Was Paul Responding to Slogans from the Corinthians? If so, How Many?

Scholars have long speculated that in 1 Cor. 6:12-13 Paul is responding to certain slogans that were circulating among the Corinthians. The NIV and NLT show this by employing quotation marks and including the phrase “you say” which is not in the Greek text. The passage reads:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (NIV)

The ESV and NRSV include quotation marks but do not have “you say”. Other translations vary with the use of quotation marks and the inclusion of some sort of “you say” to clarify the text. There are two questions involved here. 1) Is Paul really dealing with slogans from Corinth? and 2) If so, how many?

On the second question notice the translation by God’s Word:

Someone may say, “I’m allowed to do anything,” but not everything is helpful. I’m allowed to do anything, but I won’t allow anything to gain control over my life. 13 Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food, but God will put an end to both of them. However, the body is not for sexual sin but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.

According to this there is only one slogan: “I’m allowed to do anything.” The other alleged slogan, “Food is for the stomach”, does not include quotation marks and does not have “someone may say” prior to it. Translations that don’t include any quotation marks or added words leave the issue completely up to the reader. See for example the NASB.

In a compelling essay by Jay E. Smith, “A Slogan in 1 Corinthians 6:18b: Pressing the Case” in Studies in the Pauline Epistles (Zondervan, pp. 74-98) Smith argues that Paul actually includes a third slogan in verse 18, namely, “All other sins a person commits are outside the body.” Verlyn Verbrugge agrees (“1 Corinthians” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, revised edition, pp. 312-13) He writes,

“Among the possible understandings of this text, the one that seems to fit best is to see this statement as another maxim cited by the triumphalist Corinthians. In keeping with their other maxims as cited in 6:12-13, here certain Corinthians are suggesting that sin doesn’t matter since the body (which will be destroyed) doesn’t matter to God. Thus any activity that might directly affect one’s body is not to be considered sin: ‘Every (true) sin a person commits is not connected with the body.’” (p. 312)

So, are we dealing with one, two or three slogans? Well, maybe the answer is none at all. David Garland is not persuaded by the slogan view. “The number of those who favor the view that the Corinthians spouted this maxim to justify their licentiousness is more overwhelming than the weight of the arguments presented in favor of it.” (1 Corinthians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, p. 226, Baker Academic). He says the view ignores “that Paul does not include any indicator that he is introducing a citation here in contrast to the instances elsewhere in the letter where he introduces citations from the Corinthians, from other literature, or from a hypothetical dialogue.” (p. 226) Garland offers four considerations against to slogan view. I’ll only list them here.

“First, it seems unlikely that they could have so misconstrued or deliberately distorted Paul’s teaching to proclaim such immoral conduct permissible. . . . Second, it is surprising that they would have felt any need to offer a theological rationale for immoral behavior. . . Third, this idea was not unknown among moral philosophers. . . . It is more plausible that Paul cites a familiar notion about freedom found in the Corinthian culture and recasts it in Christian terms than that he parrots the arguments of sensualists in the church to repudiate them. . . A fourth indication that Paul is not citing a Corinthian slogan is the inclusion of ‘for me’ in the phrase, ‘all things are permissible’” (pp. 227-28) He concludes,

“If the Corinthians used this slogan to argue for complete freedom to indulge in sexual license, he would have objected far more directly and forcefully. If, on the other hand, he cites a commonplace view about freedom, then he redefines and limits it. Paul seeks to clarify, lest any misunderstand, that Christian freedom does not allow one to pursue pleasure wherever it leads. Christians are controlled by an entirely different ethic, a different view of freedom, and a different Lord.” (pp. 228-29)

I find the issue fascinating and full of intriguing questions. It’s something I’ll be thinking about for some time.


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This entry was posted in Biblical Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Was Paul Responding to Slogans from the Corinthians? If so, How Many?

  1. Charles says:

    Thanks for the post. The issue of slogans is an interesting and exegetically important one. See how the translations handle 1 Corinthians 7:1. The presence of slogans in 1 Corinthians seems likely to me, but one must be careful about using slogans as a way of marginalizing statements that make one uncomfortable. It might be noted as well that the issue is not limited to Paul. James 2:18 is a case in point of interpreters debating who is saying what.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s