Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:1–5a A change of venue

1 Corinthians 6:1–5a

1 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5a I say this to shame you.

Paul’s indignation just about scorches the pages! The Corinthian church clearly has no clue about their new identity in Christ. Gordon Fee explains, “Here the aggravation comes from two factors: (1) that they have so little self-understanding as to who they are in Christ (verses 2–4), and (2) that this action so totally destroys the community before the world (v. 6).”[1]

This is plainly not a hypothetical case. The bitter irony is that one of the Christians, who was willing to overlook widely known incest by one of his brothers, found it necessary to take a monetary matter — as we will see — before the civil magistrates. That is like ignoring cancer but going to the emergency room for a reddened pimple.

Paul accuses the church of taking matters for judgment by those who are adikos (Greek), meaning “one who does contrary to what is right.”[2] How much sense does it make to take your case before an unjust judge? A lot if you are the plaintiff who believes the court can be influenced your way! The civil courts of Rome’s provinces have received a lot of attention, and Anthony Thiselton says, “It is safe to conclude the use of Roman provincial courts for minor cases and the near certainty of a result of questionable justice are virtually synonymous.”[3]

In trying to restore a sense of identity in Christ to the Corinthian believers, Paul asserts “that the Lord’s people will judge the world” (1 Cor. 6:2). While it is not clear exactly how we will be involved, the mere fact that we will take part in such momentous events — a fact that the Corinthian church should have known — sets up Paul’s next point. How can those who will judge the world allow themselves to be divided over “trivial cases” (1 Cor. 6:2b) to the point that they seek adjudication by a pagan court? It is hard to see how the arrogant Corinthians could answer this withering critique.

But Paul is not finished hammering their wrongheaded conduct. Not only will the Corinthian believers be involved in judging the world (1 Cor. 6:2), but they will also take part in judging spiritual powers: angels (1 Cor. 6:3). It makes no sense for believers with such a future to take their own trivial cases before unjust civil courts that do not know God. David Garland says, “It reveals a fundamental inconsistency between who they are, as defined by their future destiny with God, and what they are doing.”[4] The Corinthian believers show little evidence of knowing their identity in Christ.

But they should have known. So, Paul uncovers his motivation: “I say this to shame you” (1 Cor. 6:5a). Thiselton says, “Here the situation is so blatantly at odds with Christian identity that Paul is quite willing to demolish the self-esteem of the socially influential if it will help them see the enormity of the attitudes and actions which betray their Christian profession as people of Christ and people of the cross.”[5]

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) 229.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 425.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 424.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 193.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 434.