1 Corinthians 6:12-20


Those things which God has neither commanded nor forbidden allow us Christians liberty, either to do or not do them. We call these things adiaphora. It is quite plain from our text that Paul had already spoken of these things to the Corinthians, but evidently the Corinthians, or at least some of them, had misused this principle. In the first place, evidently they thought that Christian liberty meant moral license. And, in the second place, they were calling fornication, which Scripture prohibits, a matter of Christian liberty.

It is amazing how much ground Paul covers in a few short verses. This text must be studied carefully before the preacher attempts to preach on it. But, if he studies carefully, there is much to say which will benefit the hearers.

1 Corinthians 6:12  "Everything is permissible for me" -- but not everything is beneficial.  "Everything is permissible for me" -- but I will not be mastered by anything.

The principle laid down twice in this verse is repeated at 10:23 with reference to meats dedicated to idols. It is quite clear that Paul had taught this as a principle. Here he does not deny it but is getting at the misuse the Corinthians had made of this principle.

Twice he says: "All things are allowed to me." The word "all" excludes the things which God has commanded and forbidden. That should be abundantly clear. Twice Paul uses the word "anything." 

There are limits to Christian liberty. The first is introduced by "not all things benefit." Is he speaking of himself or his neighbor? Primarily the latter, though the former is not ruled out. The use of Christian liberty depends on the individual situation. If my liberty does not benefit or help my neighbor, I must avoid doing what I am allowed to do.

The second "anything" introduces "but I will not be overcome by anything." Here Paul speaks plainly of himself. Christian liberty dare never be carried to the point of slavery to something.

Edwards: All things are in my power, but I shall not be overpowered by anything.
Kretzmann: All my deeds which I have power to perform are to aid and benefit my neighbor . . . by the abuse of his liberty he will forfeit the richest fruits of this liberty.
Bengel: 'To me.' Paul often speaks in the first person singular with the force of a  maxim, especially in this epistle, verses 15; 7:7; 8:13; 10:23.29.30; 14:11. 'To me' every Christian ought to think. . . . The power ought to be in the believer, not in what he uses.
Grosheide: By becoming slaves to certain things, slaves to sin, they have lost their Christian liberty.
Robertson-Plummer: Our liberty is abused when our use of it weakens our character and lessens our power of self-control.

TEV has an interesting translation here. We are merely observing, not recommending:  "Someone will say 'I am allowed to do anything.' Yes; but not everything is good for you. I could say 'I am allowed to do anything,' but I am not going to let anything make a slave of me." JB is similar.

The importance of this verse cannot be overestimated. The devil, the world, and our flesh are constantly attempting to erode the principle of Christian liberty in our lives. Eternal vigilance is necessary.

1 Corinthians 6:13  "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food" --but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

In this verse Paul becomes more specific. From the general in verse 12 Paul proceeds to the specific of fornication. Paul is speaking of fornication, not adultery. The Greeks and Romans knew that adultery was wrong. But they considered fornication, having intercourse with a harlot, acceptable.

Robertson-Plummer: In the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth, fornication was regarded as consecration.
Kretzmann: According to the heathen idea, prostitution was a consecration of the body.

But before Paul mentions fornication he lays down an exceedingly important principle. That principle is stated in the first sentence of verse 13. The two datives in the first part of this sentence are a variety of the dative of advantage. They are variously translated "for," or "meant for," "made for." 

Verse 13a may be another expression used by the Corinthians. RSV, TEV, and NIV put these words into quotation marks: "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food" RSV. Paul tacitly accepts this principle but qualifies it explicitly: "God will do away with both this (stomach) and these things (foods)." 

Melanchthon: Foods and the belly. . . are transient things . . . therefore they are adiaphora.
Rienecker-Rogers: The organs of digestion will be changed at the resurrection and the physical constitution of the resurrected body will be different from that of the mortal body.
Bengel: Those things which shall be destroyed in themselves have unrestricted us, Colossians 1:20; Mark 7:18.
Robertson-Plummer: There is absolute correlation between the two, as long as earthly life lasts: but no longer, for both of them will eventually be done away.
Bengel: (On verse 18) It seems that the viscera, which served especially the animal economy, are to be destroyed and not restored at the resurrection.

But Paul is also tacitly saying implicitly in 13a (with verse 12 still lingering in the mind) that gluttony and drunkenness are sin.

Kretzmann: but to become a slave of the stomach, to yield to intemperance, is obviously an abuse of the power given by God.

Now we come to verse 13b. We have two "but," however their usage is different. The first one is something like: "However, there's a reason for that." But the second: "But this is not like the example in 13a." 

Morris: God did not design the body for fornication as He did the belly for food.

Fornication is a perversion of God's intended use of the body.

Lenski: In the matter of sex the entire body is involved, and we may add the entire mental constitution . . . Marriage does not destroy the spiritual relation of the body to Christ and of Christ to the body; fornication does destroy that relation.

On the words "the Lord for the body" . . .

Robertson-Plummer: A startling assertion of perfect correlation: How great the condescension! The Son of God has His purpose and destiny, that is, to dwell in and glorify the body, Romans 8:23.

Note that Paul did not even say: "fornication is not for the body." But he did say the Lord is for the body. Fornication destroys body and soul. The Lord saved and still preserves body and soul.

1 Corinthians 6:14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

Paul repeats "God" from verse 13. God makes a sharp distinction between destruction and preservation. Note "both . . . and." God promises to do for us what He has already done for His Son. By virtue of Jesus'resurrection I, too, will be raised. Look at John 11:23-26; 1 Corinthians 15:20.

Some feel that Paul makes a distinction because "raise up" has a prepositional compound in it. RSV, JB, and NASB read "raised . . . raise up." Others (TEV, NIV, AAT) do not note a distinction. The difference is not disturbing. The bodies of believers are eternal just as is the body of Christ. For that reason the body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body. Marriage, which is according to God's will, does not disturb this principle.

Morris: Meats are for the belly and the belly for meats, and the destiny of both is destruction. The body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body, and resurrection is postulated of both.
Kretzmann: The destination of the body is eternal life.
Grosheide: The dignity of the body is great. It is not destined to perish but to come to glory.

We think of Philippians 3:21.

1 Corinthians 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!

For the fourth time in this chapter (see verses 2,3,9) Paul says: "You know, don't you, that, etc." This implies that Paul merely reminds them of a principle which they already know. A "don't you" question expects a positive answer.

This first question in this verse hardly needs comment. It is very clear. The second question needs comment. It begins with something like  "in view of this." "Take" means not merely take, but "take away." Look at John 1:29. Paul puts this question into the first singular, using himself as example. The intended sense is: "In view of this can you imagine me taking away the members of Christ and making them members of a prostitute?" If fornication is a matter of Christian liberty, it would be permitted even for Paul to engage a prostitute and not be guilty of sin. Paul answers: "Never! Perish the thought!" 

Morris: The horrible thing about this sin is that 'the members of Christ' are taken away from their proper use.
Kretzmann: How could one choose a harlot in preference to Christ?
Lenski: Paul brings the enormity of this sin fully to the consciousness of the Christians.
Grosheide: Because of the organic coherence not Christ but the harlot determines the character of the members.

1 Corinthians 6:16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." 

If the argument of verse 15 would not convince, surely Scripture will. And so Paul asks a second time "Do you not know?" Lenski, Rienecker-Rogers, RSV, TEV, NIV, and NASB consider  "unites" middle (active) voice: "he who joins himself." JB has "a man goes with." AAT: "he who gives himself."  "KJV and NKJV make it passive: "he who is joined." " 

Paul gives proof with an explanatory "for." His basis is Scripture. He quotes Genesis 2:24 which gives us the essence of marriage. This verse (16) is plainly speaking of sexual intercourse. It does not make one body of two people. They are still individuals but intercourse makes them a unit, a oneness. This passage from Genesis 2:24 is quoted four times in the New Testament. Sexual intercourse is the high point of marriage. It is a declaration that both people willingly give themselves to each other for mutual assistance and comfort for life. Therefore, he who gives himself to a prostitute willingly gives his entire self to her.

1 Corinthians 6:17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

At the end of the verse we are to supply the words "with Him." Paul is implying that the marriage union does not disturb one's spiritual union with Christ. But verses 16a and 18 indicate that union with a harlot destroys the spiritual union with Christ.

Morris: Those who share the sexual acts become 'one body.' Those joined by the spiritual tie become 'one spirit.'
Lenski: What is meant by 'The body for the Lord, and the Lord for the body' is now defined by 'he that joins himself to the Lord.'

Nothing is more precious to a Christian than his spiritual union with Christ. Sexual union with his wife does not break this relationship for a Christian. But sexual union with a harlot destroys that union.

1 Corinthians 6:18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

The final subparagraph for this section begins here. Here compare 2 Timothy 2:22.

Grosheide: Verse 18 draws the conclusion from everything Paul had written in this context: 'Flee fornication.'

The present imperative denotes a constant watchfulness: "Constantly be fleeing fornication." One does not argue or reason with a harlot or sexual lust. The only way to deal with it is to flee as did Joseph. Look at Genesis 39:9 and its context. Joseph did not wait around to convince Potiphar's wife. He ran. Look also at Proverbs 6:23-29 and 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

Robertson-Plummer: Make a practice of flying at once.

Bengel calls this command "severity with disgust." Fornication is always extremely dangerous.

Morris: The Christian must not temporize with it.

We do not agree with Lenski who calls this Gospel.

Lenski: He is preaching Gospel. 'Flee fornication! since your bodies are members of Christ.

This warning does not comfort me. It should horrify us.

The second sentence of this verse has caused some difficulty. Moule, quoted by Morris, thinks that the words "every sin that a man does is outside the body" was a slogan of the libertine Corinthians by which they meant that fornication could not hurt them because is was outside the body. This would mean that the phrase "but he who sins sexually . . ." corrects the faulty thinking of these erring Corinthians. That is an attractive suggestion. None of our versions espouses this idea. If that is not what Paul is saying we suggest that Paul is simply distinguishing between all other sins in general and fornication in particular. The sentence is a conditional relative clause on the analogy of the present general condition. It always hold true. Paul is talking about the result of sin, not about the sin itself.

All of our versions translate this with "man" not "person." But we are suggesting that this can easily be understood as "person." It differs not whether it's a man or a woman. However, we admit that the context calls for the word "man." 

The commentators point out that not even gluttony and suicide are as disastrous as is fornication. Furthermore, they point out that fornication, unlike any other sin, has as its sole purpose the gratification of the body. The fornicator has only one thing in mind: the satisfy his desire. He does not even care about the prostitute or what happens to her.

Bengel: The body of a fornicator is more debased by his deed, than even the corpse of one slain by his own hand.
Grosheide: In a case of suicide the pleasure of the body is not sought . . . A fornicator aims solely at the satisfaction of his own body and he disregards the essential purpose of the human body.
Robertson-Plummer: To sin against one's own body is to defraud it of its part in Christ, to cut it off from its eternal destiny. this is what fornication does in a unique degree . . . What St Paul asserts of fornication he denies of every other sin . . . All other sins are outside the body, in the sense that they do not as directly as fornication does, alienate the body from Christ, its Life and its Goal.

Fornication yields a peculiarly horrible condition between redeemed and Redeemer.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;

For the third time in our text, and for the sixth time in this chapter, we have this rhetorical question. Paul implies that they do know. Look at 1 Corinthians 3:16 where the same sentence form and thought are found. A "temple" is a "shrine," the most holy place, the place where God dwells. Jesus calls Himself the "temple." His body is a shrine, God's shrine, the place where God dwells. In our text the Christian's body is called the Holy Spirit's shrine. Possessive genitive. By virtue of the atonement of Christ the Holy Spirit claims my body as His shrine.

Most versions have "Who is in you" but RSV reads  "of the Holy Spirit within you." NEB reads "a shrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit." The friendly indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is very prominent. The clause emphasizes the fact that the Holy Spirit is God's gift to us. Because of the one who lives in my body I cannot call my body my own.

The last five words of this verse are emphatic.

Kretzmann: According to the heathen idea, prostitution was a consecration of the body; according to the Christian idea, it is the filthiest desecration of the body.
Robertson-Plummer: In the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth, fornication was regarded as consecration; the Corinthians are here told that it is a monstrous desecration.

Christians have liberty, permission to do as they will, with reference to matters adiaphoral. But even there not all things are beneficial and there's always the danger of being overpowered even by something which is adiaphoral. But when it comes to fornication, God and His Word scream: "STOP! FLEE!" 

The last thought of verse 19 ( "you are not your own" ) looks both backward and forward. This brings us to verse 20.

1 Corinthians 6:20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

This is an explanation. We are told why we are not our own. The Holy Spirit did not move in arbitrarily. He moved in because a payment was made. We think immediate of such passages as Galatians 3:13-14. The promised Holy Spirit moved in only because of the price which Jesus paid.

"Therefore," according to Lenski, means "by all means then." That is a good observation. Rienecker-Rogers remarks: "'Therefore' used as an intensive particle and commands an exhortation and indicates that the point at last is clear and may be assumed as true." 

On this verse compare Philippians 1:20. "Honor God" means to cause people to have a high opinion of God. That is the basic meaning of this verb. We think immediately of Matthew 5:16. Our good works give people a high opinion of God, not of ourselves. How should we do this? By means of our bodies.

KJV and NKJV add here: "and in your spirit which is of God." Though this thought is Scriptural, the phrase is not found in the best original manuscripts, or at least so say the authorities.

Morris: 'Glorify God.' Here we have a positive, where in 'flee fornication' we had the negative.
Lenski: To glorify God in our body means so to use our earthly body that men may actually see that also these our bodies belong to God.
Grosheide: The main subject of this pericope is no doubt the matter of fornication . . . With this subject Paul combines two more general points. For it first of all furnishes an occasion to condemn the Corinthians for making the rule 'all things are lawful for me' a starting point for their general conduct. Secondly, the apostle ends with the summons to seek through the body the glory of God alone.

That thought is worth pondering. I should never begin with the standard of what God allows me to do but rather with what God wills me to do. We don't pray "Allow us to do on earth what you allow in heaven" but rather "Your will be done one earth as it is in heaven." 


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 35-39. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index