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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 5

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

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Verse 1

1.It is generally reported that there is among you. Those contentions having originated, as has been observed, in presumption and excessive confidence, he most appropriately proceeds to make mention of their diseases, the knowledge of which should have the effect of humbling them. First of all, he shows them what enormous wickedness it is to allow one of their society to have an illicit connection with his mother-in-law. It is not certain, whether he had seduced her from his father as a prostitute, or whether he kept her under pretense of marriage. This, however, does not much affect, the subject in hand; for, as in the former case, there would have been an abominable and execrable whoredom, so the latter would have involved an incestuous connection, abhorrent to all propriety and natural decency. Now, that he may not seem to charge them on doubtful suspicions, he says, that the case which he brings forward is well known and in general circulation. For it is in this sense that I take the particle ὅλως (generally) as intimating that it was no vague rumor, but a matter well known, and published everywhere so as to cause great scandal.

From his saying that such a kind of whoredom was not named even among the Gentiles, some are of opinion, that he refers to the incest of Reuben, (Genesis 35:22,) who, in like manner, had an incestuous connection with his mother-in-law. They are accordingly of opinion, that Paul did not make mention of Israel, because a disgraceful instance of this kind had occurred among them, as if the annals of the Gentiles did not record many incestuous connections of that kind! This, then, is an idea that is quite foreign to Paul’s intention; for in making mention of the Gentiles rather than of the Jews, he designed rather to heighten the aggravation of the crime. “You,” says he, “permit, as though it were a lawful thing, an enormity, which would not be tolerated even among the Gentiles — nay more, has always been regarded by them with horror, and looked upon as a prodigy of crime.” When, therefore, he affirms that it was not named among the Gentiles, he does not mean by this, that no such thing had ever existed among them, or was not recorded in their annals, for even tragedies have been founded upon it; (270) but that it was held in detestation by the Gentiles, as a shameful and abominable monstrosity, for it is a beastly lust, which destroys even natural modesty. Should any one ask, “Is it just to reproach all with the sin of one individual?” I answer, that the Corinthians are accused, not because one of their number has sinned, but because, as is stated afterwards, they encouraged by connivance a crime that was deserving of the severest punishment.

(270) Calvin probably had in his eye, among other instances, the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles — Ed.

Verse 2

2.And ye are puffed upAre ye not ashamed,” says he, “to glory in what affords so much occasion for humiliation?” He had observed previously, that even the highest excellence gives no just ground of glorying, inasmuch as mankind have nothing of their own, and it is only through the grace of God that they possess any excellence. (1 Corinthians 4:7.) Now, however, he attacks them from another quarter. “You are,” says he, “covered with disgrace: what ground have you, then, for pride or haughtiness? For there is an amazing blindness in glorying in the midst of disgrace, in spite, as it were of angels and men.”

When he says, and have not rather mourned, he argues by way of contrast; for where there is grief there is no more glorying. It may be asked: “Why ought they to have mourned over another man’s sin?” I answer, for two reasons:first, in consequence of the communion that exists among the members of the Church, it was becoming that all should feel hurt at so deadly a fall on the part of one of their number; and secondly, when such an enormity is perpetrated in a particular Church, the perpetrator of it is all offender in such a way, that the whole society is in a manner polluted. For as God humbles the father of a family in the disgrace of his wife, or of his children, and a whole kindred in the disgrace of one of their number, so every Church ought to consider, that it contracts a stain of disgrace whenever any base crime is perpetrated in it. Nay, farther, we see how the anger of God was kindled against the whole nation of Israel on account of the sacrilege of one individual — Achan. (Joshua 7:1.) It was not as though God had been so cruel as to take vengeance on the innocent for another man’s crime; but, as in every instance in which anything of this nature has occurred among a people, there is already some token of his anger, so by correcting a community for the fault of one individual, he distinctly intimates that the whole body is infected and polluted with the contagion of the offense. Hence we readily infer, that it is the duty of every Church to mourn over the faults of individual members, as domestic calamities belonging to the entire body. And assuredly a pious and dutiful correction takes its rise in our being inflamed with holy zeal through displeasure at the offense; for otherwise severity will be felt to be bitter. (271)

That he might be taken away from among you. He now brings out more distinctly what he finds fault with in the Corinthians — remissness, inasmuch as they connived at such an abomination. Hence, too, it appears that Churches are furnished with this power (272) — that, whatever fault there is within them, they can correct or remove it by strictness of discipline, and that those are inexcusable that are not on the alert to have filth cleared away. For Paul here condemns the Corinthians. Why? Because they had been remiss in the punishment of one individual. Now he would have accused them unjustly, if they had not had this power. Hence the power of excommunication is established from this passage. On the other hand, as Churches have this mode of punishment put into their hands, those commit sin, (273) as Paul shows here, that do not make use of it, when it is required; for otherwise he would act unfairly to the Corinthians in charging them with this fault.

(271)Et ne profitera pas;” — “And will do no good.”

(272)Et authorite;” — “And authority.”

(273)Offensent Dieu;” — “Offend God.”

Verse 3

3.I truly, etc. As the Corinthians were wanting in their duty, having condemned their negligence, he now shows what ought to be done. In order that this stain may be removed, they must cast out this incestuous person from the society of the faithful. He prescribes, then, as a remedy for the disease, excommunication, which they had sinfully delayed so long. When he says, that he had, while absent in body, already determined this, he severely reproves in this way the remissness of the Corinthians, for there is here all implied contrast. It is as though he had said: “You who are present ought before this time to have applied a remedy to this disease, having it every day before your eyes, and yet you do nothing; (274) while for my part I cannot, even though absent, endure it.” Lest any one should allege that he acted rashly in forming a judgment when at so great a distance, he declares himself to be present in spirit, meaning by this, that the line of duty was as plain to him as if he were present, and saw the thing with his eyes. Now it is of importance to observe what he teaches as to the mode of excommunication.

(274)Vous dissimulez;” — “You connive.”

Verse 4

4.When you are gathered together and my spirit — that is, when ye are gathered together with me, but in spirit, for they could not meet together as to bodily presence. He declares, however, that it would be all one as though he were personally present. It is to be carefully observed, that Paul, though an Apostle, does not himself, as an individual, excommunicate according to his own pleasure, but consults with the Church, that the matter may be transacted by common authority. He, it is true, takes the lead, and shows the way, but, in taking others as his associates, he intimates with sufficient plainness, that this authority does not belong to any one individual. As, however, a multitude never accomplishes anything with moderation or seriousness, if not governed by counsel, there was appointed in the ancient Church a Presbytery, (275) that is, an assembly of elders, who, by the consent of all, had the power of first judging in the case. From them the matter was brought before the people, but it was as a thing already judged of. (276) Whatever the matter may be, it is quite contrary to the appointment of Christ and his Apostles — to the order of the Church, and even to equity itself, that this right should be put into the hands of any one man, of excommunicating at his pleasure any that he may choose. Let us take notice, then, that in excommunicating this limitation be observed — that this part of discipline be exercised by the common counsel of the elders, and with the consent of the people, and that this is a remedy in opposition to tyranny. For nothing is more at variance with the discipline of Christ than tyranny, for which you open a wide door, if you give one man the entire power.

In the name of our Lord For it is not enough that we assemble, if it be not in the name of Christ; for even the wicked assemble together for impious and nefarious conspiracies. Now in order that an assembly may be held in Christ’s name, two things are requisite: first, that we begin by calling upon his name; and secondly, that nothing is attempted but in conformity with his word. Then only do men make an auspicious commencement of anything that they take in hand to do, when they with their heart call upon the Lord that they may be governed by his Spirit, and that their plans may, by his grace, be directed to a happy issue; and farther, when they ask at his mouth, as the Prophet speaks, (Isaiah 30:2,) that is to say, when, after consulting his oracles, they surrender themselves and all their designs to his will in unreserved obedience. If this is becoming even in the least of our actions, how much less ought it to be omitted in important and serious matters, and least of all, when we have to do with God’s business rather than our own? For example, excommunication is an ordinance of God, and not of men; on any occasion, therefore, on which we are to make use of it, where shall we begin if not with God. (277) In short, when Paul exhorts the Corinthians to assemble in the name of Christ, he does not simply require them to make use of Christ’s name, or to confess him with the mouth, (for the wicked themselves can do that,) but to seek him truly and with the heart, and farther, he intimates by this the seriousness and importance of the action.

He adds, with the power of our Lord, for if the promise is true,

As often as two or three are gathered together in my name,
I am in the midst of them, (Matthew 18:20,)

it follows, that whatever is done in such an assembly is a work of Christ. Hence we infer, of what importance excommunication, rightly administered, is in the sight of God, inasmuch as it rests upon the power of God. For that saying, too, must be accomplished,

Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. (Matthew 18:18.)

As, however, this statement ought to fill despisers (278) with no ordinary alarm, so faithful pastors, as well as the Churches generally, are by this admonished in what a devout spirit (279) they should go to work in a matter of such importance. For it is certain that the power of Christ is not tied to the inclination or opinions of mankind, but is associated with his eternal truth.

(275)Qu’on appeloit le Presbytere;” — “What they called a Presbytery.”

(276)Puis apres la chose estoit renuoyee au peuple par eux, avec un advertissement touteffois de ce qui leur en sembloit;” — “The matter was afterwards brought by them before the people, with an intimation, however, of their views respecting it.” See Calvin’s Institutes, volume 3, pp. 233-5. — Ed.

(277)Le nom de Dieu;” — “The name of God.”

(278)Contempteurs de Dieu;” — “Despisers of God.”

(279)En quelle crainte et obeissance : — “With what fear and obedience.”

Verse 5

5.To deliver to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. As the Apostles had been furnished with this power among others, that they could deliver over to Satan wicked and obstinate persons, and made use of him as a scourge to correct them, Chrysostom, and those that follow him, view these words of Paul as referring to a chastisement of that kind, agreeably to the exposition that is usually given of another passage, in reference to Alexander and Hymeneus, (Titus 1:20.) To deliver over to Satan, they think, means nothing but the infliction of a severe punishment upon the body. But when I examine the whole context more narrowly, and at the same time compare it with what is stated in 2 Corinthians 2:5, I give up that interpretation, as forced and at variance with Paul’s meaning, and understand it simply of excommunication. For delivering over to Satan is an appropriate expression for denoting excommunication; for as Christ reigns in the Church, so Satan reigns out of the Church, as Augustine, too, has remarked, (280) in his sixty-eighth sermon on the words of the Apostle, where he explains this passage. (281) As, then, we are received into the communion of the Church, and remain in it on this condition, that we are under the protection and guardianship of Christ, I say, that he who is cast out of the Church is in a manner delivered over to the power of Satan, for he becomes an alien, and is cast out of Christ’s kingdom.

The clause that follows, for the destruction of the flesh, is made use of for the purpose of softening; for Paul’s meaning is not that the person who is chastised is given over to Satan to be utterly ruined, or so as to be given up to the devil in perpetual bondage, but that it is a temporary condemnation, and not only so, but of such a nature as will be salutary. For as the salvation equally with the condemnation of the spirit is eternal, he takes the condemnation of the flesh as meaning temporal condemnation. “We will condemn him in this world for a time, that the Lord may preserve him in his kingdom.” This furnishes an answer to the objection, by which some endeavor to set aside this exposition, for as the sentence of excommunication is directed rather against the soul than against the outward man, they inquire how it can be called the destruction of the flesh My answer, then, is, (as I have already in part stated,) that the destruction of the flesh is opposed to the salvation of the spirit, simply because the former is temporal and the latter is eternal. In this sense the Apostle in Hebrews 5:7, uses the expression the days of Christs flesh, to mean the course of his mortal life. Now the Church in chastising offenders with severity, spares them not in this world, in order that God may spare them. (282) Should any one wish to have anything farther in reference to the rite of excommunication, its causes, necessity, purposes, and limitation, let him consult my Institutes. (283)

(280)L’a tres-bien note;” — “Has very well remarked.”

(281) “The reader will find the same sentiment quoted in the Institutes, volume 3. — Ed.

(282)Mais c’est afin que Dieu leur espargne;” — “But it is in order that God may spare them.”

(283) See Institutes, volume 3.

Verse 6

6.Your glorying is not good. He condemns their glorying, not simply because they extolled themselves beyond what is lawful for man, but because they delighted themselves in their faults. He had previously stripped mankind of all glory; for he had shown that, as they have nothing of their own, whatever excellence they may have, they owe the entire praise of it to God alone. (1 Corinthians 4:7.) What he treats of here, however, is not that, God is defrauded of his right, when mortals arrogate to themselves the praise of their excellences, but that the Corinthians are guilty of arrant folly in extolling themselves without any just ground. For they proudly gloried as if everything had been in a golden style among them, while in the meantime there was so much among them that was wicked and disgraceful.

Know ye not That they might not think that it was a matter of little or no importance that they gave encouragement to so great an evil, he shows the destructive tendency of indulgence and dissimulation in such a case. He makes use of a proverbial saying, by which he intimates that a whole multitude is infected by the contagion of a single individual. For this proverb has in this passage (286) the same meaning as in those expressions of Juvenal: “A whole herd of swine falls down in the fields through disease in one of their number, and one discolored grape infects another.” (287) I have said in this passage, because Paul, as we shall see, makes use of it elsewhere (Galatians 5:9) in another sense.

(286)Ha en ce passage un mesme sens comme ce qu’on dit communeement, Qu’ilne faut qu’vne brebis rongneuse pour gaster tout le troupeau;” — “Has in this passage the same meaning as what is commonly said: — There needs but one diseased sheep to infect a whole flock.”


grex totus in agris
Unius scabie cadit, et porrigine porci:
Uvaque conspecta livorem ducit ab uva
Juv. II. 79-81.

Verse 7

7.Purge out therefore Having borrowed a similitude from leaven, he pursues it farther, though he makes a transition from a particular point to a general doctrine. For he is no longer speaking of the case of incest, but exhorts them generally to purity of life, on the ground that we cannot remain in Christ if we are not cleansed. He is accustomed to do this not infrequently. When he has made a particular statement, he takes occasion to pass on to general exhortations. He had made mention of leaven on another account, as we have seen. As this same metaphor suited the general doctrine which he now subjoins, he extends it farther.

Our Passover (288) Before coming to the subject-matter, I shall say a few words in reference to the words. Old leaven receives that name on the same principle as the old man, (Romans 6:6,) for the corruption of nature takes the precedence in us, previously to our being renewed in Christ. That, therefore, is said to be old which we bring with us from the womb, and must perish when we are renewed by the grace of the Spirit. (289) The verb ἐτύθη, which occurs between the name Christ and the term which denotes a sacrifice, (290) may refer to either. I have taken it as referring to the sacrifice, though this is of no great importance, as the meaning is not affected. The verb ἑορτάζωμεν, which Erasmus rendered “Let us celebrate the feast,” signifies also to partake of the solemn feast which was observed after the sacrifice had been offered up. This interpretation appeared to suit better with the passage before us. I have, accordingly, followed the Vulgate in preference to Erasmus, as this rendering is more in accordance with the mystery of which Paul treats.

We come now to the subject-matter. Paul, having it in view to exhort the Corinthians to holiness, shows that what was of old figuratively represented in the passover, ought to be at this day accomplished in us, and explains the correspondence which exists between the figure and the reality. In the first place, as the passover consisted of two parts — a sacrifice and a sacred feast — he makes mention of both. For although some do not reckon the paschal lamb to have been a sacrifice, yet reason shows that it was properly a sacrifice, for in that rite the people were reconciled to God by the sprinkling of blood. Now there is no reconciliation without a sacrifice; and, besides, the Apostle now expressly confirms if, for he makes use of the word θύεσθαι, which is applicable to sacrifices,and in other respects, too, the context would not correspond. The lamb, then, was sacrificed yearly; then followed a feast, the celebration of which lasted for seven successive days. Christ, says Paul, is our Passover (291) He was sacrificed once, and on this condition, that the efficacy of that one oblation should be everlasting. What remains now is, that we eat, (292) not once a-year, but continually.

(288) “Would any one,” asks Hervey, (in his Theroa and Aspasio, volume 1,) “venture to say — ‘Paul our passover is sacrificed for us?’ Yet this, I think, may be, or rather is in effect said, by the account which some persons give of Christ’s satisfaction. The very thought of such a blasphemous absurdity is too painful and offensive for the serious Christian to dwell upon. I would therefore direct his attention to a more pleasing object. Let him observe the exquisite skill which here and everywhere conducts the zeal of our inspired writer. The odes of Pindar are celebrated for their fine transitions, which, though bold and surprising, are perfectly natural. We have in this place,” (1 Corinthians 5:7) “a very masterly stroke of the same beautiful kind. The Apostle, speaking of the incestuous criminal, passes, by a most artful digression, to his daring topic — a crucified Savior. Who would have expected it on such an occasion? Yet, when thus admitted, who does not see and admire both the propriety of the subject and the delicacy of its introduction?” — Ed.

(289) Our Author gives a similar definition of the expression the old man, when commenting on Romans 6:6. “Totam antem naturam significat, quam afterlinus ex utero, quae adeo regni Dei capax non est, ut interire eatenus oporteat, quatenus in veram vitam instauramur;” — “It denotes the whole of that nature which we bring with us from the womb, and is so far from being fit for the kingdom of God, that it must perish, in so far as we are renewed to a true life.” — Ed.

(290)Assauoir, Pasque ;” — “Namely, passover. ”

(291) Charnock makes the following pointed observations on the form of expression here employed: — “Christ the Passoveri e the paschal lamb. The lamb was called the passover. The sign for the thing signified by it. 2 Chronicles 35:11. And they killed the passover, i e the lamb; for the passover was properly the angel’s passing over Israel, when he was sent as an executioner of God’s wrath upon the Egyptians So Matthew 26:17. Where shall we prepare for thee to eat the passover? i e the paschal lamb. Our passover, i e our paschal lamb. He is called God’s lamb, John 1:29 Gods in regard of the author, ours in regard of the end: Gods lamb in regard of designation, ours in regard of acceptation Our passover, i e not only of the Jews, but of the Gentiles. That was restrained to the Israelitish nation, this extends, in the offers of it, to all, and belongs to all that are under the new administration of the covenant of grace. For us, (ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν,) i e not only for our good, but in our stead, to free us from eternal death — to purchase for us eternal life.” — Charnocks Works, volume 2. — Ed

(292)I1 ne reste plus sinon que nous en soyons nourris;” — “Nothing remains, but that we be nourished by it.”

Verse 8

8.Now, in the solemnity of this sacred feast we must abstain from leaven, as God commanded the fathers to abstain. But from what leaven? As the outward passover was to them a figure of the true passover, so its appendages were figures of the reality which we at this day possess. If, therefore, we would wish to feed on Christ’s flesh and blood, let us bring to this feast sincerity and truth Let these be our loaves of unleavened bread Away with allmalice and wickedness, for it is unlawful to mix up leaven with the passover In fine, he declares that we shall be members of Christ only when we shall have renounced malice and deceit. In the meantime we must carefully observe this passage, as showing that the ancient passover was not merely μνημοσυνον, (293) a memorial of a past benefit, but also a sacrament, representing Christ who was to come, from whom we have this privilege, that we pass from death to life. Otherwise, it would not hold good, that in Christ is the body of the legal shadows. (Colossians 2:17.) This passage will also be of service for setting aside the sacrilege of the Papal mass. For Paul does not teach that Christ is offered daily, but that the sacrifice having been offered up once for all, it remains that the spiritual feast be celebrated during our whole life.

(293) Our author most probably alludes to Exodus 12:14, “And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, ” etc. The term used in the Septuagint is μνημοσυνον, answering to the Hebrew term זכרון. — Ed

Verse 9

9.I wrote to you in an epistle. The epistle of which he speaks is not at this day extant. Nor is there any doubt that many others are lost. It is enough, however, that those have been preserved to us which the Lord foresaw would suffice. But this passage, in consequence of its obscurity, has been twisted to a variety of interpretations, which I do not think it necessary for me to take up time in setting aside, but will simply bring forward what appears to me to be its true meaning. He reminds the Corinthians of what he had already enjoined upon them — that they should refrain from intercourse with the wicked. For the word rendered to keep company with, means to be on terms of familiarity with any one, and to be in habits of close intimacy with him. (294) Now, his reminding them of this tends to expose their remissness, inasmuch as they had been admonished, and yet had remained inactive.

He adds an exception, that they may the better understand that this refers particularly to those that belong to the Church, as they did not require to be admonished (295) to avoid the society of the world. In short, then, he prohibits the Corinthians from holding intercourse with those who, while professing to be believers, do, nevertheless, live wickedly and to the dishonor of God. “Let all that wish to be reckoned brethren, either live holily and becomingly, or be excommunicated from the society of the pious, and let all the good refrain from intercourse and familiarity with them. It were superfluous to speak as to the openly wicked, for you ought of your own accord to shun them, without any admonition from me.” This exception, however, increases the criminality of remissness, inasmuch as they cherished in the bosom of the Church an openly wicked person; for it is more disgraceful to neglect those of your own household than to neglect strangers.

(294) The original word, συναναμίγνυσθαι, literally means to be mixed up together with It is the rendering of the Septuagint for the Hebrew word יתבולל, in Hosea 7:8 Ephraim hath mixed himself among the people. — Ed

(295)Ce seroit vne chose superflue de les admonester,” etc.; — “It were a superfluous thing to admonish them,” etc.

Verse 10

10.Since you would have required. It is as to this clause especially that interpreters are not agreed. For some say, “You must sooner quit Greece.” Ambrose, on the other hand, says, “You must rather die.” Erasmus turns it into the optative, as if Paul said, “Would that it were allowable for you to leave the world altogether; (296) but as you cannot do this, you must at least quit the society of those who falsely assume the name of Christians, and in the meantime exhibit in their lives the worst example.” Chrysostom’s exposition has more appearance of truth. According to him, the meaning is this: “When I command you to shun fornicators, I do not mean all such; otherwise you would require to go in quest of another world; for we must live among thorns so long as we sojourn on earth. This only do I require, that you do not keep company with fornicators, who wish to be regarded as brethren, lest you should seem by your sufferance to approve of their wickedness.” Thus the term world here, must be taken to mean the present life, as in John 17:15

I pray not, Father, that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest deliver them from the evil.

Against this exposition a question might be proposed by way of objection: “As Paul said this at a time when Christians were as yet mingled with heathens, and dispersed among them, what ought to be done now, when all have given themselves to Christ in name? For even in the present day we must go out of the world, if we would avoid the society of the wicked; and there are none that are strangers, when all take upon themselves Christ’s name, and are consecrated to him by baptism.” Should any one feel inclined to follow Chrysostom, he will find no difficulty in replying, to this effect: that Paul here took for granted what was true — that, where there is the power of excommunication, there is an easy remedy for effecting a separation between the good and the bad, if Churches do their duty. As to strangers, the Christians at Corinth had no jurisdiction, and they could not restrain their dissolute manner of life. Hence they must of necessity have quitted the world, if they wished to avoid the society of the wicked, whose vices they could not cure.

For my own part, as I do not willingly adopt interpretations which cannot be made to suit the words, otherwise than by twisting the words so as to suit them, I prefer one that is different from all these, taking the word rendered to go out as meaning to be separated, and the term world as meaning the pollutions of the world “What need have you of an injunction as to the children of this world, (Luke 16:8,) for having once for all renounced the world, it becomes you to stand aloof from their society; for the whole world lieth in the wicked one. ” (297) (1 John 5:19.) If any one is not satisfied with this interpretation, here is still another that is probable: “I do not write to you in general terms, that you should shun the society of the fornicators of this world, though that you ought to do, without any admonition from me.” I prefer, however, the former; and I am not the first contriver of it, but, while it has been brought forward previously by others, I have adapted it more fully, if I mistake not, to Paul’s thread of discourse. There is, then, (298) a sort of intentional omission, when he says that he makes no mention of those that are without, inasmuch as the Corinthians ought to be already separated from them, that they may know that even at home (299) they required to maintain this discipline of avoiding the wicked.

(296) “The rendering of Erasmus is as follows: “Alioqui utinam videlicet e mundo exissetis;” — “Otherwise I would, truly, that you had departed out of the world.”

(297)Car tout le monde est mis a mal;” — “For the whole world is addicted to evil.”

(298)En ceste sentence;” — “In this sentence.”

(299)C’est a dire, entr’eux;” — “That is to say, among themselves.”

Verse 11

11.If he who is called a brother In the Greek there is a participle (300) without a verb. (301) Those that view this as referring to what follows, bring out here a forced meaning, and at variance with Paul’s intention. I confess, indeed, that that is a just sentiment, (302) and worthy of being particularly noticed — that no one can be punished by the decision of the Church, but one whose sin has become matter of notoriety; but these words of Paul cannot be made to bear that meaning. What he means, then, is this: “If any one is reckoned a brother among you, and at the same time leads a wicked life, and such as is unbecoming a Christian, keep aloof from his society.” In short, being called a brother, means here a false profession, which has no corresponding reality. Farther, he does not make a complete enumeration of crimes, but merely mentions five or six by way of example, and then afterwards, under the expression such an one, he sums up the whole; and he does not mention any but what fall under the knowledge of men. For inward impiety, and anything that is secret, does not fall within the judgment of the Church.

It is uncertain, however, what he means by an idolater For how can he be devoted to idolatry who has made a profession of Christ? Some are of opinion that there were among the Corinthians at that time some who received Christ but in half, and in the mean time were involved, nevertheless, in corrupt superstition, as the Israelites of old, and afterwards the Samaritans maintained a kind of worship of God, but at the same time polluted it with wicked superstitions. For my part, I rather understand it of those who, while they held idols in contempt, gave, nevertheless, a pretended homage to the idols, with the view of gratifying the wicked. Paul declares that such persons ought not to be tolerated in the society of Christians; and not without good reason, inasmuch as they made so little account of trampling God’s glory under foot. We must, however, observe the circumstances of the case — that, while they had a Church there, in which they might worship God in purity, and have the lawful use of the sacraments, they came into the Church in such a way as not to renounce the profane fellowship of the wicked. I make this observation, in order that no one may think that we ought to employ equally severe measures against those who, while at this day dispersed under the tyranny of the Pope, pollute themselves with many corrupt rites. These indeed, I maintain, sin generally in this respect, and they ought, I acknowledge, to be sharply dealt with, and diligently urged, (303) that they may learn at length to consecrate themselves wholly to Christ; but I dare not go so far as to reckon them worthy of excommunication, for their case is different. (304)

With such an one not even to take food. In the first place, we must ascertain whether he addresses here the whole Church, or merely individuals. I answer, that this is said, indeed, to individuals, but, at the same time, it is connected with their discipline in common; for the power of excommunicating is not allowed to any individual member, but to the entire body. When, therefore, the Church has excommunicated any one, no believer ought to receive him into terms of intimacy with him; otherwise the authority of the Church would be brought into contempt, if each individual were at liberty to admit to his table those who have been excluded from the table of the Lord. By partaking of food here, is meant either living together, or familiar association in meals. For if, on going into an inn, I see one who has been excommunicated sitting at table, there is nothing to hinder me from dining with him; for I have not authority to exclude him. What Paul means is, that, in so far as it is in our power, we are to shun the society of those whom the Church has cut off from her communion.

The Roman antichrist, not content with this severity, has burst forth into interdicts, prohibiting any one from helping one that has been excommunicated to food, or fuel, or drink, or any other of the supports of life. (305) Now, that is not strictness of discipline, but tyrannical and barbarous cruelty, that is altogether at variance with Paul’s intention. For he means not that he should be counted as an enemy, but as a brother, (2 Thessalonians 3:15;) for in putting this public mark of disgrace upon him, the intention is, that he may be filled with shame, and brought to repentance. And with this dreadful cruelty, if God is pleased to permit, do they rage even against the innocent. (306) Now, granting that there are sometimes those who are not undeserving of this punishment, I affirm, on the other hand, that this kind of interdict (307) is altogether unsuitable to an ecclesiastical court.

(300)Au texte Grec il y a de mot a mot, Si aucun frere nomme,” etc.; — “In the Greek text it literally, If any one, called a brother,” etc.

(301) It is so according to the common reading, which is as follows: — ἐάν τις, ἀδελφὸς ὀνομαζόμενος, ἣ πόρνος, ἣ πλεονέκτης, κ. τ. λ..” If any one, called a brother — either a fornicator, or covetous,” etc.; but, as stated by Bloomfield, “seven MSS., and many versions, and Fathers, the Ed. Princ., and those of Beza, Schmid., and Beng., have , (before πόρνος,) which is approved by Wets., and Matth., and edited by Griesb., Knapp., Vat., and Tittm.;” and, in Bloomfield’s opinion, “rightly.” — Ed

(302)Qu’ils en tirent;” — “Which they draw from it.”

(303)Il les faut redarguer auec seuerite, et les soliciter continuellement par admonitions;” — “They ought to be reproved with severity, and plied perseveringly with admonitions.”

(304)Car leur condition n’est pas telle comme estoit celle des Corinthiens;” — “For their condition is not like that of the Corinthians.”

(305)Est venu furieusement jusques aux defenses et menaces, Que nul ne fust si hardi de donner a boire ou a manger, ou de feu a celuy qui seroit excommunier, ou de luy aider aucunement des choses necessaires a la vie presente;” — “Has in his fury gone so far as to issue forth prohibitions and threatenings — ‘Let no one be so daring as to give meat, or drink, or fuel, to the man who has been excommunicated, or to help him in any way with the things necessary for the present life.’”

(306)Et ces bourreaux encore exercent ceste cruaute extreme, mesme contre les innocens;” — “And these hangmen do, besides, exercise this extreme cruelty even against the innocent.”

(307)Telle facon d’excommunier;” — “Such a method of excommunication.”

Verse 12

12.For what have I to do to judge them that are without ? There is nothing to hinder us from judging these also — nay more, even devils themselves are not exempt from the judgment of the word which is committed to us. But Paul is speaking here of the jurisdiction that belongs peculiarly to the Church. “The Lord has furnished us with this power, that we may exercise it upon those who belong to his household. For this chastisement is a part of discipline which is confined to the Church, and does not extend to strangers. We do not therefore pronounce upon them their condemnation, because the Lord has not subjected them to our cognizance and jurisdiction, in so far as that chastisement and censure are concerned. We are, therefore, constrained to leave them to the judgment of God.” It is in this sense that Paul says, that God will judge them, because he allows them to wander about (308) unbridled like wild beasts, because there is no one that can restrain their wantonness.

(308)Et courir a trauers champs;” — “And run across the fields.”

Verse 13

13.Put away that wicked person. This is commonly explained as referring to the person who was guilty of an illicit connection with his mother-in-law. For as to those who understand the expression to mean — “Put away evil or wickedness, ” they are refuted by the Greek words made use of by Paul, the article (τὸν) being in the masculine gender, But what if you should view it as referring to the devil, who, undoubtedly in the person of a wicked and unprincipled man, (309) is encouraged to establish his throne among us? For ὁ πονηρος (the wicked one) taken simply and without any addition, denotes the prince of all crimes, (310) rather than some wicked man. If this meaning is approved of, Paul shows how important it is (311) not to tolerate wicked persons, as by this means Satan is expelled from his kingdom which he keeps up among us, when indulgence is given to the wicked. (312) If any one, however, prefers to understand it as referring to a man, I do not oppose it. Chrysostom compares the rigor of the law with the mildness of the gospel, inasmuch as Paul was satisfied with excommunication in case of an offense for which the law required the punishment of death, but for this there is no just ground. For Paul is not here addressing judges that are armed with the sword, but an unarmed multitude (313) that was allowed merely to make use of brotherly correction.

(309)Quand on supporte un homme meschant et mal-vivant;” — “When a wicked and unprincipled man is allowed to continue.” — Ed.

(310) It is well observed by Witsius in his Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer, (Biblical Cabinet, No. 24,) that the appellation of the evil One is properly applied to Satan, “because he does nothing but what is evil — because all the evil that exists in the universe originated with him — because in doing evil, and in persuading others to do evil, he finds his only delight, the wicked and malignant solace of his desperate misery.” — Ed.

(311)Combien il est utile et necessaire;” — “How useful it is and necessary.”

(312)Quand il y a vne license de malfaire, et les meschans sont soufferts;” — “When there is a license to do evil, and the wicked are tolerated.”

(313)Desnuee de puissance externe;” — “Destitute of external power.”

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/1-corinthians-5.html. 1840-57.
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