Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.Ch. 1 Corinthians 5:1-8. The case of the incestuous person
1. It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you] This explains the mention of the ‘rod’ in the last verse.
and such fornication as is not so much as named amongst the Gentiles] Two considerations of some importance, bearing on Church history, are suggested by this passage. The first is, that we must dismiss the idea, that the Christian Church at the beginning of its career was a pattern of Christian perfection. 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 we see how the Apostles had to begin by laying the very foundations of a system of morals among their depraved heathen 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. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 7:10. Estius, however, thinks that the son was living publicly with his father’s wife, as though she were his own.
And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.2. And ye are (lit. have been) puffed up, and have not rather mourned] Puffed up. Vulgate, inflati. Tyndale, ye swell. Wiclif, are bolnun, i.e. swollen with pride. It sheds a terrible light upon the self-satisfaction of the Corinthian Church, that it was not disturbed by such a scandal as this.
might be taken away from among you] 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.
For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,3. I verily, as absent in body] Cf. Colossians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:17. 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.
have judged already] 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.
concerning him that hath so done this deed] 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.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,4. in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ] This may be taken (1) with ‘I have judged’ in 1 Corinthians 5:3; (2) with when ye are gathered together, or (3) with to deliver such a one unto Satan. 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
with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ] This has been taken (1) with when ye are gathered together, and (2) with to deliver such a one unto Satan. 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.
To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.5. to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh] 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 St 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.
such a one] The force of the expression in the original is a man of that sort, the person capable of such a deed.
that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus] “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 the day of the Lord Jesus see ch. 1 Corinthians 3:13, 1 Corinthians 4:5, and Romans 2:5; Romans 2:16.
Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?6. Your glorying is not good] Rather, that state of things of which you glory is not good. The word here translated glorying 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. 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.
a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump] The presence of a very small amount of evil in the Christian society imparts a character to the whole—a truth only too folly 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.
Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:7. Purge out therefore the old leaven] 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’ time. 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 St 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. xii. 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 St John 6, itself delivered before a Passover.
that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened] 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 word translated lump signifies properly a mass of dough, from a verb signifying to mix, knead.
Christ our passover] 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 (St 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. St 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 (St 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.
is sacrificed] 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.
Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.8. keep the feast] Rather, 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 some particular festival.
malice and wickedness] Rather, perhaps, vice and wickedness, cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 14:20.
sincerity and truth] The word here translated sincerity 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 as from the rays of the sun, 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.
I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:9–13. Application of the same principle to offenders generally
9. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators] 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.
in an epistle] The Greek has the Epistle, and 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.
Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.10. or with the covetous] The word used here in the original is derived from two Greek words signifying to have more. Hence it signifies (1) one who has more than enough, (2) who desires more than enough of whatever kind, (3) one greedy after money. In some passages it, and the substantive and verb of similar derivation, are 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.
But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.11. I have written] Literally, I wrote, i.e. in the former Epistle.
called a brother] i.e. as being so in name only.
an extortioner] Latin rapax, a kindred word to that used in the original. Distinct from the covetous man in that he uses force rather than fraud to deprive men of their property.
For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?12, 13. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without?] 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.’ The word therefore (literally ‘and’) is absent from many MSS., and has been supposed to have been introduced from the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 17:7; Deuteronomy 21:21, &c. In the Greek the word ye in 1 Corinthians 5:12 is emphatic, and the words those that are within scarcely less so—‘it is those that are within that ye judge.’ Some editors would read the following words as a question, ‘Doth not God judge those that are without?’
But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.