|Does 1 Cor. 6:6-7 Mean We Can't Take Other Christians to Court?|
Not that I expect anyone to be actively trying to do so; nor that I expect any Christian to maliciously use this to get out of being sued by another Christian they have defrauded. But here's the passage at issue:
1 Cor. 6:5-7 I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
We might wonder about the application of this today, and whether we ought to be resolving legal disputes among ourselves and not going to law. Well, we won't say no to arbitration outside of court; but before taking this passage into account, consider the social and historical context, and how this specifically relates to the NT world as an "honor and shame" society. (For an overview of what this means, see the first part of this essay.)
As Malina notes in The New Testament World, social equals (such as would have been all Christian brethren) in the NT world did not consider it honorable to take each other to court. To do so was to violate a "challenge-response code" among social equals, for whom it was most honorable to resolve the issue themselves.
When an equal took and equal to court, it had the following effects:
Thus the problem for Paul's people is clear. Christianity was supposed to make every convert equal in status; if a brother took a brother to court, it was an effective denial of equality before Christ, and also in effect a denial of Christ's power (as it was in another situation) to make all persons equal.
This in turn would also shame the faith as a whole in the eyes of non-believers, in light of its claims to be egalitarian, and this obvious reversal of that value. Family quarrels should stay in the family, else the entire family is publicly shamed.
So what does this mean today if a brother scams a brother? Not much. There may be other reasons not to take your fellow believer to court, but the reason Paul had for his admonition decidedly does not apply in 21st century America.