Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/1 Corinthians/Chapter 6

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Overview edit

Summary edit

The sixth chapter of First Corinthians is one of several chapters in the book dealing with the behavior of believers and with principles by which they should live their lives. Chapter six verses one though eleven address the Corinthians’ inability to resolve conflicts among themselves the conflicts that arise within the church. Verses twelve through twenty deal with the topic of sexual immorality.

In the first section (NIV heading: Lawsuits Among Believers), Paul berates the Corinthians for not being able to resolve disputes among their church brethren. Instead, the Corinthians were taking each other before the secular courts for conflict resolutions. The church was to be such a safe community for the believers that they would not need the secular courts and legal systems to protect against abuse by other believers. The idea was that since the brothers were to be living in love, they would not be harming each other. This was obviously not the case in the Corinthian church.

The second half of chapter six (NIV heading: Sexual Immorality) deals with broad principles against sexual immorality, rather than giving a minute checklist of “do’s” and “dont’s”. The general proposition is that since the believers were bought at a price (the death of God’s son), their bodies are not their own, they belong to God, and therefore are meant for the Lord and not for sexual immorality.

Literary Context edit

The placement of verses 1-11 is odd and at first glance seems to disrupt the continuity of the letter. Sandwiched between a passage regarding an incestuous relationship (Chapter 5) and a passage on sexual immorality (6:12-20) is a series of verses on lawsuits among believers.

Stylistic Notes edit

Socio-Political Context edit

Outline edit

Lawsuits among Believers (vv. 1-11)

  • Ridiculous situation
    • Saints will judge the whole world (v. 2)
      • Should be competent to judge minute problems among themselves (v.2)
    • Saints will judge angels (v. 3)
      • Should be able to judge matters of this life (v. 3)
  • Paul offers solution for the situation (v. 4)
    • Appoint men to settle disputes within the church (v. 4)
      • There should be those wise enough to judge disputes (v. 5)
        • Believers should not have to sue each other in the secular courts (v. 6)
  • The presence of lawsuits among the believers means that the principle is defeated (v. 7)
    • Better to be:
      • wronged than to sue one another (v. 7)
      • cheated than to sue one another (v. 7)
    • Instead, the Corinthians:
      • Wrong each other (v. 8)
      • Cheat each other (v. 8)
  • Reasons not to do wrong
    • Wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God (v. 9)
      • Fornicators (v. 9)
      • Idolaters (v. 9)
      • Adulterers (v. 9)
      • Malakoi (v. 9) (see word study section)
      • Arsenokoitai (v. 9) (see word study section)
      • Thieves (v. 10)
      • The Greedy (v. 10)
      • Drunkards (v. 10)
      • Revilers (v. 10)
      • Robbers (v. 10)
    • Some of the Corinthians were once these things (v. 11)
      • But the Corinthians were:
        • Washed... (v. 11)
        • Sanctified... (v. 11)
        • Justified... (v. 11)
            • The name of the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 11)
            • The Spirit of our God (v. 11)

Glorifying God in Body and Spirit (vv. 12-20)

  • It is said:
    • All things are lawful for me (v. 12)
      • But:
        • Not all things are Beneficial (v. 12)
        • One should not be mastered by anything (v. 12)
    • Food is meant for the stomach, and the stomach for food (v. 13)
      • But God will destroy both of them (v. 13)
  • The Body is meant...
    • Not for fornication (v. 13)
    • For the Lord (v. 13)
      • As the Lord is meant for the body (v. 13)
    • Because by God's power, God... (v. 14)
      • ...raised the Lord from the dead (v. 14)
      • ...will raise us from the dead (v. 14)
  • The body is a member of Christ (v. 15)
    • Therefore it should not be united with a prostitute (v. 15)
      • Whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one with her in body (v. 16)
      • "The two shall be one flesh (Gen. 2:24)" (v. 16)
    • Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit (v. 17)
  • Avoid Fornication! (v. 18)
    • All other sins (v. 18)
      • Outside the body (v. 18)
    • Sexual sins (v. 18)
      • Against the body itself (v. 18)
  • Body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (v. 19)
    • Within you (v. 19)
    • From God (v. 19)
  • You are not your own (v. 19)
    • Bought at a price (v. 20)
    • Honor God with your body (v. 20)

Paraphrase edit

1 If one of you has an dispute with one of his brothers, how dare he take his brother before a secular court in a lawsuit instead of having it resolved within the family of believers? 2 Don’t you understand that someday the believers will judge the world? If you are going to judge the world, shouldn’t you be able to discern these miniscule matters among yourselves? 3 Don’t you understand that we will judge angels? So why not the trivial things of this life? 4 If you have disputes about such things, why not appoint one of your brothers in the faith to judge? 5 Shame on you! Isn’t there one among you who is wise enough to discern these matters? 6 But no, you are taking one another to court—in front of unbelievers!

7 The very fact that you are taking one another to court shows that you have been beaten by the world already. Why not just be wronged or cheated and leave it at that? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong—to your fellow believers! 9 Don’t you know that wrongdoers will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t deceive yourselves! Those who engage in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are passive homosexual partners, or actively practice homosexuality, 10 or steal, or who are greedy, or drunkards, or slanderers, or swindlers will never inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were! But you have been purified, you have been made holy, you have been made right with God through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

12 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”--true, but not everything is good for you. You say, "I am allowed to do anything."--true, but nothing should be your master. 13 It is said, "Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food," but God will do away with both of them. In the same way, the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 For by His power, God will raise our bodies from the dead, just as He raised our Lord from the dead.

15 Don't you know that your bodies are members of the Christ's body? Should a person then take their body, and join it to a prostitute? Absolutely not! 16 Don't you know that when you join yourself to a prostitute, you become one with her in body? For the Scripture says, "the two shall become as one flesh." 17 In the same way, the one who joins himself or herself to the Lord becomes one with him in Spirit.

18 Flee sexual sin! Every other sin you commit is outside your body, but the person who sins sexually sins against his or her own body. 19 Don't you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in you and was given you by God? You do not belong to yourself; 20 you were bought at a high price, the death of God's Son, therefore honor God with your body.

Translations Considered: New International Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, New King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, New Century Version, Cotton Patch Version, Phillips Translation, New English Translation

Verse-by-Verse Analysis and Commentary edit

vv. 1-3 edit

1 When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels--to say nothing of ordinary matters?

The verb rendered as "dare" in verse one is τολμα. The placement of this verb at the beginning of the sentence emphasizes Paul's indignation and disbelief at the Corinthians' audacity. [1] By denouncing the Corinthians' use of the secular courts--the "unrighteous" (lit. "unjust")--Paul is not demeaning the Roman courts, with which he had dealings on multiple occasions, but rather is making the contrast between the unrighteous and the saints[2].

Verses two and three illustrate the absurdity of the situation the Corinthians find themselves in. They themselves will judge this world and the next, but are not able to settle matters amongst themselves, having to rather take their disputes before the secular authorities. The concept of the saints judging the world finds its roots in both Jewish Apocalyptic literature and in the writings of Qumran[3], and is echoed in Revelation (2:26), as well as the Synoptic tradition (Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:30).[4] This eschatology emphasizes the triviality of the lawsuits that the Corinthians are bringing before the courts[5].

v. 4 edit

4 If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church?

The verb καθίζετε can be rendered as either an indicative or an imperative, changing the meaning of the clause. If translated as an indicative, it can be read as either a question, "Are you appointing those who are despised by the church?" or it can be read as an exclamation in the indicative, "You are appointing as judges those who are despised by the church." [6] Both of these scenarios communicate a sense of disbelief and indignation at the Corinthians' course of action, and refer to unbelievers being the judges. However, the verb can also be translated as an imperative: "appoint as judges those held in low esteem in the church." In this instance those of low esteem are Christians, and the command continues the logic that even the least of the believers is competent to settle matters between brothers in the fellowship.[7] The former of the two options is considered more likely by modern scholars, while the latter was more widely held by ancient scholars.

vv.5-6 edit

5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, 6 but a believer goes to court against a believer--and before unbelievers at that?

Verse six focuses on the heart of Paul's indigence with the Corinthians. Paul is not angered by the fact that the judges to whom the Corinthians appealed happened to be unbelievers, Paul is appalled that the Corinthians would have the nerve to take each other to court at all. The word rendered as "believer" in verses five and six is άδελφος, which actually means "brother". In an attempt to use gender-inclusive language, most translations exegetically translate άδελφος as "believer", thus robbing it of its familial nuance. The Church should be able to settle disputes within itself because the Church is to be a family. The concept of a sibling bringing a sibling to court would have been as horrific to Paul[8] as it would have been to Plutarch, who considered the idea of accusing a sibling in court to be diabolical (διάβολος και κατήγορος).[9]

vv. 7-8 edit

7 In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud--and believers at that.

Paul claims that the attitude that is present that causes the Corinthians to have lawsuits among themselves is evidence of a existent moral deficiency.[10] Rather than allowing love to be the source of their ethics, the Corinthians have become selfish, not living a life that puts others ahead of themselves. The idea of allowing oneself to be wronged rather than to wrong goes back to Plato, who asserted that "...of...doing and suffering wrong...doing wrong [is] the greater evil, and suffering it the less." [11]

vv. 9-10 edit

9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers--none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

It is important to note that it would appear the catalog of vices in verses nine and ten are not "of individual contextual significance in this epistle"[12], but rather are a of a generalized form that reflects broad ethical material found in Graeco-Roman traditions. This list is not a "do-not" list by which the Corinthians can determine their own righteousness, but rather is a list of symptoms of the general rebellion against God that would exclude one from inheritance of the kingdom.[13] This is evidenced by Paul's general proclamation that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God, followed by a clarification of some of these categories.

For a discussion of some of the more socially-charged words (rendered here as "male prostitutes" and "sodomites"), see the words for further study section further down the page.

v. 11 edit

11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

It is interesting to note that while the verbs for sanctified and justified (ήγιάσθητε and εδικαιώθητε, respectively) are in the passive voice, indicating that they were processes performed by God upon the Corinthians, the verb απελούασθε, translated as "you were washed", is in the middle voice, implying that not only was God involved in the action, but that the believers were as well.[14] This opens up rich interpretive possibilities in regards to an understanding of free will and our part in salvation.

In Paul's description of various forms of wrongdoing, and his claim that the Corinthians have been changed by their faith in Christ, there is an inherent imperative to not take part in doing wrong, including those things specifically mentioned.[15]

v. 12 edit

12 "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything.

Paul's double quotation of the phrase πάντα μοι έξεστιν (all things are lawful/permissible for me) makes it a near certainty that this phrase was a Corinthian theological slogan.[16] Paul's immediate and strong qualifications negate this slogan as a theological absolute. While this slogan may have been taken from Paul's teachings, it is obvious that Paul considers it as an abstract and in light of those around him. Paul's idea of exousia (freedom) is that it is not to be for oneself, but for others.[17] Paul's second qualifier is a wordplay in Greek. He says, "All things are lawful (exousia) for me, but i will not be dominated (exousiasthe) by anything."[18]

vv. 13-14 edit

13 "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.

Paul's distinction of the stomach and food both being done away with is a contrast to the second pairing[19], the body and the Lord, of which one has already been raised and one will be raised. Fee claims[20] that the Corinthians' logic went something like this:


  • Premise I:
    • Food (A) is for the stomach (B), and the stomach (B) is for food (A).
    • God will do away with the stomach (B) as well as the food (A).


  • Premise II: all bodily appetites are the same.


  • Conclusion I:
    • The body (A) is for fornication (B),
and fornication (B) for the body (A).

Paul rejects Premise II, that all bodily appetites are the same, saying, in a manner parallel to Premise I, that because God both raised the Lord and will raise the bodies of the believers:

  • The body (A) is for the Lord (B), and the Lord (B) is for the body (A).

vv. 15-17 edit

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

Paul argues that in the resurrection of Christ, believers are members of Christ, that is, parts of his metaphorical body. He also draws upon Genesis 2:24, which emphasizes the unique and irrevocable bond that happens in marriage, and applies it to sexual intercourse in general. He makes the argument that if believers' bodies are the extensions of Christ, and having sex with a prostitute unites one's body to her, then one should by no means take one's body, a member of Christ, and unite it to a prostitute. The contrast to uniting one's body with a prostitute is uniting one's spirit to the Lord, and becoming of one spirit with the Lord. Paul's argument does not assume the union with a prostitute would override a union with Christ, but rather that union with a prostitute is incompatible to union with Christ.[21] For Paul, the act of sexual immorality is not wrong because it is sexual immorality, but because it violates the believer's relation to Christ.

v. 18 edit

18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself.

Paul's elevation of the significance of porneia (fornication) over other sins is based on a qualitative difference: "the effects of all other sins can be undone by abstinence"[22], but the connection established by porneia and the damage done cannot be undone. The person who commits porneia perverts and damages that ability within oneself that enables the most intimate bodily connection between persons, damaging ones' own body.

vv. 19-20 edit

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

Paul then either informs or reminds the Corinthians that, because they have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit and have been sanctified (v. 11), they do not belong to themselves anymore, but to God. Therefore any sin that they commit is not against themselves, but against the Holy Spirit, who is living in them.

The description of being bought at a price would evoke imagery of a slave auction, which would have been a familiar image to the inhabitants of a major slave trafficking center[23] The idea is not that the believer has been bought and set free, but that the believer has been bought and has changed masters. Rather than being a slave to sin, the believer is now a slave to God.[24]

Word Study Subjects edit

άδελφος (adelphos vv. 5,6,8) edit

  • Rendered as:
    • "believer" (NRSV, NIV, NLT, NCV)
    • "brother" (NASB, KJV, NKJV, ESV, ASV)

άδελφος literally and most often means brother, but in some circumstances refers to the family of believers. In well-meaning attempts at gender-inclusive language, several translations have rendered άδελφος in 1 Corinthians 6 as "believer". This translation is accurate in meaning, but robs the passage of the familial tones that Paul was attempting to communicate in using such language.

μαλακοί (malakoi v. 9) edit

  • Rendered as:
    • "male prostitutes" (NRSV, NIV, NLT, NCV)
    • "effeminate" (NASB, KJV, ASV)
      • KJV adds the footnote "by perversion"
    • "men who practice homosexuality" (ESV)
      • ESV adds the footnote, "The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts."
    • "homosexuals" (NKJV)
      • NKJV adds the footnote, "that is, catamites," in order to distinguish it from "sodomites", the rendering of άρσενοκοται.
    • "self-indulgent" (NJB)
    • "sexual perverts" (RSV)
  • Also Appears in
    • NT
      • Matthew 11:8 (2x)
        • "fine" (clothes)
      • Luke 7:25
        • "fine" (clothes)
    • LXX
      • Proverbs 15:15
        • "gentle", "soft" (tongue)
      • Proverbs 26:22
        • "choice", "dainty", "delicious" (pieces of food)
  • There is broad, but by no means unanimous, scholarly agreement that μαλακοί refers to the passive partner in male homosexual relationships (i.e. catamite)[25].
  • The most common form of homosexuality in the Graeco-Roman world was pederasty (homosexual interactions with a young boy).

άρσενοκοται (arsenokotai v. 9) edit

  • Rendered as:
    • "homosexual offenders" (NIV)
    • "homosexuals" (NASB, NLT)
    • "abusers of themselves with mankind" (KJV)
    • "men who practice homosexuality" (ESV)
      • ESV adds the footnote, "The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts."
    • "sodomites" (NKJV, NRSV)
    • "men who have sexual relations with other men" (NCV)
    • "abusers of themselves with men" (ASV)
    • "homosexual perverts" (GNT)
    • "sexual perverts" (RSV)
  • Compound of two words meaning "male" and "intercourse"
  • Generally understood to refer to the active partner in homosexual intercourse.

πορνεία (porneia v. 13) edit

Implications edit

vv. 1-11 edit

Verses 1-11 illustrate the change in one's life that comes as a result of faith in Christ. One does not need to be protected by the legal system from their fellow believers, because all are to be living in love, watching out for the good of the other. Believers are not to be doing the kinds of wrong that characterize a rebellion against God, but instead are to be living in a way that reflects the changes that God has effected in them. Further, verses one through eleven are additional exhortation to follow Christ's teaching and example. He told his disciples to bless those who cursed them, and to pray for those who treated them badly. He lived this out in His death on the cross, when He asked God to forgive those who were crucifying him. Paul claims that it is better to allow oneself to be wronged by others, rather than to wrong others, a motto that could serve Christians well if they were to truly live out their faith.

vv. 12-20 edit

Verses 12-20 talk about the proper exercise of one's freedom in Christ and the believer's obligation to avoid sexual immorality, as it is a violation of Christ living in the believer and a logical deviation from the idea that the believer belongs to God as a result of Christ's work. As Christians, we are called to live in a way that is devoted to Christ as the sole master of our lives. Sexual immorality violates this devotion by binding us to other people in ways that damage our unity with Christ.

Endnotes edit

  1. David E. Garland. 1 Corinthians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 8. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003,) 195.
  2. Gordon D. Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 7. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 232.
  3. Anthony C. Thiselton. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Vol. 7. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000,) 425.
  4. Thiselton, 426.
  5. Fee, 232.
  6. Garland, 204.
  7. Garland, 204.
  8. Raymond F. Collins. First Corinthians. Sacra Pagina. Vol. 7. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1999) 234.
  9. Moralia, 481B.
  10. Garland, 209.
  11. Gorgias, 509C.
  12. Thiselton, 442.
  13. cf. Garland, 211.
  14. cf. Garland, 216.
  15. Fee, 245.
  16. Fee, 251
  17. Fee, 252
  18. cf. Fee, 252.
  19. cf. Fee, 254
  20. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 255.
  21. Garland, 233
  22. Garland, 236
  23. Garland, 239.
  24. Romans 6:16-23, 7:6
  25. Thiselton, 449

Bibliography edit