1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – Gluttony, Drunkenness and Immorality

Paul must correct the church because of gluttony, drunkenness and going to prostitutes at private banquets (6:12-20). The issue here is attendance at banquets given by the rich elite of the city.  There is plenty of evidence concerning the types of things that went on in a Roman banquet of the first century from contemporary writers.

Winter gathers a number of references from Plutarch describing the combination of gluttony, drunkenness and sexual immorality that were a part of the “after-dinners” as he calls them.   There was an association between gluttony and sexual excess, as is seen from the well known saying reported by Plutarch, “in well-gorged-bodies love (passions) reside.” The writer Athenaeus said that the goddess Cypris (Aphrodite) does not visit the poor, “in an empty body no love of the beautiful can reside.”  Plutarch also said that in “intemperate intercourse follows a lawless meal, inharmonious music follows a shameless debauch” (Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, 84).

These banquets would only have been attended by the rich elite of the city of Corinth.  The poor were not invited, only those of some social standing. In Corinth there was a major city-wide banquet for all citizens celebrating the games.  Not only would there have been pressure to attend these banquets on a social level, there was the added pressure of begin a good citizen of Corinth and of Rome

These sorts of banquets are in the background of 1 Corinthians.  Members of the church are not visiting brothels as we might think of it today.  They are attending meals with the elite of Corinth, either hosted in the home of a wealthy patron of the city or in a temple.  The practice was considered not only acceptable, but in some cases required for social mobility.  If one wanted to gain the favor of a wealthy patron in order to advance a business plan, then attendance at a banquet hosted by the patron was a necessity.

Why would the Corinthian Christians think that they had a right to participate in these banquets?   Paul seems to have taught them that Christians are to be separate from such activities, and the strong Jewish ethic of many of the founders would have argued against going to a temple, eating food sacrificed to idols, and participating in the “after-dinners.”

It appears at the very least that the Gentile converts to Christianity did not see this activity as sin. As with most of the problems Paul treats in 1 Corinthians, the congregation is slow to de-paganize.  The practice of going to temples to share meals with the elite of Corinth was socially desirable for the wealthy and “wanna-be” elite.  Perhaps individuals in the church thought they had to do their civic duty by doing to the banquets (a virtue) and did not yet see the additional practices as a vice yet.

While it is easy to point at the Corinthians and judge them as “immature,” it seems to me that the church in general as well as individual believers are quick to compromise with “the world” when money is involved.  Sin is condemned with the poor people are doing it, but if a wealthy member of the congregation is involved, the condemnation is quite a bit less severe.  A church might borrow a practice from the corporate business world  because it “works” without really thinking about the origins or ramifications of the practice.  I can think of a hundred great excuses for behaving any way I please as a Christian, most of them are well-intentioned.  I suspect Paul would have an equally strong condemnation for the modern church as he did Corinth!

19 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – Gluttony, Drunkenness and Immorality

  1. This is an interesting topic and story of the history of the early Church that you don’t hear about in teachings and lessons today. I find it super interesting that the early Church had to deal with the same kind of issues that we see today in American Churches. They showed favoritism; it seems, to the wealthier members of the congregation; by not confronting them about going to these banquets and participating in gluttony, drunkenness, and sexual immorality. This seems to parallel what we do in American Churches; it seems that we don’t mind ignoring the sins (like gluttony) when our leaders or “wealthier” brothers and sisters in Christ are committing them because we don’t want to upset them and then have them leave the Church. I wonder if that is the struggle that the Corinthian Church had as well. They didn’t want to upset the leaders or wealthier members of their Church because they didn’t want them to leave and in turn loose their money and/or wisdom.
    It almost seems that the Corinthian Church needed to read the letter James wrote. “…believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” (James 2:1)
    It also seems that in this passage (6:12-20) Paul uses this event/issue to teach these newer Christians a lesson on correct moral and spiritual behavior. Every time I read the passage I can just see Paul yelling at his scribe, who is writing this letter out as Paul speaks it to him, in anger, not just at the people’s ignorance, but also at the sin itself. His “exclamation point” and punch line to this passage seems to be “You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Cor. 6:20)

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  2. The “wealthier” are always harder to blame. The Corinth church was so similar to the American church. A lot of the time, the wealthier people in the church are the ones who allow the church to do what they want because they support the church with money and giving. There is an arrogance about that though because the “mightier than thou” thought is wrong. I also think that the need to be accepted comes into play. The Christian life style would more than likely leave someone persecuted and not accepted. Conforming to society and wealth would mean power.

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  3. In the past, when I have read this chapter, I immediately have dismissed it as “their” problem. On the whole I didn’t see it as applicable to the modern day churches. However, after this post, I definitely see the connection. There have been times where, even among the youth, I have seen evidence of a sinful lifestyle and I failed to confront it for fear of the ramifications possibly in part for the church, whether it’s that their parents have a lot of influence in the church, or I just don’t want to cause an uproar. Paul clearly wasn’t afraid of doing this. He used strong language to warn the fellow believers of the dangers of engaging in these sinful behaviors. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!” (1 Cor. 15: 15). I think one thing I am learning from Paul and his letters is that he was not “politically correct” or non confrontational when it comes to sinful behavior. Perhaps it was because, “Paul knew that one could become a slave to one’s freedom. Whether it be sex or drugs or whatever, how often people become slaves to what they initially viewed as an exercise of their freedom!” (Polhill, 240). I have found that in the past I have taken on too much of the attitude of passiveness when there were things that I should have confronted out of love for my fellow believers. The tricky part is finding a balance of not judging (Matt 7: 1-5) and yet having the boldness of Paul to correct fellow believers when they find themselves walking down the wrong path in sin.

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    • I like what Emily has to say here. It is so easy to look at all Paul’s letters and read about what Paul wrote to somebody else, and forget to apply it to our own lives. Often we look over the application it challenges to our own lives. I think that America falls right into this problem. We seem to to think that rich people can get away with anything, and that somehow makes its way into even our churches. The love of money is the root of all evil. This is something that Paul has already told us, and so it is no sruprise that money presents yet another problem.

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  4. I always find myself reading this passage trying to reconcile other passages that deal with being in the world but not of the world. Romans 12:2 talks about not conforming to the patters of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It says nothing about being disconnected to the world. I know that I am guilty of doing things and justifying them by saying things like, “it’s not that bad” or “Is this really a sin?”. My question is, was the attendance of these banquets wrong or was the activities that were offered during the banquets the sin? I tread cautiously here lest I sound like I’m justifying anything but it is my belief that the banquet was not necessarily what Paul was getting at. I believe that Paul is concerned with the temptations that the believers would go through at the banquets. Paul may be, rightly so, concerned with the sin that the believers were most likely being pressured into from a sociological and business standpoint. I can understand the reason for Paul telling the believers to avoid these social gatherings but I wonder, if the believers were strong enough in their resistance, would the letter have been read differently?

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  5. I like the insight that Jason gives here. Was it possible to attend these social settings and to abstain from gluttony, drunkenness, and sexual immorality? I’m assuming it was to a point, it doesn’t sound like the people were being physically forced to participate in any of these activities, it’s just “what everybody did.” It was the norm of the elite to attend these gatherings, act this way, and fulfill their “normal” elitist activities. I’m sure that the social standing of these people would be brought into question or challenged if they didn’t participate in these gatherings, but would there be more tension if they completely removed themselves from the settings or if they attended and showed composure and abstinence from these sinful activities? I think we can draw the connection to any social group as well (at least in the modern day). There are expectations and activities in every social group or friend group. These even exist within Christian circles! (to be read with sarcasm) The bottom line, in my opinion, is to be removed from the sinful activities or worldly pressures of any social group. As was already said, excuses can always be made for behaviors, but I think the more powerful example of Christ in our lives is to be within our social groups living outside of the sinfulness and pressures. We can be exemplifiying Galatians 5:1 through our living outside of the social pressures. Christ has given us the freedom to live a life free from sin and its hold. This ties directly to the expectations and activites that social groups try to hold over our lives.

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  6. I found that the whole last paragraph of this post rang so true to me. It seems that one of the greatest problems that the modern church today has is it’s sense of church as a business and the way it handles it’s money. So many churches are run as a business, rather than a body of believers. We also have a huge problem with what I like to call “Inreach.” Instead of using our money for the purpose of outreach, and seeking to help those in need outside of the church, we splurge the majority of our money on ourselves. Whether it is a new organ, wide screen TVs in every room, or buying a bigger and better building, we seem to spend a lot of our money on making our church buildings more comfortable, and fun places to be. When I see a church with 3 HD TV’s to a room… all I can ever think of is, why? When so many people are starving and homeless, why do we need to spend our money on things that are so far from being necessary? We often think of gluttony in being equated to food, but it seems to me that the church today are gluttons when it comes to appearance, comfort and technology. We want our church buildings to look impressive, both inside and out, and we want it to be a place where we can have the best of the best when it comes to technology.

    I also agree with how we can treat the rich better than others. In my home church it has always seemed that the church board has always conformed the church services to appeal to a small group of wealthy congregation members who don’t take to kindly to change. Its hard when you see the majority of the congregation wanting change in a certain area, but change isn’t given because we let the rich few run the church.

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  7. “’I have the right to do anything’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Paul knew full well that in attempt to be free from something, you will ultimately becomes its slave. That is the case with things such as sex, food, and drugs and alcohol. “whether it be sex or drugs or whatever, how often people become slaves to what they initially viewed as an exercise of their freedom!” (Polhill 240). Paul had no problem rebuking such behaviors here either. Paul is bold, unrelenting and firm. “Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!” (1 Corinth. 6:15).
    Unlike Emily here, I read this chapter and immediately see the connection of so many people in today’s society. However, similarly “I have found that in the past I have taken on too much of the attitude of passiveness when there were things that I should have confronted out of love for my fellow believers” (Emily). It can be very hard to confront people about their sins, especially if the person is a highly respected or highly regarded individual in the church. Many times I neglect to confront someone just for the mere fact that I do not want to stir problems with the church. Paul here has a different approach. I like where Emily is coming from when she talks about Paul not being “Politically correct”. He is bold and firm on what he believes in He confronts the people or Corinth with no regard of what the social consequences may be. We can and should all take a lesson here from Paul. He does not just sit around and wait for someone else to rebuke those who are struggling in their sins. He has a good balance of using Jesus’ teachings of Matt 5:38-48 and Matt 7:1-6.

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  8. Why would the Corinthian Christians think that they had a right to participate in these banquets (P Long)? Like you said earlier in the post, it was seen as a social norm, and if the people of Corinth were not seen at the banquets they would have been seen as lesser than everyone else there. In chapter 12 of Polhill’s book he says “In there dualistic world view the Corinthian superspiritualists considered the body an indifferent matter. It was destined to perish. They viewed only the spirit as eternal. Paul on the other hand held to a unity of body and spirit which would be raised at the last day (Polhill 240)”. Some in the church of Corinth still held to the standard of society and went to the banquets despite Paul’s words. But he had said clearly that your body is tied to Christ. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! (1 Corinthians 6:15 ESV)”. Paul has a pretty harsh rebuke for those that still took part in the banquets. Harsh, possibly, but justified nonetheless.

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  9. “‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Paul writes this because the Corinthians had been indulging in things that were compromising to their faith with the excuse that they are free in Christ. But this logic is misleading. Although they were free, that did not mean that they were able to do whatever they wanted, they could easily be enslaved by their freedom. “Whether it be sex or drugs or whatever, how often people become slaves to what they initially viewed as an exercise of their freedom” (240). I see this attitude common in today’s culture also. We hold firm to our faith condemning others for the things they do, but we do not hold ourselves to the same standard. When it is convenient for us, in wealth or pleasure, it is then OK to compromise. Unfortunately, this is extremely common in churches today. I think we have to be careful to not have a double standard. Sin is sin no matter how much money is involved, or how convenient it will be. I think that we ought to have a perspective of humility in that we recognize that everything is for God. Our selfish desires cannot get in the way of God.

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  10. There is a lot of good insight here. I feel like the AMerican Church in its present state deals with alot of the same issues as the early church did. some of these issues include, sexual immorality, drunkenness, etc. SO many people are taking part in these sins and which most of them are the wealthy elders of the church. nobody confronts them because they are regarded as being higher in authority with them giving more money to the church. Everyone seems to be fine with it becyase it appears as though those things are in the norm. Jesus died on the cross so that we can break free from the bondage of sin, not become a slave to it.

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  11. When I read what P.Long had said about the wealthy people basically having to go to these banquets it really got me thinking about the passage Romans 12-2 which talks about not conforming to the world. Yes, I do believe that they had some good reasons to go to these banquets. For their time they needed to, so that they could be in contact with other business type people. But at the same time, they did not need to indulge in the sinful acts. Which is exactly why Paul wrote what he did in 1 Corinthians 6:16-20. He is telling the people that when you unite yourself with a prostitute you become one flesh, but unite yourself with the Lord. Yes, times were different back then, but as I said, they should not have conformed to the sin that was being presented, which is why I really like that Paul was harsh towards them in this letter.

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  12. I don’t know as I see in Paul’s letters a huge condemnation for attending these feasts and partaking of food which may have been sacrificed to idols. I think that, while we often make excuses to allow ourselves to do things which we rather ought not to do, there are also situations in which it is legitimate to participate in something that is less than ideal.

    For instance, in II Kings 5, when Naaman was healed of leprosy, he made a commitment never to make a sacrifice to another God but the God of Elisha who instructed him in the miraculous healing of his leprosy. Though apparently genuinely desirous to show God, and no other god, due respect, he asked for one exception, necessitated by his present station in his homeland. In some ceremony, the Naaman’s master (the king?) literally drags Naaman down to bow alongside the him to bow before the House of Rimmon. I know nothing about the House of Rimmon, but apparently, Naaman, if no one else, viewed this as an act of worship which needed to be exempted from his adopted type of soli deo gloria. That may be taking one or two liberties to connect Naaman to soli deo gloria, but that’s not really the point.

    The point is that Naaman is essentially, as best as he can in his circumstances, demonstrating a desire to worship God and God alone. Paul seems to actually be saying that while the after-dinner activities have no place in the lives of a Christian, the dinner itself is acceptable insofar as it is situationally necessary and does not cause a weaker brother to stumble.

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  13. The Corinthians were exhibiting an attitude of “all things are lawful” (I Cor 6:12), but Paul makes it clear that they were submitting themselves to being once again enslaved by sin, becoming a “slave to one’s freedom” (Polhill 240). Paul spoke heatedly against this mindset, reminding that Corinthians that they were “the body is not meant for sexual immorality,” (I Cor 6:13), and that they were no longer enslaved by “bought with a price” (I Cor 6:20). No longer did the Corinthians belong to the world, but to God, and they were to live as possessions of God, “hold[ing] fast to what is good” (I Thess 5:21). I completely agree with Simmer when he said that “Christ has given us the freedom to live a life free from sin and it’s hold” (Simmer), and yet is that how we are living in the church today? Are we living today as those “set apart as holy” (2 Tim 2:21) or are we happily submitting to the social norms and pressures of the world? I think we need to readdress our view of what the body of Christ should be, remembering that we have become “one spirit” (I Cor 6:16) with the Lord and we are now set apart for his use.

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  14. How often do we consider gluttony to be a sin? In a culture that is obsessed with food, overeating is normal and is not widely seen as wrong. It is easy to overeat and not see the ramifications of it until time has passed, unlike other sins where the consequences are easier to see and come more quickly.
    As P Long said in his post, “It appears at the very least that the Gentile converts to Christianity did not see this activity as sin”. The Corinthians may have had trouble discerning between right and wrong. The culture around them saw the stomach as being made for food (vs. 13). They were becoming slaves to their freedom to eat what they please. Polhill points out that the Corinthians probably did not think gluttony as a sin because they believed that the health of the body was not connected to the health of the spirit (pg 240). The gentiles in Corinth were not concerned about gluttony before they were Christians so why should they be concerned now? It was necessary for Paul to inform that Corinthians with the error of their ways.

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  15. In the back of my mind, I can see how churches borrow practices from the corporate business world, and just the world in general, constantly. And yes, in many ways it does resemble Corinth in biblical times. It is easy to point to a church bringing in money for the sake of ministry and running the church, but it gets somewhat sketchy sometimes when a pastor is making millions, or an author is making a bunch of money on a book that is intended to be for pure ministry, and not giving any of it back to do good. Borrowing processes that can bring in money for the church to work with can be a good thing, but once money is possessed, it is tough to give up totally, as many of us know. For instance, it would be tough to know as a pastor you are contributing greatly to the church and putting in tons of work, and you can live off $40,000 a year easily, but you could easily be making $250,000 with no major halts to the church’s budget, and not accept more than the money needed. Like in Romans 12:2, which states, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Although it is easy to conform to the patterns that make life run smooth, sometimes that is the exact opposite thing God wants. Paul warns the church of Corinth of things like this, and he gives the Corinthians a reminder of their future awaiting them, with the traditional “Aramaic prayer” (Polhill, 251) at the end of the chapter, which acted as a final reminder for them.

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