Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Quotations marks and 1 Corinthians

Does Paul really believe that “I have the right to do anything” ( 1 Cor 6:12)? Really? Anything?

Of course not. Paul does not have the right to sin. He doesn’t have the right to walk away from his ministry. So what is happening in v 12? And why does the NASB and KJV write, “All things are lawful for me” when we know they are not?

What do the other translations tell you? Many translations put the phrase in quotation marks. “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful” (ESV, also HCSB, NRSV, NET). What would be the point? If you have done your homework, you know what Paul is doing. He is quoting what his Corinthians opponents are saying. He doesn’t agree with them, but he is citing them. So how do you indicate that in English?

The ESV and others put the sentence in quotation marks.

This explains where the extra “you say” comes from in the NIV. “‘I have the right to do anything,” you say.” The CBT obviously felt that the simple quotation marks were not sufficiently clear, and the NLT does the same. “You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything.’”

The TEV becomes even more interpretive (or should I say, helpful). “Someone will say, ‘I am allowed to do anything.’”

You may not agree with their decision, but you can at least see why they did it. No translation is random. I have not yet found one. There always is a reason. In this case, preventing misunderstanding is a strong motivation for being a little more interpretive.

We do not have the right to do anything; but even if we did, “not everything is beneficial.” Freedom is not the gauge by which we make decisions. Sometimes freedom is self-limited because there are other things that are more important beneficial, such as love.


My perspective on this is that the Corinthians were taking to extremes the freedom from the law. Galatians 5:13,14 states that we have been called to freedom (from the law) only do not let that freedom give occasion to the sinful nature, and that the whole Law is summed up in "Love your neighbor as yourself." The last part of 1 Corinthians 6:12 is very special to me, "I will not allow myself to be mastered by anything." As I see it, this is the height of spirituality. For example I feel very aware of this verse when I feel angry and tell myself that I will not let myself be mastered by anger. Apply it to food, gossip, envy, addictions, strife, selfishness, divisions, and the like; to not be mastered by these is freedom!