Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
At the heart of today’s passage is the reminder from the apostle Paul to the believers in Corinth of the reality and significance for them of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and that they too will also one day be bodily raised from the dead: “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14).
This is the first reference to resurrection in the letter, a note which may initially surprise us as we are so used to thinking about 1 Corinthians as being the source of the longest and most in-depth exposition of resurrection in not only the entire Pauline corpus but the entire New Testament writings.
Prior to this point, Paul’s emphasis has been upon the significance of the cross and insisting upon the centrality of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the lives of the Corinthian believers. As a result, we can now recognize that a corner has been turned, a new vista has opened up, and Paul is introducing a new phase of interpretation at this point—one based upon the resurrection.
The reality of bodily resurrection
The reality of a bodily resurrection is key to appreciating this passage. Paul is seeking to teach, or perhaps to remind, the Corinthians that they will be raised from the dead and this will only happen with—and not apart from—their bodies. (It is worth noting that in 15:1-3, Paul seems to suggest that he had already taught them about resurrection when he was with them.) Therefore, Paul is reminding the Corinthians that on the basis of what they have been taught and have apparently accepted about the reality and implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (15:1), what they get up to with their bodies, and/or what they put into their bodies, matters because these same bodies are headed for resurrection.
Honor God with your body—it will be resurrected
First, Paul has to counter the Corinthians’ mistaken conception of freedom and autonomy. He does this by quoting and then undermining a slogan that most likely has become popular among the Corinthians. Paul makes a double response to the popular slogan “All things are lawful for me,” and with each response there is the sense that the Corinthians’ confident assertion of freedom and autonomy is not founded on Christ-like or Godly principles. Paul’s response is simple enough: “but not all things are beneficial,” and “I will not be dominated by anything.”
And so we can see that Paul is not for a moment suggesting that the Corinthians are not free. After all, we note that three times in 1 Corinthians 9, in verses 9, 18, and 19, Paul speaks of his own freedom. We might imagine that freedom is a concept that Paul has previously spoken to the Corinthians about. This may be a sense of being free from constraints—perhaps particularly from the law, but most particularly misunderstanding a freedom from obligation to others—after all, Paul does say, “I am free and belong to no man” (9:19).
Rather, therefore, Paul is making the point that their freedom is bound up with their fundamental responsibility, first, to recognize their connectedness to all other believers through the vitality of the body of Christ and, second, to honor the presence of the Holy Spirit within them.
Similarly, Paul counters a second slogan: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” (6:13). He reminds them that their bodies are intimately connected to the Lord: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” What Paul is suggesting here is that one’s body was created with a divinely ordained intention—to serve and honor the Lord. Furthermore, this stress upon the connection of the body to the Lord through creation is emphasized with the final phrase in this section, “For you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body” (Paul repeats this reality in 7:23 but on that occasion links it with slavery).
All this is to say: Your body matters. What you do with your body matters. What you put into your body matters.
Honor God in your relationships—you are united with Christ
What follows is a Pauline analysis of the metaphysical impact of relationship with a prostitute. What is so interesting is that Paul does not suggest that any of the Corinthians are in reality cavorting with prostitutes. And we might expect him to do that if it were true; just remember how Paul explicitly counters the sexual behavior of some Corinthians in chapter 5.
Rather, what Paul is concerned about is the Corinthians’ awareness of their existential relationship with Christ—“anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (verse 16).
To understand Paul’s argument here we need to place Paul’s quote from Genesis 2:24 at the center: “the two will become one flesh.”
Sexual relations result in the physical, mystical, and spiritual union of two people. The Hebrew Scriptures are clear that such union confirms the lifelong unity (or marriage) of two people. However, sexual relations with a prostitute complicate things. The very nature of a prostitute’s occupation means that the prostitute becomes united with numerous people, potentially several times a day. In terms of the Genesis declaration of sexual union, this is somewhat complicated—who, ultimately, is the prostitute united with?
Likewise, your involvement in fornication complicates your association with Christ in the resurrection.
It may be helpful to link this with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, reminding us that we who are many are united in one body, even the body of Christ. Additionally, there is also the corrective at the end of Paul’s words on communion, warning about acting without “discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:29). This theme of connectedness and relationality continues as Paul teaches on the wise use of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
Honor the presence of the Holy Spirit in you
The inherent relationship of the physical body to God is communicated in three ways. First, through creation: Paul reminds the Corinthians, “Your body … you have from God.”
Second, through redemption: “You are not your own … for you were bought with a price.”
And third: “Therefore, glorify God in your body.” In other words, your body’s purpose is to reflect, radiate, and resound with the glory of the loving, kind, merciful, beautiful character of God.
The purpose of resurrection, which is at the heart of this passage, is the reunification (or reconciliation) of all things to God (2 Corinthians 5:19). This is the work of God in the actual and bodily life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
Paul’s obvious concern is that the Corinthians learn to live as holy people in both body and spirit. While Paul, in 3:16-17, encourages them to understand that they are corporately the sanctuary of God, here in chapter 6, the emphasis is on each of them as individuals who make up the body of Christ: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”