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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

1 Corinthians 6

Verses 1-99

Ch. 6:1 11. The way to settle disputes in the Christian Church

1 . Dare any of you, having a matter against another ] The principle is here laid down which is to guide Christians in their lawsuits. Disputes about property are treated by the Apostle as matters of the most trifling import. To call in the unbelievers to settle the disputes of Christian brethren was an act of audacity almost inconceivable by the Apostle ( v . 1), and in marked contrast to the feeling prevalent in the Christian Church at its first foundation (Acts 4:32 ). It were far better for a Christian to suffer the utmost wrong, than to bring such a reproach upon the name of Christ ( v . 7). The disputes of Christians were therefore settled by private arbitration, a custom which continued until Christianity was formally established as the religion of the Roman Empire. In the so-called Apostolical Constitutions, which were drawn up in the second or early in the third century, we find a provision that these private courts of arbitration should be held early in the week, that any disputes which might arise might be set right before the following Sunday. Such courts of arbitration have given place to the Christian courts of law, before which it often becomes necessary for a Christian to plead, lest violent or covetous men should dissolve the framework of society. Yet the principle of this passage should guide us still, of regarding mutual love as of more importance than ‘the things that pertain to this life,’ of preferring rather to suffer wrong than to appeal to the law, unless some more important matter is at stake than our individual loss or inconvenience.

and not before the saints ] Cf. St Matthew 18:17 , where we have a precept of Jesus Christ concerning the settlement of differences in the Christian Church.

2 . the saints shall judge the world ] i.e. at Christ’s second coming. See St Matthew 19:28 , St Luke 22:30 , and Daniel 7:22 .

are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? ] The word here translated matters , and in ver. 4 judgments , has the following significations: (1) tribunals; (2) causes brought before such tribunals; (3) the trial held in such courts; (4) the proofs whereby the trial is decided. Of these (4) is out of the question here. If we do not accept (2), which is the rendering of our version, we must either translate Are ye unworthy to preside over the most unimportant tribunals? or Are ye unworthy to hold trials of the most insignificant kind?

3 . Know ye not that we shall judge angels? ] Cf. 2 Peter 2:4 , and Jude 1:6 . Some have thought that good angels are here meant. But it is difficult to see how (1) men could pronounce sentence upon their conduct openly, or (2) acquit or censure them by the silent sentence of a consistent life. For in the first case there would be no sentence to pronounce, and in the second it would be they who would judge the holiest man that ever lived, and not he who would judge them. “The interpretation squares well with the argument. We shall judge devils, who not only were so noble in their original condition, but are still even when fallen immortal beings. What then! shall the paltry things which concern the belly be withdrawn from our decision?” Calvin. “The good angels are not hereafter to be judged, but they will form a part of Christ’s glorious retinue when He comes to judgment.” Wordsworth.

4 . judgments ] domes , Wiclif. See note on ver. 2. The meaning (2) seems the only admissible one here, inasmuch as Christians were not likely as yet to possess secular tribunals or to hold secular trials in the technical sense of the word. Secular causes they had, and as we see, they carried them before the heathen courts.

set them to judge ] This passage may be taken in three ways. (1) as in our version, imperatively, set them to judge , i.e. the matter is so trivial that any person, even the most contemptible for his understanding in the Church, is quite fit to undertake the settlement of it. Or, (2) indicative, ye are setting , as though it were the heathen who were the most despised in the Church. Or (3) as a question, Is it your custom to set such persons to settle such matters? much less then should you bring them before the heathen, who in points of moral perception are infinitely below the least esteemed members of the Christian Church. Of these (1) is preferable as falling in best with the context: while (2) is open to the objection that it was not the custom of Christ or His Apostles to represent one’s fellow-men, even though they were heathen, as fit objects of contempt.

least esteemed ] Literally, thought nothing of .

5 . I speak to your shame ] ‘You are not to suppose me in earnest. I only say this to shame you for the undue value you set on the things of this life. Such matters might fitly be left to the decision of the most insignificant member of your community. But there is no necessity for that. Surely there are plenty of persons among you who are competent to settle such questions, and thus save you the scandal of carrying your disputes before the heathen, when you have pledged yourself to lead a life above such considerations.’

6 . But brother goeth to law ] “It is not a question between ecclesiastical and civil courts, but between Law and Equity, Litigation and Arbitration.… The remedy is not more elaborate law, nor cheaper law, nor greater facility of law, but more Christianity.” Robertson. Cf. note on ver. 1.

and that before the unbelievers ] Rather, before unbelievers , the fact of appearing before unbelievers at all on such matters being the point to which attention is directed. “Beside the scandal of such a proceeding, as exposing their internal differences to the eyes of the heathen, there were certain formularies to be gone through in the heathen law-courts, such as adjurations by heathen deities, which would involve them in idolatrous practices.” Wordsworth. Cf. also Blunt, Lectures on Ch. History , pp. 110, 149.

7 . Why do ye not rather take wrong? ] Cf. St Matthew 5:38-42 .

8 . Nay, you do wrong, and defraud, and that (your) brethren ] Not only are you not willing to suffer injury, but you inflict it, and you inflict it upon those with whom you are conjoined in relations as affectionate as the ties of blood. ‘One is your Master upon earth and all ye are brethren.’ And this was not to be a convention or a sentiment, but a fact; witnessed to by the affectionate name “the brethren” by which everywhere Christians were known.

9 . Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? ] The Apostle in this verse sums up what he has been saying in this chapter and the last. First generally, the unjust, wrong-doers, shall not inherit the kingdom of God, that is, His final kingdom in the ‘restitution of all things,’ for which we daily pray. He then proceeds to particulars, and declares that all who lived for themselves, whether set upon sensual indulgence or upon gain, would deprive themselves of the inheritance obtained through faith in Christ.

10 . nor covetous ] See note on ch. 5:10.

nor drunkards, nor revilers ] Here, as in ch. 5:11, where the same word is translated railer , we have the inevitable conjunction between drunkenness and strife.

11 . but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified ] The past tense is employed in the original ‘ye were washed, sanctified, justified.’ The allusion is to baptism, where by a solemn profession the disciple entered into covenant with and so put on (see Galatians 3:27 ) Christ. The meaning of ye were washed in the Greek is either ye washed these things from you , or ye washed yourselves clean from them , cf. Acts 22:16 . There has been much controversy as to the meaning of the words sanctified and justified here, as their position is inverted from the usual order in which they stand. It is best to take sanctified in the sense of dedicated to a holy life ( halowed , Wiclif), see note on ch. 1:2, and justified as referring to the actual moral righteousness of life which is brought about by union with Christ through the operation of the Spirit. See also Romans 1:17 .

in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God ] The name of Christ stands for His power, almost, we might say, for Himself. The original has ‘ in the Spirit’ not by the Spirit of our God. Therefore something more is probably conveyed than a mere instrumental agency, though the Greek ἐν is often used in this way (as in ver. 2 of this very chapter). A comparison of this passage with others in which the indwelling of the Spirit is implied, as in ver. 19 and Romans 8:11 , teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the instrument of our sanctification and justification by virtue of our dwelling in Him and He in us, making Christ’s death to sin, and His life in righteousness an accomplished fact in our hearts and lives. See also St John 3:6 .

12 20. The guilt of the Fornicator

12 . All things are lawful unto me ] In this and the next two verses the main argument of the rest of the Epistle is sketched out, though not in the order afterwards followed by the Apostle. At present he takes them in the order of their importance. First he touches on the comparatively unimportant question of the distinction of meats, treated of at length in ch. 8, 10. Then he alludes to the relations of the sexes, the subject of ch. 6:12 7:40. And lastly he speaks of the great doctrine of the Resurrection, which stands in a close practical relation to the two former, and which is dealt with in ch. 15. The words in this verse appear to have become a watchword with some among the Corinthian Christians. Starting from the doctrine of Christian liberty taught by Christ (St John 8:32 , John 8:36 ), and proclaimed with one mouth by His Apostles (Romans 8:2 ; James 2:12 ; 1 Peter 2:16 ), they declared that the Christian was bound to a ‘service’ which was ‘perfect freedom.’ St Paul accepts the principle, but with limitations. No actions were in themselves unlawful, he was ready to admit, provided (1) that they were in accordance with God’s design in creation; (2) that they were calculated to promote the general welfare of mankind; and (3) that we were masters of our actions, not they of us. Bengel well remarks: “Sæpe Paulus prima persona eloquitur quæ vim habent gnomes in hac præsertim epistola. Ver. 15, 10:23, 29, 30, 14:11,” and throughout Romans 7:0 .

but all things are not expedient ] The word expedient ( profitable , margin, spedeful , Wiclif) from ex and pes , signifies originally, the condition of one who has his feet free ; and hence that which frees us from entanglements, helps us on, expedites us, as we are accustomed to say. Its opposite, that which entangles us, is similarly called an impediment , Cf. the word speed . The sense “that which is advisable for the sake of some personal advantage,” “expedient” as opposed to what is based on principle, is a more modern sense of the word. Hence the meaning here is profitable: i.e. for others as well as ourselves. Cf. ch. 7:35, 10:33, where the derivative of the verb here used is translated ‘profit.’ Robertson gives a valuable practical illustration of the principle here laid down. “In the North on Sunday, men will not sound an instrument of music, or take a walk except to a place of worship. Suppose that an English Christian found himself in some Highland village, what would be his duty? ‘All things are lawful’ for him. By the law of Christian liberty he is freed from bondage to meats and drinks, to holidays or Sabbath days; but if his use of this his Christian liberty should shock his brother Christians, or become an excuse for the less conscientious among them to follow his example, against the dictates of their own conscience, then it would be his Christian duty to abridge his own liberty, because the use of it would be inexpedient,” or rather, unprofitable. Cf. 14:26 32.

brought under the power of any ] Compare the use of the same Greek word in St Luke 22:25 , ‘exercise authority,’ and also in ch. 7:4.

13 . Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats ] This is a matter of comparatively trifling importance. Meat is a necessity for our present undeveloped life; in the world where hunger and thirst will be no more it will no longer be so. And therefore both it, and the organs formed to digest it will be no longer wanted.

Now the body is not for fornication ] St Paul is led, by the importance he attaches to this point, to treat it first. The abominable licentiousness of heathen cities in general, and of Corinth in particular (see Dean Stanley’s note on ver. 12) had led to a general conviction that the body was for fornication. St Paul contradicts this, and most emphatically proclaims that what was always permitted among heathens, and even in some cases enjoined as a religious rite, was distinctly in itself an unlawful act , not excusable on the plea of necessity, which he had admitted in the case of meats, nor, like them, a question of “nicely calculated less or more,” but contrary to the laws laid down by God for man, and calculated to deprive men of the blessings of the Resurrection.

but for the Lord ] i.e. Jesus Christ. The body is not formed to serve a purely material end, but is the instrument of the spirit, and its end the glory of God, through Christ.

and the Lord for the body ] Because from our point of view Christ came that we might serve and honour Him in our bodies. This sentence answers to ‘meats for the belly, and the belly for meats,’ above.

14 . and will also raise up us ] Unlike the belly, whose functions shall cease, the body, through its Lord, is destined to an enduring life. We are taught in Romans 8:11 , in ch. 15, and by that much neglected article in the Creed, “The Resurrection of the Body,” that Christ came to save, sanctify, and raise again, not our souls only, but our bodies.

by his own power ] Our version has rendered definite here what in the original is indefinite. It is impossible to say for certain whether the word “His” refers to the Father or to Christ; but the analogy of St John 5:21 , John 5:25 , John 5:28 , John 5:11 :25, and especially 2 Corinthians 4:14 , would lead us to the conclusion that Christ is here meant. But see Ephesians 1:19 , Ephesians 1:20 . There seems to be a distinction implied in the Greek of this verse between the raising of Christ, who saw no corruption, and the raising us from our state of corruption and almost annihilation, through the power of Christ.

15 . Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? ] This solemn truth, that by our calling as Christians we are so closely united to Christ as to be ‘members of His Body, of His Flesh and of His Bones’ (Ephesians 5:30 ) is employed here to remind us of the restrictions placed upon our Christian liberty. Our body is Christ’s, nay it is, in a sense, a part of Christ Himself . It may not be used in violation of the laws imposed upon it from the beginning by God. Nor may it be used to the detriment of others, who equally, with ourselves, belong to Christ. And the sin here reproved leads to all kinds of misery and wretchedness, and that because (ver. 18) it is a violation of the eternal law of God impressed upon the human body.

16 . for two, saith he, shall be one flesh ] No words could more plainly shew than these and the preceding, what a monstrous perversion the sin here mentioned is of the mysterious union between the sexes sanctified by God in Holy Matrimony. No words could more strongly imply than those which follow, that he who is ‘joined to a harlot’ thereby separates himself from the Lord.

17 . he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit ] Literally, cleaveth to the Lord . No words, save perhaps those in St John 17:0 , could more forcibly express the closeness of the union between Christ and His faithful disciple.

18 . Every sin that a man doeth is without the body ] That is, every other sinful act which affects the body approaches it from without and affects particular members. But this sin takes the body itself as a whole and makes it an instrument of sin. For it is a violation of the fundamental law impressed upon man from the beginning, whereby it is decreed that a man shall cleave to his wife, and to her alone, and they twain shall be, or rather, become one flesh, Genesis 2:24 . This view is confirmed by the fact that the word here translated sinneth, means “to go astray,” “to miss the mark;” so that the words ‘ sinneth against his own body ’ imply the running counter to the objects for which the body is created. If this be the correct interpretation of the passage, the practice of polygamy is here condemned.

sinneth against his own body ] Cf. Romans 1:24 .

19 . know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost ] See note on ch. 3:16, and cf. 2 Corinthians 6:16 ; Ephesians 2:21 , Ephesians 2:22 ; 1 Timothy 3:15 ; 2 Timothy 2:20 ; Hebrews 3:3 ; 1 Peter 2:5 . Observe also that God in Christ acts through the Spirit (cf. ver. 11, 15 of this chapter), so that ‘we are the temple of God’ because ‘the Spirit of God dwelleth in us.’ Nothing can be more effectual than the thought of such an inhabitation, as being the result of our Christian calling, to restrain us from the sin here mentioned.

which ye have of God ] Rather, whom ye have from God , referring to the Holy Spirit. Cf. St John 3:5 , John 3:14 :26, John 3:15 :26; Acts 2:33 . For the use of “which” for “whom,” cf. ‘Our Father which art. in heaven,’ and Titus 3:6 .

ye are not your own ] Cf. ch. 7:22; Romans 6:18 , Romans 6:22 ; St John 8:30 ; also Romans 14:8 . The Scriptures frequently remind us that we have passed from slavery to sin into slavery to Christ, the latter slavery, however, being the true freedom of man, enabling him to fulfil the law of his being.

20 . ye are (lit. were ) bought with a price ] the “one sufficient Sacrifice, Oblation and Satisfaction made for the sins of the whole world” by the Death and Passion of our Saviour Christ. Cf. Acts 20:28 ; 1 Peter 1:19 ; 2 Peter 2:1 ; Revelation 5:9 , &c.

and in your spirit, which are God’s ] These words are not found in many of the best MSS. and versions, and they somewhat weaken the force of the argument, which is intended to assert the dignity of the body. They were perhaps inserted by some who, missing the point of the Apostle’s argument, thought that the worship of the spirit was unduly passed over.

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"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/1-corinthians-6.html. 1896.