1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – Vices and the Kingdom of God
SummaryIn the context of an argument that Christians should settle disputes among themselves without taking each other to court, Paul highlights the contrast between the Corinthian Christians and their pagan neighbors by listing several vices and declaring that "wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9). He reminds the Corinthians that "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" they have been transferred from one way of life to another (1 Corinthians 6:11).
AnalysisAt various points in Paul's letters, he lists vices or ways of life that are at odds with the Christian life (in addition to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, see, for example, 2 Corinthians 12:20 and Galatians 5:19-21). Such vice lists were a conventional element within ancient moral reasoning.
From Romans 7, we can be sure that Paul understands that those in Christ still commit sins. Rather than saying that anyone who commits sin is excluded from the kingdom of God, Paul is here differentiating the Christian life from other ways of life. The Corinthians seem to have believed that being in Christ had few if any implications for their conduct toward one another or those outside the church. Paul uses the vice list to contrast the former state of at least some of the Corinthian Christians with their present state as washed, sanctified, and justified and to support his claim that they should therefore settle disputes without recourse to courts and should otherwise honor one another rather than practice exploitation.
This text is one of a few places where Paul uses words that refer to homosexual behavior. (See also Romans 1:26-27 and, in the later Pauline tradition, 1 Timothy 1:10.) While historians speculate on the question of whether the apostle Paul could have had any concept of non-exploitative homosexual relationships (and what he would have thought of such relationships if he could have conceived of them), in this context the words are in a list of exploitative and destructive behaviors including greed, theft, fornication, adultery, and more. All of these offer examples of self-aggrandizement like that which characterizes the problem at hand: namely, Christians seeking judgments against one another in court. Paul's point is that as Christians, members of the Corinthian church have been transferred from such a way of life-whatever its specific elements-to a way of life that seeks the good of the other above one's own (see 1 Corinthians 10:24, "Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.")