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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Corinthians 5

 

 

Verse 1

PART SECOND. ST. PAUL’S TEN APOSTOLIC RESPONSES,

1 Corinthians 5:1 to 1 Corinthians 16:4.

PAUL’S FIRST RESPONSE:—TO THE RUMOURS TOUCHING THE REPORT OF INCEST, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.

a. Judgment upon the incestuous man, 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.

1. Reported—This report, like those touching the Church strifes in the first chapter, must have come from the “household of Chloe,” or from the three special messengers; probably the latter. Commonly—Literal Greek, wholly. This cannot mean, as it is rendered by some, “every-where,” or “generally;” for in Ephesus it could have not been generally spread, and at Corinth Paul could know nothing of the extent of its spread. The Greek word, with a negative in a sentence, would signify “not at all;” as here, with an affirmative, it must signify, reversely, absolutely, or as Alford, actually. The word, then, does not indicate the extent of the report, but aggravates the heinousness of the sin reported.

Fornication—A term here comprehending any sexual criminality, and designating a case of incest.

So much as named—According to the best manuscripts this clause should be omitted.

Have—The word would indicate either by marriage or by concubinage. How dissolute a city Corinth was, how prostitution was even there made a religious rite, and courtezans were regular priestesses to the goddess of lust, we have stated in the introduction to this epistle. The present transgressor was a member of the Church, and so probably was his father, against whom the sin was committed. 2 Corinthians 7:12. We may suppose the transgressor to have been a Gentile, who construed the morality of the new religion to be “liberal” on the laws of sex. Paul, therefore, in the next clause admonishes them that such a looseness would place Christianity below the average morals of paganism.

Among… Gentiles—Though from the necessity of the case marriage among near relations at the commencement of the race was tolerated, yet in time it would be disclosed by experience that such “marrying in” would depreciate and destroy the race. Then the powerful intuitions of our nature have placed abhorrence of incest among the fundamentals of moral law.

Instances of incest as narratives of abomination and horror are given in many of the classic authors. Edipus, by sad mistake marrying his own mother, is the subject of one of the most thrilling dramas of Sophocles.


Verse 2

2. Puffed up—Note on 1 Corinthians 4:6. Neither shame nor grief over this foul sin reduced their inflation. Sensuality was a fashionable indulgence in Corinth. The precise shape and rigidity of Christian ethics were not in their minds fixed; the Church took the matter easily; neither its exultation over its worldly prosperity, nor its pride in possession of spiritual gifts, was toned down.

Rather mourned—Instead of indifference and persistent pride the whole Church should have melted in grief for the downfall of this one man. The Christian body should have sympathetic nerves for the sin or sorrow of each and every member.

That—To the end that. Their grief should have prompted them to the instant removal of the sin, even at the expense of the excommunication of the sinner.

Taken away—By the law of Christ, the great head of the Church. That not by death but by excommunication is meant, is clear from Paul’s directions 1 Corinthians 5:4-5.


Verse 3

3. Present in spirit—Though I am here in Ephesus, yet do you conceive me as sitting in apostolic power and spirit in your midst at Corinth, ordering the execution of the sentence I now write.

Have judged already—In instant contrast with your tardiness and tolerance.


Verse 4

4. In name… Christ—This severance of the guilty from the Church is performed, 1.) By the divine authority of Christ; 2.) By the declaratory authority of the apostle; and 3.) By the executive authority of the collective Church, in whom the normal authority permanently resides after the miraculous apostolic authority is withdrawn.

When—When ye and my spirit are gathered together.

This power of excommunication was first exercised by the Jewish Church. There was a “cutting off from the people,” as in Exodus 30:33; Exodus 30:38; Exodus 31:14; Leviticus 17:4; and there was an exclusion of the leprous from the camp, Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 12:14. So Christ commands that he who will not hear the Church becomes as a “heathen man and a publican;” that is, his Christian character and brotherhood are no longer to be recognised, and he is no longer of the Church but of the world.

In the primitive and persecuted Church, when men, “lapsed” through fear from Christianity became pagans, anathematized Christ, and sacrificed to idols, their apostasy had an awful aspect to the eyes of the faithful. The communion of the Church became unspeakably valuable, and excommunication from it a terror to the soul. And then, when Christianity became the religion of the State, this prerogative of excommunication became a weighty power in the hands of the hierarchy. The ecclesiastical ban pronounced upon the victim isolated him from society like a leper. It deprived him of all rights in court or in Church; made it criminal to pray with him, feed him, give him drink, or even speak to him. When the pope assumed this power, he could ban kings and absolve their subjects from all obedience to them as sovereigns, and all duty or kindness to them as persons. The most appalling form of excommunication was that of “bell, book, and candle.” By the solemn sound of the tolling bell the bishop and twelve priests, each with a lighted candle, marched in solemn procession, while the people assembled, to the cathedral. The bishop, attended by the twelve, sitting before the grand altar, read in solemn voice from the book to the congregation the most direful curses that language could frame; and when he had finished, the candles were at once dashed down, the bell recommenced to toll, and the people departed, filled with supernatural terror and an awful abhorrence of the victim accursed. According to Protestantism, excommunication being the means of securing the purity of the Church, is simply the severance of the guilty from the sacraments and from all membership of the Church.


Verse 5

5. Unto Satan—From the Church, under Christ, they are to surrender him unto the world under Satan.

Destruction of the flesh—As was inflicted, with instant death, upon Ananias and Sapphira. It is not to be supposed, as some commentators would have it, that this destruction is inflicted by Satan, but by the judgment of God upon one who is handed over from Christ to Satan. By destruction of the flesh some commentators, excluding all supernaturalism, understand the destruction or correction of the carnal disposition, as the natural result of the admonition and discipline of the Church. Such would be a feeble meaning. A supernatural bodily emaciation would, indeed, tend to destroy the lust of the flesh, and so would be a very suitable discipline; just as blindness inflicted upon Elymas was a suitable penalty for his blindness of soul, and tended to open his spiritual perceptions.

Spirit may be saved—The excommunication, though an act of severity, is an act of love. It is the Church’s last admonition of the guilty to win him unto repentance. And the destruction of the flesh, by illness or consumption short of death from supernatural infliction, as a divine penalty, would show the truth of Christianity, the value of the Church, and the guilt of sin; and might perhaps bring the apostate to reflection, conviction, and salvation. So St. Paul delivered Hymeneus and Alexander unto Satan, in order that, admonished by the consequent destruction of the flesh, they might learn not to blaspheme.

Upon this case St. Paul now (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) states the object of Church discipline, namely, the purity of the Church, and (9-13) the degree of separation from the wicked required, and the limitation of the Church’s discipline to its own membership.


Verse 6

b. Sin, like a pervading leaven, must be purged from the Church, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.

6. Your glorying—Rather, your ground of boasting; namely, an entire forgetfulness of your disgrace from this sensuality.

Not good—Not honourable or noble. It was a base insensibility to moral reproach.

Know ye not—A solemn phrase indicating a truth it behooved them well to know: used by St. Paul in this epistle ten times.

Leaven—Is a portion of old dough in a high state of fermentation, which, added to a new mass of dough, spreads the fermentation through the whole lump, and so renders the bread, upon baking, porous and light. As this fermentation is a sort of disintegration, and proves so pervasive, the ancients saw in it an image of moral corruption. So Plutarch (quoted by Wetstein) says: “Wherefore is it unlawful for the priest of Jove, called Flamen Dialis, to touch leaven? Because leaven itself comes of putrefaction, and being commingled corrupts the mass; and leaven itself seems, indeed, a putrifying; for by abounding, it altogether acidifies and corrupts the flour.” Wetstein also thus quotes a Jewish author: “Our rabbins call lust a leaven in the lump; for as a little of the yeast impregnates the whole mass and corrupts it, so lust corrupts the whole man.”


Verse 7

7. Purge out—By expelling the sinner if impenitent.

Old leaven—This refers not to any process by which leaven can be expelled from the impregnated lump; but more probably to the practice at passover of expelling all old leaven from their houses. Note on Matthew 26:2. The original reason of this use of unleavened bread was to typify the haste of Israel’s departure from Egypt, as admitting no time for leavened bread to “rise.” But to this was subsequently added the condemnation of leaven, as a type of corruption and a relic of old Egypt; and so a ritual display of expulsion was performed. On the fourteenth day of Nisan, the whole household at night, in formal procession, searched with lighted candles through every nook and corner of their residence for any fancied possible particle of old leaven to be expelled. Hence arises before St. Paul’s mind a full allegory of the purification of the Church by the expulsion of sin.

Our passover—Point after point St. Paul takes in the whole symbolism of the passover. How truly the slaying of the victim was a sacrifice, and how truly Christ was the reality of which the victim was a symbol, we have shown in note on Matthew 26:2.


Verse 8

8. Keep the feast—As Christ is our sacrifice once offered, with perpetual efficacy, for us, so our redeemed life is a perpetual paschal feast.

Old leaven—The unregeneracy of our old man. Leaven, consisting of malice— Greek, κακια, internal evil disposition.

Wickedness—In permanent, external practice.

Sincerity—The Greek word implies such a pure transparency of substance that the sun shines through it without detecting a speck. Hence purity.

Truth—The opposite of error or deceit.


Verse 9

c. Separateness must be from evildoers in the Church—where it must be rigid—rather than from those without, over whom Church discipline has no authority, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.

9. I wrote—In a former epistle not now extant. Note on Acts 19:12. A respectable minority of commentators doubt the reality of this former epistle. They argue, 1. The words an epistle (literally, in the Greek, the epistle) might be rendered this epistle; and that the reference might be to 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. But this reference we think to be scarcely admissible. 2. It is not to be supposed that an apostolic epistle, a part of the sacred canon, would be lost. But we have no reason to suppose that Paul and the other apostles wrote no more letters than we now have in the New Testament. See note at close of preceding chapter.


Verse 10

10. Of this world—In Paul’s last epistle the prohibition of associating with the sensualists had been apparently over interpreted, so as to make any association in the dissolute world of Corinth impracticable. This at once produced a stern asceticism, and overlooked the true field of discipline, which was to preserve both the purity and the reputation for purity of the holy Church.

Or with—He now extends the rule to other vices than incontinence.

Covetous—Overreachers in business.

Extortioners— Rapacious men of all classes, embezzlers, pillagers, robbers.

IdolatersImage worshippers. Said by Grotius to be the first time the word occurs in any document extant.

Go out… world—And St. Paul here clearly assumes that it is the Christian’s duty to stay in the world. Christianity allows no right to shut one’s self up in a monastery, convent, or cave; no right to become a monk or a nun.


Verse 11

11. But now—In this letter written here to define more clearly my former words.

Called a brother—Whom your associating with would, constructively, sanction his claim to brotherhood in the Church.

Not to eat—In such a way as would seem to admit to the pagans of Corinth a Church association with him. This does not mean merely to refuse sacramental communion with him, but the interchange of table hospitalities; a separateness necessarily more severe in a heathen than a Christian community. The intention is not to punish him, or to make an enemy of him, or to render him miserable; but to secure the Church equally from the infection and the disgrace of his fellowship. Seneca (quoted by Wetstein) says: “It matters not so much what, as with whom, you eat and drink.”


Verse 12

12. For—I limit the application of this rule to a brother, for the following reason.

What… to do—What right do I possess?

Judge… without— Church discipline assumes but to govern the Church, whose members have voluntarily placed themselves under its authority. The Church is a holy republic, governed by its own laws.

Do not ye—Do not you, as a Church, limit your discipline to your own number, and thereby show that such was the meaning of my letter?


Verse 13

13. God judgeth—Many pagan Corinthians may have been far more corrupt than this incestuous Church member. But they could not be expelled the Church, for they were already without its pale. Nor had the apostle any miraculous power to emaciate their bodies or blind their eyes. If he had possessed such power he would have also had a stupendous amount of penal work on his hands. Judgment enough was impending over them, from inflicting which the apostle was exempt by God’s own power.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-corinthians-5.html. 1874-1909.

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