Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 25, 1969
NUMBER 21, PAGE 3b,5b

A Commentary On First Corinthians 6:1-8

Gordon Wilson

Verses One Through Three

We are now ready, in this section, to look specifically at the language of the first three verses of First Corinthians chapter six. Then, in the third section, we shall examine verses four through eight.

Verse One: Dare any of you. In this strong language Paul rebukes the audacity of an action which he implies was actually taking place within the church in Corinth. While tis humon, any of you, is general in its form, the apostle was not speaking in generalities. The verse is not an introduction to a new subject, but continues the subject of chapter five. There were those in the church who had sinned and whose cases needed to be judged. Paul mentions one case requiring discipline, but further argues that the case is to be dealt with upon principles which effect all similar cases (5: 12, 13). The important thing to recognize here is that Paul was discussing matters of church discipline, not legal or civil matters.

Having a matter against his neighbor. The word "matter" is pragma, meaning a ground of action, a case to be argued. Such real cases do exist in the congregation ("neighbor" is literally "the other" and has to do with a fellow-member; thus brother against brother, see verse six). The word "against" is pros, the face-to-face preposition, which tells us that the case is being contested. The sin is not readily admitted and repented of; if it were, it would not have to come before the church at all. This entire clause is best understood in the light of Matthew 18: 15 — 17. Paul is dealing here with cases in which a brother sins against another, but will not correct the matter privately, necessitating that the victim bring the case before the church to be judged.

Go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints. The entire phrase, "go to law," is the single word krinesthai, which means to seek judgment. It is not a reference to a suit brought in a civil court, but to a case brought for judgment before the church. A violation of God's law is involved, and the application of God's law must be made by those who are qualified to make it. But the Corinthians, unfortunately, were not pleading their cases before qualified persons, but before the unrighteous. "The unrighteous" is ton adikon, meaning the not just ones. The root word is dike, right or just. Akin to this word is dikazo, to judge. The first qualification of a judge is that he be just. The unrighteous ones of this verse are those who are unjust judges. Church cases should, instead, have been brought before "the saints", ton hagion, the holy ones. The contrast here is not between civil courts and the church, but rather between unjust judges in the church and holy persons in the church.

The position that the unrighteous refers to civil courts is an assumption altogether without foundation. Certain commentaries to the contrary notwithstanding, there is not the slightest hint in the context, nor evidence in history, that Christians were suing one another in civil courts and had to be rebuked for it. Why should Paul use the term "unrighteous" to refer to the courts of the land? It is true that the judges of civil courts as individual men were not Christians; but one does not plead a lawsuit before judges as men, but before courts as institutions. To have Paul saying that court institutions are unrighteous is to have him contradict what he taught back in Romans chapter 13, that civil authorities are ordained of God. Or did he mean to say that the executive branch of government is ordained of God, but not the judicial branch? Surely not. It is also to array this inspired man against another inspired man who wrote that we are to honor those who are sent by God to administer justice (I Peter 2:14). Of course, we can honor such without taking lawsuits before them; that is not my point. My point is simply that court institutions are set forth in the New Testament in the light of being honorable, God-appointed. It seems inconceivable, then, that Paul should be referring to such with the term "unrighteous". That there were in the church at Corinth unrighteous men who were exerting undue influence is clearly taught in chapter five.

Verse Two: Or know ye not that the saints shall judge the world. The language here is difficult. "World" is kosmon, but whether its meaning is the earth, or men outside of Christ, is impossible to determine. The teaching of 5: 12, 13 seems to be that the saints are not in the business of judging those outside of Christ. However, in some sense, they may do so in the future; they certainly do not do so with reference to the affairs of this present life. This is the only passage in the New Testament which mentions such a judgment. At any rate, it is a judgment of cosmic proportions in which the saints will participate.

And if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters. This last clause should literally be worded, "are ye unworthy of the smallest tribunals?" Some have imagined a contrast in the verse, as follows: Since Christians are going to judge the world (those who are not Christians), then they should not permit those who are not Christians to judge them. However, there is no such contrast expressed or implied in this verse. The real contrast which Paul makes is between a great judgment and a smaller judgment; thus: Since Christians are going to engage in a great judgment of cosmic proportions, they ought to be able to serve as a tribunal in these smaller matters that are limited to their own disciplinary problem. How then did the Corinthians dare to set forth as judges the unrighteous ones in the church instead of going before the saints?

Verse Three: Know ye not that we shall judge angels. Angels are spirit-creatures of free will, and, as such, are subject to judgment. That some angels will be judged is taught in the New Testament, but this is the only passage in which it is indicated that holy people will help to do the judging. The idea which Paul intends to get across here is that saints will judge immortal beings whose very existence pertains to eternity.

How much more, things that pertain to this life. Biotika, things of this life, is from bios, which refers to life from the viewpoint of period or duration. The sense of the verse is: Since Christians are to judge those whose existence pertains to eternity, they ought to be able to judge with respect to matters that concern them here and now, for this time in which they live. It is altogether out of harmony with the context to make the things of this life refer to physical matters, or cases of dispute over material things. Cases of church discipline have to do with this life. In fact, they have only to do with this life, for their purpose is to accomplish in time what otherwise would not be accomplished until the day of judgment (5:5).