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1 Corinthians 5


    Disorders in Corinth    
Judgement Against Immorality Immorality Defiles the Church A Case of Church Discipline Immorality in the Church Incest in Corinth
5:1-8 5:1-8 5:1-2 5:1-5 5:1-5
    5:6-8 5:6-8 5:6-8
  Immorality Must be Judged      
5:9-13 5:9-13 5:9-13 5:9-11 5:9-13a
      5:12-13 5:13b

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. This is one of several passages in the NT on church discipline (cf. I Cor. 5:2,7,13; II Cor. 2:5-7; II Thess. 3:14-15; I Tim. 1:20; Titus 3:10).


B. Church discipline has three purposes.

1. to maintain the reputation and integrity of the local church

2. to help disciple and restore an erring covenant brother or sister (cf. II Cor. 2:5-11; II Thess. 3:14-15)

3. to cause other Christians not to sin (cf. I Tim. 5:20)


C. There is a staged approach.

1. first, private confrontation and if not successful, personal disfellowship (cf. Matt. 18:15; Gal. 6:1; II Thess. 3:14-15; Titus 3:10)

2. second, small group confrontation (cf. Matt. 18:16)

3. third, public exclusion from the Christian fellowship (cf. Matt. 18:17; I Cor. 5:1; I Tim. 1:20)

4. the goal must always be for repentance and restoration, not just isolation and punishment (cf. II Cor. 2:6-8; Gal. 6:1)



It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. 2You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.

5:1 "It is actually reported" The English "actually" is the Greek holōs, a rare form which occurs in I Corinthians several times(cf. 5:1; 6:7; 15:29). It is a form of the term holos, which means "wholly," "altogether." This rare form seems to mean "widely known" (cf. NJB). This may have been one of the reasons Paul was so upset over this flagrant immorality. The Corinthian church was glorying in it and it was being widely reported to the other churches. Paul had to deal with this out-of-bounds action and the attitude of this church lest they negatively affect all churches (i.e., the yeast principle, cf. vv. 6-8).

▣ "immorality" This is the Greek term "porneia" which was the general term for sexual looseness. We get the English word, pornography, from this Greek word. Greek Corinth was known for its sexual promiscuity. Even other pagans were shocked by Corinth's immoral social license. See Bruce W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth.

In the OT there is a distinction between the terms "adultery" (i.e., one or both are married) and "fornication" (i.e., neither is married), but this is not the case in Koine Greek (cf. Acts 15:20,29). This term refers to any sexual impropriety (i.e., adultery, fornication, homosexuality, even beastiality). Here it is a violation of Lev. 18:8; Deut. 27:20.

"of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles" This incestuous relationship was forbidden by the Mosaic Law (cf. Lev. 18:8 and Deut. 22:30), but it must have also been shocking even to the immoral pagans of Corinth. This was "too far" even for first century Roman culture (cf. Gaius, Inst. I, 63 and Oxford Classical Dictionary 8, 539-540).

NASB, NKJV "the Gentiles"
TEV"the heathen"

Paul is using this term in a specialized sense. In the OT there was a sharp distinction between Jew and Gentile. The "nations" had negative connotations. Paul is using Gentile in the sense of unbeliever. Many of those he was writing to were non-Jews.

NASB"that someone has his father's wife"
NKJV"that a man has his father's wife"
NRSV"for a man is living with his father's wife"
TEV"that a man is sleeping with his stepmother"
NJB"that one of you is living with his stepmother"

This apparently refers to his living with his step-mother. The man

1. seduced his step-mother away from his father

2. was living with his divorced step-mother

3. was living with his widowed step-mother


5:2 It is possible to take this verse as (1) three questions; (2) three statements (NASB, NKJV); or (3) a combination (cf. NRSV, TEV, NJB, NIV).

NASB"You have become arrogant"
NKJV"you are puffed up"
NRSV"you are arrogant"
TEV"How then, can you be proud"
NJB"And you are so filled with your own self-importance"

This is a perfect passive participle of the term "puffed up," used so often in the Corinthian letter (cf. 4:6,18,19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4; II Cor. 12:20). It has the "to be" verb linked with it, which makes this a perfect periphrastic, which implies a settled condition. The real problem was the attitude of the church (i.e., plural pronoun and verbs). They were proud of this situation.

This shocking incident has several possible rationales.

1. from the general context it is possible that this was seen by the church as an example of the radical newness which salvation brings

2. it reflects the Jewish background of Rabbi Aqibah illustrating how a new convert was a totally new person (i.e., A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, p. 111), therefore, in the Corinthian setting this was not incest, but Christian freedom (i.e., one's newness in Christ).


NASB"and have not mourned instead"
NKJV"and have not rather mourned"
NRSV"Should you not rather have mourned"
TEV"On the contrary, you should be filled with sadness"
NJB"It would have been better if you had been grieving bitterly"

This Greek word (i.e., pentheō, cf. Matt. 5:4; 9:15; II Cor. 12:21; James 4:9) was used of mourning for the dead (cf. Rev. 18:8,11). In Jewish society mourning was done for the dead, for some tragedy, or for blasphemy (cf. Mark 14:63).

NASB"would be removed from your midst"
NKJV"might be taken away from among you"
NRSV"would have been removed from among you"
TEV"should be expelled from your fellowship"
NJB"were turned out of the community"

This is an aorist passive subjunctive. This Greek word means to "lift up and take away," often involving judgment (cf. Matt. 24:39) and destruction (cf. John 11:48). The purpose of church discipline is three-fold.

1. cleansing of the local church (i.e., both from sin and the restoration of its image in the local community)

2. the reformation and redemption of erring believers. It is just possible because of v. 5 (also the same terms are used in Luke 23:18) that this refers to the death of the erring believer(s).

3. other believers seeing God's discipline are encouraged not to sin


For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

5:3-5 This paragraph is a judicial metaphor. Paul is supposing that the church called a "church court" (cf. James 2:1-4). The early church followed the administrative and worship pattern of the synagogue. These courts were common and many were excommunicated from the synagogue.

5:3 "though absent in body but present in spirit" These are both present active participles. This clearly shows Paul's sense of his apostolic authority (cf. vv. 3 & 5). But notice that he wants the church to confirm his decision (cf. v. 4).


▣ "have already judged him who has so committed this" This is a perfect active indicative. Paul asserts his authority even in his physical absence and his decision stands.

5:4 "In the name of our Lord Jesus" This is a Hebraic way of asserting the prestige and power of the risen Christ as Paul's source of apostolic authority. Paul represents Him and emulates Him.

There are a variety of forms of "the name of ______" in the Greek manuscripts of this verse.

1. "our Jesus" in uncial manuscripts B, D*

 2. "Jesus Christ" in the uncial manuscript א

3. "our Jesus Christ" in uncial manuscripts D2, F, G

4. "our" in Lectionary in the minuscule manuscript 1021 (12th century)

5. "Jesus Christ our Lord" in minuscule manuscript 81 (11th century)

The United Bible Societies' Greek NT, fourth edition (UBS4) says it is difficult to decide, but prefers #1.

This same manuscript problem occurs again in v. 5 (and also v. 11).

1. "Lord" in MSS P46, B

2. "Lord Jesus" in MS א

3. "Lord Jesus Christ" in MS D

4. "our Lord Jesus Christ" in MSS A, F, G, P

UBS4 rates #1 as almost certain.

5:5 "to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh" "Deliver" is the Greek term paradidōmi, which is used in the Gospels of turning someone over to the authorities for appropriate punishment (cf. Matt. 4:12; 5:25; 10:4,17; 18:34; 20:19; 26:15; 27:2,18,26) and in Romans (cf. 1:24,26,28) for turning someone over to evil spiritual powers. This usage fits this context best (i.e., Satan being identified).

This is similar to I Tim. 1:20. There has been much discussion among scholars and commentators over what this involves. Some see it as resulting in the ultimate physical punishment (i.e., death), as in Acts 5 and I Cor. 3:17; 11:30. Others see it as a total excommunication, putting one in the realm of Satan's activity, which is the world (cf. John 12:31; 16:11; I Cor. 4:4; I John 5:19), where his alienation from fellowship with God and His people may turn him back to God and avert eschatological judgment. Paul saw the world as the domain of Satan (cf. Eph. 2:2). The evil which occurs in this world (i.e., death, disease, loss, etc.) are attributed to the evil one, Satan (cf. II Cor. 12:7; I Thess. 2:18). It is also possible that "flesh" may refer to mankind's sensual rebellious lifestyle (i.e., Adamic fallen nature). See Special Topic: Personal Evil at 7:5.

For "flesh" see Special Topic at 1:26.

▣ "so that his spirit may be saved" Church discipline must always be redemptive and restorative, not vindictive (cf. II Cor. 2:5-11; II Thess. 3:14-15). This is the OT connotation of the word "saved," which means physical deliverance. This person, though acting immorally, is a member of the church. He needs spiritual deliverance, not salvation.

As so often in Paul's writings the physical body and the spirit are set in contrast (e.g., Rom. 8:1-11). They represent two distinct authority structures, two worldviews, two allegiances (cf. Matt. 6:19-34; I John 2:15-17).

One more theological point about v. 5: Satan is God's instrument, serving His redemptive purposes. In the OT Satan is an enemy of humanity, but a servant of God (cf. A. B. Davidson, An OT Theology, pp. 300-306). The relationship intensifies in the NT. Satan becomes an enemy of God, but he still is an unwilling servant. Satan's function in v. 5 is to bring ultimate salvation to an erring church member.

▣ "in the day of the Lord Jesus" This obviously refers to an eschatological, end-time setting. God's temporal judgment towards Christians can be seen in 11:30-32; Acts 5, and I Tim. 1:20. Does this text imply (1) physical death, but eschatological salvation, 1:8 or (2) is his salvation dependant on his repentance?

There is a recurrent eschatological emphasis in I Corinthians (cf. 1:7-8; 3:13; 4:5; 5:5; 6:14; 11:26; 13:12; 15:50-54; 16:22). Possibly one of the theological problems in the Corinthian church was an over-realized eschatology combined with an incipient

Gnosticism. They thought they had arrived spiritually (cf. 4:7-10) and that the body was evil (i.e., Greek thought) and, therefore, irrelevant to spiritual issues. Paul refutes these tendencies by

1. affirming a future as well as present (cf. 5:5) judgment

2. emphasizing the inappropriateness of immorality for believers (cf. vv. 5-6)

Also notice that OT phrases referring to YHWH have now been transferred to Jesus (cf. 1:8; II Cor. 1:14; I Thess. 5:2; II Thess. 2:2; II Tim. 4:8). This is one of the literary ways that NT authors assert the deity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

5:6 "Your boasting is not good" This comment helps interpret the attitude of the Corinthian church. They were claiming a freedom and license based on the gospel. They wanted to flaunt their new freedom instead of providing a gospel witness to their community.


▣ "Do you not know" This is a characteristic phrase used often by Paul to refer to things believers should have known, things previously communicated to them, but which they often apparently (i.e., because of their actions and attitudes) have forgotten (cf. Rom. 6:16; 11:2; I Cor. 3:16; 5:6; 6:2,3,9,15,19; 9:13,24).

▣ "leaven" This refers to a Jewish proverb (cf. Matt. 16:6,12; Gal. 5:9) about yeast, usually in a negative sense, being likened to rottenness because of the fermentation process. However, sometimes the metaphor has a positive aspect (cf. Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:20-21), which shows that meaning is related to context.


5:7 "Clean out the old leaven" This is an aorist active imperative. It is an allusion to the Jewish custom of removing yeast from the house just before Passover each year (cf. Exod. 12:15). The annual ritual was a symbol of repentance.

NASB"that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened"
NKJV"that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened"
NRSV"that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened"
TEV"so that you will be entirely pure. Then you will be like a new batch of dough without any yeast, as indeed I know you actually are"
NJB"so that you can be the fresh dough, unleavened as you are"

This shows Paul's typical combination of the MORAL command linked with the POSITIONAL statement. What we are in Christ positionally, we are to become in Christlike lifestyle. They were the people of God (i.e., unleavened), but would be the eschatological people of God (i.e., new lump).

NASB"For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed"
NKJV"For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us"
NRSV"For our Passover feast is ready, now that Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"
TEV"For our Passover Festival is ready, now that Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"
NJB"For our Passover has been sacrificed, that is, Christ" 

Paul relates the death of Christ to the OT concept of the Passover Lamb (cf. Exod. 12:15ff; 13:7). This is one of the few places in the NT that this connection is specifically stated:

1. John the Baptist saw this connection and called Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" in John 1:29.

2. John 19:36 uses a quote from the Exodus Passover from Exod. 12:46.


5:8 "Therefore let us celebrate the feast" This is a present active subjunctive (a Hortatory subjunctive calls for action). It relates to the only OT fast day (cf. Leviticus 16), called the Day of Atonement in v. 7, while vv. 7b and 8 relate to the Passover Feast (cf. Exodus 12). This refers to our continual lifestyle because of Christ's work for us and in us, but with an element of contingency (i.e., subjunctive mood).

"not with old leaven" This refers to the New Covenant in Christ (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38). This new covenant excludes human boasting and arrogance. The death of Christ is the watershed of biblical revelation.

▣ "nor with malice and wickedness" In context and by contrast, Paul is asserting the improper, even evil, motives and actions of some of the factions in the house churches of Corinth.

"but with sincerity" This rare word is possibly a compound term from "sunshine" and "judge." It conveys the concept of unhidden, pure motives (cf. 5:8; II Cor. 1:12; 2:17; Phil. 1:10; II Pet. 3:1).

"truth" The etymology of alētheia is "to expose, unconceal, clearly manifest," which is parallel with the root meaning of "sincerity." Paul is concerned with motives! See Special Topic at II Cor. 13:8.

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

5:9 "I wrote you in my letter" This probably refers to a lost letter (cf. A, T, Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, p. 115, and M. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, p. 769). It is possible that several of Paul's letters have been lost (cf. Col. 4:16) or it could be an epistolary aorist (cf. 9:15), which would refer to I Corinthians, which he was currently writing (cf. v. 11). See Introduction to I Corinthians, VII. C.

"immoral people" This is the Greek term pornos (cf. 5:9,10,11; 6:9). It relates to "immorality" (i.e., porneia cf. 5:1 [twice]; 6:13,18; 7:2; II Cor. 12:21) and "commit immorality" (i.e., porneuō, cf. 6:18; 10:8).

These new believers at Corinth were mostly Gentiles (probably Romans). Pagans worshiped with drunkenness and sexual acts at the temples of their gods and at special public and private dinners. Their new faith in Christ was still tainted with their Gentile past and culture.


5:10 Paul's letter had been misunderstood. Paul urged the new believers to flee immorality. However, some interpreted this as "never associate with." Paul had to clarify his meaning. Believers live in a fallen world; it is impossible not to come in contact with immoral people (especially if we take seriously Matt. 28:19). What Paul meant was do not let active pagans be your covenant brother, fellow church members, or even best friend. This is a Present middle infinitive of the term sunanamignumi, which means "to mix together" (cf. 5:9,11; II Thess. 3:6,14). Verses 10-11 give a clear picture of the cultural setting of the church at Corinth.


NASB"any so-called brother"
NKJV"anyone named a brother"
NRSV"anyone who bears the name of brother or sister"
TEV"a person who calls himself a believer"
NJB"anyone going by the name of brother"

This phrase is a present passive participle, which links up with the third class conditional sentence. It refers to someone claiming the name of Christ (cf. Eph. 5:3) or calling on the name of Christ (cf. Rom. 10:9-13; Phil 2:11). Taking Christ's name meant taking His character. It is very clear that Paul (like Jesus) believed that one's lifestyle revealed one's true self (cf. Matt. 7:15-23). Profession must be matched with knowledge of the gospel, the indwelling Spirit, personal obedience, and perseverance.

"a reviler" See note at 4:12.

"if" This is a third class conditional sentence, which means possible action. There are several lists in Paul's writings of the sins of the flesh (cf. Romans 1:29-37; I Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9-10; II Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:31; 5:3-4; Col. 3:5-9).

"not even to eat with such a one" This may refer to the Lord's Supper, but could refer to social contact (cf. 10:27). In Roman culture dinners were often opportunities for immorality.

5:12 Paul and the church must deal with members (v. 12 expects a "yes" answer), but believers must allow God to deal with non-members. Believers must not judge one another (cf. Matt. 7:1ff; Rom. 14:1-15:13), but

1. we must examine each other's fruits for leadership positions (cf. 6:1-3; Matthew 7)

2. we must exercise church discipline when the reputation of the church is at risk

This is often a fine line! By implication Paul is asserting that the sinning man of v. 1 must be placed in the realm of God's judgment (i.e., outside the church).

One wonders how this context relates to modern societies where believers and non-believers have an opportunity by voting to regulate social norms. Should believers vigorously participate in the political process? This context is limited to judgment relating to church discipline and not western, modern democracy. Believers are citizens of two realms with obligations and privileges in both! God's Spirit, God's will, and God's Book help us as believers find our way in this fallen world, but unbelievers are exploited and manipulated by sin, self, and Satan. They need our witness and compassion, not our judgmental self-righteousness. They are not capable of understanding our motives, purposes, and actions.

The problem of when and how Christians should "judge" each other caused several Greek manuscripts to alter this text.

1. The very early papyrus manuscript P46 (about a.d. 200) as well as the Bahairic Coptic translation (3rd century) and Peshitta Syriac translation (5th century) just omit the negative and translate the sentence as an imperative, "Judge ye those who are inside [the church]" (cf. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 551).

2. The Sahidic Coptic translation (3rd century) put the negative with the preceding sentence, "For what have I to do with judging those who are outside and not those who are inside? Judge those who are inside" (Metzger, p. 51).

3. The UBS4 text does not even acknowledge the possibility of these variants as original.


5:13 Paul clinched his argument from the Jewish point of view by alluding to the writings of Moses (cf. Deut. 13:5; 17:7,12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21,24; 24:7). If the church tolerates (even glories in) immoral members they will affect the whole church (cf. v. 11).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why do churches not practice church discipline today?

2. How do we relate Paul's apostolic authority with the authority of the local church?

3. What does it mean to turn someone over to Satan for destruction of his flesh?

4. How many letters did Paul write to Corinth?


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