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

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-13

1 Corinthians 5:1 . There is fornication among you. Πορνεια designates every species of illicit intercourse between the sexes. Our Saxon word forliggian properly expresses fornication, but here adultery and incest are comprised. In this sad case, not only the written law, but the examples of the gentiles condemned the offender, and reproached the church with indecision.

And such fornication as is not so much as named among the gentiles. Virgil mentions with contempt the fall of Anchemolus in battle, who had dared to defile the bed of his mother-in-law. Æneid. 10: 388, 389.

Et Rhœti de gente vetustâ Anchemolum, thalamos ausum incestare novercæ.

1 Corinthians 5:2 . Ye are puffed up. Some of the Corinthians, under specious pleas, had covered the offender, and wounded the faithful, who wished for Paul’s return to sanctify the church. Now for any party to set themselves above the law of nature and of nations, in covering a presumptuous sin, indicated a haughty mind which merited his coming with a rod of discipline. The primitive church, after the example of the synagogue, used to mourn for any one who was separated from them by immoral conduct.

1 Corinthians 5:5 . Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. On this subject sacred criticism has sent us down various opinions. Buxtorff, in his lexicon, on the word נדוי niddui, gives us examples of jewish excommunication, which in smaller crimes was for a limited period. But of more grievous sins, as in the text, they expound the words of the law, “the soul that doeth ought presumptuously shall be cut off,” as equivalent to the punishment of death. Theophylact understands this text in the same manner. Interitum carnis; hoc est, ut morbo eum maceret et tabescere faciat; that disease may emaciate and waste his constitution. David’s sin exposed him to this awful visitation, as may be inferred from Nathan’s words, who said, after hearing his repentance, “The Lord hath put away (the punishment of) thy sin; thou shalt not die.” But Augustine, sermon 68., understands this sentence simply of excommunication, while Chrysostom adheres to the former opinion, a power which allowed Satan to afflict the body. This power the apostle himself seems to have exercised on Alexander and Hymenæus. 1 Timothy 1:20. Discipline is essential: “upon all the glory there shall be a defence.”

1 Corinthians 5:7-8 . Purge out therefore the old leaven. The language here is Hebraical. Before the passover, the jews cleared their houses of leaven, and lived for seven days on biscuit bread, made simply of flour and water. Christ, the paschal lamb, being sacrificed for us, christians are called to put away from their hearts the leaven of malice and wickedness, and to be consecrated to the Lord. Our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed.

We must next purge out the leaven of wickedness from the church, that like a chaste virgin, she may be devoted to the Lord. Then we shall celebrate our sacraments in love and harmony, and all men will honour the church, which is honoured of heaven as the family of God.

1 Corinthians 5:11 . Now I have written to you with such a one, no not to eat. He had written before, but now, being more fully informed by the arrival of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, he wrote in stronger words, not to receive and return visits from excommunicated persons, as that would commit the moral glory of the christian character in public estimation, and the sour leaven would operate on the heart. These injunctions are understood to be addressed to the individuals concerned, for the church alone has the power of expulsion. She must be purged of sins so foul, or there will be no church. Yet even towards gross offenders, we must not withhold the civil duties and obligations of life.


In the sad case before us, the noble and paternal character of Paul cannot be too much admired. The hallowed zeal of Phinehas inspired his breast, who for the work of righteousness obtained a blessing. His aims were wise, his motives pure, to save the church from scandal, and so to punish the offender that his soul might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

The time of this interference was equally judicious. There was a leaven of gnostic licentiousness working in Greece, as in Asia, a leaven which greatly disturbed and afflicted the churches, by apologies for the flesh beyond the reach of shame. Those characters were vainly puffed up, as though their leniency had thrown a shade on the rigours of the law. Holiness requires that the man who has communion with dangerous connections shall be denied the sacramental bread.

When a brother is debarred from communion, as indeed must be the case with every one who lives in mortal sins, we must not associate with him as a bosom friend; that would tend to defeat all the prudent means of the church to bring him to repentance. Stains so foul require time for bleaching. But Paul, full of pity, in less than a year advised the Corinthians to receive the penitent offender back to communion, lest he should be over depressed with sorrow for his past sins.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/1-corinthians-5.html. 1835.
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