1 Corinthians 5:6-13

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 5:6-13

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”


The sermon that one almost never hears from the Pulpit in modern times continues from Paul in Chapter 5. Picking up with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary in verse 6:

(6) Your glorying is not good.—There is possibly a reference here to some boasting regarding their spiritual state contained in the letter which had reached St. Paul from Corinth, and to which part of this Epistle is a reply. (See 1 Corinthians 7:1.) So long as there is that one bad person amongst you it gives a bad character to the whole community, as leaven, though it may not have pervaded the entire lump, still makes it not the unleavened bread which was necessary for the Paschal Feast. This Epistle being written shortly before Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:8), it was very likely some time about or soon after Easter, hence the leaven and the Paschal Feast naturally suggest themselves as illustrations. The Apostle passes on rapidly from the mention of the leaven to the whole scene of the feast. As with the most minute and scrupulous care the Jew would remove every atom of leaven when the Paschal lamb was to be eaten, so our Paschal Lamb having been slain, we must take care that no moral leaven remains in the sacred household of the Church while she keeps her perpetual feast of prayer and thanksgiving.

The Pulpit Commentaries also address this verse:

1 Corinthians 5:6

Your glorying; rather, the subject of your boasting, the point on which you glorify yourselves. The Greek word does not mean the act of boasting, but the thing of which we boast. Not good. The Greek word is not agathon, but kalon, an almost untranslatable word, which implies all moral beauty, and resembles the English word “fair” or “noble.” When he says that it is “not good,” he uses the figure called litotēs; i.e. he employs an expression intentionally too weak, that it may be corrected into a stronger one by the involuntary indignation of the reader; as when Virgil calls the cannibal tyrant Busiris “unpraised.” Hence the clause is equivalent to “the thing of which you are boasting is detestable.” Know ye not. This clause is used by St. Paul in specially solemn appeals, and almost exclusively in these Epistles (1 Corinthians 3:161 Corinthians 6:16, 1Co 6:19; 1 Corinthians 9:131 Corinthians 9:24). A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump (Galatians 5:9). The taint alluded to is not only the presence of the unpunished offender, but the general laxity and impurity displayed by their whole bearing in the matter (comp. the line of Menander quoted in 1 Corinthians 15:33, and the “root of bitterness” in Hebrews 12:15). (For the word “lump,” see Romans 11:16.)

The first commentary summarizes the metaphor of leaven in bread, to describe sin. One great sinner, who is allowed to sin greatly and publicly, can damage the reputation of the entire Church.

The latter commentary reminds us that Paul wrote in Greek. This is why a knowledge of Greek is useful in the study of Scripture. The latter commentary explains “leaven” as being the sin which the Church is allowing to exist in its midst. Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries into the next verse:

1 Corinthians 5:7

Purge out therefore. The word “therefore” is absent from the best manuscripts, and the abruptness is more emphatic without it. No doubt the metaphor was suggested by the fact that St. Paul was writing about the time of the Passover (Acts 16:8). The most essential requisite of the Jewish regulations, with which his whole training had made him so familiar, was the absolute putting away, and even destruction, of every trace of leaven, which was diligently sought for the day before the Passover began. The putting away of leaven was a type of sanctification. The old leaven. “Old” as belonging to their unregenerate and unconverted condition; a remnant of the day when they had been Gentiles and Jews who had not known Christ. The least willing tolerance of the taint would cause it to work throughout the whole society. As ye are unleavened. Leaven is the type of evil in its secret and corrupting workings. Ideally, Christians can only be addressed as “unleavened,” i.e. as “purged from their own old sins” (2 Peter 1:9); and it is the method of Scripture (indeed, it is the only possible method) to address Christians as being Christians indeed, and therefore in their ideal rather than their actual character. Some have taken these words to mean, “You are actually keeping the Passover, and therefore have no leaven among you;” but

(1) the words cannot bear this meaning; nor

(2) was St. Paul likely to appeal so prominently to a Jewish ordinance; and

(3) he is thinking of the Christian Easter, and only borrowing a casual illustration from the Jewish Passover. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; rather, in the true reading, for our passover also was sacrificed—even Christ. As Christians, the Gentile Corinthians certainly did not keep the Jewish Passover; but St. Paul reminds them that they too had a Passover—that for them, too a Paschal Victim had been offered, whose sacrificial blood had been shed for their redemption (John 1:29John 19:361 Peter 1:19). (Comp. Hebrews 13:10, “We have an altar.”)

As to point three above, I disagree to a degree with the note. The note seems to imply a clearly understood separation between Christian Easter and Jewish Passover. I think that view infuses too much modernism into the 1st century. The early Church, which was heavily populated by Jews, viewed “Christian Easter” as the true and ultimate fulfillment of Jewish Passover. Paul does not make a “casual” illustration because Christ’s role in Passover, and the direct parallel between Christ’s death and the Passover event from the Torah, is the entire point of Christianity. Even the Gentile converts were likely well-aware of this. The term “Easter” does not come into existence for centuries after Paul. They referred to the celebration as… Passover.

The illustration of leaven would have been well-understood by his original readers. It was important to Paul that sin not play the role of leaven in Corinth. One well-known and flagrant example of unrepentant sin and hypocrisy had within it the power to damage their collective efforts to be a “new lump.” Continuing on with Ellicott:

(8) Old leaveni.e., in their old state generally; and then the Apostle proceeds to particularise. Sincerity and truth are to take the place of malice and wickedness in the continuous life of the Christian. St. Chrysostom well remarks: “He said ‘Let us keep the feast’ as pointing out that the whole of time is a festival unto Christians, because of the excellence of the good things which have been given.”

(9) I wrote unto you in an epistle.—These words have given rise to some controversy as to whether the Apostle here refers to some former Epistle addressed to the Corinthian Church, and which has not been preserved, or whether the reference is not to this Epistle itself. It has been suggested by some who adopt the latter view that these words may have been added as an interpolation after the completion of the Epistle, and be intended to intensify the remarks made by the Apostle on this subject in 1 Corinthians 5:6-81 Corinthians 6:9-20. Such an interpretation, however, seems rather strained. It is more natural to suppose that the reference is to an Epistle written to the Corinthians, probably from Ephesus, after a visit paid to Corinth of which we have no record, for in 2 Corinthians 12:142 Corinthians 13:1, we read of a third visit being contemplated, whereas only one previous one is recorded. (See also Introduction.) The condition of the Church which caused the Apostle that “heaviness,” which he connects with this visit in 2 Corinthians 2:1, would naturally have given rise to an Epistle containing the kind of direction here referred to.

Verse 9 here is clear and direct. “Do not associate with sexually immoral people.” The controversy regarding the verse, as the note describes, is Paul’s reference to a letter he has written. The greater consensus view seems to be that Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians, though referred to here, which has been lost to time. Returning to The Pulpit Commentaries for a note on verse 10:

1 Corinthians 5:10

Yet not altogether. The words correct a false inference, and mean, “I did not intend absolutely to prohibit all communication with Gentiles guilty of this sin under all circumstances.” Of this world. Those outside the pale of the Christian Church. Or with the covetous. St. Paul often uses the Greek word in immediate connection with sins of impurity (1 Corinthians 6:102 Corinthians 9:5Ephesians 5:3Colossians 3:3), and, though it does not exclude the connotation of greed and avarice (2 Corinthians 9:71 Thessalonians 2:5), it seems to have been used euphemistically of the deadliest form of heathen sensuality. The principle of selfishness may work equally in greed and in lust. Extortioners. The word may also mean “ravishers,” but there is no reason to abandon the sense of “rapacious.” Idolaters. This is the earliest instance of the use of this word, which does not occur in the LXX. No Christian could still be an open “idolater.” So, unless we suppose that the expression has slipped in involuntarily, we must here give the word a metaphorical sense, as in Colossians 3:5. We must else be driven to suppose that there were some half and half Christians, like Constantine, who “feared the Lord, and served their own gods”. For then must ye needs go out of the world; for in that case (as they had perhaps implied in their letter of questions to St. Paul) ye would have been morally bound to leave the world altogether and seek a new one. The Greek particle ara perhaps refers to the astonishment caused by their misapprehension of St. Paul’s rule. The clause throws painful light on the condition of the heathen world. If all communication with “fornicators” was to be forbidden, the sin was so universal, especially at Corinth, that all intercourse with Gentiles would have be. come impossible. Even some who professed to be stern moralists among the heathen, like Cato and Cicero, looked on the sin as being, at the worst, quite venial, and even, under certain circumstances, commendable.

This verse is important as often the Church gets it backward. Paul does not admonish the Church to disassociate from all sexually immoral people who are not Christians. He is stating that they should not tolerate sin, from which there has not been repentance, from a fellow Believer. Otherwise, as he notes, to avoid serious sins from the world would require going to another world entirely. Paul states this more clearly in the next verse. From Ellicott:

(11) But now I have written unto you . . .—i.e., “But what I meant was” that you were not to associate with a Christian guilty of these things. It may seem strange that the word “idolater” should be included in this category; for in what sense could a “brother” be a worshipper of idols? It is probable that the word “idolater” has involved in it the idea, not merely of worshipping an image, but of the sensuality which accompanied various forms of heathen worship, and of which evidently some of the Corinthian brethren were partakers. (See Ephesians 5:5, and Colossians 3:5, where “idolatry” is identified with a vice kindred to lasciviousness.)

We see in Paul’s efforts to keep the Church pure and free from hypocrisy an echo of the efforts made by Israelites to do the same throughout the Old Testament. We’ll close the chapter looking at The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 5:12

For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? To pass sentence on heathens is no concern of mine; it is no part of my office. The phrase “them that are without” was originally a Jewish phrase. To the Jews all men were outsiders (chitsonin) except themselves. The phrase was adopted by Christians, but in a less contemptuous sense (1 Thessalonians 4:12Colossians 4:5). We find a description of “those that were without”—”aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise”—in Ephesians 2:12Do not ye judge them that are within! An appeal to their own practice and to common sense. Christian rules can, of course, only apply to Christian communities.

1 Corinthians 5:13

God judgeth. To that “judgment of God” (Romans 1:29) Christians must leave them. They have no jurisdiction over them. The mention of “judging” forms a natural transition to the next chapter. Therefore. The word is omitted in the best manuscripts. The command is more abruptly forcible without it. Put away from among yourselves that wicked person. The command would come the more powerfully because it is a direct reference to the language of Deuteronomy 17:7Deuteronomy 24:7. The explanation, “Put away the evil one [i.e. the devil] from among you!” is adopted by Calvin, but is too general.

Paul points out that he is in no position to judge those who are not under Christ. The judgment of those, he says, is a job belonging to God. He concludes the chapter again reiterating that the Church must purge evil from its ranks.

Deuteronomy 17:7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

Deuteronomy 24:7 “If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

Paul sees no gap between his admonitions here in Chapter 5, and the famous passage on love in Chapter 13. He views purging evil from the Church, and the call to love, as things that are in accord with one another.

As an American, I see this chapter from the perspective of my own experience. Much like Corinth, the Church in the United States is wealthy, factional, and often flagrantly immoral in various ways. One wonders what might happen, or what it might look like, if the American Church put aside finer point doctrinal differences and began purging from its midst the flagrant and easily understood sin which is so often on display. Given that Paul warns the Corinthians not to apply the same standards to outsiders, I also wonder if in the mist of their faction-forming, they fell into the same trap which has at times ensnared leaders of the American Church, and began condemning the individual sins of people outside the Church.

Given how applicable this chapter seems to the current situation of the Church, in the West, I wonder why I have not heard Christian leaders refer to it more often. How much hatred and ridicule does the secular American world aim at Christianity, because Christians so willingly tolerate hypocrisy in their midst while judging those outside the Church despite that not being appropriate? We can contemplate that more as we move onto Chapter 6. Perhaps we can draw some comfort from the fact that with all of their faults, the Corinthian Church was not deemed a lost cause.

Paul continues instructing the Church in Corinth on how to act amongst each other.