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1 Corinthians 6:1-8

1. Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?

1. Audet aliquis vestrum, negotium habens cum altero, litigare sub iniustis, et non sub sanctis?

2. Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?

2. An nescitis, quod sancti mundum iudicabunt? quodsi in vobis iudicatur mundus, indigni estis minimis iudiciis?

3. Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things pertain to this life?

3. An nescitis, quod angelos iudicabimus, nedum ad victum pertinentia?

4. If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.

4. Iudicia ergo de rebus ad victum pertinentibus si habueritis, qui contemptibiles sunt in Ecclesia, 314314     “De moindre estime en l’Eglise, ou, de nulle estime, assauoir au pris des autres;” — “Of least esteem in the Church, or of no esteem; that is, in comparison with others.” eos constituite.

5. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?

5. Ad erubescentiam vestram dico: adeo non est inter vos sapiens, ne unus quidem, qui possit iudicare inter fratres?

6. But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.

6. Sed frater cum fratre litigat, idque sub infidelibus.

7. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?

7. Jam quidera omnino delictum in vobis est, quod iudicia habetis inter vos: cur non potius iniuriam sustinetis? 315315     “Pourquoy plustost n’endurez-vous l’injure? Pourqaoy plustost ne receuez-vous dommage?” — “Why, do you not rather suffer injury? Why do you not rather submit to loss?

8. Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

8. Sed vos infertis iniuriam, et fraudatis, et quidem fratres.


Here, he begins to reprove another fault among the Corinthians — an excessive fondness for litigation, which took its rise from avarice. Now, this reproof consists of two parts. The first is, that by bringing their disputes before the tribunals of the wicked, they by this means made the gospel contemptible, and exposed it to derision. The second is, that while Christians ought to endure injuries with patience, they inflicted injury on others, rather than allow themselves to be subjected to any inconvenience. Thus, the first part is particular: the other is general.

1. Dare any of you This is the first statement — that, if any one has a controversy with a brother, it ought to be decided before godly judges, and that it ought not to be before those that are ungodly. If the reason is asked, I have already said, that it is because disgrace is brought upon the gospel, and the name of Christ is held up as it were to the scoffings of the ungodly. For the ungodly, at the instigation of Satan, are always eagerly on the watch 316316     “Espient incessamment et d’vne affection ardente;” — “Watch incessantly and with eager desire.” for opportunities of finding occasion of calumny against the doctrine of godliness. Now believers, when they make them parties in their disputes, seem as though they did on set purpose furnish them with a handle for reviling. A second reason may be added — that we treat our brethren disdainfully, when we of our own accord subject them to the decisions of unbelievers.

But here it may be objected: “As it belongs to the office of the magistrate, and as it is peculiarly his province to administer justice to all, and to decide upon matters in dispute, why should not even unbelievers, who are in the office of magistrate, have this authority, and, if they have it, why are we prevented from maintaining our rights before their tribunals?” I answer, that Paul does not here condemn those who from necessity have a cause before unbelieving judges, 317317     “Qui sont necessairement contraints de maintenir et plaider leurs causes sous iuges infideles;” — “Who are from necessity shut up to maintain and defend their law-suits before unbelieving judges.” as when a person is summoned to a court; but those who, of their own accord, bring their brethren into this situation, and harass them, as it were, through means of unbelievers, while it is in their power to employ another remedy. It is wrong, therefore, to institute of one’s own accord a law-suit against brethren before unbelieving judges. If, on the other hand, you are summoned to a court, there is no harm in appearing there and maintaining your cause.

2. Know ye not that the saints. Here we have an argument from the less to the greater; for Paul, being desirous to show that injury is done to the Church of God when judgments on matters of dispute connected with earthly things are carried before unbelievers, as if there were no one in the society of the godly that was qualified to judge, reasons in this strain: “Since God has reckoned the saints worthy of such honor, as to have appointed them to be judges of the whole world, it is unreasonable that they should be shut out from judging as to small matters, as persons not qualified for it.” Hence it follows, that the Corinthians inflict injury upon themselves, in resigning into the hands of unbelievers the honor 318318     “L’honneur et la prerogatiue;” — “The honor and the prerogative.” that has been conferred upon them by God.

What is said here as to judging the world ought to be viewed as referring to that declaration of Christ:

When the Son of Man shall come, ye shall sit, etc.
(Matthew 19:28.)

For all power of judgment has been committed to the Son,
(John 5:22,)

in such a manner that he will receive his saints into a participation with him in this honor, as assessors. Apart from this, they will judge the world, as indeed they begin already to do, because their piety, faith, fear of the Lord, good conscience, and integrity of life, will make unbelievers altogether inexcusable, as it is said of Noah, that by his faith he condemned all the men of his age. (Hebrews 11:7.) But the former signification accords better with the Apostle’s design, for unless you take the judging here spoken of in its proper acceptation, the reasoning will not hold.

But even in this sense 319319     “Mais, dira quelqu’vn, encore a le prendre ainsi;” — “But, some one will say, even taking it in this way.” it may seem not to have much weight, for it is as if one should say’ “The saints are endowed with heavenly wisdom, which immeasurably transcends all human doctrines: therefore they can judge better as to the stars than astrologers.” Now this no one will allow, and the ground of objection is obvious — because piety and spiritual doctrine do not confer a knowledge of human arts. My answer here is this, that between expertness in judging and other arts there is this difference, that while the latter are acquired by acuteness of intellect and by study, and are learned from masters, 320320     “Sous precepteurs et maistres;” — “Under preceptors and masters.” the former depends rather on equity and conscientiousness.

But 321321     “Mais, dira quelqu’vn:” — “But, some one will say.” “lawyers will judge better and more confidently than an illiterate Christian: otherwise the knowledge of law is of no advantage.” I answer, that their advice is not here excluded, for if the determination of any obscure question is to be sought from a knowledge of the laws, the Apostle does not hinder Christians from applying to lawyers. 322322     “Ne defend point aux Chrestiens d’aller demander conseil aux Legistes;” — “Does not hinder Christians from going to ask the advice of lawyers.” What he finds fault with in the Corinthians is simply this, that they carry their disputes before unbelieving judges, as if they had none in the Church that were qualified to pass judgment, and farther, he shows how much superior is the judgment that God has assigned to his believing people.

The words rendered in you mean here, in my opinion, among you. For whenever believers meet in one place, under the auspices of Christ, 323323     “Au nom de Christ;” — “In the name of Christ.” there is already in their assembly a sort of image of the future judgment, which will be perfectly brought to light on the last day. Accordingly Paul says, that the world is judged in the Church, because there Christ’s tribunal is erected, from which he exercises his authority. 324324     “Auquel estant comme assis, il exerce sa iurisdiction;” — “On which being as it were seated, he exercises his authority.”

3. Know ye not that we shall judge angels? This passage is taken in different ways. Chrysostom states that some understood it as referring to priests, 325325     “Des prestres et ministres;” — “Of priests and ministers.” but this is exceedingly far-fetched. Others understand it of the angels in heaven, in this sense — that the angels are subject to the judgment of God’s word, and may be judged by us, if need be, by means of that word, as it is said in the Epistle to the Galatians —

If an angel from heaven bring any other gospel, let him be accursed.
(Galatians 1:8.)

Nor does this exposition appear at first view unsuitable to the thread of Paul’s discourse; for if all whom God has enlightened by his word are endowed with such authority, that through means of that word they judge not only men but angels too, how much more will they be prepared to judge of small and trivial matters? As, however, Paul speaks here in the future tense, as referring to the last day, and as his words convey the idea of an actual judgment, (as the common expression is,) it were preferable, in my opinion, to understand him as speaking of apostate 326326     “Apostats et rebelles;” — “Apostate and rebellious.” angels. For the argument will be not less conclusive in this way: “Devils, who sprang from so illustrious an origin, and even now, when they have fallen from their high estate, are immortal creatures, and superior to this corruptible world, shall be judged by us. What then? Shall those things that are subservient to the belly be exempted from our judgment?

4. If you have judgments then as to things pertaining to this life We must always keep in view what causes he is treating of; for public trials are beyond our province, and ought not to be transferred to our disposal; but as to private matters it is allowable to determine without the cognizance of the magistrate. As, then, we do not detract in any degree from the authority of the magistrate by having recourse to arbitration, it is not without good reason that the Apostle enjoins it upon Christians to refrain from resorting to profane, that is, unbelieving judges. And lest they should allege that they were deprived of a better remedy, he directs them to choose out of the Church arbiters, who may settle causes agreeably and equitably. Farther, lest they should allege that they have not a sufficient number of qualified persons, he says that the meanest is competent to discharge this office. There is, therefore, no detracting here from the dignity of the office of magistrates, when he gives orders that their office be committed to contemptible persons, for this (as I have already said) is stated by anticipation, as though he had said: “Even the lowest and meanest among you will discharge this office better than those unbelieving judges to whom you have recourse. So far are you from necessity in this way.”

Chrysostom comes near this interpretation, though he appends to it something additional; for he is of opinion, that the Apostle meant to say, that, even though the Corinthians should find no one among themselves who had sufficient wisdom for judging, they must nevertheless make choice of some, of whatever stamp they were. Ambrose touches neither heaven nor earth. 327327     “Sainct Ambrose ne touche ne ciel ne terre (cornroe on dit) en l’exposition de ces mots;” — “St. Ambrose touches neither heaven nor earth (as the expression is) in the exposition of these words.” — Our Author’s meaning seems to be that Ambrose hangs in suspense, or gives no decided opinion. — Ed. I think I have faithfully brought out the Apostle’s intention — that the lowest among believers was preferred by him to unbelievers, as to capacity of judging. There are some that strike out a quite different meaning, for they understand the word καθιζετε to be in the present tense — You set them to judge, and by those that are least esteemed in the Church they understand profane persons. 328328     “Les gens profanes et infideles;” — “Profane and unbelieving persons.” This, however, is more ingenious than solid, for that were a poor designation of unbelievers. 329329     “Car ce seroit vne facon de parler bien maigre et de peu de grace, d’appeler ainsi les infideles;” — “For it were a very meager and awkward way of speaking, to describe unbelievers in this manner.” Besides, the form of expression, if you have, would not suit so well with a reproof, for the expression would have required rather to be while you have, for that condition takes away from the force of it. Hence I am the more inclined to think, that a remedy for the evil is here prescribed.

That this statement, however, was taken up wrong by the ancients, appears from a certain passage in Augustine. For in his book — “On the Work of Monks,” where he makes mention of his employments, he declares that among his numerous engagements, the most disagreeable of all was, that he was under the necessity of devoting a part of the day to secular affairs, but that he at the same time endured it patiently, because the Apostle 330330     “Sainct Paul;” — “Saint Paul.” had imposed upon him this necessity. From this passage, and from a certain epistle, it appears that the bishops were accustomed to sit at certain hours to settle disputes, as if the Apostle had been referring to them here. As, however, matters always become worse, there sprang from this error, in process of time, that jurisdiction which the officials of the bishops assume to themselves in money matters. In that ancient custom there are two things that are deserving of reproof — that the bishops were involved in matters that were foreign to their office; and that they wronged God in making his authority and command a pretext for turning aside from their proper calling. The evil, however, was in some degree excusable, but as for the profane custom, which has come to prevail in the Papacy, it were the height of baseness to excuse or defend it.

5. I speak to your shame The meaning is — “If other considerations do not influence you, let it at least be considered by you, how disgraceful it is to you that there is not so much as one among you who is qualified to settle an affair amicably among brethren — an honor which you assign to unbelievers Now this passage is not inconsistent with the declaration which we met with above, when he stated that he did not make mention of their faults with the view of shaming them, (1 Corinthians 4:14,) for instead of this, by putting them to shame in this manner, he calls them back from disgrace, 331331     “Il les garde de tomber en reproche;” — “He guards them against falling into reproach.” and shows that he is desirous to promote their honor. He does not wish them, then, to form so unfavorable an opinion of their society, as to take away from all their brethren an honor which they allow to unbelievers

7. Now indeed there is utterly a fault. Here we have the second part of the reproof, which contains a general doctrine; for he now reproves them, not on the ground of their exposing the gospel to derision and disgrace, but on the ground of their going to law with each other. This, he says, is a fault We must, however, observe the propriety of the term which he employs. For ἥττημα in Greek signifies weakness of mind, as when one is easily broken down 332332     “Aiseement abbatu et irrite;” — “Easily hurt and irritated.” by injuries, and cannot bear anything it comes afterward to be applied to vices of any kind, as they all arise from weakness and deficiency in fortitude. 333333     The Greek term ἥττημα is supposed by some to be derived originally from the Hebrew verb חתת to be broken, (which is rendered by ἡτταομαι, in various instances in the Septuagint.) Our author had probably an eye to this when stating the original meaning of the term to be “weakness of mind, as when one is easily broken down by injuries.” The term properly denotes defect It is instructive to observe, that a disposition to “go to law with brethren,” rather than “suffer wrong,” is represented by the Apostle as indicative of a defect, that is, in Christian meekness or brotherly love; while the opposite disposition, recommended by the Apostle, would, according to the standard of the world’s morality, discover defect, in respect of want of spirit. — Ed What Paul, then, condemns in the Corinthians is this — that they harassed one another with law-suits. He states the reason of it — that they were not prepared to bear injuries patiently. And, assuredly, as the Lord commands us (Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:21) not to be overcome by evils, but on the contrary to overcome injuries by acts of kindness, it is certain, that those who cannot control themselves so as to suffer injuries patiently, commit sin by their impatience. If contention in law-suits among believers is a token of that impatience, it follows that it is faulty

In this way, however, he seems to discard entirely judgments as to the affairs of individuals. “Those are altogether in the wrong who go to law. Hence it will not be allowable in any one to maintain his rights by having recourse to a magistrate.” There are some that answer this objection in this way — that the Apostle declares that where there are law-suits there is utterly a fault, because, of necessity, the one or the other has a bad cause. They do not, however, escape by this sophistry, because he says that they are in fault, not merely when they inflict injury, but also when they do not patiently endure it. For my own part, my answer is simply this — having a little before given permission to have recourse to arbiters, he has in this shown, with sufficient clearness, that, Christians are not prohibited from prosecuting their rights moderately, and without any breach of love. Hence we may very readily infer, that his being so severe was owing to his taking particularly into view the circumstances of the case. And, undoubtedly, wherever there is frequent recourse to law-suits, or where the parties contend with each other pertinaciously with rigor of law, 334334     “Et qu’ils veulent veoir le bout du proces; (comme on dit;)“ — “And are desirous to see the issue of the case, (as the expression is.)” it is in that case abundantly plain, that their minds are immoderately inflamed with wrong dispositions, and are not prepared for equity and endurance of wrongs, according to the commandment of Christ. To speak more plainly, the reason why Paul condemns law-suits is, that we ought to suffer injuries with patience. Let us now see whether any one can carry on a law-suit without impatience; for if it is so, to go to law will not be wrong in all cases, but only ἐπὶ τὸ πολύ — for the most part. I confess, however, that as men’s manners are corrupt, impatience, or lack of patience (as they speak) is an almost inseparable attendant on lawsuits. This, however, does not hinder your distinguishing between the thing itself and the improper accompaniment. Let us therefore bear in mind, that Paul does not condemn law-suits on the ground of its being a wrong thing in itself to maintain a good cause by having recourse to a magistrate, but because it is almost invariably accompanied with corrupt dispositions; as, for example, violence, desire of revenge, enmities, obstinacy, and the like.

It is surprising that this question has not been more carefully handled by ecclesiastical writers. Augustine has bestowed more pains upon it than the others, and has come nearer the mark; 335335     Our Author, when treating at some length of the same subject in the Institutes, (volume 3, p. 543,) makes a particular reference to Augustine. (Ep. 5. ad Marcell.) — Ed. but even he is somewhat obscure, though there is truth in what he states. Those who aim at greater clearness in their statements tell us that we must distinguish between public and private revenge; for while the magistrate’s vengeance is appointed by God, those who have recourse to it do not rashly take vengeance at their own hand, but have recourse to God as an Avenger. 336336     “Se retirent a Dieu comme a celuy a qui appartient la vengeance;” — “They have recourse to God, as to him to whom vengeance belongeth.” (Psalm 94:1.) This, it is true, is said judiciously and appropriately; but we must go a step farther; for if it be not allowable even to desire vengeance from God, then, on the same principle, it were not allowable to have recourse to the magistrate for vengeance.

I acknowledge, then, that a Christian man is altogether prohibited from revenge, so that he must not exercise it, either by himself, or by means of the magistrate, nor even desire it. If, therefore, a Christian man wishes to prosecute his rights at law, so as not to offend God, he must, above all things, take heed that he does not bring into court any desire of revenge, any corrupt affection of the mind, or anger, or, in fine, any other poison. In this matter love will be the best regulator. 337337     “Pour estre bien gouuerne en ceci, il faut estre gaeni d’vne vraye charite;” — “To be properly regulated in this, we must be adorned with true love.”

If it is objected, that it very rarely happens that any one carries on a law-suit entirely free and exempt from every corrupt affection, I acknowledge that it is so, and I say farther, that it is rare to find a single instance of an upright litigant; but it is useful for many reasons to show that the thing is not evil in itself, but is rendered corrupt by abuse: First, that it may not seem as if God had to no purpose appointed courts of justice; Secondly, that the pious may know how far their liberties extend, that they may not take anything in hand against the dictates of conscience. For it is owing to this that many rush on to open contempt of God, when they have once begun to transgress those limits; 338338     “Plusieurs tombent en ceste malediction, de mepriser Dieu ouuertement;” — “Many fall into that curse of openly contemning God.” (Psalm 10:13.) Thirdly, that they may be admonished, that they must always keep within bounds, so as not to pollute by their own misconduct the remedy which the Lord has permitted them to employ; Lastly, that the audacity of the wicked may be repressed by a pure and uncorrupted zeal, which could not be effected, if we were not allowed to subject them to legal punishments.

8. But ye do injury. Hence we see for what reason he has inveighed against them with so much bitterness — because there prevailed among them such a base desire of gain, that they did not even refrain from injuring one another. He premised a little before, with the view of exposing the magnitude of the evil, that those are not Christians who know not to endure injuries. There is, then, an amplification here, founded on a comparison: for if it is wrong not to bear injuries patiently, how much worse is it to inflict them?

And that your brethren Here is another aggravation of the evil; for if those are doubly culpable who defraud strangers, it is monstrous for brother to be cheated or despoiled by brother Now all of us are brethren that call upon one Father in heaven (Matthew 23:9.) At the same time, if any one acts an unprincipled part towards strangers, Paul does not palliate the crime; but he teaches that the Corinthians were utterly blinded in making sacred brotherhood a matter of no moment.

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