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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 5

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verse 1



To speak generally, fornication is heard of among you, and a kind of fornication which is not even among the gentiles, for one to have his father’s wife. And you are puffed up; and you did not rather mourn in order that he who has done this work might be taken out of your midst. For I indeed, absent in the body but present in the spirit, have already pronounced judgment as though present, touching him who in this way has carried out this thing, in the name of our Lord Jesus, you having been gathered together and my spirit, with the power of the Lord Jesus, to give up such a one to Satan, for destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Not good is your ground of exultation. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens all the lump? Cleanse out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump; according as you are unleavened. For indeed our passover has been sacrificed, even Christ. So then let us keep feast, not with old leaven, nor with leaven of wickedness and maliciousness, but with unleavened cakes of sincerity and truth.

Besides the party-spirit which had permeated the whole church at Corinth, there were individual cases of special misconduct, in which all the church-members were more or less involved, and with which Paul must deal before he goes on to the matter mentioned in their letter to him. To the worst of these cases, the severe words of 1 Corinthians 4:21, “with a rod,” are a convenient stepping stone.

1 Corinthians 5:1. Fornication: literally “intercourse with harlots,” but often including, as being practically the same, all improper intercourse of the sexes. Of this sin, Paul first speaks generally; then of a specially aggravated kind of fornication. With the “many” other cases (2 Corinthians 12:21 to 2 Corinthians 13:2) Paul will himself deal when he comes. But “to so great a degree, not found even at Corinth among the heathen, has fornication risen among you that some one has etc.

His father’s wife; or stepmother, recalls the same words in Leviticus 18:8; Deuteronomy 22:30. That he had actually married her, seems to be implied in “has,” denoting present possession, compared with “has done” and “has carried out,” 1 Corinthians 5:2-3, denoting a past act. Cp. Mark 6:17 f; Matthew 14:4; Matthew 22:28; 1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:29; 1 Maccabees 11:9. This would explain the confidence with which Paul assumes the man’s guilt, and at once pronounces sentence. That he says nothing about the woman, suggests that she was not a Christian. From 2 Corinthians 7:12 we infer that the woman had a living and injured husband. He was probably the offender’s own father: for if she had married again she would hardly be called here his father’s wife. If so, the man was guilty, not only of incest, but of the worst kind of adultery. That this matter precedes 1 Corinthians 7:1 and is introduced with suddenness and surprise, implies that of this gross scandal nothing was said in the letter to Paul.

Verse 2

1 Corinthians 5:2. Turns suddenly from the one notorious sinner to the church generally. By tolerating him, all exposed themselves to blame.

Are puffed up: or, are men who have been puffed up: 1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 4:19. Their inflated self-esteem not only gave rise to the church-parties but made the whole church oblivious of the disgrace which this man had cast upon it.

Rather mourned: instead of being puffed up. For his sin was a calamity to all.

Done this work: married the woman he now “has.”

In order that etc. They ought in sorrow to have resolved that the guilty man should be driven from their ranks. This censure proves that a church ought to separate from itself those indisputably guilty of gross immorality.

Verses 3-5

1 Corinthians 5:3-5. Notice the contrast: “some one,” 1 Corinthians 5:1; “you,” 1 Corinthians 5:2; I. Paul supports the blame implied in 1 Corinthians 5:2, by saying what he has already resolved to do in the matter.

In the spirit: Paul’s own spirit, implied in the contrast with his own body. So 1 Corinthians 7:34, Romans 8:10. Though absent in the body, Paul was present in the spirit, not only (Colossians 2:5) observing them, but able to put forth his power in their midst by inflicting punishment. His bodily distance made his spiritual presence more wonderful.

Have already resolved: or, judged, i.e. pronounced sentence in his mind: see 1 Corinthians 2:2. He did this remembering that he was virtually present, i.e. able from a distance to put forth his power among them.

In this way; refers to the aggravating manner, unknown to us, of the crime.

In the name etc.: 2 Thessalonians 3:6 : as the servant, and with the authority, of Jesus. Close parallels in Acts 3:6; Acts 3:16; Acts 4:10; Acts 4:12. Cp. 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 2:10; Colossians 3:17. Paul had already resolved to hand over, as the representative of Christ, this man to Satan; and he will do so in the presence of the assembled church, himself present in spirit and using the power which (2 Corinthians 13:10) Christ has entrusted to him.

And my spirit: emphatic repetition of present in spirit. This assembly of the church and of Paul in spirit will also be accompanied by the power of the Lord Jesus, manifested in punishing the offender.

To give up etc.: see note, Romans 1:24 : the sentence then to be executed.

To Satan: 1 Timothy 1:20; Job 2:6 : surrender to the power of Satan for the infliction of some kind of evil.

For destruction etc., immediate purpose; that the spirit etc., ultimate purpose, of the surrender. It is, as in 1 Corinthians 5:3-4, the man’s own spirit.

May be saved in the etc.: admitted, by the verdict of that Day, (1 Corinthians 1:8; cp. 2 Timothy 1:18,) into eternal life. Both spirit and body will be saved. But the spirit only is mentioned, as the nobler and essential part, and in contrast to the flesh now to be given up to destruction.

This surrender to the power of Satan evidently includes, but means much more than, expulsion (1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 5:13) from the church. A man already by his sin a captive (2 Timothy 2:26) of the Devil, is to be given up to his power in some further sense. This can only refer, as in Job 2:6, (cp. Luke 13:16,) to the infliction of bodily injury by the agency of Satan and by the permission and design of God. Cp. Acts 5:5; Acts 13:11. The grossness of the present offence called for alike terrible penalty. Such would manifest the power of the Lord Jesus and the apostolic authority of Paul who was present in his spirit. It was not immediate death: for it was designed (cp. 1 Timothy 1:20) to lead the sufferer, by repentance, to final salvation. That it was a work of Satan, increases its terror and marks its connection with the man’s sin. All sin is self-surrender (Ephesians 4:19) to the power of evil: and the surrender reaches further than the sinner thinks.

Destruction of the flesh, which is given as the immediate purpose of this bodily infliction, might denote destruction of the power of bodily appetites, to which this man was evidently a slave. Cp. Galatians 5:24. For these have their source in the peculiar material of the body, the flesh, which “body of the flesh” must therefore (Colossians 2:11) be “put off.” If so, the man’s body was to be smitten, (for, no other surrender to Satan can we conceive to be beneficial,) that it might cease to be a chain binding him to sin. Or, by naming the purpose, these words may practically specify the extent, of the surrender to Satan, viz. to be smitten with a fatal disease, which, by leading him to repentance, may save his soul. And this is the simplest and most likely meaning of the words used. The word flesh, instead of “body,” is no objection to it. For the body of believers will live for ever. Only their flesh, i.e. the present material of their body, (cp. 1 Corinthians 15:50,) will be destroyed. Nor is this view disproved by Paul’s subsequent forgiveness, 2 Corinthians 2:6 ff: for this may have been, and doubtless was, as miraculous as the punishment, a miraculous deliverance from otherwise certain death. This miraculous punishment for gross immorality cannot in any way justify corporal punishment inflicted by man for doctrinal error.

It is remarkable that in this matter of discipline, and throughout these two Epistles so full of church matters, Paul never refers to the elders or bishops. That such existed, is made almost certain by Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:2; 1 Timothy 3:1 ff; 1 Timothy 5:1; 1 Timothy 5:17 ff; Titus 1:5. The omission arose perhaps from this, that in a church where all were recent converts the distinction between officers and private members was necessarily less conspicuous than in a church of longer standing. But, however explained, it is a sure mark of the very early age, and therefore of the genuineness, of these Epistles.

Verses 6-8

1 Corinthians 5:6-8. After dealing with the notorious offender, Paul turns again to the whole church, with words similar to 1 Corinthians 5:2. Your supposed wisdom is no good ground-of-exultation.

A little leaven etc.: found word for word in Galatians 5:9. This suggests that it was a kind of proverb; which agrees with the metaphorical mention of leaven in Matthew 13:33; Matthew 16:6.

Lump, of dough, as in Romans 11:16. The proverb reminds us that there are other things besides leaven of which a small quantity silently permeates, and influences, and communicates its nature to, the whole of that with which it comes in contact. Paul assumes that in this respect sin is like leaven, and asks whether his readers are ignorant of the wide-spread effect of even a little leaven. His question, and the proverb, apply to sin both in the abstract and as embodied in the wicked church-member at Corinth. The least sin tolerated affects the whole man and the whole church.

Cleanse out: remove from your midst by cleansing.

Old, new: a spiritual contrast favorite with Paul; Romans 7:6; Romans 6:4; Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22 ff; Colossians 3:9 f. Sin, which like leaven communicates its nature to whatever it touches, was an essential ingredient of our old life. We must therefore become altogether new. To this end we must cleanse out all sin as belonging to the past.

Although deliverance from sin is entirely a work of God’s undeserved favor, through the death of Christ and the agency of the Holy Spirit, we are here exhorted to cleanse ourselves. Cp. 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 1:22; James 4:8; Colossians 3:5; Colossians 3:9 f. For, only by speaking thus can we grasp the great truth that it depends upon ourselves whether or not we actually receive the purity which God works. We receive it by faith: and by a life of faith we work out (Philippians 2:12 f) the salvation which God works in us. This exhortation is quite general: cp. 1 Corinthians 5:8. But it includes (cp. 1 Corinthians 5:13) the removal of the man whose obstinate sin was contaminating the whole community.

According as etc.: what Paul bids, accords with objective fact. In the purpose and command of God, and in their own profession, they are separated from all sin; which is to them what, during the Passover week, leaven was to the Jews. This objective use of unleavened accords with “sanctified” in 1 Corinthians 1:2.

For indeed our Passover etc.; explains unleavened, and gives a motive for the foregoing exhortation. Our position is analogous to that of the Israelites, who were forbidden (Exodus 12:15-20) under pain of death to eat leaven during the seven days which followed the death of the paschal lamb. For Christ is to His people what the lamb was to Israel. This comparison, not found elsewhere, agrees exactly with John 1:29.

So then let us keep feast: for the death of the lamb was always followed, at the strict command of God, by the feast of unleavened bread, during which no leaven was allowed in the houses of Israel. The word old, repeated from 1 Corinthians 5:7, suggests perhaps a reason for this, viz. to teach Israel by a change of food that there must be a change of life. And, just as the death of the paschal lamb laid upon the Jews a divine obligation to put away their old food and begin to eat new bread, so the death of Christ lays us under obligation to put away sin and begin to lead a new life.

Nor with a leaven of wickedness etc.: further description of the old leaven, giving its moral constitution. Just so sincerity and truth are the moral constitution of the new spiritual food.

Maliciousness: Romans 1:29.

Sincerity: 2 Corinthians 1:12 : that which is the same throughout.

Truth: see Romans 1:18 : that which corresponds with eternal realities.

The exhortation of 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 rests upon two great truths, viz. that sin, like leaven, communicates its nature to all it touches; and that the death of Christ lays upon us an obligation to cast away all sin. Of these, the former attests itself to the conscience and experience and observation of every one. Even the least thing which God hates, if clung to, darkens our spiritual intelligence, weakens our spiritual efforts, and pollutes our entire being. Therefore sin may justly be compared to leaven. That Christ is our Passover, follows by direct inference from Doctrines 2 and 3, viz. that salvation comes through the death of the Son of God, and that God designs us to be by union with Christ sharers of the life of Christ, a life devoted to God. See under Romans 3:26; Romans 6:10; Romans 8:39. For, if we are saved from death by the death of Christ, then Christ is to us what the lamb was to the firstborn, who but for its death would himself have died. Whereas, apart from this doctrine we cannot conceive any sufficient justification for the comparison here used by Paul. Nor can we account for the institution of the Mosaic sacrifices. Thus this comparison, introduced incidentally to support a moral exhortation, strongly confirms our exposition of Romans 3:24-26. Again, if Christ died that we may become (Romans 6:6-11) dead to sin, then His death lays upon us an obligation to reject all sin, an obligation similar to that which bound Israel in Egypt to abstain from leaven after the paschal lamb was slain. In other words, Christ died that His death might be to us the gate to a life altogether new, and be a never-passed barrier between us and our old life in sin. Thus the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 5:8 implies the teaching of Romans 6:6-11.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 also suggest the practical use, and the probable design, of the Mosaic ritual. It embodied essential truth, truth expounded fully only when Christ came, in a form which, while actually conveying important teaching, yet as evidently needing further explanation, kept alive expectation for the coming of Him who was to unlock its mysteries.

That Paul nowhere else refers to the Passover, taken in connection with 1 Corinthians 16:8, suggests that he wrote this letter about the time of the Jewish Passover, and that this comparison and exhortation were prompted by the associations of the season at which he wrote.

Paul’s mention of Christ as our Passover agrees with John 19:14; John 19:31; John 18:28; John 13:29, which assert or imply that Christ died on the afternoon of Nisan 14, at the very time prescribed in the Law (Exodus 12:6) for the slaying of the paschal lamb; and with John 19:36, where a command about the Passover is said to be fulfilled in Christ. This agreement is not invalidated by the apparently contrary testimony, which we cannot here discuss, of Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7; Matthew 26:17 ff. See The Expositor, vol. xii. p. 82.

Verse 9


I wrote to you, in the letter, not to be mixed up with fornicators. Not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous ones and grasping ones or idolaters. Since, if so, you ought to go forth out of the world. And now I have written to you not to be mixed up, if any one bearing the name of brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or drunken, or grasping; with such a one not even to eat together. For what have I to do with judging those outside? As to yourselves, is it not those within whom you judge? But those outside God judges. Take away the bad man from among yourselves.

1 Corinthians 5:9. A new subject closely connected with the foregoing, introduced abruptly by a reference to something Paul has already written to the Corinthians.

In the letter: a previous letter. Cp. 2 Corinthians 7:8; which refers evidently to this First extant Epistle. Had Paul written no earlier letter and referred here only to 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, these words would be needless and meaningless: whereas, if he wished to say that he referred here not to some earlier letter but to this one, he would certainly have written “in this letter.” Moreover, the word “now” in 1 Corinthians 5:11 contrasts 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 with something written before. An earlier letter from Paul to the Corinthians is by no means impossible or unlikely; and seems to be implied in 2 Corinthians 10:10. Nothing is proved by Romans 16:22; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; Colossians 4:16: for they refer to a letter just finished, and the word letter is needful to make up the sense. We need not suppose that Paul wrote no letters but those now extant. God has preserved so many as He saw to be needful for the direction and edification of the church. But there were doubtless others, written under the guidance of the Spirit and for those who received them clothed with apostolic authority, which attained their purpose by meeting a temporary emergency. In the letter, refers to some one definite letter, known to the Corinthians, which Paul has here in view; and therefore does not imply that he had written to them only one earlier letter.

Verse 10

1 Corinthians 5:10. Not altogether. The words “not to be mixed up etc.” in the earlier letter are not to be understood universally, as referring to all fornicators without exception. Whether these words had been actually misunderstood, and the misunderstanding made known to Paul either orally (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:11) or by letter, (1 Corinthians 7:1,) we do not know. Perhaps some had wilfully misinterpreted them, to make them appear impracticable. In either case he naturally deals with the matter here.

Of this world: 1 Corinthians 3:19; 1 Corinthians 7:31; Ephesians 2:2; John 8:23; John 11:9; John 12:25; John 12:31; John 16:11; John 18:36.

World: 1 Corinthians 1:20 : all the complex realm of things around us, looked upon as existing in space. It then denotes, in contrast to those who belong to the coming age, men and things around so far as they do not submit to Christ. As an outward distinction, it denotes those outside the community which professes to have been saved from the world. So here. Paul’s words about fornicators are not to be taken universally, i.e. of those who belong to the world around us, but only of professing Christians.

Or etc.: other sins mentioned in Paul’s letter.

Covetous: greedy for material good. It will be discussed under Ephesians 5:5.

Grasping: who with violence take other men’s goods.

Since, if so, etc.: such a universal prohibition would forbid all intercourse with men around; which would be evidently impracticable. And this impracticability proves sufficiently that Paul’s former words are not to be thus understood.

Verse 11

1 Corinthians 5:11. Now I have written etc.: viz. in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, which are practically a repetition of the injunction given in the former letter. For, the blame in 1 Corinthians 5:2 implies that they ought to separate themselves from immoral professors.

Not to be mixed up etc.: repeated from 1 Corinthians 5:9 reminds us that the principle involved in 1 Corinthians 5:2 is but a repetition of the earlier injunction. The word idolaters betrays, as do 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 10:7; 1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 John 5:21, a proneness in some early Christians to take part, publicly or privately, through fear or through an inadequate sense of the evil of all idolatry, in the rites of heathenism.

A railer: using violent language against others.

With such a one etc.: teaches plainly that they were to treat a wicked church-member quite differently from a heathen guilty of the same sins. For the church-member was sailing under false colors. Any intercourse with him would be a practical acknowledgment that he was what he professed to be, which it was most important to disown.

Verses 12-13

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 a. Reason for this different treatment of equally immoral church-members and heathens, viz. that Paul has no business to pronounce sentence on those outside (Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Timothy 3:7) the church.

Whom you judge: an appeal, in support of this reason, to their own church-discipline. “It is your business to see, not whether heathens, but whether church-members, are guilty of sin.”

God judges: both now, and finally at the great day. The punishments which in this world follow sin, prove that sinners are already condemned.

1 Corinthians 5:13 b. After enforcing and guarding the express injunction of a former letter, and a principle involved in § 7 of this letter, Paul concludes § 8 by urging his readers to carry out this principle with the notorious offender of 1 Corinthians 5:1.

Take away etc.; almost word for word from Deuteronomy 17:7; Deuteronomy 21:21, which refer to the punishment of death for idolatry and for disobedience to parents. Thus the wicked Israelite was removed from the people. The terrible meaning of these words in the Old Testament gives great weight to them when used for the lighter sentence here enjoined; and clothes this sentence with Old Testament authority.

From among yourselves: emphatic contrast to “those outside,” reminding the readers that the evil to be removed was in their own midst.

The great precept of § 8, viz. that we must have nothing to do with those who profess to serve Christ and yet live in sin, was probably more easy to obey in Paul’s day than in ours. For the veneer of a higher general social morality covers up, now more than then, very much actual sin, and makes if often impossible to determine the guilt or innocence of suspected persons. In nothing is Christian wisdom more needed than in our treatment of such. But, wherever it can be applied with certainty, the general principle is valid and important.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/1-corinthians-5.html. 1877-90.
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