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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
1 Corinthians 5

 

 

Introduction

Verse 1

1 Corinthians 5:1. It is actually reported that there is fornication among you. The word is used here in its widest sense for all violations of the seventh commandment.

and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles,(1) that one of you hath his father’s wife—not his own mother, but his step-mother (after the death of his father). Such connection, expressly forbidden in Leviticus 18:8, is abhorrent to nature. Though not absolutely unknown to the heathen, Cicero speaks of it as a crime incredible, and, with the single exception of the case he is speaking of, unheard of.(2) How such a church member should have been tolerated, even for a day, is the difficulty. To say, with some, that since the conversion of a Pagan to Judaism was held to dissolve all former relationships, a Christian convert might deem himself at liberty, and by the Church be allowed, to marry within the scripturally forbidden degrees, is absurd. For not only is there no evidence that the Jews at this time held any such principles, and every probability that they did not, but this connection was plainly regarded, alike by Jews and Gentiles, as monstrous. Still, if the social position of the parties was considerable, the office-bearers may have been reluctant to meddle with the case; and fearing to drive the man from bad to worse, they may have hoped, by tender treatment to soften his heart. And doubtless the laxity of morals at Corinth, which would not fail to leave its evil effects on real converts, tended to blunt the edge of that abhorrence which such a case was fitted to awaken.


Verse 2

1 Corinthians 5:2. And ye are puffed up—as if all were right with you—and have not rather mourned—that such a blot should come upon your community,—(in order) that he that had done this deed might (by formal ejection) be taken away from among you. Sharp measures are therefore peremptorily ordered to take place.


Verse 3

1 Corinthians 5:3. For I verily, being absent in body, but present in spirit, have already (in the exercise of my apostolic authority) judged him that hath so wrought this thing, in the name of our Lord Jesus(1)—in whose name, as the unseen yet ever-present Lord of the Church, every act of discipline should be performed, whether in the way of binding or of loosing (Matthew 18:18-20; Matthew 28:18-20).

ye being gathered together (for that express purpose), and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus (resting on you in the discharge of this duty), to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh—the depraved inclinations of this offender

that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Corrective, therefore, not destructive, was this severe discipline designed to be—destructive only of what would have destroyed the soul of the offender, Most expositors find here—over and above bare excommunication—some bodily chastisement from above which was to light upon this offender after his expulsion from church membership. In support of this, they refer to the case of Job, whose property, family, and person Satan was permitted to smite; to the case of Ananias and Sapphira; and to that of Elymas the sorcerer. But none of these cases seem to be in point. In the only case which seems strictly parallel—that of Hymenæus and Philetus, whom our apostle says he “had delivered unto Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20)—no hint is given of what was meant in this act of apostolic judgment, and certainly none of bodily infliction. In fact, the only difficulty in both these cases is the strength of the language employed. But if it be borne in mind that the act of ejection was to be performed at a meeting of the whole church, convened expressly for this purpose; that it was to be done as by the apostle himself, and in the name of our Lord Jesus, as being Himself present; that it certainly carried with it exclusion from all Christian fellowship, and consequently banishment to the society of those among whom Satan dwelt, and from which the offender had publicly severed himself: it will not seem very difficult to understand how, in this first case of severe discipline—too long delayed—the strongest terms which he could find should have been employed by the apostle. What a caricature of this is the greater excommunication of the Church of Rome, as carried into effect in the darker and palmier days of sacerdotal power! It was performed amid such ghostly forms as were designed to strike terror into the stoutest heart, after which the culprit was tortured by methods of refined cruelty which it was reserved for an apostatized and heartless Christianity to invent, with a view to extort confession of crimes or heresies to which perhaps he was an utter stranger. He was then handed over to the secular power to be put to death, “that the spirit (forsooth) might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”! Such deeds, happily, cannot be done now, but they have died out very slowly, and never has the right to carry them out been renounced; nay, some of the less refined yet ultimately crushing forms of them are still practised where it can be done with impunity.


Verse 6

1 Corinthians 5:6. Your glorying is not good—is out of place, unseemly.

Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lamp? ‘’Tis only one case, ye say; but are ye so ignorant as not to know that the communicative properties of good and evil are as leaven (Matthew 13:3; Matthew 5:13; 1 Corinthians 15:33), and that the leavening property of evil is greater than that of good?’ “One sinner destroyeth much good.” In a church gathered, like that of Corinth, out of a proverbially licentious city, and themselves before conversion no better than others (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), how dangerous the presence of such an offender, going out and in among them in full fellowship, must be obvious to every one.


Verse 7

1 Corinthians 5:7. Purge out(1) the old leaven. Referring to the practice enjoined in Exodus 12:15, and almost superstitiously observed at the Passover time, of removing every particle of leaven from their houses, the apostle would have them put away in the person of this flagrant offender, that corrupt element, “the old man,” which at their conversion they had “put off.”

that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are (already) unleavened—considered as “new creatures,” in whom “all things have become new.”

For our Passover also is (Gr. ‘was,’ or ‘hath been’) sacrificed, even Christ.(1) ‘Yes, and ours is infinitely more precious than Israel’s. It was the blood of a brute creature, the sprinkling of which on their door-posts was the means of their redemption; we are “redeemed with the precious blood of Christ,” the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world; their redemption was merely national and temporal, ours is world-wide and eternal.’


Verse 8

1 Corinthians 5:8. therefore let us keep the feast—‘keep festival’ as the word signifies. As the Passover meal was designed to strengthen the Israelites for their wilderness journey, so is this for ours heavenward. Theirs was an annual festival; ours is the continuous, uninterrupted, glad festival-keeping of a redeemed and consecrated life. But just as theirs had to be celebrated with unleavened bread, so must ours be free from corrupt admixtures.

not with old leaven—forgetting that we have been purged from our old sins’ (2 Peter 1:9).

neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness—not their “old sins,” but such corrupt elements as are apt to spring up in Christian communities, creeping in under new and subtle forms. (This seems better than taking both clauses as saying the same thing in different forms.)

but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth—with entire consistency of character and conduct.

Note.—What a sublime idea does this give of the Christian life, as a lifelong Paschal celebration of our “eternal redemption” by the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus! Is it necessary to add that, save on the strict vicarious principle of that death, all such allusions would either be unintelligible or would certainly be misleading? As to the Lord’s Supper, though it certainly embodies, in their highest and simplest form, all the highest Paschal ideas, there is no reason to think that there is here any express reference to that ordinance.(1)

So much for this peculiar case of impurity. But since the injunction to keep aloof from this offender might be misunderstood, as applying equally to all the unholy, the apostle now draws a sharp distinction between those within and those without the Church; instructing them, that while keeping no company at all with the former, they were not with the latter to decline the ordinary intercourses and courtesies of life.


Verse 9

1 Corinthians 5:9. I wrote unto you in my epistle not to company with fornicators. This statement raises a question which has occasioned not a little discussion—What Epistle is here referred to? ‘The present Epistle,’ say some, viewing what follows as a sort of postscript to the preceding verses. (So Chrysostom, Erasmus, Middle ton, Stanley.) But the objection to this is that neither in the preceding verses nor in any previous chapter is any such general injunction given. The only alternative is, that there is here a reference to some previously-written letter to that church not now preserved.

(So Calvin, Beza, Estius, Bengel, De Wette, Meyer, Alford.(1)) Nor is this unworthy of Inspiration, as is evident from the Old Testament prophetic writings, which are very far from containing all that the prophets uttered by inspiration. And though all that our Lord spoke and acted must have been pre-eminently worthy of permanent record, yet the last Evangelist says that “the world would not have contained it.” Why, then, should everything which an apostle found occasion to write require of necessity to be recorded for all time? Certain it is that the Corinthians sent written questions to the apostle on points of practical difficulty, and even on this very subject (1 Corinthians 7:1); and if one of these related to what intercourse, if any, they should keep up with their heathen friends and fellow-citizens, and a messenger was then going to Corinth who could take his answer, how naturally might he send a hasty reply by him, with the promise to write more fully thereafter! In this case, would he not refer to that letter very much as he here does? and of course the present letter would be understood as superseding the other.


Verse 10

1 Corinthians 5:10. not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. Observe the caution—“not altogether restricting the allowed intercourse with them to what was necessary and safe. The collocation of “the covetous and extortioners” with “fornicators and idolaters” sounds strange to us; but it is a favourite classification with our apostle (Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5). Perhaps the explanation of this may be found in Galatians 5:19-21, where these are all ranked under the head of “works of the flesh,” any one of which might, according to individual bent, stir up another.


Verse 11

1 Corinthians 5:11. but now I write onto you—I did it before in a general way, but “now” I do it more fully,—not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother—one in full standing as a member.

be a fornicator . . . with such a one, no, not to eat—in friendly meals, or any way implying brotherly recognition.


Verse 12

1 Corinthians 5:12. For what have I to do with judging them that are without (the Christian pale)? As the Jews so described those outside the covenant, our Lord and the apostles borrowed the phrase from them (Mark 4:11; Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:12).

do not ye judge them that are within?—and that surely is responsibility enough.


Verse 13

1 Corinthians 5:13. Where-as them that are without God judgeth—that is His sole prerogative, and to Him ye may well leave it.

Put away the wicked man from among yourselves. The marked abruptness with which the subject is thus dismissed well conveys the repulsiveness of the subject to the apostle’s feelings.

Note.—(1) The grace of the Gospel, though it renews the whole character, neither eradicates constitutional tendencies nor interferes with their natural working. It subdues and regulates the passions; but where the members of a church have been drawn out of a community steeped in vice, and themselves habituated, up to the time of their conversion, to the sight and practice of it, they may be expected—after the first warmth of their new life has begun to cool—to have many a sore struggle with reactionary tendencies. Plague spots will then appear; and at times the whole renovation effected by the Gospel may seem ready, like a passing wave, to be swept away. In such circumstances, should self-complacency be indulged, and open iniquity quietly tolerated in the community, sharp dealing becomes indispensable to recovery, and will, as in the present case, be so ratified in heaven as to prove successful.

(2) What a view of the world’s morality is suggested by the statement that to get quite away from even its grosser forms one “must needs go out of the world”! And though this stamps condemnation on all cloistral seclusion—as an attempt to escape from the evils incident to contact with the unholy—it no less condemns the tainting of church fellowship which follows the tolerance of open sin, and voluntary association with it, on the part of Christians.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/1-corinthians-5.html. 1879-90.

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