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This chapter is entirely occupied with a notice of an offence which existed in the church at Corinth and with a statement of the measures which the apostle expected them to pursue in regard to it. Of the existence of this offence he had been informed, probably by “those of the house of Chloe,” 1 Corinthians 1:11, and there is reason to suppose that they had not even alluded to it in the letter which they had sent to him asking advice; see 1 Corinthians 7:1; compare the Introduction. The apostle 1 Corinthians 5:1 reproves them for tolerating a species of licentiousness which was not tolerated even by the pagans; he reproves them 1 Corinthians 5:2 for being puffed up with pride even while this scandal existed in their church; he ordered them immediately to purify the church by removing the incestuous person 1 Corinthians 5:4-5; and exhorted them to preserve themselves from the influence which a single corrupt person might have, operating like leaven in a mass; 1 Corinthians 5:6-7. Then, lest they should mistake his meaning, and suppose that by commanding them not to keep company with licentious persons 1 Corinthians 5:9, he meant to say, that they should withdraw from all contact with the pagans who were known to be idolaters and corrupt, he says that that former command was not designed to forbid all contact with them, 1 Corinthians 5:9-12; but that he meant his injunction now to extend particularly to such as were professed members of the church; that they were not to cut off all contact with society at large because it was corrupt; that if any person professed to be a Christian and yet was guilty of such practices they were to disown him 1 Corinthians 5:11; that it was not his province, nor did he assume it, to judge the pagan world which was without the church 1 Corinthians 5:12; but that this was entirely consistent with the view that he had a right to exercise discipline within the church, on such as professed to be Christians; and that therefore, they were bound to put away that wicked person.
It is reported - Greek It is heard. There is a rumor. That rumor had been brought to Paul, probably by the members of the family of Chloe, 1 Corinthians 1:11.
Commonly - Ὅλως Holōs. Everywhere. It is a matter of common fame. It is so public that it cannot be concealed; and so certain that it cannot be denied. This was all offence, he informs us, which even the pagan would not justify or tolerate; and, therefore, the report had spread not only in the churches, but even among the pagan, to the great scandal of religion - When a report obtains such a circulation, it is certainly time to investigate it, and to correct the evil.
That there is fornication - See the note at Acts 15:20. The word is here used to denote incest, because the apostle immediately explains the nature of the offence.
And such fornication ... - An offence that is not tolerated or known among the pagan. This greatly aggravated the offence, that in a Christian church a crime should be tolerated among its members which even gross pagans would regard with abhorrence. That this offence was regarded with abhorrence by even the pagans has been abundantly proved by quotations from classic writers. See Wetstein, Bloomfield, and Whitby. Cicero says of the offence, expressly, that “it was an incredible and unheard of crime.” Pro Cluen. 5. 6 - When Paul says that it was not “so much as named among the Gentiles,” he doubtless uses the word (ὀνομάζεται onomazetai) in the sense of “named with approbation, tolerated,” or “allowed.” The crime was known in a few instances, but chiefly of those who were princes and rulers; but it was no where regarded with approbation, but was always treated as abominable wickedness. All that the connection requires us to understand by the word “named” here is, that it was not tolerated or allowed; it was treated with abhorrence, and it was therefore, more scandalous that it was allowed in a Christian church - Whitby supposes that this offence that was tolerated in the church at Corinth gave rise to the scandals that were circulated among the pagan respecting the early Christians, that they allowed of licentious contact among the members of their churches. This reproach was circulated extensively among the pagan, and the primitive Christians were at much pains to refute it.
That one should have - Probably as his wife; or it may mean simply that he had criminal contact with her. Perhaps some man had parted with his wife, on some account, and his son had married her, or maintained her for criminal contact. It is evident from 2 Corinthians 7:12, that the person who had suffered the wrong, as well as he who had done it, was still alive - Whether this was marriage or concubinage, has been disputed by commentators, and it is not possible, perhaps, to determine. See the subject discussed in Bloomfield.
And ye are puffed up - See the note at 1 Corinthians 4:18. You are filled with pride, and with a vain conceit of your own wisdom and purity, notwithstanding the existence of this enormous wickedness in your church. This does not mean that they were puffed up, or proud on account of the existence of this wickedness, but they were filled with pride notwithstanding, or in spite of it. They ought to have been a humbled people. They should have mourned; and should have given their first attention to the removal of the evil. But instead of this, they had given indulgence to proud feeling, and had become elated with a vain confidence in their spiritual purity. People are always elated and proud when they have the least occasion for it.
And have not rather mourned ... - Have not rather been so afflicted and troubled as to take the proper means for removing the offence. The word “mourn” here is taken in that large sense. Ye have not been “so much” afflicted - so troubled with the existence of this wickedness, as to take the proper measures to remove the offender - Acts of discipline in the church should always commence with mourning that there is occasion for it. It should not be anger, or pride, or revenge, or party feeling, which prompt to it. It should be deep grief that there is occasion for it; and tender compassion for the offender.
Might be taken away - By excommunication. He should not, while he continues in this state, be allowed to remain in your communion.
For I verily - But I, whatever it may cost me; however you may esteem my interference; and whatever personal ill-will may be the result toward me, have adjudged this case to be so flagrant as to demand the exercise of discipline, and since the church to whom it belongs have neglected it, I use the authority of an apostle, and of a spiritual father, in directing it to take place. This was not a formal sentence of excommunication; but it was the declared opinion of an apostle that such a sentence should be passed, and an injunction on the church to exercise this act of discipline.
As absent in body - Since I am not personally present with you, I express my opinion in this manner. I am absent in body from you, and cannot, therefore, take those steps in regard to it which I could were I present.
But present in spirit - My heart is with you; my feelings are with you; I have a deep and tender interest in the case; and I judge as if I were personally present. Many suppose that Paul by this refers to a power which was given to the apostles, though at a distance, to discern the real circumstances of a case by the gift of the Spirit. Compare Col 2:5; 2 Kings 5:26; 2 Kings 6:12. (Whitby, Doddridge, etc.) But the phrase does not demand this interpretation. Paul meant, probably, that though he was absent, yet his mind and attention had been given to this subject; he felt as deeply as though he were present, and would act in the same way. He had, in some way, been fully apprized of all the circumstances of the case, and he felt it to be his duty to express his views on the subject.
Have judged already - Margin, “Determined” κέκρικα kekrika. I have made up my mind; have decided, and do decide. That is, he had determined what ought to be done in the case. It was a case in which the course which ought to be pursued was plain, and on this point his mind was settled. What that course should be he states immediately.
As though I were present - As though I had a personal knowledge of the whole affair, and were with you to advise - We may be certain that Paul had the fullest information as to this case; and that the circumstances were well known. Indeed, it was a case about the facts of which there could be no doubt. They were everywhere known 1 Corinthians 5:1, and there was no need, therefore, to attempt to establish them by formal proof.
In the name ... - By the authority; or in the behalf; or acting by his commission or power. 2 Corinthians 2:10. See the note at Acts 3:6. This does not refer to Paul alone in declaring his opinion, but means that they were to be assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus, and that they were to proceed to exercise discipline by his authority. The idea is, that the authority to administer discipline is derived from the Lord Jesus Christ, and is to be exercised in his name, and to promote his honor.
When ye are gathered together - Or, “You being assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This is to be connected with the previous words, and means:
(1) That they were to be assembled for the purpose of administering discipline; and,
(2) That this was to be done in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
And my spirit - 1 Corinthians 5:3. As if I were with you; that is, with my declared opinion; knowing what I would advise, were I one of you; or, I being virtually present with you by having delivered my opinion. It cannot mean that Paul’s soul would be really present with them, but that, knowing his views and feelings, and what he would do, and knowing his love for them, they could act as if he were there. This passage proves that discipline belongs to the church itself; and so deep was Paul’s conviction of this, that even he would not administer it, without their concurrence and action. And if Paul would not do it, and in a case too where bodily pains were to be inflicted by miraculous agency, assuredly no other ministers have a right to assume the authority to administer discipline without the action and the concurrence of the church itself.
(The general doctrine of the New Testament is that the government of the church is invested, not in the people or church members at large, but in certain rulers or office-bearers, 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7; 1 Timothy 5:17. We find these elders or rulers existing in every church to which our attention is directed, while the people are continually exhorted to yield a willing submission to their authority. Now the passage under review must be explained in consistency with the analogy of truth, or the general scope of Scripture on the subject. It is unwise to build our conclusion on an insulated text. But, in reality, the language of the apostle, in this place, when fairly examined, gives no countenance to the idea that the judicial power of the church resides in the people. The case of the incestuous man was “judged by the apostle himself” previous to the transmission of his letter to the Corinthian church, which was therefore enjoined, not to adjudicate on the matter, but simply to give effect to the decision of Paul. “I verily ‘have judged already’ concerning him who hath done this deed; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc. If it be still demanded why then were the people to assemble? the answer is obvious. It was necessary that the sentence should be published, where the crime had been committed, that the members of the church might concur in it, and withdraw from the society of the guilty person. The simple fact of the people being assembled is no proof that they were judges.
Yet candor requires us to state that the words in the third verse, ἤδη κεκρίκα ēdē kekrika (I have already judged) are supposed by some to intimate, not the delivering of an authoritative sentence, but the simple expression of an opinion in regard to what ought to be done. This, however, seems neither consistent with the scope of the passage, nor with just ideas of apostolical authority. The apostles had “the care of all the churches, with power to settle matters of faith and order, to determine controversies, and exercise the rod of discipline on all offenders, whether pastors or flock; 1 Corinthians 5:3-6; 2 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 13:10.”)
With the power ... - This phrase is to be connected with the following verse. “I have determined what ought to be done. The sentence which I have passed is this. You are to be assembled in the name and authority of Christ. I shall be virtually present. And you are to deliver such a one to Satan, ‘by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.’” That is, it is to be done by you; and the miraculous power which will be evinced in the case will proceed from the Lord Jesus. The word “power” δύναμις dunamis is used commonly in the New Testament to denote some miraculous and extraordinary power; and here evidently means that the Lord Jesus would put forth such a power in the infliction of pain and for the preservation of the purity of his church.
To deliver - This is the sentence which is to be executed. You are to deliver him to Satan, etc.
Unto Satan - Beza, and the Latin fathers, suppose that this is only an expression of excommunication. They say, that in the Scriptures there are but two kingdoms recognized - the kingdom of God, or the church, and the kingdom of the world, which is regarded as under the control of Satan; and that to exclude a man from one is to subject him to the dominion of the other. There is some foundation for this opinion; and there can be no doubt that excommunication is here intended, and that, by excommunication, the offender was in some sense placed under the control of Satan. It is further evident that it is here supposed that by being thus placed under him the offender would be subject to corporal inflictions by the agency of Satan, which are here called the “destruction of the flesh.” Satan is elsewhere referred to as the author of bodily diseases. Thus, in the case of Job, Job 2:7. A similar instance is mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20, where Paul says he had delivered Hymeneus and Alexander to “Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme.” It may be observed here that though this was to be done by the concurrence of the church, as having a right to administer discipline, yet it was directed by apostolic authority; and there is no evidence that this was the usual form of excommunication, nor ought it now to be used. There was evidently miraculous power evinced in this case, and that power has long since ceased in the church.
For the destruction of the flesh - We may observe here:
(1) That this does not mean that the man was to die under the infliction of the censure, for the object was to recover him; and it is evident that, whatever he suffered as the consequence of this, he survived it, and Paul again instructed the Corinthians to admit him to their fellowship, 2 Corinthians 2:7.
(2) It was designed to punish him for licentiousness of life - often called in the Scriptures one of the sins, or works of the flesh Galatians 5:19, and the design was that the punishment should follow “in the line of the offence,” or be a just retribution - as punishment often does. Many have supposed that by the “destruction of the flesh” Paul meant only the destruction of his fleshly appetites or carnal affections; and that he supposed that this would be effected by the act of excommunication. But it is very evident from the Scriptures that the apostles were imbued with the power of inflicting diseases or bodily calamities for crimes. See Acts 13:11; 1 Corinthians 11:30. What this bodily malady was we have no means of knowing. It is evident that it was not of very long duration, since when the apostle exhorts them 2 Corinthians 2:7 again to receive him, there is no mention made of his suffering then under it - This was an extraordinary and miraculous power. It was designed for the government of the church in its infancy, when everything was suited to show the direct agency of God; and it ceased, doubtless, with the apostles. The church now has no such power. It cannot now work miracles; and all its discipline now is to be moral discipline, designed not to inflict bodily pain and penalties, but to work a moral reformation in the offender.
That the spirit may be saved - That his soul might be saved; that he might be corrected, humbled, and reformed by these sufferings, and recalled to the paths of piety and virtue. This expresses the true design of the discipline of the church, and it ought never to be inflicted but with a direct intention to benefit the offender, and to save the soul. Even when he is cut off and disowned, the design should not be vengeance, or punishment merely, but it should be to recover him and save him from ruin.
In the day of the Lord Jesus - The Day of Judgment when the Lord Jesus shall come, and shall collect his people to himself.
Your glorying - Your boasting; or confidence in your present condition, as if you were eminent in purity and piety.
Is not good - Is not well, proper, right. Boasting is never good; but it is especially wrong when, as here, there is an existing evil that is likely to corrupt the whole church. When people are disposed to boast, they should at once make the inquiry whether there is not some sin indulged in, on account of which they should be humbled and subdued. If all individual Christians, and all Christian churches, and all people of every rank and condition, would look at things as they are, they would never find occasion for boasting. It is only when we are blind to the realities of the ease, and overlook our faults, that we are disposed to boast. The reason why this was improper in Corinth, Paul states - that any sin would tend to corrupt the whole church, and that therefore they ought not to boast until that was removed.
A little leaven ... - A small quantity of leaven or yeast will pervade the entire mass of flour, or dough, and diffuse itself through it all. This is evidently a proverbial saying. It occurs also in Galatians 5:9. Compare the note at Matthew 13:33. A similar figure occurs also in the Greek classic writers - By leaven the Hebrews metaphorically understood whatever had the power of corrupting, whether doctrine, or example, or anything else. See the note at Matthew 16:6. The sense here is plain. A single sin indulged in, or allowed in the church, would act like leaven - it would pervade and corrupt the whole church, unless it was removed. On this ground, and for this reason, discipline should be administered, and the corrupt member should be removed.
Purge out therefore ... - Put away; free yourselves from.
The old leaven - The apostle here takes occasion, from the mention of leaven, to exhort the Corinthians to put away vice and sin. The figure is derived from the custom of the Jews in putting away leaven at the celebration of the passover. By the OLD leaven he means vice and sin; and also here the person who had committed the sin in their church. As the Jews, at the celebration of the passover, gave all diligence in removing leaven from their houses - searching every part of their dwellings with candles, that they might remove every particle of leavened bread from their habitations - so the apostle exhorts them to use all diligence to search out and remove all sin.
That ye may be a new lump - That you may be like a new mass of flour, or dough, before the leaven is put into it. That you may be pure, and free from the corrupting principle.
As ye are unleavened - That is, as ye are bound by your Christian profession to be unleavened, or to be pure. Your very profession implies this, and you ought, therefore, to remove all impurity, and to become holy. Let there be no impurity, and no mixture inconsistent with that holiness which the gospel teaches and requires. The apostle here does not refer merely to the case of the incestuous person, but he takes occasion to exhort them to put away all sin. Not only to remove this occasion of offence, but to remove all impurity, that they might become entirely and only holy. The doctrine is, that Christians are by their profession holy, and that therefore they ought to give all diligence to remove everything that is impure.
For even Christ ... - As the Jews, when their paschal lamb was slain, gave great diligence to put away all leaven from their dwellings, so we Christians, since our passover is slain, ought to give the like diligence to remove all that is impure and corrupting from our hearts - There can be no doubt here that the paschal lamb was a type of the Messiah; and as little that the leaven was understood to be emblematic of impurity and sin, and that their being required to put it away was intended to be an emblematic action designed to denote that all sin was to be removed and forsaken.
Our passover - Our “paschal lamb,” for so the word πάσχα pascha usually signifies. The sense is, “We Christians have a paschal lamb; and that lamb is the Messiah. And as the Jews, when their paschal lamb was slain, were required to put away all leaven from their dwellings, so we, when our paschal lamb is slain, should put away all sin from our hearts and from our churches.” This passage proves that Paul meant to teach that Christ had “taken the place” of the paschal lamb - that that lamb was designed to adumbrate or typify him - and that consequently when he was offered, the paschal offering was designed to cease. Christ is often in the Scriptures compared to a lamb. See Isaiah 53:7; Joh 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:6, Revelation 5:12.
Is sacrificed for us - Margin, Or “slain” (ἐτυθη etuthē). The word θύω thuō may mean simply to slay or kill; but it is also used often in the sense of making a sacrifice as an expiation for sin; Acts 14:13, Acts 14:18; 1 Corinthians 10:20; compare Genesis 31:54; Genesis 45:1; Exodus 3:18; Exodus 5:3, Exodus 5:8,Exodus 5:17; Exodus 8:8, Exodus 8:25-29; Exodus 13:15; Exodus 20:24; 2 Chronicles 15:16, where it is used as the translation of the word זבח zaabach, “to sacrifice.” It is used as the translation of this word no less than 98 times in the Old Testament, and perhaps always in the sense of a “sacrifice,” or bloody offering. It is also used as the translation of the Hebrew word טבח Taabach, and שׁחט shaachat, to slay, to kill, etc. in Exodus 12:21; 1Ki 11:19; 2 Kings 25:7; 2 Chronicles 29:22, etc.; in all in eleven places in the Old Testament. It is used in a similar sense in the New Testament, in Matthew 22:4; Luke 15:23, Luke 15:27, Luke 15:30; John 10:10; Acts 10:13; Acts 11:7. It occurs no where else in the New Testament than in the places which have been specified - The true sense of the word here is, therefore, to be found in the doctrine respecting the passover. That that was intended to be a sacrifice for sin is proved by the nature of the offering, and by the account which is everywhere given of it in the Old Testament. The paschal lamb was slain as a sacrifice. It was slain in the temple; its blood was poured out as an offering; it was sprinkled and offered by the priests in the same way as other sacrifices; see Exodus 23:18; Exodus 34:25; 2 Chronicles 30:15-16. And if so, then this passage means that Christ was offered “as a sacrifice for sin” - in accordance with the numerous passages of the New Testament, which speak of his death in this manner (see the note at Romans 3:25); and that his offering was designed to take the place of the paschal sacrifice, under the ancient economy.
For us - For us who are Christians. He died in our stead; and as the Jews, when celebrating their paschal feast, put away all leaven, so we, as Christians, should put away all evil from our hearts, since that sacrifice has now been made once for all.
Let us keep the feast - Margin, “Holy day” ἑορτάζωμεν heortazōmen. This is language drawn from the paschal feast, and is used by Paul frequently to carry out and apply his illustration. It does not mean literally the paschal supper here - for that had ceased to be observed by Christians - nor the Lord’s Supper particularly; but the sense is “As the Jews when they celebrated the paschal supper, on the slaying and sacrifice of the paschal lamb, put away all leaven - as emblematic of sin - so let us, in the slaying of our sacrifice, and in all the duties, institutions and events consequent thereon, put away all wickedness from our hearts as individuals, and from our societies and churches. Let us engage in the service of God putting away by all evil.”
Not with the old leaven - Not under the influence, or in the indulgence of the feelings of corrupt and unrenewed human nature - The word “leaven” is very expressive of that former or “old” condition, and denotes the corrupt and corrupting passions of our nature before it is renewed.
The leaven of malice - Of unkindness and evil - which would diffuse itself, and pervade the mass of Christians. The word “malice” (κακίας kakias) denotes “evil” in general.
And wickedness - Sin; evil. There is a particular reference here to the case of the incestuous person. Paul means that all wickedness should be put away from those who had been saved by the sacrifice of their “Passover,” Christ; and, therefore, this sin in a special manner.
But with the unleavened bread ... - That is, with sincerity and truth. Let us be sincere, and true, and faithful; as the Jews partook of bread unleavened, which was emblematic of purity, so let us be sincere and true. It is implied here that this could not be done unless they would put away the incestuous person - No Christians can have, or give evidence of sincerity, who are not willing to put away all sin.
I wrote unto you - I have written ἔγραψα egrapsa. This word may either refer to this Epistle, or to some former epistle. It simply denotes that he had written to them, but whether in the former part of this, or in some former epistle which is now lost, cannot be determined by the use of this word.
In an epistle - ἐν τῇ ἐπιστολῇ en tē epistolē. There has been considerable diversity of opinion in regard to this expression. A large number of commentators as Chrysostom, Theodoret, Oecumenius, most of the Latin commentators, and nearly all the Dutch commentators suppose that this refers to the same Epistle (our 1 Corinthians), and that the apostle means to say that in the former part of this Epistle 1 Corinthians 5:2 he had given them this direction. And in support of this interpretation they say that τῇ tē here is used for ταυτῇ tautē, and appeal to the kindred passages in Romans 16:2; Colossians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 3:3-4. Many others - as Grotius, Doddridge, Rosenmuller, etc. - suppose it to refer to some other epistle which is now lost, and which had been sent to them before their messengers had reached him. This Epistle might have been very brief, and might have contained little more than this direction. That this is the correct opinion, may appear from the following considerations, namely:
(1) It is the natural and obvious interpretation - one that would strike the great mass of people. It is just such an expression as Paul would have used on the supposition that he had written a previous epistle.
(2) It is the very expression which he uses in 2 Corinthians 7:8, where he is referring to this Epistle as one which he had sent to them.
(3) It is not true that Paul had in any former part of this Epistle given this direction. He had commanded them to remove an incestuous person, and such a command might seem to imply that they ought not to keep company with such a person; but it was not a general command not to have contact with them.
(4) It is altogether probable that Paul would write more letters than we have preserved. We have but fourteen of his remaining. Yet he labored many years; founded many churches; and had frequent occasion to write to them.
(5) We know that a number of books have been lost which were either inspired or which were regarded as of authority by inspired men. Thus, the books of Jasher, of Iddo the seer, etc., are referred to in the Old Testament, and there is no improbability that similar instances may have occurred in regard to the writers of the New Testament.
(6) In 1 Corinthians 5:11, he expressly makes a distinction between the Epistle which he was then writing and the former one. “But now,” that is, in this Epistle, “I have written (ἔγραψα egrapsa) to you,” etc. an expression which he would not use if 1 Corinthians 5:9, referred to the same epistle. These considerations seem to me to be unanswerable, and to prove that Paul had sent another epistle to them in which he had given this direction.
(7) This opinion accords with that of a very large number of commentators. As an instance, Calvin says, “The Epistle of which he here speaks, is not now extant. Nor is it to be doubted that many others have perished; but it is sufficient that these survive to us which the Lord saw to be needful.” If it be objected that this may affect the doctrine of the inspiration of the New Testament, since it is not to be supposed that God would suffer the writings of inspired men to be lost, we may reply:
(a) That there is no evidence that these were inspired. Paul often makes a distinction in regard to his own words and doctrines, as inspired or uninspired (see 1 Corinthians 7:0); and the same thing may have occurred in his writings.
(b) This does not affect the inspiration of the books which remain, even on the supposition that those which were lost were inspired. It does not prove that these are not from God. If a man loses a guinea it does not prove that those which he has not lost are counterfeit or worthless.
(c) If inspired, they may have answered the purpose which was designed by their inspiration - and then have been suffered to be lost - as all inspired books will be destroyed at the end of the world.
(d) It is to be remembered that a large part of the discourses of the inspired apostles, and even the Saviour himself John 21:25, have been lost. And why should it be deemed any more wonderful that inspired books should be lost than inspired oral teaching? Why more wonderful that a brief letter of Paul should be destroyed than that numerous discourses of him “who spake as never man spake,” should be lost to the world?
(e) We should be thankful for the books that remain, and we may be assured that all the truth that is needful for our salvation has been preserved and is in our bands. That any inspired hooks have been preserved amidst the efforts which have been made to destroy them all, is more a matter of wonder than that a few have been lost, and should rather lead us to gratitude that we have them than to grief that a few, probably relating to local and comparatively unimportant matters, have been destroyed.
Not to company ... - Not to associate with; see Ephesians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:14. This, it seems, was a general direction on the subject. It referred to all who had this character. But the direction which he now 1 Corinthians 5:11 proceeds to give, relates to a different matter - the proper degree of contact with those who were “in the church.”
Yet not altogether ... - In my direction not “to company” with them, I did not mean that you should refuse all kinds of contact with them; that you should not treat them with civility, or be engaged with them in any of the transactions of life, or in the ordinary contact of society between man and man, for this would be impossible - but that you should not so associate with them as to be esteemed to belong to them, or so as to be corrupted by their example. You are not to make them companions and friends.
With the fornicators - Most pagans were of this description, and particularly at Corinth. See the introduction to this Epistle.
Of this world - Of those who are out of the church; or who are not professed Christians.
Or with the covetous - The avaricious; those greedy of gain. Probably his direction in the former epistle had been that they should avoid them.
Or extortioners - Rapacious persons; greedy of gain, and oppressing the poor, the needy, and the fatherless, to obtain money.
Or an idolater - All the Corinthians before the gospel was preached there worshipped idols.
Then must ye needs ... - It would be necessary to leave the world. The world is full of such persons. You meet them everywhere. You cannot avoid them in the ordinary transactions of life, unless you either destroy yourselves, or withdraw wholly from society. This passage shows:
(1) That that society was full of the licentious and the covetous, of idolaters and extortioners. (Compare the notes at Romans 1:0.)
(2) That it is not right either to take our own lives to avoid them, or to withdraw from society and become monks; and therefore, that the whole monastic system is contrary to Christianity; and,
(3) That it is needful we should have some contact with the people of the world; and to have dealings with them as neighbors, and as members of the community. “How far” we are to have contact with them is not settled here. The general principles may be:
(1) That it is only so far as is necessary for the purposes of good society, or to show kindness to them as neighbors and as members of the community.
(2) We are to deal justly with them in all our transactions.
(3) We may be connected with them in regard to the things which “we have in common” - as public improvements, the business of education, etc.
(4) We are to endeavor to do them good, and for that purpose we are not to shun their society. But,
(5) We are not to make them our companions; or to associate with them in their wickedness, or as idolaters, or covetous, or licentious; we are not to be known as partakers with them in these things. And for the same reason we are not to associate with the frivilous in their gaiety; with the proud in their pride; with the fashionable in their regard to fashion; with the friends of the theater, the ballroom, or the splendid party, in their attachment to these amusements. In all these things we are to be separate; and are to be connected with them only in those things which we may have “in common” with them; and which are not inconsistent with the holy rules of the Christian religion.
(6) We are not so to associate with them as to be corrupted by their example; or so as to be led by that example to neglect prayer and the sanctuary, and the deeds of charity, and the effort to do good to the souls of people. We are to make it a great point that our piety is not to suffer by that contact; and we are never to do anything, or conform to any custom, or to have any such contact with them as to lessen our growth in grace; to divert our attention from the humble duties of religion; or to mar our Christian enjoyment.
“But now.” In this Epistle. This shows that he had written a former letter.
I have written to you. - Above. I have designed to give this injunction that you are to be entirely separated from one who is a professor of religion and who is guilty of these things.
Not to keep company - To be wholly separated and withdrawn from such a person. Not to associate with him in any manner.
If any man that is called a brother - Any professing Christian; any member of the church.
Be a fornicator ... - Like him who is mentioned, 1 Corinthians 5:1.
Or an idolater - This must mean those persons who, while they professed Christianity, still attended the idol feasts, and worshipped there. Perhaps a few such may have been found who had adopted the Christian profession hypocritically.
Or a railer - A reproachful man; a man of coarse, harsh, and bitter words; a man whose characteristic it was to abuse others; to vilify their character, and wound their feelings. It is needless to say how much this is contrary to the spirit of Christianity, and to the example of the Master, “who when he was reviled, reviled not again.”
Or a drunkard - Perhaps there might have been some then in the church, as there are now, who were addicted to this vice. It has been the source of incalculable evils to the church; and the apostle, therefore, solemnly enjoins on Christians to have no fellowship with a man who is intemperate.
With such an one no not to eat - To have no contact or fellowship with him of any kind; not to do anything that would seem to acknowledge him as a brother; with such an one not even to eat at the same table. A similar course is enjoined by John; 2 John 1:10-11. This refers to the contact of common life, and not particularly to the communion. The true Christian was wholly to disown such a person, and not to do anything that would seem to imply that he regarded him as a Christian brother. It will be seen here that the rule was much more strict in regard to one who professed to be a Christian than to those who were known and acknowledged pagans. The reasons may have been:
(1) The necessity of keeping the church pure, and of not doing anything that would seem to imply that Christians were the patrons and friends of the intemperate and the wicked.
(2) In respect to the pagan, there could be no danger of its being supposed that Christians regarded them as brethren, or showed to them any more than the ordinary civilities of life; but in regard to those who professed to be Christians, but who were drunkards, or licentious, if a man was on terms of intimacy with them, it would seem as if he acknowledged them as brethren and recognized them as Christians.
(3) This entire separation and withdrawing from all communion was necessary in these times to save the church from scandal, and from the injurious reports which were circulated. The pagan accused Christians of all manner of crime and abominations. These reports were greatly injurious to the church. But it was evident that currency and plausibility would be given to them if it was known that Christians were on terms of intimacy and good fellowship with pagans and intemperate persons. Hence, it became necessary to withdraw wholly from them to withhold even the ordinary courtesies of life; and to draw a line of total and entire separation. Whether this rule in its utmost strictness is demanded now, since the nature of Christianity is known, and since religion cannot be in “so much” danger from such reports, may be made a question. I am inclined to the opinion that the ordinary civilities of life may be shown to such persons; though certainly nothing that would seem to recognize them as Christians. But as neighbors and relatives; as those who may be in distress and want, we are assuredly not forbidden to show toward them the offices of kindness and compassion. Whitby and some others, however, understand this of the communion of the Lord’s Supper and of that only.
For what have I to do ... - I have no authority over them; and can exercise no jurisdiction over them. All my rules, therefore, must have reference only to those who are within the church.
To judge - To pass sentence upon; to condemn; or to punish. As a Christian apostle I have no jurisdiction over them.
Them also that are without - Without the pale of the Christian church; pagans; people of the world; those who did not profess to be Christians.
Do not ye judge ... - Is not your jurisdiction as Christians confined to those who are within the church, and professed members of it? ought you not to exercise discipline there, and inflict punishment on its unworthy members? Do you not in fact thus exercise discipline, and separate from your society unworthy persons - and ought it not to be done in this instance, and in reference to the offender in your church?
But them ... - They who are unconnected with the church are under the direct and special government of God. They are indeed sinners, and they deserve punishment for their crimes. But it is not ours to pronounce sentence upon them, or to inflict punishment. God will do that. our province is in regard to the church. We are to judge these; and these alone. All others we are to leave entirely in the hands of God.
Therefore - Greek “And” (καὶ kai). “Since it is yours to judge the members of your own society, do you exercise discipline on the offender and put him away?”
Put away from among yourselves - Excommunicate him; expel him from your society. This is the utmost power which the church has; and this act the church is bound to exercise upon all those who have openly offended against the laws of Jesus Christ.
1. A public rumor with regard to the existence of an offence in the church should lead to discipline. This is due to the church itself that it may be pure and uninjured; to the cause, that religion may not suffer by the offence; and to the individual, that he may have justice done him, and his character vindicated if he is unjustly accused; or that if guilty he may be reclaimed and reformed - Offences should not be allowed to grow until they become scandalous; but when they do, every consideration demands that the matter should be investigated; 1 Corinthians 5:1.
2. People are often filled with pride when they have least occasion for it; 1 Corinthians 5:2. This is the case with individuals - who are often elated when their hearts are full of sin - when they are indulging in iniquity; and it is true of churches also, that they are most proud when the reins of discipline are relaxed, and their members are cold in the service of God, or when they are even living so as to bring scandal and disgrace on the gospel.
3. We see in what way the Christian church should proceed in administering discipline; 1 Corinthians 5:2. It should not be with harshness, bitterness, revenge, or persecution. It should be with mourning that there is necessity for it; with tenderness toward the offender; with deep grief that the cause of religion has been injured; and with such grief at the existence of the offence as to lead them to prompt and decided measures to remove it.
4. The exercise of discipline belongs to the church itself; 1 Corinthians 5:4. The church at Corinth was to be assembled with reference to this offence, and was to remove the offender. Even Paul, an apostle, and the spiritual father of the church, did not claim the authority to remove an offender except through the church. The church was to take up the case; to act on it; to pass the sentence; to excommunicate the man. There could scarcely be a stronger proof that the power of discipline is in the church, and is not to be exercised by any independent individual, or body of people, foreign to the church, or claiming an independent right of discipline. If “Paul” would not presume to exercise such discipline independently of the church, assuredly no minister, and no body of ministers have any such right now. Either by themselves in a collective congregational capacity, or through their representatives in a body of elders, or in a committee appointed by them; every church is itself originate and execute all the acts of Christian discipline over its members. (See the supplementary note on 1 Corinthians 5:4.)
5. We see the object of Christian discipline; 1 Corinthians 5:5. It is not revenge, hatred, malice, or the more exercise of power that is to lead to it; it is “the good of the individual” that is to be pursued and sought. While the church endeavors to remain pure, its aim and object should be mainly to correct and reform the offender, that his spirit may be saved. When discipline is undertaken from any other motive than this; when it is pursued from private pique or rivalship, or ambition, or the love of power; when it seeks to overthrow the influence or standing of another, it is wrong. The salvation of the offender and the glory of God should prompt to all the measures which should be taken in the case.
6. We see the danger of indulging in any sin - both in reference to ourselves as individuals, or to the church; 1 Corinthians 5:6. The smallest sin indulged in will spread pollution through the whole body, as a little leaven will effect the largest mass.
7. Christians should be pure; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8. Their Saviour - their paschal lamb, was pure; and he died that they might be pure. He gave himself that his people might be holy; and by all the purity of his character; by all the labors and self-denials of his life; by all his sufferings and groans in our behalf, are we called on to be holy.
8. We are here presented with directions in regard to our contact with those who are not members of the church; 1 Corinthians 5:10. There is nothing that is more difficult to be understood than the duty of Christians respecting such contact. Christians often feel that they are in danger from it, and they are disposed to withdraw almost entirely from the world. And they ask with deep solicitude often, what course they are to pursue? Where shall the line be drawn? How far shall they go? And where shall they deem the contact with the world unlawful or dangerous? - A few remarks here as rules may aid us in answering these questions.
(I) Christians are not wholly to withdraw from contact with the people of this world. This was the error of the monastic system, and this error has been the occasion of innumerable corruptions and abominations in the papal church - They are not to do this because:
- It is impossible. They must needs then, says Paul, go out of the world.
- Because religion is not to be regarded as dissocial, and gloomy, and unkind.
- Because they have many interests in common with those who are unconnected with the church, and they are not to abandon them. The interests of justice, and liberty, and science, and morals, and public improvements, and education, are all interests in which they share in common with others.
- Many of their best friends - a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, may be outside of the church, and religion does not sever those ties, but binds them more tenderly and closely.
- Christians are inevitably connected in commercial dealings with those who are not members of the church; and to cease to have any connection with them would be to destroy their own business, and to throw themselves out of employment and to break up society.
- It would prevent the possibility of doing much good either to the bodies or the souls of people. The poor, the needy, and the afflicted are, many of them, out of the church, and they have a claim on the friends of Christ, and on their active beneficence.
- It would break up and destroy the church altogether. Its numbers are to be increased and replenished from age to age by the efforts of Christians; and this demands that Christians should have some contact with the people of the world whom they hope to benefit.
- An effort to withdraw wholly from the world injures religion. It conveys the impression that religion is morose, severe, misanthropic; and all such impressions do immense injury to the cause of God and truth.
(II) The principles on which Christians should regulate their contact with the world, are these:
- They are not to be conformed to the world; they are not to do any thing that shall countenance the views, feelings, principles of the world “as such,” or as distinguished from religion. They are not to do anything that would show that they approve of the special fashions, amusements, opinions of the people of the world; or to leave the impression that they belong to the world.
- They are to do justice and righteousness to every man, whatever may be his rank, character, or views. They are not to do anything that will be calculated to give an unfavorable view of the religion which they profess to the people of the world.
- They are to discharge with fidelity all the duties of a father, husband, son, brother, friend, benefactor, or recipient of favors, toward those who are out of the church; or with whom they may be connected.
- They are to do good to all people - to the poor, the afflicted, the needy, the widow, the fatherless.
- They are to endeavor so to live and act - so to converse, and so to form their plans as to promote the salvation of all others. They are to seek their spiritual welfare; and to endeavor by example, and by conversation; by exhortation and by all the means in their power to bring them to the knowledge of Christ. For this purpose they are kept on the earth instead of being retrieved to heaven; and to this object they should devote their lives.
9. We see from this chapter who are not to be regarded as Christians, whatever may be their professions; 1 Corinthians 5:11. A person who is:
(1)A fornicator: or,
(3)An idolater; or,
(4)A “railer;” or,
(5)A drunkard; or,
(6)An “extortioner,” is not to be owned as a Christian brother.
Paul has placed the covetous man, and the railer, and extortioners, in most undesirable company. They are ranked with fornicators and drunkards. And yet how many such persons there are in the Christian church - and many, too, who would regard it as a special insult to be ranked with a drunkard or an adulterer. But in the eye of God both are alike unfit for his kingdom, and are to be regarded as having no claims to the character of Christians.
10. God will judge the world, 1 Corinthians 5:12-13. The world that is outside the congregation - the mass of people that make no profession of piety, must give an account to God. They are traveling to His bar; and judgment in regard to them is taken into God’s own hands, and He will pronounce their doom. It is a solemn thing “to be judged” by a holy God; and they who have no evidence that they are Christians, should tremble at the prospect of being soon arraigned at His bar.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter