” (1:10–4:21) but also their standards of self-gratification, morality, and manipulation from the secular culture of “outsiders” at Corinth? How distinctive (not how ghetto-like) is the community to be which is founded not on human wisdom or “religion” but on the centrality of Christ and the cross, within the framework of the interpretative and moral tradition of the scriptures? The case study of initiating litigation brings this universal issue to a sharp local focus.’

Preben Vang summarises what he sees as the ‘big idea’ of vv1-6:

‘The church must be vigilant in protecting its identity as a Christ-empowered community and recognize that it is more Christlike to accept being wronged than to pursue retaliation through means that contradict Christ’s teaching. In the community of Christ, no interpersonal differences should be irreconcilable.’

A legal dispute – Is Paul referring to the case of incest, discussed in the previous chapter?  Bernard (1907) thought so, surmising that the incestuous man was being sued by his own father.  Bailey (Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes) also thinks so, suggesting that the case may have been brought by the aggrieved husband, or the woman’s brother.

Garland, however, calls such reconstructions ‘fanciful’, adding that they are inconsistent with Paul’s language in v7: willingness to be wronged rather than go to court hardly fits a case of adultery, let alone incest.

Most commentators agree that although there is a link back to what Paul has just written (‘let the church deal with this matter of incest’) the application now is wider (‘let the church deal with other disputes between members, rather than taking them to the pagan courts’).  He will return more directly to issues of sexual behaviour in v12.

It makes good sense (argues Garland) to regard the case as involving disputed business dealings, or with dowries or inheritances.  If so, the reference to the unrighteous not inheriting the kingdom of God (v9f) might be ‘an ironic allusion to one who has foolishly fixed his eyes upon an earthly inheritance  by initiating a lawsuit.’

Garland fills in some detail:

‘Understanding who made use of the civil courts in the ancient world may shed more light on the matter and explain Paul’s indignation. Persons of high status were prone to settle disputes through litigation. They had the upper hand in the courts because they could capitalize on their influence and wealth and could enhance their own reputation by injuring their opponent’s or increase their wealth with legal conquests. The lower classes were restricted from doing so since they were unlikely to win against stacked odds. The law, for example, favored creditors over debtors and landlords over tenants (Garnsey 1974: 142). Such a suit against someone of higher rank would also show an unwelcome lack of respect for one’s “betters” (Winter 1991a: 561). This fact of life is reflected in Scripture: “But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?” (James 2:6; cf. Eccles. 6:10).’

Garland thinks that, given the small size of the church, Paul may have had a single case in mind.

The case is not ‘trivial’ (against RSV), but it is ‘small’ compared with ‘judging the world’.  It involves ‘everyday’ (what we would call ‘small claims’), rather than criminal, matters.

As Rosner and Ciampa state, this passage cannot be used to defend the covering up of criminal wrong-doing, for it

‘deals with the use of secular courts for civil cases between Christians. It does not concern criminal law, which in Corinth would have covered crimes such as high treason, embezzlement, bribery at elections, extortion in the provinces, forgery of wills or coins, violent offenses, and adultery. On this score he might have taken a different view. This passage could not be used, for example, to justify the covering up of child abuse or murder, even if such crimes were committed within the church fellowship. It also does not cover the case of a believer and a nonbeliever entangled in legal matters.’

According to Harper’s Bible Commentary, the context suggests that these lawsuits might be connected with marriage:

‘If the passage is seen in light of 6:20–7:40 then it can be surmised that the Corinthian lawsuits were caused by legal problems connected with institutional marriage. Such legal disputes could pertain, for example, to questions of dowry, divorce settlements, or inheritance. The Corinthians might not have considered them as “religious” problems to be adjudicated by the community, since according to Roman law marriage was constituted by legal contract rather than religious rite.’

Fee thinks that if the dispute was related to material possessions, then it is likely that it was between two of the few men in the congregation who owned property, which suggests that that were leaders in the community.  If this scenario is accurate, then the problem would thereby be exacerbated.

Rosner and Ciampa identify a number of aspects of the text that point to the case being about a civil, rather than to a criminal, matter:

‘It is described as consisting of “the things of this life” (v. 3), a “dispute with another” (v. 1; cf. v. 5), involving one party accusing the other of “cheating” or fraud (vv. 7–8).’

They add that, in Roman law, such cases could involve disputes about ‘legal possession, breach of contract, damages, fraud, or injury.’

With another – ‘Christian identity is bound up with attitudes toward the other.’ (Thiselton)

As Fee remarks, what begins as though it was an address to one or two offenders, is soon seen as a problem for the whole church for failing to hold them to account.

To go to court before the unrighteous (ἐπὶ τῶν ἀδίκων): ‘at a court where there is questionable justice’ (Thiselton).

The court itself was the bēma (‘judgment seat’).  It was a public place, situated in the marketplace.  A vivid account of Paul’s experience before that very court is found in Acts 18:12–17.

Does the expression hoi adikoi mean simply ‘not Christian believers (i.e. not justified)’, or that these judges were also dishonest and untrustworthy?  Garland thinks (partly because of how the word is used in v9) that Paul is offering a moral evaluation of them.

Rosner and Ciampa think that both senses apply:

‘Paul’s description of them as ungodly simultaneously identifies them as unbelievers and rebellious sinners who did not know God’s true wisdom, righteousness, or transforming power and therefore were less qualified to serve as judges than anyone who had been sanctified by the Spirit of God (cf. 1:2).’

Part of Paul’s concern is that those adjudicating in these secular courts are ‘people who have not experienced the transforming power of Jesus Christ, who do not make judgments in light of the true wisdom revealed in his cross, and who operate in a system that is governed or severely contaminated by very different values and a different worldview.’

Barrett thinks, in the light of Acts 18:12-17 and Rom 13:1-7, that Paul did not regard the Roman courts as unjust: ‘the word is to be taken not in a moral but in a religious sense – not justified, not rightly related with God through Christ.’  More recent commentators (including Thiselton and Garland), however, explain that, whereas the Roman criminal courts could be relied on as a source of reasonable justice, the local civil courts were too swayed by patronage and vested interests.  Thus, decisions were often biased in favour of the wealthy and influential, to the disadvantage of the poor and those of low status.

Rosner and Ciampa comment:

‘Ancient Roman courts could not be relied upon to administer justice impartially since they were open to bribes and were partial to the status and power of the prosecutor or defendant or both. The Roman judicial system was damaged by “improper influences” that “made equality before the law unattainable.”3 In fact, “the principal criterion of legal privilege in the eyes of the Romans was dignitas or honor derived from power, style of life, and wealth.” Furthermore, going to court was very expensive and beyond the reach of most people. The system favored people of higher status…The modern notion of equal standing in law did not pertain.’

The same writers add:

‘Advocates were not expected to show any restraint: “the advocate … was permitted to use the most unbridled language about his client’s adversary, or even his friends or relations or witnesses.” Young orators learned their trade with colorful character assassination, often playing to crowds of onlookers. Civil litigation was inevitably vexatious. It is little wonder that the church in Corinth suffered strife, jealousy, and discord with members entangled in such circumstances.’

According to Vang:

‘If the fairness of the Roman criminal system was somewhat questionable, the courts of the local magistrates were downright rigged against the poor and the weak. Magistrates (Latin: aediles) were elected by the elite to preside over commerce disputes. Their jurors, likewise, were required to be wealthy, having a net worth that exceeded 7,500 denarii.’


‘Not everyone was allowed to prosecute—no one could sue someone of a higher rank or level of wealth.
‘A person’s public status usually determined the veracity of that individual’s testimony.
‘The system was somewhat designed for wealthy patrons to manipulate the outcome through bribery, application of social pressure, utilization of powerful friendships, and so forth.
‘If a wealthy patron from the church brought a poorer church member to such a court, the less fortunate would have no chance of a fair hearing.
‘If two patrons of similar wealth (leaders of two different Christian house groups, for example) faced off in such a court, they would need to rely on their ability to publicly discredit their opponent in an attempt to bring dishonor to their paterfamilias (and church group).
‘When believers approached disagreements this way, the church’s very testimony to Christ was at stake. To win their case, the parties would be forced to resort to the “ways” of secular Corinth. The Christ community would lose its identity—their very actions would demonstrate that they considered the norms and methods of the culture more significant and powerful than the teachings and power of Christ.’ (Paragraphing added)

Garland cites Winter as distinguishing between the two types of court:

‘Offenses such as legal possession, breach of con-tract, damages, fraud and injury” were assigned to civil courts, while criminal courts handled cases of high treason, embezzlement of state property, bribery at elections, extortion in the provinces, murder by violence or poisoning, endangering public security, forgery of wills or coins, violent offenses, adultery, and seduction of reputable unmarried women…’

As Garland notes:

‘Although labeling these judges as “unjust” may be a bit of rhetorical hyperbole (Winter 1991a: 570), Paul’s own run-ins with the legal system in Corinth and elsewhere may have fed his jaundiced view of it. Some point to Paul’s own appeals to Roman courts (Acts 16:37-39; 25:10-12) to claim that he would not have impugned their impartiality (Fee 1987: 232). But these appeals were desperate measures in desperate circumstances. Paul’s languishing in prison for two years in Caesarea because the governor Felix hoped for a bribe and wished to curry favor with the Jewish leaders presents a different picture of Roman justice (Acts 24:26-27). Paul also says that he was beaten with rods three times, a Roman punishment (2 Cor. 11:25; cf. 1 Cor. 4:9), which would not give him much reason to trust local justice. In fact, in 6:7-8 he implies that by going to law in pagan courts, the Christian litigants are implicated in defrauding others and committing injustice. The garb of law abets this injustice, which explains how Paul could regard the justices as unjust (Wengst 1987: 76).’

The same writer adds: ‘Social standing weighted the scales of justice; and if that did not work, bribery could tip the balance.’  What was at stake was honour (rather than justice), and one could gain honour be defeating a rival.  In the church, legal disputes would force others to take sides, and not only lead to factionalism but also undermine the public reputation of the church.

Given this background, it is quite likely that the case in question was being brought against a weaker member of the church, who was likely to be treated unjustly.

Garland says that both Greek and Jewish groups were used to resolving legal disputes themselves.  Indeed, one of the rabbis appealed to Ex 21:1 as teaching that cases should be brought before the Israelite judges rather than before the heathen.

The Corinthians may have used the secular courts out of habit and, in this sense, they were ‘unconverted’ in this particular regard.

Justice is sought by the justified bringing a case before the court of the unjustified!

Garland notes that an ancient lawsuit usually entailed an assault on the opponent’s character.

Winter (NBC) adds some detail:

    • Among the elite of first-century society it was quite acceptable to institute civil proceedings before a magistrate and jury on trivial matters in order to establish one’s social and political superiority over others.
    • In weighing up their decision in such cases the jury had to take into account the status and power of the opposing parties, and the judge had to act likewise in imposing fines.
    • Furthermore, certain persons were excluded from instituting legal proceedings against others; i.e. a son against his father, a slave against his master, a freedman against his patron, a citizen against the magistrate, and an inferior against his social superior.
    • Judges and juries were regularly bribed by participants in a case.
    • Mediation rather than litigation could be used in Jewish and Graeco-Roman courts. This was the preferred option of some because leading citizens feared the damaging effects of litigation on their social standing and public careers.
    • Enmity was also engendered, for those who voted against the defendant automatically became his enemies.
    • Civil litigation for the elite was simply seen as an extension of factions and discord in political life.

(Formatting added)

Given this background, it is not surprising that Paul’s tone in this section is set by the first word, which might be translated, ‘How dare you…!’

The wealthy and influential were using worldly means to exploit those despised in the world.  Seen in this light, the situation is exactly a case in point regarding what Paul has already written (in chapters 1-4) about ‘wisdom’ and ‘ower’.

The saints will judge the world – ‘Hagioi‘, God’s people; Christian believers.  Among other things, Paul is affirming here that God’s people must consider themselves competent to judge (relatively) small cases here, given their role in judging the world hereafter.

A precious word

‘A title not to be restricted to the godly of the first times, but common to all that are saved in all after–times also, as Eph. 4:12. This name putteth mere morality and formal profession out of countenance, as the sun doth a glow–worm. Saintship is a matter of Divine workmanship, and therefore it is far more remarkable than human excellence. We should keep up the name of “saints,” that the reality of the true religion be not lowered by avoiding this title; for in these times it is to be feared that the name is out of use, because holiness itself is out of fashion.’ (Thomas Goodwin)

Vang remarks that Paul is making conscious use of a pair of antonyms: adikoi vs. hagioi.  These terms respectively mark out the community that his readers used to belong to, and now belong to.

Garland notes that the present statement is not inconsistent with 1 Cor 4:5.  There he is referring to judgment in the hear and now; here, is thinking of the final judgment.

Strictly speaking, this is in the present tense, but v3 indicates that the future is intended (so Barrett).

Fee: ‘The absurdity of the Corinthian position is that the saints will someday judge the very world before whom they are now appearing and asking for a judgment.’

Cf. 1 Cor 5:13, where Paul says that ‘God will judge those outside’.

The following texts are often adduced as supporting Paul’s teaching here:

Dan 7:22 – ‘…until the Ancient of Days arrived and judgment was rendered in favor of the holy ones of the Most High. Then the time came for the holy ones to take possession of the kingdom.’
Matthew 19:28 ‘Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth: In the age when all things are renewed, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’
Lk 22:30 “22:30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Jude 14-15 Enoch, the seventh in descent beginning with Adam, even prophesied of them, saying, “Look! The Lord is coming with thousands and thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict every person of all their thoroughly ungodly deeds that they have committed, and of all the harsh words that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Rev 2:26-28 “To the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations—he will rule them with an iron rod and like clay jars he will break them to pieces, just as I have received the right to rule from my Father.”
Revelation 20:4 ‘Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.’

Morris: ‘Some hold that judge is to be taken in the Hebraic sense of “rule”. This is possible, but the context deals with lawsuits, not government.’  But Garland inclines to this view, citing Ruth 1:1; 1 King 15:5; Psa 2:10; Isa 16:5 and Dan 9:12 as support for the view that ‘judging’, in OT thought, includes the idea of ‘ruling’.

Fee and Stuart (How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth) urge that since Scripture gives us no further instruction in this matter, we should not speculate beyond what the text itself says: ‘we know very little as to what this means or how it is going to be worked out. Everything beyond the affirmation itself is mere speculation.’  However, passages such as Dan 7:22; Mt 19:28; Lk 22:28ff; Jude 14–15; Rev. 2:26–27; 20:4 may help us to fill out the meaning.

‘The Christ community, the hagioi, will judge the world, not because they have deeper insight or higher righteousness, but because they, as the people who belong to the one who rules the earth, will participate in the final judgment.’ (Vang)

‘This office the saints will hold by virtue of their perfected knowledge, their completed communion with the judgments of the Great Judge.  This is a necessary part of the ultimate triumph of good over evil.  Just as the faithful shall reign with Christ as kings (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 22:5), so shall they sit with him as judges of the world.  The thought is an extention of the promise made to the Apostles (Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30); cf. Rev 20:4.’ (Lightfoot)

Thiselton, however, thinks that this represents ‘a self-congratulatory catchphrase along with language about being filled to satisfaction, being enriched, and reigning as kings (1 Cor 4:8).’

Thiselton remarks that early Christian teachers were nervous of the idea of the saints as judges of the world.  That prerogative, they argued, belongs to Christ alone.  Some of the tension was resolved by Chrysostom in the following way:

‘Chrysostom’s concern might perhaps be expressed more accurately by asserting that no Christian will “judge” the world as an independent individual, but as one of the corporeity who bears Christ’s image and shares Christ’s destiny and likeness as raised-with-him. All judgment would in this sense remain Christ’s since those in Christ would reflect only the character of Christ.’

If the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? – Paul’s logic in arguing from the greater to the lesser is inescapable.

Winter suggests that the word translated ‘trivial’ implies that the cases are vexatious, rather than genuine.  Barrett thinks that the word suggests matters relating to the present life.  Garland, similarly, thinks that these suits concern ‘matters of daily life’, i.e. civil (and not criminal) issues.

Rosner and Ciampa remark that the cases are trivial in comparison to the cosmic scale of the judgements the saints themselves will be involved with.

As Garland remarks, none of this implies that Christians are above the law (see Rom 13:1-5).  But they should sort out their own disputes among themselves.

We will judge angels – It is difficult to say whether good or bad angels (or both) are meant.  Many commentators – both ancient and modern – think that evil angels (demons) are meant.  Cf. 2 Cor 7:7; Jude 6.  Good angels (as Rosner and Ciampa remark) will assist in the process of judgement (Matt. 13:41; 16:27; 25:31).

Hays and others think that this judgement by the saints is intimately bound up with that of Christ himself:

‘Perhaps this is an inference from his conviction that all things are ultimately to be subjected to Christ (1 Cor. 15:24–28), so that those who are “in Christ” will be placed over even the angels.’

Some think that ‘judge’ here is equivalent of ‘rule’:

‘The word ‘judge’ does not necessarily mean that believers will assess and mete out rewards and punishments for angels. It probably means that believers will ‘rule’ over angels, though it is difficult to know if the angels are good, bad or both.’ (Schreiner)

Schreiner points to a similar kind of argument in Heb 2:5-18, ‘where rule of the coming world belongs to human beings and not to angels.’

The argument here is clear enough: ‘If believers are going to rule over angels, they should be able to resolve disputes over matters of ordinary life’ (Schreiner)

Ordinary lawsuits – Minor (non-criminal) cases which are bothersome, but relatively trivial (at least in comparison to the cosmic tribunal to which the saints will contribute).

Do you appoint as judges – Various senses are possible:

  • Interrogative (RSV, NRSV, NASB, NET).  ‘Do you appoint as judges those who do not share the outlook and standards of God’s people?’  This interpretation is supported by Hays, among others.  One problem with the interrogative sense is that the word translated ‘appoint’ does not mean ‘resort to’; and the Corinthians would not have ‘appointed’ judges in secular courts.
  • Indicative (NJB).  Here, the meaning would be very similar to the sense just mentioned.
  • Imperative (AV, NIV, Garland, Rosner and Ciampa).  ‘Those who, in the world’s eyes, are the most despised of your own number are better qualified to adjudicate in such matters.  Appoint them.’

Those who have no standing in the church? – Or, ‘those of little account in the church?’  Paul’s scorn is evident, and his language hyperbolic.  ‘The social elite of the world, before whom the Corinthians act so obsequiously, are “despised” before God.’ (Schreiner)

‘Paul’s irony may continue here. Whereas many of the Christ followers are poor and consequently looked upon with disdain by the Corinthian elite (and by the magistrate’s court), things should be completely different in the church. God makes important what the world despises and despicable what the world honors (1 Cor 1:26–29).’ (Vang)

I say this to your shame! – In contrast to 4:14 (where the issue is factiousness).  ‘In an honour—shame society such a remark would wound deeply, but Paul is audacious enough to say this because he is scandalized by their lawsuits.’ (Schreiner)

Bailey, as noted above, thinks that the lawsuit is based on the case of incest mentioned in chapter 5:

‘If the context was a dispute over land registration, that would be one thing. But when they were dealing with a man sleeping with his father’s wife—a public trial would be too horrible to contemplate. “For heavens sake,” Paul seems to be shouting, “are you trying to bring disgrace on the gospel itself? Don’t flaunt this case of incest! Furthermore don’t ignore it and don’t hide it—deal with it!”’

Was Paul concerned about the reputation of the church before a watching world?  His mention of ‘shame’ might imply this.  Moreover, such concern is apparent in 1 Cor 9:19-23 and 1 Cor 10:31f.  But he does not emphasise it here.  In any case, there is no justification here for the covering up of scandalous cases (often involving sexual abuse) which have beset sections of the modern church.

Is there a place for ‘shame’ in today’s culture?

Blomberg writes:

‘Motivation by guilt (v. 5) is tricky to apply in cultures not as dominated by shame as the ancient Mediterranean world. Christian self-esteem is important, and false guilt can be destructive. But when a person is indeed objectively guilty, limited amounts of shame—helping the person recognize that a sin has been committed—should and can lead that person to appropriate repentance’

Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians? – Possibly an ironical reference to their boasted wisdom, 1 Cor 8:1 (“You think that you are so wise; yet you can’t find anyone wise enough to help settle an everyday dispute!”).  In fact, as Garland notes, every reference to ‘wisdom’ in this letter (apart from 1 Cor 3:10) has a negative connotation.

According to Winter, ‘The third stage of education in the first century trained students in legal studies and therefore there would be some in the church who were legally competent to resolve matters equitably.’  But, Garland notes, ‘the wisdom that Paul commends is not merely the wisdom of a benevolent person, but Christian wisdom, which is bound integrally to the cross (1 Cor 1:18-25; 2:6-15).’

‘The Corinthians, as we know from chapters 1 to 4, were proud of their wisdom. But if they are so wise, Paul asks, how can it be the case that there is not a single wise person in the church who is able to adjudicate the legal cases that have arisen?’ (Schreiner)

Rosner and Ciampa link Paul’s teaching here with Ex 18 and Deut 1:

‘Both Moses and Paul are overwhelmed by the judicial problems of the people of God. Both leaders decide to handle the more difficult cases themselves,42 with the Lord’s help (Paul pronounces judgment on the incestuous man in chapter 5), and appoint judges to adjudicate the lesser cases by deciding between their brothers’

Bailey traces what Paul has said so far about ‘wisdom’:

‘The Corinthians were proud of how “wise” they had become. In the opening of the letter he did not tell them they were “wise” but rather confirmed that they were “enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge.” Then in the hymn to the cross he located the wisdom of God in the cross and quoted God saying, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” (1:19). At the end of the first essay his sarcasm was evident when he wrote, “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ” (4:10). Now Paul nails them to the wall by asking, “Is there not among you any one wise?” The unspoken words that he leaves out are, “By going to the courts you are demonstrating in public that all of you are fools and thereby obliged to go to the courts to find a wise man to judge between you!” Are the unbelievers wiser than the believers in regard to this matter?’
Are we following Christ, or the world?

Vang (whose comments are unusually helpful) says that Paul’s main point in these verses (1-6) is about the distinctive Christian identity of the church.  If we use the same means to settle our disputes as pagans use, we obliterate the difference that being ‘in Christ’ is supposed to make.  This was especially so at that time, when the legal system was rife with favouritism and other forms of corruption.  When looking to resolve our disputes with one another, we should be looking to Christ, and not to the world.  And the example of Christ teaches us that we should prefer to be wronged than to retaliate.

Should one Christian ever sue another?

Of course the situation today (especially in the West) is not precisely the same at that in ancient Corinth.  We have can expect, in our courts, a measure of fairness and justice that simply did not obtain in the ancient world.  (And this, of course, is in large measure thanks to our Christian heritage).

But the issue is still a live one.  We live in a highly litigious society, and it is the wealthy and influential who have greater access to the legal system.  Paul’s teaching (according to Vang) suggests the following guidelines:

  1. Can the dispute be settled outside a court system?
  2. Will litigation, in a given situation, harm Christian testimony?  Will ‘outsiders’ conclude that Christians are no different to themselves in this regard?
  3. What is the aim?  To seek personal vindication, or to pursue peace and unity?  Will we abandon our sense of ‘entitlement’, and our insistence on asserting our ‘rights’, and agree that Paul’s answer (be willing to be wronged, rather than seeking revenge) is actually Christ’s answer?

Vang remarks that Paul’s teaching here should never be used as an excuse for ‘hiding’ crimes from the proper authorities.  There have been many recent cases where Christian denominations have done precisely that in order not to bring themselves into disrepute.  But the simple truth is that Paul is discussing civil, not criminal matters.

Does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers?Lit. ‘Does a brother sue another [brother]?’

Paul uses the word for ‘brother’ four times in as many verses.  Rosner and Ciampa explain that we have no way of knowing whether the disputants at Corinth were men or women:

‘In spite of the assumption of virtually every commentator, the passage does not actually indicate that the “brothers” involved are men. That “brothers” can include women is clear from 11:2–16 and Philippians 4:1–3. Women were not excluded from civil litigation, even if they were often represented by men in court. And women are just as prone to the faults that lead to such action (cf. Phil. 4:2). We simply do not know whether the culprits in Corinth were male or female or male and female.’

Clearly, Paul is emphasising spiritual kinship; he is stressing the nature of church as family.  As Hays remarks, the attempt (by the NRSV etc) to achieve inclusivity obscures this important emphasis.

Vang remarks that no Roman would ever refer to anyone outside the bloodline as ‘brother’ (except in cases of adoption).  Moreover,

‘it was unheard of to sue a member of one’s own familias. In fact, it was the responsibility of the paterfamilias to decide between brothers when disagreements and disputes arose. Paul’s use of “brother,” then, adds further indictment. Who can even fathom that a brother sues a brother? Could it be that fellow church members no longer consider each other brothers in Christ? If so, their identity as a Christ familias has been shattered.’

In Jewish thinking, on the other hand, the wider sense of ‘brothers’ was in common use.  As Rosner and Ciampa comment:

‘In Genesis 13:8, a passage which records the legal controversy between Abram and Lot over the Promised Land, Abram says that there should not be strife between Lot and himself “because we are brothers.” Psalm 133:1 captures Paul’s sentiment well: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.” Paul was concerned that brothers in the family of God not squabble.’

The apostle is dismayed at the thought that a believer can bring another believer for judgement by an unbeliever.

Garland comments on Paul’s imagery of family relationship:

‘Brother Christians are pitted against brother Christians, adopting a cutthroat, adversarial relationship rather than one based on love and selflessness. The church appears to be infested with enmity between members, and he deliberately chooses an image from the family to remind them of their brotherhood.’

When Paul was in Corinth, the synagogue had brought a case against him before Gallio, the proconsul (Acts 18:12).  Gallio had thrown the case out, to the humiliation of the synagogue.  Bailey thinks that this memory would have been at the forefront of Paul’s mind at the present moment.

Vang: ‘Even secular Roman etiquette said, “Reprove your friends in private, praise them in public.”’

‘Paul was not distressed that the church experienced conflict, for disagreements are to be expected; what annoyed him was that they were going to court before unbelievers to resolve their conflicts.’ (Schreiner)

‘A church has come to a pretty pass when its members believe that they are more likely to get justice from unbelievers than from their own brothers.’ (Barrett)

Wright comments that in our own society, where the legal system has itself been shaped by Christian principles, the line between the church and the world in this matter of settling legal disputes may be more blurred:

‘Yet its underlying message is stark and clear. Those who name the name of Jesus and claim to follow him have an astonishing destiny in the future, which results in an astonishing responsibility in the present. Our life as a community, as Paul says in Philippians 2:14–16, should be like a light shining into a dark world.’
6:7 The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 6:8 But you yourselves wrong and cheat, and you do this to your brothers and sisters!

Look back over the first 6 verses of this chapter, Vang concludes that ‘the way the Christ community settles matters of dispute reveals their identity.’

The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated – The very word (translated ‘defeated’) was used for defeat in court.  But here it is the whole church which has failed.  ‘The believers were looking for a victory in court, but Paul informs them that the very presence of lawsuits signals a stunning defeat and reversal.’ (Schreiner)

Supposing one Christian takes another to court over some everyday business matter.  The first might return, claiming, “I won!”.  But, in fact, both have lost; indeed, the whole church has lost.

The problem is not that they have disputes (they are, regrettably, inevitable!), but that they take their disputes to the secular courts.  Paul is not arguing for a ‘peace at any cost’ ethic (read Galatians!).  ‘Paul is advocating a nonjudicial judgment ethic, not a non-dispute ethic.’ (Rosner and Ciampa)

As Rosner and Ciampa observe, the basis for dealing with such disputes had been established by Jesus (Mt 18:15-17):

‘It entailed going and speaking with the offending person alone (Matt. 18:15). “Only if this private face-to-face remonstration fails may the person who feels a sense of grievance seek a further step,” which entailed bringing one or two witnesses (in keeping with the standard established in the Old Testament; Matt. 18:16). One could take the issue to be judged by the church only if these previous steps had failed.’

Bailey explains the nature of this ‘defeat’:

‘Paul is pointing out that when they leave such matters to the courts they have already lost. Regardless of what the courts decide, they are the losers. Contentious court cases take on a life of their own. People are drawn into them and at times act against “the angels of their better natures.” Paul seems to know that at least some of them have track records of turning to the courts. He tells them, “you wrong and defraud, even your own brothers.” Dealing with the incestuous man through the courts will neither redeem him nor heal the church.’

For Barrett, their behaviour at this point is unChristian:

‘The existence of contention that calls for decision by a third party (whoever he may be) proves that love (see chapter 13) has been overthrown and replaced by selfish desire, either to acquire or to retain.  So far as this is true, the Christians involved have ceased to be Christian; they have suffered defeat.’

Suppose the person being taken to court is, actually, in the wrong.  Even so, argues Paul, greater blame attaches to the brother taking him to court, and to the church as a whole for not stepping in and helping them to resolve their differences.

We talk about ‘winning’ a legal case.  But, according to Paul, there no winners here.  All are losers.

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? – Thiselton asks: ‘Is Paul’s expectation fair or reasonable? It is no more “fair” and “reasonable” than the divine grace which has eclipsed justice in Christ’s giving up of his person and his “rights” on the cross, indicating in turn God’s surrender of his “right” to pronounce a negative verdict on humankind without transcending justice in costly, generous mercy.’

‘Even if the Christian were motivated solely by personal gain, the option between possible minor material gain in this life versus the certainty of a glorious legacy in the life to come should make the decision easy.’ (Garland)

Paul’s teaching here is consistent with his ethic expressed elsewhere (Rom 12:17; 1 Cor 4:12f; 9:22; 1 Thess 5:15).

Cf. Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:39 –

“But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well.”

Also those of Paul, in Phil 2:1-4 –

‘Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy,complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.’

Barrett wonders why Paul did not appeal directly to the teaching of Jesus: Did he not know it?  Did he think it was too well known that his readers did not need to be reminded of it?  Fee, on the other hand, thinks that Paul has here been directly influenced by the teaching of Jesus.  But, as Rosner and Ciampa pont out, the OT provides a common background for the teaching both of Jesus and of Paul (cf. Lev 19:13a).

But, as Vang remarks, There lies behind Paul’s teaching here a clear awareness that Christ himself was willing to suffer injustice and killed on the cross.  A Christlike attitude, therefore, will be willing to accept being wronged in preference to seeking retaliation.

Garland cites Murphy-O’Connor as expressing an important theological insight on this verse:

‘A united community in which love dominates is the existential affirmation of the truth of the gospel. A community which contains within itself the divisions which characterize the ‘world’ has no power to transform its environment, because the contradiction between theory and practice is too evident (Rom. 2:23-24).’

As Rosner and Ciampa state, Paul is touching on a major theme:

‘Willingness to suffer injustice and abuse for the cause of Christ is a major theme in Paul’s ethics. He recommends, “not repaying evil for evil” (1 Thess. 5:15; Rom. 12:17), “not taking vengeance” (Rom. 12:19), and “not cursing” (Rom. 12:14). The concepts of “forbearance” (1 Cor. 13:4; 1 Thess. 5:14; Gal. 5:22; 2 Cor. 6:6) and “endurance” (1 Cor. 4:12; 2 Cor. 11:20; 1 Cor. 13:7; 2 Cor. 6:4; Rom. 12:12) are kindred thoughts. Christians should avoid secular courts, which are based on the principle of retaliation for wrongs done.’

As Blomberg observes, we live today in a culture that is obsessed with individual ‘rights’:

‘The whole concept of relinquishing one’s rights seems anathema to a culture immersed in asserting them. Women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, liberation theology, even the so-called “inalienable rights” of the American constitution, all contain important Christian components but also owe their existence to significant secular and even anti-Christian influences.’

You yourselves wrong and cheat – Not only was the Christian fellowship being brought into disrepute, but those who lost one of these trivial cases in the civil court would be fined, and thus defrauded.

The word ‘cheat’ means’ defraud.  This tends to confirm the supposition that the case or cases involved business dealings of some kind – probably to do with money or land.

Don’t sue one another, love one another!

‘Believers belong to the same kinship group—they are family—and it is intolerable to conceive of mistreating fellow family members. Far better to follow the way of Jesus and to surrender one’s rights for the sake of other believers. Paul is particularly concerned about the witness before the world, for unbelievers will see the truth of the gospel when believers love one another (John 13:34–35), and engaging in litigation against one another blatantly contradicts the call to sacrificial love.’ (Schreiner)

6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 6:10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Verse 9 begins with the conjunction ‘or’ in some English translations (e.g. NIV, ESV, NASB).  But commentators are divided as to whether these verses belong with the preceding, or the succeeding, sections of the chapter.

Gagnon thinks that Paul is now resuming the discussion of chapter 5 (concerning the incestuous man), rather than continuing the argument of 6:1-8 (about taking lawsuits to pagan courts).

Do you not know – A ‘form of words Paul not infrequently uses to remind his readers of truths he feared they had forgotten.’ (Barrett)

The unrighteous – Paul’s language links v8 with v9.  In v8, he says that the Corinthians ‘do wrong’; in v9, he says that those who ‘do wrong’ will not inherit God’s kingdom.

Your body

  1. damaged by sin, vv9-11
  2. saved by God, v11 (‘…and such were some of you’)
  3. still vulnerable, v12
  4. for the Lord, vv13f
  5. a member of Christ, vv15-17
  6. a temple of the Holy Spirit, vvv18f
  7. bought with a price, v20

See this by David Murray

The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God – See also v10.  Paul does not often mention ‘the kingdom of God’, and this is the only place where he mentions it twice in the same passage.

Rosner and Ciampa link Paul’s mention of the appointing of judges, followed by his reference to ‘inheriting the kingdom’ to Ex 18 and Deut 1, where the appointment of Judges is linked to the inheritance of the land.  When we add the observation that Paul’s vice list has ten items (matching the ten commandments), the connection becomes even clearer.  Similarly, in Dan 7 there are repeated mentions of God’s ‘kingdom’, and in Dan 7:22 we read both that ‘judgment was given to the saints’ and the ‘the sains will receive the kingdom.’

As Garland says, there is an implicit warning here: ‘Do not commit these sins lest you lose your inheritance.’  More fully:

“The kingdom of God” refers to “the future and ultimate manifestation of God as king” (R. Collins 1999: 235), and the image of “inheriting” picks up the theme of inheriting the land, which becomes a type for the blessedness to come. The image derives from Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 25:34; cf. Matt. 19:29; Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; 18:18). Paul assumes that since God’s kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness, the unrighteous can have no part in it. God’s rule brings with it moral conditions that require a radical transformation of values and behavior for believers. Those who practice these sins cut themselves off from that rule and from any hope of a divine inheritance.’


‘Paul’s point is clearly not that adherence (or the lack thereof) to a specific set of moral requirements or laws will secure (or hinder) entrance into God’s kingdom. Rather, the very evidence that someone has become a Christ follower is that his or her value system and perspective on life’s purpose have been transformed by Christ’s teaching. Paul expects willing submission to the Spirit’s guidance, not sinless perfection.’

The apostle’s thought here is similar to that of 1 Cor 15:50 – ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.’


‘The list reminds them that although their actions may have changed in some areas, their present behavior in settling disputes gives evidence that their identity as Christ followers is anything but clear.’

Gospel and kingdom

Prior notes that, whereas some Christians today emphasise ‘the gospel’, while others stress ‘the kingdom’, Jesus himself combined the two, preaching, ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ (Lk 4:43).  Paul did the same in Rome, ‘proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ’ Acts 28:31).  ‘This balance,’ he writes

‘is needed in every kind of situation today. It is needed whether the emphasis is Latin American ‘liberation theology’ or African ‘black theology’. It is needed in the context both of oppression by military dictatorships and of threatened communist take-over. It is needed when the tension comes from the yawning chasm between creed and conduct and from the painful wrench between obedience to Christ and loyalty to the nation. It is needed when our concern is with the oppression of the poor or the callousness of the wealthy. It is needed when the focus falls on ecclesiastical irrelevance and bureaucracy or political self-interest and maintaining current standards of living at any cost. In each and every situation it is incumbent upon the church to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom: ‘Jesus has come as king of kings; he has established the kingdom of God; he is supreme over all other rulers; his kingdom is eternal, total, impregnable; will you bow the knee to Jesus as king?’ Paul spent his time thus ‘preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ’, because he was absolutely convinced about the pre-eminence of Jesus.’

Peter writes more fully of our inheritance:

1 Peter 1:3f ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you.’

Prior notes that the Christian inheritance is both likened to, and contrasted with, the Promised Land.  In spite of all the difficulties which attended their progress towards, and their life in, that Land, the Israelites were charged with keeping themselves pure and with eliminating every alien influence:

‘The same summons comes to the people of God under the new covenant: our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled and unfading: there is nothing inherently corrupt or corrupting in the kingdom of God: nor will anything of that nature be allowed to enter it. The two cannot mix. The unrighteous cannot inherit the kingdom of God, because God is altogether righteous. The unrighteous actually exclude themselves from the kingdom of a righteous God. They exclude themselves by their own chosen behaviour. Because God’s kingdom reflects his own character of righteousness and compassion, those who insist on living by different standards will not be there. Paul is not talking about isolated acts of unrighteousness, but about a whole way of life pursued persistently by those who thus indicate that they would be aliens in the kingdom of truth and light.’

See also Gal 5:21, where Paul writes of ‘envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!’

According to Soards,

‘Paul is not saying that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God because they are not good enough; the Corinthians were once just as wicked. Rather, he is reminding the Corinthians that God’s triumph over evil eliminates unrighteousness. Wickedness has no future with God, and so those who are devoting themselves to ungodly behaviors are forming lifestyles that are contrary to God’s will and work and that will not be given a place in God’s kingdom.’

Geoffrey Wilson writes:

‘If his readers really thought that gospel liberty was to be equated with  lawless licence, then they had better think again.  For as righteousness is the fundamental characteristic of God’s kingdom, so those whose lives are sill characterised by unrighteousness cannot hope to acquire an interest in that kingdom.’

Blomberg offers a similarly nuanced interpretation: ‘As in 1 Cor 5:10–11, [Paul] warns against being sucked into the vortex of behavior that eventually calls into question one’s very salvation.’


‘He is not describing the qualifications required for an entrance examination; he is comparing habituated actions, which by definition can find no place in God’s reign for the welfare of all, with those qualities in accordance with which Christian believers need to be transformed if they belong authentically to God’s new creation in Christ. Everything which persistently opposes what it is to be Christlike must undergo change if those who practice such things wish to call themselves Christians and to look forward to resurrection with Christ.’

The same writer adds:

‘For people who do evil to inherit God’s Lordship is self-contradiction. Hence it entails a tacit invitation to change. In principle the old practices lie behind them, belonging to their past. They must (logical must) remove these anomalies to prove the authenticity of their calling as holy people who belong to God (1:2–3).’

Thiselton and others argue for seeing Paul’s ethical outlook as rooted in the OT, and in Jewish teaching, rather than in the Greco-Roman culture of his day:

‘The basis for these specific, individual issues is not Stoic or Jewish ethics, but Christian identity as temples of the Holy Spirit (6:19) redeemed at cost to belong to Christ as his (6:20). “You are not your own” (6:19b) is as far from Stoic autonomy as can be imagined.’

Ian Paul notes that the vice list (actually, list of sinners) is rooted in the language of the Old Testament in Greek:

‘Four of these ten correspond with items in the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), but all the terms connect with the language of the Greek Old Testament, particularly in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. This strongly indicates a belief in Paul that the Old Testament continued to have ethical importance for disciples of Jesus.’

Rosner and Ciampa regard Paul’s word as a warning, rather than a prediction:

‘Paul implies that the litigious Corinthians have been acting the part of unrighteous people who would face rejection in the final judgment and that they had better change their ways so as to distance themselves as far as possible from such behaviors.’

Who then will inherit the kingdom?  Rosner and Ciampa frame their answer as follows:

‘The answer is, those whose faith commitment to Christ leads them to reject the immoral, greedy, and idolatrous behavior which marks the lives of pagans, and, more precisely in this context, those who do not wrong and cheat others and who would prefer to suffer righteously than to subject their brothers and sisters to the injustices of unrighteous courts (vv. 7–8).’

The present list of ten vices builds on 5:10 (sexually immoral people, the greedy, and swindlers and idolaters) and 5:11 (one who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler).

  1. The sexually immoral
  2. idolaters
  3. adulterers
  4. passive homosexual partners
  5. practicing homosexuals
  6. thieves
  7. the greedy
  8. drunkards
  9. the verbally abusive
  10. swindlers

The number ten (see also Col 3:5,8) ‘carries overtones of the Decalogue’ (Bailey).

If the items in this list have anything in commong ‘it would seem to be that all represent some form of ruthless self-gratification, reckless of other people’s rights.’ (Watson, cited by Blomberg)

Some (e.g. Harper’s Bible Commentary) think that the specific items in the list were of little interest to Paul.  He was, rather, concerned with the cumulative effect (compared with 5:10 and 5:11).  We can agree, however, with the observation that in this letter the apostle is mainly concerned with heterosexual sins and marriage problems.

In addition to affirming the OT and Jewish orientation of Paul’s thought here, Thiselton and others insists that the ‘vice list’ is not arbitrary, but is contextual, in the sense of addressing real problems within the Corinthian church:

‘B. J. Oropeza (1998) urges that Paul “writes these lists to identify what he perceives as disruptive influences in the … community.… The vices in the Corinthian letters are mostly situational.” Paul claims “that some in the Corinthian church were also practising these vices … (1 Cor 3:3; 4:6, 18–19 … 5:1–5; 6:12ff.… 11:16–34).” These include sins of self-centered desire, sexual abuses, issues about idols, damaging the weak, and drunkenness at the Lord’s Supper. The chapter on love exposes jealousy and verbal abuse (13:4–5; cf. 6:7). This becomes “most cogent in 1 Cor 10:5–10 where he warns against committing idolatry, fornication, tempting Christ and grumbling … eating and drinking (10:20, 21).”’

Thiselton refers to the work of Kenneth Bailey, who remarks that

‘of the ten “vices” listed in 6:9–10, five allude to sexual issues, which directly relate to 5:1–13 and 6:12–20; while a further five relate to issues of greed and grasping, eating and being drunk, which are taken up explicitly in 11:17–34.’

Bailey (Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes) says that the first five items in Paul’s list – which all relate to sexuality – are of obvious relevance to problems of the Corinthian church.  But the second set of five items are also relevant: ‘thieves’ and ‘robbers’ relate to the ‘defrauding’ of one another that Paul has just complained about.  And ‘greedy’ ‘drunkards’, and ‘the verbally abusive’ call to mind the ‘quarreling’ of 1 Cor 1:11f and the disorderly conduct discussed in 1 Cor 11:17-34.  Bailey concludes:

‘Behind this list of ten sins lie aspects of three problems in the Corinthian church: stealing and their misuse of the courts, their sexual misconduct, and irregularities at their Eucharistic meals.’

Schreiner agrees that the list is contextual:

‘In this list, sexual sins and sins that involve coveting and stealing dominate, showing that the vice list is crafted to speak to the Corinthian situation.’

Do not be deceived – ‘The people of God frequently have trouble recognizing that injustice is as serious a sin as incest and other sexual misconduct and that it warrant the very same punishment (cf. Jer 7:8-15).’ (Garland)

The sexually immoral covers a range of practices.

Idolaters – As Schreiner remarks, idolatry was a major preoccupation in the OT, and is, for Paul, ‘the fundamental sin’ (see, esp. Rom 1:18-25).

Adulterers – Those unfaithful to their marriage vows.  See Ex 20:14; Lev 20:10; Rom 2:22; 7:3; 13:9.

‘The gravity of this sin should not be diminished simply because of its prevalence.’ (Garland)

Passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals – ‘malakoi‘ and ‘arsenokoitai’.

‘The translation issue arises with the Greek terms malakoi and arsenokoitai, which the NRSV renders as “male prostitutes” and “sodomites.” A literal translation would be something like “soft people” and “men who go to bed,” though clearly something far more colloquial is meant—perhaps “male prostitutes and the men who hire their services”? The range of standard translations indicates how difficult the passage is: “boy prostitutes nor sodomites” (NAB), “male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders” (NIV), “both participants in same-sex intercourse” (CEB), “male prostitutes, homosexuals” (NLT), “passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals” (NET), “homosexual perverts” (TEV), and “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind” (KJV).’ (Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, art. ‘Homosexuality’).

As just noted, in the Authorised Version (KJV), the two terms are translated ‘effeminate’ and ‘abusers of themselves with mankind.’  Matthew Vines claims that this represents a centuries-long view that although the two terms clearly represented some kind of immoral behaviour, no connection was made with homosexual activity.  This link was not made until 1946, when, for the first time, and English translation was published that simply stated that ‘“homosexuals” will not inherit the kingdom of God.’  Vines would appear to be in error, however, for a brief survey of commentaries from the 18th and 19th centuries (including those of Poole, Barnes, and others) shows that they consistently understand the second of these terms as referring to the sin of ‘sodomy’ which, of course, is associated with male/male sexual activity.

Vines argues that ‘arsenokoites‘ probably refers to economic exploitation (likely through sexual means): ‘This may have involved forms of same-sex behavior, but coercive and exploitative forms. There is no contextual support for linking this term to loving, faithful relationships.’

But Vines, here as elsewhere, tends to ignore the Jewish foundations of Paul’s thinking.  A good case can be made for considering this word to have been coined (possibly by Paul himself) from two words that occur in the Levitical prohibitions of homosexual activity (in the LXX).

There appears to be a near-consensus that this pair of terms are best regarded as representing the passive and active partners in a homosexual relationship.

NIV (1984) – ‘male prostitutes…homosexual offenders’ (implying that Paul was referring, not to all homosexual practices, but to those that were considered deviant or abusive).

NIV – ‘men who have sex with men’ (adding, in a footnote, that these words ‘translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.’)

Barrett: ‘The passive and active partners respectively in male homosexual relations.’

Fee (rev. ed.) holds as a ‘best guess’ that the first word word means ‘”male prostitute” (in the sense of “effeminate call-boy”‘).  This opinion is based on the more definite meaning of the second term, that ‘almost certainly refers to male homosexuality, especially to the active partner.’

Garland: ‘Males who are penetrated sexually by males’ and ‘males who sexually penetrate males.’  Garland forthrightly refutes those (such as Boswell, Scroggs and D. Martin) who do not find here, or in the early church generally, a condemnation of homosexual acts.  But, for Garland, ‘much of this attempt to recast the traditional link of these words to male same-sex eroticism appears to be driven by special pleading and riddled with obfuscation.’

Malakoi‘ is a word borrowed from Latin meaning ‘soft’.  The NET translation is supported by Schreiner.

Gagnon offers five reasons which ‘establish that Paul used malakoi, literally “soft men,” in the sense of “effeminate males who play the sexual role of females” (Gagnon 2001a, 306-12):

a. Its placement in the midst of other terms that refer to participants in illicit sexual intercourse.

b. Its position in the vice list immediately before the term arsenokoitai, which clearly refers to the active homosexual partner.

c. The severe penalty imposed for being a malakos (exclusion from the kingdom of God), which suggests a form of effeminacy well beyond the stereotypical limp wrist (contra Martin 1996, 124-29).

d. The use of cognates by Philo of Alexandria to describe men who actively feminize themselves for the purpose of attracting other men (N96).

e. The use of the comparable Latin term molles (“soft men”) in tandem with other terms that refer to effeminate males desirous of penetration by men: the cinaedi (Gk. kinaidoi, lit., “butt shakers”) and pathici (“those who undergo [penetration]”. These designations were not confined fined to adolescents or cult prostitutes, much less did they imply coercion. In fact, they applied especially to adult males who willingly-whether by innate orientation or to great efforts to feminize their bodies, dress, and manner in order to attract men and thus eradicate the masculine stamp given by nature.

(Robert A. J. Gagnon. Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Kindle Edition.)

Arsenokoitai‘ is a compound word, not attested before Paul, and used just once more by him (1 Tim 1:10, also in a ‘vice list’).  Its two elements mean, literally, ‘man’ and ‘bed’.  It seems likely that Paul coined the term based on the LXX text of Lev 18:22 and Lev 20:13, where both parts of the compound are used (so Schreiner and others).

Fee explains that the very vulgarity of the word (the ‘koitai‘ part is slang for ‘intercourse’) accounts for its rarity in ancient literature.

Fee concludes his discussion of the meaning of these words by noting that

‘for Paul’s attitude towards homosexual practice in general, one need refer only to his own Jewish background with its abhorrence of such, plus his description of such activity in a later letter (Rom 1:26f).’

Some commentators think that Paul is referring to homosexual prostitution.  For Harper’s Bible Commentary, Paul is specifying

‘both the effeminate male prostitute and his partner who hires him to satisfy sexual needs. The two terms used here for homosexuality, which are absent from the list in Galatians, specify a special form of pederasty that was generally disapproved of in GrecoRoman and Jewish literature.’

But Schreiner objects that, if Paul was referring to pederasty here, he would ‘almost certainly’ have used the word paiderastēs.

Ian Paul adds:

‘Because pederasty was the most common form of same-sex activity, Greek had particular words for the two partners: erastes (‘lover’) for the older, ‘active’ partner; and eromenos (‘beloved’) for the younger, ‘passive’ partner. If Paul was speaking [only] against this form of activity, he would have used these words.’

Loader: ‘The balance of probability favours seeing here a reference to the active and passive participants in same-sex relations’ (Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, p34).  Barrett is of the same opinion.

Ciampa & Rossner understand these terms as referring to ‘those who willingly play the passive and active roles in homosexual acts.’

Vang concurs, defining the two relevant words as follows:

‘(1) Malakoi means those who are “effeminate” or “soft” and usually refers to men or boys who are sodomized by other males (the passive partners in same-sex relationships). (2) Arsenokoitai refers to the active partners in same-sex relationships (cf. Lev. 18:22; 20:13; LXX uses arsenos).’

Ciampa & Rossner continue:

‘Paul is not discussing “homosexuals” per se, but homosexual acts (commonly engaged in by Roman men who were also active in heterosexual relationships). In the Roman world, homosexual relations were invariably exploitative relations between men of quite contrasting social statures. It was not uncommon for married men to practice heterosexual sex with their wives (and female slaves and prostitutes) and to also engage in homosexual relations with male prostitutes or slave boys or other young men of lower class who had little freedom to refuse. Romans did not think in terms of sexual orientation or identities, but that proper masculinity was to be expressed in taking the active, dominant role in any sexual act. To desire or willingly play a passive homosexual role was considered shameful, but it was expected that men of stature would penetrate people of lesser status (whether women or men) but not be penetrated themselves. The Jewish and Christian perspective affirmed by Paul was quite different.’

Instone-Brewer argues, with Rom 1 in mind, that

‘we can’t argue that Paul referred only to homosexual rape like that at Sodom, because he condemns both those who penetrate and who are penetrated (arsenokoitēs and malakos, respectively, in 1 Cor 6:9).’ (Moral Questions of the Bible, p87)

Thiselton notes that Paul’s teaching here should probably not be limited to abusive homosexual relationships:

‘Many…argue that abusive pederasty was the standard form in which Paul encountered male intimacy. But Wolff shows that this is far from the case. Paul witnessed around him both abusive relationships of power or money and examples of “genuine love” between males.’

It is reasonable to understand this passage as referring to all forms of male homosexual behaviour (and, by implication, female homosexual behaviour).  So Blomberg:

‘It is…linguistically invalid to limit the type of homosexual behavior Paul describes either to pederasty (adult men with underage boys) or to homosexual prostitution (casual sex for profit between individuals not committed to a lasting relationship with each other).’

Blomberg observes that the claim of some homosexual people that ‘God made me that way’ must be rejected.  If there is a genetic predisposition to homosexuality, then this no more excuses homosexual behaviour that, say, a genetic predisposition to alcoholism or to aggression excuses an alcoholic or violent lifestyle.  On the contrary, those who are predisposed in such ways may need to imposes more severe restrictions on themselves (such as total abstention from alcohol).

Blomberg continues:

‘None of this is to deny that conservative Christians have often treated homosexuals far more abusively than they have other sinners. There is real discrimination against the gay community that must be fought—for example, restricted employment opportunities for jobs in which sexual behavior is irrelevant. There is genuine homophobia (fear of association with homosexuals, not merely opinions about their moral condition), especially in our churches. But the “politically correct” movement has often grossly exaggerated the extent of that homophobia and incorrectly applied that label to believers who are lovingly and compassionately trying to uphold biblical standards.’

And again:

‘As in Romans 1:24–27, homo- and heterosexual sins are paired in a way that suggests that neither is any better or any worse than the other. One can scarcely use these verses to claim that no one can simultaneously be a Christian and engage in homosexual actions unless one is prepared to say the same thing of one who commits adultery or exhibits greed!’

Blomberg further urges that we should see this as a real, and not a hypothetical, warning:

‘Like 3:16–17, verses 9–11 must be seen as a real and not merely hypothetical warning. Verse 11 suggests that Paul does think a majority of the Corinthian church is really saved, but there would be no point in his twofold affirmation that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom (vv. 9–10) if he did not fear that at least a few in his congregation might be masquerading as believers.’

Schreiner agrees that this passage refers to both active and passive partners in a homosexual relationship (and not to cases of abuse or pederasty).  He notes that in Lev 20:13 both partners are considered equally guilty.

Prior invites us to consider both the seriousness of God’s prohibition of same-sex sex, and also the factors that might mitigate the guilt of one or both parties:

‘A person is significantly affected by his environment, his heredity, his circumstances, his treatment by others (notably his parents) both as a child and as an adolescent.’

Prior cites the example of black South Africans, among whom homosexuality was virtually unknown in pre-aparthied times:

‘With the institutionalization of apartheid legislation, which compels African men to move to large industrial cities to seek work, vast all-male building complexes have sprung up in ugly urban sprawls like Soweto near Johannesburg and Langa near Cape Town. Men are not allowed to bring their wives and families with them into these ‘townships’ and are forced to leave them behind in the ‘homelands’. Men, therefore, outnumber women in places like Soweto and Langa in the proportion of at least 10 to 1.’ (Prior’s book was published in 1985).

One of the results of this has been the growth of homosexual practices among the black South African population.

We must therefore, concludes Prior, assert both the responsibility of each of us for his or her own actions, and also the wise judgement of God, who is well able to take full account of motives, circumstances, predispositions and so on of each person.

Hays reminds us that we should remain mindful of the context:

‘We should remember…that Paul’s present purpose in 1 Corinthians 6 is not to set up new rules for sexual behavior but to chastise the Corinthians for taking each other to court. All the items in the list of verses 9–10 are merely illustrations of what the Corinthians used to be prior to their coming into the church. But a life-transforming change has occurred: “you were washed, you were sanctified, and you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). In light of this transformation, they ought to stop acting like adikoi by taking their property disputes into courts where the powerful can take advantage of the less influential members of the community. Unless we keep this basic aim of the argument in view, our reading of and preaching on this text will become severely out of focus.’

Thiselton observes that Paul does not urge us to regard some of these vices as more heinous than others:

‘Within the catalogue of ten dispositions which achieve unchecked habituated action in the public domain, only two concern same-sex relations, and these receive no greater emphasis than the other eight. Of the ten, half concern attitudes of grasping for more, an addiction to gain possessions or power at the expense of others. It may well be that this common thread runs through all of the “vices,” and any persistent activity cited here should be regarded on an equal footing when issues of church membership, ordination, or related questions are discussed. Constraints are laid upon heterosexual desire, and upon desire for ever increasing power and possessions, as much as upon same-sex relations.’

Thieves – Barclay comments on the nature and prevalence of petty thieving at the time:

‘The ancient world was cursed with [thieves]. Houses were easy to break into. The robbers particularly haunted two places—the public baths and the public gymnasia, where they stole the clothes of those who were washing or exercising themselves. In particular, it was common to kidnap slaves who had special gifts. The state of the law shows how serious this problem was. There were three kinds of theft which were punishable by death: (i) Thefts to the value of more than 50 drachmae (about £20). (ii) Thefts from the baths, the gymnasia, the ports and harbours to the value of 20 drachmae. (iii) Theft of anything by night. The Christians lived in the middle of a pilfering population.’

Prior (who quotes the above) adds that the acquisitive nature of today’s society has led to the security industry becoming big business.

Vang writes that the prevalence of thievery in the NT gives rise to a range of applications.  See, e.g., Matt. 6:19; 24:43; Luke 12:33, 39; John 10:1, 8, 10; 12:6; 1 Thess. 5:2–4; 1 Pet. 4:15; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15..

The greedy – Those who ‘claim more than they are due’ (Vang).

Paul might here be touching of the motives of those who were bringing lawsuits against fellow believers.

Greed, writes Garland,

‘has long since ceased to be regarded as a shameful sin that merits banishment from the kingdom of God. The greedy tend to be defined as those who have more than we do, and we tend to project on them a greater, and unacceptable, avarice. Yet, greed afflicts rich and poor. The greedy are those who treat others only as objects for their gratification. Greed is related to insatiability and can express itself in multiple ways. The greedy include those who be-lieve that their sexuality is a right, not a responsibility, and that they can express it in any way they choose with anybody they choose. They are those who dishonor the rights and property of others by becoming the shameless revilers, larcenous sharks, and insatiable predators.’

The verbally abusive – ‘slanderers’ in some translations.

Swindlers – Vang writes that this word ‘carries the idea of ravenous wolves (e.g., Gen. 49:27; Matt. 7:15) to the sphere of violent human crime (robbery). It relates to greediness (cf. Luke 11:39; Heb. 10:34).’

None of the above-mentioned will inherit the kingdom of God.  Schreiner judges this to be a reference to God’s eschatological kingdom.  He adds that

‘the word inherit suggests that the land promise in the Old Testament, which is so often marked by the word group ‘inheritance’ (klēron words; Gen. 15:7–8; Exod. 23:30; Deut. 1:8; 6:1; 30:5; Josh. 1:15; 11:23, etc.), will be fulfilled eschatologically in the kingdom.’

According to Blomberg, the grammar itself clarifies that Paul is thinking of lifestyles, rather than lapses:

‘By using nouns that become labels for individuals only after persistent sin in particular areas, Paul makes plain that temporary lapses do not cause an individual to forfeit salvation.’

Understanding the need for discipline in the church

Prior argues that the nature of God’s kingdom provides the basis for discipline in the church:

‘The church is a sign of the kingdom, a pointer to its true character. Church discipline is, therefore, not a matter of arbitrary decisions about sexual morality; it is based on firm convictions (rooted in and taken from the Scriptures) about the essential character of God’s kingdom, both in the ways Jesus himself revealed its nature, and in the visionary portrait we are given (especially in the book of Revelation) of the quality of life it will one day fully manifest. “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practises falsehood.”…

‘The significance of this conviction about who will, and who will not, inherit the kingdom of God effectively revolves round our belief about the judgment of God. If we are unable to accept the reality, the eternal reality of judgment, we will not accept the urgent need for discipline in the church.’

6:11a Some of you once lived this way.

As Fee notes: ‘as usual in Paul, the threat is followed by a word of assurance (v. 11) that also functions as an invitation to repentance.’

Some of you once lived this way – ‘It was no promising material that confronted the early preachers, but people whose values were exactly the opposite of those of Christ.  It had required the mighty power of the Spirit of God to turn people like that away from their sins, and to make them members of Christ’s Church.’ (Morris)

Barrett: ‘Paul is not writing in merely literary or in imaginary terms, but addressing the greatest of miracles, a church of redeemed sinners, won from their old life by the power of God.’

As Prior comments:

‘We have only to recall the moral cess-pit of first-century Corinth to appreciate the wonder of Paul’s assertion. No power on earth could have produced such a transformation in this motley collection of Christians, to whom he is so deeply devoted that he explicitly addresses them as ‘brethren’ twenty times in this single epistle. He had himself been terrified at the very prospect of bringing the gospel of the kingdom to such a city. Every single individual rescued from the tentacles of rampant vice was a glorious trophy of divine grace. Never had Paul been more convinced that God is able to save to the uttermost all who come to him through Jesus. Every Corinthian Christian was living evidence that God’s answer to sophisticated Greek wisdom was not clever arguments but changed lives.’

This teaching reminds us (as Blomberg remarks) that sexual immorality, including homosexual behaviour, can be abandoned.  Indeed, the warning of the previous verses is not properly understood without what Paul goes on to affirm.

‘If for Christians the future has invaded the present, a decisive break has also been made with the past; the once/now motif is just as important as the already/not yet.’ (Ciampa & Rosner)

Robert Gagnon writes:

‘Issues of “sexual orientation” would have been irrelevant to Paul because the Spirit of Christ was present within to counteract the domination of any sinful impulses operating in the flesh. As Paul stated in 1 Cor 3:1-4, believers are no longer “(mere) humans.” They are people of the Spirit-indeed, new creations (2 Cor 5:17). The Spirit does not always eradicate the desires of the flesh-we have not yet shed “the body of sin” (Rom 6:6)-but the Spirit can overcome their controlling influence (Gal 5:16-25). 25). When Paul said “these things some of you used to be” he was not guaranteeing former adulterers that they would never again experience sexual desire for people other than their spouse, or former thieves and swindlers that they would never again be tempted by material possessions. Rather, the point was that they no longer, in the main, lived out of such impulses but rather out of the regulating agency of the Holy Spirit.’

(Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Kindle Locations 937-942). Kindle Edition.)

Paul is underlining, then, the incongruence of their present behaviour with their Christian profession:

‘The individual vices listed are indisputably actions that have no place in the kingdom of God. All the Corinthians would “amen” that. What they have failed to see by bringing their issues to the secular settings like this is that their thinking is still rooted in idolatry. They put two and two together, so to speak, in the same way they did before they became Christ followers. They have again aligned themselves with the wrongdoers, whose actions run contrary to what should characterize the people who belong to the kingdom of God. Their lives lack the evidence of a transforming work of Christ’s Spirit—a demonstration that they belong to the kingdom of God.’ (Vang)

6:11b But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

But… – In the original, this is repeated before each of the three items, thus emphasising the contrast between ‘then’ and ‘now’.

Garland draws attention to the complete contrast:

‘The implication is that Christianity not only offers a completely new sexual ethos and a new ethos regarding material possessions but also brings about a complete transformation of individuals. God’s grace does not mean that God benignly accepts humans in all their fallenness, forgives them, and then leaves them in that fallenness. God is in the business not of whitewashing sins but of transforming sinners (Fee 1993: 39).’

You were washed – The middle voice is used (‘You washed’).  This does not mean that the baptism was self-administered, but it might indicate that baptism was a freely-chosen act.  See Barrett.

Schreiner thinks that this is a clear reference to baptism (cf. Eph. 5:26; Titus 3:5; Acts 22:16; Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 3:21).  But he agrees that baptism cannot be separated from the reality (cleansing from sin) which it symbolises.

Garland agrees that we need not abandon the reference to baptism in order to retain a focus on regeneration.

Dunn, followed by Thiselton, agrees that we should take the baptismal implications in the broadest way, as indicating the reality of which baptism is a sign.  He is speaking, in other words, of conversion:

‘Sometimes Paul speaks of baptism without alluding to the Holy Spirit or to faith (Rom 6:4); sometimes he alludes to faith without mention of the Spirit or of baptism (1 Cor 15:1–2); at other times he speaks of the Holy Spirit without alluding to either faith or baptism (2 Cor 1:21–22).’ (Thiselton, summarising Dunn)

Vang, similarly:

‘That Paul chooses “washed” rather than “baptized” likely indicates that he refers to the Spirit’s transforming and empowering work in the believer rather than to the act of baptism—although Paul’s thinking likely includes baptism as the initiating occasion of the Spirit.’

This cleansing is not (argues Thiselton) simply ongoing forgiveness.  It ‘refers to a once-for-all event which corresponds to the once-for-all sufficiency of Christ’s deed of salvation.’

Barrett, too, agrees that baptism is in mind (citing the formula ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ’, cf. Acts 2:38; Rom 6:3), but that the very language used ‘shows that it is the inward meaning rather than the outward circumstances of the rite that is important to Paul.’

The past is behind us…

‘The Church of England’s Easter Anthem in the Book of Common Prayer links the feast of the New Passover (1 Cor 5:7) with the unrepeatable nature of Christ’s death and resurrection: “he died to sin once” (ἐφάπαξ, Rom 6:10). The “newness” of the Easter anthem conveys the Pauline theme: you have left behind what you used to be once-for-all: celebrate the resurrection existence.’ (Thiselton)

You were sanctified – If washing/baptism draws attention to the outward act, then sanctification refers to the inward work of God in Christ.  According to Schreiner, this refers to a positional (rather than to a progressive) state.  Otherwise, it would have followed, not preceded, the reference to justification.  It is thus consistent with Paul’s description of believers as ‘saints’ (God’s ‘holy ones’).

Garland, however, does not see any particular significance in the order of these three items, as if Christians were ‘placed on a divine assembly line and having each of these things done to them in a certain order.’

You were justified – Declared righteous; ‘acquitted in God’s court’ (Barrett).

The word δικαιόω does not occur again in this epistle.  This has led some scholars to argue that justification only becomes important for Paul in the polemical contexts of Galatians and Romans.  But (writes Thiselton), ‘the “gift” character of resurrection, together with its basis in union with Christ as the single, raised, transformed corporeity, performs in our epistle the role ascribed to justification by grace in Romans and Galatians.’

Vang emphasises that the Corinthians have entered a new relationship:

‘The Corinthians were made righteous through faith in Christ, not by avoiding the things on Paul’s list in the previous verse.’

Thiselton writes that

‘Far from appealing to supposedly narrow imagery of forensic acquittal or of so-called legal fiction, at Corinth the theology combines both the gift character of Corinthian concerns about status and self-worth (they are accepted and given a status of privilege bestowed by grace) and the dual frame of reference which Paul earlier applied to ministry as both high-status (necessary to God’s purposes of growth) and low-status (servants, 3:5–6…). In close parallel, the Corinthians are indeed “semper iustus, semper peccator.”’

Barrett remarks that

‘Paul is not saying that the Corinthians have been made good men, perfectly holy and righteous; it is evident from the context that they have a long way to travel along the road of moral virtue.  He claims that, gross as their sins have been, they have for Christ’s sake been freed from guilt, united to God, and acquitted.  The verse, however, is full of ethical overtone and implication.  Because of what God has done, the possibility of new life is open to them; they are (in the language of 5:7) ‘”unleavened”, and they must now purge out the old leaven and keep the Christian feast in sincerity and truth.’

Johnson inclines to the view of Calvin, which is that the three terms all point to the same reality of salvation:

‘Washed speaks not primarily of baptism but of the deep spiritual cleansing from sin’s defilement and guilt that the person of faith experiences when she is brought into Christ (Eph 5:26–27; Tit 3:5; Rev 1:5; 7:14). Sanctified refers to the act of God’s Holy Spirit setting believers apart (making them holy) from the world and the devil by uniting them to the body of Christ as God’s own possession, to be used exclusively for his service and worship and thus to reflect his holy and moral character (1 Cor 1:2, 30; 1 Thess 4:3–4, 7). Justified expresses Paul’s understanding as developed in Galatians and later in Romans: God’s act of forgiving, accepting as righteous in advance of the final day of judgment, and empowering with the Holy Spirit on the basis of Christ’s death all sinners who believe the proclamation of the gospel (Rom 4:1–8).’

These three terms, then, represent the new (and renewed) status of believers, and show how absurd it is for those with this status in Christ to take each other to court.  They are different now; let them be different henceforth.

‘Paul is totally convinced about what has happened to the Christians at Corinth. Whatever the problems in the church, whatever their personal failures and corporate worldliness, however much pain he personally feels about their attitude to himself—he remains established in his convictions about the past: they have been washed, sanctified, justified … and the whole weight of God the Holy Trinity lies behind that conviction: verse 11 has a clearly trinitarian sound to it.’ (Prior)

Which story are we in?

Vang remarks that a very prevalent metanarrative in the world today is that of the ‘survival of the fittest’; ‘the winner takes all’.  But, he writes,

‘The biblical story runs contrary to that—it is a story of redemption and restoration. It is this exact contradiction that concerns Paul here. When the Corinthian Christians sued each other, it became evident that they were still guided by the Corinthian narrative rather than the Christ narrative. In the Corinthian story, winners take all by elevating themselves above others; in the Christ story, “winners” show their strength by considering others higher than themselves. In the court of Christ’s Spirit, it is better to be defeated than to do wrong against a brother or sister in Christ.’

Are you successful?

Vang invites us to consider the plots of various movies.  What counts as ‘success’ in each?  In the action movie, success counts as surviving a crisis or defeating the enemy.  In a romance, it means wooing and winning the object of your affections.  In a comedy, it might mean achieving popularity by making people laugh.

Now, asks Vang, what counts as ‘success’ in an individual’s personal life, in his work life, or in his relationships?

Finally, consider what success looks like in the Christian life.  How do we define success as disciples of Jesus Christ and in his church?

…yet indwelling sin remains

‘Paul does not deny the continuing datum of sin, moral failure, and remnants of old habits and attitudes among Christian believers (e.g., ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. ὅπου γὰρ ἐν ὑμῖν ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις, 3:3). Again, Whiteley’s analogy is clearly to the point. Two “sets of forces” still operate, “just as a man who has come out of the cold into a warm room is subject both to the cold which has numbed his hands and to the heat which is thawing them out.” But the new forces, like the heat in the analogy, are decisive and will crowd out and disperse the old inevitably.’ (Thiselton)

Good warnings

‘Paul warns believers that they cannot give themselves over to evil and still expect to enter the kingdom of God. Such warnings do not quench assurance but are the pathway to it, for those who pay heed to the warnings gain greater confidence of obtaining the kingdom inheritance. The warnings become the means by which believers avoid committing apostasy.’ (Schreiner)

Indicative and imperative

‘We also see once again the role of the indicative and the imperative. Believers in Christ are washed, sanctified and justified in Jesus Christ and by the Spirit. They are called upon to live out the newness that is theirs in Christ. The indicative is the foundation and ultimately the guarantee of the imperative, but the indicative does not rule out the imperative; rather, it functions as its basis and impetus.’ (Schreiner)

Yes we can!

‘Abstinence is not only good, if God calls us to celibacy; it is also possible. Many deny it, however. “You know the imperious strength of our sex drive,” they say. “To ask us to control ourselves is just not on.” It is “so near to an impossibility”, writes Norman Pittenger, “that it’s hardly worth talking about”.

Really? What, then, are we to make of Paul’s statement following his warning to the Corinthians that male prostitutes and homosexual offenders will not inherit God’s kingdom? “And that is what some of you were,” he cries. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). And what shall we say to the millions of heterosexual people who are single? To be sure, all unmarried people experience the pain of struggle and loneliness. But how can we call ourselves Christians and declare that chastity is impossible? It is made harder by the sexual obsession of contemporary society. And we make it harder for ourselves if we listen to the world’s plausible arguments, or lapse into self-pity, or feed our imagination with pornographic material and so inhabit a fantasy world in which Christ is not Lord, or ignore his command about plucking out our eyes and cutting off our hands and feet—that is, being ruthless with the avenues of temptation. But, whatever our “thorn in the flesh” may be, Christ comes to us as he came to Paul and says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). To deny this is to portray Christians as the helpless victims of the world, the flesh and the Devil, to demean them into being less than human, and to contradict the gospel of God’s grace.’

Stott, J., 2006. Issues Facing Christians Today 4th Edition. R. McCloughry, ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ – that is, through the merits of his atoning death.

…by the Spirit of our God -who applies the work of Christ to believers.

On the connection between baptism and the reception of the Spirit:

‘Paul emphasizes the connection of baptism with enduement by the Spirit. It is “by the Spirit” that the baptized is initiated into the church, made to drink of one Spirit, and sealed for ultimate redemption. Paul regularly refers to the believer’s reception of the Spirit in a tense signifying a certain point in time (“baptismal aorists”), speaks of baptism as being “washed. in the Spirit,” (1 Cor 6:11) and so can assume that everyone baptized “has” the Spirit. (Rom 8:9) Yet he nowhere argues this, as by recalling Jesus’ baptismal enduement; he takes reception of the Spirit in baptism for granted and life under the rule of the Spirit as the norm of Christian experience. (Rom 8:2-5) Even so, the Spirit given at baptism is but an earnest, a down payment, guaranteeing immeasurable future blessings.’ (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5) (EDBT)

Barrett notes that Trinitarian doctrine did not arise out of theological speculation, but from data of Scripture that are sometime mentioned almost incidentally:

‘The quite unconscious Trinitarianism of the concluding words should be noted: the Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit, our God.  Trinitarian theology, at least in its New Testament form, did not arise out of speculation, but out of the fact that when Christians spoke of what God ha done for them and in them they often found themselves obliged to use threefold language of this kind.’

All three members of the Trinity play a part in our justification:

‘All the persons in the blessed Trinity have a hand in the justification of a sinner: opera Trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa. God the Father is said to justify. ‘It is God that justifieth.’ Rom 8:33. God the Son is said to justify. ‘By him all that believe are justified.’ Acts 13:39. God the Holy Ghost is said to justify. ‘But ye are justified by the Spirit of our God.’ 1 Cor 6:11. God the Father justifies, as he pronounces us righteous; God the Son justifies, as he imputes his righteousness to us; and God the Holy Ghost justifies, as he clears up our justification, and seals us up to the day of redemption.’ (Thomas Watson)

Accept that you are accepted!

‘Many were obsessed with problems arising from the thirst for status, acceptance, and self-esteem. Paul declares: You are accepted! You belong! You have privileged status! But all this comes from God as his free, sovereign, gift. He tells them (to borrow Tillich’s phrase) to accept that they are accepted as the antidote to the status hunger which drives them to compete, as long as they keep in mind the basis and ground of their acceptance. Justification by grace through faith fits the Corinthian situation no less readily than that of the readers of Galatians and Romans. It speaks equally to their cultural situation, where obsession with achievement and status and, no less, anxiety over low self-esteem compound the ills of society: “but by the grace of God I am what I am” (15:10).’ (Thiselton)

Good news!

We learn a number of things in this powerful passage:-

1. Our sexual behaviour has consequences.  It can jeopardize our eternity.  It’s not a case of ‘I can’t help it, God made me that way.’  Nor is it just a matter of personal preference.

2. Homosexual sin is not in a worse category than other kinds of sin.  It belongs in the same category as any form of sex outside of marriage.  Indeed, it belongs in the same category as theft, greed, drunkenness and slander.  Let none of us feel superior to another.

3. Change is possible.  Some of the Corinthian Christians had been guilty of the sorts of sins Paul has just listed.  But they have been washed, sanctified, justified.  In the strength of the Holy Spirit, a person can step out of a sinful lifestyle, can change their behaviour so that they no longer act on their sinful desires, can even change their desires so that they become less overwhelming and compulsive.

See: Petty, Scott. Sex (Little Black Books). Matthias Media. Kindle Edition.

Where is our primary loyalty?

‘We, no less than the Corinthians, participate in conventional legal and economic structures that are foreign to Paul’s gospel-centered community vision. The task of the teacher or preacher is to articulate the analogies between our situation and the Corinthian practices. In what ways are we as Christians deferring to outside authorities to shape our business and legal affairs? In what ways are we asserting private economic rights that may ignore or fracture the larger interests of the community of faith? The answers to such questions will have to be found in each local situation, but their impact on the church is potentially devastating. In a culture shaped profoundly by the values of individualistic materialism, we should find in Paul’s scolding of the Corinthians a challenge to examine ourselves. Are we conducting our affairs in a way that shows clearly—to ourselves and to others—that our primary loyalty is to the family of God’s people?’  (Hays)


Hays encourages reflection on ‘“We used to be …” and “But now we are …”

‘Students or members of the congregation could then be encouraged to brainstorm about how to complete these sentences in ways that extend the range of examples given by Paul. (For example, “We used be trained by the media to think of ourselves as ‘consumers,’ but now we are sharers of the good things that God gives us.” Or, “We used to be racists, but now we are part of God’s family, made up of all races and tongues.”)’

Flee Sexual Immorality, 12-20

6:12 “All things are lawful for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “All things are lawful for me”—but I will not be controlled by anything. 6:13 “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both.” The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 6:14 Now God indeed raised the Lord and he will raise us by his power. 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 6:16 Or do you not know that anyone who is united with a prostitute is one body with her? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 6:17 But the one united with the Lord is one spirit with him. 6:18 Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body”—but the immoral person sins against his own body. 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 6:20 For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.

“Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything” – There is a play on words here, reflected by Barclay: “All things are allowed me, but I will not allow anything to get control of me.”

‘In chapters 8-10 we shall see Paul arguing passionately and persuasively that the essential Christian freedom is the freedom not to be free, i.e. a deliberate choice to restrain my freedom for the sake of the gospel.’ (Prior)

“Everything is permissible for me” – The quotation marks reflect the view of most commentators, which is that Paul is quoting an expression that was current in Corinth, (possibly amongst the gnostic party, who may even have being quoting a saying of Paul’s against himself; they in their disparagement of the material could have argued that nothing done in the flesh really matters).  Paul ‘gives qualified agreement to the words themselves but not to the conclusions drawn from them.’ (Barrett)

‘It is because he does not seek to curb licence by a relapse into legalism that he refuses to retract the principle, though he guards against its further abuse by a double qualification.’ (Wilson)

‘Whether a Corinthian password or a Pauline motto, [this expression] needed reinterpretation in rather the same way as Augustine’s oft-quoted dictum, “Love God and do what you like.”‘ (Prior)

‘Paul’s dilemma was accentuated by the presence in the church at Corinth of both antinomians and legalists.  He was bound to fight the battle on both points: if he conceded too much in one direction, he would give too much leeway to those at the opposite extreme.  Walking in the Spirit is always a matter of steering the middle and narrow course between too much licence and too many rules and regulations.’ (Prior)

But not everything is beneficial – ‘In truth, only love, and actions based on love, are expedient for the people of God, since only these build up (1 Cor 8:1), and though obedience to law is not completely discounted as a means of justification God’s law still stands (1 Cor 9:21), or rather has been simplified and reinforced in Christ (the law of Christ, Gal 6:2), and may be regarded as marking out for men not a way of salvation but ways that are inexpedient, because they will lead inevitably to the collapse of society and the ruin of men’s lives.  Christian freedom must be limited by regard for others.’ (Barrett)

‘Paul seems to be saying that rights of any kind are of no determinative value in his daily life.  That is an extremely revolutionary statement and denotes a measure of freedom unfamiliar to most Christians, let alone the unbelieving world in general.’ (Prior)

So, when faced with a difficult choice, ask, “Is it beneficial – will it make my life more useful to God and to others,” Ask, “Will it tend to enslave me:” even things lawful in themselves can be enslaving, occupying too much of our time and energy.

‘There is a great tendency among young people to use their bodies not as temples, but as amusement arcades.’ (Helen Lee)

Here, ‘Paul speaks of the future resurrection as a major motive for treating our bodies properly in the present time’, and, in 1 Cor 15:58, ‘as the reason, not for sitting back and waiting for it all to happen, but for working hard in the present, knowing that nothing done in the Lord, in the power of the Spirit, in the present time will be wasted in God’s future.’ (Wright, Surprised by hope, p37)

‘Here [Paul’s] thought owes nothing to any antecedent notions, and displays a psychological insight into human sexuality which is altogether exceptional by first-century standards.  The apostle denies that coitus is…no more than an appropriate exercise of the genital organs.  On the contrary he insists that it is an act which…engages and expresses the whole personality in such a way as to constitute a unique mode of self-disclosure and self-commitment.’ (D.S. Bailey, cited by Keller, the Meaning of Marriage, p225)

The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord

‘Sexual experience is not essential to human fulfilment.’

‘To be sure, it is a good gift of God, but it is not given to all, and it is not indispensable to humanness. People were saying in Paul’s day that it was. Their slogan was, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food; sex for the body and the body for sex” (see 1 Corinthians 6:13). But this is a lie of the Devil. Jesus Christ was single, yet perfect in his humanity. So it is possible to be single and human at the same time! Besides, God’s commands are good and not grievous. The yoke of Christ brings rest, not turmoil; conflict comes only to those who resist it.’

Stott, J., 2006. Issues Facing Christians Today 4th Edition. R. McCloughry, ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

He who sins sexually sins against his own body – But what about drug and alcohol abuse, gluttony, self-cutting, and suicide?  Are these not sins against one’s own body?  But the word translated ‘body’ (soma) ‘can also mean the human person in his or her most intimate acts of communication or communion with others’ (Blomberg).  This helps to explain why we use the word ‘intercourse’ both for conversation and for sex.  Blomberg continues: ‘Plenty of sins damage one’s own body but don’t affect the bodies of other people. Sexual intercourse, by definition, requires two people. It is the most intimate of expressions of self-giving love; two people naked before each other, in postures and position that are meant to express ultimate vulnerability and therefore trust and ultimate allegiance, at least at the human level. Someone once said that what is most wrong with sex outside of marriage is not the risk of pregnancy or STDs…Rather, what’s most wrong is that it takes from someone else what was designed to reflect the most intimate of human commitments without being willing to promise the ultimate loyalty intended to go along with that intimacy.’

For Gagnon, this explains why sex is never a matter of indifferent (there is no such thing as ‘casual sex’):

‘Sexual immorality matters because sex always engages the body holistically, even when it involves the relatively impersonal act of sex for money (6:18). One’s only recourse is to “flee” it (6:18; cf. Gen 39:12). Sex is not like food; it is never a matter of indifference (6:12-14).’

(Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Kindle Locations 957-959).

Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit – ‘Earlier he had referred to the church as a whole as God’s temple (3:16), but here body is singular, so that each believer is a temple in which God dwells. The word is naos, which means the sacred shrine, the sanctuary, the place where deity dwells, not hieron, which includes the entire precincts. This gives a dignity to the whole of life, such as nothing else could do. Wherever we go we are the bearers of the Holy Ghost, the temples in which God is pleased to dwell. This rules out all such conduct as is not appropriate to the temple of God. Its application to fornication is obvious, but the principle is of far wider application. Nothing that would be amiss in God’s temple is seemly in the child of God.’ (Morris)

You are not your own – ‘We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.’ (Calvin, Institutes, I, 690)

Cf. 1 Cor 3:16

You were bought at a price – The word agorazo originally ‘to frequent the forum’, then ‘to acquire, to buy in the forum’; or, more simply and more usually, ‘to buy’. It is used in this latter sense some 24 times. On six occasions it is used of Christians being ‘bought’, as here. In Hellenistic Greek the commercial meaning is quite common, and the word is often used in connection with the buying up of slaves (although not in connection with manumissions).

‘Negative injunctions about sexual practices have their place; warnings about the consequences of disobedience are necessary.  But the most attractive aspect of a truly biblical sexuality is its power to provide what Os Guinness has called “both the basis and the balance for human love – its height, its depth, its realism and its romanticism.”‘ (Prior)

Cf. 2 Cor 5:15.

Glorify God with your body – Because it belongs to him.  He made, and he redeemed it.

‘As we teach our children at home and in the church, we must not merely skip to the right conclusions without unfolding for them all of the arguments that lead to those conclusions. Don’t merely teach “sex is between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage.” Explain why that is the case. And no explanation of that point is sufficient until we communicate a biblical understanding of the body. The body isn’t incidental to us as human persons. God created our bodies and called them good. This same God took on human flesh in the incarnation. God is going to resurrect our bodies. Our bodies are therefore not incidental, and how we use our bodies is not a separate matter from who we are and how God made us to be. God created male bodies and female bodies, different bodies that carry moral “oughts” according to God’s good design.’ (Kevin DeYoung)