1 Corinthians 6:12-20

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 6:12-20

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.


Paul here continues to implore the Corinthians to stop sinning sexually. Paul seems to be quoting from something ini verse 12. We will look first to Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for explanation:

(12) All things are lawful unto me.—This was probably a statement which the Apostle had himself made; at all events, the freedom which it expresses was very dear to him, and it may have been misused by some as an argument for universal license. St. Paul, therefore, boldly repeats it, and proceeds to show that it is a maxim of Christian liberty, which does not refer to matters which are absolutely wrong, and that even in its application to indifferent matters it must be limited, and guarded by other Christian principles. “The eating of things sacrificed to idols (see Note on 1 Corinthians 8:4), and the committing fornication,” were two subjects of discussion closely connected with heathen worship; and it may seem astonishing to us now that because St. Paul had maintained the right of individual liberty concerning the former, he should perhaps have been quoted as an authority for liberty regarding the latter, yet it is a matter of fact that such a mode of reasoning was not uncommon. They were both regarded as part and parcel of heathen worship, and therefore, as it were, to stand or fall together, as being matters vital or indifferent. (See Acts 15:29, and Revelation 11:14, as illustrations of the union of the two for purposes respectively of condemnation and of improper toleration.) We must not regard the use of the singular “me” as being in any sense a limitation of the principle to the Apostle personally. “Paul often speaks in the first person singular, which has the force of a moral maxim, especially in this Epistle (1 Corinthians 6:151 Corinthians 7:71 Corinthians 8:131 Corinthians 10:231 Corinthians 10:29-301 Corinthians 14:11)” (Bengel). The words refer to all Christians.

All things are not expedient.—Better, all things are not profitable. The word “expedient” in its highest sense is a proper translation of the Greeks, but in modern use it has a somewhat lower and depreciatory meaning generally attached to it.

All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.—There is a verbal contrast in the Greek here which can scarcely be rendered fully in English. The Greek words for “unlawful” and “be brought under the power of” are cognate words. What the Apostle says is, “All things are lawful for me, but I am not the one to allow them therefore to become a law over me.” There is such a thing as becoming the very slave of liberty itself. If we sacrifice the power of choice which is implied in the thought of liberty, we cease to be free; we are brought under the power of that which should be in our power.

The Pulpit Commentaries offers, as an alternative explanation for the quote, the idea that Paul received a letter from the Corinthians to explain their behavior.

1 Corinthians 6:12

All things are lawful unto me. The abruptness with which the phrase is introduced perhaps shows that, in the letter of the Corinthians to St. Paul, they had used some such expression by way of palliating their lax tolerance of violations of the law of purity. By “all things,” of course, is only meant “all things which are indifferent in themselves.” They erroneously applied this maxim of Christian liberty to that which was inherently sinful, and thus were tempted to “make their liberty a cloak of viciousness.” St. Paul, as Bengel observes, often, and especially in this Epistle, uses the first person generally in gnomic or semi-proverbial sentences (1 Corinthians 6:15; 1Co 7:7; 1 Corinthians 10:231 Corinthians 10:291 Corinthians 10:301 Corinthians 14:11). But. This is St. Paul’s correction of too broad a formula. Are not expedient. St. Paul illustrates this in 1 Corinthians 8:8-10. We have no right to do even that which is innocent, if it be disadvantageous to the highest interests of ourselves or others. “He alone,” says St. Augustine, “does not fall into unlawful things who sometimes abstains by way of caution even from lawful ones.” Will not be brought under the power. The play of words in the original might be imitated by saying, “All things are in my power, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” In other words, “boundless intemperance” may become a tyranny. The pretence of moral freedom may end in a moral bondage.

“Obedience is better than freedom? What’s free?
The vexed foam on the wave, the tossed straw on the sea;
The ocean itself, as it rages and swells,
In the bonds of a boundless obedience dwells.”

I will be master even over my liberty by keeping it under the beneficent control of law and of charity.

Continuing on with verse 13, Paul addresses the argument that new permissibility of eating meats, offered to idols, could be extended also include previously forbidden sexual acts as well. From Ellicott:

13) Meats for the belly.—The Apostle proceeds now to show that the question of eating meats offered to idols does come into that catalogue of indifferent things on which an exercise of Christian freedom is permissible, and that the question of fornication does not. Lawful matters are to be decided upon the highest principle of expediency; but fornication is an unlawful matter, and therefore the question of its expediency does not arise at all. The stomach is adapted to the digestion of food, and food is adapted to it. This is, however, only for this life; both shall be destroyed by death. But the person (“body” being equivalent to “us” in 1 Corinthians 6:14) of the man is enduring. No food which enters defiles the man. Fornication is not a mere transitory gratification; it affects the man. The use of the stomach is to receive and digest food, and only the animal organisation is affected by that. It cannot be said that the man is made for fornication. The person of each is made for the Lord; the whole Church is His body; each baptised person is a limb of that body; and the Lord is for the body. He came to earth and died for it, and for each member of it; therefore what affects that body, or any member of that body (i.e., any Christian), cannot be an indifferent matter. Neither shall the man perish, as meats and the belly shall; he is immortal. (See 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.) Such seems to be the argument by which St. Paul maintains liberty to be right regarding meats, and shows that the same principle does not apply to sensual indulgence. It may be put argumentatively thus:

1. Eating meats offered to idols is an “indifferent matter,” because—

(a) Meats only affect the particular organ designed for them;

(b) Meats and that organ shall perish together.

2. Fornication is not an “indifferent matter,” because—

(a) It affects the man, and he is not designed for the purpose of this indulgence,

(b) The man is immortal, and therefore the moral effect of the fornication on his nature does not perish at his death.

Conclusion.—Only indifferent matters are to be the subject of Christian liberty; and the decision must be according to the utility of each act. Fornication is not an indifferent matter; therefore it is not so to be decided upon.

(14) Will also raise up us.—This phrase is remarkable as one of the few which show that the Apostle, while he in common with the early Church expected the early advent of Christ, did not think that it would necessarily occur in his own lifetime. Here, as ever, the resurrection of the dead, when we shall receive our spiritual body instead of the natural body, is joined with the fact of the resurrection of Christ the firstfruits.

Inasmuch as Paul seems to provide clarity here, the argument for a changed sexual morality, on the basis of a changed dietary limitation, continues to be debated within the Church even today – perhaps especially today. As was discussed in the previous post, this argument from Paul is not a narrow one. Romans 1 in particular demonstrate that Paul is interpreting “sexual immorality” as a wide category of sexual acts. Further, the subsequent Church history, at least until recent decades, followed a broad interpretation of what “sexual immorality” entails. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 6:15

Members of Christ. We find the same metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:121 Corinthians 12:27Ephesians 5:30. The Church is often alluded to as “the body of Christ” (Ephesians 1:23Colossians 1:18Colossians 2:19, etc.). Elsewhere the union between Christ and Christians is described by the metaphor of a tree and its branches; a building and the stones of which it is composed (Ephesians 2:21Ephesians 2:22). God forbid. An admirable idiom to express the real force of the original, which means, “May it never be!”. It occurs in Romans 3:4Romans 3:6Romans 3:31Romans 6:15Romans 7:7Romans 7:13Romans 9:14Romans 11:1Romans 11:11Galatians 2:17Galatians 3:21. The formula, which involves the indignant rejection of some false conclusion, is characteristic of the second group of St. Paul’s Epistles, but especially (as will be seen) of the Epistle to the Romans.

1 Corinthians 6:16

What, know ye not, etc.? The clause is used to explain and justify the strong expression which he had used in the previous verse. It involves an argument against the sin which is the most original and impressive which could have been used. To this passage especially is due the tone taken by Christians as to these sins, which differed so totally from that taken by heathen. They two. The words do not occur in Genesis 2:24, but are always so quoted in the New Testament. Saith he. This is a vague Jewish formula of quotation, adopted to avoid the needless introduction of the sacred Name. “He” is “God” in Scripture. Shall be one flesh; rather, shall become. This appeal to Genesis 2:24 (Matthew 19:5) is equivalent to the rule that no intercourse between the sexes is free from sin except under the sanction of marriage.

1 Corinthians 6:17

That is joined unto the Lord. This phrase, indicating the closest possible union, is found in Deuteronomy 10:202 Kings 18:6Is one spirit. There is a “mystical union,” not only “betwixt Christ and his Church,” but also between Christ and the holy soul Hence, to St. Paul, spiritual life meant the indwelling of Christ in the heart—the life “in Christ;” so that he could say, “It is no more I that live, but Christ that liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20Galatians 3:27Colossians 3:17).

Paul points out something that his audience would know and believe, but also might be willfully forgetting.

  1. A Christian’s body is home to God, through the Holy Spirit. Thus, your body is one with Christ.
  2. If you are one with Christ in your body, lying with a prostitute makes Christ’s body – your body – one with a prostitute as well.

In this context, the sin here is an obvious outrage against God’s temple. The problem is that the Corinthians are failing to remember that their bodies are God’s temple in the first place.

Paul urges the Church in Corinth to purge itself from evil in chapter 5. Here, near the end of Chapter 6, he urges them to flee from sexual immorality. The specific evil of sexual immorality is the focus on both places. In the corporate sense, it is important to Paul that the Church separate itself from sin and evil. On an individual basis though, he urges effort. He urges them to flee. If a person is actively working to resist sin, then that person is not in open and unapologetic rebellion.

Remember, the larger goal of Paul in this letter is unity. He wants to remove evil – open rebellion – and then he wants everyone else to unify under Christ rather than under factions. With these thoughts in mind, we’ll look at the comment on verse 18, from Ellicott:

(18) Flee fornication.—These last three verses of the chapter contain a solemn exhortation to purity, arising out of the previous argument.

Without the body.—The word “body” is still to be understood as used of the whole “human nature,” which is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 6:19 as the temple of the Holy Ghost. Other sins may profane only outer courts of the temple; this sin penetrates with its deadly foulness into the very holy of holies—

“It hardens a’ within, and petrifies the feelings.”

There is a deep significance and profound truth in the solemn words of the Litany, “From fornication, and all other deadly sin, good Lord, deliver us.”

We’ll close this chapter with the Pulpit Commentary notes for verses 19 and 20:

1 Corinthians 6:19

That your body is the temple (or rather, a sanctuary) of the Holy Ghost. He has already said that the Church is a shrine or sanctuary of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 3:16); but here for the first time expression is given to one of the deepest and newest truths of Christianity. Three great epochs are marked by the use of the word temple. In the Old Testament it means the material temple, the sign of a localized worship and a separated people; in the Gospels our Lord uses it of his own mortal body; in the Epistles it is used (as here) of the body of every baptized Christian, sanctified by the indwelling Spirit of God. Ye are not your own. We cannot, therefore, use our bodies as though they were absolutely under our own control. They belong to God, and, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).

1 Corinthians 6:20

Ye are bought with a price. That price is the blood of Christ, wherewith he purchased the Church (Acts 20:28; Heb 9:12; 1 Peter 1:181 Peter 1:19Revelation 5:9). This metaphor of ransom (1 Corinthians 7:232 Peter 2:1) has its full and absolute applicability to man. The effect of Christ’s death for us is that we are redeemed from slavery and prison, and the right of our possession is with Christ. Thus by various metaphors the effects of redemption are revealed to us on the human side. When we unduly press the metaphor, and ask from whom we were purchased, and to whom the price was paid, we build up scholastic systems which have only led to error, and respecting which the Church has never sanctioned any exclusive opinion. The thoughts touched upon in this verse are fully developed in the Epistle to the Romans. Glorify God; by behaving as his redeemed children, and therefore by keeping yourselves pure. In these few brief words St. Paul sums up all he has said, as he did in 1 Corinthians 5:13. In your body. The following words, “and in your spirit, which are God’s,” are a perfectly correct and harmless gloss, but are not found in the best manuscripts, and are foreign to the drift of the passage. Your body is a temple, and in that temple God must be honoured. “Unchastity dishonours God, and that in his own temple (Romans 2:23)” (Meyer). In these clauses St. Paul has touched on three subjects which occupy important sections of the remainder of the Epistle, namely,

(1) the relation between the sexes (1 Corinthians 7:1-40.);

(2) the question of idol offerings (1 Corinthians 8:1-13.); and

(3) the doctrine of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-58.).

The note drives home and important concept for Paul’s readers. He argues that a Christian’s body belongs now to God, and is not his or her own body. It is a temple dedicated to the worship of a sovereign God, purchased by the blood of Christ. A person gives away ownership of his or her own body when they accept Christ and receive the Holy Spirit. This is a foundational principle of Christianity.

The arguments for sexual “liberation” are often very self-focused. However, if one is a Christian, and an adherent to Paul’s teaching (as well as the teaching of the other Church fathers), then the self has nothing to do with the argument to keep one’s body pure. The new argument is about whether or not one should keep Christ’s body pure. The notion that one’s body is not his or her own is difficult to accept, both in the culture of Corinth during the time of Paul, and in the present. Yet, Paul teaches that this acceptance is part of what it means to be a Christian.

Paul will continue to expound upon sexual immorality in chapter 7, but there he will also begin to teach upon permissible sex, in the context of marriage.