1 Corinthians 6 — What is on the list?

What happened to the Berean way among Christians (Acts 17:10–13)? Have we truly lost the the effervescent joy that comes from searching Scriptures to share an amazing Story with the world when we encounter new situations? When the Berean Christians heard someone claim something, they began examining the Scriptures daily to see if the claims were true.

LGBTQ Christians Exist

I have been inspired by a truthful sermon delivered by a transwoman. I have been equipped to live a vibrant Christian life by an LGBTQ ally theologian. I have been inspired to not give up on the Church by a gay Christian. I have witnessed the joy of love shared by a lesbian couple.

I have been spurred on to a holy life by an intersexual woman. I have experienced “third heaven” worship with a room full of LGBTQ people, parents, and allies. God is doing a new thing.

Some LGBTQ people are finding their calling to live celibate lives. Others are called to marriage. A few are discovering their deeper identity apart from the LGBTQ label. LGBTQ Christians exist, and their churches are thriving. How, then, do we react to such a phenomenon?

Reacting to Gender Binary Christians

The first reaction of the Church to the LGBTQ Christian reality has been widely negative, to say the least. Such a phenomenon challenges the very core of Church theology, especially Calvinism. Christians, when faced with the LGBTQ Christian reality, tend to jump on the “gender binary” passages in the Bible — they see gender and seek to understand from the “male and female” passages in the Bible. I take no issue with this; Christians are merely reacting as human beings. This is a healthy thing, because since Luther’s nail 500 years ago, I contend the Christian Church has gotten off track. We have become the sin police, the marriage guardians, and the empire builders.

So what do we who affirm the Holy Spirit’s work among LGBTQ Christians say to the gender binary Christians who do not affirm this work? I contend our reaction has to be better. We must start including theology, holiness, truth, sin, and respect for the Bible in our narratives.

Addressing Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians

The starting point, and ending point, in several discussions with gender binary Christians is the list in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. This text has been bastardized by both camps. I suggest we step back and examine some context.

The letter to the Christians in Corinth begins with the sentiment of grace and peace. “Grace and peace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Corinthians 1:3 ESV]

The intent of the letter is to address numerous divisions. Is this not the situation in which we find our present day American Christian church?

We would do well to ponder the reason why Paul (and God) wrote this letter in the Bible:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” [1 Corinthians 1:10–17 ESV]

How I long for this! To be united in the same mind and same judgment! The gospel articulation for future generations may very well be simply this: Christians of differing opinions lay down the Bible and break bread together.

Judging Society vs Judging the Church

When we come to chapter 6 of this letter to the Christians at Corinth, we find Paul continuing to address the topic of sexual immorality, which began in chapter 5. The point is not to cast judgment on the sexual ethics of society. Paul is writing ONLY to address sexual ethics within the Christian congregation.

“ I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one.” [1 Corinthians 5:9–11 ESV]

Paul’s instruction here is to leave the world alone. Christians are NOT the sin police of the world. Those who are immoral within the congregation are the people Paul (and God) is addressing.

If the American Church made only one adjustment — to judge only their own and leave society alone, as Paul instructs — we would all be better off.

When it comes to homosexuality, the Church must remember our jurisdiction is not in society, but only within the congregation. Most non-affirming Christians I talk to understand this point well. They accept samesex unions in society; they are concerned about affirming samesex marriage within the Church.

What does “the list” contain?

When we understand the context above, we are ready to discuss the list in chapter six. After speaking about lawsuits (which typically follow sexual immorality), Paul expounds on sexual ethics. He rightly makes a strong stand against sexual immorality and immorality in general.

The challenge here in addressing the 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 list is that we must acknowledge two conflicting translations of the verses.

The list in Post 1947 Bibles…

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Corinthians 6:9–11 ESV]

The list in Pre 1947 Bibles…

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor wantons, nor buggerers, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Corinthians 6:9–11 GNV]

The list contains:

sexual immorality — fornicators
idolatry — idolatry
adultery — adultery
homosexuals — wantons * the other items in the list match; this one has been translated many different ways with different meanings *
thieves — buggerers
greedy — covetous
drunkards — drunkards
revilers — railers
swindlers — extortioners

The words on the list change based on what translation you use. But the theme remains the same — good behavior gone to the excessive and abusive extreme. This is list NOT a list of behaviors inherently wrong, but behaviors that start with something good and get taken to the realm of excess and abuse.

This list has notable exceptions, and is not comprehensive. However, the list (I contend) is in fact intentional. Christians are not to be marked by such abusive behaviors, even if they do in fact exist. Paul intentionally and consciously put these behaviors on the list. Behind this human conscience of Paul (I contend) is the divine consciousness. I see the beauty of Paul writing with his mind to address specific behaviors he understood AND I see the beauty of God writing to address our present day divisions and quarrels in the Church over the existence of LGBTQ Christians. Nothing on this list prohibits samesex marriage, which (I contend) is the solution to this sexual ethics challenge.

Good Behavior Gone Bad

Within the Christian church — and not in society — we are exhorted to judge the following extreme, abusive behaviors that are rooted in good behavior.

Good habit: Sex within in the marriage contract
Excessive/abusive habit: sexual immorality — fornicators (both outside marriage)

Good habit: Worship and praise of God
Excessive/abusive habit: idolatry — idolatry

Good habit: Sex within the marriage contract
Excessive/abusive habit: adultery — adultery (sex with a married person)

Good habit: Accepting that we are sexual beings
Excessive/abusive habit: homosexuals — wantons (behave in a sexually immodest or promiscuous way; the post-1947 reading here doesn’t fit the traditional reading pre-1947, hence the current divisions.)

Good habit: Making money; borrowing (and returning) property
Excessive/abusive habit: thieves — buggerers

Good habit: Owning property 
Excessive/abusive habit: greedy — covetous

Good habit: drinking a little wine; moderate alcohol 
Excessive/abusive habit: drunkards — drunkards

Good habit: having a party; socializing 
Excessive/abusive habit: revilers — railers

Good habit: Strategic thinking; persuasiveness; charisma
Excessive/abusive habit: swindlers — extortioners