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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 6

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Verse 1

Vv. 1. “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?”

The word τολμᾶ , dares he, heads this passage, exactly because it appeals vigorously to Christian dignity: “What! there is one who has this miserable courage!” One needs courage to degrade himself. The pronoun τίς , some one, does not mean that there are many who are in this case; but there are too many if there is one. A single such case casts reproach on the whole Church. The Jews, who had the feeling of their theocratic nobility, had not recourse in their litigations to heathen tribunals; a system of arbitration established among them decided such questions; and the Corinthians had not Christian honour enough to rise to the same level!

For the moment the apostle leaves out of account the fact of the κρίνεσθαι , getting judged, having a suit; he will return to it, 1 Corinthians 6:6. Here he fixes solely on the way in which these affairs are treated at Corinth.

The article τόν , the, before ἕτερον , other, serves strongly to individualize the adverse party in every case.

The heathen, of whom the official judges form part, are designated, not as usual by the term ἄπιστοι ( those who do not believe), but by the term ἄδικοι , unjust. The apostle would make palpable the contradiction there is in going to ask justice of those who are themselves devoid of justice. The prep. ἐπί here signifies in presence of; as in the phrases ἐπὶ δικαστῶν , τοῦ δικαστηρίου (Plato, Demosthenes). Christians receive the title of honour οἳ ἅγιοι , the saints. They are people whom a Divine consecration has profoundly separated from the unjust and sinful world, and who ought therefore to possess within them the standard of justice. Had not Daniel seen the judgment given to the saints of the Most High? ( 1Co 7:22 ).

Verses 1-11

III. Lawsuits. 6:1-11

The subject of discipline, though connected with the domain of ecclesiastical life, trenched on the sphere of moral questions. We come now to the subjects which belong exclusively to the latter sphere.

As the apostle had dealt with discipline, first from the standpoint of the special case which had raised the question, then, more generally, he acts in a similar way in regard to the subject which is now to follow. He treats of lawsuits between Christians, 1. in 1 Corinthians 6:1-6, from the special standpoint of recourse had to heathen tribunals; and 2. in 1 Corinthians 6:7-11, from the more general viewpoint of the lack of righteousness and charity which such conflicts between brethren imply.

Meyer alleges that there is no logical relation between this subject and the preceding; he founds on the asyndeton between the last verse of chap. 5 and our 1 Corinthians 6:1. But the absence of any particle fitted to connect these two verses is much rather the evidence of a very profound bond of feeling between the two passages. For by this form the second becomes, as it were, a reaffirmation of the ideas expounded in the first. And, in point of fact, does not Paul here, as in the former passage, combat in this proud Church the total lack of care for its own dignity before God and men? “Not only do ye not judge those whom you have a mission to judge ( them that are within); but, moreover, ye go to have yourselves judged by those who are beneath you ( them that are without)!” The basis of these two passages is therefore the same: it is the idea of the judicial competency of the Church in relation to its own members, but applied to two wholly different sins. Edwards understands the thing nearly in the same way. “He has just expounded the greatness and power of the Church; and now he asks if one could be found among them who would dare to do violence to the majesty of Christ who dwells in it.”

Verses 2-3

Vv. 2, 3. “Or do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3. Know ye not that we shall judge angels? much more things that pertain to this life.”

The T. R. is mistaken in omitting the or at the beginning of the question. Its meaning is: “Or if you affect to justify this mode of action, are you then ignorant that...?” By the formula, do ye not know, which occurs no less than ten times in our Epistle, the apostle alludes to the doctrines he had delivered to the Church at the time of its foundation. Here it applies to a very special point of Christian eschatology, and from the example it may be concluded how detailed was the instruction which the Churches received from the apostle. The verb κρινοῦσι should evidently be taken as a future, shall judge, as well as the κρινοῦμεν , we shall judge, of the following verse. The world, which is to be judged by the saints, can only designate those who have rejected the appeal which had been addressed to them by the gospel.

The Greek Fathers have sought to spiritualize this notion of judgment by reducing it to the moral contrast, which will burst into view at the day of judgment, between Christian holiness and the pollution of other men ( Mat 12:41 ); or there has been found in it the general notion of the kingdom and glory of believers yet to come (Flatt). But the idea of a real judicial act is demanded by the context. Lightfoot, Vitringa have thought that this was the announcement of a time when, the gospel having become supreme, courts of law would be composed of Christians; as if the world of which the apostle speaks in this passage could be Christendom! We have already quoted the saying of Daniel, according to which the world is to be judged by the saints. Jesus seems to apply this notion in a special way to the apostles ( Mat 19:28 ): “In the regeneration which is to come, then ye shall be seated on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” The Apocalypse extends this privilege to all believers (Revelation 2:26-27, and Rev 20:4 ).

Billroth has proposed to make the whole second part of the verse also dependent on: Do ye not know...? “Do ye not know that...and that it is unworthy of you to appear before the lowest tribunals (those of the heathen)?” But this construction is complicated, and the word ἐλάχιστα , the least, does not lend itself well to this meaning; comp. the parallel expression, βιωτικά , the things of this life, in the following verse. The second proposition of 1Co 6:2 is therefore also a question: “Are not ye, the future judges of the world, worthy to pronounce on things which have only the slightest value?” The present κρίνεται , is judged, expresses not an actual fact, but a principle.

The adjunct ἐν ὑμῖν , literally in you, may be explained by the idea of the accused's presence in the circle formed by the tribunal. But this meaning is far from natural, especially when the accused is such as the world! It is better to understand: “in your person, which has become (by Christian sanctification) the rule of absolute justice;” which amounts to saying: by you; comp. the ἐν , Acts 17:31. The complement κριτηρίων ἐλαχίστων is often translated by the least things to be judged. Meyer is perhaps right in saying that usage does not admit of this meaning; but it is not exact to allege that the word κριτήριον can signify nothing except “a tribunal.” It has many and varied meanings besides (see Passow: means of judgment; court of justice; place of judgment). Consequently we are entitled to give it here an analogous sense such as the context naturally demands, viz. a sentence delivered: “How should ye, who are invested with so high a competency, be unworthy to deliver sentences of a greatly inferior order?”

Verse 3

Vv. 3 does not present a new argument; it is the previous one raised to its culminating point. For the angels also, according to Paul, form part of the κόσμος , the world (see on 1Co 4:9 ). Again we have the phrase: Do ye not know? but without the particle ἤ , or, precisely because here is the continuation of 1 Corinthians 6:2. The more striking the fact indicated in this verse, the judgment of angels by the saints, the more entitled is the apostle to express his wonder that his readers can be ignorant of it or can act as if they were in ignorance.

Meyer maintains that the word angels, used simply, denotes in the New Testament only good angels. It is one of those statutes which this excellent commentator loves to set up as a barrier against the caprice of exegetes, but the yoke of which need not be taken up without check. I think that the explanation of the idea contained in the first part of this verse is found in our Epistle itself, 1 Corinthians 15:24. If it is so, Paul can only be speaking here of higher powers of wickedness. This meaning is also that which best accords with the meaning of the word the world ( 1Co 6:2 ). According to Meyer and Hofmann (who applies the word at once to good and bad angels), the judgment to which good angels shall be subjected will bear on the degree of fidelity with which they have discharged their office as ministering spirits to believers ( Heb 1:14 ); but nowhere in Scripture is there mention of a judgment of the elect angels. And in any case, we must not overlook the absence of the article before the word angels: “beings belonging to the category angel.” Paul does not mean to designate these or those angels; he wishes to awake within the Church the feeling of its competency and dignity by reminding it that beings of so exalted a nature shall one day be subjected to its jurisdiction.

It is remarkable that in the parables of the tares and of the drag-net, it is the angels who effect the division between men (wheat and tares, good and bad fishes); while in our passage, it is sanctified believers who judge angels. It seems as if God would glorify Himself in each of these orders of His creatures by means of the other.

Let it also be borne in mind that in Daniel's description (chap. 7) there is not a word said of the judgment of the angels by the saints; this is a detail absolutely peculiar to Paul, and which, like that mentioned 1 Thessalonians 4:15, rests no doubt on a personal revelation.

The last words, much more things of this life, need not be regarded as the continuation of the previous question, as is done by Tischendorf; it is the conclusion in the form of an exclamation. The form μήτι γε is found nowhere else in the New Testament. The simplest way of explaining it is to understand the verb λέγωμεν ; ne ( μή ) ullo quidem ( γε ) modo ( τι ) de rebus ad vitam pertinentibus ( βιωτικά ) loquamur; “Not to speak even of earthly things; they follow as a matter of course, after what has been said of angels!” So far as sense is concerned, this is very much the same as our rendering: “much more.” The γέ has here, as usually, the effect of emphasizing the preceding word ( μήτι ), so as to set aside every other supposition.

Verse 4

Vv. 4. “If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the Church!”

Here is the practical conclusion from the foregoing argument; in its form there is a touch of irony. The μέν already suggests that after what Paul is about to say, he will have something more to add of a graver character: the unsuitableness of law processes in themselves ( 1Co 6:6 seq.). It appears to me that the καθίζετε ought to be taken as imperative: “Set up!” as it has been by the old Greek commentators, the Vulgate, Calvin, Beza, Bengel, Hofmann, Edwards. “If it is needed to have judgments on earthly things, set up the least of you, those who pass for the least intelligent: they will be good enough for this want.” Luther and most moderns (Olshausen, de Wette, Rückert, Meyer, Heinrici) have rejected this sense and taken the verb καθίζετε as interrogative or exclamatory, applying the words, “those who are least esteemed in the Church,” to the heathen tribunals before which the Christians of Corinth went to crave justice: “Do you then choose as your judges those who...?” or: “You set up as your judges those who...!” This meaning seems to me inadmissible: 1. because of the οὖν , then, the natural meaning of which cannot in this case be preserved; 2. the term set up cannot, without doing violence to the meaning of the word, signify: to take as judges men already constituted such by others; 3. the phrase, them who are nothing esteemed in the Church, cannot in the apostle's view apply to heathen. But Paul may well apply the term with a touch of irony to designate those of whom small account is made in their assemblies: “Do not go and seek your first orators to make them arbiters in such cases, but take the least among you.” 1Co 6:5 very naturally connects itself with this meaning.

Verses 5-6

Vv. 5, 6. “I speak to your shame: is it so that there is not a wise man among you, no not one, that shall be able to judge between his brethren! 6. But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.”

The first words of 1Co 6:5 may bear on what precedes; in that case they signify: “I am certainly not opposed to your choosing capable men as arbiters; I have only spoken as I have done ( 1Co 6:4 ) to make you ashamed, by showing how little importance I attach to those wretched interests for which you do not scruple to compromise the honour of the Church.” But the following οὕτως takes a more serious and definite meaning, if the first proposition is connected with what follows, 1 Corinthians 6:5: “ Thus then I say this to your shame in your Church of wise men, not a wise man capable of pronouncing on such affairs!” The proper reading is οὐκ ἔνι (abbreviation of ἔνεστι ), there is not there.

The Alex. read: not a wise man; the Greco-Lat.: not a single wise man; the T. R.: no wise man, not even one; the last reading is preferable, at least in point of sense.

The aorist διακρῖναι here signifies: to decide summarily, settling the question with a stroke of the pen. It is a case of arbitration, not a law process. The expression ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ is evidently incomplete; the ἀνὰ μέσον , between, supposes a regimen formed of two terms: between a brother (the plaintiff) and his brother (the accused); comp. Genesis 16:5; Exodus 11:7; Exodus 26:33 (in the LXX.). Either the second term was understood, or it might be supposed that by an elliptical form of the word his brother was put for: “ the claim of his brother.” The word διακρῖναι , to distinguish, decide, would then signify: to separate between the true and the false in this claim. In any case the meaning is: “No law pleading! The word of an arbiter, let that be final!” In this mode of expression there is a sort of disdain for the object of contention.

Verse 6

Vv. 6 is the exclamatory conclusion of the foregoing development. The ἀλλά is not a particle of gradation; it is simply the but adversative. To understand the contrast which it marks, we must take exact account of the difference in meaning and tense between the two verbs of 1Co 6:5 and 1 Corinthians 6:6, διακρῖναι and κρίνεσθαι . The former denotes the summary verdict of an arbiter: hence the aorist; the latter puts us face to face with all the lengthy processes and windings of a lawsuit: hence the present. And that with a brother and before a heathen tribunal! What a scandal! what a shame to the Church!

Verses 7-8

Vv. 7, 8. “Nay, already it is altogether a defect in you that ye have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather take wrong? why not rather be defrauded? 8. Nay but ye yourselves do wrong and defraud, and that your brethren!”

Here is the second charge which he brings against them, the fact of lawsuits in themselves. This charge essentially includes two. The ἤδη μέν , already, indicates the one; the ἀλλά of 1Co 6:8 the other. And first, 1 Corinthians 6:7, it is bad to have a lawsuit about a wrong which one considers to have been done to him by a brother. Why not bear a wrong? The therefore of the T. R. has no meaning; it ought to be suppressed.

The term ἥττημα , from ἡττᾶσθαι , to remain beneath, denotes a defeat when it is used in reference to a fight, and a deterioration or deficiency when applied to a state of things. The latter is the only meaning which is suitable here. There is a moral deficiency among them on this point compared with what they should be as Christians; ὅλως , in general; that is to say: “without dwelling longer on the particular fact which I have condemned above.” We must certainly reject ἐν , among, before ὑμῖν , you: “It is a deficiency on your part, pertaining to you.”

The reflex pronoun ἑαυτῶν is used here as it often is instead of the reciprocal pronoun ἀλλήλων ; this form brings out the close solidarity in consequence of which a brother pleading against a brother pleads in a sense against himself.

The two questions which close the verse justify the idea expressed by the word ἥττημα . There is a defect in acting thus; for there is something better to be done: viz. to bear. There is therefore a lack of charity. Paul himself says, 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Charity suffereth long.” Μᾶλλον , rather; that is to say, rather than enter into a lawsuit. Paul does not say that a Christian should do nothing to secure himself against injustice. But if it must come to a lawsuit, he advises rather to bear the wrong. Is he alluding to the precepts of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, Mat 5:39-42 ? It seems very probable. The thought which Jesus undoubtedly meant to express in these paradoxical forms is this: Love, infinite as God, is ready, so far as itself is concerned, to bear everything. If therefore in practice it sets limits to this absolute patience, it is not from regard to itself, as if its endurance were at an end; but it is for the good of that very being with whom it has to do, so that it is in this case its own limit, in other words, it has no limit outside of itself.

The two verbs ἀδικεῖσθαι and ἀποστερεῖσθαι are in the Middle: to let oneself be wronged; to let oneself be robbed. The former refers to injustices in general, the latter to wrongs in regard to property.

Verses 7-11

Vers. 7-11.

Provisionally the apostle had passed over in silence the fact itself of the discussion of selfish interests between Christians, to condemn only their having recourse to the judicial intervention of heathen. In the first words of 1 Corinthians 6:6, only, he had touched the deeper evil, that of such disputes at all between brethren. He now comes to this sin, the first occasion and cause of the other.

Verse 8

Vv. 8. But there is more: to account for a lawsuit, there is needed something else than the lack of charity on the one hand; there must be a graver want still on the other, the want of justice. To speak of maltreated, robbed, is to speak of maltreating, robbing. Hence the gradation expressed by ἀλλά : But much more! The ὑμεῖς , ye, coming first, expresses indignation: “It is ye, Christians, who...!” The, and that, indicates a new gradation: the want of justice betrays a more odious character when it assails one nearer our heart, a brother!

It is easy to see why certain copyists have substituted ταῦτα (the two acts mentioned) for τοῦτο .

It really seemed that the Corinthians, since they had received grace, thought themselves freed from all moral responsibility; it is this dangerous security which the apostle attacks in what follows.

Verses 9-10

Vv. 9, 10. “Or know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10. nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

The particle ἤ , or, signifies, as it usually does in this formula: “Or, if you think you can act thus without danger....” The Corinthians seemed to imagine that their religious knowledge and Christian talk would suffice to open heaven to them, whatever their conduct otherwise might be. But how do they fail to understand that by falling back into sin, from which faith had rescued them, they themselves destroy the effect of their transition from heathenism to the gospel?

The unrighteous are placed first and separately named; for righteousness is the matter now in question ( 1Co 6:8 ).

The notion of the kingdom of God is here taken in the eschatological sense, that is to say, from the standpoint of the final consummation of this Divine state of things; and the verb κληρονομεῖν , to inherit, is an allusion to the inheritance of Canaan given to Israel as a type of the blessedness to come.

The μὴ πλανᾶσθε , do not deceive yourselves, shows clearly that seductive arguments were in circulation by which the vicious succeeded in quieting their consciences.

The warning is generalized, as in chap. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11. The first five terms in the following enumeration relate more or less directly to the vice of impurity; the following five to the spoliation of another's goods.

Idolatry was closely connected with licentiousness in morals (see on chap. 1Co 5:11 ).

The effeminate, μαλακοί , are either those who give themselves up to some unnatural vice, or all in general who pamper their body; abusers of themselves, ἀρσενοκοῖται , are those who give themselves over to monstrous vices ( Rom 1:27 ). There is in the latter term the idea of activity; in μαλακοί rather that of passivity.

Vv. 10. The apostle closes the enumeration with ἅρπαγες , extortioners; this last term leads back to the principal subject of the whole passage, the ἀδίκειν and the ἀποστερεῖν . In one of the last terms, for οὔτε , nor, the apostle substitutes οὐ , not, as if the feeling of repulsion rose in him with the accumulation of terms: “No, in spite of all your reasonings, it will be of no avail! The drunkard shall not enter...”

The kingdom of God is a holy state of things, it receives none but sanctified members.

Verse 11

Vv. 11. “And such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.”

Paul has been addressing the feeling of fear; he now appeals to the higher motive, that of Christian honour. He thus returns to the feeling which had dictated the first word of the passage, τολμᾷ τις , has any one the courage? The vices he has just enumerated belong to a past from which a series of Divine facts have separated them for ever. These facts are, first, baptism, then the consecration and reconciliation to God of which baptism is the symbol. Such a fathomless depth of grace is not to be recrossed!

Καί , and it is true.

There is in the verb ἦτε , ye were, more than the recalling of polluting acts; the term identifies their person with the pollutions to which they gave themselves up.

But, by the τινές , some, the apostle restricts the application of his saying, not only in the sense which Reuss ascribes to the words (one who was guilty of one of those vices, another of another), but so as to bring out that there was, after all, among them a goodly number of men who before their conversion had lived exempt from all those external pollutions. Billroth has made τινές an attribute, and connected it as such with ταῦτα in the contemptuous sense, “such a set of men!” This would have needed ταῦτά τινα , or τοῖοὶ τινες (Meyer).

The following verbs denote the three acts which constituted the entrance of believers into their new state. They are joined together by the ἀλλά of gradation: but moreover ( 2Co 7:11 ); from which it does not follow that the order in which these acts are placed is necessarily one of chronological succession, it may equally be one of moral gradation. For the apostle's intention is to bring out by each stroke, with more and more marked emphasis, the contrast between the former state of believers and the new state into which these acts had brought them.

All are at one in applying the first of the three verbs to baptism. In fact, outwardly speaking, it was the act which had transferred them from the state of heathens to that of Christians, from the condition of beings polluted and condemned to that of beings pardoned and purified. The Middle form of the verb ἀπελούσασθε , ye washed yourselves, expresses the freedom and spontaneity with which they had done the deed; comp. the ἐβαπτίσαντο , 1 Corinthians 10:2 (in the reading of the Vatic.); Edwards also compares Acts 22:16.

The term bathe, wash, is explained by the two following terms. Baptism, when it is done in faith, is not a pure symbol; two purifying graces are connected with it, sanctification and justification. The verbs which express these two facts are in the passive; for they signify two Divine acts, of which the baptized are the subjects. The two verbs in the aorist can only refer both of them to a deed done once for all, and not to a continuous state. This is what prevents us from applying the term sanctify to the growing work of Christian sanctification. This word here can only designate the initial act whereby the believer passed from his previous state of corruption to that of holiness, that is to say, the believer's consecration to God in consequence of the gift of the Spirit bestowed on him in baptism; comp. Acts 2:38; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13. They entered thereby into the community of saints which is presided over by Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God.

The verb sanctify is placed before justify, because, as Edwards says: “Paul, wishing to contrast the present moral condition of believers with their former state, lays special emphasis on the characteristic of sanctification.” This is also the feature which most directly applies to the passage 1 Corinthians 6:7-10.

From the fact that the term justify is placed second, many, even Meyer, have concluded that it could not here have its ordinary Pauline meaning, and that instead of imputed righteousness it must denote exceptionally the internal righteousness which God infuses into the hearts of believers during the course of their life. But this meaning is, whatever Meyer may say, incompatible with the use of the aorist (ye were justified), a tense which necessarily denotes the initial moment of the new state of righteousness, the transition from the state of corruption to that of regeneration. Besides, it would be impossible to distinguish from this point of view the meaning of the two acts sanctifying and justifying, and to understand how they could be joined, or rather contrasted, with one another by an ἀλλά of gradation: but moreover. It is therefore, also, wholly mistaken when Catholic theologians, and even Protestants, like Beck, make use of this passage to deny the notion of justification as the imputation of righteousness in Paul's writings. When an entire dogmatic view is thus made to rest on the succession of two terms, it should be remembered that the inverse order is given in 1 Corinthians 1:30. We have already indicated the reason why Paul emphasizes sanctification in the first place: it is to point out clearly the contrast between the normal state of the Christian and the degrading vices which were invading the Church; comp. 1 Corinthians 1:2. But thereafter he feels the need of ascending to the hidden foundation of this sanctifying action of the gospel, to the state of justification in which the believer is put by it. The question at the outset of the passage was whether Christians did not possess in themselves the standard of righteousness, by means of which they might regulate their mutual differences. From this point of view Paul had called the heathen οἱ ἄδικοι , the unrighteous. By closing with the idea of the justification bestowed on believers, he points to them as the true possessors of righteousness, first in their relation to God, and thereby in all the relations of life.

But what is it that gives to baptism such efficacy, that, when it is celebrated with faith, it is accompanied with such graces, and draws a line of demarcation so profound between two states in the believer's life? The apostle indicates the answer in the last words of the verse: in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. It seems to me that there is an unmistakable allusion in these words to the formula of baptism: “In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In the two passages we find the three names whose invocation constitutes the peculiar characteristic of this institution.

The construction of the sentence does not allow us to apply the first of these clauses exclusively to the one of the last two verbs, the other to the other (Flatt). It seems to me equally impossible to connect them both with the last verb, as Rückert and Meyer propose. I think that both together apply to the first verb, ἀπελούσασθε , ye were washed, and therefore to the two following verbs, which, as we have seen, are merely epexegetical of the first. As this verb expressly points to the ceremony of baptism, these two subordinate clauses reproduce the formula of invocation which was pronounced when the rite was celebrated. The name of Jesus denotes the revelation of His person and work, which has been granted to the Church. It is because of this knowledge that the Church carries out this act of spiritual purification on those whom it receives as its members.

The Spirit of God is the creative breath which accomplishes the new birth in the heart of the man baptized, and thus separates him from the pollutions of his past life. I cannot possibly understand why Meyer alleges that this second clause cannot apply to the verb ἀπελούσασθε as well as the first. Is not the action of the Spirit in the heart of the baptized, whereby he deposits in it the principle of consecration, the purifying act by way of excellence? ( Tit 3:5 ). By adding of our God, the apostle expresses the idea of the fatherly and filial relation formed by Christ between God and the Church, and in virtue of which He communicates to it His Spirit. The apostle never fails, while paying homage to the two Divine agents, Christ and the Spirit, to ascend to the supreme source of all this salvation, even God, who reveals Himself in Jesus, and gives Himself by the Spirit.

Hofmann has taken the strange fancy to connect these two clauses with 1 Corinthians 6:12: “In the name of Christ, and by the Holy Spirit, all things are lawful to me.” But if the maxim, All things are lawful to me, had been qualified from the first in this way, Paul would not have needed to limit its application afterwards, as he does on two successive occasions, and by two different restrictions in 1 Corinthians 6:12 (see Meyer).

The formula of baptism in the Apostolic Church.

The idea has often been expressed, that the formula of baptism in the Apostolic Church was not yet that which is mentioned Matthew 28:19: “In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and that it was limited to the invocation of the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:48; Act 19:5 ). The passage which we have been studying does not appear to me to favour this view. For, as we have pointed out, the mention of the three Divine names contained in the formula Matthew 28:19, is supposed by the terms used by the Apostle Paul. The idea even of God as Father seems implied in the pronoun ἡμῶν , our God.

There is another fact which seems to me to confirm this result; that which is related Acts 19:1-6. Paul asks some disciples who have not yet heard speak of the Holy Spirit: “in what ( εἰς τί ) then ( οὖν ) they have been baptized?” The logical relation, expressed by then, between the ignorance of those persons in regard to the Holy Spirit and the apostle's question regarding the baptism which they have received, would not be intelligible if the mention of the Holy Spirit had not been usual in baptism as it was celebrated by the Apostolic Church. Now if the name of Jesus and that of the Holy Spirit were solemnly pronounced in baptism, that of God could not be wanting. Hence I conclude that the phrase: to baptize in the name of Jesus, frequently used in the Acts, is an abridged form to denote Christian baptism in general. This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles the Trinitarian formula found in Matthew is used side by side with the abridged form of the Acts; comp. 1Co 7:1 and 1 Corinthians 9:5.

Verse 12

Vv. 12. “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”

Paul himself had no doubt uttered this maxim at Corinth more than once: “All things are lawful to me,” applying it to acts indifferent in themselves, but which the Mosaic law had forbidden, on account of its pedagogic nature. When the question was as to the use of certain meats, or observance of certain days, or any other external prescription, the apostle said without scruple in such a case: “All is lawful to me.” This saying had not been forgotten; it suited only too well the free disposition of the Greek mind. And perhaps the perverted application which certain members of the Church made of it was ascribed even to the apostle himself. Did this maxim figure in the letter which the Corinthians had addressed to him? In any case, there is something striking in the repetition of the words in our verse; it is intended to stigmatize the abuse of the dictum stupidly employed to justify evil.

Paul therefore means: “All things are lawful undoubtedly, and I have no thought of retracting what I have said.” Then follow two restrictions which have a touch of irony: “All is lawful to me..., unless indeed it be doing evil to myself or my neighbour by the use of my liberty.” The term συμφέρειν , to contribute to the good, is completed ( 1Co 10:23 ) by οἰκοδομεῖν , to edify; there accordingly it applies to good in general, while οἰκοδομεῖν applies specially to the good of our neighbour. Here the good of our neighbour is not in question, but that of the acting subject himself; the following proposition brings out another and more special trait. Then the apostle repeats the same dictum, as if to ridicule the unintelligent and mechanical use of it; and he limits its application by the second restriction, which applies, like the first, to the individual himself: “All is lawful to me, unless it be using my liberty to the extent of alienating it.” There is an evident connection between the word ἔξεστι , is lawful, and the term ἐξουσιασθήσομαι , I will let myself be brought under the power. The regimen ὑπό τινος is certainly neuter: “by anything; ” not, “by any one. ” The reference is to everything which is included in the πάντα , all things, which precedes.

The pronoun μοι , to me, is used as in 1 Corinthians 5:12, to give the proposition the force of an axiom: Vim habet gnomes, says Bengel. Similarly the ἐγώ , I, used in the following proposition: I no longer really possess that which possesses me. This saying of the apostle reminds us of the adage of the Stoics: Mihi res, non me rebus submittere conor. Paul here puts himself at the standpoint of simple common sense. The reasonable use of my liberty cannot go the length of involving my own loss of it, or of rendering me a slave by reducing me to a thing. Thus Paul has beaten the adversary on his own ground. He has brought him to contradict himself by showing him that his principle, applied without discernment, is self-destructive. The second restriction: “I will not make myself the slave of anything,” is developed in 1 Corinthians 6:13-16.

Verses 12-20

IV. Impurity. 6:12-20.

It has sometimes been imagined that the apostle was here resuming the subject of chap. 5, from which he had allowed himself to be diverted by the question of lawsuits. But we have seen that the subject of chap. 5 was not impurity at all, but discipline, treated in connection with a case of impurity. Lawsuits followed, by a transition which we have explained ( 1Co 6:1 ). And now Paul continues to treat of the moral disorders which he knows to exist in the Church. If the manner in which he enters on the subject in 1Co 6:12 has been thought somewhat abrupt, it is because account has not been taken of the connection between the maxim: All things are lawful to me, and the warning of 1 Corinthians 6:9: Be not deceived. It is perfectly obvious that some at Corinth were indulging in strange illusions as to the consequences of salvation by grace, and even went the length of putting the practice of vice under the patronage of the principle of Christian liberty.

Neander has thought that in beginning as he does in 1 Corinthians 6:12, the apostle proposed immediately to treat the subject of meats consecrated to idols, a subject in connection with which he repeats ( 1Co 10:23 ) the same maxim, and that he was led away from the second part of 1Co 6:13 to deal with impurity, to resume the subject of offered meats later (chaps. 8-10). The truth involved in this view is, that from this point the idea of Christian liberty is that which prevails to the close of chap. 10; comp. Holsten, Ev. des Paulus, p. 293. But the order in which the subjects are linked to one another in this Epistle is the fruit of too serious reflection to allow us to hold such an interruption. And the relation which we have just pointed out between 1Co 6:12 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, where impurity holds the first rank in the enumeration of the vices mentioned, shows clearly that the apostle knew the goal at which he was aiming.

Verses 13-14

Vv. 13, 14. “Meats are for the belly, and the belly for meats, and God shall destroy both it and them. But the body is not for fornication; but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14. Now God hath raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by His power.” Several commentators have thought that the contrast set up by Paul in these two verses, between the act of eating and the impure use of the body, was called forth by certain statements in the letter of the Corinthians, in which they justified this vice by assimilating it to the other bodily wants, such as that of eating and drinking. Rückert has combated this opinion, for the reason that the Church could not have gone the length of systematically justifying vice; and besides, would not Paul have repelled such an assertion with the liveliest indignation? But without any allusion to the letter of the Corinthians, he might say: “All is lawful; for, according to the principle laid down by Jesus, it is not what enters into a man that defiles him; this domain of food-taking has nothing in common with moral obligation and our eternal future; but it is wholly otherwise with impurity.”

The apostle distinguishes two opposite elements in our bodily organism: the organs of nutrition, which serve for the support of the body, and to which, by a Divinely established correlation, there correspond the external objects which serve as meats. The morally indifferent character of this domain appears from the fact of its approaching destruction: God will abolish those functions in the day of the redemption of our bodies. But it is not so with our bodies strictly so called, with the body for which Paul exclusively reserves the name, and which he identifies with our very personality. This is the permanent element in our earthly organism, that which forms the link between our present and our future body. Now this element, the essential form of our personality, is that which is involved in the vice of impurity. And hence the profound difference between impurity and the natural functions of physical life. There exists between our body and the Lord Jesus Christ a moral relation analogous to the material and temporary relation which exists between the stomach and meats. The body is for Christ, to belong to Him and serve Him, and Christ is for the body, to inhabit and glorify it.

Vv. 14. In consequence of this sublime relation, the body will not perish. As God raised up Christ, He will also raise the body which has become here below the property and sanctified organ of Christ. The apostle says, “will raise us also;” he thus expressly identifies our personality with the body which is to be its eternal organ.

The readings raises and raised are evidently erroneous. The former would be the present of the idea, which does not suit here; the latter would refer to the spiritual resurrection ( Eph 2:5-6 ), which is stranger still to the context. The idea of the future resurrection of this earthly body, like to that in which Christ lived, is fitted to impress us with the reverence due to the future organ of our glorified personality.

The last words, by His power, perhaps allude to some doubts in regard to the possibility of the fact.

It is remarkable that Paul here places himself in the number of those who shall rise again, as elsewhere he ranks himself with those who shall be changed at Christ's coming again. He had no fixed idea on this point, and he could have none, the day of Christ's coming being to him unknown.

Verse 15

Vv. 15. “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? Let it not be so!”

Paul had just said that the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord. In the first proposition of this verse he justifies the for the Lord, to deduce from it as a conclusion in the second the not for fornication. Baur and Scherer see here a petitio principii, inasmuch as the term harlot already implies the guiltiness of fornication, which is precisely the point to be proved. But the apostle is not treating the question from the standpoint of rational morality; he starts from Christian premises: Know ye not...? Now the relation between Christ and the believer, implied in faith, gives him logically the right to reason as he does.

As the Church in its totality is the body of Christ, that is to say, the organism which He animates with His Spirit, and by which He carries out His wishes on the earth, so every Christian is a member of this body, and consequently an organ of Christ Himself. By means of the Spirit of Christ which dwells in his spirit, and by means of his spirit which directs his soul and thereby his body, this body becomes as it were the body of Christ, the executor of His thought; hence the practical conclusion: This organ of Christ must not be taken from Him to be given to a harlot. Therein is a double crime: on the one hand, a revolt, an odious abduction ( ἄρας ); on the other, an act of ignoble self-debasement and the acceptance of a shameful dependence. And hence the apostle's cry of indignation: Let it not be so!

Ποιήσω , perhaps the deliberative subjunctive aorist: “Shall I choose to make...?” or simply the future indicative: “Shall I make?” The second meaning is better: one does not deliberate in regard to such an act. But do not the expressions, “members of Christ” and “members of an harlot,” contain something of exaggeration? This is what the light - minded Corinthians might ask, and it is to this objection that 1Co 6:16-17 give answer.

Verses 16-17

Vv. 16, 17. “Or know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body [with her]; for the two, it is said, shall be one flesh. 17. And he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit [with Him].”

The ἤ , or, is certainly authentic; as always it signifies, “Or indeed, if you deny what I have just said, are you then ignorant that...?” The proof of the truth of the expression used ( members of an harlot) is given by means of the Biblical words, Genesis 2:24. Are these words in the narrative of Genesis the continuation of Adam's discourse, or a remark added by the author himself, as happens in several other cases (Genesis 10:9; Genesis 15:6; Genesis 32:32; see Hofmann)? It matters little; for the declaration can have value in the eyes of the sacred historian only in so far as it is the expression of a Divine truth.

The reg. with her is omitted in Greek after the word one body. This ellipsis arises from the fact that the nominative ὁ κολλώμενος and the dative τῇ πόρνῃ are morally regarded as forming one and the same logical subject of the proposition. The words οἱ δύο , the two, were added to the original text by the LXX., whom St. Paul here follows.

The subject of the verb φησίν , says he, may be either Adam, or Moses, or Scripture, or God Himself; or finally, as is shown by Heinrici, the verb may be a simple formula of quotation like our: It is said. This form is frequently found in Philo. The expression one flesh finds its confirmation in the extraordinary fact that from this union there may proceed a new personality. Therein is contained, for the reflecting mind, the undeniable proof of the profoundly mysterious character of such a union; it appears like the continuation of the creative act.

Vv. 17 is not, as has sometimes been thought, foreign to the argument as a whole. As 1Co 6:16 justifies by a Biblical quotation the strong expression of 1 Corinthians 6:15: “Shall I make them the members of an harlot?” so 1 Corinthians 6:17, framed as it were on the words of Genesis, justifies the equally strong expression of 1 Corinthians 6:15: “Taking the members of Christ;” comp. 1 Corinthians 15:45.

We again find here the ellipsis of 1 Corinthians 6:16; the “with Him” is understood after the words one spirit, as if to say that the believer's union with Christ culminates in the existence of one and the same spirit, and consequently in the possession and direction by Christ of the believer's whole person, soul and body.

According to Holsten (p. 466 seq.), the assimilation of these two unions is so untenable logically, that 1Co 6:15-17 can only be an ancient gloss intended to remove the obscurity of 1 Corinthians 6:13. I think it is better to seek to penetrate the depth of the apostolic thought than arbitrarily to recompose the text according to our own ideas.

Under the sway of this holy view ( 1Co 6:17 ), the apostle, at the thought of the crime of fornication, utters, as it were, a cry of horror (1 Corinthians 6:18 a); then he finishes his demonstration.

Verse 18

Vv. 18. “Flee fornication! Every sin that a man doeth is without his body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his body.” Anselm has well expressed the meaning of the first sentence of the verse: “If we must fight against other sins, we must flee from fornication;” witness Joseph's example.

The asyndeton betrays the apostle's emotion.

Thus far ( 1Co 6:13-17 ) the thought developed by Paul had been that of the dependence arising from impure intercourse: “I shall not make myself the slave of anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12 b). For a man to give to a degraded person a right over him by such a union, is not this to place himself in the most ignoble kind of dependence? From this point Paul passes to the development of the first thought of 1 Corinthians 6:12: “All things are not expedient,” and he shows the injury which the fornicator inflicts on his own body.

He here enunciates a distinction between fornication and other sins, which it is difficult to understand. How are passion, falsehood, intemperance, suicide, sins committed without the body, while fornication is one in the body? Rückert and de Wette acknowledge their inability to find a meaning for this contrast; Calvin and Neander see in it no other idea than that of the greater guiltiness which attaches to the sin of fornication. According to Meyer, Paul means that in other sins some external matter is necessary, while fornication proceeds entirely from within. Hofmann, after criticising those different explanations, gives one which is stranger still, and almost unintelligible: The man who commits any other sin does not keep in his body the matter of his sin (the drunkard, the suicide); while the impure person makes his very body the subject of his sin, and continues in his bodily life identified with the being to which he has given himself.

It seems to me that the contrast stated by Paul is to be explained only from the point of view at which 1Co 6:13 placed us. The apostle means to speak of the body strictly so called, of the body in the body; he contrasts this living and life-giving organism with the external and purely physical organism. We possess a material body, the matter of which is being perpetually renewed; but under this changing body there exists a permanent type, which constitutes its identity. In chap. 1 Corinthians 15:50, where Paul is teaching the resurrection of the body, he declares that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” He therefore distinguishes between the organism composed of flesh and blood, which forms the outward wrapping of the man, and the body strictly so called, one with the person which animates this wrapping. It is the same distinction as we have found in 1Co 6:13-14 of our chapter. Now it is to this inner body that the sin of the fornicator penetrates; it is by and against this inner organism that he sins, while other sins only reach its wrapping, the external body. The εἰς , in so far as it is contrasted with the prep. ἐκτός , outside of, ought to signify in; but it differs nevertheless from the simple ἐν , in, in that it also denotes the injury which the body receives from it; hence the meaning of against which is added to that of in. Thus we understand the οὐ συμφέρει of 1 Corinthians 6:1. Yet bodily injury is not the thing of which Paul is thinking. The sequel shows in what the punishment consists. The body thus profaned had a sublime destiny, and of this it is deprived by the violence done to it.

Verses 19-20

Vv. 19, 20. “Or know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, and which ye have of God? And ye are not your own; 20. for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

The ἤ , or, signifies, “Or if you deny the fatal violence done to your body by fornication, you are ignorant of the holy dignity to which it is destined, and of which it is deprived by this sin. The fornicator sins and robs his body of the honour of being the temple of God.”

According to Romans 8:11, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer is the pledge of a glorious resurrection for his body. To renounce this dignity of being a temple and organ of the Holy Spirit by the fact of fornication, is therefore to expose himself to lose this resurrection.

The phrase, which ye have, or, which ye hold from God, is intended to emphasize strongly the superhuman origin of that Spirit whom the believer receives, and the dignity of the body in which this Divine Guest comes to dwell. We must not translate: which ye have by God, as if ὑπό were used; ἀπό denotes the origin and essence.

It would not be unnatural to make the last proposition, And ye are not your own, also dependent on the interrogative verb, Know ye not that...? But Hofmann rightly objects that the ὅτι would require to be repeated. It must therefore be regarded as a forcible affirmation: “And (because of the communication of the Spirit) ye do not any more belong to yourselves, and have consequently no longer right to dispose of your body at will.” And this taking possession of the believer by the Holy Spirit is not only an act of power on God's part, it is founded on right. This is what is explained by the first proposition of the following verse.

Vv. 20. The taking possession is legitimate; for there was the payment of a purchase price. We must not therefore translate: “bought at a great price.” The greatness of the price does not matter here. It is the fact of payment only which Paul would emphasize.

The particle δή is untranslateable; it implies the perfect evidence, and consequently urgency, of the fulfilment of the duty mentioned.

The phrase glorify God does not signify merely: not to dishonour Him; it means to display positively in the use of our body the glory and especially the holiness of the heavenly Master who has taken possession of our person. Man has lost, in whole or part, since his fall, the feeling which was so to speak the guardian of his body, that of natural modesty. Faith restores to it a more elevated guardian: self-respect as being bought by Christ the organ of the Spirit and temple of God. This is modesty raised henceforth to the height of holiness. The words which follow in the T. R., and in your spirit..., are an interpolation added with a liturgical and hortatory aim.

The three essential ideas of the passage are therefore:

1. That the use of Christian liberty as respects the body is naturally restricted by the danger of using that liberty so as to alienate it and destroy ourselves.

2. That fornication involves the Christian in a degrading physical solidarity, incompatible with the believer's spiritual solidarity with Christ.

3. That it renders the body unfit for its Christian dignity as a temple of God, and so for its glorious destination.

It appears from this entire development that contempt of the body goes side by side with abuse of the body, while respect for the body will always be the best means of ruling it. And so the whole of Scripture, from the first page of Genesis to the last of Revelation, pays homage to the dignity of the human body.

Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/1-corinthians-6.html.
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