Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 6:1-8
6 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
Paul moves on from urging Corinthians to purge evil from their midst to condemning them for going outside the Church to settle disputes amongst each other. Here you can see the wisdom of the earlier chapters, though. A Church that is broken up into factions might not feel like a place where one might receive a fair hearing – even amongst fellow Christians. Further, a Church wherein evil is not purged creates the same problem. The clear logic presented in Chapter 6 needed to be preceded by the earlier admonitions. However, with those earlier admonitions in mind, let’s look at the text here. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
Dare any of you? rather, Dare any one of you? It is in St. Paul’s view an audacious defiance of Christian duties to seek from the heathen the justice due from brother to brother. A matter; some ground of civil dispute. Against another; i.e. against another Christian. When one of the litigants was a heathen, Christians were allowed to go before heathen law courts, because no other remedy was possible. Go to law before the unjust. The “unjust” is here used for “Gentiles,” because it at once suggests a reason against the dereliction of Christian duty involved in such a step. How “unjust” the pagans were in the special sense of the word, the Christians of that day had daily opportunities of seeing; and in a more general sense, the Gentiles were “sinners” (Matthew 26:45). Even the Jews were bound to settle their civil disputes before their own tribunals. The ideal Jew was jashar, or “the upright man,” and Jews could not consistently seek integrity from those who were not upright. A fortiori, Christians ought not to do so. Before the saints. All Christians were ideally “saints,” just as the heathen were normally “unjust.” If Christians went to law with one another before the heathen, they belied their profession of mutual love, caused scandal, and were almost necessarily tempted into compliance with heathen customs, even to the extent of recognizing idols. Our Lord had already laid down the rule that “brothers” ought to settle their quarrels among themselves (Matthew 18:15-17).
This is an interesting chapter to consider from the perspective of a modern Western Christian. In Paul’s view, the act of taking a fellow Christian to court is audacious. In modern times, would a pastor or priest think anything significant of learning that two congregants are going to court over a legal dispute? How often are Churches sitting in judgment over monetary / property disputes? Paul considers it an outrage and his logic makes plenty of sense. The implantation of that logic though is something rarely seen. Continuing on with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary and verse 2:
(2) Do ye not know . . . ?—The knowledge which they possessed of the great future which was in store for the Church of Christ was the strongest argument against the humiliating degradation to which their conduct was subjecting it.
The saints shall judge the world.—The Apostle here claims for all Christians the glorious prerogative which Christ had Himself promised to His immediate personal followers (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30). Bearing in mind the deep conviction of the early Church that the second personal advent of Christ was near at hand, we may take these words as referring primarily to the conquest of the world by Christianity, which has since been accomplished, though by slower and more spiritual processes than were then anticipated, and indirectly to that final triumph of Christ and His body, the Church, of which every success here on earth is at once the type and the pledge.
To judge the smallest matters.—Better, to pronounce the most trivial judgments, as compared with the great judgments which you shall pronounce hereafter. The nature of the things which form the subject of those judgments is explained in the following verse.
What does Paul mean that saints will judge the world?
Matthew 19:28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world,[a] when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Luke 22:28-30 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Note here that the two verses referred to in the comment refer to judgment of the twelve tribes of Israel, and they are also arguably limited to the people with whom He is speaking.
I found an article from Dr. John Piper attempting to explain this. I’ll link to it HERE and include excerpts below:
Now, besides the judgment of the world through the Father and Son, the New Testament also speaks of the involvement of the apostles and the saints in the judgment of the world. This is really amazing. For example, Jesus says to the twelve apostles in Matthew 19:28, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” And then Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:2–3 to the church, the whole church,
Now, if that sounds incredible, which it does, it gets even more incredible in Revelation 3:21, where Jesus says, “The one who conquers [that is, the one who triumphs over persecution and temptation by keeping the faith — the one who triumphs], I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” That’s just breathtaking.
In other words, to be part of Christ’s people by faith — simple, childlike trust in the infinitely worthy Christ — to be part of his body, his bride, is to be part of his rule. That’s what he said. And part of his rule includes part of his judgment. So, if we sit with him on his throne, in some sense sharing in his rule, we then share in his judgment, just like Paul said.
The talk of judgment gets more interesting in verse 3. From the Pulpit Commentaries:
That we shall judge angels. Angels, i.e. some who belong, or once did belong, to that class. The statement furnishes no data for further speculation. It can hardly mean “evil spirits,” for where the word is entirely unqualified it always means good angels; otherwise we might refer it to the “angels which kept not their first estate” (Jud 1 Corinthians 1:6). It is impossible, and not straightforward, to explain away the word “angels” as meaning Church officials, etc., or to make the word “judge” mean “involve a condemnation of them by comparison with ourselves.” All that we can say is that “God chargeth even his angels with folly, and in his sight the very heavens are not clean” (Job 4:18); and that “to angels hath he not subjected the world to come” (Hebrews 2:5). We must take the plain meaning of the apostle’s words, whether we can throw any light on his conceptions or not. The only alternative is to suppose that the word means “those who once were good angels,” but are now fallen spirits. It was so understood by Tertullian, Chrysostom, etc. How much more; rather, to say nothing of. The accurate rendering of these verses is a matter of some difficulty, but not to an extent which affects the material sense, or which can be explained without a minute knowledge of Greek.
As the comment notes, there is some inherent confusion over *which* angels Paul refers to here. All of them? The fallen ones only? Whichever of those is the case, the shared rule through Christ understanding of verse 2 continues to apply in verse 3. If Christ sits in judgment, and He is sharing his rule with the saints, then the saints will sit in judgment with him.
The topic as a whole requires more than one blog post. However, I think a good place to start, with respect to getting into Paul’s head, is Psalm 82:
82 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!
The picture presented in this text is one where God sits in the midst of a divine council. Some of those on the council are judging humanity in an unjust way. The Psalmist indicates that God will take rulership from these who are unjust, and those “gods” who are unjust will fall and die.
The implication from Paul seems to be that the saints will replace these unjust rulers and then sit in judgment of them, once God Almighty reclaims / “inherits” the nations.
If this is confusing, consider also the scene in Job 2:
2 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 3 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” 4 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”
Again, the picture presented is one of a divine council. Both the Psalm and Job make a reference to the “sons of God” – ben Elohim in Hebrew. Have we see “ben Elohim” other places? Yes! Genesis 6:2 refers to the “ben Elohim” taking wives from among the daughters of humanity. Their offspring were the Nephilim (giants.)
The “ben Elohim” appear to be divine beings. We would think of them as “angels” though the name angel (messenger) refers to a task they are doing, rather than who they are. They (some of them at least) sit in a council of some sort, gathered around God, and according to the Psalm, some of these are going to fall and die as men do. Paul says we will play a role in their judgment when that happens.
Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 4:
If then ye have, etc. The verse implies that civil disputes might naturally occur among them. What he is here reprobating is their objectionable method of settling them. Set them to judge who are least esteemed in the Church. This implies an utter scorn of trivial quarrels about personal rights. Surely the lowliest, the most unregarded members of the Church—those of no account—have wisdom enough to decide in such small matters. Thus when there arose a murmuring between Hebrews and Hellenists about the daily distribution to widows, the apostles, thinking that they had much more important work in hand than the adjustment of such jealousies, left the whole matter in the hands of the seven deacons. Some understand “those held of no account in the Church” to mean heathens; but he is here forbidding them to bring their quarrels before the heathens. Of course, ideally, none ought to be “despised” or “held of no account” in the Church; but St. Paul is here speaking relatively, and with reference to the views of the Corinthians themselves, and not without irony. The perfect participle, “those who have been set at nought,” perhaps means persons of proved inferiority of judgment.
In the previous chapter, Paul implores the Church to purge its evil members from among them. He cares about the corrosive influence of unrepentant sin, in their midst, and he also cares about the damage such a person can do to the reputation of the Church body as a whole. He is shocked that he has heard of significant sexual immorality in their midst, while he is far away, and of such a type that not even the pagans would do it.
Here in Chapter 6, on a different topic, we can see some of those priorities in play again. Paul is appalled at the idea of trying to find good judgment from those who are not Believers. He also seems to be aware – though he does not state it explicitly – of reputational damage that can occur by going outside their body on trivial matters. Continuing on with Ellicott:
(5) I speak to your shame.—Better, I say this to cause you to feel ashamed. From the latent irony of the previous words, the Apostle turns to ask solemnly whether it be a fact that in the whole Christian community at Corinth, which boasted of their superior wisdom, there is not to be found even one man sufficiently esteemed for his wisdom to be trusted by the brethren with the settlement of their disputes.
Shall be able to judge. . . .—Better, shall be able to arbitrate, in contrast to the “going to law” of the next verse, the words for these two expressions being different in the original.
(6) But brother goeth to law with brother.—“It would almost seem as if it were not so. Your dragging these disputes before tribunals of the heathen would imply that it is not possible to find a Christian friend whom you can trust to settle these trivial disputes.” Thus the Apostle answers his question of the previous verse.
(7) A fault.—Better, a falling short of your privilege and dignity as Christians. It is the same word as is rendered “diminishing” in Romans 11:12. The Apostle in this verse goes one step farther, and condemns the Corinthians, not only on the ground of the tribunals to which they resorted being heathen, but further condemns the spirit of litigation itself. He reminds them of how such a temper of mind is the very opposite of that which the Lord Himself had commended to His followers (Matthew 5:40).
The lawsuits themselves are a defeat, both in that they demonstrate a failure to live up to the standard set by Christ, and to allow simple mediation to solve the issue. The lawsuits demonstrate an overabundance of pride. Paul argues it is arguably better to be defrauded than to allow the Church body to suffer the shame, the conflict, and the damage to its reputation over the conflict. Finishing this section with The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 8:
Nay, ye do wrong and defraud. Thus they violated a rule which Paul had laid down to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4:6), and incurred God’s anger.
1 Thessalonians 4:6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.
Paul impresses strongly, especially in the last two chapters, that the Church needs to be very self-policing. To achieve that, though, the community must first be unified in Christ, rather than split by factions, and as a result, unified in corporate governance. As a modern reader, particularly as a modern Christian reader, one might wonder whether Paul’s Letter to the Church in America might sound similar to the one he wrote to the Church in Corinth.