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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Corinthians 5

Introduction

V.

An entirely new subject, to which the concluding words of the last chapter form a natural introduction, is now treated of. Intelligence has reached the Apostle, through the members of Chloe’s household (1 Corinthians 1:11), or through general report, that a member of the Corinthian Church has caused grave scandal by marrying his stepmother. This was aggravated by the fact that her husband, his father, was yet alive (2 Corinthians 7:12). Throughout the Roman empire such a union was regarded with abhorrence, and the toleration of it by the Christian community was calculated seriously to imperil the character of the early Church. Such a state of morals would be promptly seized upon by opponents, as an example of what must result from the “freedom of the gospel.” Seeing what enormous interests were thus at stake, and how the success of Christianity itself would be imperiled by such conduct, the Apostle addresses the Corinthians on this topic with an almost startling severity and vehemence.

Verse 1

(1) It is reported commonly.—Better, There is absolutely said to be fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles. All the best MSS. omit the word “named.” The force of the statement is that the fornication was of such a kind (with a stepmother) as even the Gentile world, immoral as it was, regarded with disgust, and how infinitely worse, then, was it to find such tolerated amongst Christians, whose moral standard ought to be much higher.

One should have his father’s wife.—The word “have” here used always implies in the New Testament actual marriage. It is, therefore, probable that she had been divorced from his father. The word for “his father’s wife” is the Hebrew form of expression for stepmother. St. Chrysostom suggests “he said not his ‘stepmother,’ but ‘his father’s wife,’ so as to strike much more severely;” but probably St. Paul used the Hebrew phrase instead of the ordinary Greek word for “stepmother,” as it was in this phraseology that such a union was forbidden by the law of Moses (Leviticus 18:8).

Verse 2

(2) And ye are puffed up.—Better, And are ye puffed up? &c. We have instances of similar sentences beginning with “and,” Luke 10:29. The Apostle cannot mean that they actually gloried in this act of sin, but that their temper of mind was of that kind which he has already described in the earlier chapters, puffing themselves up, one against another, in party rivalry, instead of being united in one common grief by this common cause, which would lead them as one man to remove from among them the person who had done this deed.

Verse 3

(3) For I verily.—The Apostle had fully made up his mind that this offender must be removed, and insists on the Corinthians doing it. So that the previous words imply they might as well have done it without waiting for his interference.

As absent in body.—Better, omit “as,” which is not in the best MSS.

Verses 4-5

(4, 5) In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . and my spirit.—These two verses contain the apostolic sentence on the offender, and may read thus: “I have already myself decided, in the name of our Lord Jesus, you being gathered together, and my spirit (as in 1 Corinthians 5:3), in the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one,” &c.

The opening words are probably the form used in all public acts of the Church as a body, and “the power of our Lord Jesus” refers to that continual presence which Christ had promised His Church, and particular power which He had delegated to the Apostles to punish (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18; Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20). In this sentence we recognise, not merely a formal excommunication from church-fellowship, but a more severe punishment, which could only be inflicted by apostolic authority and power. Satan was regarded as the origin of all physical evil—hence the afflicted woman, in Luke 13:16, is spoken of as one “whom Satan hath bound these eighteen years.” St. Paul’s own bodily suffering is a “messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7). The blindness of Elymas (Acts 13:8), and the death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5), are instances of the infliction of bodily-suffering by the Apostles. The deliverance of an offender unto Satan would therefore mean the expulsion of such a one from the Christian communion, and if that failed the actual infliction of some bodily suffering such as would destroy the flesh (not the body, but the flesh, the source and origin of the evil). Explicit directions for the excommunication by the Church of an offender, are given in 1 Corinthians 7:0, but there is no direct instruction to inflict the further punishment spoken of here. It is, indeed, probable that the lesser punishment had the desired effect (see Note on 2 Corinthians 2:6), and we subsequently find St. Paul pleading for the loving re-admission of the offender into all the privileges of Christian communion.

Verse 5

(5) That the spirit may be saved.—The object of this punishment was the destruction of the flesh, and the salvation of the man.

Verse 6

(6) Your glorying is not good.—There is possibly a reference here to some boasting regarding their spiritual state contained in the letter which had reached St. Paul from Corinth, and to which part of this Epistle is a reply. (See 1 Corinthians 7:1.) So long as there is that one bad person amongst you it gives a bad character to the whole community, as leaven, though it may not have pervaded the entire lump, still makes it not the unleavened bread which was necessary for the Paschal Feast. This Epistle being written shortly before Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:8), it was very likely some time about or soon after Easter, hence the leaven and the Paschal Feast naturally suggest themselves as illustrations. The Apostle passes on rapidly from the mention of the leaven to the whole scene of the feast. As with the most minute and scrupulous care the Jew would remove every atom of leaven when the Paschal lamb was to be eaten, so our Paschal Lamb having been slain, we must take care that no moral leaven remains in the sacred household of the Church while she keeps her perpetual feast of prayer and thanksgiving.

Verse 7

(7) Purge out therefore the old leaven.—It is not the offending man who is here spoken of, but it is the spirit in the Church which tolerated the evil, and which is to be purged out of their midst that they may become actually (a new lump) as they are by profession (unleavened).

Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.—Better, Christ our passover is slain; “for us” is not in the best MSS. The word translated “sacrifice” is generally used in the New Testament in the sense simply of “slaying” or “killing” (Matthew 22:4; John 10:10; Acts 10:1; Acts 10:13; Acts 11:7); and in the similar expressions regarding our Lord (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:12) the word is “wounded.”

Verse 8

(8) Old leaveni.e., in their old state generally; and then the Apostle proceeds to particularise. Sincerity and truth are to take the place of malice and wickedness in the continuous life of the Christian. St. Chrysostom well remarks: “He said ‘Let us keep the feast’ as pointing out that the whole of time is a festival unto Christians, because of the excellence of the good things which have been given.”

Verse 9

(9) I wrote unto you in an epistle.—These words have given rise to some controversy as to whether the Apostle here refers to some former Epistle addressed to the Corinthian Church, and which has not been preserved, or whether the reference is not to this Epistle itself. It has been suggested by some who adopt the latter view that these words may have been added as an interpolation after the completion of the Epistle, and be intended to intensify the remarks made by the Apostle on this subject in 1 Corinthians 5:6-46.5.8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-46.6.20. Such an interpretation, however, seems rather strained. It is more natural to suppose that the reference is to an Epistle written to the Corinthians, probably from Ephesus, after a visit paid to Corinth of which we have no record, for in 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1, we read of a third visit being contemplated, whereas only one previous one is recorded. (See also Introduction.) The condition of the Church which caused the Apostle that “heaviness,” which he connects with this visit in 2 Corinthians 2:1, would naturally have given rise to an Epistle containing the kind of direction here referred to.

Verse 10

(10) Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world.—This is a limitation and explanation of the command given not to associate with fornicators. It would have been almost impossible for the command to be literally obeyed without the Christian withdrawing altogether from the business of life, so the Apostle explains that it is the fair fame and purity of the Church which he is anxious to preserve. There are so many fornicators, and covetous, and idolaters in this world (i.e., the heathen world) that men must meet with them. But the Christian must tolerate no such sins among themselves; they must exclude from the social circle any brother who, bearing the name of Christ, indulges in the vices of the heathen world. The Church is to be the light of the world, and not the recipient of the world’s darkness.

Verse 11

(11) But now I have written unto you . . .—i.e., “But what I meant was” that you were not to associate with a Christian guilty of these things. It may seem strange that the word “idolater” should be included in this category; for in what sense could a “brother” be a worshipper of idols? It is probable that the word “idolater” has involved in it the idea, not merely of worshipping an image, but of the sensuality which accompanied various forms of heathen worship, and of which evidently some of the Corinthian brethren were partakers. (See Ephesians 5:5, and Colossians 3:5, where “idolatry” is identified with a vice kindred to lasciviousness.)

Verse 12

(12) For what have I to do . . .?—The Apostle in this verse at once explains the grounds of the limitation of his remarks to Christians, and seems to hint also, by the form of expression here, that the Corinthian Church ought to have been able to have understood his remarks as only applicable to themselves and not to the heathen.

Them also that are without.—The heathen. It was a common form of expression amongst the Jews to designate the Gentile world (Mark 4:11).

Do not ye judge them that are within?—As the Christian Church could sit in judgment only on its own members, so they should have concluded that only on them had St. Paul passed judgment.

Verse 13

(13) God judgeth.—In the best MSS. the verb is in the future tense: God will judge. He is the judge of the whole earth; we are to leave the heathen world in His hands.

Therefore put away . . .—Better omit “therefore.” The Apostle in this passage adopts the form of pronouncing sentence on great criminals, with which especially the Jewish converts would be familiar (Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 17:7; Deuteronomy 24:7).

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-corinthians-5.html. 1905.