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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

1 Corinthians 5

 

 

Verses 1-6

1 Corinthians 5. The Case of Incest.—Paul now passes from the parties to a case of immorality exceptionally hideous and, so far as his knowledge goes, unprecedented even among the heathen. It is everywhere reported (he probably means, though the wording is loose, that the scandal has spread far beyond Corinth) that a member of the church has taken his father's wife as his wife (or concubine). The father was probably dead: to have taken her while he was still alive would have so gravely aggravated the offence that Paul could scarcely have failed to mention it explicitly. We cannot urge that Paul speaks of him in 2 Corinthians 7:12 as still alive, for the language here and in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11* does not suit the case of incest. Here Paul is concerned with the offence not simply in itself but with the scandal of its toleration by the church and its self-complacency with regard to it. Nor does 2 Corinthians 7:12 agree with Paul's solicitude in 1 Corinthians 5:5 for the offender's ultimate salvation. Nor in a case so grave could he have accepted the modification of his sentence suggested in 2 Corinthians 2:5 and permitted him to be reinstated. And obviously he could not have treated the church's attitude to a sin so monstrous as a mere test of loyalty (2 Corinthians 2:9). Moreover, the wronged party of 2 Cor. felt the offence as a wrong (2 Corinthians 7:12); had the case been one of immorality, he could have taken summary proceedings against a son who ventured on so open a defiance of his father's authority and rights. Presumably, then, the father was dead. No sentence is passed on the woman; probably she was a heathen. In spite of this rude shock their inflated self-esteem is not abated, whereas they ought to have been in deep distress, which should have led them to expel the offender. His own attitude is diametrically opposed to theirs. His decision is already taken, he did not need to be on the spot to form his judgment of conduct so flagrant. The matter must be dealt with in solemn assembly. The church is to be gathered together, not left to its own laxity in the handling of the offence. Convoked in the name of Jesus, it will be armed with His authority. The apostle will himself be presents, though not physically. Then the church must formally deliver to Satan a man guilty of conduct so heinous, in order that the sinful principle may be extirpated, and his spirit saved at the Second Coming. The passage is difficult. For the importance of the name of Jesus as imparting efficacy to the act, see Genesis 32:24-30*. Paul will be present in spirit. Bodily absence will not mean real absence (Colossians 2:5). He will be actually present at the meeting. We must not weaken his words to mean what we mean, when we say, "I cannot be there, but I shall be with you in spirit." Nor can we put it in a modern way, as if there was any thought of telepathy. We are moving here among ideas which have grown strange to us. The sentence is probably one of excommunication, not of death (p. 649).

Their boasting, Paul proceeds, is unseemly. For, though one member alone is guilty, his corruption contaminates them all, as the bit of leaven permeates all the dough. Let them purge out this active centre of infection. The Jews before the Passover searched their houses very rigorously to remove every particle of leaven from it. And it is fitting that Christians should do the same, that they may be actually what they are ideally, without leaven of sin, for they have a Passover, the Paschal victim being Christ. Then a different turn is given to the figure, the church, represented in 1 Corinthians 5:7 as a lump of dough, in 1 Corinthians 5:8 is thought of as keeping the feast not with the leaven of wickedness but the unleavened bread of sincerity. Somewhat abruptly Paul recalls the injunctions of a former letter (perhaps partially preserved in 2 Corinthians 6:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1), forbidding association with those guilty of impurity. Apparently the church had misunderstood him, a little wilfully perhaps, to forbid intercourse with all such people, and declared his demand to be impracticable. Paul assents; they would have to leave the world altogether if they were to avoid contact with them entirely. He explains (1 Corinthians 5:11 read mg.) that, of course, he meant members of the church, adding those guilty of several other vices as men to be boycotted. They ought not to have misunderstood him, he implies, since obviously he had no qualification for judging non-Christians; their own practice is to judge Christians and leave outsiders to the judgment of God. That is their practice, but in this case it has fallen into abeyance; let them do their duty and excommunicate the offender (Deuteronomy 17:7 b).

1 Corinthians 5:7 b. This designation of Christ as the Paschal Lamb corroborates the Johannine date for the crucifixion (p. 743), the death occurring when the lambs were being killed for the Passover.

1 Corinthians 5:11. idolater: apparently some tried to combine Christianity with their old religion.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/1-corinthians-5.html. 1919.

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