I have a question on 1 Corinthians 6:12:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (ESV)

Here is the Greek:

Πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν ἀλλ’ οὐ πάντα συμφέρει· πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐγὼ ἐξουσιασθήσομαι ὑπό τινος. (NA28)

Given the text, and its context, what does "all things are lawful for me" mean? And what is the meaning of the entire verse?

My own guess is this. Paul is saying, we should never be dominated by anything in this world, no matter what it is, no matter how good it seems to be. But I am quite unsure.

2 Answers 2


In the larger context of the passage, Paul is addressing a dispute within the church in Corinth between a group who considers themselves to be spiritually "stong" and another group they consider to be spiritually "weak". This dispute has come to a head over the issue of eating meat that has been sacrificed to an idol. The self-proclaimed strong recognize that the gods to which meat has been sacrificed are not truly gods. As we see in Ch 8:4-6:

"So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Paul agrees that this is true and that there is therefore nothing inherently sinful about eating this meat (as he says elsewhere). However, the "weak" do not believe this and are offended by the eating of this meat. As Chapter 8 continues in vs 7, 9-13:

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled... Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

In other words, Paul ultimately argues that those who consider themselves strong should sacrifice for the sake of those they see as weak. In chpater 6 he is beginning to build this case by quoting the justifications used by the "strong". It is this group who proclaims "all things are lawful to me" (Kistemaker, 1993, p. 193) and Paul who responds "but not all things are helpful". He is saying that just because an action can be justified does not mean that it is good. This group was using the claim that "all things are lawful to me" as a justification for the abuse of Christian liberty (Hodge, 102-103). His argument here is a building block working up to his proclamation in chapter 8 that it is better not to eat meat (even if it would be lawful) than to harm a brother or sister in Christ and then later on that "whether we eat (meat?) or drink or whatever we do" should be done to Christ' glory rather than for our own.


Hodge, Charles (2000). Geneva Series, 1 & 2 Corinthians [Banner of Truth].

Kistemaker, Simon (1993). NTC, 1 Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Baker].

  • Nice answer. Is your account a guest account? Or did you choose @user18349 as your username?
    – ktm5124
    Feb 10, 2017 at 22:01
  • Actually I think that's just the default username it gave me when I signed up and I didn't realize I could change it at the time. I'll have to check to see if I still can.
    – P. TJ
    Feb 11, 2017 at 17:20

Given the text, and its context, what does "all things are lawful for me" mean? And what is the meaning of the entire verse?

Bottom line: The context here is that Paul is concerned about the state of the church of Corinth because they're spending time with a "fornicator" (KJV) that is having an incestual relationship with his mother (5:1). Verse 6:12 means exactly what you think it means. It is particularly confusing for several reasons, mainly because of the quotations and their lack of attribution.


In chapters 1-4, Paul is upset with the church at Corinth for debating amongst themselves about who they should follow -Peter, Paul, Apollo or Christ.

"What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul" or "I follow Apollo" or "I follow Cephas" or "I follow Christ." (1:12, KJV. Also 3:4-6)

This debating is causing division.

"I appeal to you... that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same judgement." (1:10, KJV)

It's creating arrogance.

"...that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against the other." (4:6, KJV. Also 3:21, 4:18 5:2)

It's a "worldly wisdom" that never brought anyone to God.

"Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? ...Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe." (1:19-21, KJV. Also 1:25-27, 2:5-7, 3:19-20)

So Paul wants their spiritual wisdom, not their worldly wisdom.

"Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise." (3:18, KJV. Also 1:30-31, 2:5-7, 2:12, 2:16, 3:16)

The tension rises in Chapter 5, where Paul says he's heard they're affiliated with a man that is having an incestual relationship with his mother.

"It is actually reported that their is sexual immorality among you and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife." (1 Corinthians 5:1)

Paul is upset that they're not upset about it, that instead of spending their time focusing on the man's "fornication" (KJV), they're spending their time being arrogant, debating "worldly" things.

"And you are arrogant! Ought you rather not to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:2, ESV)

The verse uses quotes twice. If, in the quotes, Paul is not attributing what's in the quotes to the church members, why use quotes? Then the scriptures go from five chapters and 11 verses of Paul talking to the church about the church, to him talking about himself (in quotes) all of a sudden. If the words are Paul's, the meaning is the same because Paul would be correcting them.

Two translations add, "you say," prior to the quotes, to show that Paul is reiterating what the church members say (NIV, NLT). The second set of quotes is odd, though, because their is no "you say" and there's an "I" inside and outside of the quotes.

"You say, 'I am allowed to do anything' -but not everything is good for you. And even though 'I am allowed to do anything,' I must not become a slave to anything." (NLT)

What I've written below is my over-worded, modernized translation. I wouldn't translate it this way because it isn't accurate. It doesn't follow the text and it doesn't use the symbolism of a court, which is used from 5:13 to 6:7 with "judge" and "law." But this is the essence of what I hear Paul saying:

You say you have the right to do whatever you want but everything you want isn't always good for you, so even though you have the right to do what you want, you shouldn't let the things that aren't good for you have power over you.

Your interpretation is correct.

"Paul is saying, we should never be dominated by anything in this world, no matter what it is, no matter how good it seems to be."

In context, the church needs to use this logic so they don't lose sight of what is happening now with the "fornicator" (KJV). Their arrogance and worldly wisdom blinds them to what is more important. It won't let them see that this incest is wrong and that this man needs to be shunned. Their arrogance and worldly wisdom is having power over them.

  • Nice answer. Thank you. I like the ways you reworded what he's saying.
    – ktm5124
    Feb 13, 2017 at 20:35

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