This is a strange passage, not because of its content, but because of its placement in context. Paul has been talking about sexual immorality in the church at Corinth, and here he jumps into what seems to be a wholly different topic, the settlement of disputes among believers. After this, he’s back on sexual immorality. Why did he do that?
As always, scholars have their theories, and some of them sound alright, while others seem a stretch: Situation normal. As is my custom in blogging, I’ll let others theorize, and just say that I’m not sure why he did this in the way he did and leave it at that.
Apparently the Corinthians were suing each other over disputes of some kind. Paul takes a very dim view of this, pointing out several rather interesting things:
If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! (6:1-5)
As you can see, we’re back in the woodshed again. The point Paul makes about taking a dispute between Christians, who are no longer “of” this world into a worldly forum for adjudication is obvious enough, and it is something we should consider in our time. In this little rant, which he admits was done to shame them, he also says some things that have provided fodder for scholarly debate for centuries.
We are going to judge the world? We are going to judge angels?
This comes from a first century view of the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) of Daniel 7:22 and was popular with the early Christian and late Jewish writers. I would suggest that in this context, Paul’s reference to this view may well have been intended as a popular frame of reference, rather than a theological statement. Whatever his thinking may have been, Paul’s message is very clear: We Aren’t to be suing each other in worldly courts.
There is really another element in play here, that might help to answer some of our contextual questions, while also clearing up Paul’s content. Access to the courts was something that was most often available to the wealthy and powerful, and in Corinth, the wealthy and powerful would have been Roman citizens of means. Consequently, not only would the courts be very useful for a powerful person to collect his due for another, less powerful person, but they could also be abused to collect what was not rightfully due, as a sort of legal extortion. (We could say the same about lawsuits and courts today, couldn’t we?)
With that in mind, go back to the way the church was being fragmented and divided in 1-4, and we might see why Paul brought this up. There was a spiritual problem in the church, and in Paul’s view, the problems that bring brother to pagan courts against brother, is just about as serious as sexual immorality, as we in 6:9-10.