by Al Maxey

Issue #396 ------- April 29, 2009
No man is allowed to be a judge in his own
cause because his interest would certainly bias his
judgment and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.

James Madison {1751-1836}
The Federalist Papers

We Shall Judge Angels
A Study of 1 Corinthians 6:2-3

A month ago (March 29th) I received an email from a dear brother-in-Christ in the beautiful state of Florida who has served many years as a shepherd of the Lord's flock. In this letter to me he referenced the passage in 1 Cor. 6:1-8 which speaks of brethren going to law against brethren. He then stated, "There surely is a whole 'mouth full' in this passage! Yet, I'm convinced that many have taken this passage to mean that they will one day sit next to the Lord Himself at Judgment and say 'yea' or 'nay.' Doesn't this passage have far more to do with us making proper decisions here?! When you have time, I would appreciate you dissecting this passage for me and others."

As I usually stress whenever doing these studies, coming to a better understanding of a rather troubling text has a great deal to do with a proper appreciation for its context. The question posed by this dear brother in Florida really centers upon a couple of statements made by Paul in verses 2 and 3 -- "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? ... Do you not know that we will judge angels?" (NIV). Almost every version has characterized those actually doing the judging as "saints," although a number of other renderings one will find are: "believers" (New American Bible, St. Joseph edition) ... "God's people" (Contemporary English Version) ... "Christians" (Living Bible) ... and even "holy ones" (New World Translation). Every version at my disposal agrees that the two recipients of judgment are "the world" and "angels." Therefore, there is very little disagreement among scholars over the wording of the text. The disagreement, and it is significant, centers around the meaning. Dr. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) pointed out in his classic commentary, "A great variety of interpretations have been given to this passage" [Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. David Lipscomb (1831-1917) also wrote, "What this verse and the next means is a matter of doubt. When, how and where the saints are to judge the world and angels is difficult to determine" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles, vol. 2, p. 82]. "This declaration has much mystery attaching to it" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 208].

Although there are indeed a number of wild, fanciful interpretations of what Paul might have meant in these verses, the truth he seeks to convey to these squabbling spiritual siblings, however, is certainly clear enough for all to comprehend (then and now). Contextually, Paul is seeking to impress upon the disciples in Corinth the folly of litigating petty disputes between themselves before pagan judges within pagan courts. Such matters, when they arise, ought to judged by fellow believers. I have dealt in some depth with this principle, as taught by Paul in this passage, in Reflections #205 --- Litigation Between Believers: Reflective Analysis of 1 Cor. 6:1-8, and I would urge a careful reading of that study at this time. What I didn't examine within this earlier Reflections, however, is the section in verses 2-3 dealing with saints judging the world and angels. Therefore, I shall seek to do so within this current reflective study.

The ancient Hebrews had always been taught to settle all their differences among themselves. Indeed, it was stated clearly and often within the Rabbinical literature. For example, one early source reads -- "It is a statute which binds all Israelites, that if one Israelite has a cause against another, it must not be prosecuted before the Gentiles" [Jimmy Allen, Survey of 1 Corinthians, p. 71]. Another ancient Rabbinic source reads: "It is forbidden to bring a matter of right before idolatrous judges. Whosoever goeth before them with a lawsuit is impious, and does the same as though he blasphemed and cursed; and hath lifted his hand against the Law of Moses our Teacher -- blessed be he" [Shulchan aruch, Choshen hammishpat, 29]. The Gentiles, on the other hand, and this was especially true of the Greeks, had no such law or tradition. Indeed, they tended to be quite a litigious bunch. William Barclay once observed, "The Greeks were naturally and characteristically a litigious people. The law courts were, in fact, one of their chief amusements and entertainments. Going to law was integrally bound up with Greek life. The Greeks were, in fact, famous, or notorious, for their love of going to law" [Jimmy Allen, Survey of 1 Corinthians, p. 71].

In an attempt to reason with the "legal mindset" of these Greek disciples in Corinth, Paul employed a familiar a fortiori argument known as argumentum a majori ad minus, which simply signifies arguing from the greater to the lesser. This same argument was known in Jewish law by the term Kal V'Chomer (Easy and Hard), which meant that if one could do something difficult, then one should be able to do something easy. Again, it was an argument from the greater to the lesser (or from the harder to the easier). In other words, to provide a simple illustration, if you can lift a 100 pound object, then it follows that you should be able to lift a 50 pound object of similar or smaller dimension and configuration. Thus, the application to their present situation was this -- if you are destined to judge the world and angels, shouldn't you be able to judge lesser matters among yourselves, rather than appealing to the very ones against whom you must one day sit in judgment?!

The argument employed by Paul was logical, and so it would resonate well with those able to reason rationally, something the Corinthians took pride in doing. This argument would certainly "make sense" to them, and it would give them pause for reflection with respect to their present course of action against one another before unbelievers. And it would most certainly resonate with the Jewish brethren in Corinth, as such thinking was an integral part of their Rabbinic tradition. In an attempt to further gain the attention of these brethren, the apostle Paul twice utilizes the phrase -- "Know ye not?" [vs. 2, 3]. "Are you unable to perceive" this great reality?! This expression declares that something should be obvious to them, but is instead a truth or principle about which they seem woefully oblivious. Such a challenging phrase was designed to shake them up intellectually, and hopefully spur them on to some reflective analysis of their actions and attitudes. Paul used it ten times in this first recorded epistle to the Corinthians [3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19; 9:13, 24], but only three other times in all the rest of his writings [Rom. 6:3, 16; 11:2]. This phrase was "a form of expression often used by Paul when he wished to bring to mind important truth, which his readers knew, but disregarded" [David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the NT Epistles, vol. 2, p. 81].

The Saints Will Judge The World

That true believers, the genuine people of God, would each participate in some manner in the judgment of the unbelieving world about them, was most certainly not a new concept to the Jews. They were very familiar with it, both from Scripture and from Rabbinic tradition. For example, in Wisdom 3:7 it is stated of the people of God that "they shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever." Many scholars feel that the reference to "the congregation of the righteous," in 1 Enoch 38, has reference to the judgment of the wicked of the earth by these holy ones (whom many believe to be God's people). Jubilees 24:29 speaks of a time when "the righteous nation" shall "root out in judgment" those who do evil upon the earth. Jesus promised His apostles that they would one day rule with Him -- "When the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" [Matt. 19:28; cf. Luke 22:30]. Some also see Daniel 7 as a prophecy of this coming rule over and judgment of the nations by the redeemed.

Many biblical scholars believe that the apostle Paul is here asserting (within the 1 Cor. 6:2-3 passage), by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the promise of Jesus to His immediate followers (i.e., the Twelve) that they would each execute judgment with Him is now being extended to all the redeemed. "The apostle here claims for all Christians the glorious prerogative which Christ had Himself promised to His immediate personal followers" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 303]. "What was said of the apostles in particular, is here extended unto all true followers of Christ Jesus. So intimate and perfect is the union of the members with Christ, their Head, that, when the Head appears in the glory of the Judgment, the members also will take part in this great judicial function" [Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 113]. "In saying that God's people will judge the world, Paul is writing eschatologically. At the second coming of Christ, God's people, who are joint heirs with Christ, will reign and judge the world with Him" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 222].

There are some scholars who "see here a virtual judgment of the world, lying in the faith of the saints as contrasted with its unbelief" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 814]. Thus, when certain men and women choose to walk in the Light, they, by virtue of their choice and walk, judge and condemn those who have chosen not to embrace the Light that has come into this world. There certainly is a sense in which this concept is quite true, and Scripture does indeed speak of it. However, most scholars feel that this is not what Paul has in mind in his statement to the saints in Corinth. Indeed, Dr. Nicoll characterizes such an interpretation of this passage as "irrelevant" [ibid]. It simply doesn't fit with the clear authorial intent of the passage. Or, in the words of Dr. Albert Barnes, such a view "does not meet the case before us" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. Another position, and this was true of a few of the early church "Fathers," is that this honor of judging the world with Christ Jesus was only to be conferred upon the apostles and martyrs. This opinion, however, is only embraced by a few scholars. Most feel the judging of the world will be by Christ, with "the saints" in some way participating. The how of this participation is the mystery, although the following insight is perhaps the best explanation -- "If asked 'in what way' this is to be done, it may be answered that it may be meant simply that Christians shall be exalted to the right hand of the Judge, and shall encompass His throne; that they shall assent to and approve of His judgment" [ibid].

This is quite similar to what one finds the angels doing at the Judgment of the world. As the wicked are judged and condemned by the righteous Judge, they affirm that judgment, giving their complete approval. In so doing, they may be said to participate in it to some degree. "You are righteous, who is and who was, the Holy One, for You have decided these things. Because they poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets, You also have given them blood to drink; they deserve it" [Rev. 16:5-6]. Undoubtedly, the saints, as they stand before the throne and in front of the Lamb [Rev. 7:9], will also utter their own assent to and approval of the Lord's righteous judgment, and in that sense participate in the judgment against the world. David Lipscomb declared, "In the great day the saints will intelligently and cordially approve and endorse the sentence pronounced by Christ upon the millions on earth" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles, vol. 2, p. 82]. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) agrees, stating that the redeemed will "approve and applaud the righteous judgment of Christ both on men and angels. In no other sense can they be judges. They are not equal partners in their Lord's commission, but they have the honor to sit by, and to see His proceeding against the wicked world, and approve it" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

The Saints Will Judge Angels

Similarly, Paul informs the brethren in Corinth that they will "judge angels." There are clearly places in the New Covenant writings that inform us God has chosen to hold certain rebellious angels until a time of judgment. The apostle Peter writes, "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to pits of darkness, to be held for judgment ..." [2 Peter 2:4]. Jude, the brother of our Lord, declared, "Angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day" [vs. 6]. Jesus spoke of that "eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" [Matt. 25:41]. Thus, a judgment of these forces of darkness is coming, and Paul informs the saints in Corinth that in some way they will take part in judging angels. Clearly, this does not mean that they will have the authority to determine if they are cast into the lake of fire or if they will be granted forgiveness and restored to their former estate before the throne. God has already declared what their fate is to be. Therefore, most biblical scholars believe, as do I, that the judgment by the saints in this case will be in the same sense as their judgment of the wicked of this present world -- they will stand with the Lord and affirm, approve and applaud the righteous judgment of deity. In that sense, then, they shall participate in the judging of both the world and angels who have rebelled against God.

In the final analysis, however, we must all reluctantly acknowledge that we are woefully ignorant of the precise nature of what role we will play in the judging of the world and angels. That we will play some role seems certain; what it is to be is yet to be seen, although we may certainly speculate, as I and others have done here in this brief article. R. C. H. Lenski, in his commentary on Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, declared, "In what this judging consists, in promulgating or confirming the verdict or in otherwise assisting, we must leave until the great act takes place" [p. 238]. Whatever our Lord has planned for us in this respect will be awesome!


Of far greater importance to saints here on earth, and this was the true message being given to the brethren in Corinth, is that if our Lord has entrusted to His people some special role in the final judgment of the world and angels, WHY would we ever regard ourselves as unworthy to arbitrate between brethren in matters of much lesser importance? Further, WHY would we ever take such matters before those in the world whom we one day will judge? Paul has used a very familiar a fortiori argument known as argumentum a majori ad minus, which simply signifies arguing from the greater to the lesser, to SHAME these contentious, litigious, feuding members of the church in Corinth ... and it ought to shame US as well when we follow their example of brother taking brother to court and their fussing and feuding over matters of little to no consequence. Maybe R. C. H. Lenski has summed it up best when he observed: "What a tremendous act --- to judge the world!! What lofty dignity for those to whom such judgment is to be committed! Paul always hurls the full power of fact against wrong thought and wrong action; he overwhelms and never merely moves a little. And now some foolish church member in Corinth presumes to think that the saints who judge the world are 'unworthy' to adjudicate in some trivial affair between himself and a brother?! The very idea is ridiculous! And he must rush off to some pagan judge who stoops before idol shrines to have his case tried? This multiplies the absurdity" [p. 236-237]. Brethren, God has some wonderful things in store for us (not to mention the daily blessings He pours out on us during our present sojourn on earth). Therefore, let's each behave like the sons and daughters of the King we are, and cease behaving like the world about us. If we're to judge it one day, we must rise above it now!!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

From a Deacon in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, "The Swinging Door Church" was such a timely article! Thanks so much for your very scholarly, but intensely practical, insight. You are helping to change the landscape of the modern church. I've shared your Reflections with so many people, and a lot of those are now subscribers. In fact, I just sent this article to our entire Worship Team, as well as several other folks at our congregation. Your writings are very much appreciated in our congregation! God bless you!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Brother Al, I know I tell you this often, but "The Swinging Door Church" might just be the very best issue of Reflections you have ever written!! After reading this article, my mind is now awash with ideas and thoughts and memories of my very own search for a personal relationship with Jesus -- a search that ultimately led me to walk away from the Church of Christ church. Al, your article needed to be written, and I am sending it to all of my church friends, both old and new, especially those still blinded by that mythical legalistic pattern.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I haven't written to you since shortly after the conclusion of your Maxey-Broking Debate on Patternism. Hopefully you still remember me. Hopefully you have forgotten Darrell Broking. Although you have not heard from me recently, I have certainly been keeping up with your weekly Reflections. And that is the reason I am writing to you now. I've just finished reading the latest one titled "The Swinging Door Church." Al, you always do an excellent job of explaining the truth about Christianity. But, in this last article you've gone well beyond your usual dose of delightful, discerning discourse! Your words should be shouted from the roof tops!! You stated so eloquently the things that many of your readers, I'm sure, would love to say to members of their own congregations. Oh, what a glorious day it would be if all of the "Church-of-Christists" would only embrace your explanation of the real "One True Church" and accept the fact that our group IS, and always HAS BEEN, just another denomination!! I am embarrassed by the fact that in years past I "bought into" the fallacy that the Churches of Christ were the ONLY ones who had it "all figured out." And it scares me to think that, if not for certain events that took place in my life, I could, at this very moment, still believe that falsehood. Yikes!! We all should definitely be out there helping you "dish out" that "heaping helping of reality." Those that we are able to reach with Truth will certainly be grateful. Again, GREAT article, Al. Very well done! Keep up the good work.

From a Reader in Missouri:

Dear Bro. Maxey, I am a student at Victorious Life Bible Institute and we have to turn in either a written paper or a video/DVD the final day of school on "The Doctrine of Christ." Another student and I have decided to do the video, and have asked four ministers to be on our panel for the video. In researching this topic, it was very exciting reading what you had to say concerning this subject (Reflections #84). I sincerely thank you for your explanation and insight. It has really helped me a lot to understand this subject better.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, I have decided to go the way of "blogs" (my daughter encouraged me to make my thoughts known to others within my church and community). Since I have mentioned your name in my writing, I wanted you to know about my new Blog Site. You are an awesome inspiration to me, and I appreciate so much your wonderful Reflections. Thus, if you don't mind, I would like to continue to reference your writings in a praiseworthy manner from time to time. You are a wonderful mentor, and I am proud to call you a brother in Christ.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, I sooooo very much appreciated your article that came today ("The Swinging Door Church"). I have already forwarded it to several who are still (though silently, mostly) questioning how and why we could/would leave the church of our youth (the One Cup Church of Christ). Thank you for all the study and insight that goes into your weekly Reflections. You are indeed a blessing to so many!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, "The Swinging Door Church" was a very good Reflections article! I found it very informative and confirming of my own convictions. If people of the congregation I left years ago had only been thinking as you do, then maybe I would still be in the Churches of Christ today. If the church leaders had only been like you, I could see myself still within the Churches of Christ ... or, at least, in your congregation! I think that your teaching stands a very good chance of keeping people in the Churches of Christ who might otherwise have left over various traditions and "issues."

From a Chaplain in Arkansas:

Brother Maxey, I am the staff chaplain for a large residential child care facility here in Arkansas that is supported by Churches of Christ. This facility is for abused and neglected children. I was wondering if you would consider donating copies of your PowerPoint sermon CDs for use with our kids? Thank you!

From a Minister in Missouri:

Bro. Al, "The Swinging Door Church" was an excellent article! I really appreciate what you stated about those who "leave the church." I very much agree with you that some have left our fellowship because they have finally found their faith, NOT be cause they have lost it. In fact, I fit into that category. I was raised in the One Cup church, and I am now being forced to broaden my fellowship horizons in order to increase my service opportunities. Also, I wanted to tell you that I attended a congregation yesterday (the Mt. Hope Church of Christ in Joplin, MO) who recently added to their "statement of faith" the belief that the absence of instruments in their worship is merely a preference, and that they do NOT believe it to be a salvation issue! The preacher even said from the pulpit that we are badly mistaken if we think that we (the Churches of Christ) are the only ones who are going to Heaven. It appears that the times are definitely changing for the better!! I hope this ecumenical spirit continues to spread throughout the Stone-Campbell congregations.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Bro. Al, I just finished reading "The Swinging Door Church." It was WONDERFUL, and I truly wish that all Christians would read and embrace your words in their hearts and minds!! You have enlightened me ... and so many other folks! I pray for you, for Shelly, and also for your Reflections ministry daily. I pray that you will always have the strength and courage to "soldier on."

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Bro. Al, I just finished reading about "The Swinging Door Church" with great appreciation and approval. Your timing was interesting. I had lunch today with a young man who teaches classes at the Roman Catholic Church just down the street. We have been meeting occasionally for the last few months. I've given him books on grace by Yancey and Lucado, and he keeps coming back for more. He is planning to start a prayer group in his home and has received tentative interest from some of his friends who have varied religious affiliations, but apparently no commitments. I keep encouraging him and warning him that his continued association with me, as well as starting up a prayer group, may cause him to have some problems with his priest. Once I questioned one of his beliefs, saying that I was not sure he could hold to that particular opinion and still be a "good Catholic." He sheepishly grinned and replied that he was more interested in being a good Christian than in being a good Catholic. We have developed a good friendship, and he seems to be interested in my faith and beliefs. Our discussion today was right along the lines of your Reflections, so I have printed it out for him. I believe Jesus would approve of your carpentry skills -- you seem to be able to hit the nail on the head every time!

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, "The Swinging Door Church" was a very good article! Now, my question is -- how do you get someone in a legalistic congregation of the Churches of Christ to actually READ an article like this?! The minute they see that what it says goes against what they believe, they won't touch it ... they're afraid they just might see "something different." Anyway, thanks so much for your efforts. I thank God for someone like you who is actually trying to get the Truth out to these people.

From a Minister in Alaska:

Brother Al, Thank you for this wonderful Reflections article! It was very well put together and exactly on target. I am a retired U.S. Army Chaplain (Lt.Col.) who served with leaders of virtually every denomination that you can think of, and I am here to say that we, within the Stone-Campbell Movement, have no corner on arrogance. This is a problem literally every group struggles with -- I've seen it in Baptist circles, Presbyterian circles, Methodist circles, Catholic circles, and on and on. Almost every chaplain that I worked with witnessed this within their own fellowship, and they bemoaned it in their denomination, just as I do in ours. It was a real eye-opener to discover this fact as I began serving as a military chaplain. I had entered this work with the mistaken belief that this was a unique problem just to our group. May God bless you in your ministry, Al.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you for your understanding and teaching of God's Word. Your lessons are so needed and helpful. I just pray that you will have many more years of service for the glory of God. Let me encourage you to never grow weary in well-doing, for your reward in Heaven will be worth it all. As a team, you and Shelly are so special to God and to others. May God bless you and keep you both in His love.

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, I just read your Reflections article on "The Swinging Door Church," and I think you have hit an important nail on the head. Again! Would you have any objection to my republishing your article in another newsletter? What I have in mind is a mailing to the current and former members of our congregation. As always, I appreciate your work. May God continue to bless you, brother.

From a Minister in Maryland:

Brother Al, I'm working on a sermon about John 10:11-18, and was searching around for a good explanation of the difference between "fold" and "flock." Google led me to one of your Reflections [#57] which happens to be a study of this very topic in John 10:16. Your theme was exactly the direction that I was thinking that I might go with this sermon, so I really appreciated reading your thoughts and your exploration of this particular idea. It has helped me to think more clearly about it. Just thought I'd let you know.

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