From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 1-6                   Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011






Chapter 5                                                                                          [Page 171] 





            Corinthian arrogance had led the community of believers into embracing even those that the surrounding community found morally repugnant.  They lived in a society that tolerated virtually anything and everything, yet even a debased society has to draw at least a few lines in order to maintain its self-respect.  One that has been chronic in virtually all, is the prohibition of a sexual relationship with one’s mother.  Even the Roman emperor Nero found his reputation besmirched and himself embarrassed when such a relationship was laid at his door.

            They couldn’t undo the past—no one can.  What they could do--and which Paul emphatically insists that they do—is to act promptly and decisively to repudiate the man and his behavior.   It wasn’t merely a matter of his own moral contamination; their very tolerance and embracing of such brazenness was acting as a moral “yeast” to degrade their own personal standards as well. 

They could always throw up Paul’s standard of non-involvement with the sexually immoral as unrealistic:  “How can we possibly live that way in our society?”  Of course they couldn’t; but they could control which of their own members they accepted.  They had no authority to demand moral uprightness of their unbelieving citizenry; but they had every right to demand it of their fellow church member.  And that standard, Paul demanded, they live up to. 

One of the terrible ironies of our contemporary life is this very failure:  Nothing is demanded of the church member—with the possible exception of attendance and a regular contribution.  Beyond that, a blissful fog of obscurity is cast, as if nothing else in the world could possibly matter.  If outrageous situations like Paul describes don’t exist, it’s far more a matter of blind good fortune than an indication of a morally transformed church community.  






How the Themes Are Developed  







Their spiritual arrogance had gone so far,

they embraced as acceptable a member 

whose sexual misconduct was so extreme that

even pagan outsiders would have been appalled




[Page 172]  ATP text:  1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and misconduct of such a nature as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife!  2You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead.  As a result of this, the one who has done this deed has not been removed from among you.”

Development of the argument:  Paul was painfully aware of the moral failures of the contemporary pagan world, as can be quickly seen in the vivid word picture he paints in Romans 1.  On the other hand, moral responsibility was far from totally lacking and there were multitudes who strove for a higher ethical standard than the bare minimum acceptable to their culture.   Yet even the morally blasé could be shaken about a few things and Paul recognized that if Christianity was to enjoy credibility in the pagan world, it had to maintain a level of conduct that outsiders could acknowledge as responsible and desirable. 

            To Paul’s clear horror, there was a case of a man who had “his father’s wife” (5:1), a kind of behavior so outlandish that even morally unconcerned outsiders would shun it (5:1).  In other words, the Corinthians could not play off the moral expectations of Gentiles against those expected among Jews—this represented a matter of clear-cut, shared condemnation.[1]  Furthermore it wasn’t a “mere” temporary aberration of lust or self-interest, but an on-going “having” (as the Greek here denotes), a relationship that has lasted for a while and is intended to last indefinitely into the future.[2]

Rather than being ashamed of the man’s behavior, they were somehow proud of it, “puffed up” (ATP:  “arrogant”), to use Paul’s expression (5:2).  He doesn’t bother to explain why they were acting this way--whether it was a misapprehension of the nature of Christian liberty, whether it was loyalty to a factional leader, or out of some other motive.  Paul doesn’t really care about the reason.  He just wants them to repudiate the behavior. 

He was at least as disturbed by their indifference as by the sin itself.[3]  Indeed, some have suggested that this tolerance was more subversive than the actual moral evil:[4]  the sin directly involved only the two people participating; in contrast, potentially the broadmindedness toward it opened the door to anything and everything.

If this all were not bad enough, the situation opened the door to prosecution as well.  Gaius’ presentation of Roman law (Institutiones 1.63) words the prohibition, “Likewise [it is not allowed to marry] her who was once to me a mother-in-law or daughter in law or stepdaughter or stepmother.”[5]  

Furthermore, this was not counted as not as a mere violation of custom or some type of “civil” matter.  Instead it was regarded as an explicit crime that would, properly, come before the proconsul to judge, with his virtually unrestricted set of options including death.[6]  Indeed, Roman law required (not merely permitted) the husband (or, absent him, the biological father of the woman) to present the case for trial within sixty days of its discovery.[7] 

Loss of a large part of one’s possessions as well as exile was the normal punishment for both individuals.[8]  In short, such a situation had all the makings of a legal



[Page 173]  time bomb.  Even if those directly involved chose to keep silence, there was always the danger that some external enemy or rival would bring it to the attention of the proconsul and unleash this can of worms in that manner.    

Conviction on such an outrageous breach of fundamental polytheistic ethics would have served as an invaluable tool to undermine and disgrace the entire Christian community.  To express it in modern idiom, one can easily imagine the juicy tale being spread, “Oh those are just more of those Christian perverts who think there is nothing wrong with having the spouse of your father.”  Paul would have been nothing short of a fool not to have been horrified--not just on moral grounds but also due to the political/social repercussions of such a case.






This horrendous misjudgment had to be

speedily remedied by the congregation

meeting together and reaching a

consensus to expel the offender (5:3-5:5)



            ATP text:  3Though absent in body but present in spirit, I have already judged him who has committed this deed, as though I were physically present as well.  4When you are assembled together, I will be with you in spirit. Then, invoking the name of our Lord Jesus, and his power, 5deliver such a one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his inner spirit may have forgiveness in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

            Development of the argument:  Some situations are of such a nature that one must be present and hear the evidence before making a decision.  Here the behavior was not in question, only the reaction to it.  Hence Paul had already reached his conclusions (5:3).  He demanded that when they gathered together in their church assembly (5:4) that they repudiate the individual by rejecting him and handing him over to Satan (5:5). 

            Many problems can be dealt with informally, such as some one person refusing to have anything to do with someone who—in his or her own judgment—has missed the mark of proper Christian behavior.  Some things, however, are of such a blatant nature and bring such public odium upon the believing community, that the only proper response is a collective one.  Without it, the surrounding world assumes that the believing community either endorses or at least condones the behavior.  This was the kind of extreme situation with which the Corinthians were now confronted.

            What was worse is that they had found some means—unstated—of rationalizing, accepting, condoning, even openly approving of the life style.  If they found a way to tolerate what even pagans considered evil—indeed, incestuous--is it any surprise that sometimes today entire religious groups lose their moral compass and approve any type of behavior that has society’s tacit acceptance?  

            This rejection was not designed as mere retaliation, but to persuade the transgresser to alter his lifestyle so that he might “be saved (ATP:  may have forgiveness)



[Page 174]  in the day of the Lord Jesus” (5:6).  Vindictiveness in the name of “moral purity” was the last thing in Paul’s mind.  On the other hand, he had absolutely no compunction against bringing to bear the full moral force of the congregation when the offense was of blatant notoriety and corrosive of the moral integrity of those who, by being accepting of the excesses, opened themselves to their own personal forms of unrestrained behavior.






By their supportive tolerance, they risked

the moral contamination of the

                     entire group just like yeast changes the

                              entire loaf of bread (5:6-5:8)



            ATP text:  6Your boasting is not appropriate.  Do you not know that it requires only a little yeast to leaven the whole batch of dough?  7Therefore purge out the old yeast!  Then you will be like a fresh unleavened batch of bread and that is what you are.  After all, our Passover lamb is Christ, who has already been sacrificed for us.  8Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

            Devel.opment of the argument:  How could the extreme behavior of someone  produce anything else from us but rejection?  Paul had no room for a doctrine of unlimited acceptance for he recognized what abstract theory sometimes dismisses:  that which we tolerate as acceptable we will either imitate or be encouraged to let our own barriers down to something else equally inappropriate.  At the least we will view “nonjudgmentally” the behavior of our children if they follow a similar course.  However unintended on a conscious level, it will ultimately degrade the spirituality of those not directly involved.

            It is “a little leaven” (ATP:  “yeast”) at the moment; it has not yet worked out its full impact.  (Indeed the language may be carrying major unspoken freight:  they literally viewed it as a minor, even insignificant matter).  Yet even grant the assertion that it may  seem insignificant in itself, yet it clearly has the potential to “leaven the whole lump” (ATP:  “the whole patch of dough”) (5:6).  Indeed this is the natural and inevitable course of yeast’s presence.

Since we in the western world do not involve ourselves in heavy duty cooking as much as a generation or two ago, the image has lost some of its impact.  Perhaps a more powerful modern idiom would be “gangrene:”  A little of it may seem merely ugly but of no immediate.e importance; yet if allowed to spread it may do so quickly and can destroy the whole body even though it began in only one toe.[9]  (I’m thinking of a literal case of this that is going on as I revise this paragraph.)

They would have recognized the validity of this allusion as well.  Indeed—whether approached as “yeast” or “gangrene”—the implication is identical:  To remove



[Page 175]  the contagion not just out of the hope of saving the transgressor, but also to protect the integrity of all else within the same spiritual body.[10]  (Remember the relevant admonition in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Evil company corrupts good morals.”)  In a very real sense the church will be killing itself if it declines to act—define that in terms of rejection by God, the removal of serious moral substance from the movement, or however else one may wish but the point remains the same.  

             Just as all leaven was purged from the household before Passover, they must purge this human leaven from their midst as well (5:7).  Not even a “little” leaven was permitted to remain during that festival—and this man was guilty of far more than a “little” sin!  After being rid of the spiritual leaven, they would be able to partake of a spiritual Passover with the kind of moral integrity they should have (5:8). 

Some have taken this to indicate that they had recently observed a Christian Passover (= Easter), an assumption that would work only if there were clear evidence that the church had begun such yearly observances in the first century.  More possible is that Jewish members had observed the Passover recently or that, since the festival would have been well known to both Jewish and Gentile believers, that Paul is simply building the image upon that shared knowledge. 

Since Christ himself is defined as the Christian Passover (5:7), the point is more likely not the observance of any day as such but an “observance” of Christ Himself:  by being faithful believers they would be involved in a perpetual Passover in their spiritual linkage to their Lord.  A Passover not celebrated yearly, but daily.  A Passover not defined by outward ritual but by a purity of mind and behavior in imitation of Christ.   






They could not escape this obligation by claiming

that Paul demanded the impractical when he

insisted on the termination of the relationship:

These instructions only concerned their

relationship with fellow believers

—not the world at large (5:9-5:13)



            ATP text:  9I wrote you in my letter not to associate with those who continue to be sexually immoral people.  10Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral individuals of this world, or with the greedy, or dishonest, or worshippers of idols, since then you would have to go out of the world entirely.  11What I actually wrote to you was not to associate with any one who claims to be a comrade but is actually sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or who uses abusive language, or gets drunk, or is financially dishonest.  Avoid even eating with such a person.  12What have I to do with judging outsiders?  Are we not expected, however, to judge insiders?  13Those who are



[Page 176]  outside, God judges.  Therefore do your duty and put away the evil person from yourselves.”

            Development of the argument:  They had already read his teaching instructing Christians to avoid the kind of behavior that would imply approval for those living a “sexually immoral” lifestyle (5:9).  Paul was a realist as well as an idealist on such matters.  The idealism said to avoid all such individuals; the realism said that the world would never conform to such a lifestyle--indeed, one could not even live within the world by such an unbending standard (5:10). 

            One’s fellow church member was a different matter.  There one is in a voluntary relationship with each other and one could rightly demand that a proper standard be observed that one could demand of no one else.  There it would be intrusion; here it would be sacred obligation.

Indeed, in extreme cases of misbehavior, one needs to disassociate oneself so far as “not even to eat with such a person” (5:11).  Eating together seems to be one of virtually every civilization’s most common means to show friendship, cordiality, and acceptance.  It encourages a social “bonding” that easily bears fruit at other times and places as well.  A million words may have been spoken but if we continue to treat the person in exactly the same manner as before how can our words be taken seriously?  They are like “water off the duck’s back”—meaningless and treated as such. 

            We can only “judge” the propriety of the behavior of such fellow members (5:12); everyone else we leave to God (5:13).  Here Paul leaves the implicit warning that the outsider too will face an hour of judgment as well.  But there are some matters He leaves in His own hands and others that He shares with us.  The outsider escapes our judgment, but never God’s.   

            As noted above, it may well be that factional loyalty made this extreme case feasible.  The sad fact is that in virtually any religious system, behavior that would normally bring down the wrath of the “institution” is ignored if one occupies the right position of power or is the offspring of the right family. 

I recall a lady lamenting with me at a funeral over three decades ago about the physical abuse the minister of her congregation was inflicting on his wife.  Have you spoken with him?  No.  Has anyone else spoken with him?  No.  Why don’t you leave?  Just couldn’t do that. 

When abuse of official or unofficial position permits one to get away with anything and everything, what is the world to do but scoff at a church that claims to offer the world the moral high ground?  One does not require a vivid imagination to hear similar scoffing in the Corinthian unbelieving community.







Invoking of Explicit Old Testament

Quotations to Justify His Teaching



[Page 177] 



5:13:  Those guilty of extremely inappropriate behavior must be removed from God’s people:  “Put away from yourselves the evil person  (“therefore do your duty and put away the evil person from yourselves,” ATP).   This may or may not be intended as a direct quotation from the Old Testament.[11]  The fact that it is the language of the Pentateuch (though not explicitly presented as a quotation by Paul) has led many translations to place it in quotation marks (for example, the NAB, NKJV, NRSV).  Others (such as the GW) omit them.

            In Deuteronomy it is used as a description of the death penalty.  Deuteronomy 17:6 points out that only the one against whom there is eyewitness testimony from at least two or three people will suffer the penalty.  “The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people.  So you shall put away the evil from among you” (17:7).  The text is essentially the same both in Paul and Deuteronomy 17;[12] however the “from among you” is in the singular in the Greek Septuagint but Paul alters it to the plural.[13]  Perhaps the reason for the plural lies in a desire to stress that this is an individual obligation binding upon each and every one rather than it being one required of the “one” corporate group, the believing community:  The latter could permit a person to shift the responsibility for action to someone else’s shoulders.

Be that as it may, the demand that the evil perpetuator be put away is used specifically of the death penalty for pre-marital fornication (Deuteronomy 22:21, 24).  Likewise the kidnapper was to be put to death and the expression is used to describe his punishment as well (24:7).

            In 1 Corinthians it is, if you will, a “spiritual death penalty”--the total exclusion from life among God’s people.  So far as the group was concerned, the errant individual was to be treated as if dead:  you could not eat with the literally dead; you could not have a social relationship with them.  In a similar manner the members were to ignore the apostate as if he were no longer alive on the earth.   

When the Old Testament speaks of literal casting out and death of the spiritual and moral rebel, it presents it as not just due punitive action but also as necessary to the preservation of the rest of the community.  In the case of a false witness, for example, “judges shall make careful inquiry” (Deuteronomy 19:18).  Paul instructs them to “judge those who are inside” the church and does so in this context of sexual misbehavior (1 Corinthians 5:12)  Hence the Corinthians were to meet and are to act like “judges” are expected to act, take the testimony, and delve into the matter to assure that there would be no second guessing at a later date.  That they did so under the leadership of one or more selected “judges” is quite possible since Paul had challenged them to judge their own interpersonal conflicts before such figures (1 Corinthians 6:2-5).

            In one sense this was a formality; there is no hint that anyone in the least doubted what was going on.  The problem was getting them to do something about it.  Having formally judged the genuineness of the facts they were to “put away from yourselves the evil person” (1 Corinthians 5:13).  Deuteronomy 19:18 issues the same command and then the intended result:  “And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you” (Deuteronomy 19:20).  In short, others



[Page 178]  would learn by the very act of their punishment.   

            Similarly in Deuteronomy 17, “put[ting] away the evil from Israel” (verse 12) means that “all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously” (verse 13).  It was not just a matter of setting right a wrong, but of discouraging others from imitating it themselves.

            In one sense all they needed to do was to expel the reprobate from the congregation.  On the other hand, Paul seems clearly desirous of making them “sit in judgment” as well.  That way it would not be a matter that someone later could dismiss as something “Paul made us do,” but of a formal hearing and rejection by the congregation itself.  The act would then convey their own concurring judgment that the behavior was utterly undefendable rather than merely be one of carrying out an apostolic superior’s orders.








How Old Testament Concepts Are

Repeatedly Introduced and Woven

into the Heart of His Argument







            5:1:  The spread of bad news about the moral failures of God’s people.  It is hard to keep something extremely bad secret for but so long.  The Old Testament was well aware of the fact that word of misconduct would spread, whether out of ill will, gossiping, or plain concern.  Hence we read of Joseph bringing to his father “a bad report” concerning the behavior of his brothers (Genesis 37:2).The sons of the aged Eli were guilty of sexual misconduct with women even when they had gathered together for the purpose of worship (1 Samuel 2:22).  It became news to “all the people” (2:23) and Eli rebuked their behavior as a sin against Yahweh Himself (2:25).



            5:1:  “Incest:  Old Testament regulations on sexual relationships with parents and equivalent close kin.  The responsive reading prescribed in Deuteronomy 27 between Levites and the masses of the people touches on this very issue, “ ‘Cursed is the one who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s bed.’  And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ” (27:20)  Like Paul, the Deuteronomy text does not say whether it is extramarital or a remarriage or a case of a stepmother.  The way Deuteronomy is written it would cover any and all these. 



[Page 179]       In a similar vein is the warning in Deuteronomy 22:30, “A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor uncover his father’s bed.”

            The Torah covered various other similar situations as well.  Leviticus 18:7-18 goes into great detail concerning these close family and in-law relationships and how sexual relationships were never to enter the picture.  Indeed such behavior was judged worthy of the death penalty (Leviticus 20:11-12; cf. 13-21). 

            The “parental”/“offspring” kind of regulation was not conceived of as a new invention.  Long before the Mosaical system, we read of how “it happened, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went, and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine [a kind of secondary wife, but with less status]; and Israel heard about it” (Genesis 35:22).  We do not read of any immediate retribution, but his father remembered it the rest of his life.  In the final “blessings” given to the sons, Reuben, though his firstborn (49:3), is described as “unstable as water, you shall not excel, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it--he went up to my couch” (49:4). 

            By being firstborn, he was (by tradition) the most important of them all, but by his behavior he had disgraced himself.  Furthermore, according to 1 Chronicles 5:1, because of his behavior “his birthright [i.e., that of priority as being the firstborn] was given to the sons of Joseph.”

            Similar relationship with concubines occurred between Absalom and the concubines of his father David (2 Samuel 16:22).  According to the text, this was done “in the sight of all Israel.”  Not literally, assuredly, but it was known by all Israel just as the incest in Corinth was known among all the church members and, inevitably, many outsiders as well.

            Nor was the situation any better when the shared sexual partner was apparently a prostitute.  Such behavior is described in Amos 2:7 as characteristic of the person who is so self-centered that he would do injustice even to those least able to defend themselves, “They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor, and pervert the way of the humble.  A man and his father go in to the same girl, to defile My holy name.”[14]

            First century Jews shared the kind of indignation at such behavior that is found in Paul.  Although it is a long reading, Josephus’ words are worth noting because of its stress on such behavior being socially as well as morally harmful,[15] 


“As for adultery, Moses forbade it entirely, as esteeming it a happy thing that men should be wise in the affairs of wedlock; and that it was profitable both to cities and families that children should be known to be genuine.  He also abhorred men's lying with their mothers, as one of the greatest crimes; and the like for lying with the father's wife, and with aunts, and sisters, and sons' wives, as all instances of abominable wickedness.  He also forbade a man to lie with his wife when she was defiled by her natural purgation: and not to come near brute beasts; nor to approve of the lying with a male, which was to hunt after unlawful pleasures on account of beauty.  To those who were guilty of such insolent behavior, he ordained death for their punishment.”


            The first century Egyptian Jewish philosopher Philo spoke passionately—and at length--against such behavior as the ultimate degradation,[16]

[Page 180] 


            (12)  Moreover the law has laid down other admirable regulations with regard to carnal conversation; for it commands men not only to abstain from the wives of others, but also from certain relations, with whom it is not lawful to cohabit; (13) therefore Moses, detesting and loathing the customs of the Persians, repudiates them as the greatest possible impiety, for the magistrates of the Persians marry even their own mothers, and consider the offspring of such marriages the most noble of all men, and as it is said, they think them worthy of the highest sovereign authority. (14) And yet what can be a more flagitious act of impiety than to defile the bed of one's father after he is dead, which it would be right rather to preserve untouched, as sacred; and to feel no respect either for old age of for one's mother, and for the same man to be both the son and the husband of the same woman; and again for the same woman to be both the mother and wife of the same man, and for the children of the two to be the brothers of their father and the grandsons of their mother, and for that same woman to be both the mother and grandmother of those children whom she has brought forth, and for the man to be at the same time both the father and the uterine brother of those whom he has begotten?


Yet, such things had happened among the Greeks, he admits, but argues that perhaps the most famous case grew out of ignorance and that the region was torn apart afterwards through repeated needless wars and conflicts that would not otherwise have occurred.  Similarly the Persian society that practiced it bred similar bitter fruit of social upheaval and war (3.15-19)

The Jewish law protected against the behavior that had repeatedly set off such social turmoil,


(20) But our law guards so carefully against such actions as these that it does not permit even a step-son, when his father is dead, to marry his step-mother, on account of the respect which he owes to his father, and because the titles mother and step-mother are kindred names, even though the affections of the souls may not be identical; (21) for the man who is thought to abstain from her who has been the wife of another man, because she is called his step-mother, will much more abstain from his own natural mother. And if any one, on account of his recollection of his father, shows a respectful awe of her who has formerly been his wife, it is quite evident that he, because of the respect which he feels towards both his parents, is not likely to meditate any improper conduct to his mother; since it would be downright folly for a man who studies to please one half of his family, to appear to neglect it in its wholeness and integrity” (3.20-21).


If Paul had in mind (as is often urged) the marriage of a stepson to the wife of his biological father, then Philo’s remarks are of special relevance to illustrate this attitude in first century Jewish society.  

Of course if one were legalistically minded enough (i.e., willing to put a “spin” on a text so that the literal words were met even if the intent were gutted), then there was a



[Page 181]  narrow way to justify marrying a stepmother.  There were rabbis in the first century who argued that if a son were a proselyte to Judaism, then even marrying his pagan stepmother managed to side-step the normal prohibition of such a relationship.  Of course other rabbis of the time rejected such self-serving logic.[17]

Paul gives no indication that the Corinthian was a Jew (either by birth or conversion), however, and one would have anticipated at least a passing reference if such had been the case.  Perhaps something along the line of, “Most Gentiles think Jews are already despicable; why do you try to verify their prejudices?”  (There were various other ways to allude to it without being this explicit, of course.)   



            5:1:  Evils so extreme that even bad people avoid them.  Even those who don’t really care how they behave, usually have limits they are reluctant to exceed.  Likewise societies.  Not that there are no exceptions, but that the behavior is sufficiently outlandish that even the most unconcerned usually feel qualms.  The case of incest in Corinth was one such example. 

Today also you will occasionally hear of someone marrying their parent’s former spouse.  You see no great rush to embrace the decision except, perhaps, among talk show hosts seeking a new controversial subject.  Yet western society is one so “progressive” that many (most?) of the traditional prohibitions no longer have either legal sanction or even much social stigma.  Yet even here there are limits when things are particularly strange or done in a grotesquely bizarre manner.

            Jeremiah rebukes those of his age who had managed to teach even “the wicked women” new evils they were previously unacquainted with (2:33-34).   Of his own contemporary nation, he rebuked them as “more corrupt” than their evil neighbors (16:46-52, especially verse 47).  Paul clearly viewed the Corinthians--on the point of incest--as in a similar category.



            5:2:  Congregational members were to “mourn” (rather than to be blasé or proud) of clear-cut moral evil in their ranks.  The question of “where to draw the line” in moral questions is perpetual.  Paul, however, is not dealing with that obscure or potentially difficult issue.  Rather he is dealing with the kind of decision that should have been blatantly obvious to even the minimally informed.  Yet they had reacted with acceptance of the individual rather than rejection.  They had reacted with pride rather than indignation and “mourn[ing].”

            In 2 Kings 22:19 mourning was part of the reorientation of the mind that helped produce conformity to the Divine will when it had earlier been in rebellion, “ ‘Because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,’ says the Lord.”

            Nor did the sadness necessarily have to be about one’s personal behavior; it could be over that of others, as in the case of the Corinthians.  Grief of this type is referred to in Ezra 10:6.  There we read of how Ezra “ate no bread and drank no water, for he mourned because of the guilt of those from the captivity.”



[Page 182]       In vivid terms, the personally observant Psalmist (119:135) was appalled at the blatant disobedience he observed.  “Rivers of water run down from my eyes, because men do not keep Your law” (119:136).  In a similar vein, Jeremiah spoke of how he would “weep in secret” over the people’s disobedience and how “my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears” (13:17).

            Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner contend that the LXX use of the word Paul utilizes should lead the Corinthians “to mourn in the sense of confessing the sin of the erring brother as if it were their own.  The word occurs only six times in the LXX with reference to sin.  In Ezra 10:6; Nehemiah 1:4; Esdras 8:72 (8:69 LXX); 9:2; and Daniel 10:2 it refers to sorrow over the sins of others, and in Jeremiah 8:9 (cf. Testament of Reuben 1:10), it refers to sorrow over personal sin (but still in a corporate context).”[18] 

            It makes little sense to insist on this connotation since it is not required by the texts and it inherently makes little sense to confess others sins as if they were our own.  They simply aren’t.  It does zilch to encourage the other person to reform.  We can “mourn” that others—who should know better—have sinned at all.  But that is something very different.  If there is to be confessing and mourning of any personal responsibility then it would surely be for not discouraging the course of action and not having done anything about it at an earlier stage.  In such case they have a guilt and we also have a guilt—but a different guilt.



            5:6:  The degenerative impact of a “small” amount of evil on the entire congregation.  Paul makes allusion to the impact of “a little leaven (ATP: yeast)” and how it “leavens the whole [and much larger] lump (ATP:  whole batch of dough).”  The Corinthians viewed the incest in these minimalist terms, if they viewed it as a problem at all (5:2 suggests many did not):  it was minor, secondary, and of little importance.  Paul was at pains to point out that the opposite was the case, that such incest was horrifying even to outsiders (5:1). 

In part, because of its disproportionate impact, he argues that such extreme behavior can’t be swept under the rug and overlooked.  The Old Testament recognized this principle.              The admonition of Ecclesiastes that “one sinner destroys much good” (9:18b) certainly has obvious application to the Corinthian situation whether Paul had it specifically in mind or not.  Likewise in Joshua 7, there was only one thief of the goods from conquered Jericho, but his theft resulted in a major defeat and the death of a number of Israelite soldiers (7:4-5).  The results were far out of proportion to anything that could have been anticipated.  Likewise the destructive impact upon the Corinthian church if they permitted their incest problem to remain uncorrected.

            When Paul speaks of “a little leaven” (5:6), he is not describing the incest case itself but is laying down a principle that could rightly be applied to it:   the vigor of the denunciation hardly allowed him to call that a “little” problem![19]  Hence he casts the rhetoric broadly so that it describes any evil—even one that seems small and insignificant in itself—that had the potential for changing the basic nature of the entire “loaf,” i.e., the congregation.  They could dismiss many matters as purely private ones, certainly, but there were others that created the precedent for similar or worse behavior.  The relationship to the incest issue would be that if they should be concerned with a lot less than that—because it could corrupt the entire congregation—how much more should they be concerned with the major evil they had allowed to perpetuate and gain local approval!  




[Page 183]       5:7:  The Passover.  In this verse Jesus is pictured as “our Passover” because He “was sacrificed for us.”   The original Passover animal caused the plague of physical death to pass over the households where the animal’s blood was on the door posts (Exodus 12:21-27).  In the case of believers, the application of Jesus’ sacrifice to their souls resulted in spiritual death being removed from their hearts.  The Messianic text about “a lamb [being led] to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7) would refer to any of the lamb sacrifices that were offered, but it would have a special appropriateness in any discussion of the Passover since this was the animal that was sacrificed. 



            5:8:  Observing our “Passover” feast of obedience to Christ without being spoiled by “leaven (ATP:  yeast)”.   In the case of the literal Passover, literal unleavened bread was to be eaten (13:7).  The leavened form was not to be present in their homes “nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters” (Exodus 13:7).  They were not only to not eat unleavened bread, they were to assure that they would be even unable to make it by purging their households of its presence (Exodus 12:15). 

            In 1 Corinthians the term “leaven” is clearly figurative in nature for the “leaven” is identified as that “of malice and wickedness” in particular.  Likewise the “unleavened” bread that is to be eaten represents the moral traits of “sincerity and truth” (5:8).  The latter two traits were demonstrated in the days of Joshua by shunning the idolatry the people were so well acquainted with (Joshua 24:14).



            5:11:  Old Testament condemnations of the six sins that are specified.  The condemnation of this behavior in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings (as is one traditional division of the Old Testament, into three sections) is especially relevant to Paul’s epistle.  Just as Paul was addressing his contemporaries who were part of God’s people, these ancient writings addressed a similar audience.  Although there are exceptions to that generalization, the central emphasis was upon those who already owed allegiance to God’s covenant and “should” (famous last words!) have known better.  

            (1)  “Sexually immoral:”  In addition to widespread denunciations of conduct that violated the Torah norms of sexual restraint, both pre-marital (“fornication”) and post-marital (“adultery”), the type of behavior Paul has as the central theme of the chapter is also repeatedly denounced (see 5:1 above.)

            To differing degrees, the other transgressions are condemned as well and passing reference need only be made:  (2)  “covetous[ness]” (ATP:  “greedy”) brings forth the condemnation of the Psalmist (10:3; 119:36);  (3)  “idolater” also draws his wrath (Psalms 16:4; 81:9; 97:7); (4)  “revil[ing]” (ATP:  “uses abusive language”) is mentioned by both Isaiah 51:7 and Zephaniah 2:8; (5)  “drunk[eness]” is vigorously denounced by the Proverbs (20:1; 23:29-35); and (6)  “extortioner[s]” (ATP:  “financially dishonest”) were also a recognized evil of ancient life (Isaiah 16:4; Ezekiel 22:12).  Paul was not a moral innovator in these condemnations; he was walking in a well-established pattern of moral expectation.




[Page 184]       5:11:  Not to eat with the morally outrageous.  Paul makes realistic his prohibition by limiting its application to one’s spiritual comrades (“anyone named a brother”) and by listing only those actions that are almost inevitably well known to those around them.  Of the six actions three (being “an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard”) are almost impossible to do in secret—certainly they can’t become a habit that way. 

Being “sexually immoral” might be hidden but more often is a matter of pride and bragging.  Being “covetous” might be denied in words, but association makes it extraordinarily hard to hide.  Being “an extortioner” is the act that has the most chance of being successfully hidden but even there “the word gets around” far more often than not.  Hence Paul targets actions that are knowable and ones that, by their nature of becoming well known, are virtually always habitual acts.    

            In Psalms 101 the Psalmist speaks of how he had separated himself from those who had acted evilly.  Both the Hebrew based NKJV (and similar translations) as well as that of the Septuagint[20] can be usefully compared because, in their own separate ways, they drive home that same point.  In 101:5 (LXX), though, the Greek has a difference that is especially relevant here, “Him that privily speaks against his neighbor, him have I driven from me:  he that is proud in look and insatiable in heart—with him I have not eaten.[21]  

            In Jeremiah the apostates are to be avoided even in their time of family sorrow, “Nor shall men break bread in mourning for them, to comfort them for the dead; nor shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or their mother” (Jeremiah 16:7).  Likewise, they are not to be encouraged in their time of celebration, “You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink” (16:8). 

In other words, they were to avoid all positive social interactions that might directly or indirectly encourage them to be oblivious to their going in the wrong direction.  But when they began to raise questions about God, then he was to deliver to them a message of doom and reform (16:9-12).  In other words, social abstinence was never intended to rule out the opportunity to teach.       








Historical Allusions to the

                                         Old Testament




[Page 185] 


The Passover:  See the above section since the reference is not to the institution but to its observance as an on-going institution.







Problem Texts





            5:1:  The nature of the incest in Corinth.  We have utilized the term “incest” though it is not actually used in the text because it is the briefest one word description to get across the moral flavor (ill flavor) of the behavior being described.  But just what exactly does Paul mean by “a man [having] his father’s wife”?  

            It could refer to marrying his deceased father’s wife.  Such an interpretation is almost never embraced; virtually all interpreters take the woman to be the step-mother.[22]  Arguing in favor of the stepmother hypothesis is the fact that the woman is not described as his “mother” but, rather, as his “father’s wife.”[23]  Furthermore, Paul avoids using the normal Greek term for incest (arguing that the woman was not his mother)[24] as well as the Greek word that directly described adultery (arguing that either the father was dead or the woman and her husband had divorced).[25]  This must be balanced, however, against the fact that the woman is not called a “widow” but “his father’s wife,” as if the father were still alive.[26] 

Probably our decision between mother and stepmother must ultimately be based upon an assumption of how boldly we think the man was willing to challenge contemporary standards of behavior.[27]  Unfortunately, the epistle leaves the over all impression that there was little that some of the Corinthians might not seriously consider doing.  This reading of the situation might be because Paul’s attention is so centered upon correcting their grievous faults; alternatively it may be—which would be far worse—an unvarnished portrayal of their overall condition, i.e., their merits were few and the faults many.

Of course formal marriage may have occurred,[28] but it did not necessarily have to be involved at all.[29]  It was not uncommon, when there were legal impediments to marriage of one type or another, for a couple to simply live together.[30]  Depending upon the psychology and standards of the two people involved, this might be regarded either as “better” or “worse” than if an actual marriage had been entered into.

            It could refer to having an on-going sexual relationship with one’s stepmother while the father is still alive and married to her.  There are problems with this though it certain fulfills the scandalous aspect Paul emphasizes:  What the reconciliation responsibilities are toward the father are totally absent from Paul’s message--neither those of the wife (former wife?) nor those of the son.  These would have represented major real life major problems that had to be resolved in some manner if the father were still alive.  In addition, their absence is odd indeed if the father were



[Page 186]  being humiliated in this public a manner.  (To a lesser extent this also argues against the possibility of a relationship with the wife of one’s divorced father while he was still alive.)  

            It could refer to having a marital or on-going sexual liaison with the divorced wife of one’s living father.[31]   Mary C. Birge argues (probably rightly) that since the term “adultery” is conspicuously not used that, therefore, the father is no longer in the marital relationship due to either death or separation/divorce.[32]   

It could, of course, have been a de facto rather than a legal divorce, i.e., a permanent separation.  Some have contended that it was a situation where the woman “had either been left by her husband or had run away from him, and apparently while the father was still alive (1 Corinthians 5:1; compare 2 Corinthians 7:12), and the case therefore involved living in open incest.”[33]  Dead or alive, one might think in terms of the rumors spread against Nero in regard to his alleged intimate relationship with his mother. 

Even some who argue that the father was dead believe that there was “some connection” between this “case of incest” and that of Christians going to court against each other.  The reason is that “the discussion occurs in the middle of Paul’s reproof regarding immorality.”[34]  But if there is a connection who would be more likely to be involved in the case than the undiscussed third party, the actual father? 

            And if the fact that such a relationship existed brought disgrace upon the church, how much more aggravated would the situation become in a lawsuit over financial or other relationships connected with the tangled relationships![35]  This problem is removed entirely, however, if no connection is intended and this commentator suspects this is far more likely to have been the case.   

            Was the woman a Christian?  Against her being a Christian are several factors:  If she was, it is extraordinary odd that no rebuke is aimed in her direction.[36]  Furthermore, the fact that the church’s action exclusively is to be targeted at the son also argues that she was not a church member.  If she were a Christian, one is hard pressed to see how action of some sort would not have been demanded against her as well.[37]

            This evidence is modest, though, in my judgment, sufficient to raise it to a level of likelihood.  Those defending the thesis that she was a Christian often do so without giving a reason.[38]  Some imply that she was such because, at least theoretically, the exclusion command, was applicable to her.[39]  But the perplexing question then is why leave it unmentioned if she were to be treated the same way?

            This still leaves us with the question of her motives.  Since pagan society was vigorously hostile toward such a relationship and since it was a direct violation of Roman law,[40] why would she defy the polytheistic norms she was raised in?  If the son had inherited his father’s estate, that could have made him sufficiently “attractive” to overcome other inhibitions.[41]  If she had inherited, the situation would have been the same, of course, from the standpoint of the son.[42] 

            Likewise, since men (in that age as today) usually marry a woman younger than themselves, the fact that she was apparently a stepmother would argue that she was significantly younger than the father and much closer to the son’s own age.[43]  (A girl could easily be barely in the teens when first marrying.)[44]  Although the term “generation gap” is one of recent coinage, the reality is ever present:  it would have been startling if she did not feel, in some ways, “closer” to the son than to the father.  And this chronological/psychological reality could easily open the door for something far more



[Page 187]  intimate after the father’s passing or divorce.  

            If the woman was a Christian at all, she may well have been verbally or psychologically strong-armed into the relationship by a domineering son.  It is traditional (and with considerable justice) considered appropriate to regard such individuals “as a victim rather than an accomplice” of the domineering party.[45]  Depending upon her youth and lack of maturity, she would have been in a specially vulnerable position when dealing with a significantly older son-in-law.[46]



            5:2:  Regardless of the nature of the kinship relation, why did the Corinthians tolerate such extreme conduct?  As Paul makes plain by his rebuke, it was extraordinarily contemptible even by pagan standards,[47] which were often very lax.  If sufficiently outrageous to the public, the individuals might be prosecuted--and how could that avoid imposing a nasty stigma on the character of the entire church?[48]   They could, however, argue that Roman law technically only prohibited a marriage between son and biological mother and not with a stepmother[49]--a claim that has been challenged.[50]  Be that as it may, Paul’s presentation of the subject argues that if they were relying on such a slender fig leaf for legal or moral protection, that Paul fully recognized that it would still not protect them against public revulsion.

            The intense rebuke that Paul had aimed at false claims to wisdom could find a reflection in the surprising Christian tolerance:  they were so intellectually or spiritually developed (in their own minds) that such an excess appeared trivial in comparison.

            Other explanations are also possible.  Certain early rabbis taught that a proselyte was dead to all his prior family relationships.  This could have been projected onto the subject of marrying one’s (step?) mother:  since the old relationships are dead so is the “mother”/“stepmother”-son relation, thereby permitting a marriage that would have been unacceptable if one had been born Jewish.[51]  Whether the reasoning was formally applied to such situations in the first century is uncertain; its application in this direction is documented, however, from a later period.[52]  In the context of first century Corinth, however, why would we expect a church (seemingly converted mainly from polytheism) to have understood and embraced the technicalities of a Jewish rabbinical system that only applied directly to few if any of their own members?[53]    

            A formal process of reasoning leading to the incestuous man’s exoneration may not even have been involved.  It could be that the individual cliques were so wrapped up in their divisiveness and self-centeredness that they simply did not have time left to consider such matters.[54]  (And any action against him would have required a consensus and that would have represented the ultimate heresy of crossing their clique lines.)  Or the person may have been such a socially prominent member of the church that no one felt it proper for them to move against their “betters.”[55]   Especially if they were in an openly acknowledged “patron-client relationship” in which such a step would have been regarded as a betrayal of the fundamental principle of financial or other aid in exchange for steadfast loyalty.[56]  Even if the members were not in such a bond, if the person were regarded as sufficiently wealthy or important that, by itself, would have moved many toward tolerance if not explicit approval.[57] 

Indeed, some believe their smugness at the situation was rooted not in approval of his behavior but in approval of him because of his status:  In this approach, they were so proud (“puffed up;” ATP:  “arrogant,” 5:2) at having such an important man as a member, that all critical attention to his behavior was abandoned.[58]  Although there may



[Page 188]  well have been a cause-effect relationship between his social status and the lack of censure, 5:2 is specifically targeting their approval of the illicit relationship.  The “puffed up” is contrasted with the fact that they should have “mourned:”  since there was no reason to mourn having a rich person or socially prominent individual as a member, both “puffed up” and “mourned” are more naturally directly targeted at their tolerance for his behavior.    



            5:4-5:  The nature of the penalty to be inflicted upon the incestuous individual:  a formal and public repudiation in the church assembly itself.   It is not the formal church leadership (if there is any) that is told to do this and the church to accept it.  It is not a faction that is to gleefully toss out a key member of an opposing group.  Rather it is to be an action that is to be implemented with general concurrence by the entire congregation.[59]  Indeed, it has to be such if it is to work:  Impositions imposed by hierarchical power may strip a person of the formalities of church position and of access to formal rites and practices it has established, but it can not strip him (or her) of popular support.  And without being stripped of that acceptance the individual can not be compelled to come to terms with their own impropriety--whatever it may be.

            In one sense Paul has ordered the matter, acting as judge over the case (5:3); as an apostle he certainly had that right as well (Matthew 18:18).[60]  On the other hand, until the local membership has endorsed the idea, made it their own policy as well, invoked the expulsion in its assembly, and actually withdrawn their association, it would all be words and not reality.  By making it their policy, their expulsion it would have an impact upon the individual that Paul’s rebuke could never accomplish by itself.

            In one sense the decision was strictly theirs to make.  In another, the only way they could decide not to expel the member was by an explicit and overt rejection of Paul’s apostolic authority.  Paul does not deny them their right to decide, but he puts his own inherent authority on the line and expects them to embrace his reasoning and conclusion.[61]  That is why Paul can picture himself as if there and having judged the offender with them (5:3) and presenting the recommendation for expulsion to the church (5:4-5).  Not to accept his decision would be as much a rejection of the apostle as ignoring his guidance when literally and personally present.  

The apostle is not talking about some type of ritualistic “curse” in which one formally announces that the person is “deliver[ed] . . . to Satan” (5:5), but the fact that he has been handed over via the group’s rejection of his acceptance and presence.[62]  The former could be treated as mere words; when the latter occurred the person would find a visible, obvious, and immediate impact on his relations with others.  The ostracism would demonstrate that they genuinely counted him as beyond the pale and in Satan’s camp.

            Paul does not spell out how the expulsion meeting was to be held.  Presumably there would be some one presiding.  (One can imagine Paul or some other apostle doing so if they were present; some respected de facto leader in the absence of formal local leadership.)  The charges would be presented; the accused would be given an opportunity to defend their behavior.  Then there would be discussion and, if they heeded Paul’s admonition, a consensus reached for formal rejection of the individual.[63] 



[Page 189]       The action against their co-religionist would constitute not just a rebuke, but, quite probably, a double rebuke that could not avoid startling the man.  As Ben Witherington reminds us of the societal setting,[64]


                        [Paul] hopes that this shock therapy, expulsion of this man, might douse             his sinful inclinations and shame him, which in the Greco-Roman culture was        often thought of as a fate worse than death.  There were no other ekklesiae in       Corinth, so this action would be effective if the man wanted to remain a Christian.  If he was a person of wealth and status this would be a very daring     move, for it was “not done” in such a culture to shame one’s superior.


            It would be so daring, so unprecedented, that his “lessers” would so rebuke him that he could hardly avoid reconsidering a course of behavior that was judged so repellent that they believed they had no other alternative. 

            Sometimes there is a tendency to interpret the man’s punishment as just exclusion from the Communion.[65]  No matter how “high” a view an individual may hold of the commemoration, experience shows that the ability to rationalize around such formal exclusions is almost endless.  What Paul is depicting is far more fundamental:  They were “not to keep company” with this man and “not even to eat with such a person (5:12).[66] 

Hence it was going to be a total cutting off of relationships between the group and the offender—religious, social, and all others that could be meaningfully terminated.  He would be fully rejected from the life of the group.  Ostracism.[67]  Exclusion.  Total rejection.  For those to whom “church”—then or today--is a social club, this would never work.  To those to whom it is life, it would cut to the core as nothing else could.

But it was not mindless vindictiveness:  not the triumph of one clique over another, not a kind of spiritual lynch mob rooting out some one who had embarrassed or annoyed the group.[68]  It was to be done “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in the midst of an entire congregational meeting, and with the recognition that Paul was, so to speak, there with them—all things spelled out in 5:4.  This was language designed to remove such factors from their minds.  It conveyed the seriousness and importance of what they were about to do:[69]  It was with the purpose of compelling the man to face the full extent of his evil—and to change.[70]  It was to leave him no further hiding place or excuse.  It was not a mere spiritual palliative to make themselves feel superior.               



            5:5:  The goal of such public repudiation:  salvation through being handed over to Satan and “the destruction of the flesh:”[71]  i.e., of the desires of the flesh that have overcome the man’s good judgment--not to mention good Christian judgment.  To accomplish that goal “all that is resistant to God” and His will must be destroyed within the individual.[72]  It will be as if that person has died and you are now beholding a new man, so great and profound is the change.

To accomplish that thorough transformation, the power of that flesh must be destroyed and the rejection by the community of fellow believers was to be the means of accomplishing it.  The punishment is not the goal, but the means to the goal—by ostracism Paul hopes that the man will be moved to reconsider and reverse his lifestyle, recognize his previously unrepented of sin, and to be restored to the faith community of the city.[73]



[Page 190]       Some see in the text an indication that the person would suffer literal physical pain and anguish[74] and, quite possibly death itself,[75] but that this would become the means of his ultimate redemption.  The body perishes, but not the soul.[76]  But if this were in Paul’s mind why couldn’t the apostle accomplish this by his edict of rejection without the Corinthian church having to embrace it?  (The Old Testament idea of the “casting out” of the reprobate did involve literal death.[77]  Removal was the object not reform.)

            It would have been much simpler and spared the congregation the embarrassment of reversing their own policy of misguided over-tolerance.  On the other hand, if the idea is to break the pride of the flesh (thereby promoting repentance) then the Corinthian involvement becomes not only necessary but absolutely essential.  Potentially, Paul could be safely ignored--he was far away; the Corinthian Christian community could not be so cavalierly dismissed.  

            Furthermore, Paul’s clear hope is that the individual will reform.  Yet if he dies how can this reform occur or be manifested where others can see it? [78]  And if it isn’t, how are the Corinthians to be sure that it has occurred at all?  Hence Paul has in mind something that will occur in the current life and which will be visible to others.  That he intends reform occurring short of actual death occurring can be seen in the prohibition of table fellowship (5:11); if he’s going to be dead there’s not going to be any question of sharing a meal![79]  The question of doing so only arises if the desired “destruction” is something that can occur short of annihilation of life.

            Some attempt to make it semi-literal destruction of the flesh.  The person doesn’t die now (else he would have no chance to repent), but there is “a slow process of physical decline.  During this process the sinner receives ample time to reflect on his condition and repent (1 Corinthians 11:28-30).”[80]  Since this disintegration doesn’t (normally) occur today, unless one postulates a situation or punishment method unique to the first century church, this approach seems to falter and fail.   

Since the person is delivered “to Satan” to accomplish the destruction in mind (5:5), some have sought an expansive meaning of the term “Satan.”  Since the word can be applied in a broad sense to one’s adversary or accuser, it has been suggested that Paul intends for the Corinthians to turn the individual over to the government since marriage to a stepmother violated Roman law.[81]   The idea is that the pressure and punishment he would receive would bring him to his senses.

            Since Paul rebukes having civil law settle church member conflicts in the following chapter, it seems hardly likely that he invokes the use of these authorities in the current passage.[82]  Furthermore, Paul mentions such details as carrying out the rejection in the assembly itself (5:4) and how they were not even to eat with such a person (5:11)--an empty admonition if he has a jail term or exile in mind!

            Since the person has been delivered to “Satan,” it has been argued that the frame of reference in the text can not be the destruction of fleshly desires.  If it were, Satan would be undermining his own hold on the person.[83]  True, on the other hand the alternative explanation (disease, pain, and ultimately physical death) has the same dilemma.  It is to occur because one has been handled over to the Devil.  Again, why should Satan destroy his investment of time and effort in the person?[84]  

            The explanation must be conjectural.  Perhaps with the corrupter expelled from the church, Satan no longer has a reason to reward and encourage him for his moral



[Page 191]  subversion.  Satan is like a unscrupulous rich man who has a mistress--and quickly disposes of her when he loses interest.   

            Alternatively, however condoning the Corinthian church was, it is virtually inconceivable that they did not exercise some kind of restraining influence on the man in at least some of his behavior.  By being publicly rejected, that restraining influence has been removed.  Now all he will have to be influenced by are the destructive influences of Satan--his downward spiral is inevitable; the only thing in doubt is how long it will take and its exact form.[85]  When he hits “rock bottom” and has no where else to turn, even the heaviest blinders might be removed from his eyes.  Most people want to stop short of absolute self-destruction, yet there are always those who are capable of doing so only when in absolute peril of just that fate.



            5:9:  What was the “epistle” in which Paul instructed the Corinthians to avoid “sexually immoral people”?   After all, the letter is entitled First Corinthians in all translations of the Bible.  So it is a bit startling to read Paul make reference to what could have been an earlier epistle to the same congregation.

            A common scenario is that this refers (in whole or part) to 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 which originally existed as an independent Pauline epistle;[86] this goes hand in hand with the scenario that the “second epistle” is actually a compilation of multiple letters to that church.  In this approach, Paul is correcting the misunderstanding that they had read into the broad principle of avoiding worldly contamination and compromise  

            Certainly if this section had constituted an independent, earlier epistle, it would be quite understandable how the Corinthians could have misunderstood it as a demand that they cut off all social relationships with unbelievers.  But there is not the slightest indication in our “First” Corinthians that social relationships with nonbelievers was a sticking point in their disagreements with Paul at all.  If this analysis be correct, then the teaching must have been broader, less specific, and less intense in argument than that found in 2 Corinthians 6.  Standing alone how could that vigorous, rigorous, and demanding language have avoided making it an explicit point of contention with the apostle?     

            Others point to 1 Corinthians itself as containing the earlier epistle.  These critics see the letter as a compilation of communications and that the “previous” letter is included among them.  These theories, however, make it selected parts of what appears later in 1 Corinthians.[87]  It would seem odd that even if a compiler felt free to rearrange Paul’s letters into a single document (and that itself is extremely questionable), that he would miss the obvious chronological marker in 5:9 and put the earlier letter later in the compilation.  Not to mention dividing it into fragments and scattering it about in nonconsecutive sections as these theories typically assume!       

            Many others embrace the approach that this was, indeed, a lost epistle, one that somehow and for unknown reasons has completely disappeared.[88]  Paul tells us that the contents of this epistle involved an admonition “not to keep company with sexually immoral people” (5:9).  Although short summaries can be extremely misleading to those lacking the original document being summarized, Paul’s description seems to imply a letter devoted solely to this theme. 



[Page 192]         Since no mention is made of this being the second time that he had instructed them to deal with the problem of incest, it is likely that this aspect of sexual excess only developed later.[89]  Nor was there (apparently) any mention of the divisions about communion and worship extremes, which argues that they had not yet evolved to the level of serious concern.  Such factors argue “that it was in fact a brief letter addressed to the leaders of the Corinthian church” rather than the kind of well developed and substantial epistle we have in our First Corinthians.[90]    

If the lost letter reconstruction is valid, it raises the serious question of why was it permitted to vanish?  The only two options are that it was either intentionally destroyed or accidentally lost by the Corinthians.  Neither is particularly appealing.[91]  The destruction scenario seems to imply an astounding lack of moral scruples, far beyond anything Paul attributes to the Corinthians.  (“We don’t like what you’ve written so we are going to literally wipe it out of existence.”)  The second provides profound problems for any believer in Divine providence.  Others think, however, that a more acceptable explanation can be given for the disappearance. 

            One suggested explanation for it not being preserved rests on the fact that the Corinthians had misunderstood its intent and its purpose (i.e., Paul was not demanding a break of all relationships with the immoral and corrupt in the surrounding world but only from those within the church) and that there seemed no reason to perpetuate a document that was so misunderstood.[92]  On the other hand, would not the wide variety of disagreements on interpreting matters of importance in First Corinthians itself have called for a similar omission of this entire epistle as well?  (And on this ground of misunderstanding and misuse, how in the world has Revelation managed to survive?) 

            A possible significant factor in rebutting this, however, may lie in the fact that, in large part (though not totally), our own difficulties in interpreting the text are the result of an accumulation and popularization of centuries of misuse of the text.  Judging from 2 Corinthians, the readers had little problem in understanding the thrust of Paul’s writings when they wished to; the bulk of our difficulty lies in the passage of time and the need to interpret it in terms of a very different culture.  Hence it may well be that there was an element of intentional misunderstanding in order to avoid coming to terms with the implications of the apostle’s teaching.[93]  The fault would have lay in the recipients and not in the teacher.

            If we grant the assumption that the epistle of 5:9 was a very short letter, it is easier to understand the repetition of its theme and the clarification of a warning that may have been intentionally misunderstood.  Its survival was simply not needed to provide a complete insight into Paul’s mind.[94]  On the other hand, with the exception of Philemon, when is any epistle attributed to Paul truly this brief and short? 

            Another approach to the matter is to concede that the text is lost but not the central argument:[95]  Paul tells us what the content was in verse 9--don’t associate with the immoral.  If we know the content and if we have Paul’s more elaborate development of the subject matter, was there any need to preserve the original?  Indeed, except in the most “literalistic” of senses, can we even speak of it being truly “lost?”

            Finally, it has been argued that Paul is actually discussing the current epistle--the chronology being from the standpoint of the Corinthians after they receive what we know as First Corinthians.  A scholar intrigued by this possibility argues the case this way (though as a tentative concept rather than conclusive possibility),[96]



[Page 193] 

                        The verb “wrote” (egrapsa) would be regarded as an epistolary usage of           the Greek aorist tense ([the] same word occurs in 5:11, translated “have written”).    This means that Paul looked at his present discussion of fornication from the            viewpoint of the Corinthian readers.  At the time they would read it, his writing of           it would be in the past.  This is why he used a past verbal tense (“wrote”) rather    than the present (“write”).


            Henry C. Thiessen finds this theory unacceptable because Paul “has said nothing about these things in this epistle thus far which needs explanation.”[97]  This is a powerful observation and, if not conclusive, is certainly close to it.  On the other hand, the divisive situation was so deep within the Corinthian congregation that the apostle might have taken for granted that some would inevitably “misunderstand:”  as a means of avoiding  rejection of the immoral son, they could easily extrapolate Paul’s rebuke of sexual immorality (5:1-8) to all of society.  That being impractical, there would be no need to reject the erring Christian either.     

            So attention-grabbing is the immediate issue raised by 5:9 (that of what happened to the epistle Paul wrote) that few raise the question of why the Corinthians misunderstood his teaching.  2 Peter 3:15-16 bears witness to the fact that some of his instruction was “dense” to his contemporaries, yet even that text stresses that the cause was typically the reader being “untaught” or “unstable” rather than a problem in what he actually had to say.  It was a problem imposed upon the text by discontented readers, rather than deriving from the actual text itself.  Especially in a situation such as Corinth where division was rampant, this would have been a very likely possibility.[98]  



            5:9, 11, 13:  The discipline was to involve shunning all social relationships with the individual.

            In 5:9 it is described as “not to keep company (ATP:  not to associate with):  This could equally well be translated “not make friends of” or “have nothing to do with.”[99]  They are not to be part of that Christian’s everyday life to the extent that he or she has control over the situation.[100]  They are not to do anything in association with them that would convey acceptance, endorsement, or approval of their lifestyle.[101]   

            When Wilson Douglas writes that “[t]he most obvious result is that the one disciplined is refused access to the Lord’s Supper,”[102] a common attitude is voiced but one which misses the key point:  If the person is so hard-hearted that an ongoing sexual relationship with his step mother doesn’t give him pause, why in the world would denial of the Communion be expected to move him in the least?  It’s the removal of the personal acceptance and explicit/implicit endorsement that will move him if anything can.  The same author seems to have this in mind (though he lists it only second in his list!) when he speaks of “the denial of the general communion which that Supper seals.”[103] 

            Clarence E. Glad sums up the sentiment intended by Paul very well when he speaks of Paul’s correctional methodology as being “to shame into repentance erring members through disassociation and the practice of shunning.”[104] 

            Paul is certainly not recommending it in all cases, but stresses it in regard to extreme actions so brazenly obvious that even outsiders would find many of the actions



[Page 194]  reprehensible.  In Paul’s short list in 5:11 only one would they regard as unquestionably and always right (being an “idolater”) while being “sexually immoral” might bring a more ambiguous reaction unless the individual was making a blatant fool of himself.  Being “covetous” would have been frowned on in rhetoric but been more or less discretely practiced by many.  Being a “reviler, drunkard, [or] extortioner” would have been generally viewed somewhere between foolish and contemptible, depending upon the circumstances and the actual behavior.  Hence Paul presents a list that with the exception of idolatry, would have been regarded by most polytheists as listing behaviors falling far short of any proper ethical ideal. 

            Paul isn’t interested in developing what lesser sanctions or courses might apply in other cases.  Here in 1 Corinthians itself, Paul introduces arbitration among Christians as the course best fitting certain problems.  Even there one has to assume that expulsion is an unstated possibility if those involved do not follow the decision of the arbiter(s).  Similarly the procedure laid out by Jesus in Matthew 18:16-19 deals with disputes that the congregation attempts to resolve and which need to be punished with expulsion if all else fails.       

            In 5:11 the admonition is “not even to eat with such a person (ATP:  avoid even eating with such a person)”:   The idea of closing the communion to the person is not in mind, in my judgment.  However many commentators think that it is included here also,[105] and at least this language is far more amenable to such an approach than the earlier admonition “not to keep company.” 

In many ways the question is more theoretical than practical:  would most individuals even continue to attend worship after being formally rejected as contemptible in behavior and reprobate in conduct?  Far more likely the person would avoid the assembly until he made the decision to seek reconciliation with his spiritual brothers and sisters.  (Unless he reached the decision that he “couldn’t” change no matter how much they—and perhaps himself—wished.) 

Furthermore the wording is “not even to eat with such a person.”  It isn’t “don’t let him eat with you” (which would verbally fit the Lord’s Supper).  The instruction concerns what they are to avoid doing, not what he is to be kept from doing.  This far better fits the social interaction one would normally anticipate between acquaintances and friends.      

            Hence what the text has in mind are those everyday opportunities to share meals with others, which are an expression of shared friendship and good companionship.[106]  It involves both accepting their invitation to dine as well as offering one to them.[107]  If church members treat him just as he was always treated, how is he to take the “excommunication” as anything but an empty form, instigated by Paul and without the support of the membership?  On the other hand, if he suddenly discovers that, though members remain polite, they absolutely refuse to engage in the common and innocent pastimes of everyday life, he becomes painfully aware that this is a serious matter that must be carefully evaluated and thought through.

            The text is not discussing a family relationship.  Barring kicking a member out of the family, that relationship carries with it the inherent need for at least occasionally eating together (a custom far less common at the beginning of the twenty-first century than a few decades earlier).  That would carry no connotation of endorsement or support, but merely an acknowledgment of physical kinship and duty.[108] 



[Page 195]       In 5:13 the congregational response is described as “put[ing] away” such an individual.  The language is that of divorce:  you “put away” your rejected spouse; the church “puts away” its rejected member.  In the Torah, it was also used of stoning a person to death for serious moral transgression (of rape in particular, Deuteronomy 22:23-24).[109]  In both cases, the idea is of a complete rejection and refusing to permit their continuing with you.  Powerful images, but representing the mind-frame Paul insisted was needed toward the incestuous man.



            5:11:  Other offenses by believers that Paul lists as proper to cause social shunning.  He lists six offenses in particular.

            “Sexually immoral:  The term here is the broad one pornoi, which covers sexual misconduct of any and all types.[110]  The reader is to “fill in the blank,” so to speak.  They already knew most or all of what would come under the label--if they were candid with themselves. 

Sometimes we speak of the line between right and wrong being “fuzzy,” a phenomena typically produced by being so close to that line that we can no longer see it clearly.  But in light of the things in the apostle’s list, he seems to have in mind things that so clearly have crossed the line that one has to work hard to find a way to avoid admitting it.

            “Covetous (ATP:  greedy):  Literally, the underlying Greek means one “who must have more.”[111]  “More” of what is not specified, though wealth and possessions are the context we normally imply.  It suggests not merely an interest, or a desire, but an inner compulsion that drives one to obtain it.  Such inner pressure to gain “ever more” was widespread in Corinthian society.[112] 

The mind frame was present among the Corinthian church members as well for he will shortly rebuke those of their number who “do wrong and cheat” (6:8).  Since this observation follows immediately after the rebuke of going to law (6:7), it suggests a compulsion so strong that ethical inhibitions against false representation and outright perjury had been diluted and removed. 

In the modern idiom, think in terms of a dishonest business person whose god is profit and who will “worship” at any altar that will provide it.  Hence when God demands traits such as charity-giving that fly in the face of such self-centeredness, there is the temptation to invoke every available rationalization to either reject the helping or minimize it to a token figure.  

            “Idolater:  In a religious sense, we might call it one of the “root” sins of the Old Testament.  It was so prevalent that Israel kept falling into it time and again.  By the early centuries before Christ, the Israelites had finally absorbed the impropriety of this into their individual and group consciousness and to bow down to an idol was no longer an  acceptable option. 

Many Christians, however, were recent converts from polytheism.  To them, there was no long and well-established preceding period in which their ancestors had stumbled into and then rejected such a lifestyle.  For them it was all so recent it remained an especially strong temptation. 

            “Reviler (ATP:  uses abusive language):  This is the one who insults another and sees nothing wrong with impugning that person’s character and reputation. 



[Page 196]  Vehement, even violent and vile language may be used.[113]  Paul’s assumption in rebuking such language, of course, is that what is said is utterly false.[114]  Perhaps it is done out of old grudges.  Perhaps it is done out of the individual’s own psychological hangups.  Paul isn’t interested in explaining the behavior; he is interested in removing it. 

In the culture of the day, it was a standard operating procedure utilized by politicians to destroy the credibility of their opponents[115]—a procedure not exactly unknown in our century either!  Since few Corinthians were of the upper classes involved in such things, he has in mind the use of similar reckless rhetoric against our real and imagined enemies of any and all types.

            “Drunkard (ATP:  gets drunk):  Paul does not deal with the fine technical distinctions between the occasional drunkard, the regular drunkard, and the confirmed (by years) alcoholic.  He is interested in making his readers grasp that over indulgence in alcoholic beverages is not only an “inappropriate” but outright “improper” form of behavior.  Perhaps he had in particular mind the drinking excesses described in 11:21 in connection with their abuse of the Communion.[116]

            “Extortioner (ATP:  financially dishonest):  The term is harpax, and includes anyone who steals with an act of violence.[117]  However violence was only one method:  the methodology could include deception, misrepresentation, distortion, and outright lies, or simply taking advantage of situation to separate a person from his or her money, possessions, or property.  As Anthony C. Thiselton suggests, this may well “reflect the entrepreneurial culture at Corinth, whereby to ‘get rich quick’ and to knock others off the ladder was the name of the game.”[118] 

            Not just those who were “extortioners” but all the categories listed reflected individuals who had “slip[ed] back into traditional Corinthian behavior.”[119]  In such cases, tradition was neither desirable nor praiseworthy.

            Their reaction was to be very “unCorinthian:  they were to shun the person:  “not even to eat with” him or her, insists Paul (5:11).  Interestingly, Paul does not explicitly tell the community to cast these people out of the church as well, though that does seem the most reasonable interpretation of the text.  There are two possibilities:  (1)  expulsion was restricted to matters that brought reproach upon the church even among pagans whose standards were far more lax than believers, or (2)  they needed to handle the worst case (incest) first before they even considered dealing with any matter that was, in comparison, far less pressing or embarrassing. 

            Even if one opts for the second alternative, the non-association instruction seems to indicate that individuals still had the obligation to shun such Christians regardless of whether the church had taken formal action.  “Institutionally” it might be impossible or impractical to deal with such cases; it might even be inappropriate to deal with matters by expulsion that fell short of bringing public embarrassment upon the congregation.  (If it took Pauline pressure to get action on incest, what were the odds of ready action on any “lesser” infraction?) 

On the individual basis, however, they were to cut off the normal social contacts that brought them together and which constituted implicit recognition of their acceptability to each other.  Their personal distaste and rejection was to be made known whether there was group action or not.    



[Page 197] 





[1] L. William Countryman, Dirt, Greed and Sex:  Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1988), 198.  


[2] Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 233 and Mary Catherine Birge, The Language of Belonging:  A Rhetorical Analysis of Kingship Language in First Corinthians (Leuven:  Peeters, 2002), 46.


[3]Boyer, 57, and Victor P. Furnish, “Inside Looking Out:  Some Pauline Views of the Unbelieving Public,” in Pauline Conversations in Context:  Essays in Honor of Calvin J. Roetzel, edited by Janice C. Anderson, Philip Sellew, and Claudia Setzer (Sheffield, Great Britain:  Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 114.       


[4]Marrow, 116.    


[5] As quoted by Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 234.


[6] Ibid., 231.


[7] Ibid.  


[8] Ibid.


[9]Gutzke, 55.  Nor is this mere “preacher rhetoric:  I had a grandmother who died of gangrene after an unsuccessful leg amputation came too late to stop its spread.


[10] Christopher D. Marshall, Beyond Retribution:  A New Testament Vision for Justice, Crime, and Punishment (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 153.


[11]For the case that it should be regarded as a quotation, see Brian S. Rosner, Paul, Scripture and Ethics:  A Study of 1 Corinthians 5-7 (Leiden:  E. J. Brill, 1994), 63-64.   


[12] V. George Shillington, Sacred Text:  An Introduction to Biblical Studies (New York:  T. & T. Clark, Ltd., 2002), 289.


[13]Bratcher, Quotations, n. 1, 49.


[14]Gettys, 44, prefers to interpret this as a parallel situation to that in Corinth—they both sexually had the same wife/mother or stepmother.   



[Page 198]  [15] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, 3.12.1, The Works of Flavius Josephus, translated by William Whiston (1737).  At:  August 2009


[16] Philo of Alexandria, “Early Jewish Writings:  Philo of Alexandria.”  Special Laws, Part III.  At:  November 2009.


[17] Kistemaker, Simon J.  “1 Corinthians 5:5—Deliver This Man to Satan:  A Case Study in Church Discipline.”  In The Master’s Perspective on Difficult Passages, general editor Robert L. Thomas, 171-183.  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Kregel Publications, 1998.  Page 173.


[18] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, “1 Corinthians,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Academic, 2007), 706.


[19]David M. Stanley, Christ’s Resurrection in Pauline Soteriology (Rome:  E. Pontifico Instituto Biblico, 1961), 111.


[20] Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, Greek Septuagint Bible:  The Translation of the Greek Old Testament Scriptures, Including the Apocrypha.  1851.  At:  September 2009.


[21] Cf. Ciampa and Rosner, 698.


[22]Virtually all interpreters take it to be the stepmother though which of the forms the relationship took (post-death, post-divorce, or extra-marital) is less often mentioned.  Among the many stepmother interpreters are, for example,  Connick, 259, 276; Ehrman, 272; MacGorman, 112; Pregeant, 359; Richards, Paul, 45; Bruce N. Fisk, First Corinthians, in the Interpretation Bible Studies series (Louisville, Kentucky:  Geneva Press, 2000), 24; Barclay M. Newman, The Meaning of the New Testament (Nashville, Tennessee:  Broadman Press, 1966), 214-216; and Barry D. Smith, Paul’s Seven Explanations of the Suffering of the Righteous, in the Studies in Biblical Literature series (New York:  Peter Lang, 2002), 84.


[23]Gundry, 265; Hargreaves, 59.  


[24]Raymond Bryan Brown, 319;  Gromacki, Called, 61.


[25]Raymond Bryan Brown, 319; Gromacki, Called, 61; Price, 799.                  


[26]Allen R. Sommer Questions, Answers and Remarks for Bible Readers ([N.p.]:  Apostolic Review, 1915; 1977 reprint), 428.  Kistemaker, Exposition, 156, believes the text implies the father was still alive but provides no line of argumentation beyond citing Genesis 35:22 and Amos 2:7 in a passing reference.  



[Page 199]  [27]Boyer, n. 2, p. 58.    


[28]The view of  Adolf Schlatter, The Church in the New Testament Period, translated from the German by Paul P. Levertoff (London:  SPCK, 1955), 177, 178.  


[29]Kilgallen, 40.    


[30] In which case, she would have been considered his concubine, a reconstruction of the Corinthian situation that O. Larry Yarbrough, Not Like the Gentiles:  Marriage Rules in the Letters of Paul (Atlanta, Georgia:  Scholars Press, 1985), n. 2, p. 90, is inclined toward.  Justin J. Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 150-151, however, argues that however much lieniency might exist in other more distant relationships, a son-stepmother concubinage sexual union was just as actionable at law as outright marriage.   


[31]Mentioning the divorce possibility as an option, but not embracing it, is MacGorman, 112. 


[32] Mary Catherine Birge, The Language of Belonging:  A Rhetorical Analysis of Kinship Language in First Corinthians (Leuven:  Peeters, 2002), 46.


[33]Ibid., 112; Orr and Walther, 188; Weiss, Introduction, 254.  In a similar vein, but uncertain as to whether the father was still alive, see Theodor Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, translated from the Third German Edition by Melancthon W. Jacobus et al; Volume 1 (Edinburgh:  T. & T. Clark, 1909), 296.     


[34]Gundry, 265.  For a similar view also see Bratcher, Guide, 42, Guthrie, 444.  


[35]For an interesting analysis of the claim that the lawsuits mentioned in the book are interlocked with the case of incest and grow out of it, see Pascuzzi, 98-100.    


[36]Frederick C. Grant, 77; Lipscomb and Shepherd, 72; McGarvey and Pendleton, 71; Robertson and Plummer, 96; Witherington, Community, 158.          


[37]Gundry, 265; Zahn, note 4 page 296; Robert H. Stein, Difficult Passages in the New Testament:  Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the Gospels and Epistles (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Book House, 1990), 311.   


[38]For example, Dodd, 25.    


[39]Marrow, 116.  



[Page 200]  [40]Metz, 348; Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 40; Stein, 311;  Walter, 54; Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of Paul (Downer’s Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 1989), 98; David Ewert, The Church in a Pagan Society:  Studies in 1 Corinthians (Hillsboro, Kansas:  Kindress Press, 1986), 44.       


[41]Blomberg, 104.        


[42]For a lengthy discussion of such a marriage as the son’s means of controlling family wealth of the previous generation, see Chow, 134-137.    


[43]Zerr, 10. 


[44]Catherine C. Kroeger, “1 Corinthians,” in The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, edited by Cahterine C. Kroeger and Mary J. Evans (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 2002), 650.  


[45]Kroeger, 650.  




[47]For a detailed discussion of Roman attitudes toward incest, see Andrew D. Clarke, Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth:  A Socio-Historical and Exegetical Study of 1 Corinthians 1-6 (Leiden:  E. J. Brill, 1993), 77-84 and Jane F. Gardner, Women in Roman Law & Society (Bloomington, Indiana:  Indiana University Press, 1991), 125-127.  For the negative treatment of the practice in Roman and Greek literature in particular see Talbert, 13-14.     


[48]Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 40.       


[49]Cf. Jurgen Becker, Paul:  Apostle to the Gentiles, translated from the German by O. C. Dean, Jr. (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 199-200.  


[50]Yarbrough, n. 3, p. 90, cited Institutes of Gaius 1.63.   


[51]Cf. Kugelman, 260; Orr and Walther, 187; Robertson and Plummer, 97.          


[52]Bruce, Corinthians, 54.  For a concise summary of differing ancient Jewish traditions about marrying near kin of a Gentile or Gentile converts to Judaism, see Peter J. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law:  Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1990), 99-101.       


[53]Cf. Pascuzzi, 67, and the broader discussion of the virtues and faults of making proselyte baptism the frame of reference (66-68).


[54]Lenski, 207-208.


[55]A second possibility suggested by Ibid., 208. 



[Page 201]  [56]Cf. C. K. Robertson, 232.    


[57]Chow, 140.    


[58]Bruce C. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth:  The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 53-54, seems sympathetic to this approach.   


[59]Cf. Raymond Bryan Brown, 319, and Witherington, Conflict, 158.        


[60]Kugelman, 260. 


[61]Lipscomb and Shepherd, 74. 


[62]Yinger, 239-240.    


[63]Cf. the slightly different reconstruction in Hughes, 267.  


[64]Witherington, Conflict, 158-159. 


[65]Cf. Hein, 96-97.    


[66]Which excludes the possibility raised by Ruef, 40, that Paul was likely demanding only “some degree of exclusion from the community” just as Qumran’s Dead Sea sect “called for degrees of exclusion” from erring members.  If you can’t even eat with a person, it is hard to imagine a more thorough exclusion.    


[67]Quast, 44.   


[68]Chafin, 71.    




[70]Hein, 94.    


[71]Although this is discussed, in some form by all commentators, for a good, concise but non-technical discussion of the interpretive difficulties see Stein, 310-316.  


[72]Countryman, 200.  


[73]Fisk, 27.    


[74]Hargreaves, 60. 



[Page 202]  [75]Advocating a literal death is Coffman, 73-74; Conzelmann, 97-98; Harris, 76; and Weiss, Commentary, 177.   Kim, Yung Suk.  Christ’s Body in Corinth:  The Politics of a Metahpor.  Minneapolis, Minnesota:  Fortress Press, 2008.  Page 66 (but just as emphatically suggests it could mean putting “to death the deeds of the flesh” later in the same paragraph).


[76]Kugelman, 260; Price, 800.        


[77] Ciampa and Rosner, 709, argue the case this way:  Both Paul (1 Corinthians 5:13) and the LXX (Deuteronomy 13:5; 17:7; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21, 24; 24:7) utilize the same Greek word to describe what is to happen to the brazen transgressor.  Since this is the only New Testament text to utilize it, they contend that this is an “intentional and explicit use of the formula from Deuteronomy.”  To the current commentator, it makes more sense that it is used simply because it fits.  Now if Paul wrote, rewrote, rethought, and recomposed his epistle a multitude of times (as a theologian mighty do) then the choice of one particular word would likely be significant.  Since no one believes Paul wrote in such a manner, coincidence of thought not verbal quotation is far more likely to be in mind. 


[78]Barry D. Smith, 88-89 resolves the difficulty of reconciling the urge to reform with the inevitability of the threatened physical death by asserting that though Paul, in other texts hoped for and believed in the possibility of constructive change (citing Galatians 6:1 and 2 Corinthians 2:7-8 in particular) that this case was beyond the possibility of such occurring.  This approach disassociates 2 Corinthians 2:7-8 from the accused sinner in 1 Corinthians 5 and leaves unresolved how the spirit was going to be saved if the body was inescapably going to die.  Where was the motive for reform that would have made this possible?   


[79] Simon J. Kistemaker, “1 Corinthians 5:5—Deliver This Man to Satan:  A Case Study in Church Discipline,” in The Master’s Perspective on Difficult Passages, general editor Robert L. Thomas, 171-183 (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Kregel Publications, 1998). 178.


[80] Ibid., 179.


[81] At least as of the second century, according to the Institutes of Gaius I.63, as cited by Orr and Walther, 186.   


[82] Orr and Walther, 186.   


[83] Parry, 53.         


[84] Elias Riggs, Notes on Difficult Passages of the New Testament (Boston:  Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society, 1889), 145. 


[85] Metz, 351. 



[Page 203]  [86] Fuller, 41, notes that the reference is “often” identified this way.  Those embracing this approach include Newman, Meaning, 214-215 and Dean, 28-29.  This does not necessarily mean, however, that this section constitutes the entire text of that otherwise lost epistle.  Hunter, 105-106, for example, calls it a possible “fragment” of the epistle.  The same language is also used by McNeile, 135.   Also accepting the fragment approach are Connick, 272, and Robertson, 14.  


[87] For summaries of the texts that made up the conjectural epistle see Lohse, 65-66, and Schnelle, 64. 


[88] The list of commentators taking this approach is virtually endless.  Representative examples are Raymond E. Brown, 512; Davidson, 211; Elwell and Yarbrough, 290; Getty, 1102; Gundry, 261; Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians,” 1603; Leitch, 63; Lipscomb and Shepherd, xv; Marxsen, 71, implies it was lost; Pregeant, 357;  Robertson and Plummer, xxi; Graydon F. Snyder, 64; Tenney, 296-297; Henry C. Thiessen, 203; Zerr, 11; Samuel A. Cartledge, A Conservative Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1938), 101; Robert M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (New York:  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1963), 181; J. Merle Rife, The Nature and Origin of the New Testament (New York:  Philosophical Library, 1975), 49-50. 


[89] Implied by Wilfred L. Knox, n. 7, pp. 319-320.         


[90] Ibid.        


[91] Raymond Bryan Brown, 292.           


[92] Martin Diebelius, A Fresh Approach to the New Testament and Early Christian Literature ([Hertford, Great Britain]:  Ivor, Nicholson and Watson, 1936), 154.


[93] Harris, 79.      


[94] Everett F. Harrison, 269.  For a similar approach, see McGuiggan, 65.  


[95] Gromacki, Called, xvi; Gromacki, Survey, 203-204; Price, 800.           


[96] Gromacki, Survey, 204.  Gromacki continued to have ambivalent feelings toward the theory when he wrote his Called study, xvi.  For a detailed linguistic analysis rejecting the epistolary aorist interpretation see Orr and Walther, 190.       


[97] Henry C. Thiessen, 203.  Cf. Robertson and Plummer, 104.   


[98] Cf. Weiss, Introduction, 252. 



[Page 204]  [99] Bratcher, Guide, 46.  


[100] Grosheide, 127. 


[101] Zerr, 12. 


[102] Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk:  Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology (Moscow, Idaho:  Canon Press, 2001), 159.


[103] Ibid.


[104] Clarence E. Glad, Paul and Philodemus:  Adaptability in Epicurean & Early Christian Psychagogy, volume 81 of  Supplements to Novum Testamentum (Leiden:  E. J. Brill, 1995), n. 77, p. 261.


[105] For example, Bruce, Corinthians, 58.  A more restrained “possible reference,” says Shillington, 289. 


[106] Parry, 57.        


[107] Cf.  Trail, Exegetical 1-9, 236.


[108] Cf. [Sommer], 430. 


[109] Richard B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination:  Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 159-160 points to the death penalty usage of the expression in Deuteronomy 13:5, 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21, 22, 24; 24:7, but considers this text to represent the closest parallel situation.


[110] Mare, 219. 


[111] Ibid.


[112] Thiselton, 411.   


[113] Vine, Corinthians, 77.   


[114] Bratcher, Guide, 46.  


[115] Harris, 81.      


[116] Ibid., 80.      



[Page 205]  [117] Mare, 219.  Cf. Paul Ellingworth and Howard A. Hatton, Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, in the UBS Handbook Series (New York:  United Bible Societies, 1994), 118.   


[118] Thiselton, 411.  


[119] Bruce, Converts, 65.



Roland H. Worth, Jr.

A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 1-6:

Interpreting the Text in Light of

Its Old Testament Roots


© 2011