Poor theology invites arrogance, irresponsibility, immorality, reducing people to mere objects whose existence is to satisfy one’s appetites and wants (use and abuse of others), and bringing shame upon the community.
In these verses (1 Cor. 6:13-20) Paul appears to be addressing the problem of sexual immorality – which he is in the most immediate sense, yet in a larger sense, he isn’t. Immorality is the most visible symptom of a larger issue Paul is trying to point the Corinthian Christian community towards: multiple aspects of poor theology under which they are living.
Broadly speaking, these Corinthians believers have accepted the following errors.
- Over-realized eschatology. They assume the kingdom of God has fully come because they have the Spirit. As a result, they are incapable of sinful behavior.
- Greek dualistic philosophy. They have come to believe that the body is evil and only the spirit to be good. They have also accepted the immortality of the spirit/soul which comes directly from pagan roots. Because the body is evil and will be destroyed (and only the spirit survives), they are free to do anything with the body.
- Misinterpretation of “freedom in Christ”. They have come to accept freedom in Christ as individual liberty to do as they please, to please themselves, regardless of how it will affect another person or the community to which they belong.
Paul writes to correct these errors.
- The full manifestation of the kingdom is still in the future. Yes, Christians are saved (past) and have the Spirit and are united with God/Spirit/Christ (present), but sin and evil still affect the body. What one does in and with the body carries over into the resurrection (future).
- The body is not merely a physical shell. Paul takes the Jewish view and considers the body to be the whole person – physical and spirit. There is no separate entity identified as the soul, and particularly not one that is inherently immortal. The body is not evil, but it is good as evidenced by Jesus’ resurrection in a body.
- Freedom in Christ is not individual liberty to do as s/he pleases, but the freedom to live as responsible members of their community and to the greater society.
This passage needs to be heard again and again over against every encroachment of Hellenistic dualism that would negate the body in favor of the soul. God made us whole people; and in Christ he has redeemed us wholly. In the Christian view there is no dichotomy between body and spirit that either indulges the body because it is irrelevant or punishes it so as to purify the spirit. This pagan view of physical existence finds its way into Christian theology in a number of subtle ways, including the penchant on the part of some to "save souls" while caring little for people's material needs. The Christian creed, based on NT revelation, is not the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body. That creed does not lead to crass materialism; rather, it affirms a holistic view of redemption that is predicated in part on the doctrine of creation—both the physical and spiritual orders are good because God created them—and in part on the doctrine of redemption, including the consummation—the whole fallen order, including the body, has been redeemed in Christ and awaits its final redemption.1
1Gordon Fee, New International Commentary, New Testament: The First Epistle, entry for 1 Cor. 6:19-20