All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)
Paul says it twice! All things are lawful for him as a Christian!
Context, context, context. It always seems to come down to context. J.K. McKee said it well: "When Twenty-First Century readers encounter the Pauline Epistles, we are definitely reading someone else’s mail." So what's the context here?
The believers in Corinth were probably the most dysfunctional group of believers in the first century. McKee summarizes it well:
"The Corinthian Believers had been booted out of the local synagogue, they were factionalized, and they were known by various slogans (i.e., “everything is permissible for me”). Paul had to address an entire series of problems faced by the Corinthians, including fornication, eating meat sacrificed to idols, and disorderly conduct in the assembly."1
Chapter 6 of First Corinthians is addressing the issue of believers bringing lawsuits against one another... in the courtrooms of unbelievers. Paul berates them that are doing so and tells them that it would be better for them to be wronged or defrauded than to do that! Don't they know that "the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" (1 Cor 6:12) They do all kinds of wicked, sinful, and unlawful things! Why are they taking matters of legal judgment to these kinds of people?
It is in this context that Paul says "all things are lawful for me"... or does he?
This may be a bit technical but the Greek word for law (including The Law) is nomos. Paul's writing (which was in Greek) doesn't use that word here. He uses the word exesti which means "right" or "proper". He's not talking about God's Law, Christ's Law, or any kind of law. Paul is quoting one of the Corinthians' slogans!
You say, "Everything is proper for me". Perhaps, responds Paul, but "not all things are profitable".
You say, "Everything is proper for me". Maybe, responds Paul, but "I will not be mastered by anything."
The first-century Syriac/Aramaic translation of the Bible called the Peshitta [puh SHEET uh] has the same view of this passage where it is translated "Everything is in my power: but everything is not profitable to me. Everything is in my power: but none (of them) will have dominion over me.2
For some to claim that Paul is supporting the slogans of the miscreant Corinthian believers as a means of annulling the commandments of God clearly doesn't fit with the context of Paul's opposition to their scandalous behavior.
If you still have questions, check out our definitions and assumptions page. If you still have questions or concerns after reading that, please contact us. We would love the opportunity to understand and respond to those concerns!