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Saturday, May 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 5

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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This entire chapter is devoted to the case of the incestuous member of the church in Corinth, the woman involved having apparently no connection with the church; as no rebuke or teaching of any kind concerning her is recorded.

Verse 1

It is actually reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles, that one of you hath his father’s wife.

"Paul was vitally concerned about a new morality!"(F1) The old morality of the Corinthians had already been discredited, exposed and revealed in the degradations and shameful debaucheries which invariably resulted from it. The new morality had come to Corinth in the preaching of Jesus Christ. Chastity, sobriety, honesty, truthfulness and kindness were among the features of the new ethic which came to mankind through Jesus Christ, that ethic being the only "new morality" ever heard of on earth.

"Paul was also relevant in his preaching!"(F2) He pointed the finger of divine condemnation squarely at the offender, also making the whole congregation to blame for the complacency with which they had looked upon so brazen a resurgence of the old morality.

Fornication … is here used as a general term for all sexual vice, incest being the specific sin here. For further elaboration of this subject, see my Commentary on Hebrews, p. 325. "Shocked as Paul was at this sin, he was even more shocked by the attitude of the Corinthian church,"(F3) which condoned it and went on being puffed up with pride. Johnson thought that they might have been "even proud of their liberty";(F4) and Guthrie also believed that their leaving such a glaring sin uncondemned was "Presumably on the ground of their `liberty’ in Christ."(F5)

Not even among the Gentiles … does not mean that incest was not practiced by the Gentiles, but that such vice was unacceptable among them. The feelings, even of pagans, were shocked by it; and Cicero spoke of such a crime (near Corinth), saying, "Oh, incredible wickedness, and, except in this woman’s case, unheard of in all experience."(F6)

Hath his father’s wife … "Hath refers not to just one trespass, but to a life of sin."(F7) Speculations on the circumstances attending this sin, as to the question of whether the father was alive, or divorced, or the question of whether the incestuous couple were married or not, are all fruitless. The relationship itself was sinful, no matter what the circumstances; and if it had been profitable to know more of the details of this sordid incident, it is safe to conclude that Paul would have provided them. Some have identified the man who "suffered the wrong" (2 Corinthians 7:12) as the father in this case; and; if correct, this would prove that the father was alive. Farrar was of this opinion.(F8) Lipscomb expressed the opinion of McGarvey and many others that, "From the complete silence as to the crime of the woman, it is inferred that she was a heathen."(F9)

Verse 2

And ye are puffed up, and did not rather mourn, that he that had done this thing might be taken away from among you.

Puffed up … Barnes understood this thus: "They were not puffed up on account of this wickedness, but they were filled with pride notwithstanding it, or in spite of it."(F10)

Mourn … "This is the word that is used in mourning for the dead";(F11) and when such a sinful contradiction of truth and righteousness as this case of incest exists in a congregation of believers, it should be an occasion of the most intense sorrow. What an incongruous thing was that prideful boasting of the Corinthians contrasted with this wretched immorality tolerated among them!

Verses 3-4

For I verily, being absent in body but present in spirit, have already as though I were present judged him that hath so wrought this thing, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, ye being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of the Lord Jesus.

The question of Paul’s coming to Corinth had just been mentioned (1 Corinthians 4:21); but by the first clause here, Paul said, "I do not have to be present in Corinth to judge such a shameful sin as this. My spirit is already with you in the general assembly which I now order you to convene for the purpose of throwing the offender out."

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ … may be applied to a number of things in this passage; but the principal thrust of the words is to invoke the authority of Christ himself (through the apostle) for casting out the offender. They must not seek to separate from him privately, or in any hushed-up manner; the whole church was commanded to pronounce the apostolic judgment on the sinful member.

Verse 5

To deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Deliver … to Satan … This was the apostolic sentence; but the full meaning of it is not fully clear, there being a great many things that people simply do not know concerning what is here revealed.

Some things are crystal clear. Paul denounced this sin in the strongest language found in the New Testament; and such a judgment could have been pronounced and executed only by an apostle of Christ. There is a hint that Paul expected that the man would die upon the announcement of his judgment, in the same manner as Ananias and Sapphira had died in Jerusalem. The salvation held out as a hope for the condemned was not envisioned as following his return to the congregation, but as something he would receive "in the day of the Lord Jesus," a certain reference to the final judgment. If these implications should be allowed, this exceedingly severe judgment "might have been an act of mercy, as well."(F12) See my Commentary on Acts, under Acts 5:5.

The opinion that this offender repented and came back into the congregation is founded upon 2 Corinthians 7:12; but there is little certainty that this application is correct. If that is what happened, then what became of "the destruction of the flesh" enunciated in this judgment?

The frequent opinion that "The sinful man (was) delivered to Satan, to suffer physical affliction, to bring him to repentance and turn out for the good of his soul,"(F13) is another example of what the passage is thought to teach.

Another thing that is certain, with reference to this, was pointed out by Adam Clarke:

No such power as this remains in the Church of God; none such should be assumed; and the pretensions to it are as wicked as they are vain. It was the same power by which Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead, and Elymas the sorcerer struck blind. Apostles alone were entrusted with it.(F14)

Even an apostle like Paul exercised such power and authority only upon rare occasions, another instance being that of Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20).

Verse 6

Your glorying is not good. know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

Your glorying … Their glorying failed to take any note at all of the cancer of immorality in their very midst.

A little leaven … Although there are exceptions, leaven in the New Testament usually refers to some evil principle, in this case unrebuked immorality, which was fully capable of destroying the whole church. This would account for the severity of the judgment imposed.

Verse 7

Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ.

Ye are unleavened … This is a figure for "you are not contaminated with sin." Despite the sinful lapses visible in the church, the action of their being cleansed in the blood of Christ was constant and effectual. Serious sins would be punished and purged from the Lord’s church;, and the essential purity of it was affirmed even in this moment of her shameful deficiency. This purity was not of themselves, but of Christ "in whom" they continued to be.


In the above verse, Paul affirmed that Christ is our passover; but, as in most analogies, there are points of likeness and unlikeness.

I. Points of likeness:

a. In both the Jewish passover and the passover of Christians (who is Christ), there is the death of a sinless, blameless victim (John 14:30; John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15).

b. In both, there is the design of deliverance from the wrath of God; in the Jewish Passover, it was from the destruction of the death angel, and for Christians it is from God’s eternal wrath (Romans 1:18).

c. In both, deliverance carne through the vicarious death, in their case, that of the lamb, in our case, that of Christ who died for us (Romans 3:25; Romans 5:6; Matthew 20:28; 1 Peter 3:18).

d. In both, the slain victim became the food of the redeemed. The Jews actually ate the Passover lamb; and Christians partake of Christ who is their spiritual food (John 6:53).

e. In both, a personal participation on the part of the redeemed was an absolute requirement. The lamb had to be slain for every family; each member had to eat; the blood was sprinkled on every door. Every man must be "in Christ" to be saved (1 Corinthians 12:13).

f. In both, the line of demarcation between the saved and lost is clear and emphatic. Egyptians did not partake of the Passover. The evil men of the world do not partake of Christ.

g. In both, there is a pledge of fellowship. Eating together is one of the oldest bonds of fellowship; and, in both dispensations, God made use of this instrument to cement the bonds of fellowship among his people.

II. Points of unlikeness:

h. There is a contrast in the redemptions procured, one being temporal and earthly, the other being heavenly and eternal.

i. There is a contrast in the victims provided. Is not a man of more value than a sheep?

j. There is a contrast in the efficacy of the blood offered, that of animals being unable to take away sin (Hebrews 10:4), but the blood of Christ providing remission of sins (Hebrews 9:14).

k. There is a contrast in that which was purged out, in the case of the Jews being the old leaven of actual bread, but in the case of Christians the purging of sin from the hearts of those saved.

III. The entire institution of the Passover was typical of the entire institution of Christianity:

l. The Passover lamb, sacrificed the first day, was fulfilled by the crucifixion of Christ at the very hours the lambs were slain.

m. The lamb was a type of the person of Christ in that it was innocent, died vicariously, was a male of the flock, and without blemish, and in that not a bone of it was broken (Psalms 34:20).

n. Just as the Passover was slain and eaten in Jerusalem so Christ suffered, died, and rose again in the same city.

o. The Passover was typical of the Lord’s supper in some ways, though not in others. Both were divinely instituted, both were commemorative, both were continuative, moving for millenniums through history; both began a new kingdom, the Passover that of the Jews; the Lord’s Supper distinguished the kingdom of Christ; and in both cases the actual beginning of the kingdom was a little later than the institution of the rite. Who but God could have so designed the religious economy of Israel that all of it would have served to typify and identify the Christ who should come into the world?

Verse 8

Wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Keep the feast … It seems incredible to this student that anyone would apply this to keeping the Jewish Passover. "We are obliged to keep the feast, i.e., the feast of unleavened bread."(F15) This whole paragraph is absolutely metaphorical; for, when Paul commanded the Corinthians to "purge out thy old leaven," he referred to purging out sin. Therefore "feast" in this place has the meaning of Christian life and fellowship. Farrar read it "Keep the feast of Christ’s resurrection in the spirit of holiness."(F16) Barnes interpreted it as "Let us engage in the service of God by putting away evil."(F17) "Keeping the feast suggests the continuous life of the Christian, a day-by-day walking in holiness, strength and joy."(F18) There is not a reference here to the Lord’s Supper specifically; but of course it is included in the larger sphere of the entire Christian pilgrimage.

Not with old leaven … This is a reference to the old morality of the Corinthians, under the figure of the Jews’ actions at Passover. All sexual vice, as well as malice and other forms of wickedness, are specific examples of what Paul meant by "leaven."

Unleavened bread … refers to the new life in Christ from which the old works of the flesh have been purged and replaced by "sincerity and truth."

Verses 9-10

I wrote unto you in my epistle to have no company with fornicators; not at all meaning with the fornicators of this world, or with covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

In my epistle … This most probably refers to another epistle Paul had written to the Corinthians, but which was lost; and, since they misunderstood it, perhaps it was lost providentially. Skilled efforts to make this a reference to previous passages in this same epistle are unconvincing.

The crux of Paul’s teaching here is that when he had commanded the Corinthians not to keep company with fornicators (in that lost letter), the congregation had taken it to mean that they were not to associate with ANYBODY guilty of that sin, whether in the church or out of the church. Paul here stated that he did not mean that "at all"; and, if he had meant that, they could have obeyed him only by leaving the present world! What a commentary this is upon the depraved condition of Corinth and the whole world of that era.

Fornicators … covetous … extortioners … idolaters … Significantly, Paul here extended the prohibition to include association with any grossly wicked people, specifically the four classes mentioned, who might be called "brethren."

Furthermore, despite the fact of its being allowable for Christians to associate with the wicked in the necessary business and commerce of the world, such persons having no connection with Christianity, this is definitely not meant to encourage such associations. Every time a child of God is in the company of the wicked, even in cases where it is necessary and allowable, he runs a certain risk; and there is no way that he should be satisfied and comfortable in such associations. Wall, as quoted by Macknight, said:

It is an everlasting rule that a conscientious Christian should choose, as far as he can, the company, intercourse, and familiarity of good men, and such as fear God; and avoid, as far as his necessary affairs will permit, the conversation and fellowship of such as Paul here describes.(F19)

Verse 11

But as it is, I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat.

But as it is … or "Now I write …" as in the English Revised Version margin (1885).

I wrote unto you … carries the meaning of "what I meant when I wrote to you."

The blanket rule laid down here requiring the Christian to forego any association with unfaithful Christians was stated thus by Russell:

Have no familiar intercourse with one that is named a brother but is false to his profession; withdraw from all associations indicating brotherhood. He does not mean that Christians should go out of the world; monastic seclusion is not for a moment contemplated.(F20)

Verses 12-13

For what have I to do with judging them that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Put away the wicked man from among yourselves.

Despite what was said under 1 Corinthians 5:5 of the unique authority involved in delivering the sinner "to Satan," it may not be supposed that putting away evil men out of the Christian fellowship has no relevance now. However it is to be done, it must be done. Morris said, "Paul’s main point is that the church must not tolerate the presence of evil in its midst, and this is clearly of permanent relevance."(F21)

Paul also guarded against any thought that the wicked "without" shall escape judgment; God will judge them. Regarding the last verse here, Macknight wrote:

The apostle wrote this and the preceding verse to show the Corinthians the reason why, after commanding them to pass so severe a sentence on the man, he said nothing to them of the woman who was guilty with him. The discipline of the church was not to be exercised on persons out of it. Hence it appears that this woman was a heathen.(F22)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-corinthians-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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