From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 1-6                   Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011






Chapter 6                                                                                     [Page 206]             






            Many congregations pretend evils don’t exist even when they are known among outsiders.  Others act as if it is none of their responsibility to deal with them, as if by shunning them they avoid compromising themselves with “worldly” concerns.  Paul argues strongly in this chapter that such conflicts should be resolved inwardly so that we can avoid taking the “dirty laundry” before worldly tribunals.  They need to be resolved some place and this is the place.

(Perhaps we read too much into his words, but they leave the impression that he was far more concerned with their failure to resolve their problems than he was with them having them in the first place.  Perhaps it is that some kind of problems are inevitable to a congregation; dealing effectively with them is not.)

He goes so far as to insist that, in some sense, the Christian community will be involved in the “judgment” of angels.  If something this awesome can be true, it must be proper for God’s people to settle their temporal disputes in the here and now by having someone from within their number set in judgment upon them.  (The closest analogy today would probably be arbitration.)  If one has to use unbeliever justice to make believers do the right thing, it should be regarded as so humiliating that one would rather suffer loss than be embarrassed in such a manner before the world.

            Lest someone argue that he is being naïve, Paul insists that he is well aware that some of the accusations are fully justified.  (Not necessarily all, note, but at least some.)  Even if they “got away” with their abuse by not being hauled before the earthly judges’ seat, they were still going to have to answer before the Divine one, where they would have to answer not only for the wrong done but for not correcting the wrong when they had the opportunity.   

            Lawyers can “prove” anything; they can turn a circle into a triangle and a square into a rectangle.  Some of their number had been up to such tricks to “prove” they were moral when they knew full well they are doing wrong.  He cites the example of sexual misbehavior and appeals to the reality that they were already in an intimate and unique “union” with the Lord; how then could they possibly compromise that by believing it was right to have the closest intimacy possible with a mere physical harlot?

            In short, they needed to live in conformity with their professed convictions and not attempt to work their way around them.






How the Themes Are Developed  





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If God thinks so highly of His people that

they will participate in the “judgment” of angels,

it could not be considered outrageous to demand

that they settle their disagreements internally

rather than resorting to unbelieving outsiders




            ATP text:  1Dare any of you with a legal complaint against another, go to court before the irreligious and not before God’s set apart people?  2Do you not know that God’s people will judge the world?  If the world will be judged by you, are you incompetent to judge the trivial matters?  3Do you not know that we will judge angels?  Why not then the “small” matters that merely concern this life?  4When you have cases dealing with matters of this life, should you select as judges those who have no esteem in your congregation?  5I say this to your shame.  Can it be true, that there is not a wise person among you--not even one--who will be capable of arbitrating disagreements between comrades?”

            Development of the argument:  Paul is continuing in chapter six, his discussion of the kind of conduct that will bring dishonor upon the church and its members in the eyes of the surrounding world.  Here his primary target is lawsuits that would expose to the polytheistic community world the dishonesty and chicanery present among some professing monotheistic Christianity—not to mention their scorn at the inconsistency between Christian profession and practice that it would brazenly reveal.

            A number of individuals have found difficulty in reconciling Paul’s respect for the rights and powers of secular government in Romans 13:1-7 with his rejection of utilizing this resource in 1 Corinthians 6.  Some have dealt with the matter by postulating that in the current chapter that Paul is discussing only “minor affairs” and that, in the light of the Romans passage, he would have had no difficulty in major controversies being taken before that outside forum.[1]  Paul’s reference to how some Corinthians were outright defrauding each other (6:8) should warn us against the conclusion that the sums of money were necessarily minor—certainly not to those immediately involved! 

If Paul had been called on to deal with the matter, he would probably have emphasized that the secular government’s powers of restraint and punishment are primarily to keep the unruly and rebellious unbeliever in line and not those who claimed to live by a superior standard.  Furthermore 1 Corinthians 6 only dealt with inter-Christian disputes when both (or all) were members of the same congregation, living in the same community, and therefore in a situation where such intra-church judgments were practical.   

            As to the Corinthian state of affairs in particular, the apostle does not tell us whether there was one case or several in his mind nor what the issue(s) were that were in contest.[2]  The very fact that he feels compelled to raise the issue, however, argues that he



[Page 208]  knows of a multiple set of cases and that at least some are far more than petty ante.  (Those one could easily imagine being worked out on their own since no large interest was at stake on either side.) 

Some have argued that the lawsuit he has particularly in mind likely had something to do with sexual misbehavior since he had dealt with such matters in the preceding chapter and will turn to them again after he finishes the discussion of lawsuits.[3]  If so a transition such as, “Why you even take such matters to the civil courts when you could deal with them yourselves” would be expected.  

His ambiguity serves a good purpose:  to keep his co-religionists from playing the game of limiting the prohibition to that one narrow area.  So far as the epistle goes, he wants to concentrate attention on the principle involved and not what, in comparison, are secondary matters.[4]  He considers it outrageous that any of them would submit an issue in dispute among themselves to a judicial trial before unbelievers (6:1).  How can this be done since believers will (in some sense) “judge the world?” (6:2).  In light of this, who can dare contend that believers are unqualified to adjudicate issues in regard to the current life (6:3)?  Hence it is vital that they select a qualified judge from within the congregation to decide such matters without the involvement of outsiders (6:4-5).     






If having outside, unbelieving judges was the

only way to resolve their conflicts, then it

would be better to accept loss rather than

use such a tool to gain even a legitimate victory



            ATP text:  6Instead one spiritual comrade goes to law against another spiritual comrade and that in trials before unbelievers!  7Actually it is an utter defeat for you that you have lawsuits with one another at all.  Would it not be better to endure injustice?  Would it not be better to endure unjust loss?”

            Development of the argument:  Rather than utilizing internal means of dealing with their “secular” disputes, the Corinthians were willing to drag in outsiders to decide their controversies.  There was a certain inherent absurdity in this:  weren’t Christians supposed to be “special,” a “spiritual elite,” always aspiring for the best that the human soul can reach?  Why throw all those noble aspirations away by admitting that they couldn’t handle these matters for themselves? 

So far as Paul is concerned, it would be better to permit injustice to go uncorrected than to expose one’s faith to the infamy of having such a controversy decided by nonmembers (6:7).  Even if one were in the absolute right and the brother or sister in the absolute wrong.

Paul is a down-to-earth realist:  he has no illusion that the world (or even all church members) will treat one “fairly.”  He has no fantasy that absolute justice can ever



[Page 209]  be assured in the current world.  Hence means of resolution are an absolute essential both for the stability of society and to assure a non-violent method to settle disputes.

Yet “government justice” only determines who handles the matter and in no way guarantees an equitably outcome.  Indeed, judicial systems through the centuries have too often seemed designed as much to subvert justice as to assure it—at the least, functioning in such a way that the course of justice can be skillfully distorted into other paths by the wealthy, influential, or government connected.

Faced with that grim reality, Paul’s desire to steer disputes into settlements within the Christian community makes complete sense.  At least in this context some--hopefully many or the bulk--of the unethical tricks routinely used can be removed by the shared holding to a higher ethical standard.  Or, at least, seen through by an adjudicator centered on truth and fairness.  At the absolute minimum, the opportunity for it is increased.    





The sad truth was that some were fully guilty

of the accusations against them.  Just because

they escaped a human court, did not mean

they would escape punishment

 from God (6:8-6:11)



            ATP text:  8Instead, you yourselves commit injustice and defraud and do so even to your comrades!  9Do you not know the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor those sexually unfaithful to their spouse, nor either partner in a homosexual relationship, 10nor thieves, nor covetous, nor those given to heavy drinking, nor anyone who uses abusive language, nor robbers in any form will inherit the benefits of the kingdom of God.  11Some of you were like that.  But you washed it away, you were set apart, you were made acceptable--by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God.”

            Development of the argument:  At first the prohibition against utilizing secular law courts might seem excessive:  do not even the most sincere people have legitimate disagreements and contradictory interpretations of their joint commitments?  But Paul makes plain that he is well aware that something far more ominous is at work among them:  “You yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!” (6:8).  Wouldn’t unbelievers have a field day with such saucy tales of dishonesty and attempts at legalized theft!  No wonder that Paul wanted to have the Corinthians settle such matters internally!

            Some believe that Paul’s emphasis upon selecting capable internal judges implies that they were already utilizing their own form of arbitration, but had knowingly or unintentionally selected individuals not up to the task.  In other words they had set up a system that was sure to fail,[5] thereby providing a façade of “justice”—or at least



[Page 210]  reasonableness”—for their appeal to pagan courts. 

            The Corinthians apparently thought there was either nothing wrong with their deviousness or had found some way to rationalize their way around the matter.  (Their factionalism at play again?)  Whatever their motive, the bottom line remained true:  those guilty of basic moral misconduct would fail to “inherit the kingdom of God” (6:9-10).

Why select these particular evils for his list?  Relevancy to their own particular set of problems and local conditions would be one obvious reason.  Some have suggested that this brief survey is a typically Hellenistic-Jewish type summary of what they considered obvious sin to be for Jews when living in a pagan society.[6]    Paul’s utilizing of such generally accepted summations would indicate that he accepted their validity not just for traditionalist Jews but also for those Jews and Gentiles who had embraced Jesus as well. 

Listings of moral prohibitions were also known in the Qumran sect in geographic Palestine and also, upon occasion, among Greek Stoics counseling moral restraint and self-control.  Hence they had at least partial support from sources within the Greek cultural tradition as well.[7]  The key fact was that the Corinthian text was intended to present a list of representative or typical sins and was never meant to be regarded as an all-encompassing one.[8]

 To stop living in such self-indulgent ways was supposed to be one of the results of their becoming Christians (6:11).  Why, then, return to such a lifestyle?  Such behavior undermined the very improvements their conversion was supposed to achieve.






They were not to use legalistic quibbling about

their supposed lawful rights to justify doing

what they full well knew was wrong:

the example of sexual promiscuity (6:12-6:14)



            ATP text:  12All things are “lawful” for me, but that does not mean all things are profitable.  All things are “lawful” for me, but I will not be enslaved by any of them.  13For example, food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, yet God will do away with both of them.  The body is not intended for sexual promiscuity, but for the Lord’s service, and the Lord determines the body’s use.  14And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up from the dead by His power.”

            Development of the argument:  A distorted doctrine of Christian liberty could never legitimately be introduced to justify their behavior.  However much we may claim that something is “lawful” for us, even where that is true that does not mean that it will be “helpful;” even something right in itself could ultimately be our downfall through its abuse (6:12).  This applies, among other things, to our sexuality (6:13).  Not that Paul is conceding that, even abstractly, can promiscuity be proper.  Rather, he is arguing that “even if it were” it would be a right that it would not benefit us to exercise.



[Page 211]       The reason is that our bodies are temporary tabernacles of a dying race—collectively and individually.  Food is outright essential for the survival of our physical body, yet the day will come when both physical body and food are done away with.  By then jumping to sexuality, he is implying that even if sexual expression were just as essential, the day would come when both the bodies we use in the act and the sexuality itself is destined to vanish.  Hence both need to be reigned in in order to serve God properly.  The sexuality by avoiding promiscuity.  He does not say how the “food” parallel would be similarly controlled but, based upon Old Testament condemnation of various sins, that of gluttony would certainly come to the mind.

            Furthermore, God will raise up our bodies (6:14).  In other words we will not escape answerability by vanishing into a great abyss of non-being.  The actions will have been long completed, but the divine evaluation of our behavior yet awaits us.






Being in intimate spiritual union with Christ

ethically excluded being in a sexually intimate

union with someone they were not married to




            ATP text:  15Do you not know that your bodies are part of the body of Christ?  Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them parts of a prostitute?  Absolutely not!  16Do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute physically becomes one body with her?  For He says, "the two shall become one flesh."  17In a parallel manner he who is joined to the Lord is one in spirit with Him.  18Flee sexual immorality.  Every other sin that a man does is different from this one.  He who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.  19You surely know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in you, whom you have from God, and that you do not own yourself?  20This is shown by the fact that you were bought with a price.  Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, both of which are God's.”

            Development of the argument:  Since we are “members of Christ” (6:15), there can never be an honorable way for us to partake of the physical pleasures of a harlot (6:16).  We are to be united as if “one spirit” with “the Lord” (6:17) and due to that exclusive loyalty “flee sexual immorality” (6:18).  In a city where prostitution was so common (not to mention the probability of extensive extramarital liaisons in a culture that morally accepted such behavior as prostitution), mere concern about the situation could not be enough.  The temptation was going to be so readily available that “strong evasive action would be necessary” to deal with it.[9]  Hence the command to “flee.”  Not walk or meander but respond the way you would to a fire not far behind you—get out of the way as fast as you humanly can.

We have no responsible alternative since our bodies are “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (6:19)[10] and we have the responsibility to “glorify God” in both “body” as well as



[Page 212]  in “spirit” (6:20).  To serve in only one is completely inadequate.  Whatever the limitations of the flesh may be, we are still dwellers therein.  Therefore we must behave, while in it, in a manner that reflects honor on God.  There was no alleged “sinfulness” inherent in the flesh that gave carte blanche for sin—a theory that, at a later date, became quite popular and which some Corinthians may have already been toying with as a rationalization.  

In short, Paul pleads with them to live up to their highest moral instincts, not surrender to their worst ones.  In discussing the moral fall out from personal excess, we often stress the harm done to others.  Paul stresses that non-marital sex is also a sin against oneself (6:18).  It is a sin against oneself because it defiles the human body which is supposed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit rather than a temple of self-centered indulgence (6:19).  It is also a sin against ourselves because we no longer “own” ourselves to do whatever we might wish; in saving us, God and His Son “bought” us out of our slavery to self-centeredness to become free men and women serving Him rather than our worst inclinations (6:20).







Invoking of Explicit Old Testament

Quotations to Justify His Teaching






6:16:  Sexual expression’s uniting of the two genders.  Paul argues against visiting prostitutes on the ground that the scriptures had spoken of how “the two . . . shall become one flesh.”  The text quotes Genesis 2:24 in the Septuagint[11] (the surviving Hebrew text lacks the words “the two”)[12] and, of course, refers to the institution of marriage.  The thrust of Paul’s argument is that prostitution creates a relationship that should exist only within the marital bond.  He does not deny the enjoyability of the sexual pleasure that will be obtained--for a prostitute certainly wasn’t going to be sought for the purpose of child-bearing!--but he insists that such enjoyment is to be sought from one’s spouse rather than anyone else.






[Page 213] 


How Old Testament Concepts Are

Repeatedly Introduced and Woven

into the Heart of His Argument







            6:1:  Standards for lawsuits in ancient Israel.  Paul calls upon the Corinthian Christians to adjudicate for themselves potential lawsuits rather than haul them before unbelievers who will have no respect for their faith and use their disagreements--sometimes outright misconduct (6:8)--to belittle their religion.  Although ancient Israel had an earthly governing system as well as a religious one, the code they attributed to Moses provided for the method and manner of the settlement of disputes among the people. 

            Although this is not the place to detail all of its provisions (since that would require a book in its own right!), two of its provisions deserve note.  In light of the factional problem in Corinth, the Mosaical Code’s demand for strict impartiality stands out as particularly relevant (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 16:18-20).  For a similar reason, that Code’s demand for eyewitness evidence (Deuteronomy 17:6-7) and honest testimony (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 19:15-21; Proverbs 24:28), even when one preferred to stay out of the controversy entirely (Leviticus 5:1)



            6:2-3:  God’s people as “judg[ing] the world and even “angels.”   In regard to the coming of the fourth kingdom, in Daniel 7:22 it is said that God’s people were being defeated “until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.”  (Cf. the similar idea in 7:27.)  If God’s people “possess[ed]” the kingdom how could they avoid being the judges over it--except to the extent that Yahweh Himself exercised the power?

            Some read the Daniel text as an explicit (rather than implicit) granting of judging authority to God’s people—and, therefore, a very clear precedent for the Corinthians appointing individuals to judge their internal conflicts.[13]  Yet the wording in most translations makes the authority indirect at the most:  it was “a judgment [that] was made in favor of the saints of the Most High” (NKJV) rather than by them.  Exceptions are the Bible in Basic English (“the decision was made and the authority was given to the saints of the Most High”), Darby’s translation (“judgment was given to the saints of the most high places”) and American Standard Version (“Judgment was given to the saints of the Most High”).  “Authority was given to the saints of the Most High” (Bible in Basic English) shifts the meaning slightly from strictly judgmental to general authority or rulership.

            In Psalms 149:5-9 the picture is not of God’s people judging per se but of carrying out a judgment, presumably that of Yahweh Himself, 


[Page 214] 


                        Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud on their beds.  Let the           high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to     execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind their      kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute on them the     written judgment--this honor have all His saints. 


            In the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom, the righteous dead (3:1) are referred to as exercising a role in judgment, “They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever” (3:8, New American Bible). In Sirach, “Wisdom,” personified, “instructs her children and admonishes those who seek her” (4:11).  The one who heeds her voice is blessed, “He who obeys her judges nations; he who hearkens to her dwells in her inmost chambers” (4:15).

            In the context of a reference to death, Psalms 49:14-15 refers to how Yahweh’s people will somehow have power over the “foolish” (verse 13) who die, “Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall be consumed in the grave, far from their dwelling.  But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me.”  As I read the text, it is promising the faithful that they will “have dominion over” the wicked (49:14) via a triumphant resurrection from the dead (“in the morning,” 49:14; “redeem my soul . . . from the grave,” 49:15), i.e., they will have the power of “dominion” (in whatever sense intended) in the next life. 

            Because this type of view is difficult to reconcile with much of modern theology’s evaluation of the state of Israelite religious thought at the time, various textual emendations have been embraced to remove the alleged difficulty.[14]  In short, it is not a matter of determining the correct reading of the textual evidence.  Rather it is the incompatibility of that reading with dominant scholarly assumptions of the stage of Israel’s religious development.  For such individuals, it is easy to assume that the reading must somehow be faulty or maltransmitted by the manuscript copyists.

            Hence some speculate this was a marginal gloss that somehow became incorporated into the text.[15]  Even so this would still be an evidence of a resurrection concept at the time of the marginal note itself.

            Others seek an intermediary position that leaves the text as it is but strips it of any resurrection reference.  One close student of the book argues “that the Psalmist intended to portray the righteous as ruling over the wicked in Sheol.”[16]  (That would merely transfer the location of the “rule” rather than resolve the meaning of the “ruling.”)  That same commentator, however, concedes on verse 15 that the Psalmist either believed he would not die or that he would be resurrected,[17] so we would seem to have the resurrection embarrassment merely transferred from two verses (both verses 14 and 15) to one verse (verse 15) alone.

            Another approach is to seek a figurative, earth-bound resurrection, so to speak:  the text has in mind protection from the premature death of the Psalms writer in particular (verse 15) and the earthly triumph of God’s people over those who reject Yahweh’s will (verse 14).[18]  They have triumphed over the powers of Sheol by recreating an upright, Yahweh-serving nation in spite of all the obstacles and difficulties.

            If one is to avoid the apparent “literal” connotation of the existing text, the best approach is probably that of John I. Durham:  The Psalmist has neither a this-world rescue in mind nor rescue from the state of death.  What is central in the Psalmist’s mind is the sure confidence that God will rescue.  The “how” and the “when” don’t even enter



[Page 215]  the picture.[19]  (Though the wording in verse 15 in particular--of somehow escaping death--seems amazingly specific if he had no definite idea at least roughly in his mind.)

            Having examined various texts that may point to Yahweh’s people having judgment in some sense over the remainder of the human race, we are still left short on one score:  Finding anything approaching a judgment of angels; here we are destitute of any obviously appealing text.[20]  Perhaps the idea grows out of a kind of cosmic leveling:  throughout both testaments we read of angelic roles, both direct and indirect, in human affairs.  If angels have had the active role to play behind the scenes now and in the past, there would be a sense of cosmic equity if in the final judgment those earthlings who they were supposed to assist and aid would themselves make some type of decision on their conduct and success. 



            6:6-7:  There are times when it is better to accept loss than to contest an issue.  Injustice irritates; especially when it is blatantly uncalled for.  Life is not quite as crude as “he who has the gold rules,” but wealth and influence (in our day and age, more corporate rather than individual) still has an extremely good chance to roll over whoever it opposes. 

            Paul considered it better to accept an injustice from a fellow believer than embarrass one’s religion before those who did not accept it.  His advocacy that the church have its members decide the cases argues that the where the issue would be heard was his dominant concern and not whether it would be heard.  Even so there are situations that won’t ever be righted in this life. 

            Several Old Testament texts could have led Paul to his admonition against taking even legitimate issues before outsiders.  One grows out of the Proverbist’s caution against private retaliation rather than leaving it to God’s hands, “Do not say, ‘I will recompense evil’; wait for the Lord, and He will save you” (20:26).  This is speaking of individuals working strictly within a community where all (or the vast bulk) shared the same set of religious beliefs. 

            Working within a context such as Corinth, where polytheists were the vast majority, it would be understandable if one applied this principle of patience in the face of injustice to avoiding the pagan judicial system entirely.  The principle would not have to be applied this way, but it would be responsible to do so.

            Another possible root for Paul’s approach lies in individuals finding a way out of existing conflict without introducing outsiders at all.  The case of Abraham and Lot in Genesis is one illustrating both this as well as the willingness to follow the principle of taking loss rather than enduring conflict.  In that case we read of “strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock” (13:7). 

            This grew out of inadequate natural resources (probably pasture land and/or water) to support the large flocks of both (13:6).  Abraham urged Lot that “there be no strife between you and me” and their respective herders (13:8). The solution Abraham proposed was that the two groups separate and go in opposite directions--and to be more than fair Abraham even let Lot make first choice (13:9-10).  Although not involving courts, the incident certainly reflects Paul’s thinking of risking potential loss rather than, in all circumstances, insisting upon one’s own way. 



[Page 216]       Prudence also argued in behalf of Paul’s position.  It is better, one ancient wisdom writer reminded, to privately come to terms with a foe than to risk the uncertainty that always goes with any court case (Proverbs 25:8-10).  Even when you are in the right and even when there is a sincere effort by the judge to rule fairly and impartially, sometimes things simply don’t work out.

            Polytheists were known to come to the same conclusion that losing is sometimes better than insisting upon winning, especially since the latter may cause one to act even more dishonorable than the other party has.  Plato expressed the caution, echoed by other ancients, in these words, “We say that to do wrong is the greater evil, to suffer wrong the lesser.”[21] 



            6:8:  “Cheat[ing]” (ATP:  “defraud[ing]) others what they are due is bad enough, but even worse when they are our own co-religionists.  This could take the form of loans that were informally made but not repaid when promised.  It could take the form of “cutting corners” to reduce one’s costs while charging our brother or sister the price of first class work.

            It could involve denying them their wages for work done.  James 5:1-6 rips into this with such vigor that it must have been a widespread problem in the first century.   And since James is addressing Christians, this can not be dismissed as an example of the moral failure of contemporary ethnic Jewish non-believers. 

            This and other techniques of abuse were denounced in Leviticus 19:13, “You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him.  The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.” In a cash poor society, the money would often be needed immediately to provide food for the night and the next day.



            6:9:  The moral unacceptability of both parties in a homosexual relationship.  The initial jumping off point for any discussion of homosexual behavior in the Old Testament has to be, of course, the case of Sodom and Gomorrah.  It is described as a place where the people were “exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13), a terminology that is so broad that it suggests a wide-ranging variety of moral decay. 

Similarly in Genesis 18, Yahweh warns Abraham that he is going to investigate the behavior of the people (18:21) “because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and because their sin is very grave” (18:20).  Whatever their variety of faults, it had created indignation among others outside the city.  It was not merely one sin that had pushed God beyond the breaking point, but a variety of evils that had also resulted in injury to a significant number of outsiders.  Yet He promises Abraham that if He can find even ten morally “righteous” individuals within the city, He would abstain from destroying it (18:32).

            When the “angels” entered the community (19:1), they accepted Lot’s plea that they enter his house rather than remain in the streets (19:2-3).  The invitation implies not only courtesy and helpfulness to strangers, but also that he knew full well that during those hours the streets were extremely dangerous and not to be trusted. 

The men of the place pounded on the door and demanded that “he bring them out



[Page 217]  to us that we may know them” sexually (19:7).  He responds, that “I have two daughters who have not known a man; please let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof” (19:8).  They rejected the offer and this led to their being blinded and the destruction by fire and brimstone of their city (cities).

            Unless Lot was totally ignorant of the sexual mores of the city (hardly likely after his lengthy stay), he had good grounds on which to believe that his offer would be credible and, with a little good fortune, actually accepted.  Yet for that to be true, these males were bisexual and not strictly homosexual. 

            Why they were preying on the visitors to the city is unknown.  Any ancient town at night had a potential for robbery, assault, and even murder.   Did they regard any outsider moving on the streets as fair game for sexual assault—either male or female judging by Lot’s offer?  It would certainly explain the foul reputation the city had gained! 

Personally I have long suspected that this might have been the equivalent of “Mardi Gras time in Sodom,” a period in which all the normal rules are suspended.  Perhaps that is mere imagination; but it also might be close to the reality.  After all, it is no secret that in libertine periods of celebration, that even “wide open” cities easily cross the line into behavior that would be crushed (or attempt to be crushed) at any other time.

Whatever the reason, the very first explicit mention of homosexual conduct  in the Old Testament branded it as unthinking, uncontrolled, and even violent.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the text was written this way, in part, to convey those implicit images, i.e., that homosexual behavior was not an isolated act but part of a broader social pathology ultimately destructive to others.  (Though the text in no way claims those so inclined in other cities, pushed the limits to such an extreme.)    

            So far as explicit prohibition of the behavior/lifestyle (rather than implicit, via this vigorous example), we find that when we read in Leviticus 20:13, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death.  Their blood shall be upon them.”  Note the element of absolute equality:  neither can consider themselves better than the other or exempt from the punishment due the other.   

            The Levitical code does not get into a name calling contest of which sexual aberration is “worse” (active or passive participant); to it, all shadings are all evil.  The juxtaposition in Leviticus 18 is especially interesting:  First there is adultery with the wife of one’s neighbor (18:20); then offering one’s children in the fiery death of sacrifice to Molech (18:21a); then “profan[ing] the name of Israel’s own God (18:21b).  Then, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.  It is an abomination” (18:22).  Next comes the prohibition of having sex with animals—which is explicitly applied to the act of both male and female (18:23), unlike the prohibition of homosexual sex which only explicitly has in mind male-male relationships. 

            It was not to be a matter of picking or choosing; it was all to be regarded as a kind of package, none of which could be safely spun off and ignored:  “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you” (18:24).  They couldn’t control what others did, but they themselves could live a life without them, proving that such could be done.  This assumption stands in stark contrast to the popular contemporary one that a “homosexual drive” (or a heterosexual one, for that matter) is beyond controlling.  It also carries with it the assumption that desires may be beyond elimination, but that behavior isn’t.    



[Page 218]       6:11:  We do not have to be the prisoners of the moral failures of the past.  Paul’s message in 6:9-11, is that we are not (at least as a generalization) totally prisoners of our past.  We can lay aside these errors in judgment and conduct behind and live in the future the way we should have in the past.  Many intellectuals in our society insist that such is not possible.  The impossible-to-change/prisoner-of-genetics ideology began with the drunkenness that Paul mentions.  Now it is extended to those the NKJV calls “homosexuals” and “sodomites” (thereby including both partners in such relationships) and insists that these are not only “incurable” but there is no “moral inadequacy” to be addressed in the first place. 

As the 1990s came to an end we began to hear of “sex addiction,” which will presumably cover the pre- and post-marital conduct Paul includes in his list as well.  So far this has not been lumped into the “incurable/no need to cure” category, but can the human desire to be guiltless keep it from ultimately landing there?  First comes the cry of “moderation” being the goal for such individuals; then that such behaviors are beyond the capacity of any other to properly brand as immoderate or excessive; then it is the rhetoric of “arbitrary” imposition of “archaic” moral limitations from the past and the charge of bigotry and sexphobia.   

If the message of Jesus was “go and sin no more,” the modern substitute seems to be “go and feel guilty no more”—about much of anything.  Guilt obsession is, of course, an evil and curse and can needlessly cripple a person’s life, but an “I’m ok, you are okay” mentality applied to virtually anything can be equally destructive:  it defines propriety only in terms of what pleases me rather than in terms of what is right and what is of benefit to the other person (rather than merely using them as a tool for egocentric self-gratification). 

            If one were to say that the appeal (“temptation”) of such behaviors has a genetic base, Paul, if he were alive today, might well agree.  But it was his firm conviction that there is always a way out of temptation short of yielding to it.  This is most bluntly expressed in 1 Corinthians 10:13 but is implied in the current passage by its emphasis on the reality that they had changed, they had lived such lifestyles, and had successfully left them  behind. 

            Three terms are used to describe this process of change:  being “washed,” being “sanctified” (= set apart to God’s service) and being “justified.”  All three of these are also used in the Old Testament of individuals either being set aside to be part of God’s people or of being forgiven so that they might continue to be counted as such.

            Washed:  The idea of having sin forgiven is pictured as a washing by the Psalmist, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin”  (51:2; cf. verse 7).  Here it is presented, if you will, as the “dirt” that clings to the soul rather than the body. 

The Proverbist speaks of an age where the people were self-deluded into believing that they were “pure in [their] own eyes” but had not truly been “washed from . . . filthiness” (30:12).  The element of personal action in this purification is emphasized in Isaiah 1:16, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.  Cease to do evil” (cf. Jeremiah 4:14).  God had his role to play,



[Page 219]  but so did the individual human being.   

            “Sanctified (ATP:  set apart):  Repeatedly in Leviticus, God is identified as the one who “sanctifies” His people (20:8; 21:8; 22:9).  In the days of the Torah’s direct authority, faithful observance of the Sabbath was part of Israel’s way to acknowledge that Yahweh had sanctified them (set them apart) to his service (Exodus 31:13).  Another proof to the surrounding nations that God had sanctified Israel, was the continuation of “sanctuary” worship among the people (Ezekiel 37:28).

            Justified (ATP:  made acceptable):”  In Isaiah 45:25 God is quoted as promising that so long as they remained “in” Him (= following him) “all the descendants of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory.”  In the Suffering Servant section of the prophet, it is predicted that it would be accomplished through “My righteous Servant [who] shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities” (53:11).

            In the New Testament context, the idea of being “washed” most naturally describes the person who has been baptized, though Peter goes out of the way to stress that this is on a moral/ethical level and not an outward washing away of physical dirt (1 Peter 3:21).  The two-fold result of this washing in 1 Corinthians 6:11 is that the believer is “sanctified” by being set apart for God’s service and “justified,” made just or acceptable by having all sins forgiven (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).  If one wishes to thinly cut a theological “hair,” one might speak either in terms of this being the result or of this being simultaneous with baptism.  The end result is indistinguishable either way—the application of Divine mercy to the human soul.  Perhaps Daniel B. Stevick says it best, “Paul’s three verbs do not speak of different actions, but rather of a single, complex action for which no single term is adequate.”[22]  



            6:18:  “Flee[ing]” sexual misbehavior.  One flees what one is afraid of--like a crazed gunman.  One flees what is dangerous--like a fire.  The word suggests not mere avoidance but active and vigorous evading of the occasion for sin.  Paul may well have in mind the attempted seduction of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife.  In that case he literally “fled” away from her (Genesis 39:12-13), an interpretative linkage that goes back at least as far as Gregory of Nyssa.[23]  The Testament of Reuben similarly advocates fleeing fornication and does so after citing the same example, which may suggest that the linkage was a not uncommon piece of c. first century Jewish exegesis.[24] 

            Proverbs 7:24-27 uses the opposite image but with the same result on behavior:  Instead of fleeing, the reader is instructed to avoid “stray[ing] into her path” (7:25).  Either way the danger is avoided.  And the text goes on to heavily stress the danger of such sexual misbehavior:  such an uncontrolled person has “wounded” many and has even “slain” others (7:26).  Her very residence is the door to “hell” and “death” (7:27; cf. 2:18-19; 9:16-18). 

            We live in a society that civilly and culturally tends to regard all forms of sexual behavior as value neutral and to be praised or criticized strictly upon grounds of consequences or intent.  Whatever appeal this may have on an abstract level, in the real world, value-free sexuality easily (usually?  predominantly?) becomes conscience-free sexuality.  Paul may be looked upon as needlessly “legalistic,” but (in addition to whether he was a true medium of revealing the divine will) his demand for firm rules of behavior reflects the fundamental human need for guidelines whereby one may make immediate and prompt moral decisions without having to ponder the “pros” and “cons” endlessly.      






[Page 220] 


Historical Allusions to the

                                    Old Testament:  None






Problem Texts






            6:2-3:  In what sense will “the saints (ATP:  God’s people) . . . judge the world” and even “angels”?              Revelation 20 refers to God’s triumphant people exercising this power--or something closely akin, “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them” (20:4a).  The fact is alluded to that they were given “judgment” power, but it is not developed as to what it entailed and in what sense it existed.  So in a very real sense we are left with an interpretive challenge, just as we are in 1 Corinthians 6.

            Those who are of a premillennial bend would refer it to a judicial role of Christians during that thousand years.[25]  Those of us who believe that the entire concept is fanciful and a fundamental misunderstanding of the New Testament, must seek the explanation elsewhere.

            The apostles in particular were promised a similar role (though absent the reference to angels).  In Matthew 19:28 Jesus speaks to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” 

            The Apocalypse speaks as if some type of “control” over the world is given to the Christian who risks death for the faith, “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations--‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’--as I also have received from My Father” (Revelation 2:26-27).  Although the word “judge” is not used, that seems inevitably involved in the picture.

            Likewise the faithful in Revelation 3:21 are pictured as sitting down with Christ “on My throne,” which again conveys the image of somehow and in some manner participating in the rule.  The important thing in these two texts is that they are promises



[Page 221]  to those who die, i.e., they enter into it after death and there is no indication that a resurrection must occur beforehand.  Hence whatever is discussed in Revelation 20:4 may be intended simply as a continuation of a role they had already begun to exercise earlier.

            Unfortunately it leaves us no closer to understanding exactly what Paul was intending to convey.  It may well be that he did not have anything specific in mind, preferring to leave the language vague and allow the event to show the reader what was actually intended. 

            The most “dramatic” interpretation would be that believers would literally function as “Christ’s associate judges.”[26]  The least dramatic interpretation would simply be judgment-by-example:  Faithful Christians will show both nonbelievers and fallen angels that successful faithfulness was quite possible, thereby stripping them of any excuse for their own insubordination and rebellion.[27]  Potentially against this approach would be the fact that Paul mentions “angels” (as if in general) rather than “fallen angels” in particular.       

            Certainly there was the conviction that angels could, and upon occasion had, fallen.  The interbreeding of angels and human women is often discovered in the first verses of Genesis 6.[28]  That text speaks of “the sons of God” literally having sexual relations with “the daughters of men” (verse 2).  Although there are repeated Biblical examples of angels taking upon a fleshly body to appear to men and women, the argument that this included procreative ability would be a reach to many:  Jesus spoke of how humans, in the resurrection, would be like angels in heaven and would neither marry nor be given in marriage, a change that seems inevitably to carry the implication that they would not produce a new generation of children (Matthew 22:30).  (Perhaps spoken, in part, with a goal of dismissing such tales of angelic-mortal interbreeding as well?) 

The angelic interpretation of Genesis 6 has always had a great potency on both popular and interpretive imagination to this day.  At least as far back as the second century, Tertullian spoke of the original fall of angels in these terms:  “because on account of ‘the daughters of men’ angels revolted from God.”[29]

If taken in a non-angelic manner, Genesis 6 would likely refer to the intermarrying of the righteous with the unrighteous, though that would certainly not resolve the text’s difficulties.  In that case why were the offspring “giants”?  (We don’t normally connect moral character—or lack of it--with height!)  

As to the broader principle of angels standing in need of judgment just as mortals do, various other texts are pointed to as well.  For example, some refer to Satan and cite Job 1 and 2 and Zechariah 3 as proof that he is a fallen angel, standing in need of judgment.[30]  Although this evaluation of his origin is inherently probable, it is because of the lack of alternative explanations:  if he was not an angel what in the world was he?

Job 4:18 speaks of how Yahweh “charges His angels with error.”  Job 15:15 speaks of how “the heavens are not pure in His sight,” as if angelic beings were known to be sinners even there.[31]

Such passages and others that indicate the possibility and even fact of angelic sin (Jude, verse 6, for example) but the leap from that to a personal judgment by resurrected mortals upon these “immortals” is a more difficult idea to embrace.  (Though, in all fairness, the very idea of angels is mind-boggling to many.)

            A more radical approach to the Corinthians text is to assert that Paul is simply



[Page 222]  being sarcastic.[32]  Hence verse 2 would run something along this line, “You think you are wise and perceptive and spiritual enough to judge the world when Christ comes, then how can you be unworthy to judge the comparative minor matters that disrupt your relationships?”  Verse 3’s argument would be, “You think you are so wise and spiritually attuned that you are qualified to judge even angels [ = divine messengers = apostles?].  If so what is your excuse for not handling these internal matters yourselves?” 

            Paul certainly doesn’t introduce the idea of their role in the final judgment to build up their egos; they clearly had far too much of that already.  He does so, specifically, to prove that there is no logical reason they can’t sit in judgment on matters influencing the church and its membership.[33]  But there is an unstated premise that drifts beneath his overt remarks:  If you are to take the role of judge then you have the obligation to have the good character you expect a judge to have.[34]  Many did not, of course; but everyone longed and wished for judges with fairness of mind, the determination to seek out the real truth, and the resolve not to use their power to treat others unjustly.  Indeed, if the Corinthian believers could just learn to live by those standards, many or most of their internal problems would ultimate disappear without further disruption. 



            6:4-5:  The nature of the individual to decide legal controversies among coreligionists.   Paul had rebuked them for being “puffed up” (4:18; 5:2).  In effect, he is appealing to their ego:  “You think you are so smart and able?  Well if you really are, surely you have someone among you qualified to judge such issues!”  Hanging you by your own petard, I believe is the old description for this form of argument.

            He contrasts in these two verses the two types of judges that were available:  the type they were using are described as those “least esteemed by the church” (“have no esteem in your congregation”) (6:4).  In contrast, they should be able to find “a wise man among you” who is quite capable of fairly and astutely deciding the matter (6:5). 

            In 6:4, the wording seems to imply that they were already utilizing such inappropriate judges.  If speaking of judges from among the Christian community, then the decision to go to the secular courts is understandable:  quality judgment was lacking.  What made them “least esteemed” could have been lack of character, lack of perceptivity, or obvious partisanship and bias of one sort of another. 

            Even more likely, perhaps, was that the least economically well off were selected, the type of individual who could be verbally intimidated by the well-to-do and have “to take it.”  The type of individual who was in grave danger of retribution from the more powerful disputants if the “right” attitude were not maintained and the “correct” decision were not made.[35]  In comparison with that, utilizing secular justice had an obvious appeal of avoiding these pitfalls to those who recognized that the “judge” was effectively unable to dare render a just decision in their particular case.  But the issue was one among believers, so among believers it should somehow be resolved.

            The idea that secular courts should be avoided was one dominant in first and second century Judaism.[36]   A late first century rabbi observed that, “Whoever leaves a judge of Israel and goes before a foreigner has first denied God and then has denied the law. . . .”[37]  The same rabbi argued against a mixed Gentile-Jewish tribunal, “In general where you find co-judges among the non-Israelites even if their judgments correspond to



[Page 223]  those of the Israelites, you are not justified in uniting in a common judgment with them. . . .”[38] 

Rabbi Tarfon (early second century) said it about as emphatically as anyone could, “In any place where you find heathen law courts, even though their law is the same as Israelite law, you must not resort to them since it says, ‘these are the judgments which you shall bring before them,’ that is to say, ‘before them’ and not before heathens.”[39]

            Pagan voluntary associations discouraged lawsuits as well, but the “fine print” in their surviving internal regulations seem to limit it to matters of behavior carried out in their meetings.  These were to be internally resolved (for example, by the decision of the leader of the group) rather than to be submitted to official government law courts.[40]  The knowledge of such a limitation among Christian converts might well have encouraged the Corinthians to conclude that that was the appropriate guideline to follow in their new religion as well,[41] i.e., hold the inner judgments to the minimal number of issues feasible.  

            Although Paul speaks in terms of a “judge” to decide the issue, we must be cautious in reading the western use of the term into the word.  The word and concept of “arbitration” may better fit what Paul has in mind:[42]  he is not interested in one side “winning” and the other side “losing.”  Instead he is interested in both justice and it being perceived as such.  Within a Christian context, arbitration (which involves both “judging,” convincing, and imploring the parties to a mutually acceptable outcome) better fits the ultimate goal the apostle has in mind.  Whatever term one prefers, the idea remains of decisively settling the issue in dispute and ending the controversy once for all.

It should be remembered that Jewish, Greek, and Roman systems of jurisprudence all recognized the propriety of settling controversies by such a means.[43]  Indeed, Corinth would have had an official arbiter whose identity was changed yearly.[44]  Interestingly, Paul’s censure is not aimed at the utilization of this office but at the invoking of the formal (and far more confrontational) judicial system to settle issues.  To the extent that he can be described as standing opposed to the civic judicial system, it is in his emphasis that the Christian community itself could provide such an authority figure to settle disagreements.[45]            

There is no indication in the text as to the gender of the parties in dispute.  In the “real” world of that day, we would anticipate them to be males, though that was certainly not inevitable.  Even so, the “arbitration” system Paul preferred certainly made it easier for women to secure justice.  In the civil courts women had fewer legally recognized rights and, in practice, so did the poorer males.  Paul’s emphasis on internal justice making provided no opt-out that would permit any class or either gender to have fewer or more rights than another.[46]

            Now let us shift perspective:  The view appears dominant that Paul is urging them to begin resorting to communal judgment rather than returning to a pattern that had fallen into neglect, minimal use, or outright rejection due to the poor choice of judges selected.  When approached this way, the apostle is not contrasting the inferior justice disputants were currently receiving with the quality decision-making and impartiality that should have been present--and the lack of which produced a resort to pagan courts.[47] 

            Instead, it is argued that Paul is describing pagan judges themselves[48] as “least esteemed by the church to judge”--not necessarily because of bias against the participants in the case or even anti-Christian prejudice, but because as unbelievers they simply were the least appropriate individuals to undertake this task when Christians were involved. 



[Page 224]  Against this must be weighed the fact that there is nothing in Corinthians to suggest that the believers felt this negatively toward the pagan judges as automatically hostile or had been given any reason to feel this way toward them as the result of their own life-experiences.[49]  (For the general reputation of the court system, however—one that easily nullified a general respect for the system or the work of an unusually conscientious judge, see the next question below.)     

             It has been argued, however, that this must be since otherwise the expression would be insulting if the words described Christians; the language would “attribute both irony and cruelty to Paul.” [50]  To rebuke “irony” as inappropriate in speaking of Christians would argue that Paul grievously erred in other places in the epistle as well (for example, 1 Corinthians 4:8-13).  Nor need it be either “irony” or “cruelty” aimed at the poor souls the Christian community was utilizing as judges.  Rather it would be irony and insult aimed at the majority who thought such unqualified individuals were the proper choices for such a weighty responsibility.[51]  The unqualified often (usually?) know when they “are in over their heads” and don’t appreciate being embarrassed in such a manner.  If anything, Paul’s words would be a protection against them being similarly misused in the future.

            In this approach, the de facto decision makers in Corinth had been making a mockery out of their problems resolution procedure; instead of doing all they could to make it work, the selection of obviously unqualified “judges” guaranteed that it would fail.  And put the poor souls delegated with a responsibility far beyond their capacity in a situation where they were guaranteed to feel like fools and failures.   And force those who recognized that justice was unobtainable from a “church court” to resort to the civil system of the city.   Paul demands this be set aright.

            Whether an internal judging system previously existed or not, that was in the past.  Now they were to do it the right way.     



            6:5:  The nature of pagan law courts in civil matters.  Some people were not permitted to sue due to the targets having automatic or customarily granted legal protection.  For example, children could not sue their parents.  An ex-slave could not sue the person who had freed him or her.  Individual citizens could not sue city officials.  Low status individuals could not sue the well placed.[52] 

The powerful were assumed to deserve respect and litigation undermined that respect.[53]  Furthermore, there was the desire to protect these individuals from having their good reputation undermined,[54] which was based upon the sometimes dubious assumptions that they both had such a reputation and also deserved it.  (Many did, but others did not.)  Much of this protection from legal assault, however, was inevitable whether law officially granted immunity or not.

            An economic reality of the day was that the best way to assure one’s success before a court was to be economically blessed.  Skilled advocates cost much money and if one wished to triumph their skills were extremely useful, even if not quite absolutely essential.  The official maximum charge as of 47 A.D. was 10,000 sesterces per case; in comparison, a sixteen year veteran of the Praetorian Guard would have earned 20,000 and a records clerk in Spain 1,200.[55]  In spite of the high cost of lawyers, to those in the Greece of Paul’s day—at least of a comfortable economic level—suing and being sued



[Page 225]  was considered a normal part of economic life and nothing to be alarmed about.[56]

Just as the poorer elements were hindered from appearing before the courts as initiating a complaint against their social superiors, their lack of income and lack of personal rhetorical skills made them very vulnerable to questionable suits by that very well placed segment of society.[57]  Hence the fact that Christians were utilizing these courts may well argue that there was a significant section of the church that enjoyed considerable temporal prosperity.

            On the other hand there is a profound difference between the rich having the profound advantage over those of lesser economic and social status and cases where this did not come into play.[58]  That factor was not involved in the numerous lawsuits involving social equals.[59]  Indeed, these lawsuits involved as varied a set of subjects as we encounter in the modern world,[60]


Papyrological evidence furnishes us with information about, for example, business contracts between weavers and goatherds; terms of employment for apprentices and even castanet dancers; disputes between camel drivers over equipment; builders over wooden beams; occupants of a house over the furniture.  Some of the rulings of the classical jurists concern, for instance, a shopkeeper fearing litigation from a thief whose eye he had damaged and disputes between neighbors over waste disposal in blocks of flats. 


In such cases one would anticipate that the two parties argued their own cases (as prosecutor or defendant),[61] rather than utilizing the services of an expensive lawyer.

            It should be remembered that legal contests were normally no-holds-barred battles to the rhetorical death of the loser.  You could literally say anything about anyone, whether client, accuser, accused, or witness.  “There were no rules of evidence,” notes Bruce W. Winter, “which guarded against this.  Defendants could be subject to muck-raking and fabrication and this lack of legal restraint helps to explain why prosecutor and defendant could so rarely avoid lasting animosity.”[62]  Having started a no-holds-barred brawl, the loser typically was on the lookout to gain his legal vengeance when opportunity came his way.

Hence, “victory” could easily become the pretext for a cycle of retaliatory and counter-retaliatory lawsuits, further deepening the animosity.[63]  If this were not enough, the loser would usually regard both judge and jurors equally guilty because they had given the “wrong” decision.  It was not uncommon, if an excuse could be found, for the loser to mark them as social enemies and the target for legal accusations as well.[64]  Hence it is no wonder that Cicero once observed that those on a jury “consider the man they have condemned to be their enemy.”[65]  He now was.     

            The specifics of how the judiciary functioned in Corinth can not be reconstructed on the basis of surviving documentary data.  However, what was clearly the norm in other cities can reasonably be assumed to have existed in Corinth as well.[66]

A major city such as Corinth would, in effect, have had two judicial systems:  the Roman and the local municipal/provincial.[67]  The Roman system was designed primarily for threats to civic order and those matters that could carry the death penalty.[68]  The governor had the right to try the case himself or appoint a panel of judges with Roman



[Page 226]  citizenship.  The emperor Augustus had decreed that a governor “must himself act and judge or appoint a panel of jurors, but with the rest of such affairs it is my wish that Greek jurors be appointed.”[69]

            The municipal/provincial courts tried strictly civil cases.  Decisions might be made by a judge or by a panel of jurors selected to try the matter.[70]  Each year two important citizens of Corinth were appointed to the position of magistrate and among their responsibilities was to assure that judicial matters were effectively handled.

            If one had an accusation, one went before one of the magistrates and attempted to justify his charge.  If the magistrate conceded that there was sufficient grounds to justify a hearing, a summons was issued.  It was not until Trajan came to the throne, however, that a system of penalties was finally established for when the accused boycotted the judiciary for reasons good or bad.

            The next stage was for both parties to appear before the magistrate.  At this time certain technical matters were decided, such as the exact scope of the question at issue and whether the two sides had been able to come to an agreement before going all the way to a formal trial.[71]  Also determined was whether trial was to be before a judge or a jury.[72]  In either case, if the accused in such private judicial actions was determined to be “guilty,” it was up to the judge to determine the exact penalty to be inflicted as punishment.[73]     

            Paul does not deny that there might be situations when the utilization of these courts would be appropriate.  Since his entire argument against their usage hinges upon conflicts being between believers, a situation where one of the disputants was an unbeliever would be an obvious exception. 

            Another would be when one has already been hauled into court by others and would only be defending oneself, as contrasted with taking the initiative and trying to compel someone else to do an alleged “right” thing.   In such cases, to be silent could give the tacit impression of guilt.  Furthermore, once caught in the judicial system, Paul believed it was right to fully exercise the legal rights and prerogatives it provided against injustice:  the apostle’s famous appeal to Caesar is the obvious example (Acts 25:10-11).

            Paul’s description of the judges as “unrighteous (ATP:  irreligious)” (6:1) must be interpreted in light of the contrast contained in the verse:  the comparison is between the “saints” (i.e., Christians) and the “unrighteous” (i.e., non-Christians).  The terms, in this context, in no way has to imply that the secular judges were dishonest or judicially corrupt in any manner.[74]  They were simply the wrong people for Christians to take their disagreements before.[75]  

In all candor, however, judicial bribery seems to have been widespread throughout the Roman Empire,[76] with its prevalence varying from place to place and the particular litigants involved in individual cases.  From the believer perspective, this meant the invocation of the civil judicial system was even less desirable.    



            6:9-10:  Attempts to limit the condemned heterosexual and homosexual misconduct to prostitution.[77]  Paul had already provided a list of condemnable behavior in 5:11 and here he expands on it.  The sexual sins are mentioned in the second half of 6:10, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals nor sodomites.”  The importance of avoiding such behavior, Paul tells us in the same verse, is that it will



[Page 227]  keep us from “inherit[ing] the kingdom of God.” 

            Some have attempted to limit “fornication” not to non-marital sexual relationships in general--which seems most appropriate since “adulterers” is mentioned by Paul in the list as a separate condemnable behavior and that refers directly to the betrayal of the marriage vows by those who are married--but sexual relationships solely with prostitutes or even with being a prostitute.   The strongest argument for this is that just a few verses later Paul launches a vigorous attack on such relationships (6:15-20).

            John H. Elliot argues that the word directly refers to a prostituting (though later making the idea directly in mind being prostituting self via adultery), “Porneia and related terms in the Bible could denote either actual or metaphorical prostitution, ‘peddling one's body’ literally or figuratively. In the latter case, the terms could denote idolatrous and immoral behavior typical of Gentiles, including, but not restricted to, sexual behavior proscribed in Torah or viewed as incompatible with God's will.’ ”[78]

            That the use of prostitutes called for a rebuke makes sense due to Corinth’s reputation for “sacred prostitution” on behalf of Aphrodite.  Bruce W. Winter is among those who have sought to how that the connection is erroneous.  He argues that when Strabo refers to the “thousand” prostitutes serving that goddess, that he is actually describing the Greek Corinth that had long been replaced by the Roman one.[79] 

            On the other hand, we need to remember that the sacred prostitution of Aphrodite may have been “religious” but it was never “free:”  the customer paid and the prostitute passed on her fee to the temple to support its operating costs—a major incentive for the Roman era shrine to continue this activity to the extent it was practical.[80]  A drastically reduced number of prostitutes is quite probable; its total elimination financially unlikely.    Furthermore, Corinth was a blustering port city complex and whenever you have that, you have prostitution.  So the prostitutes were surely there though not necessarily with the degree of religious connection often assumed.  Prostitutes were also commonly available at the banquets of the day and their use viewed as acceptable as partaking of the food itself.[81]  (For more on the subject of prostitution, see later in this chapter.)   

That utilizing prostitutes is the sole type of behavior in mind is far from likely.  The term utilized here is applied to incest in 5:1 and a form of the same Greek word applied in 10:8 to an incident of general sexual misbehavior during the Exodus.  Neither fits the pay-for-sex limitation.[82] 

            Furthermore, Paul’s argument is that anyone who has “joined [himself] to a harlot is one body with her” and argues, from Genesis, that this relationship is an exclusive one (6:16), citing a text describing the prototype marital relationship of Adam and Eve.  It is hard to see how this principle of an exclusive sexual relationship would avoid being violated in any liaison (whether with a prostitute or otherwise) who is not that specific person’s life partner.  Hence Paul’s rebuke is best viewed as including as including visiting prostitutes but not limited to it.

The effort to redefine what Paul brands as immoral as ethically proper is also found in regard to the homosexuality discussed in our text.  Especially in the Greek East, there was a greater acceptance of this, either as an occasional practice, a lifestyle, or a chronological part of one’s growing up.  However it did not normally take the place of heterosexual marriage:  without marriage and children a society died and the ancients were far more aware of this than the modern western world seems to be.  Hence even the individual who had many a male dalliance would normally feel the obligation to both



[Page 228]  marry and try to have children.  Whether he “preferred” male sexual company or whether he regarded it as the varied “icing on the cake of life,” he did his societal duty as well as enjoyed his private pleasures.

            In this context it should be noted that Paul is not discussing whether there was then or is today such a thing as a homosexual or homosexual personality (or a heterosexual one for that matter).  He hits at what one does and not what label one applies to oneself.  Hence it would not be amiss to say that he would have had little problem with someone who wished to think himself a homosexual; his concern was with one acting on that impulse.[83] 

Likewise Paul doesn’t concern himself with whether a person is a “heterosexual” or not; he is concerned, once again, with behavior:  don’t go having sex before marriage (“fornication”) or with another woman after marriage (“adultery”).  Even be a celibate if you share Paul’s own emotional response to the then world conditions; just don’t throw these guidelines on behavior to the four winds.  

The passive/“female” role in a homosexual relationship was typically limited to slaves (if an adult were involved) or a juvenile (if a non-slave).  The latter opens the door to clear sexual abuse caused by grave disparities in age and maturity; to be blunt, to child abuse.  The vast majority of contemporary advocates of homosexuality remain distinctly uncomfortable and rejective of such behavior, though in the ancient world such adult/“juvenile” relationships were an acceptable “given” of the lifestyle. 

(The constant lowering of the perceived proper “age of sexual consent” that began in the late 20th century makes one wonder how long the adult-minor laws on the subject will last before serious challenge—from the homosexual, heterosexual, or both sides.  That is not intended as character assassination, but a realistic evaluation of the fact that sexual prohibition or limitations on behavior is an increasingly difficult position to legally defend since its roots are, at the core, based on Judeo-Christian moral perceptions.  Once friendly courts no longer consider that an adequate basis for establishing state policy.)

            As to our text, so far as Paul goes, both individuals involved in the homosexual relationship were in the wrong, just as in a heterosexual one outside that of a husband and wife.  He utilizes two terms here.  He speaks of the malakoi:  in a broad sense this could refer to the “dissolute;” in common usage it referred to catamites, the individual (typically a youth), who played the “female/passive” role in the relationship.[84]   This is rendered as “homosexuals” in the translation we are utilizing as our primary resource.

            The other word, rendered by the NKJV as “sodomites,” is the Greek arsenokoitai. This refers to the “active” partner in the liaison, the one who is gaining direct pleasure by using the body of the other for personal satisfaction.  Roman thought was very condemnatory of those who played the “passive” role because of its overtones of femininity and non-masculinity.  Only by utilizing both terms could Paul stress that Christianity demanded censure of both parties in such a relationship rather than only one.[85]  

The English term “sodomy” avoids that double terminology by covering both roles with a single term, perhaps because western society has historically found it impossible to logically condone or approve one-half of a relationship in which the other is regarded as immoral and evil.  (Since the technical distinctions between the two are not generally used today, however, we have simply rendered the two terms together in the



[Page 229]  ATP as “either partner in a homosexual relationship.”)

The attempt has been made to limit both terms to male prostitution--the first to the male prostitute and the second to the client--and therefore of no application to alleged “nonabusive” and “consenting” homosexual relationships in the modern world.  Yet if it is wrong to limit the “fornication” strictly to prostitution, there is no good reason to limit these terms either to those who are receiving monetary payment for giving us pleasure or to those making the payment.[86]   Indeed, if male prostitution had been in mind then Paul would have utilized terminology more directly and specifically relevant to such.[87] 

Unlike heterosexual prostitution to which there was always an available remedy endorsed by Paul (the heterosexual marriage relationship he discusses in chapter 7); there is no text indicating Pauline approval of a homosexual relationship with another male—at any place, for any length of time, for any reason—including “love.”  Hence there is no reason to believe that he would have approved of such even in the unlikely event he only had homosexual prostitution in mind in the current context.  Indeed one can easily imagine a homosexual rationalizing his visits to male prostitutes because of that very fact of having no long-term options, as the only way to have such a relationship.

Both the indiscriminate, unlimited hetero and homosexual lifestyles were widespread in the first century.  The New Testament went against the spirit of its age in opposing both.[88]  The world has come full cycle and those attempting to live in accordance with its teachings once again find their belief and practice intellectually unacceptable in many quarters. 

Perhaps the spookiest part of the change that has occurred literally in the last American generation, is the amazing number of “people of faith” who provide tacit or explicit approval.  One can easily imagine the apostle being far more indignant toward these than toward those whose conduct they so passionately approve of.  It should be noted that there appears to be not a single word actually directed to the incestuous man in the epistle; the entire presentation was addressed in explicit rebuke of those who thought there was nothing wrong with accepting the practicer into full fellowship.  Does it go too far to suggest that he found it far easier to understand the fact of the sin than the defense of it by fellow church members?  Would we expect any different reaction today?                   



            6:12-13:  In what sense were “all things . . . lawful” for Paul?  Assuming Paul is presenting his own views, this probably has reference to the eating of foods in verse 13, for Paul was the last person to claim that all things--literally-- were lawful.  How could he possibly have delivered the rebukes in the earlier parts of the book if that were the case?  His list of the ancient sins of Israel while in the wilderness and the accompanying denunciation of Christians acting in such a manner (chapter 10) also clearly shows that Paul would not have utilized the expression with a libertine meaning.[89]

In speaking of meats, however, he wrote to the Romans, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considered anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (14:14).  Hence in regard to meats in particular—the subject of the first half of 1 Corinthians 6:13—there was no inherent sin involved in whatever one chose to eat.

            It has been objected that the discussion lacks the language (clean versus unclean) that normally accompanies Paul’s writings on the subject.[90]  In addition Paul speaks here



[Page 230]  in terms of what is “lawful” rather than in terms of what is “clean,” a significantly different emphasis.  The Greek terminology underlying the word “lawful” has been appealed to make the difference even stronger.[91]  

            Others take an all-embracing approach but interpret it to refer to underlying instincts and desires rather than to specific forms of behavior.  In this reading every fundamental motive (sexual, psychological, self-advancement, competitive, etc.) has honorable means of fulfillment.  Not every way of fulfilling those imperatives is ethical but the motives themselves are upright if we express them in an appropriate manner.[92]  The principle is certainly valid, but Paul sounds, to this commentator at least, as if he has in mind behavioral acts rather than the underlying motivations.

            Since the words present a problem when put in the mouth of Paul (though not insolvable, as we noticed), a very different situation is the case if we consider these the words of the misguided Corinthians.[93]  This does not rule out the possibility that it was a distorted understanding--conscious or unconscious--of a statement Paul had made to them at an earlier date.[94]  For example, it could have been a misdeduction “drawn from Paul’s insistence on the Gentiles’ freedom from the Law.”[95]  From the Law of Moses, however, not from all law or he could not have ever delivered a prohibition of any type.   

That the words could have been those of the Corinthians is quite possible since ancient manuscripts were written in all capital or all small letters and lacked quotation marks.  Based upon such reasoning[96]


                        “All things are lawful for me” (6:12) is placed in quotation marks in        modern translations (cf. 10:23) on the assumption that these “liberated”      Christians were repeating this as a kind of slogan.  They were so “liberated” that             they had even tolerated the continued church membership of a man living in        adultery with his own stepmother (5:1).  They were willing for members to sue      each other in courts of law (6:1-8).  And they permitted church members to             patronize the fabled prostitute-priestesses of Corinth (6:9-20).


In our ATP we take a modified view of the quotation scenario:  without embracing the belief that the entire statement is necessarily a Corinthian quotation--be it theirs or their throwing back at Paul his own words--we choose to zero in on the one pivotal word, “lawful” and place that alone in quotation marks:  He concedes that, in a sense, such is true, but then goes on to rebuke any effort to make that a blank check for any and all types of behavior.

            At first glance, the adage (whatever the ultimate source) seems to have no real connection with the subject of prostitution.  But as one scholar rightly observes, “Paul is not changing the subject from sex to food; rather he is responding to the argument that the satisfaction of sexual desire is no more immoral than the satisfaction of hunger; having sex is like eating food.”[97]

            Furthermore there was deadly peril in the Corinthians’ refusal to recognize that freedom did not mean total freedom and that liberty did not mean the abolition of all limits.  As Jerome Murphy-O’Connor well puts it, “If taken literally the Corinthian principle implies the destruction of any community, and in particular a community founded on shared love, for it makes the self the standard.  A thing is good because I want it.  Conflict is inevitable because the desires of one will at some point encounter the



[Page 231]  needs or rights of the other.”[98] 

They thought they were acting freely and, perhaps, even out of full fairness to one and all, but they had become so addicted to what they desired--sex, certain foods, or what have you--that they had destroyed their own ability to make an “objective” choice as to behavior without even realizing they had eliminated that ability.  To claim that all things are “lawful” when we are so obsessed that we are blind to our self-enslavement, is to have freedom of choice in name alone while gutting it of all substance.[99]  They had forgotten that the “freedom” to act also carries with it the liberty not to act.[100]

            Taking in consideration all the ifs and buts Paul interjects here and elsewhere, J. Paul Sampley suggests that the apostle is reining in an over-simplification of a generalization (be it his, theirs, or an intermixture of the two),[101]


Maxims, like bumper-stickers, compromise on the complexity of moral issues.  They ignore the nuances of the argument and provocatively stake out a claim.  We can imagine Paul embracing the slogan that “all things are permissible” with the following qualifications:

(1)  if the deed in question cannot be considered to be one of the vices;

                        (2)  if the action is appropriate to your measure of faith;

                        (3)  if you have no doubt or wavering about its appropriateness; and

                        (4)  if you are fully convinced that it is proper for you.


            I would add a fifth, “if it results in no harm to others.”

            Some find the conceptual root of the generalization of all things being lawful in the negative formulation presented in Sirach 37:28,[102] “For not everything is good for everyone, and no one enjoys everything” (NRSV).  There is certainly a strong echo of the second half of 1 Corinthians 6:12 concerning not everything being beneficial (i.e., to any one specific individual, at a given time, etc.)  The conceptual parallel is of enhanced interest because it is preceded by the admonition for the individual to determine what is right and wrong (Sirach 37:26) and followed, as in Paul’s text, by a direct reference to food eating (37:29-31). 



            6:15:  The nature of the prostitution condemned by Paul.  “Cultic” prostitution has been suggested as Paul’s particular target.[103]  In the current context, the argument becomes especially relevant that intercourse with a prostitute is wrong because it makes the two “one” in a fashion that is proper only in marriage (6:16-17).  Sexual union with such a prostitute-priestess was regarded not only as a physical act but also as a spiritual, mystic “union” with both her and the deity she served.  In such cases, sexual congress joined one not only to another person, but to her god/goddess as well.[104]  If the Aphrodite cult had anything close to the thousand priestess-prostitutes it had during its century earlier prime, then this would be a very obvious possibility.  Several factors argue against this being specifically or exclusively in Paul’s mind.

            As one reads the following verses that constitute Paul’s argument, there is nothing that suggests a specifically religious aspect to the prostitution; so far as the text goes it is prostitution in general and the wording is constructed broadly enough to cover both the ancient religious and “commercial” forms.  And if the former had been the type



[Page 232]  peculiarly in mind, one would have anticipated a clear cut reference since one would be guilty of a double sin:  not just the moral one Paul critiques so vigorously, but also a uniquely “religious” one since a pagan cult prostitute was involved.  

            One of the unanswerable questions is whether Aphrodite-based prostitution remained as common in the Roman city as it had been in the preceding Greek one.  A century had passed between the destruction and the refounding and the degree to which this aspect of the cult was also “restored” is unknown.  Since it had been regarded as so significant in the past, one would anticipate that it was still present.  On the other hand, that provides no data as to their numbers.  (Also see our remarks on this point in the “Introduction” to the epistle and in the texts examined earlier in the current chapter.)

            Furthermore, Corinth was a seaport city.  It would be difficult to imagine any port community in any historical age without a major prostitution business.[105]  For whatever combination of sexual, social, or psychological reasons we attribute this to, it is a historical reality and Corinth was no exception.  Hence there would have been an abundance of opportunities for those whose mind went in their direction without a strictly cultic context being required.[106]   

            Greece had three broad categories of prostitutes.  One way of dividing the categories is this way:  The first was the hierodule, who considered her behavior a virtuous act of religious involvement.  The porne were the common prostitutes, who might be working in a formal brothel or as loners outside it.  Finally there were the hetaira.  Combining charm, manners and intelligence with the normal sexual functions, they were expensive and preferred by the well-to-do.[107]

            The Greeks accepted such things as a fact of life, as did the Romans.  Both saw it as a means of preserving the sanctity of marriage since those who went to prostitutes were not seducing other men’s wives.[108]  Even so, the Romans seem to have been a bit more skittish than the Greeks about embracing the propriety of consorting with prostitutes.[109]  They could understand and accept it in theory, but in practice it could still produce a sense of uncomfortableness.     

            One of the oddities of the situation—to our modern mind—is the ability of these Christians to internally justify their sexual indulgence.  In the modern world the removal of all barriers on sexual behavior is typically done by such techniques as arguing that all that matters is “love,” a pretense that would ring incredibly hollow if applied to prostitution.  On the other hand, it seems to work remarkably well today in assuaging the sense of guilt in many short or long-term consensual sexual relationships outside of marriage.

            In the ancient world, moral self-absolution could be obtained by an exaggerated contempt for the flesh and that could become a justification for prostitution—an option not available to contemporary humanity due to its obsession with self-pampering, self-promotion, and self-improvement of the physical exterior.  Peter Richardson explains one way (but hardly likely to be the only form) how this could take place in that earlier age,[110]


Making use of the services of a prostitute (6:13-18) is a deliberate assertion of the Gnosticizing principle that the body is not terribly important; what matters is one’s knowledge or wisdom.  Since all things are lawful, since it is the body’s natural state to desire evil (see Romans 7:13-25; cf. Romans, chapter 6; Galatians 5:13-21), and since man’s sexual appetite demands sex just as the



[Page 233]  stomach needs food (1 Corinthians 6:13), what is wrong with a bit of old-fashioned bodily indulgence?  The body is hardly the central matter on which salvation stands or falls; it is the Spirit that really matters, and the Corinthians can claim to have the Spirit (6:17-19).    




            6:17:  In what sense are Christians “one spirit” with “the Lord”?  It has been noted that since verse 16 refers to how one joined to a harlot becomes one body with her (required by the nature of sexual union), that we would expect the reference to be continued in verse 17:  that one joined to the Lord becomes one body (cf. Ephesians 4:4-6) also.[111]  Instead we read of becoming “one spirit” with Him. 

            Why the shift?  Since Paul is pleading for spirituality triumphing over flesh in this chapter, the change fits in well with that emphasis.  It is not a matter of either/or, some argue; Paul is contending that we are united in both ways with Jesus.  John P. Heil cites this verse for the spirit part of the claim and 6:13c (“the Lord who is for the body and the body for the Lord”) for the bodily section.  They are, collectively “one body” serving God in “one Spirit.”[112] 

Others find the solution in a reference later in the epistle, “Paul is thinking of the power of the Risen Christ, who has become a life-giving spirit (15:45), sending the Spirit to the baptized and incorporating them into His own glorious life.”[113]  Thereby they become “one.” 

            This is only the beginning, not the end.  Christians become “one spirit” with Christ not only by conversion but also by a continued life of living in accord with the teachings of the Spirit.[114]  Just as consorting with prostitutes was often a lifestyle, living in unity with Christ was to become its ethical replacement.  “One” in the one “body” the church; “one” in ongoing union with Christ.



            6:18:  In what sense are other sins “outside the body” but sexual misconduct uniquely a transgression against one’s “own body”?  The argument has puzzled commentators.  (In our ATP we dodge it, by rendering the text, “every other sin that a man does is different from this one,” which stresses the point Paul is making without emphasizing the manner of the difference; it is the core of the idea he wishes to impress upon his readers.)   Some resolve the puzzle by defining body as equivalent to “personality.”  This does not so much solve the problem as continue it in a different guise:  in what sense does sexual misbehavior corrupt the “personality” more than, say, idolatry?[115]

            Another approach is to make “every sin that a man does is outside the body” the view of Paul’s adversaries and the remainder a repudiation of the view.[116] On the other hand this alleged quote is prefaced by the words, “Flee sexual immorality” and is followed by the rebuke, “he who commits sexual immorality sins against his body.”  Putting the quote in the middle of two rebukes--especially when Paul knew that there was no way the reader of his original text could immediately tell it was a quote--seems inviting needless confusion among his readers.

            Others answer the question by suggesting that sexual misconduct uniquely



[Page 234]  involves “the entire person” in a sense that other misbehavior does not.[117]  It involves an unmatched combination involving “the total personality--emotion, mind, and will.”[118]  

In theory, unrestricted sexual freedom is defended on the grounds that it satisfies a natural, physical human need.  So long as one is willing to treat others as simply an “object” to be used and disposed of, that may be true.  On the other hand, non-prostitution sexual liaisons typically have a vaster on-going impact upon our psyches, actions, and attitudes that any other behavior might.[119]  If this were not true, then divorce would never hurt and even relationships never (officially) intended to be permanent would not leave tears, bitterness, and a sense of despondency. 

One of the fascinating aspects of Paul’s teaching is that he sees even in prostitution the infliction of this kind of self-harm.  On one level we are simply “using” the other person—the customer for the sexual pleasure, the prostitute for the money.  Yet it is the very nature of the sexual instinct to seek a bond that prostitution can never provide.  And it is in that “binding”—that becoming “one”—that twists our ability to enjoy an on-going relationship with a spouse.    

            This approach makes a great deal of sense, when considered as reality rather than abstract theory.  Sexual excess involves the body, the mind, human weakness, human sexuality, working together in a mutually reinforcing and damaging synthesis.  It involves risk taking, self-destructiveness, the use of others as a mere tool for our own pleasure, and the violation of our obligation to a mate, not to mention God.  All sin involves one or more of these aspects, but it is hard to see how any other behavior involves so many aspects of our existence and nature.

            Some insert the interpretive gloss that Paul is discussing cultic prostitutes in particular.  Since she served a god or goddess, to have sex with her was to give indirect respect, honor, and reverence to that deity.  It would truly be a unique sin since it joined together sexual license with polytheism.[120]   Indeed, it could even be viewed as a simultaneous sexual joining and a spiritual joining with the goddess who she prostituted herself for.[121]  If so it is odd that Paul does not explicitly refer to this element, since it so clearly differentiated it from “commercial” prostitution.  The way Paul’s argument is structured, it sounds far more like a comprehensive rejection of prostitution of all types. 

            Part of Paul’s indignation (but certainly not all of it) may arise from his considering the sexual liaison with prostitutes to be a matter of an on-going lifestyle.  It has been argued that the Greek verbs in 6:16-17 can justly be translated (emphasis added), “Do you not know that he who continually clings to a prostitute becomes one body with her?  For it is written, ‘The two shall become one.’  But he who continually clings to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him.”[122] 

            This element of continuation would certainly make a closer parallel with the marital relationship, since that sexual bond is assumed to be an on-going one.  Hence the behavior would be wrong not just on its own merits but because it had become a way-of-life.  Most sins are occasional aberrations; this one was perpetual and hence a “unique” sin against the body, unlike other transgressions.

            Finally, there is the option that Paul’s “body” is not our individual human body but the body of God’s people, the church.  This approach makes 1 Corinthians 6:19 read something like this, “Do you not know that the body to which you belong is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is within you.”[123]   



[Page 235]         1 Corinthians 3:15 (“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”) certainly does stress that he has concern that any member of the collective body/temple of God should commit such an act.  But is the sin against the collective body or one’s own body?  Certainly one could argue both, since one brings dishonor to both self and the collective.  But the contention that it is the church rather than the individual body is under discussion[124] has major problems.

Has the church become “one body” with the harlot (6:16), making it, effectively, into “the harlot church rather than God’s church”?  That would seem to be the inevitable conclusion but also ludicrous.  Furthermore the thesis hits head on Paul’s specific warning that “every sin that a man does is outside the body” (6:18); if body equals church-church/temple, then “every sin that a man does only involves non-church members.”  Yet the epistle makes plain that they had many a faltering in their relations with other members as well.  Hence if there is an intended reference to the collective church-body it is a distant secondary application and not the primary intention.








[1] William Neil, Harper’s Bible Commentary (New York:  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962), 456.   


[2] For a discussion of the possibilities, see Chow, 124-126.    

[3] Birge, n. 191,  p. 52, summarizes the argument but rejects it.


[4] Some pagan philosophers also counciled against lawsuits to “vindicate” a person defending himself against apparent victimization.  See the quotations in Boring, Berger, and Colpe, 398-399.   


[5] Kilgallen, 52.    


[6] Fitzmyer, Sketch, 101, and Leander E. Keck, Paul and His Letters, Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, in the Proclamation Commentaries series (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1988), 30. 


[7] Fitzmyer, Sketch, 101.    


[8] Brauch, 106.      


[9] Barrett, Corinthians, 150.   



[Page 236]  [10] In spite of the plural “bodies,” C. K. Robertson, 131-132, argues that Paul actually has in mind the “body” as being the collective body, the church.  This sentiment would make far more sense if the passage were occurring in the book of Ephesians rather than the current one.    


[11] Christopher D. Stanley, 195.   


[12] Fitzmyer, Corinthians, 267.


[13] Ciampa and Rosner, 712, who accept the translation of “judgment given to the saints.”


[14] A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms; volume 1:  Introduction and Psalms 1-72, in the New Century Bible series (London:  Oliphants, 1972), 379.


[15] George R. Berry, 103.


[16] A. A. Anderson, 1:379.


[17] Ibid., 379-380.


[18] A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms; Books II and III, Psalms XLII-LXXXIX, in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges series (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1895; 1904 printing), 273-274.


[19] John I. Durham, “Psalms,” in Esther-Psalms, in the Broadman Bible Commentary series (London:  Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971; British edition, 1972), 271.


[20] Cf. Orr and Walther, 194.   


[21] As quoted by Fitzmyer, Corinthians, 254.  He also refers to Marcus Aurelius, Medit. 2:1, Epictetus, Diss. 4.5.10, and Philo (the Jewish philosopher), De Josepho 4.20.


[22] Daniel B. Stevick, By Water and the Word:  The Scriptures of Baptism (New York:  Church Publishing, Inc., 1997), 221.  


[23] Ciampa and Rosner, 714.


[24] Ciampa and Rosner, 715, cites T. Reuben 5 for the fleeing admonition and 4.8 as the reference to Joseph.  In older translations the references are in chapter 2, verses 17 and 9 respectively.


[25] Mare, 222.   Tony Garland, A Testimony of Jesus Christ:  A Commentary on the Book of Revelation; Volume 2, Revision 2.1 (Camano Island, Washington:, 2004), 303, who notes that “judge” can easily convey the simple concept of authority over others and that there is no need to limit the use of the term to a strictly judicial function and quotes Psalms 149:6-9 in particular.



[Page 237]  [26] Lenski, 236. 


[27] McGuiggan, 70; [Sommer], 431. 


[28] Edward Langton, The Angel Teaching of the New Testament (London:  James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 19--), 104.


[29] Terullian, On Prayer, chapter xxii, as quoted by Ibid., 107.     


[30] Langton, 104.   


[31] Ibid.   


[32] See the discussion by Coffman, 82-85.  My reconstruction of Paul’s argument, based upon this premise, varies some from that of Coffman in order to better fit it into themes Paul had developed earlier in the epistle.  The “quote” reconstruction/paraphrases are my own.


[33] Darrin Yeager, The Troubled Church:  A Study in 1 Corinthians ([N.p.]:  [N.p.], 2010), 61.


[34] Darrin Lauder, Darrin.  Spiritual Warfare and Devilish Devices:  Daily Readings (Bloomington, Indiana:  AuthorHouse, 2008), 65.


[35] J. Stanley Glen, Pastoral Problems in First Corinthians (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1964), 80, believes it may have been because they selected the judges on the basis of personal popularity rather than qualifications. 


[36] Ibid., and Rosner, 96.  For certain known exceptions, see Rosner, n. 13, p. 96.


[37] As quoted by Orr and Walther, 196.   


[38] Ibid.   


[39] b. Gitt. 88b, as quoted by Rosner, 96.   


[40] See the discussion in Chester, 252-254.


[41] Ibid., 255-256. 


[42] Clarke, Leadership, 69;  Bruce, Converts, 76; Parry, xxxiv-xxxv; George Lyons, “1 Corinthians,” in Asbury Bible Commentary, edited by Eugene E. Carpenter and Wayne McCown (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 1003.       



[Page 238]  [43] Winter, Corinth, 67; as to the latter two:  Marshall, 151.

[44] Winter, Corinth, 67.   


[45] Cf. Ibid., 67-68.   


[46] In regard to women in particular, Kroeger, 651.  


[47] For a detailed account of the judicial system in secular Corinth see Witherington, Conflict, 162-164. 


[48] Bratcher, Guide, 49; Bruce, Answers, 91; Bruce, Converts, 76; Ronald A. Knox, 41; Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians,” 1611; Parry, 59-60.         


[49] Mare, 222. 


[50] Raymond Bryan Brown, 323.       


[51] For a different approach that also concludes that these unesteemed individuals were believers, see Clarke, Leadership, 69-71.


[52] Bruce W. Winter, “Civil Litigation in Secular Corinth and the Church:  The Forensic Background to 1 Corinthians 6:1-8,” in Understanding Paul’s Ethics:  Twentieth Century Approaches, edited by Brian S. Rosner (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 88.      


[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Chow, n. 1, p. 76.


[56] Quast, 45.


[57] On the economic bias inherent in the legal system, see Pregeant, 361; Gerd Theissen, Social Setting, 97.       


[58] Meggitt, 123.  


[59] Ibid. 


[60] Ibid., 123-124.  


[61] Winter, “Litigation,” 104.      



[Page 239]  [62] Ibid., 94-95.       


[63] Ibid., 95.      


[64] Ibid.      


[65] As quoted by Ibid.      


[66] Birge, 54.


[67] Winter, Litigation, 88.   


[68] Ibid., 88.      


[69] As quoted by Ibid.      


[70] Ibid.      


[71] Ibid., 89.


[72] Ibid.      


[73] Ibid.      

[74] Orr and Walther, 195-196.   

[75] Frederick C. Grant, 78.      


[76] See the discussion in Chow, 77-78.

[77] For quotations from polytheists in regard to homosexuality, see those provided by Boring, Berger, and Colpe, 400-402.


[78] John H. Elliott, “No Kingdom of God for Softies?  Or, what was Paul really saying?  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in Context,” Biblical Theology Bulletin, Spring 2004.  At: [August 2010].  He provides a wide collection of textual references concerning how the specific meaning can shift in different passages.


[79] Winter, Corinth, 87-88.   

[80] Fotopoulos, 173.


[81] Winter, Corinth, 86-92, sees the danger as being resorting to prostitutes in the social context of banquets—which ties in extremely well as an additional reason for Paul’s concern with Christians eating in a pagan temple.


[Page 240]  [82] Raymond E. Brown, n. 51, p. 528.


[83] Cf. Fitzmyer, Corinthians, 250.

[84] Ibid., 529. 


[85] Winter, Corinth, 119-120.

[86] For an analysis of the arguments see Raymond E. Brown, 529-530.


[87] Winter, Corinth, 119, points to the fact that the Septuagint had a term to apply in such a situation (Deuteronomy 23:17).


[88] For a discussion of opposition in Judeo-Christian circles not just to pedastery and male prostitution but to homosexual practice in general, see Talbert, 24-26.


[89] John E. McFadyen, The Epistles to the Corinthians (London:  Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 143.

[90] Kugelman, 261.

[91] At length, see Ibid.

[92] Lipscomb and Shepherd, 88. 


[93] Those who take this approach include Blomberg, 132; Raymond Bryan Brown, 325; Bruce, Converts, 76; Ewert, 56; MacGorman, 117; Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians,” 1611; Lyons, 1004; Parry, 63; Price, 800; Graydon F. Snyder, 46-47; Vanderwaal, 16;  Witherington, Conflict, 167. 

[94] Raymond Bryan Brown, 325.


[95] Neal Flanagan, Friend Paul:  His Letters, Theology and Humanity (Wilmington, Delaware:  Michael Glazier, 1986), 60.  In a similar vein, Chafin, 83.

[96] William M. Ramsay, 126.  

[97] Bratcher, Guide, 52.  

[98] Murphy-O’Connor, Message, 52.     


[99] Kilgallen, 58.     


[100] Boyer, 73.   After decades of the promotion of “situation ethics,” this remains an Achilles heel of the entire approach to making moral decisions:  we have already slanted the deck against restraint because we have the “right” to choose whatever we wish--period.



[Page 241]  [101] J. Paul Sampley, Walking between the Times:  Paul’s Moral Reasoning (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1991), 59.


[102] Tomson, Jewish Law, 75-76.  He does not, however, mention that, at best, this is a negative formulation of Paul’s principle.

[103] McGuiggan, 73, 77, 81; Schnelle, 61.


[104] Raymond Corriveau, The Liturgy of Life:  A Study in the Ethical Thought of St. Paul in His Letters to the Early Christian Communities (Paris:  Desclee de Brouwer, 1970), 64.

[105] Murphy-O’Connor, Message, 49.

[106] Cf. MacGorman, 118.

[107] For types of Greek prostitutes see Talbert, 31-32.  

[108] Ibid., 32. 

[109] Ibid. 


[110] Peter Richardson, Paul’s Ethic of Freedom (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press,  1979), 110-111.


[111] Kugelman, 262. 


[112] Cf. Heil, 118.

[113] Ibid.         

[114] Coffman, 92.


[115] Thrall, 49, notes the objection but modifies it by incorporating it as part of a doctrine taught by Paul’s opponents. 


[116] Ibid.  Also Allen Verhey, Remembering Jesus:  Christian Community, Scripture, and the Moral Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), n. 12, p. 225.

[117] Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians,” 1612, without elaborating on in what way this is true. 


[118] Raymond Bryan Brown, 326.      


 Barrett, 150-151.  Perhaps only drug addiction equals sexual liaisons gone awry in the ability to bend our psyches “out of shape.”


[120] The cultic approach is tentatively suggested by Orr and Walther, 203. 



[Page 242]  [121] Price, 801.        

[122] Talbert, 32-33.


[123] R. Kempthorne translation as quoted by Michael Newton, The Concept of Purity at Qumran and in the Letters of Paul, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 53 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1985), 58.


[124] As argued at length by Newton, Ibid., 56-58.



Roland H. Worth, Jr.

A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 1-6:

Interpreting the Text in Light of

Its Old Testament Roots


© 2011