Exposition of Daniel 6:1–9 The triumph of evil: Darius deceived

Daniel 6:1–9

[Dan. 5:31  and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.]*

1 It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”

6 So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: “May King Darius live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered — in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing.

* Ancient Jewish versions begin chapter 6 with what English versions label as verse 5:31.

My previous post adopted the view that Darius the Mede is also known as Cyrus the Great (600–530 B.C.), a view advanced by Miller[1] and others. A great deal of ink has rightly been spilled on that subject by scholars, but the details have little bearing on Daniel’s message; Miller presents other views in some detail.

From a human viewpoint, it is true that Darius “took over the [Babylonian] kingdom” (verse 5:31, NIV and NLT), but Daniel has stressed repeatedly that God gives the kingdoms of men to whomever he wishes (Dan. 4:32). That being the repeated message of Daniel, it is better to say that Darius “received the [Babylonian] kingdom” (ESV, HCSB, CEB, NASB). This difference may seem trivial, but it is Daniel’s viewpoint.

The word “satrap” (verse 1) sounds odd to us, but it is an Old Persian word that means “protector of the empire.” Cyrus’s kingdom was the largest the world had yet seen, and it was vital to have men who could act with almost unlimited power without waiting months for messages to get to Cyrus and back. Over the satraps, Cyrus established three high officials who could hold the satraps accountable. Any satrap who hoped to enrich himself at the king’s expense would regard these officials as a dangerous obstacle. Daniel was one of the three high officials (verse 2), and, because he repeatedly demonstrated that “he had an extraordinary spirit” (verse 3, NET), the king intended to make Daniel supreme.

The other two high officials and a few of the satraps did not want to see Daniel promoted. Because he was diligent, incorruptible and trustworthy, their only strategy to eliminate him was to create a conflict between Daniel’s loyalty to Yahweh and his duty to uphold the civil law (verses 4–5). They conspired to keep their plan secret from Daniel and — as a group — deceived Darius by saying that all the high officials and satraps supported their proposal.

The proposal of the conspirators had several elements: (1) strictly enforceable, (2) applicable to all, (3) irrevocable during its 30-day duration, and (4) requiring execution for violation. The key provision of their proposal is often misunderstood. Miller explains: “Darius was to be the only priestly mediator during this period. In his role as mediator, prayers to the gods were to be offered through him rather than the priests.”[2] Darius was not approving worship of himself, as is sometimes assumed, but rather taking a temporary role something like that of a high priest, who intercedes with the gods on behalf of his subjects. Collins says, “‘There is no indication that [Persian] kings had even the slightest tendency toward self-deification.’”[3]

Darius was deceived by the conspirators and issued the binding decree in written form (verse 9). From that moment, Daniel had a date with the lions.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 177.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 180.

[3] Miller, Daniel, 181, footnote 50, quoting J.H. Walton.

Exposition of Daniel 5:1–9 God rules the unrepentant too!

Daniel 5:1–9

1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

5 Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. 6 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.

7 The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. 9 So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.

A historical interlude

Before we discuss Daniel 5 and the fall of Babylon, it will be helpful to look at the list of Neo-Babylonian kings. It contains both Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1–4) and Belshazzar (Daniel 5).[1]


The Neo-Babylonian kings
Nabopolassar (626–605 B.C.) conqueror of Nineveh, father of Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar II (605–562 B.C.) mentioned 91 times in the Old Testament
Evil-Merodach (562–560 B.C.); son of Nebuchadnezzar; 2 Kings 25:27; Jer. 52:31
Neriglissar (560–556 B.C.); AKA Nergal-sharezer murdered Evil-Merodach; Jer. 39:3, 13
Labashi-Marduk (556 B.C.) boy, son of Neriglissar; murdered by Nabonidas
Nabonidus (556–539 B.C.) resided in Arabia 10 years; coregent of Belshazzar
Belshazzar (553–539 B.C.), coregent son and coregent of Nabonidus

Both the conquest of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire, and the long reign of Nebuchadnezzar are notable. The year 556 B.C. stands out for having three kings, of whom Labashi-Marduk was only a boy when he was murdered. Since assassination was all too popular, it is understandable that Nabonidus decided to take a ten-year sojourn at an oasis in northwest Arabia while leaving Belshazzar as his coregent in Babylon.

Yahweh kept Daniel at the pinnacle of Babylonian power through the reign of seven Babylonian kings and then into the reign of Cyrus the Persian (Dan. 1:21).

Drunk and disrespectful

As shown in the table above, Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon, serving as coregent with his father Nabonidus. Verse 2 refers to “Nebuchadnezzar his father,” but this likely means that Nebuchadnezzar was a blood relative — probably Belshazzar’s grandfather — not his biological father. [In a similar way, the Jewish leaders later told Jesus, “Abraham is our father” (John 8:39).] Nebuchadnezzar’s reign had been so splendid that everyone wanted to associate themselves with it.

Verse 1 of chapter 5 is what you might call a formula for trouble. Any monarch has to know that drinking too much in the presence of a ranking audience can lead to trouble, especially if one member of the audience is God! [The best biblical example might be Herod the tetrarch, who was forced to behead John the Baptist after a rash vow at his own birthday feast (Matt. 14:3–11).] But, as we will see, Belshazzar was a man under great pressure. His father Nabonidus had recently been defeated north of the city by the military forces of Cyrus. Wood explains, “The fact is clear that the city was in imminent danger of falling to the Persians at the time when Belshazzar held the grand feast set forth in this chapter.”[2]

Belshazzar’s banquet hall has been excavated. In shape and size the room closely matches the part of an American football field that extends from the twenty-yard line to the goal line.[3] A recessed region of the long wall opposite the great doors would have been made for the king’s table. The walls were covered with white gypsum plaster, just as verse 5 says, and the lampstand was doubtless located in the recessed area (verse 5).

Full of wine, Belshazzar manifests the family trait — soaring pride — by ordering that the gold and silver goblets taken from Yahweh’s temple be brought into the hall for drinking (verse 2).  Miller thinks it likely that “on the evening in question Belshazzar desecrated the holy objects of other nations as well as those of Israel in an attempt to demonstrate the superiority of the gods of Babylon over the deities of the nations.”[4] So, the goblets are swiftly brought in and all drink from them (verse 3). In doing so, they drunkenly praise “the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (verse 4). The other gods, being lifeless shams, do not care, but Belshazzar’s defiance toward Yahweh is a fatal error.

At once a hand appears, writing on the plaster wall near the lamp stand beside Belshazzar’s table (verse 5). Even though he does not know the meaning of the writing, the king’s face turns pale and his knees knock together; fear disables him (verse 6). Unlike Nebuchadnezzar’s private dreams, this supernatural message unfolds in the sight of all within the huge banquet hall.

Belshazzar's Feast - Rembrandt
Belshazzar’s Feast – Rembrandt

Belshazzar summons the Babylonian magi, the scholars who interpret dreams and mysteries, and offers great rewards, including appointment as “the third highest ruler in the kingdom” (verse 7) for anyone who can interpret the writing. Of course, at the moment the kingdom extends only to the city limits of Babylon! The appointment will place the winning interpreter behind only Nabonidas and his coregent Belshazzar in authority.

While the message is written in Aramaic, a well-known language in Babylon, none of the magi can interpret it (verse 8). Miller gives the best explanation of this failure by saying: “Most likely the words were understood, but they ‘simply did not convey any intelligible meaning.’”[5] It was too cryptic.

This failure of Babylonian wisdom leaves the king in a state of terror and his nobles both scared and bewildered (verse 9). In a banquet hall full of fine food and drink — and full of those who had mocked Yahweh — no one has any appetite for it!

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Table adapted from Finley and Cash, Daniel, chapter 1 (in press), and Wood, Daniel, 129–130.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 131.

[3] Robert Koldewey, The Excavations at Babylon (London: Macmillan, 1914) 103; 17 meters by 52 meters. Koldewey is responsible for the dimensions but not the metaphor.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 154.

[5] Miller, Daniel, 159, quoting G. Archer.

Exposition of Daniel 4:19–27 Fair warning

Daniel 4:19–27

19 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”

Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! 20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds — 22 Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.

23 “Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’

24 “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

After Nebuchadnezzar finishes recounting his dream, Daniel is appalled[1] and is momentarily terrified by the thoughts running through his head, but the king swiftly reassures him (verse 19a).

Daniel answers with a verbless sentence that amounts to a fervent wish: “My lord, the dream to your enemies and the interpretation to your adversaries!” (verse 19b). English versions have added various verbs to make a viable sentence. Daniel describes the world-spanning tree in all its abundance, and then says, “It is you, O king!” verse 22a, NET). Since Nebuchadnezzar had been terrified by the dream, there is little doubt that he anticipated this interpretation.

Next, Daniel recalls the appearance of the watcher from heaven (verse 23) and explains the vision (verses 24–26). Daniel leaves no doubt in verse 24 that the decree against Nebuchadnezzar was issued by the Most High God. The danger he faces does not come from among men but from heaven itself. As such, there is no resisting it; instead, he must hope for some basis for relief in the decree.

The divine decree about Nebuchadnezzar’s future contains several elements: (1) isolated from people and living among the animals of the field, (2) eating grass “like the ox” and experiencing the rigors of the weather, and (3) enduring an appropriate period of these behaviors until he understands that the Most High is the Lord of all kingdoms and all kings (verse 25). Whether the metal fetter is literal or figurative of the limits set for the king by God is not clear; both are possible. While this period of less-than-human existence might feel pointless to the one in its grip, God plainly has a transformative purpose in it. Destroying Nebuchadnezzar would have been a trivial matter, but saving him from himself takes grace, discipline and time.

Two matters have made interpretation of these revelations difficult. First, conservative scholars have gone to some effort to identify Nebuchadnezzar’s divinely-caused affliction using standard psychological categories (e.g. lycanthropy or boanthropy). Perhaps they felt that such an identification would make the explanation more acceptable to those who reject supernatural causes. Such efforts seem misguided since the testimony from heaven is that God caused this mental state and later lifted it for a purely theological reasons. It makes no difference whatever if scientists or psychologists find the malady a realistic possibility; God is not waiting for their diagnosis or their approval!

Another difficulty is the phrase “seven times will pass by for you” (verse 25); the word “seven” is clear enough, but what is the unit of measure that belongs to “times” — days, weeks, months, years? Conservative scholars, such as Wood and Miller, generally believe this Aramaic noun (`iddanin) means “years” in this context. The standard lexicon offers both “time” and “year” as possible meanings for the word,[2] which happens to be plural (“times” or “years”) in our verses. English versions generally follow the same path as NIV by saying “seven times” and not attempting to guess on a definite measure. We agree.

Wood says that the interpretation “years” fits the likely duration of Nebuchadnezzar’s illness and explains: “To speak of seven days, or weeks, or even months appears to be too short in view of the overall story.”[3] Miller accepts and repeats this view.[4] I do not find the argument to be convincing, much less compelling. One week on your knees eating grass would be quite instructive, especially for a proud man accustomed to luxury. It is difficult to see why a period of years is required, but the possibility remains.

NIV once again mentions the nonexistent “stump” in verses 23 and 26, but the latter verse is best translated by NET: “They said to leave the taproot of the tree, for your kingdom will be restored to you when you come to understand that heaven rules.” See our explanation of verse 15 for more details about the taproot.

Verse 26 concludes the interpretation on a more hopeful note. Once Nebuchadnezzar understands — with the implication that he also assents — that Heaven rules, his kingdom will be restored. In apparent concern for the well-being of a king he both likes and admires, Daniel risks adding respectful but challenging advice (verse 27). He calls on the king to wipe away his sins by behaving in accordance with righteousness, which in this context probably means humility (= righteousness) must replace pride (= sins). Further, the king’s prosperity was not being shared by all his subjects, so Daniel urges him to show kindness to the oppressed. Daniel suggests that such a change might lead to a continuation of the king’s prosperity.

Daniel’s closing suggestion, and the tantalizing possibility that crushing judgment might be avoided, provides a crucial theological lesson. God has declared through the dream and through Daniel what he will do, but humble repentance can still alter the picture. Under similar circumstances, God had spared a repentant Nineveh from impending judgment not so many years before this (Jonah 1–4). What does this prove? Heaven rules. Any judgment that God declares, he is free to rescind. It is for us to remember that he is God and we are not, and to live a humble life of mercy under his compassionate rule.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] HALOT, shamam, be appalled, q.v.

[2] HALOT, `iddanin, time, q.v.

[3] Wood, Daniel, 111.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 134–35.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:14–22 Two kinds of partnership

1 Corinthians 10:14–22

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

In the previous lesson we spoke of covenant loyalty between Christ and his people. Garland points out how utterly unique that was in Roman Corinth: “Paul’s insistence on exclusive loyalty to a religion was something uncommon in paganism. People were accustomed to joining in the sacrificial meals of several deities, none of which required an exclusive relationship.”[1]

The technical term for mixing parts of a number of religions is syncretism, and it also characterizes many postmodern faith choices. Many contemporary people — even some atheists — blithely chose elements from a smorgasbord of faiths.

To all these pluralistic tendencies, whether ancient or modern, Paul says, “Flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). He has been working toward this conclusion throughout chapters 8–10. In verse 15, Paul appeals, probably without irony, to these “sensible people” to judge his words carefully.

Paul will demonstrate that the Corinthians have failed to understand the nature of the spiritual community that exists in the sacred meal established by Jesus (i.e. communion) and the religious meals celebrated in idol temples. Obviously, the two questions in verse 16 expect the answer yes. Twice in verse 16  the NIV uses the English word “participation” to translate the Greek noun koin?nia. Thiselton expands that slightly to say “communal participation” and explains that here “it denotes having an active common share in the life, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus Christ as the Lord who determines the identity and lifestyle of that in which Christians share.”[2] That rich meaning is quite different from the mere idea of social fellowship that many evangelical Christians associate with koin?nia.

Verse 17 is very difficult because it carries a lot of symbolism. The “one loaf” is Jesus Christ; recall that Jesus held the bread at the Last Supper and said ,”Take and eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). By sharing in the one loaf, “we, who are many, are one body” (1 Cor. 10:17b). This fact also shows how ridiculous it is for divisions to exist in the Corinthian church.

Even though the final paragraph (verses 18–22) begins with Israel, that is merely a jumping off point to talk about feasts dedicated to idols. Paul begins by establishing that those in Israel who ate the sacrifices were participants (Greek koin?nia again) in the altar (1 Cor. 10:18). Some believe verse 18 refers to the God-ordained sacrifices (e.g. Lev. 10:12–15), while others believe this is a description of certain Israelites participating in sacrifices to idols, a practice totally forbidden by God. Either way, the answer to Paul’s question is yes; those who eat the sacrifices are participants in the altar.

Verse 19 tells us that idolaters are not actually worshipping a god that exists, so the sacrifices honor no actual god. But at this point, in verse 20, Paul drops the bomb on Corinthian practices! By participating in banquets dedicated to idols, the Corinthians are actually joining themselves to demons; “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons” (1 Cor. 10:20). Idols are nothing, but demons are real indeed!

Paul tells the Corinthians they cannot have it both ways. They cannot be partners with demons and united to Christ at the same time! (1 Cor. 10:21). If they continue down that path, the jealousy of the Lord will utterly sweep them away (1 Cor. 10:22).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 472.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 761.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:7–13 Paul’s cautionary examples of craving

1 Corinthians 10:7–13

7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Having set up his concern about craving meat offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:6) — or craving the business and social contacts at banquets held in idol temples — Paul finally gives a direct command: “Do not be idolaters” (1 Cor. 10:7a). Indeed, in light of the specific Greek forms used, Paul may be saying, “Stop being idolaters, as some of them [i.e. the Exodus generation] were.”[1] That statement would seriously escalate the warning to the Corinthians in light of what Paul says in verse 8 about the fatal consequences inflicted on the Israelites.

First Example — In the second half of verse 7, Paul quotes from Exod. 32:6, the occasion when the people joined in wild revelry to celebrate the golden calf they had made. Thiselton says the seriousness of this revelry “can be appreciated only when we fully grasp the intimate connection for [the Jews and ] Paul between worshipping [idols] and sexual immorality and abandonment of the ‘censor’ [our self-control] to sheer unbridled indulgence.”[2]

So, the issue has two sharp edges: (1) the combination of sexual immorality with idol worship and (2) the complete abandonment of self-control. In Roman Corinth, Thiselton tells us: “’[Aphrodite] was a god of sailors and sacred prostitution and the protectress of the city.’ Hence business interests and trade were bound up with the welfare of the cult. . . . Coins excavated at Corinth bear the images of Aphrodite and Poseidon more than those of any other pagan gods.”[3] Religious prostitution abounded.

As a result of the idolatry associated with the golden calf (Exod. 32:6), the Levites immediately killed 3,000 at Yahweh’s command (Exod. 32:27–28). In this context, Exodus 32:35 says, “And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.” Note that we are not told how many died in this plague. The position taken here is that Paul’s statement “in one day twenty-three thousand of them died” (1 Cor. 10:8) is the answer. Most authorities believe Paul is speaking of Numbers 25:1–9, another time when judgment fell on idolatrous Israel, but the death toll given there is 24,000 (Num. 25:9), and no one has been able to convincingly reconcile that number with 1 Cor. 10:8, which says 23,000. Our view is that the numbers do not match because they are different occasions. Alternatively, Paul spoke from memory; the exact number does not affect his point in the least. Certainly, rounding was a common practice in the Bible.

Example 1 is about the combination of idolatry and sexual immorality.

Example 2 — In 1 Cor. 10:9, Paul once again produces a surprising connection between Corinth and the Exodus generation. This time he uses the events recorded in Numbers 21:4–9. The Israelites were strongly rebelling against Moses and were scorning the food God had graciously provided for them (Num. 21:4–5). They were testing God! But the Apostle Paul interprets this text by naming Christ as the one they were testing ( 1 Cor. 10:9). Many died from serpents God sent among them until the rest pleaded for deliverance, and God provided it by his grace.

Note that the people were testing God by complaining about food. It is no accident that Paul is telling stories about complaints over food that led to judgment, and he implicitly warns the Corinthians to be content without the food offered to idols that they crave. Example 2 is about presuming to test Christ, with the implication that the Corinthians are doing the same thing.

Example 3 — In 1 Cor. 10:10, Paul recalls the incessant grumbling and complaining against Moses and God that so frequently punctuates the wilderness accounts (e.g. Exod. 15:24; 16:2; Num. 14:2, 27, 29). The constant complaining, largely about food and drink, transformed a joyous group of redeemed people into a self-pitying group perceiving themselves victims of God’s neglect.[4] The destroying angel left many of them dead in the wilderness.

Garland says that Paul may single out ‘grumbling’ because the Corinthians were complaining against his opposition to their participation in idol feasts.[5] We might call example 3 the sin of self-importance; for anyone to think they can speak to God or his appointed messengers as they would to a subordinate or even an equal is a level of foolishness that can lead to sudden death. We do not call Jesus “Lord” for nothing!

Clearly, Paul understands these examples as cautionary tales that every Christian should take to heart (1 Cor. 10:11). Fee explains the last half of verse 11: “Through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ marks the turning of the ages; the old is on its way out, the new has begun (2 Cor. 5:17).”[6] This is no time to ignore warnings! In that light, verse 12 is plainly a serious caution directly to the Corinthians, and especially to the puffed-up “strong.”

 God’s grace in temptation (craving)

Many Christians have taken solace from 1 Cor. 10:13, but we should take care to read and apply the whole verse. The desires that push us toward sin and away from God are nothing new; they are the common experience of all humanity.

In Roman Corinth “the strong” paradoxically caved in to the temptation to continue their socially and financially lucrative connections with idol worship, and they tried to justify it theologically with their contrived slogans (“I have the right to do anything,” 1 Cor. 6:12; “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body,” 1 Cor. 6:18, NET). Those having more fragile faith felt the temptation to follow “the strong” in violation of their own consciences. So, many Corinthian believers had their own reasons for yielding to temptation.

Thiselton forcefully states, “Against the claim that ‘the strong’ are so seized by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice.”[7] Paul’s answer to their behavior is that (1) these temptations are neither unusual nor compelling, and (2) “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 10:13)! Garland explains: “As surely as God tests, God provides a way out (see Gen. 22:1–19). That exit is not an escape hatch that allows them to evade all difficulties.”[8]

Just as the Jews had a covenant with God — the law of Moses — Christians are under the “new covenant” (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28), in which Jesus died for our sins. Like the old covenant with Israel, the New Covenant with Christ obligates both Christ and believers to be loyal to the covenant. Thiselton says, “Christian believers can never claim that they could not help themselves in the face of pressure to abandon covenant faithfulness, for God will ensure, as part of his own covenant faithfulness, that he will not simply leave them to face impossible odds.”[9] But Garland cautions, “God is just as faithful to destroy the wicked as God is faithful to save the righteous.”[10]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996) 724; Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 454, footnote 17.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 735.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 738.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 742.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 464.

[6] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 459.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748.

[8] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 468.

[9] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748–49.

[10] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 469.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:18–20 An exceptionally dangerous sin

1 Corinthians 6:18–20

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

It is unfortunate that today’s Bible text is not more well known, because the revelation it contains was critically needed in Corinth and is no less relevant today. Sexual immorality in its many forms is uniquely damaging to a believer. That is why Paul issues his forceful command: “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18a).

He has already said (1 Cor. 6:15) that illicit sex with a prostitute — only one form of sexual immorality — is like tearing our bodies apart from union with our resurrected Lord. This has been called a Christ-violation.[1] Then, in verses 16–18, Paul describes a body-violation inflicted by the sexually immoral Christian against their own body in that they are using it in ways their Creator never intended. Finally, in verses 19–20, such behavior is said to constitute a Spirit-violation, an offense against the Holy Spirit. Those three violations are a trifecta of stupidity!

There are times when the New Living Translation’s tendency toward paraphrase results in an exceptional translation. This is such a case: “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” (1 Cor. 6:18, NLT).

Paul caps his argument (1 Cor. 6:19–20) with two startling metaphors: a temple and a slave. In both cases he is still focusing on the physical body. He is using that focus in his ongoing proof that the body was “for the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:13) and worthy of their spiritual concern.

To say “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” (verse 19) is a metaphor, but figures of speech in the Bible are always intended to express some aspect of reality. Even though a Christian may not look like a temple, the mere fact that the Holy Spirit indwells them makes it so. That being the case, God will not take lightly the desecration of his temple! “Do you not know!” has the force “You had better know!”

The second metaphor begins with “You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19b), proving once again that the placement of verse numbers must have taken place late on a very dark night; verse numbers are not part of the inspired text. Slavery metaphors are difficult today because we do not have personal experience with slave auctions or their consequences. Corinth, however, was a major center for slave trafficking[2], so they understood.

David Garland explains the slavery metaphor by saying: “God now has the title-deed to their bodies. Christ’s death purchased them [1 Pet. 1:19], and they have been transferred from Satan’s household to serve in Christ’s household.”[3] Freedom in Christ has never been about being free to do whatever you like. The most decisive factor in determining a slave’s status was “the character, status, and influence of the one to whom one belonged as a slave.”[4] We belong to the Son of God! The other side of that fact is that “the slave (i.e., Christian believer) no longer belongs either to himself/herself or to powers into whose bondage he/she may have entered.”[5]

The grand conclusion is simple and obvious: “Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:20).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 472, quoting Bruce Fisk.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 239.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 239.

[4] Dale Martin, Slavery as Salvation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990) 49.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 477.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:15–17 Only one union: Christ

1 Corinthians 6:15–17

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

Always remember that rhetorical questions, such as those we find in 1 Cor. 6:15, have the same force as statements. The clause “your bodies are members of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:15) deserves attention. Gordon Fee explains, “The word ‘members’ is a term for the parts of the body [such as a limb or an organ], thus suggesting in a metaphorical way that the believer is an integral part of the ‘body’ of Christ.”[1] So, our physical body is joined to Christ’s body that was raised from the dead. The idea behind “take [away] the members of Christ” is one of ripping away our bodies from union with Christ to join them to a prostitute. This is not a picture of spirituality!

Paul is taking his previous statement, “The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13), and applying it to the practice of visiting prostitutes (1 Cor. 6:15). This works because “sexual immorality” is a broad term, and consorting with a prostitute is one of many sinful behaviors that fit under that umbrella.

Prostitution was pervasive in Rome and other parts of the empire. Indeed, our word fornication derives from the arched alcoves (called fornices) of the Circus Maximus — the chariot racing venue — where brothels set up shop during the frequent races. Archaeologists have found that brothels also riddled the urban area of ancient Pompeii (near modern Naples, Italy). An exhibit of Pompeii’s artifacts and business signs, unless severely restricted, is not fit for adult believers, much less a family. Corinth tried to emulate Rome, and prostitution was doubtless an integral part of Corinthian life.

Paul is totally forceful in rejecting such behavior by the Corinthian Christians — “Never!” (1 Cor. 6:15). When Paul says “he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body” (1 Cor. 6:16), this is more than a physical reality. David Garland says: “Sexual intercourse entails the joining together of persons with all their spiritual associations and is not simply the coupling of bodies.”[2]

Paul proves his point by quoting the creation account in Genesis 2:24. Robert Gundry says: “The whole man, body and spirit, belongs to the Lord. Therefore, illicit union with a harlot, although it is ‘merely’ physical, as the Corinthians would say, effects a oneness of physical relationship which contradicts the Lord’s claim over the body.”[3]

Paul used the example of prostitution with the Corinthians. We would do well to remember that he could have said the same about adultery, fornication or homosexuality, all of which fit the general category “sexual immorality.”

We must do all possible to maintain the purity of our union with Christ.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 258.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 233.

[3] Robert H. Gundry, S?ma in Biblical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 69.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:12–14 The shape of freedom in Christ

1 Corinthians 6:12–14

“I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

At no point is Corinth closer to our daily experience than it is here! One myth of America is that we have the — God-given — freedom to do as we please. The Corinthian believers held the same idea and were equally wrong. Before some of you take offense at that, see what Paul tells them on behalf of Christ.

First, we will look at the Corinthian Declaration of Independence: “I have the right to do anything” (1 Cor. 6:12a). This phrase has rightly been placed in quotation marks by the NIV, not because the Greek text does so — New Testament manuscripts have no punctuation — but because almost all commentators believe this was a slogan in the Corinthian church. To make sure you understand the phrase as a slogan, the words “you say” have been added by the NIV translators.

Paul begins his critique of the Declaration by saying “not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12b). Anthony Thiselton describes Paul’s approach: “[Paul] transposes debates about ‘liberty’ and ‘what is permissible’ into the different key of ‘what is helpful.’”[1] Gordon Fee takes the next step by saying, “Truly Christian conduct is not predicated on whether I have the right to do something, but whether my conduct is helpful to those about me.”[2]

But how do these commentators know that the word “beneficial” applies first to others? They are peeking at the hidden cards by looking ahead to 1 Cor. 10:23–24, where Paul explicitly makes the application to the good of others: “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say — but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ — but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

So, the age-old debate between seeking my own good or seeking the good of others has been decisively settled by Jesus Christ, who gave his life on the cross for the salvation of all, even his enemies (Phil. 2:3–8, Rom. 5:10–11). Our identity as those united to Christ, those “in Christ,” demands that our freedom also be limited by primary concern for others.

Another possible misdirection of our freedom in Christ is that it might be hijacked by clever arguments to justify indiscriminate sexual indulgence. The second half of verse 12 — and Paul’s response to it in subsequent verses — seems to suggest that the Corinthian application of the slogan “I have the right to do anything” was primarily to justify their sexual exploits. Paul first makes an implicit warning (“I will not be mastered by anything”) about the well known power of sexual activity to master the one engaging in it. We call this power “seduction.”

In 1 Cor. 6:13a, Paul again seems to be quoting an idea used by the Corinthians to bolster their conclusions: “’Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.’” David Garland outlines what the Corinthians were trying to say: “Just as eating food belongs to our fleshly, transitory human condition . . . and has no effect on our soul or eternal destiny, neither do sexual relations.”[3] You can imagine an immature believer arguing that since we are already going to heaven — clearly a spiritual matter — what difference does it make if we bodily indulge ourselves however we like.

But that way of thinking — when applied to the body — is a complete distortion of our freedom in Christ! In the second half of verse 13, Paul is crystal clear that the body of a believer must not be used for sexual immorality because the intended use for our bodies is “for the Lord.” So, we see that Paul has made up his own slogan to counter theirs: “The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”[4] Paul elsewhere describes our bodies as weapons (Greek hoplon in Rom 6:13) to be placed in the hands of God (Rom. 6:12–13). The phrase “the Lord for the body” probably means that the Holy Spirit indwells us and that we are God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16 and 6:19).

The fact that God has current plans for our bodies is shown by the bodily resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 6:14). God will also raise us from the dead, a subject that will be explored in detail in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. The Holy Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11) so that we can serve God now, and one day we will rise to live with him forever. God’s promise to resurrect us makes it plain that he cares about our bodies and how they are used both before and after our bodily resurrection. The use of our bodies is a spiritual matter from start to finish!

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 461–2.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 252.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 230.

[4] Fee Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 255.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 Firmly accept your new identity in Christ

1 Corinthians 6:9–11

9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Since he has raised the issue of the world’s ways penetrating the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 6:1–8), Paul negatively describes the future awaiting wrongdoers, those whose behavior matches that of the world (1 Cor. 6:9): they “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” After describing the types of wrongdoers he is talking about (1 Cor. 6:9b–10), Paul then tries to restore the Corinthian believers to a proper understanding of their identity in Christ (1 Cor. 6:11).

It is easy to overlook Paul’s command: “Do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9). History and experience amply demonstrate that Christians have taken too casual an attitude toward sin in their own lives. This is especially tragic since God has given us the Holy Spirit, who enables us to refuse sin’s overtures (Rom. 6:1–14).

Paul presents a list of ten practices, five of which are sexual and five of which are not (1 Cor. 6:9b–10). Kenneth Bailey reminds us, “Idolatrous worship in Corinth involved sacred prostitution with the priestesses of Aphrodite/Venus, and thus idolatry in Corinth involved fornication.”[1] Still, if you are counting the list as translated by the NIV, you may come up with only four sinful practices in 1 Cor. 6:9. However, the phrase translated as “nor men who have sex with men” actually includes two Greek nouns. Ben Witherington explains, “The two terms refer respectively, then, to the leading and following partners in a homosexual [encounter].”[2] In other words, either role is unacceptable to God.

The five sexual sins are not said to be any more repugnant to God than the five non-sexual sins listed in 1 Cor. 6:10. All ten are part of the problems in Corinth and are discussed in different parts of the letter.

In 1 Cor. 6:11, a heavy emphasis lies on the first verb translated “were.” It is a common Greek verb whose form refers to continuous action in past time. What time is that? The remainder of the sentence makes it plain that the time of such behavior was prior to making a commitment of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul looks back on their conversion and probably puts the verb “washed” first for literary reasons; they have been washed clean of the ten sins listed above.

Far too many Christians look upon their conversion to Christ as being related solely to avoidance of eternal punishment; perhaps they add to that an expectation of heaven. But such a conception leaves out all the time between trusting Christ and going to heaven. Gordon Fee tells us, “For Paul there is to be the closest possible relationship between the experience of grace and one’s behavior that evidences that experience of grace.”[3] The Holy Spirit transforms us to live for Christ until he comes!

Paul’s closing emphasis on Christian identity in verse 11 has an implicit command: “Therefore, live out this new life in Christ and stop being like the wicked.”[4]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2011) 178.

[2] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 166.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 248.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 245.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:5b–8 Confusing the church with the world

1 Corinthians 6:5b–8

5b Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court — and this in front of unbelievers!

7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.

It is important to remember that the Christians in Corinth consider themselves both spiritual and wise as well as full of knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1). In the second half of verse 5, Paul indicates that he can see only one scenario that might explain how one Christian could take another before a civil court: apparently there is not a single person in the Corinthian church with the wisdom to render a decision in a dispute between two members. Gordon Fee says, “This is biting sarcasm, which scarcely needs further comment.”[1]

After crafting this scenario and making this sarcastic remark, Paul hammers it home by saying that such a scenario is apparently the true situation since one believer is actually taking another to court before unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:6). In our culture, we call this “giving them both barrels [of a shotgun]”!

Anthony Thiselton puts his finger on one way this issue plays out in contemporary culture: “Paul might have something to say about the manipulative use of media and the published word by Christians who want to score [i.e., berate] fellow believers, even at the price of heightening the profile of their lack of respect for the other in the eyes of the world.”[2] This type of attack goes on regularly between self-confessed Christians in politics, on blogs and in print.

Paul expresses the view — speaking as Christ’s apostle — that such pitched battles in a worldly forum demonstrates a profound failure of the spirituality, wisdom and knowledge that the Corinthian believers claim (1 Cor. 6:7). Using the world’s own tactics (“you yourselves cheat and do wrong”) is bad enough, but to “do this to your brothers and sisters” (1 Cor. 6:8) demonstrates a misunderstanding of what following a crucified Christ is about.

David Garland helps us question how Corinth might compare to our own situation: “Corinthian society was riddled with competitive individualism , and this ethos spilled over into the church . … For some, the Christian community had become simply another arena to compete for status according to societal norms.”[3] Could that be true of us?

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 237.

[2] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 435.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 6.