Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 2, 1969
NUMBER 22, PAGE 6-8a

A Commentary On First Corinthians 6:1-8

Gordon Wilson

Verses Four Through Eight

Verse Four: If then ye have to judge things pertaining to this life. The "ye" in this verse and in the verses following refers to the saints. They have already been identified as the ones who are supposed to do the judging. Paul has argued that the saints (holy ones) will judge the world, therefore should be able to conduct a smaller judgment. He pointed out that the saints are to judge angels, therefore should be able to judge things pertaining to this life; i.e., cases of church discipline. Such judgment should not be left up to the unrighteous; they will not judge the world nor judge angels. This seems to conform to what is taught later in the chapter at verses nine through 11: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" There is an apparent conformity between inheriting the kingdom of God, and judging the world and angels. A description is then given of these unrighteous persons. Then, "And such were some of you (saints): but ye (saints) were. . . washed..." But there were some unrighteous persons still in the church at Corinth; they would not judge, and they should not be permitted the task of judging cases of church discipline.

Do ye set them to judge who are of no account in the church. This question carries with it a rebuke. It is always a mistake for holy people to surrender their rights, their duties, to those who are unholy. The saints needed to be rebuked for so surrendering the task of judging. Those "who are of no account in the church" are those who are despised because of their sinfulness. To make, as some commentators do, this expression refer to outsiders, particularly civil courts, is to ignore the clear force of the preposition en'. En may mean either location (in) or agency (by or with). It does not mean "on the part of." Paul is not talking about those who are outside the church, and despised on the part of the church. He uses the preposition to describe location: those of no account who were in the church. Now, since those "of no account" are the same as the "unrighteous" of verse one, and the "unbelievers" of verse six, it follows that these terms also have to do with those within the church.

Verse Five: I say this to move you to shame. Paul wanted the saints in Corinth to regret their failure to do their duty, and to assume the obligation of judging which was theirs. The shame was opposed to the glorying, or being puffed up, in chapter five.

What, cannot there be found among you one wise man. That is, among the saints there ought to be someone who had the wisdom to judge; it should not be necessary to let this task go by default to the unfaithful. Who shall be able to decide between his brethren. The saints should be wise enough to determine the guilt of the offender, and the rightfulness of the victim, and thus to discipline the one who had done the wrong. Their failure to do so in chapter five had resulted in confusion and sinful boasting, and had forced Paul by apostolic authority to judge a case which they should have judged themselves.

Verse Six: But brother goeth to law with brother. "Goeth to law" is krinetai, seeks judgment. It is a different form of the word krinesthai, rendered "go to law" back in verse one. Both are passive forms of the verb krino, to judge. The word in verse one is the infinitive, to seek judgment; the word here in verse six is third person singular, seeks judgment. The idea is not that of taking a case into civil court, but of seeking equity within the church itself. It is important, moreover, to note that Paul is not condemning the action of brother seeking judgment with brother, each presenting his side in turn, which is the meaning of "with," meta (Thayer, p. 403). What he is condemning is the doing of this before unbelievers. He has already shown that he recognizes that there are real grounds of action which can only be settled by seeking judgment from the church. Only saints should do the judging.

And that before unbelievers. this is the qualifying clause, which makes the procedure in Corinth wrong. It is permissible for brother to seek judgment with brother, but not before unbelievers. "Unbelievers" is the word apiston, and means unfaithful or untrustworthy. It is used in Titus 1:15, "of those among the Christians themselves who reject the true faith" (Thayer, p. 57). Such is the use of the word here in First Corinthians 6:6. To take the position that this word must refer to aliens, and in particular to civil courts, is to argue that a believer cannot become an unbeliever. In Corinth, some believers had become unbelievers. They were unfaithful, untrustworthy, and ought not to be set forth as judges. Nothing in the verse condemns the practice of pleading purely legal matters in a civil court, even if both plaintiff and defendant are members of the church. There may be much in the New Testament to condemn the litigious spirit of one who would rush into court every time his rights seem to be in jeopardy; the contentious attitude of one who insists upon making public legal disputes which could be settled privately. But this passage does not deal with that subject at all. It deals with the mistake of letting unfaithful brethren judge cases of church discipline, instead of settling them before the saints.

Verse Seven: Nay, already it is altogether a defect in you. Literally, it is a loss to you. These cases of dispute were a loss to the saints for two reasons. First, they were depriving themselves of their right to act as judges. Second, they could not hope for justice to be done as long as the unrighteous (unjust judges) were making the decisions. If they could but see how that the situation in Corinth was a loss to them, then they would be moved to correct it.

That ye have lawsuits one with another. The word "lawsuits" is krimata, meaning cases to be decided. No particular inference can be drawn from the word itself as to who is to do the deciding. To make it refer to civil courts is purely gratuitous; the church was to do the deciding according to the demands of the context. The bare fact of having such cases of dispute was not the thing being condemned by the apostle in this place, but the fact of presenting such cases to the unrighteous for judgment. To have cases of dispute under the circumstances that prevailed in Corinth was, and is, wrong.

Why not rather take wrong? why not rather be defrauded. If there is little possibility of obtaining justice due to the character of those who are the judges, one might just as well, in fact better, suffer the wrong in the first place, and not seek a judgment from the church. This verse does not teach, as so many have construed it, that a Christian is to just permit himself to be defrauded, without making any defense or any fight for his rights. God never did give a law that is designed to give an advantage to the ungodly over His people. Sometimes one has little hope of obtaining his rights, as was the case in Corinth as long as the judges were unrighteous, and in such a case the best thing to do is to suffer the wrong. But where there is hope that grievances will be redressed, the Christian not only may, but should, seek such redress. To argue on the basis of this passage that a brother may never go into civil court against a brother, is to give a tremendous advantage to unfaithful, reprobate members of the church. We have seen far too much of the practice of letting no-account apostates cheat faithful Christians, and sometimes steal the property of whole congregations. We have no right to permit this, when legal recourse is readily available to us. We have let crooked members of the church take for their own wicked uses that which belongs to the Lord, and we have so often done it without a fight, just because of a mistaken view of First Corinthians 6:1--8. We should always be willing to suffer wrong rather than to do wrong, as the New Testament clearly teaches in an abundance of places. But we should not suffer wrong when we can prevent it by doing right.

Verse Eight: Nay, but ye yourselves do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. The "ye" here is still the saints. But Paul is not saying that they were in the wrong in the cases of dispute. Rather, he is pointing out that by letting the right of judgment go by default to the unrighteous, they were unintentionally committing a wrong against the whole church; they were defrauding their brethren of their right to obtain just decisions in cases of discipline. When the saints fail to step in and judge these cases, but permit the unrighteous to judge them, the innocent will not receive fair treatment, and the guilty will not be disciplined. The purity of the church will not be maintained, and confusion will reign. This is exactly what had happened in chapter five, until the apostle stepped in and made a judgment himself. Now, in chapter six, he is showing them how to prevent such a situation from recurring. He is teaching them the proper way to handle cases of church discipline. That is the point of the entire passage upon which I have been commenting.