Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 5:1-5
5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
Here in chapter 5, Paul begins writing things that are increasingly unpopular / ignored among today’s Western Church. He begins by pointing out sexual immorality within the Church in Corinth which has been brought to his attention. More on verse 1 from Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(1) It is reported commonly.—Better, There is absolutely said to be fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles. All the best MSS. omit the word “named.” The force of the statement is that the fornication was of such a kind (with a stepmother) as even the Gentile world, immoral as it was, regarded with disgust, and how infinitely worse, then, was it to find such tolerated amongst Christians, whose moral standard ought to be much higher.
One should have his father’s wife.—The word “have” here used always implies in the New Testament actual marriage. It is, therefore, probable that she had been divorced from his father. The word for “his father’s wife” is the Hebrew form of expression for stepmother. St. Chrysostom suggests “he said not his ‘stepmother,’ but ‘his father’s wife,’ so as to strike much more severely;” but probably St. Paul used the Hebrew phrase instead of the ordinary Greek word for “stepmother,” as it was in this phraseology that such a union was forbidden by the law of Moses (Leviticus 18:8).
The comment here is a reminder that Paul’s writings are replete with references to Old Testament texts, which he often assumes his readers will know.
Leviticus 18:8 8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.
“Uncovering the nakedness” is a phrase that might be misunderstood, in English, but the meaning is made clear in context. Continuing to The Pulpit Commentaries with the next verse:
And ye are puffed up; perhaps rather, And have ye been puffed up? The “ye,” being expressed m the Greek, is emphatic—”ye, the very persons whose horror ought to have been most intense.” It might seem inconceivable that any community calling itself Christian would fall so low as to be puffed up at the existence of such an offence among them. There is, indeed, a subtle and close connection between arrogance and sensuality, and beth are sometimes fatally linked to the conceit of religious knowledge without the reality. But not even a heathen community could have been “puffed up” on such grounds. Yet the Corinthians may have been “puffed up” with the conceited reasons which induced them to leave the offence unrebuked, because they boasted the possession of some spurious “knowledge.” Perhaps they bad seized some deadly notion of antinomian liberty, such as has existed at times among Gnostic sects, like the Ophites in ancient and the Anabaptists in modern days. Perhaps they sheltered themselves under the arrogant Jewish rule that all a man’s conditions of life were altered by becoming a proselyte—that old relationships were for him entirely abolished; for the Jews held that a prosolyte was like “a newborn child,” and had begun life a second time (Bechoroth, f. 47, 1), and might marry any of his relatives. Such miserable sophisms would acquire fresh force from the universal impurity with which Corinthian society was stained, and which rendered it necessary for St. Paul in these Epistles to utter his most solemn warnings against every kind of sensuality (1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 6:15-18; 1 Corinthians 10:8; 1Co 15:1-58 :83, 34; 2 Corinthians 5:11, etc.). But besides all this, St. Paul’s remark does not necessarily mean that their “inflation” was exclusively connected with Gnostic excesses, which bore on the ease of this offender. It may mean, “Here is a gross fault in the midst of you, and yet—not propter hoc, but cum hoc—the characteristic of your religious factions is pride and conceit.” This was indeed Κορινθιάζεσθαι, “to play the Corinthian,” in the worst sense, of that proverbial taunt. Possibly the prominence or wealth of the offender may have led to a more easy condonation of his crime. Exculpatory sophism may have been suggested by self interest. That; i.e. in order that, as a result of your godly sorrow, the offender might be removed from your midst. He that hath done this deed. The language of St. Paul, as always, is as delicate as clearness would allow. The fact that the verb is in the past aorist may perhaps allow us to hope that the offence, at any rate in its most aggravated forms, had ceased to be committed. The manner of the crime (“in such a way”) seems to have been an aggravation of the crime itself. In this indignant verse we have, as Stanley says, “the burst of the storm, the mutterings of which had been heard in the earlier chapters.” So intense was the effect produced by St. Paul’s stern severity, that a great part of the Second Epistle had to be devoted to allaying the agitation which these words had excited (see especially 2 Corinthians 7:8-12).
From Paul’s perspective, the arrogance, and self-righteousness, which he has mentioned to some extent already, in the form of their faction-forming, is made worse when considering that they have a grievous sin paraded among them. Paul advises the Church in Corinth to kick the offender sinner out of their fold.
In a modern church that views attendance as more valuable than community integrity, or holiness, the idea of kicking out membership for sexual immorality might seem impossible, or even an action of unrighteousness that lacks love. Proposing that a Church actually abide by these rules might get such a person compared to a Pharisee, even by some pastors and priests. Yet… Paul gives this recommendation here. Continuing in the Pulpit Commentaries:
For I verily. The broken structure of the verse shows the deep emotion with which it was penned—as it were with sobs. St. Paul contrasts the line which he means to take with the lax condonation granted by the Corinthian Church. As absent; rather, being absent or though absent. The as is omitted in the best manuscripts. But present in spirit; literally, in the spirit;’ but he is referring to his own spirit: “Bodily I am absent; but speaking as though my spirit were present in your assembly [comp. 2 Kings 5:26], I have already judged,” etc. Have judged already. My decision was instantaneous and is final. As though I were present. My sentence is as clear as though I were at this moment standing in the midst of you. That hath so done. The verb is not as before, poiesas, but katergasamenon, which is stronger, “the perpetrator of this deed.” The “so” means “with all these circumstances of aggravation.” The same verb is used in Romans 1:27. The broken periods of the Greek reflect the emotion of the writer. The passage is as it were written with sobs (Wordsworth).
We see Paul here giving his authoritative blessing on the action of the congregation kicking this person out of their ranks. This again reiterates the idea that it is important for the Church to operate within a corporate / spiritual structure. We also see that Paul takes individual sin very seriously. Continuing on to the next verse, with Ellicott:
(4, 5) In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . and my spirit.—These two verses contain the apostolic sentence on the offender, and may read thus: “I have already myself decided, in the name of our Lord Jesus, you being gathered together, and my spirit (as in 1 Corinthians 5:3), in the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one,” &c.
The opening words are probably the form used in all public acts of the Church as a body, and “the power of our Lord Jesus” refers to that continual presence which Christ had promised His Church, and particular power which He had delegated to the Apostles to punish (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18; Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20). In this sentence we recognise, not merely a formal excommunication from church-fellowship, but a more severe punishment, which could only be inflicted by apostolic authority and power. Satan was regarded as the origin of all physical evil—hence the afflicted woman, in Luke 13:16, is spoken of as one “whom Satan hath bound these eighteen years.” St. Paul’s own bodily suffering is a “messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7). The blindness of Elymas (Acts 13:8), and the death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5), are instances of the infliction of bodily-suffering by the Apostles. The deliverance of an offender unto Satan would therefore mean the expulsion of such a one from the Christian communion, and if that failed the actual infliction of some bodily suffering such as would destroy the flesh (not the body, but the flesh, the source and origin of the evil). Explicit directions for the excommunication by the Church of an offender, are given in 1 Corinthians 7:0, but there is no direct instruction to inflict the further punishment spoken of here. It is, indeed, probable that the lesser punishment had the desired effect (see Note on 2 Corinthians 2:6), and we subsequently find St. Paul pleading for the loving re-admission of the offender into all the privileges of Christian communion
“Deliver this man to Satan” seems as though it has a very specific meaning, and it does, going back to the Torah. You will see various explanations given for what this means, but I will refer you to Dr. Michael Heiser in an embedded video below for an explanation:
This is a difficult teaching in the present day, where excommunication is often not taken seriously, but we see that this is a practice of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments. I’ll finish up this section with the note from The Pulpit Commentaries on verse 5:
To deliver such a one unto Satan. Scripture nowhere defines the character and limits of such a sentence as this. By cutting off an offender from Church communion (2 Thessalonians 3:14, 2 Thessalonians 3:15), that is, from all the visible means of grace, he was for the time separated from spiritual influences, and was, therefore, so far handed over to Satan. The phrase is also applied to Hymenaeus and Alexander, in 1 Timothy 1:20. It is very doubtful whether it was necessarily meant to involve such physical inflictions as fell on Ananias, Sapphira, or Elymas. It is, however, important to observe that the intention of the sentence, like the true intention of excommunication, when exercised in a right spirit (see Hooker, ‘Eccl. Pol.,’ Ecclesiastes 3:1, § 13), was not wrathful, but merciful. It was, as Calvin says, “medicinale remedium”—”not for destruction, but for edification” (2 Corinthians 10:8). Hymenaeus and Alexander were handed to Satan, not for their final ruin and damnation, but with a kind and remedial purpose, “that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20), and this offender with the express object ‘, that his spirit may be saved.” Had these facts been more deeply studied, there would have been a very different tone and spirit in many of the mediaeval anathemas. Such a one. He seems to hold aloof from the man’s very name. So “such as she” (τὰς τοιαύτας) is used of the adulteress in John 8:7. For the destruction of the flesh; i.e. that all carnal influences in him might be destroyed. It is not his “body” which is to be destroyed, but the , “flesh,” the jetzer hara, or “evil impulse,” as the Jews called it. When this was destroyed, the body might once more become a temple of the Holy Ghost. That the spirit may be saved. The destruction of the lowest element of our human nature is the salvation of the highest; it is the cutting away of the dead corpse from the living soul. In the day of the Lord; when the Lord should judge the quick and the dead. The merciful intention of St. Paul is clearly developed in 2 Corinthians 2:6-11. He looked on God’s judgments as remedial, not as solely retributive (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). Here, as Chrysostom finely says, the apostle lays down, as it were, his laws to the devil, telling him how far, and how far only, he can proceed. The object of excommunication is to save the offender, and not to do the devil’s work by ensuring his eternal ruin. We can imagine how awful would be the solemnity of these words when they were first read aloud to the little Christian communities of Corinth. It was natural that they should produce an overwhelming excitement.
This note makes an important point. The purpose of excommunication is not punitive, the purpose is to save the offender. Failing to censure lack of repentance, in the view of Paul, is more cruel. From Paul’s perspective there are eternal consequences to sin that are far more serious than the here and now. It is better to do a thing that might be uncomfortable, today, if it leads to someone’s eternal salvation.
This is not the end of Paul’s discussion on sexual immorality or Church discipline. We will read more as we continue through the book.