All Things are Lawful?
Q. In 1 Corinthians 6:13 Paul twice says that all things are now lawful for Christians and that the way we are to judge what is right for us is whether these things are actually beneficial for us, meaning they don't dominate or control us. That being the case, why do Messianic Evangelicals still judge what is right and wrong using the Law? Aren't we living a higher way now, by the Spirit?
A. First, let's look at the passage you cite from a typical modern English Protestant translation:
As translations go, this one isn't actually too bad. Here's the problem, and a very common one at that that leads to bad theology: "Text without a context is a pretext". In this case a passage has been twisted to justify lawlessness.
"'Everything is permissible for me' but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible for me' but I will not be mastered by anything" (1 Cor.6:12, NIV).
There are at least four (or more) possible contexts for this passage:
- 1. A particular section of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 6);
- 2. The whole of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians;
- 3. The whole message of the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) concerning salvation in Messiah; and
- 4. The message of the whole Bible concerning the acceptable way of life of the children of Elohim (God).
1. The Context of 1 Corinthians 6:12 - this is shown, particularly, to be about:
These were issues we know that the Corinthian wrestled with and why it was the most immature, unruly and unspiritual (3:1-4) of all the early messianic assemblies (churches). Here, then, is the specific context:
- a. Food; and
- b. Fornication.
I want you to notice how the New International Version (NIV) has placed three phrases in speech marks in both verse 12 and 13:
"'Food for the stomach and the stomach for food' - but Elohim (God) will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Master, and the Master for the body" (1 Cor.6:13, NIV).
Though there is no punctuation in either ancient Greet or Hebrew (no speech marks, no commas, full-stops/periods, parentheses/brackets etc.) the NIV translators have added them here. Why? Because the apostle (Paul) is quoting the contentious Corinthians - these are not his words. Thus this is not Paul claiming that "everything is permissible for me" or "food for the stomach and the stomach for food" - these are the arguments being used by unspiritual, immature and lawless Corinthians to justify their immoral conduct in respect of what they are eating and their sexual behaviour.
- 1. 'Everything is permissible for me';
- 2. 'Everything is permissible for me' (second time round); and
- 3. 'Food for the stomach and the stomach for food'.
How can we know these are the words of the Corinthians and not Paul's? Because we're told they wrote to him and this was his answer, much like this Q&A. When Paul wrote, "Now concerning food sacrifices to idols", etc. (1 Cor.8:1, NRSV), this is clearly in response to one of the question they have asked him about. He used the same phraseology earlier when he said, "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote..." (1 Cor.1:1, NRSV). The whole of 1 Corinthians is a response to a letter...including the questions in speech marks which Paul is quoting.
Since the original text contains no speech marks, some translators (a minority) do disagree how much was said by the lax Corinthian reprobates and how much by Paul. Thus some versions include more in the citation of the Corinthians, but by and large they agree with the NIV. Thus one messianic paraphrase, the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) or Jewish New Testament (JNT), correctly renders the text thus:
The irony is that lawless - rebellious - believers are trying to put the Corinthians' words into Paul's mouth in a bid to justify their immorality - in disregarding Yahweh's kashrut or 'clean food' laws which is the fourth contextual context that we'll come to in a minute. Paul's response is actually kindly - his use of "maybe" shows his gentle approach, giving them the benefit of the doubt for the sake of showing them respect whilst not letting them get away with their sinful reasoning. Indeed he goes on to cite one particular sexual offence which even the pagans wouldn't dream of committing, showing just how low these believers had fallen:
"You say, 'For me everything is permitted.' Maybe, but not everything is helpful. 'For me, everything is permitted'? Maybe, but as far as I (Paul) am concerned, I am not going to let anything gain control of me. 'Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food'? Maybe, but Elohim (God) will put an end to both of them. Anyhow, the body is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Master (Yah'shua/Jesus), and the Master is for the body. Elohim (God) raised up the Master, and He will raise us up too by His power" (1 Cor.6:12-14, CJB/JNT).
This was a specific violation of a particular Torah mitzvah (commandment) that relates to households where the father has more than one wife:
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?" (1 Cor.5:1-2, NIV).
Reuben defiled his father's wife Bilhah (Gen.35:22) by committing adultery with her - it was one of the reasons he was stripped of his firstborn rights:
(1) "Do not dishonour your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
(2) "Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonour your father" (Lev.18:7-8, NIV).
A man from the Corinthian congregation has been sleeping with one of his father's polygamous wives (not his mother), both showing that plural marriage was practiced by the first messianics/christians and was still protected by the very Torah or Law some believers then, as now in orthodox Christianity, have been trying to excuse themselves from obeying for nearly two millennia. Paul was horrified that this 'believer' had violated his one of his father's wives and came down strongly both against him and the congregation who were proud of this adultery! It was a symptom of all that was wrong with the Conrinthian assembly (church). And yet its perversions and doctrinal deviations are help up by millions of Christians and Messianics today .
"...for you (Reuben) went up onto your father's bed, onto my (Jacob's) couch and defiled it" (Gen.49:4, NIV).
There is one other possible way that 1 Corinthians 6:12 may be viewed that does not assume that Paul is quoting the rebrobate Corinthians but that this is the apostle speaking though I think it is less convincing that the traditional view:
Whilst this is certainly in harmony with the general context of the Tanakh (Old Testament), I don't think this is what Paul is saying here in a New Covenant context, though he could have meant this and not contradicted anything else he taught. The only problem is that such a view would tend to exclude any new mitzvot (commandments) which Yah'shua (Jesus) added to the Torah, bringing it to completion or fulfillment (Mt.5:17). Such an argument has been used by some equally reprobate messianics in justifying sins not condemned in the Pentateuch (first five books of Moses in the Tanakh/Old Testament) but which Messiah and the apostles subsequently identify as sin. One version (the RSTNE) includes a footnote offering this explanation. One such example would be lesbian practice which is not listed as a sin in the Tanakh (Old Testament) whilst it is (along with male homosexual practice) in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) (Rom.1:27).
"All things are lawful [outside of the purview of Torah], but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful for me [outside the purview of Torah], but I will not be dominated by anything" (1 Cor.12:6, NRSV - [commentary added]).
2. The Context of 1 Corinthians as a whole - the assembly (church) was full of factions (1:11) and in particular there was, as was common in pagan society generally, sexual immorality. Immorality has plagued this congregation from the beginning and it is clear that Paul had written to these believers in an earlier letter (which we don't have any more, unless the Vatican has a secret copy in its basement archive) reprimanding them for their moral laxity (5:9-10ff). A misunderstanding had required Paul to urgently pen this epistle so that immediate and drastic action could be taken to clean the mess up. There were issues other than factionalism and immorality including litigation in pagan courts (6:1-8), abuse of the Master's (Lord's) Supper
(11:17-34), false teachings about the resurrection (chapter 15), and so on. He lists some of them:
So the broader context of the passage you cite is immaturity, unspirituality and immorality. Whatever it is these qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones) are quarrelling about that Paul needs to put right needs to be seen in that context. Therefore their discernment was poor. The three quotations made by Paul of the dissenters make their claims (and those of their modern supporters) even less convincing.
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of Elohim (God)? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral (fornicators) nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of Elohim (God) (1 Cor.6:9-11, NIV).
3. The Context of the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) as a whole - whilst the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) build on the foundation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and continue the historical storyline that began with Genesis 1:1, they are not principally about Torah regulations but Yahweh's Plan in the progressive outworking of redemptive history. As we have already seen, Paul refers back to the Torah when he needs to in order to correct a sin issue or departure from the Father's teachings for the way of life of all Israel.
The main thing, vitally important thought it is (as we saw in the case of the man committing adultery with his father's wife who was not his mother), is not the lifestyle of believers but how Yahweh's saving promises are fulfilled in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and how believers under this New Covenant may permanently appropriate His salvation without recourse to animal sacrifice or an intermediary Levitical/Aaronic priesthood system, both of which are now permanently abolished.
This is why Paul's answer to the Corinthians' false statements is not, finally, an appeal to Torah (though it is always implied, since that was the default lifestyle of all Israel, both pre-messianic and messianic), but to something 'higher' - that to which the external lifestyle tavnith (pattern) had been pointing all along. So what are Paul's two answers or objections to the apostates' excuses:
This is more than self-control by human will-power, and emunah (faith) that Yahweh would justify and work through this exercised will-power - it is still that but it is now much, much more: it is the very resurrection energy of the risen Messiah that will empower the believer, enabling him to fully overcome. And the only way this can work is actually death to self-will so that the physical body becomes purely and wholly an instrument of the Divine Will. Thus Paul goes much deeper, saying:
- 1. "Not everything is beneficial"; and
- 2. "I will not be mastered by anything".
This is a very deep teaching, far deeper than anything to be found in the Tanakh (Old Testament), because a new reality had come to pass in the death and resurrection of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Messiah (Christ)? Should I therefore take the members of Messiah and make them members of a prostitute? Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body (flesh) with her? But anyone united to the Master (Lord) becomes one spirit with Him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) within you, which you have from Elohim (God), and that you are not your own. For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify Elohim (God) in your body" (1 Cor.6:15-20, NRSV).
Paul is answering the Corinthians' excuses in terms of what is lawful (permissible) and what is beneficial (advantageous to the common good). Torah answers what is permissible but the Ruach (Spirit) takes this to a corporate level - this isn't only about individual believers but about what is best for the whole "body" or messianic community. And lawlessness (or Torahlessness) hardly benefits the whole community. Breaking the mitzvot (commandments) not only harms the individual but hurts the whole messianic community (church).
But there's another - even higher - level to be considered which has nothing to do with people whatsoever but with the Creator Himself. Our physical bodies (our whole souls - spirit and flesh on a higher level) were meant for Messiah. They're His. He owns them. He paid for their redeemption, eventual resurrection and life througnhout the eternities - he purchased immortality. Belonging to Yah'shua (Jesus) precludes all other affiliations, both lawful (as of a wife belonging to her husband per pro the teaching of Torah) and unlawful (here represented metaphorically as a "prostitute"). For this primary reason, immorality must be shunned - it destroys the purpose for which the body was made, to give glory to Yahweh-Elohim!
4. The Context of the Whole Bible - the reason the heretics' lawlessness must be cut out of the Body is because lawlessness (antinomianism) defeats the whole purpose of life and serves only the Enemy's agenda. Consider who the Torahless (lawless) one actually is, and therefore who the Torahless (lawless) ultimately serve (2 Thess.2:3-9). For it is written:
Sin, which has existed in mankind since Eve broke the sole Edenic commandment and pursued self-gnosis (knowledge), thus glorifying herself as a goddess, instead of emunah (faith) in Yahweh, thus glorifying the Creator, is the problem that Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) came to fix:
"Everyone who sins breaks the Torah (Law); in fact, sin is Torahlessness (lawlessness)" (1 John 3:4, NIV).
The Corinthian rebel claimed that "everything is permissible for me" - that he could do whatever he liked. He claimed the right to be completely Torahless because he believed the heresy that sinning was not only alright but actually desirable! How on earth, you might ask, could he have come to such an insane conclusion? By what reasoning could he suppose the Besorah (Gospel) was the complete opposite of that it actually is? BY TWISTING SCRIPTURE - BY TAKING SCRIPTURE OUT OF CONTEXT. Which is why context is so absolutely, critically important.
"But you know that He (Yah'shua/Jesus) appeared (came) so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him" (1 John 3:5-6, NIV).
Read literally, this sounds as though Yahweh is commanding the Israeles to not only go and sin, but sin some more. However, this passage is supposed to be read as irony. Then Yahweh speaks sarcastically, telling them to do what is useless and futile. The picture is one of absurdity. All Yahweh is saying is that the people are doing whatever they please, "for this is what you love to do". Yahweh hates any kind of sacrifice made by sinners, more so when, like here, the sacrifices are likely not atoning sacrifices but thank-offerings, joyful sacrifices, that would be consumed later at those feasts wholly inappropriate at a time when (as the navi/prophet knew, but no one else did) national ruin was imminent.
"'Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
and brag about your freewill offerings -
boast about them, you Israelites,
for this is what you love to do,'
(Amos 4:4-5, NIV).
So where did these Corinthians get the crazy idea that lawlessness was a good thing? From a misunderstanding of grace. Like some heretics of the time, they may have heard the false teaching that the only way more grace could be obtained was through more sinning:
It seems this heresy was in several places, including Rome. It threatened the messianic communities (churches) in Paul's day as it has continued to do through the centuries up to, and including, our own day. Paul was most emphatic in response to his own question:
"Should we continue in sin in order that grace (unmerited favour) may abound?" (Rom.6:1, NRSV).
Historically the heretical sect of the Nicolaitans believed the diamatric opposite. Instead of dying to sin, by being crucified with Messiah, they believed in living in sin to the fullness so that grace might multiply, presumably through 'repentance'. The logic went something like this: 'the more we sin, the more we must repent, and therefore the greater grace (undeserved loving kindness) Elohim (God) must pour out!' The error was in assuming that this was how Yahweh poured out grace, which it never was.
"By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus) were baptised into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him by baptism into death, so that, just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of chayim (life). For if we have been united with Him in death like His [death], we will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be destroyed and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin" (Rom.6:2-7, NRSV).
This heresy was worst at Ephesus and Pergamum but clearly it was infecting many of the congregations so that Paul would need to bring up this topic to both the Romans and Corinthians. This was a Gnostic heresy, promulgated by a man called Cerinthus, which Irenaeus identified and warned against . Nicolaitanism was a form of antinomianism, the doctrine that the Torah (Law) has been done away with which combined the emet (truth) that authentic emunah (faith) is based upon a recognition of the mercy of Elohim (God) as the ground of salvation but combined with the fatal error that man can freely partake in sin because we are no longer held accountable by Torah (Law).
This same error is rampant throughout modern Christendom in different degrees, as a kind of semi-antinomianism. As I have pointed out in many sermons and articles, there are few today, like the original Nicolaitans, who believe in 100 per cent Torahlessness (lawlessness). The Nicolaitans' draw, as it is today, was particularly in the area of sexual immorality. Christians and Messianics pick and choose which mitzvot (commandments) they will obey and which they will disregard, using as an excuse the same mind-set as the Corinthians that "everything is permissible" in order that grace might abound or multiply in the world because of their sinning.
Nicolaitans, old and new, supposed that a mere intellectual 'belief' in the Besorah (Gospel) had a saving power. The 'Once Saved, Always Saved' heresy of Calvinism comes out of this false mindset. The apostle James refuted this error when he declared:
The Nicolaitans, like the Corinthians, believed that too...only they didn't shudder.
"You believe that there is one Elohim (God). Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder" (James 2:19, NIV).
All of this should serve to remaind us that true emunah (faith) is proactive. It works by ahavah (love), it thinks nothing of harming others, and rightly regards the body as a "temple of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit)", to be preserved blameness for the sake of its Owner. This active emunah (faith) leads to righteous deeds or works according to the tavnith (pattern) of Torah:
The Bible as a whole teaches us that salvation is a free gift, based on Yahweh's grace alone (Eph.2:8-9), but we are also told to demonstrate it:
"But do you want to know, O foolish man, that emunah (faith) without works is dead?" (James 2:20, NKJV).
Genuine emunah (faith) produces both action and a desire for holiness and obedience . What this grace does not give us a licence to do is exercise a false freedom offered by the flesh to sin without restraint. Common sense alone should teach us that the deeds of the flesh have a very profound effect upon the health of the soul and consequently may affect our salvation if we persist unrestrained. To do so, finally exhausting Grace and causing Justice to do its terrible work, may result in our losing our salvation forever if there is not genuine repentance and reformation.
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through emunah (faith) - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of Elohim (God) - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are Elohim's (God's) workmanship, created in Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus) to do good works, which Elohim (God) prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph.2:7-10, NIV).
The same question that was asked by those devious Corinthians, and their counterparts in Ephesus, Pergamom, Rome and elsewhere, is being asked more and more today. It is a pernicious heresy when antinomian 'Christians' teach that the Besorah (Gospel) has made the Torah ineffectual, that by merely 'believing' we are not obligated to be doers of the Davar (Word). But Yah'shua (Jesus) condemned this vile doctrine most emphatically when He appeared to the apostle John as recorded in the Book of Revelation and made it clear what a true believer does and believes:
So be warned:
"I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by Elohim (God) and sang the song of Moses (Torah-obedience) the servant of God (Elohim) and the song of the Lamb (Salvation through Emunah/Faith by grace):
'Great and marvelous are Your deeds,
Just and true are Your ways,
King of the ages.
Who will not fear You, O Yahweh,
and bring glory to Your Name?
For You alone are qadosh (holy, set-apart)
All nations will come
and worship before You,
for Your righteous acts have been revealed'" (Rev.15:2-4, NIV)
"Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of Torahless (lawless) men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Master and Deliverer (Saviour) Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). To Him be glory both now and forever!" (2 Peter 3:17-18, NIV).
 See, in particular, pentecostal and charismatic Christianity's abuse of 'tongues'
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies iii 11. 1; ANF vol. 1, p.426
 1 John 3:18; Titus 2:11-15; 1 Peter 1:15-16; Revelation 14:12
This page was created on 2 March 2017
Last updated on 2 March 2017
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