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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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1 Corinthians 6


 
Verse 1
Dare any of you having a matter against his neighbor, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?

Against his neighbor ...
means "against a Christian neighbor," because it would be impossible to force a pagan into a Christian tribunal unrecognized by the law of the land.

Before the unrighteous ...
This is not a charge that all the pagan judges were unrighteous, but distinguishes between those within the church and those without, all of the latter being unrighteous in the sense of not being Christians.

Not before the saints ...
Christ himself had laid down the rules for any follower of the Lord having a matter against his brother; and this rule involved: (1) a personal confrontation between wronged and wrongdoer, (2) another attempt at reconciliation if the first failed, with witnesses present, and (3) a general examination before the whole church. See Matt. 18:15-17. Also for extended discussion of this subject, see my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 279-281. McGarvey stated that "By going to law before the pagan tribunals, they were not only disobeying the Lord but committing treason against their own brotherhood." F1 As DeHoff noted, however, "It is sometimes necessary for Christians to appear in courts for justice; Paul himself appealed to Caesar." F2 "The Rabbis taught the Jews never to take a case before the Gentiles"; F3 and there were reasons excellent enough why the Christians should have likewise stayed out of pagan courts, except through the utmost necessity. Not only were the Christians more competent in an ethical sense, but the use of pagan courts would involve oath-taking in the names of pagan deities and other practices abhorrent to Christians.


 
Verse 2
Or know ye not that the saints shall judge the world and if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?

Or know ye not ...
These words are the key to understanding this difficult passage. Macknight said:

Because this question is repeated six times in this chapter, Locke thinks it was intended as a reproof to the Corinthians, who boasted of the knowledge they received from the false teacher, (but) were extremely ignorant in religious matters. F4

Dummelow unhesitatingly interpreted this and the two following verses as sarcasm on Paul's part:

They appeal to the "knowledge" of the Corinthians, who were puffed up with spiritual pride; and in their conceit had spoken of their hope to judge men and angels. If this be their expectation surely they can judge in matters of daily life. F5

This interpretation makes sense and is supported by many circumstances. First, the matter of human beings judging men and angels is just such a thing as would have been advocated by the conceited false teachers in Corinth; but there are many other reasons:

  1. The greatest importance attaches to the words "know ye not," which occur ten times in the letters of Paul to the Corinthians, and only twice in all the rest. F6 Farrar says that "(these words) are a fitting rebuke for those who took for knowledge their obvious ignorance." F7 Furthermore, this expression occurs six times in this chapter in 1 Cor. 6:2,3,9,15,16 and 19; therefore some very special significance attaches to it. This student believes that the words are a sarcastic reference by Paul to conceited arrogance of the Corinthians who professed to "know" so much.

  2. All other interpretations involve vast difficulties. Jesus never promised that even apostles would judge angels. The passage in Matthew 19:28 speaks of their "judging the twelve tribes of Israel"; and, as Morris noted, "There is no record of Christ having said that all believers would share in that." F8

  3. The notion that people will judge angels, except in the most poetic sense, as in the thought of their doing so through preaching the gospel, or through their godly living, etc.; such a notion raises impossible questions. What angels shall people judge? Does it mean the devil's angels? They have already been judged and cast down and reserved in chains of darkness, etc. (2 Peter 2:4). True, Peter said, "reserved unto judgment," but this means "until the judgment day," their sentence only being reserved and their judgment already determined.

  4. Without going into all the fanciful interpretations heaped upon these words, this writer confesses full agreement with Adam Clarke who said:

    This place is generally understood to imply that the redeemed of the Lord shall be, on the great day, assessors with him in judgment; and shall give their award in the determinations of his justice. On reviewing this subject, I am fully of the opinion that this cannot be the meaning of these words; and that the interpretation is clogged with a multitude of absurdities. F9

    Thus, it is believed that the matter of Christians judging men and angels is no valid Christian doctrine at all, but the speculative nonsense of the vainglorious experts in Greek philosophy at Corinth.

  5. Christians themselves will be judged at the last day; and in 1 Cor. 4:4, Paul had just declared that the one who judges "is the Lord." Although it is said of saints that they shall "reign" with Christ, it is nowhere said that they shall judge with him. Despite many learned opinions to the contrary, therefore, this writer strongly inclines to the views expressed above.


 
Verses 3, 4
Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have to judge things pertaining to this life, do ye set them to judge who are of no account in the church?

Paraphrase: You who know all about judging angels in the last day, how about judging some of these petty disputes you are disgracefully airing in the courts, of the pagans? And in your practice of resolving these little earthly matters, how is it that you set the pagan judges over such trivialities, such judges being of no account at all in the church, as they are not members of it.

If the sarcastic vein is denied here, the rendering of the words "do ye set" would be imperative, that is, a command that they should choose some humble member of the congregation to be a judge of disputes. In such an interpretation, which is by no means unreasonable, the admonition would stress the rejection of value judgments of the world, letting the humble decide, instead of the mighty.

Taking the words "do ye not know" as meaning "of course, it is a fact, requires some kind of thesis on just "how" the saints are going to judge the earth. Thus, Johnson explained such judging metaphorically: "The saints shall judge the world, because of their union with the Messiah, to whom all judgment is committed." F10 Shore likewise took the judging to be figurative, "arising out of the apostle's intense realization of the unity of Christ and his Church Triumphant." F11 McGarvey wrote,"The saints will only participate as mystically united with Christ the judge." F12

Before leaving this subject, a word with regard to Daniel 7:22 is appropriate: The passage reads:

Until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.

The judge in this place is mentioned in the first clause, being the Ancient of Days; and it was his judgment which was given to the saints, the same being a judgment upon their behalf, and not a judgment made by them. The great passage in Matt. 25:31-46 is in complete harmony with this interpretation of Dan. 7:22. In all probability, the false teachers at Corinth had indulged in some very wild speculations.


 
Verse 5
I say this to move you to shame. What, cannot there be found among you one wise man who shall be able to decide between his brethren?

To move you to shame ...
The sharpness of Paul's biting sarcasm in the previous three verses was no doubt keenly felt in Corinth; and by this expression Paul means, "I meant for it to hurt." However unusual the explanation offered here with regard to those Corinthian saints "judging angels" may seem to Christians today, there was probably no one in Corinth who could have failed to know what Paul meant.

Wise man ... to decide ...
In this clause, Paul dropped the sarcasm for a moment, asking, "Why don't you appoint one of the wiser members to settle such disputes?" Thus it appears that Paul could not have meant in 1 Cor. 6:4 that church members who were of "no account" should be entrusted with such an assignment. The apostles themselves when appointing brethren for such a purpose demanded that the ones appointed should be men "full of the Spirit and wisdom" (Acts 6:3). Thus, here is another strong reason for accepting the thesis that Paul's words in 1 Cor. 6:2-4 were spoken in irony.


 
Verse 6
But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers.

Ellicott's paraphrase of this is: "Your dragging these disputes before the tribunals of the heathen would imply that it is not possible to find a Christian friend to settle these trivial disputes." F13


 
Verse 7
Nay, already it is altogether a fault with you, that ye have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather take wrong? why not rather be defrauded?

Passing beyond the question of "where" their lawsuits should be settled, Paul in this rebuked them for having any "lawsuits with one another." The Christian is of a different temperament from the man who is always screaming about his "rights," it being a far better way of life to "go the second mile ... give the cloak also ... and turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:38-42).


 
Verse 8
Nay, but ye yourselves do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

There were some in the Corinthian congregation who made a habit of defrauding their brethren, using sinful devices, procuring advantage by the instrumentality of the pagan system of justice. Such persons would have been those who were skilled in such lawsuits, or those who through some circumstance might have enjoyed preferment in such courts. In any case, some of the Christians were being defrauded by other members of the church.


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

A vast proportion of the whole Corinthian population participated in such sins as are catalogued here; and the prevalence of such wickedness throughout the ancient empire resulted in its total destruction, after these debaucheries had run their course; but it was not the destruction of an empire that Paul had in view here; it was the loss of souls. The various actions mentioned in this paragraph are designated as unrighteousness. The people who continue in such wickedness "shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

Fornicators ...
is a general term for several kinds of sexual vice. It is here made the head of a shameful list of sins; and, in 1 Cor. 6:12, Paul returned to a fuller discussion of it.

Idolators ...
In context, this referred to the patrons of the temple of Aphrodite atop the Acro Corinthus which dominated the Corinthian scene. As Halley said, "A thousand public prostitutes, kept at public expense, were always ready (in the temple) for immoral indulgence as worship to their goddess!" F14 In such an atmosphere, some of the Corinthians were finding it difficult to adjust to the strict code of Christian morality.

Adulterers ...
has special reference to persons not faithful to the marriage vows.

Effeminate ...
Macknight wrote that this word is translated from a Greek word meaning "catamite," F15 the technical word for "a boy used in pederasty." F16 "Those wretches who suffered this abuse were likewise called pathics, and affected the dress and behavior of women." F17 Catamites were the passive partners in sodomy.

Abusers of themselves with men ...
were the sodomites. Regarding the passive and active homosexuals referred to in these words, it should be remembered that an apostle of Jesus Christ condemned such persons in the judgment that they shall not inherit the kingdom of God. What is to be thought of churches which not only condone this sin, but in widely publicized cases have actually ordained homosexuals to the ministry? It is the judgment of this writer that churches exhibiting such a total disregard of the New Testament have, in so doing, forfeited all identity with Christianity.

William Barclay's masterful discussion of homosexuality should be read by every Christian. This was the cancer in Greek life that invaded Rome, and brought the vaunted empire to destruction. Fourteen of the first fifteen Roman emperors practiced this vice; others guilty of it were Socrates and Plato. Nero castrated and married a boy called Sporus, which he held as his wife, and at the same time married Pythagoras and called him his husband! Barclay's conclusion may not be denied that:

In this particular vice in the time of the early church, the world was lost to shame; and there can be little doubt that that was one of the main causes of its degeneracy and the final collapse of its civilization. F18

Thieves ... covetous ... drunkards ... revilers ... extortioners ...
Significantly, Paul classed thieves and extortioners as equally criminal, the latter referring to organized, "white-collar" crime, and thievery to common pilferage.

Covetousness...
is the inordinate desire, or love, of money, the same being a ruling passion, not only with the unregenerated, but also with many Christians themselves, who despite their prosperity give little or nothing to the church or philanthropy. This vice is rated with idolatry, sodomy, extortion, etc., being essentially a denial of God in human life.

Drunkards ...
Who is a drunkard? The "wisdom" of this age recognizes no such character, the same having been elevated in the popular mind to the status of "an alcoholic"! As such he is not blameworthy in any degree, but merely suffering from "a disease," the same required to be treated, tolerated, and even appreciated by the community. This is merely a part of the blindness of worldly wisdom. No man can become an alcoholic except by his own repeated violations of the Christian law of sobriety. While it may be true, of course, but only in a sense, that drink No. 5,689 is a disease, drink No. 1 is a moral problem. The burning liquors on sale today are not fit for human consumption; and the use of any of them, even socially, is reprehensible. This writer does not expect social drinkers to approve of this viewpoint; but there is actually no intelligent denial of it. If one is really concerned with living the Christian life, far the best thing for him to do is to deny beverage alcohol any place whatever in his life. The whole Moslem world has known for centuries the true nature of the curse of alcohol, making abstinence from it a cardinal rule of their faith.


 
Verse 11
And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

Such were some of you ...
This was intended by Paul to call attention to the conditions from which they had been rescued by Christ.

But ye are washed ... sanctified ... justified ...
This refers to the conversion of the Corinthians. "By `sanctified' is meant, not the progressive course of sanctification, but the consecration to God by baptism." F19 As always, however, the scholars who deny baptism's necessity in any true conversion strive to soften the impact of these words, as in: "Nothing in the context identifies this with baptism." F20 "(They) submitted to baptism as THE SIGN OF THE WASHING away of sin." F21 Etc.

Two considerations require the understanding of this place as a reference to Christian baptism, along with the sanctification and justification accomplished in the ceremony itself, when performed Scripturally upon a believing penitent: (1) There is the use of "the middle voice for WASHED, as in Acts 22:16, carrying the meaning of `you had yourselves washed.'" F22 (2) There is the appearance in the verse itself of the trinitarian formula for the administration of baptism. As Guthrie noted:

"In the name of ... Christ ... Spirit ... God ..." Note the unconscious Trinitarianism. The words may recall the actual formula used in baptism and the complementary baptism of the Spirit ... There is a reference here to the external and internal essential of baptism. F23

Justification has reference to the status of the believer "in Christ" who by virtue of his identity with the Saviour does not deserve any punishment whatever; it is a total and complete justification bestowed upon the believer when he is baptized "into Christ."


 
Verse 12
All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any.

CONCERNING FORNICATION

Paul here used a catch phrase which evidently had wide acceptance among the Corinthians. The liberty in Christ which made "all things lawful" was a relative, not an absolute principle; and any notion that the existence of appetites justified their gratification was not true then, or ever. "Some of them were evidently quoting this to justify their promiscuous sexual behavior; but Paul positively stated that it did not so apply." F24


 
Verse 13
Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall bring to naught both it and them. But the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.

Meats for the belly ...
This was probably another current proverb among the Corinthians with the meaning suggested by Marsh.

As one indulges an appetite for food, that being the function of the stomach, so should the physical urge for sexual indulgence be gratified. Paul refutes the argument, stomach and food being temporal; but not so the body. F25

But for the Lord ...
The purpose of the body is not the gratification of its appetites; but it is for the Lord, a reference to the indwelling of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Cor. 6:19. Sensuality is neither the highest nor the most satisfying use of the body. "Body" as used here has reference to the whole person including the physical body; and the highest happiness of the person is impossible of attainment through gratification, such happiness deriving only from the proper union between man and his Creator.


 
Verse 14
And God both raised the Lord, and will raise up us through his power.

The resurrection of Christians is promised here, the proof of it already having been demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ. As the resurrection of Christ was bodily, so shall be that of Christians; and, in this light, an eternal purpose with reference to the body itself is indicated, the same being a telling argument against wasting the physical body through lust and sensuality.


 
Verse 15
Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? and shall I then take away the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot? God forbid.

Know ye not ...
is still being used sarcastically in this passage, not in the sense of denying that Christians' bodies are members of Christ, but as protesting the incongruity of debasing such members in immorality. Paul's use of "body" in this passage makes it certain that the physical body is meant.


 
Verse 16
Or know ye not that he that is joined to a harlot is one body? for, The twain, saith he, shall become one flesh.

Or know ye not ...
carries the thought of "With all of your conceited knowledge, has it never occurred to you that participation with a harlot makes the participant and the harlot one flesh?" Paul proved it by the reference to Gen. 2:24. As Dummelow said, however,

The words spoken by God (in the reference cited) were first spoken of marriage, and are here applied to an unholy union. Paul does not place the two on the same plane but only points out that in this one respect they are similar. F26


 
Verse 17
But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.

One spirit ...
The true Christian, having been joined to the Lord through his conversion from sin, is one in spirit with the Lord, seeking in all things to conform his thoughts, words and deeds to such actions as are approved by the Lord and in harmony with the Holy Spirit.


 
Verse 18
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.

Flee fornication ...
For further remarks on this, see my Commentary on Hebrews, p. 325. The sin of fornication is against: (a) God (Genesis 39:9), (b) one's body (as here), (c) the church, (d) the marriage institution, (e) the life of the nation, and (f) the very soul itself (Proverbs 6:32).

Against his own body ...
Although Paul doubtless had specifically in mind the impact of sin against the physical body, his words are true in the widest possible application. No matter how "body" is understood, whether the physical body, the body of the family, the body of the Lord, the body of the social order, or even any corporate body - fornication is "against" any and all of these, many a corporation having been wrecked through fornication.


 
Verse 19
Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own.

What Paul had affirmed earlier with reference to the church's being the temple of the Holy Spirit is here declared to be true of individual members of the church. God's temple belongs to God, and therefore the individual who partakes of the nature of God's temple belongs not to himself but to God; and thus he is not free to indulge his lusts and appetites but is obligated to conform his activities to those things which will honor and glorify the Lord whose property the Christian is. For extended comments on "The Indwelling Spirit," see my Commentary on Romans, p. 291, and on "The Witness of the Spirit," see my Commentary on Romans, p. 298.


 
Verse 20
For ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body.

Ye were bought with a price ...
has reference to the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ which is the purchase price of the church (Acts 20:28).

Glorify God in your body ...
identifies the body as an instrument to be used by the Christian in the service of God and for his glory. The honor of the physical body is also implicit in such a view. In true Christianity, there is no hatred of the body, no torturing of the flesh, and no asceticism.

Guthrie pointed out that Paul's language here "reflects a contemporary custom" F27 prevalent in Corinth. Resort to a temple prostitute meant resort to a strange god; and the participants in temple immorality became the property of the god of that temple, the pagan society holding such persons to be free or "liberated"! "Our redemption by Christ from the enslavement of sin was no such fiction." F28


Footnotes for 1 Corinthians 6
1: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on First Corinthians (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1916), p. 74.
2: George W. DeHoff, Sermons on First Corinthians (Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 1947), p. 56.
3: Donald Guthrie, The New Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. T. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1058.
4: James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles and Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 84.
5: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 901.
6: F. W. Farrar, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), Vol. 19, p. 192.
7: Ibid.
8: Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958), p. 94.
9: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1831), Vol. VI, p. 216.
10: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 604.
11: T. Teignmouth Shore, Ellicott's Commentary on the Holy Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 303.
12: J. W. McGarvey, op cit., p. 75.
13: Ellicott, as quoted in One Volume New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972), in loco.
14: Henry H. Halley, Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1927), p. 546.
15: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 88.
16: Britannica World Language Dictionary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1959).
17: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 88.
18: William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), p. 60.
19: F. W. Farrar, op. cit., p. 193.
20: Paul W. Marsh, A New Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 386.
21: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 901.
22: Paul W. Marsh, op. cit., p. 386.
23: Donald Guthrie, op. cit., p. 1059.
24: Henry H. Halley, op. cit., p. 546.
25: Paul W. Marsh, op. cit., p. 386.
26: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 901.
27: Donald Guthrie, op. cit., p. 1059.
28: Ibid.
29: David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 65.
30: Donald S. Metz, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1968), p. 343.
31: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 82.
32: Ibid., p. 83.
33: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on First Corinthians (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Company, 1916), p. 70.
34: Donald Guthrie, The New Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing House, 1970), p. 1057.
35: F. W. Farrar, op. cit., p. 136.
36: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 78.
37: Ibid.
38: David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 43.
39: Ibid., p. 44.
40: Ibid.
41: Donald S. Metz, op. cit., p. 328.
42: David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 62.
43: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 62.
44: David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 45.
45: John Wesley, op. cit., in loco.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1co&chapter=006>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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