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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
1 Corinthians 6

 

 

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Verse 1

VI.

(1) Dare any of you.—Having rebuked the Corinthian Christians for any attempt to judge those who are outside the Church—i.e., the heathen—St. Paul now insists, on the other hand, on the importance of their not submitting their affairs for decision to the heathen tribunals. Jewish converts would have more easily understood that they should settle disputes among themselves, as the Roman power had, as we learn from Gallio’s remarks (Acts 18:14-15), given this liberty to the Jews. The Gentile converts, however, would have been naturally inclined to continue to bring disputes before the tribunals with which they had been so familiar in a proverbially litigious condition of society before their conversion. We can well imagine how detrimental to the best interests of Christianity it would be for the Christian communion, founded as it was on principles of unity and love, to be perpetually, through the hasty temper and weakness of individual members, held up to the scorn of the heathen, as a scene of intestine strife. Repeated lawsuits before heathen judges would have had the further evil effect of practically obliterating the broad line of demarcation which then really existed between the principles of Roman jurisprudence, and the loftier Christian conceptions of self-sacrifice and charity by which the followers of Jesus Christ should, in accordance with His teaching, control their life. These considerations rendered necessary the warnings which the Apostle here commences with the emphatic word “Dare,” of which it has been well said (Bengel), “Treason against Christians is denoted by this high-sounding word.”

Unjust . . . . saints.—These words convey here no essentially moral ideas. They merely signify respectively “heathen” and “members of the Christian Church.” These phrases remind us that the state of things when St. Paul wrote this was entirely different from what exists in any Christian country now. The teaching has nothing whatever to do with the adjudication of the courts of a Christian country. The cases to which St. Paul’s injunctions would be applicable in the present day would be possible only in a heathen country. If, for example, in India there existed heathen tribunals, it would certainly be wrong, and a source of grave scandal, for native Christians to submit questions between themselves for decision to such courts, instead of bringing them before the legal tribunals established by Christian England. It is not probable that at so early a period there were any regular and recognised tribunals amongst the Christians, and certainly their decisions could scarcely have had any legal force. There is, however, historical evidence of the existence of such in the middle of the second century. The principles here laid down would naturally have led to their establishment. (See 1 Corinthians 5:4.)


Verse 2

(2) Do ye not know . . . ?—The knowledge which they possessed of the great future which was in store for the Church of Christ was the strongest argument against the humiliating degradation to which their conduct was subjecting it.

The saints shall judge the world.—The Apostle here claims for all Christians the glorious prerogative which Christ had Himself promised to His immediate personal followers (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30). Bearing in mind the deep conviction of the early Church that the second personal advent of Christ was near at hand, we may take these words as referring primarily to the conquest of the world by Christianity, which has since been accomplished, though by slower and more spiritual processes than were then anticipated, and indirectly to that final triumph of Christ and His body, the Church, of which every success here on earth is at once the type and the pledge.

To judge the smallest matters.—Better, to pronounce the most trivial judgments, as compared with the great judgments which you shall pronounce hereafter. The nature of the things which form the subject of those judgments is explained in the following verse.


Verse 3

(3) We shall judge angels.—Many conjectures have been made as to the exact significance of the word “angels” here. Some suggest that it must signify bad angels; but this would be an unusual use of the word without any qualifying adjective. It is better, perhaps, to regard the passage as a climax arising out of the Apostle’s intense realisation of the unity of Christ and His Church triumphant—a point which seems ever present to the mind of St. Paul when he speaks of the dignity of Christianity. In this sense, redeemed humanity will be superior to, and judges of, the spiritual world. That the words have some such large significance, and are not the expression of a hard and literal fact regarding some members of the angelic host, is, I think, borne out by the subsequent words, where the contrast to “angels” is not “men,” but “things” relating to this life.


Verse 4

(4) If then ye have judgments. . . .—Better, If, however, you choose to have judgments to be given on matters of this life. The last words show that the questions which are alluded to are purely worldly and not spiritual matters. The Apostle subsequently urges that such disputes ought not to arise at all amongst Christians, and that if they do they ought to be settled by the interposition of some mutual friend. Here he says, with something of sarcasm, “The very meanest of those who are to be exalted above angels, and to be judges of spiritual existences, is of sufficient authority to settle such matters as you are bringing before legal tribunals.”


Verse 5

(5) I speak to your shame.—Better, I say this to cause you to feel ashamed. From the latent irony of the previous words, the Apostle turns to ask solemnly whether it be a fact that in the whole Christian community at Corinth, which boasted of their superior wisdom, there is not to be found even one man sufficiently esteemed for his wisdom to be trusted by the brethren with the settlement of their disputes.

Shall be able to judge. . . .—Better, shall be able to arbitrate, in contrast to the “going to law” of the next verse, the words for these two expressions being different in the original.


Verse 6

(6) But brother goeth to law with brother.—“It would almost seem as if it were not so. Your dragging these disputes before tribunals of the heathen would imply that it is not possible to find a Christian friend whom you can trust to settle these trivial disputes.” Thus the Apostle answers his question of the previous verse.


Verse 7

(7) A fault.—Better, a falling short of your privilege and dignity as Christians. It is the same word as is rendered “diminishing” in Romans 11:12. The Apostle in this verse goes one step farther, and condemns the Corinthians, not only on the ground of the tribunals to which they resorted being heathen, but further condemns the spirit of litigation itself. He reminds them of how such a temper of mind is the very opposite of that which the Lord Himself had commended to His followers (Matthew 5:40).


Verse 8

(8) Nay, ye do wrong.—Better, No, but you yourselves do wrong.


Verse 9

(9) Know ye not that the unrighteous . . .?—The force of this question comes out more strikingly in the original, where the word rendered “unrighteous” is the same as “ye do wrong” of 1 Corinthians 6:8. “You do wrong, apparently forgetting that no wrongdoers shall inherit God’s kingdom.”

Be not deceived.—There was great danger of their being led to think lightly of sins which were daily committed by those amongst whom they lived, hence these words of warning with which the sentence opens, as in 1 Corinthians 15:33. The mention of gross sensual sins in connection with idolaters points to the fact that they were practically associated in the ritual of the heathen, which, of course, intensified the danger against which the Apostle warns the Corinthians. The prevalence of such scandalous crimes in the heathen world is constantly referred to in the Epistles to Gentile churches (Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:19-20; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 1:12).


Verse 11

(11) Such were some of you.—The Greek for “such” is in the neuter, and implies “of such a description were some of you.”

Ye are washed.—Better, ye washed them off. referring to the fact that their baptism was a voluntary act (Acts 22:16). The words “sanctified” and “justified” as used here do not point to those definite stages in the Christian course to which they generally refer in theological language. The sanctification is here mentioned before the justification, which is not the actual sequence, and it must not therefore be taken as signifying a gradual progress in holiness. What the Apostle urges is, that as they washed themselves in the waters of baptism, so they, by the power of Christ’s name and the Holy Spirit, became holy and righteous, thus putting aside, washing off as it were, that impurity and that unrighteousness which once were theirs, and with which they could not enter into the kingdom.


Verse 12

(12) All things are lawful unto me.—This was probably a statement which the Apostle had himself made; at all events, the freedom which it expresses was very dear to him, and it may have been misused by some as an argument for universal license. St. Paul, therefore, boldly repeats it, and proceeds to show that it is a maxim of Christian liberty, which does not refer to matters which are absolutely wrong, and that even in its application to indifferent matters it must be limited, and guarded by other Christian principles. “The eating of things sacrificed to idols (see Note on 1 Corinthians 8:4), and the committing fornication,” were two subjects of discussion closely connected with heathen worship; and it may seem astonishing to us now that because St. Paul had maintained the right of individual liberty concerning the former, he should perhaps have been quoted as an authority for liberty regarding the latter, yet it is a matter of fact that such a mode of reasoning was not uncommon. They were both regarded as part and parcel of heathen worship, and therefore, as it were, to stand or fall together, as being matters vital or indifferent. (See Acts 15:29, and Revelation 11:14, as illustrations of the union of the two for purposes respectively of condemnation and of improper toleration.) We must not regard the use of the singular “me” as being in any sense a limitation of the principle to the Apostle personally. “Paul often speaks in the first person singular, which has the force of a moral maxim, especially in this Epistle (1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 7:7; 1 Corinthians 8:13; 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 10:29-30; 1 Corinthians 14:11)” (Bengel). The words refer to all Christians.

All things are not expedient.—Better, all things are not profitable. The word “expedient” in its highest sense is a proper translation of the Greeks, but in modern use it has a somewhat lower and depreciatory meaning generally attached to it.

All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.—There is a verbal contrast in the Greek here which can scarcely be rendered fully in English. The Greek words for “unlawful” and “be brought under the power of” are cognate words. What the Apostle says is, “All things are lawful for me, but I am not the one to allow them therefore to become a law over me.” There is such a thing as becoming the very slave of liberty itself. If we sacrifice the power of choice which is implied in the thought of liberty, we cease to be free; we are brought under the power of that which should be in our power.


Verse 13

(13) Meats for the belly.—The Apostle proceeds now to show that the question of eating meats offered to idols does come into that catalogue of indifferent things on which an exercise of Christian freedom is permissible, and that the question of fornication does not. Lawful matters are to be decided upon the highest principle of expediency; but fornication is an unlawful matter, and therefore the question of its expediency does not arise at all. The stomach is adapted to the digestion of food, and food is adapted to it. This is, however, only for this life; both shall be destroyed by death. But the person (“body” being equivalent to “us” in 1 Corinthians 6:14) of the man is enduring. No food which enters defiles the man. Fornication is not a mere transitory gratification; it affects the man. The use of the stomach is to receive and digest food, and only the animal organisation is affected by that. It cannot be said that the man is made for fornication. The person of each is made for the Lord; the whole Church is His body; each baptised person is a limb of that body; and the Lord is for the body. He came to earth and died for it, and for each member of it; therefore what affects that body, or any member of that body (i.e., any Christian), cannot be an indifferent matter. Neither shall the man perish, as meats and the belly shall; he is immortal. (See 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.) Such seems to be the argument by which St. Paul maintains liberty to be right regarding meats, and shows that the same principle does not apply to sensual indulgence. It may be put argumentatively thus:

1. Eating meats offered to idols is an “indifferent matter,” because—

(a) Meats only affect the particular organ designed for them;

(b) Meats and that organ shall perish together.

2. Fornication is not an “indifferent matter,” because—

(a) It affects the man, and he is not designed for the purpose of this indulgence,

(b) The man is immortal, and therefore the moral effect of the fornication on his nature does not perish at his death.

Conclusion.—Only indifferent matters are to be the subject of Christian liberty; and the decision must be according to the utility of each act. Fornication is not an indifferent matter; therefore it is not so to be decided upon.


Verse 14

(14) Will also raise up us.—This phrase is remarkable as one of the few which show that the Apostle, while he in common with the early Church expected the early advent of Christ, did not think that it would necessarily occur in his own lifetime. Here, as ever, the resurrection of the dead, when we shall receive our spiritual body instead of the natural body, is joined with the fact of the resurrection of Christ the firstfruits.


Verse 15

(15) Shall I then . . .?—Having shown the great dignity which attaches to our bodies as immortal members of Christ, the Apostle asks with indignant emphasis, “Shall I take them out from that high and holy membership, and make them members of an harlot?” The double act of taking them away from their glorious union with Christ, and joining them to a base body, is implied in the Greek.


Verse 16

(16) What?—As if some one might question and resent the strength of the previous words, and wish them “watered down.” “Do you not know that my strong assertion is true? It is not merely my statement; it is to be found in the Old Testament, ‘Two shall be one flesh.’” This was originally (Genesis 2:24) applied to marriage, as showing the intimacy of that sacred union, but here St. Paul applies it to one aspect of a union which, in one respect, was identical with marriage. Of course the other parts of the Apostle’s argument do not apply to marriage, the union being a sacred one; two becoming one flesh in marriage is no degradation of a member of Christ—nay, it is a sacred illustration of the complete unity of Christ and His body the Church. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 11:29, and Notes there.)


Verse 17

(17) One spirit.—The union betwixt Christ and each member of His Church is a spiritual one. This explains the sense in which we are the Lord’s body, and intensifies the argument against any degradation of one who shares so holy and intimate a union.


Verse 18

Verse 19-20

(19, 20) What? know ye not . . .?—These verses read better rendered thus: Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you? Which you have from God, and you are not your own. For you were bought with a price. Glorify God then in your body.

There are two reasons why we are not our own. (1) The Spirit which has possession of our bodies is not our own, but given us “of God.” (2) We have been bought with a price, even the blood of Christ; it is a completed purchase (1 Peter 1:18-19). Our bodies not being our own to do as we like with, we have no right to give them over unto sin. The last words of the verse are not a cold logical deduction from the previous argument, but rather an earnest exhortation suggested by the solemn thought of our oneness with Christ, and the price paid by Him to make us His.

The words “and in your spirits,” which are in the Authorised version, are not in the older Greek MSS. They were probably added to give a kind of verbal completeness to the exhortation. They only tend, however, to weaken the force of the passage as St. Paul wrote it. The dignity of the body is the subject of the previous passage, and the necessity for its purity the sole theme of the entire argument.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/1-corinthians-6.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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