Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Parallelism within 1 Corinthians 6:13–14: The Hemeneutical Key to Unlocking Paul’s Argument

Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 6:13–14 is a little difficult to follow, and there are a few possibilities for interpretation. It is rather common for interpreters to suggest that the third clause in 1 Cor 6:13 (i.e., the clause but God will abolish both) as being Paul’s opinion, which effectively contrasts with the relationship between food and the stomach in the first two clauses of 1 Cor 6:13, which are a quotation of the opinion of a group of people in the Corinthian church who had a wrong understanding about their freedom to eat any kinds of food. This emphasis on freedom from the Jewish food laws is mirrored in their attitude of freedom in relation to sexual issues.

The problem with the interpretation stated above is that it cannot really explain why Paul mentions resurrection in 1 Cor 6:14, and it also overlooks the parallel structure of 1 Cor 6:13a (i.e., the first three clauses in v. 13) and 1 Cor 6:13b–14. Paying attention to the parallel structure of these verses gives us some clues to what is most likely to be Paul’s argument at this point.

What then are these parallels? They are easier to see in the original Greek, than in our modern translations. There are three clauses in v. 13a that are matched respectively by three propositions in vv. 13b–14. Firstly, the expression food is for the stomach in v. 13a is paralleled by the statement but the body is not for fornication but for the Lord in v. 13b. Secondly, the clause and the stomach is for food in v. 13a is matched by the clause and the Lord is for the body in v. 13b. Finally, the statement but God will abolish both this [referring to the stomach] and these [referring to food in the plural] in v. 13a is paralleled by the whole of v. 14 where Paul says but God raised both the Lord and will raise us up through his power. This can be captured graphically as follows:


What then is the significance of these parallels? In the first instance, the parallel structure of v. 13a in relation to vv. 13b–14 suggests (contrary to the NIV and ESV) that all of v. 13a is is effectively a quotation of the words of those people in the church at Corinth who had a wrong opinion about the human body and sex, and that all of vv. 13b–14 constitutes Paul’s response, which presents the proper way to think about the human body and sex. It is interesting in this regard that the NRSV states in the margin that the quotation may extend to the end of the third clause in v. 13, which is the view that I am arguing for here.

If what has been stated above is correct, then the situation can be explained as follows: a number of people in the Corinthian church (reflecting the broader Greek culture of the day) were of the opinion that sex is a bodily function in the same way as eating is, and it does not matter what we do with our bodies (what we eat and who we have sex with), because in the end when we die we will leave our bodies behind, and live free as spiritual beings. In saying that “food is for the stomach, and the stomach for food,” they were talking about how eating is a bodily function. Furthermore, there could well be some sexual innuendo present in that saying, because the word κοιλία (translated here as stomach) in the LXX can also indicate a woman’s womb (e.g., Gen 25:23–24; 30:2; Deut 7:13; 28:4, 11, 53; 30:9) or a man’s sex organ (e.g., 2 Sam 7:12; 16:11; 1 Chr 17:11; Ps 132:11 [131:11 LXX]). Paul counters this wrong thinking about the body and its functions by saying “but the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord” (v. 13). This is consistent with what Paul says in 1 Cor 6:20: “you have been bought with a price.” The price of salvation was the price of Jesus’ precious blood. Being saved by God, we Christians no longer belong to Satan; we do not even belong to ourselves. Rather, we belong to God. God has bought us, and our bodies are included in that transaction. In other words, because Jesus bought our bodies and souls at the cross, what we do we our bodies also has a spiritual dimension. Because our bodies belong to Jesus, we are to serve God with our bodies, not sexual desire.


It was common among the Greeks to believe that the human body is not eternal, and as a consequence it does not ultimately matter what we do with our bodies. Whatever it took to fulfill the sexual function of the body was considered to be natural and legitimate ethically, as long as one stayed in control of one’s spirit or emotions. As a result, visiting prostitutes was quite natural for many in the Gentile world, and this was the cultural context of the day in which the Corinthian Christians operated. Despite being converted, some of them found it hard to break the habit of regular sex with prostitutes. The Christians who were doing this were rationalizing away their sinful behavior by assuming that our bodies are temporary containers for our soul from which we will be set free when we die.

It should be noticed how Paul counters this view about the human body and its functions in v. 14. These people were saying that God would abolish both the stomach and food. In other words, in their way of thinking, the body and its functions would one day cease to be relevant. The both … and (καὶ … καὶ …) grammatical structure in the third clause in v. 13 is significant. They held that God would abolish both the stomach and food, but Paul counters this with his own both … and (καὶ … καὶ …) argument: God has raised both the Lord Jesus and us he will also raise from the dead through his power.

The effect of Paul’s response is as follows: Some of you Corinthians think that the body will one be jettisoned. You are wrong! Sure, our bodies are temporarily abandoned when we die, but it is not forever. At the heart of Christianity stands the truth and reality of resurrection. Thus our bodies are not going to be done away with eternally; hence the fact that we are to serve God with our bodies just as much as we serve him with our spirit!”

The reality of the resurrection of the body means that our bodies and what we do in our bodies and with our bodies are very important. Uniting our bodies with the body of a prostitute is, therefore, inconsistent with being a member of Christ’s body (1 Cor 6:15–16).

1 comment:

Susanne Braaten said...

How does the clause "God will do away with both of them" (stomach and food ) line up with the scriptures about eating after the Lords return? For example, the feast in Matthew 8:11 and the Fruit from the Tree of Life in Revelation 22:2?

Susanne