An Exploration of 1 Corinthians 6:1-11
Joyce Wai-Lan SUN

When dealing with cases involving criminal elements inside the church, churches in Hong Kong are often reluctant to report the matter to the police for fear of adverse effects on public image and witness. First Corinthians 6:1-11 is frequently cited as the biblical basis for such decision. At the same time, recent years also witness, from time to time, to Christians bringing civil litigations against each other or even against the church without remorse, and without taking into account of Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 6.

This essay therefore seeks to locate the continuing relevance of 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 to the modern world by analyzing Paul's concern and reasoning in the passage against its socio-historical background, including the legal system and characteristics of civil litigations in the Roman society. It argues that 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 is actually a passage dealing with Christians asking the secular court to judge on their internal disputes. Paul's chief concern therein is the church's ability to protect its dignity and unique identity, and to maintain a clear demarcation with the surrounding world. His teaching is still applicable to disputes among Christians, as well as between individual Christians and the church today.

On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 should not be regarded as deterring the church from reporting internal criminal happenings to the police or other governmental authorities. Nor should it be posited as a pretext for the church to cover up crimes for its members. Unequivocal condemnation of offences and willingness to report crimes committed are in fact proper identity expression of the church as the people of the kingdom of God. After all, whether the matter at hand involves civil litigation or criminal elements, the core question for the church is still how to demonstrate its identity as the eschatological people of God's kingdom on earth and to adopt a lifestyle which is consistent with such identity.