There’s a wonderful ADR story in Paul’s first letter to the newly established Christian church in Corinth. These Corinthian Christians were in conflict with each other over almost everything: over whom to believe - Paul or Apollos, over sexual relations, circumcision, marriage, food, hair styles, veils, you name it. And, in at least one instance, one Corinthian Christian was apparently suing another.

Paul is clearly exasperated and angered by all these disputes, but especially by this lawsuit. See 1st Corinthians 6: 7-8. So Paul writes: “When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it to the saints?” 1st Corinthians 6: 1. Paul then asks: “Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer – and before unbelievers at that?” 1st Corinthians 6: 5-6.

Even more than the specific dispute, whatever it was, I think Paul was upset about how bad this lawsuit made Christians in general look to Greco-Roman society, as these Corinthians aired their dirty legal laundry in Roman courts. Hence, he issues this famous call begging these “believers” to use some form of arbitration to resolve their dispute within their faith community, not outside of it.

NOTE: One commentator makes the following observation, reminding us that these early Christians were still considered Jews by Greco-Roman society. “Under Roman rule, the Jews enjoyed a large measure of autonomy. Disputes among those in the Jewish community were settled among themselves. Indeed, the rabbis taught that it was unlawful for a Jew to seek a judge’s decision in pagan courts. Even within the pagan world, there were religious brotherhoods and mutual-benefit societies that pledged not to sue one another in the courts. Disputes among these groups were settled through arbitration among themselves.” Shepherd’s Notes – 1 Corinthians, D. Gould, ed. (Broadman & Holman, 1998) (commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:5-6, titled “Arbitration Within the Church”)