1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2009-07-03 18:59.

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A shocking case of sexual immorality came to be known as existing among the community of believers in Corinth. One man had taken up living incestuously with his stepmother, “the wife of his father.” This conduct violated even the mores of non-Jews, making it virtually unheard of. (5:1; see the Notes section.)

Nevertheless, a significant number of the Corinthian believers took pride in this outrageous development, perhaps feeling that it was an evidence of their great freedom in Christ. Instead of being inflated about what had happened in their midst, they should have mourned or been grievously saddened by it and taken action to clear themselves of this blot on them as a community of believers. They should have removed the practicer of this badness from their midst. (5:2)

Even though Paul was not personally present (“absent in body”), he was there “in spirit,” or there in his thoughts. Already, as if personally present, he had determined that the incestuous man should be expelled from the congregation. (5:3)

Therefore, at a time when they would all be meeting “in the name” of the Lord Jesus (or in recognition of Jesus’ authority as the head of the congregation), the believers in Corinth and Paul, who was there “in spirit” (as he had expressed his thoughts), were to take action. “With the power” of the Lord Jesus, they were to hand the incestuous man over to Satan. Paul’s mention of Jesus’ power suggests that the action of the congregation would have the authoritative backing of the Son of God. This would not be an arbitrary action, but one that Jesus Christ approved, for it harmonized with his example and teaching. (Compare Revelation 2:20-23.) In the community of believers, God is recognized as Sovereign and all associated acknowledge Jesus as their Lord through loyal submission to him, heeding his teaching and imitating his example. For the man to have been handed over to Satan would have meant expelling him from the congregation and exposing him to the world where the adversary exercises authority. The incestuous man would then find himself outside the realm where God’s spirit is at work, and would be in the realm where people lived without any knowledge of God and were primarily guided by their sensual desires. (5:4, 5; see the Notes section regarding 5:4.)

Paul explained that the congregational action would serve “for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord.” The apostle often used the designation “flesh” (sárx) to designate sinful human nature. In the case of the incestuous man, he had yielded to it, and the “flesh” or his sinful nature had become the controlling force in his life. For the man’s “spirit” to be saved in the day of the Lord, or for him not to experience the condemnation of those alienated from and at enmity with God at the time the Lord Jesus Christ returned in glory, required that his “flesh,” or that the dominion of his sinful human nature, be destroyed. With his sinful human nature having been deprived of dominance, his “spirit,” his real self, or he himself in his inner being would no longer be divinely disapproved. Accordingly, Paul’s ultimate hope was that, upon again experiencing what it meant to be in the sphere where the influence of Satan exists, the man would come to repentance and cease to be enslaved to sin. (5:5; see the Notes section)

The fact that the Corinthians had boasted about what had happened in their midst was not good. Paul reminded them of the danger of corruption, “Do you not know [or recognize] that a little leaven leavens the whole batch [of dough]?” (5:6) The incestuous man had proved to be like leaven in the community of believers. His outrageous action could have emboldened others to make themselves guilty of similar God-dishonoring actions.

Paul urged the Corinthians to rid themselves of the “old leaven” or the corrupt element in their midst. As a result, they would be a “new batch,” a community free from “leaven” or corruption. This would be in keeping with the reality that Christ, their “Passover [lamb],” had been sacrificed. (5:7) Just as the firstborn Israelites in Egypt were saved from death by the blood of the Passover victim, the blood of the Christ, the “Lamb of God,” provides the basis for forgiveness of sins and deliverance from the condemnation of death.

“Therefore,” Paul continued, “let us keep the festival, not with old leaven nor with leaven of badness and wickedness, but with unleavened [loaves] of sincerity and truth.” (5:8) Among the Israelites, the Festival of Unleavened Bread followed the observance of the Passover. During the entire festival, no leaven or leavened items could be used. Christ, as the Passover lamb, died once for all time. Accordingly, the life of believers is comparable to the continual observance of the “festival,” free from the kind of defilement or corruption that leaven can represent because of the effect a small amount can have when introduced into a large batch of dough. Believers should lead lives that are comparable to bread free from leaven and, therefore, reflecting “sincerity” or purity (not adulterated by depravity and evil) and “truth” (whatever is true, right, or proper). (5:8)

Paul referred to having written them about not associating with or keeping company with sexually immoral people. The Greek verb for “write” (grápho) is in the aorist tense and is here understood as meaning that the writing of the letter occurred in the past. The letter known as “1 Corinthians” does not contain an earlier mention of the point about association. So it appears that the letter to which Paul referred has not been preserved. Possibly a misunderstanding had resulted from the earlier letter, for the apostle seems to clarify what he meant. (5:9)

It was not Paul’s intent for the Corinthians to conclude that they must cut off all association with immoral persons or individuals engaging in other wrongs — greed, theft, or idolatry. Believers still found themselves in the world and had to interact with unbelievers who lived in a manner contrary to God’s ways. Therefore, for the Corinthians to have no association with sinful people would have required physically getting out of the world, which would have been impossible for them. (5:10)

Paul wanted them to understand that he meant that they should not associate with anyone who identified himself as a “brother” or fellow believer but lived a debauched life of sexual immorality, greediness or idolatry, or proved to be a reviler, drunkard, or thief. They were not even to eat with such a person. At that time, believers regularly met in homes, partaking of meals with fellow believers and enjoying spiritual fellowship. Because table fellowship was very much a part of the life of the community of believers, Paul specifically mentioned that they should not eat with those who called themselves “brothers” but continued to carry on sinful practices. (5:11)

As far as those outside the community of believers was concerned, Paul raised the question, “For what have I to do with judging those outside?” Disciples of God’s Son have not been granted authorization to judge or condemn persons who are part of the world, but they do have the right and duty to render a judgment respecting gross sinners inside the congregation. Paul expressed this thought with a question, “Do you not judge those inside, whereas God judges those outside?” In agreement with their responsibility to pass judgment on gross sinners in their midst, the apostle admonished the Corinthians, “Expel the wicked one from among yourselves.” (5:12, 13; see the Notes section regarding 5:13.)


Neither in verse 1 nor in subsequent verses did Paul mention any action to be undertaken against the woman who was likewise guilty of incest. This suggests that she did not happen to be a believer.

For the opening words of verse 4, there are various manuscript readings (“in the name of our Lord Jesus”; “in the name of the Lord Jesus”; “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”; “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and “in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord”). Depending on the punctuation that is chosen, this phrase can be linked to the words that either precede or follow it.

In the comments on verse 4, the opening phrase is explained as relating to the meeting of the Corinthian congregation. Numerous translations convey this significance. “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan.” (NIV) “When you are all assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, through the power of our Lord Jesus you are to consign this man to Satan.” (REB) “When you have gathered together in the name of our Lord Jesus, with the presence of my spirit, and in the power of our Lord Jesus, hand such a man over to Satan.” (NJB)

There is a possibility, however, that the phrase, “in the name,” applies to the action Paul had taken when expressing his judgment on the incestuous man. “I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing.” (NRSV) “But in the name of our Lord Jesus I have already judged this man.” (CEV) “Concerning the one who has done this, I have already passed judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (NLT)

A less likely significance for the phrase would be to apply it to the wrongdoer’s claim to have acted “in the name of the Lord” (“on the man who has done such a thing in the name of the Lord”; NRSV, footnote).

In 1 Corinthians 5:5, numerous manuscripts have an expanded reading for the expression “day of the Lord” (“day of the Lord Jesus”; “day of the Lord Jesus Christ”; “day of our Lord Jesus,” and “day of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

With the exception of either a different initial verb or a different form of the same verb, the Greek words of 1 Corinthians 5:13 are the same as those in the Septuagint for the last phrase of Deuteronomy 13:5(6) and 17:7.