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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

1 Corinthians 5



Verse 1

1. ὅλως. There is a difficulty in the translation of this word. It usually means altogether or on the whole. Neither of these renderings would give a good sense here. It occurs elsewhere in the N. T. only in ch. 1 Corinthians 6:7, 1 Corinthians 15:29, and in Matthew 5:34. In the first of these it has the meaning altogether. In the other two it has the usual meaning, with a negative, of not at all. Here it must be rendered ‘universally.’ ‘It is everywhere reported,’ &c. Meyer, however, would render ‘one hears generally’ (überhaupt, im Allgemeinen).

ἀκούεται ἐν ὑμῖν πορνεία. This explains the mention of the ‘rod’ in the last verse.

ἥτις οὐδὲ ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, of a kind that does not exist even among the Gentiles. Two considerations of some importance, bearing on Church history, are suggested by this passage. The first bids us dismiss the idea that the Christian Church at the beginning of its career was a pattern of Christian perfection. Corinth (see Introduction) was more depraved even than most heathen cities. Accordingly, the Corinthian community, as described here and in chap. 1 Corinthians 11:21, was lamentably ignorant of the first principles of Christian morality and Christian decency, and the Apostle had to begin by laying the very foundations of a system of morals among his converts. It is probable that nowhere, save in the earlier years of the Church at Jerusalem, was there any body of Christians which was not very far from realizing the Christian ideal, and which was not continually in need of the most careful supervision. The second point is that St Paul’s idea of discipline seems to have differed greatly from the principles which were creeping into the Church at the end of the second century. See 1 Corinthians 5:5, and compare it with 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, which seems plainly to refer to the same person. In spite of the gravity of the crime—it would seem (2 Corinthians 7:12) that it was committed while the father was alive—we find here nothing of the long, in some instances life-long, penance which had become the rule of the Church for grave offences before the end of the third century. It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to remark that by the words ‘father’s wife,’ stepmother is meant. But the language of the Apostle seems to imply that she had been divorced by the father and married to the son, a proceeding which the shameful laxity of Corinthian society rendered possible. The Rabbis, moreover, held that all existing relations were dissolved by baptism and circumcision. Thus Jewish rigorism and heathen licence were alike opposed to the higher morality of the Church. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 7:11. Estius, however, thinks that the son was living publicly with his father’s wife, as though she were his own.

ἔχειν. Meyer insists that this word is only used of marriage. But John 4:18 shews that it is also used of unlawful connections. Therefore it is quite impossible to infer from the word whether or not a marriage had taken place.

Verses 1-8


Verse 2

2. ὑμεῖς πεφυσιωμένοι ἐστέ. Ye have been puffed up. The ὑμεῖς has an emphasis. ‘Ye, who have been so far from the enlightenment of the true Christian as to condone an offence like this, are actually filled with a sense of your own excellence.’

καὶ οὐχὶ μᾶλλον ἐπενθήσατε. And did not rather mourn. It sheds a terrible light upon the self-satisfaction of the Corinthian Church, that it was not disturbed by such a scandal as this.

ἵνα. The context here seems rather to suggest the result than the means. St Paul does not mean that the mourning would of itself bring about the expulsion of the offender, but that, if they had mourned, it would have been evidence of a spirit which would bring about that result.

ἀρθῇ ἐκ μέσου. An Hebraism. See for instance Joshua 4:18 (Heb. and LXX.). Also in N. T. Matthew 13:49; Acts 17:33, and in St Paul’s Epistles 2 Corinthians 6:17; Colossians 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:7. The power of excommunication, that is of separating from the Christian society those whose lives were a disgrace to the Christian profession, has always been a power claimed by the Church of Christ. Our own Church declares that it is ‘much to be wished’ that such discipline could be restored among ourselves. But the power has unquestionably been misused, and the consequence of its abuse has been to a great extent to take away its use.

Verse 3

3. ἐγὼ μὲν γάρ. For I, on the contrary. The μἐν seems to indicate a feeling which is not further expressed (the corresponding clause with δέ not appearing), of contrast between his view of the matter and that taken by the Corinthians. Here we have the method of excommunication pursued in the Apostolic Church. It is important to observe it narrowly. First, it is to be remarked that the Apostle is acting not only as the president, but as the founder of the Corinthian Church. Next we remark that the whole Church at Corinth was associated with him in the work. ‘When ye are gathered together, and my spirit.’ Hence it came to pass that in primitive times it was usual for such acts of discipline to be carried out in the presence of the Church or congregation in which the offender was accustomed to worship. Thirdly, it is observable that such excommunication was pronounced ‘in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ that is, with His authority and in accordance with His Divine Law of purity and love, whereby, while hating the sin, He desired to convert the offender.

παρὼν δέ. Cf. Colossians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:17. The δέ is not in opposition to μέν above, but marks the opposition between ἀπών and παρών. Had μέν referred to this opposition, it would have been placed after ἀπών.

ἤδη κέκρικα. This may either be taken [1] as in the Authorized Version, with the word concerning inserted before him that hath so done this deed, or [2] these last words may be regarded as the accusative after ‘deliver,’ and the word ‘judged’ taken absolutely. The former appears preferable, but the whole passage is very intricate. There is authority for [1] in Acts 20:16; Acts 25:25; Titus 3:12. See also ch. 1 Corinthians 2:2.

τὸν οὕτως τοῦτο κατεργασάμενον. Literally, he that hath perpetrated this deed in such a manner, i. e. as though to add to the guilt and shame of it by his way of doing it.

Verse 4

4. ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι. This may be taken [1] with κέκρικα in 1 Corinthians 5:3; [2] with συναχθέντων ὑμῶν, or [3] with παραδοῦναι τὸν τοιοῦτον τῷ Σατανᾷ. Of these [1] and [3] are preferable to [2], which would involve an awkward inversion in the order of the words. It implies either [1] the solemn promulgation of the sentence by St Paul, in the name and with the authority of Christ, or [2] the equally solemn delivery of the offender over to Satan. All assemblies of the Christian Church were gathered together in the Name of Christ.

συναχθέντων ὑμῶν. Not, as A.V. when, but after ye have been gathered together.

σὺν τῇ δυνάμει τοῦ κυρίον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ. This has been taken [1] with συναχθέντων ὑμῶν, and [2] with παραδοῦναι, κ.τ.λ. The former is preferable. The Corinthian Church, when assembled in the name of Christ, and acting under the authority of its chief pastor, one of Christ’s Apostles, was armed with a spiritual power from Jesus Christ to pronounce and carry out the awful sentence which follows.

Verse 5

5. παραδοῦναιτῷ Σατανᾷ. Two explanations of this passage demand our notice. [1] It has been understood of excommunication, as though he who was excluded from the Christian Church was thereby solemnly given back to Satan, from whose empire he had been delivered when he became a Christian. The ‘destruction of the flesh’ and the salvation of the spirit are then explained to mean that mortification of carnal concupiscence and that amendment of life which the sentence is calculated to produce. But it is better [2] to understand it of some temporal judgment, such as befell Job in the Old Testament, Ananias, Sapphira, and Elymas the sorcerer, in the New. Such an idea was common among the Rabbis (see Stanley’s note). It falls in with such passages as Luke 13:16; 2 Corinthians 12:7 (where ‘messenger’ may be translated ‘angel’), as well as with ch. 1 Corinthians 11:30 in this Epistle. The punishment was intended for the discipline and ultimate recovery of the spirit. Some have doubted whether this is possible, but we may bear in mind the acute remark of Meyer, that though ‘it is with an antichristian purpose that Satan smites the man, against his own will the purpose is made to serve God’s aim of salvation.’ He also notices that it is not the body but the flesh, i.e. carnal appetite, that is to be destroyed by the chastisement. A similar instance of delivery to Satan is to be found in 1 Timothy 1:20. Whether the power was confined to the Apostolic age or not is a point we cannot determine with certainty. A reference to 1 Corinthians 5:2 shews that the punishment spoken of here was superadded to excommunication.

ἵνα τὸ πνεῦμα σωθῇ. ‘Human punishment rests upon three grounds: [1] it is an expression of Divine indignation; [2] it aims at the reformation of the offender; [3] the contagious character of evil; a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.’ Robertson. For ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ see ch. 1 Corinthians 3:13, 1 Corinthians 4:5, and Romans 2:5; Romans 2:16. For σωθῇ see ch. 1 Corinthians 1:18, note. It is remarkable that nothing is said about the exclusion of the woman from the Church. Was she a heathen?

Verse 6

6. οὐ καλὸν τὸ καύχημα ὑμῶν. That state of things of which you glory is not good. καύχημα properly signifies that whereof a man glories, and is so translated in Romans 4:2. Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 9:15-16; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 9:3, &c., where the same word is used, but is variously translated in our version. It is impossible always to insist on its strict sense. It is very frequently equivalent to καύχησις. The Corinthians are once more reminded how little cause they had for self-glorification. As long as they permitted such an offender to defile their society they were in a measure partakers of his sin.

μικρὰ ζύμη ὅλον τὸ φύραμα ζυμοῖ. The presence of a very small amount of evil in the Christian society imparts a character to the whole—a truth only too fully exemplified in the after-history of the Christian Church. From the evil that has crept into the Christian society men have taken occasion to deny its divine origin. The student of history will remember how dexterously Gibbon contrives to throw discredit upon Christianity by enlarging upon the shortcomings of the early Church, and by evading the comparison between its moral elevation and the shocking demoralization of heathen society. The same words are to be found in Galatians 5:9. φύραμα signifies a mass of dough, from φύρω to mix.

Verse 7

7. ἐκκαθάρατε. See Critical Note. Reference is here made to the Jewish custom of searching for leaven, which is mentioned in the Talmud, and which probably existed in the Apostles’ times. Because Scripture speaks of ‘searching Jerusalem with candles,’ Zephaniah 1:12, they used to carry out this custom of searching for leaven with great strictness, taking a candle and ‘prying into every mousehole and cranny,’ as Chrysostom says, so as to collect even the smallest crumb of leavened bread, which was to be placed in a box, or some place where a mouse could not get at it. This ceremony, as Lightfoot tells us (Temple Service, ch. 12 sec. 1), was prefaced by the prayer, ‘Blessed be Thou, O Lord our God, the King everlasting, Who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments, and hast enjoined the putting away of leaven.’ The custom exists among the Jews to this day. The scrupulous care in removing the smallest particle of the bitter substance adds force to St Paul’s injunction. Not the slightest trace of bitterness and vice and wickedness was to be left among Christians, since they kept continual feast upon the Flesh and Blood of the Paschal Lamb, even Jesus Christ. See the discourse in John 6, itself delivered before a Passover.

ἵνα ἦτε νέον φύραμα, καθώς ἐστε ἄζυμοι. As ye are (called to be) unleavened, i.e. purged free from ‘vice and wickedness’ (1 Corinthians 5:8), ‘so be also in fact.’ See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 1:2, and Romans 6:3-4. The Christian community was to be a ‘new lump,’ because it was placed among men as a new society—a society, the object and aim of which was to keep itself free from the defilements of the rest of the world. The Apostles of Christ constantly speak of Christians, not as they are in fact, but in view of the purpose of God in calling them.

καὶ γάρ. ‘And I give you an additional reason. Purge out the old leaven, not merely because of its intrinsic vileness, but because Christians have a perpetual Passover to keep.’

τὸ πάσχα ἡμῶν. Meyer here remarks that St Paul regards Christ as having been slain on the day of the Paschal Feast. We may add that he also explains how the Last Supper was called by Christ a Passover (Luke 22:15). For in truth it was a real Passover, though not the Passover of the old, but of the new Law, a standing witness to the fact that Christ has become our continual food (cf. Aquinas, Lauda Sion, cited by Dean Stanley, ‘Novum Pascha novæ legis’). Christ was the Passover, [1] because He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), of which the Paschal Lamb was a type (cf. John 19:36); [2] because His Blood, sprinkled on the soul, delivers us from the destroying angel; [3] because we feed on His Flesh and Blood (John 6:51-57), and are thereby nourished for our escape from the ‘land of Egypt, the house of bondage.’ This is why we are to purge out the old leaven, because Christ, the Paschal Lamb, has been slain, and we are bidden to keep perpetual feast on Him. It is not improbable (see ch. 1 Corinthians 16:8) that this Epistle was written about the time of the Passover. On this point consult Paley, Horae Paulinae in loc.

ἐτύθη. Literally, was sacrificed, i. e. once for all. Cf. Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:25-26; Hebrews 10:10. The more literal translation of the passage is, for our Passover was sacrificed, even Christ.

Verse 8

8. ὥστε ἑορτάζωμεν. So, therefore, let us keep festival, referring to the perpetual feast the Christian Church keeps on the Flesh and Blood of her Lord. Not ‘the feast’ as in our version, which would imply the Paschal feast.

κακίας. Vice, cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 14:20. These are genitives of apposition.

εἰλικρινείας καὶ ἀληθείας. εἰλικρινεία is derived either [1] from a word signifying to revolve, as though rejecting by its rapid revolution all extraneous matter, or [2] by most etymologists from εἵλη, the sun’s rays, or rather heat, which by their searching character would immediately reveal the presence of any impurity. It would, therefore, seem to mean transparent honesty of purpose and character. See Plato, Phaed. 66 A, 67 A, where this word is used to express the pure essence of a thing without any foreign admixture. There is a remarkable coincidence between Plato’s language in this last passage, and that of St Paul. Plato speaks of πᾶν τὸ εἰλικρινές· τοῦτο δ' ἐστὶν ἴσως τἀληθές.

Verse 9

9. ἔγραψα. This is probably not the epistolary aorist, but refers to a lost epistle. See next note. From the particular case, and the reflections it suggested, we now come to general rules of conduct on this subject. The Apostle would not have his converts flee from the world, as so many did in later ages, but remain in it and leaven it. This course must bring them into contact with many ungodly men, whose evil example they must not follow, but whom they cannot altogether avoid, unless they would retire altogether from the active business of life. But if any member of the Church bring dishonour on the Christian name by such sins as those which are named, the Christian is bound to shew his sense of such flagrant inconsistency and hypocrisy, by refusing even to sit down to a meal with him. It is not difficult to follow the spirit of such an exhortation now, though it may be impossible to observe its letter. We cannot help meeting men of depraved morals and irreligious lives in business or in general society; we can, nay we must, refrain from making such persons our associates and intimates.

ἐν τῇ ἐπιστολῇ. In the Epistle. As in 2 Corinthians 7:8 the same words are used in reference to this Epistle, it has been concluded that mention is here made of a former Epistle which is now lost. Estius calls attention to the fact that in 2 Corinthians 10:10 St Paul speaks of his ‘letters’ as though he had written more than one to the Corinthian Church. It is not probable that all St Paul’s letters have come down to us, and therefore we may conclude, with the majority of commentators, that the reference is to an Epistle no longer extant.

συναναμίγνυσθαι. Just as in English, be mixed up with, or possibly middle, mix yourselves up with, i. e. associate on friendly terms.

Verses 9-13


Verse 10

10. πλεονέκταις. This word is derived from ἔχω and πλέον. Hence it signifies [1] one who has more than enough, [2] who desires more than enough of whatever kind, [3] one greedy after gain. In some passages it, as well as πλεονεκτεῖν and πλεονεξία, is used of sensual sin, as in Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:6. In this verse, as well as in Ephesians 5:5, and Colossians 3:5, these words are connected with idolatry; either [1] because the love of riches is a kind of idolatry (1 Timothy 6:17) or [2] because the idolatrous rites of heathenism were so frequently stained with sensual indulgence. The verb formed from it generally signifies to overreach, take advantage of. Thus in 2 Corinthians 2:11 it is translated ‘get an advantage of,’ in 1 Corinthians 7:2 ‘defraud,’ and in 1 Corinthians 12:17-18 ‘make a gain of.’ Dean Stanley illustrates its use by the word covet as used in the Tenth Commandment; first in the ordinary sense of covetousness, ‘thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house,’ and next in the sense of sensual desire, ‘thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.’ We may also compare the words greed and greedy, which coming from the Anglo-Saxon grædan to cry, and kindred with the Gothic greitan, the Lowland Scotch greet, and the Italian gridare, words of similar signification, have diverged from one another in sense, and are used, the former exclusively of gain, the latter of the indulgence of appetite. Plato, Phaed. 91B, uses πλεονεκτικῶς as equivalent to ‘with an eye to one’s own interest.’ Aristotle uses πλεονεκτεῖν as equivalent to ἔχων τὸ πλέον. See Nic. Ethic. 1 Corinthians 5:9 ἑτέρου γὰρ ἀγαθοῦ ἐπλεονέκτει οἷον δόξης ἤ τοῦ ἁπλῶς καλοῦ. In 1 Corinthians 9:8, he uses it of χρήματα, τιμή, ἡδονὴ σωματική.

Verse 11

11. ἔγραψα. Literally, I wrote, i. e. in the former Epistle.

ὀνομαζόμενος, i.e. as being so in name only.

ἅρπαξ. Latin rapax, a kindred word. Distinct from the covetous man in that he uses force rather than fraud to deprive men of their property.

Verse 12

12. τί γάρ μοι. The connection of thought in this and the next verse is as follows: ‘You have supposed me to have been urging you to abstain altogether from any kind of intercourse with sinners. You misunderstood my meaning. I only meant to refer to the members of your own community. As you might have gathered from your own practice, which is confined to the Christian body, I have no authority to deal with those without. They are in the hands of God.’ And then he abruptly adds, ‘Cast out the wicked man,’ or ‘the evil thing.’ See Critical Note on 1 Corinthians 5:13.

οὐχὶ τοὺς ἔσω ὑμεῖς κρίνετε; ὑμεῖς is of course emphatic, and τοὺς ἔσω scarcely less so. ‘How should I undertake to judge those that are without? What do you do? Must not you confine your sentences to those that are within. Have you any power over others?’

Verse 13

13. ἐξάρατε. The abruptness and energy of this verse is much increased by the change of tense and by the omission of καί, involved in the reading adopted in the text. The present imperative refers to continued, the aorist to sharp, sudden, decisive action. See Goodwin, Moods and Tenses, § 21, 2, and Winer, Gr. Gr., Part III., § 42, 3. This use of the present and aorist imperative is well illustrated by ch. 1 Corinthians 15:34, John 2:16, and Acts 12:8.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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