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The failure of the Christian church to enforce church discipline against sexual immorality in its midst has severely compromised its inner health and outward testimony.  Tolerance has become the modern virtue; but apparently tolerance was very much in vogue back in the Corinthian church as well.  The Apostle Paul calls God’s people to take sin seriously and to understand the devastating impact of allowing sexual immorality to go unjudged.  “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”  The urgency of the situation calls for immediate intervention on the part of the Apostle Paul and clear direction to the Corinthian church.

Gordon Fee: With his opening sentence (5:1) Paul clearly turns to address a new issue, a case of incest that is being at least tolerated, if not actually condoned, among the community of believers. The new topic is conceptually so unlike what has preceded1 that most scholars see the two sections as related only in terms of how Paul knew about the situation—that this, too, had been reported to him (5:1; cf. 1:11). But that seems to overlook some of the linguistic ties between this section and the conclusion of the preceding one (4:14–21), especially

(1)  the “arrogance” of “some” (4:18–19) and the arrogance of the church in what follows (5:2, 6), and

(2)  the lack of “power” among the arrogant (4:19–20) vis-à-vis the “power of our Lord Jesus” (5:4).

These may give more logic to the sequence than one might perceive at first glance and would probably be more immediately perceptible if we didn’t have chapter and verse numbers(!). In the final paragraph of the preceding argument Paul finally reasserted his apostolic authority, in the context of those who were “puffed up” against him and his “coming very soon” in order to find out their “power.” What seems to be at stake in the next three sections (5:1–13; 6:1–11; 6:12–20) is the crisis of authority that was a large part of what lay behind the preceding long argument (1:10 – 4:21), and especially the authority of Paul vis-à-vis the “arrogant” who were responsible for leading the church in its new direction, both theologically/behaviorally and over against Paul. . .

The argument itself and its overall point are basically easy to determine. The opening sentences (vv. 1–2) state what Paul knows about the problem and give his basic solution to it: they are to put this man outside the believing community—a command that is repeated no less than four times (vv. 2, 4–5, 7, 13). In a passage that is full of exegetical difficulties (vv. 3–5), he then outlines how and why they are to carry out the expulsion, and in the succeeding paragraph (vv. 6–8) he offers by way of analogy his own theological basis for it. He then returns to the church’s attitude (vv. 9–13) and ties it directly to their misunderstanding or disregard of his former letter, in which he had already spoken to these matters. He offers a clarification that concludes the argument as it began: They are “to judge those inside” and in some fashion to expel the incestuous man from the believing community.

David Garland: The root problem is their spiritual arrogance combined with moral laxity. Since Paul directs all of his commands to the church body, we can infer that he is more vexed with the congregation than he is with the culprit. The man is committing an odious sin, but they have permitted the person guilty of such sin to continue as a member in good standing without taking any disciplinary action. If they are the temple of God (3:16–17), the presence of this sin in their midst completely befouls its sanctity. Paul wants to puncture their inflated arrogance, to shake them out of their blasé attitude toward this sinful conduct, to purify the community of the contagion, and to create a situation that drives home the seriousness of the man’s sin and his need for repentance.

Carl Laney: The church that neglects to confront and correct its members lovingly is not being kind, forgiving, or gracious. Such a church is really hindering the Lord’s work and the advance of the gospel. The church without discipline is a church without purity (Eph. 5:25-27) and power (cf. Josh. 7:11-12a). By neglecting church discipline a church endangers not only its spiritual effectiveness but also its very existence. God snuffed out the candle of the church at Thyatira because of moral compromise (Rev. 2:20-24). Churches today are in danger of following this first-century precedent. (Biblical, 354)

Robert Saucy: Church discipline in all its forms was given by the Head of the church for the health and welfare of the body. To avoid its practice when necessary for the sake of reputation or what is really a false unity can only lead to a sick and weak church life. (The Church, 126)

Mark Taylor: Chapter 5 divides into two sections. In 5:1–8, Paul acknowledges that immorality is being reported among the Corinthians, confronts their complacent attitude toward the sin, and directs the church to carry out appropriate disciplinary action. In 5:9–13, Paul clarifies a misunderstanding from a previous letter regarding associations with immoral people and concludes with a final injunction to expel the wicked man from the community. There are four directives to take decisive action regarding outrageous sin in their midst (5:2,5,7,13). There are three issues at hand:

(1)  the sin of the offender,

(2)  the corporate responsibility of the church toward the sinner, and

(3)  their present arrogance.

Ultimately Paul’s concern is for the purity of the church, which is God’s sacred temple inhabited by the Holy Spirit (3:16–17).


A.  (:1) Shocking Report of Sexual Immorality Tolerated in the Church

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.”

  1.  Public Nature of This Perversion – reported to the Apostle Paul

2.  Immoral Nature of This Perversion – porneia – general word for any type of sexual immorality: fornication / adultery / homosexuality / etc.

(cf. English word “pornography”)

David Prior: We recall that Corinth was a sex-obsessed seaport. Hardly a Corinthian convert would have been left uncontaminated, directly or indirectly, by sexual immorality of one kind or another. Its tentacles would have clung tight and its poison run deep. In such a context it would have been very tempting to compromise the Christian position, either by judgmental expressions of horror at sexual deviation or by easy-going tolerance. . .

It was a case of incest, and even pagan thinkers were appalled by it.

Alhough Paul has such a distinctively unpleasant problem presented to him, the nub of the matter is contained in the more general word translated immorality in 5:1. The Greek word is porneia, which has the literal meaning of ‘resorting to prostitutes’. In Corinth the priestesses of the temple to Aphrodite were sacred prostitutes and the practice of porneia was particularly prevalent in such an atmosphere. The word came to mean, by consistent New Testament usage, any sexual behaviour which transgresses the Christian norm, that is, all premarital, extramarital and unnatural sexual intercourse. ‘The word is used in a comprehensive sense, including all violations of the seventh commandment.’

  1. Shocking Nature of This Perversion = Incest
  •  condemned by even the unbelieving Gentiles
  •  sex with the man’s stepmother
  •  Present tense for a continuing relationship

John MacArthur: This sin was so vile that even the church’s pagan neighbors were doubtless scandalized by it.  The Corinthians had rationalized or minimized this sin which was common knowledge, even though Paul had written them before about it (v. 9).

Steve Zeisler: Notice, finally, that the woman involved in this relationship is never mentioned. The reason is that she probably was not a believer. Paul is very clear in saying (vs.12, 13) that a non-believer will be judged by his or her specific refusal to know God. It is not the business of the church to judge non-believers.

James Boyer: The least that can be said is that they were living together as man and wife.

Gordon Fee: But in this instance the problem is not just porneia in general. Paul seems to have had trouble with that previously in Corinth and addressed it in an earlier letter (v. 9). What exercises him in this instance is that the form of porneia they are tolerating is of a kind that was not tolerated “even among pagans,” people whose moral standards were not otherwise high in the biblical sense: namely (lit.) “a man has his father’s wife,” which the NIV has rendered correctly (in a contemporary idiom), “A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.” The problem is incest, a man taking a wife of his father other than his own mother and “having” her sexually in an ongoing relationship.

Mark Taylor: The Old Testament condemned incest, but so did Roman law.  The fact that even pagans disapproved of the sin allowed Paul to appeal to a universal norm of decency and added all the more to the shame of the Corinthian attitude and lack of disciplinary action.

B.  (:2-5) Contrasting Responses of the Corinthian Church vs the Apostle Paul

  1. (:2)  Arrogant Tolerance on the Part of the Corinthian Church

You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead,

so that the one who had done this deed

would be removed from your midst.”

a.  Wrong Attitude – Arrogance vs Mourning

connection to previous context of spiritual pride in chap. 4

Mark Taylor: The only possible response to the circumstance should have been corporate mourning and the removal of the unrepentant sinner. The term used here for mourning occurs in other contexts indicating genuine anguish of soul over sin, whether one’s own sin or the sin of others. Paul uses the term again in 2 Cor 12:21 to refer to his grief “over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged” (cf. also Matt 5:4; Jas 4:9). The term is used in Mark 16:10 of those who mourned the death of Jesus and three times in Revelation (18:11,15,19) for the grief one experiences over an enormous loss.

b.  Simple Solution – Remove the transgressor

Robert Gundry: Instead of getting puffed up despite having in their midst a fornicator such as even pagans wouldn’t tolerate, they should have mourned because of having him in their midst. We don’t know why they didn’t mourn as they should have, though it’s a good guess that the man was one whose wealth and influence people in the Corinthian church depended on. Maybe they met in his home. Whatever the case, mourning suggests sorrow over a death, and a moral death has indeed occurred. So the church should have buried the incestuous man, so to speak, by removing him out of their midst the way a corpse, decaying as it does, is removed through burial. Paul is speaking of a social burial: ostracism.

David Garland: It is more likely that Paul speaks of their boasting despite the immorality rather than because of it (Clarke 1993: 76–77). This statement should be connected to his previous remarks in 4:6, 18, 19 chiding them for their “puffery.” How can they boast when they have such blatant and outrageous immorality in their midst? Paul registers the irony that “a church so confident and arrogant could be guilty of tolerating incest in its midst” (Clarke 1993: 76). Godet (1886: 242) comments, “Even this fact has not suffered to disturb the proud self-satisfaction which he has already rebuked in the Corinthians in the previous chapter, or to make them come down from the celestial heights on which they are now walking to the real state of things” (so also Weiss 1910: 125; Robertson and Plummer 1914: 96; Allo 1935: 116; Barrett 1968: 122). Findlay (1910: 807) claims that Paul bursts the Corinthians’ inflated opinion of themselves “with this crushing fact, no intellectual brilliance, no religious enthusiasm, can cover this hideous blot.” They are not puffed up because this man flouts taboos, but in spite of it. The problem, then, is not that they applauded this incestuous relationship but that they ignored it (Clarke 1993: 87). Paul’s seeks to rid the church of this ruinous sinner and their ruinous pride alike.

David Prior: Such a situation highlights three needs: for discipline (5:2b–13), for clear convictions (6:9–11) and for purity (6:12–20), all of which must be centred on Jesus Christ.

  1. (:3-5)  Decisive Judgment on the Part of the Apostle Paul –

Six Lessons from this Enforcement of Church Discipline by Paul:

(these verses are one long sentence in the Greek)

a.  Emphatic Intervention – pronoun emphasized by word order in Greek

For I, on my part

b.  Connectivity of the Universal Church by the Spirit of God

though absent in body but present in spirit

c.  Urgency of Rendering Judgment

have already judged him who has so committed this,

as though I were present

[contrast when it is appropriate and necessary to render judgment vs when we are warned against judging others]

David Garland: After noting his spiritual presence, he announces with an emphatic ἐγώ (egō; placed first in the sentence) that he has already judged the one guilty of this sin.  The perfect tense (κέκρικα, kekrika) implies that this judgment still stands when they read this letter. The “already” (ἤδη, ēdē) perhaps hints of impatience. As their founding apostle he takes full responsibility for their behavior even when absent, and he gives a swift, summary judgment—there can be no extenuating circumstances, and he offers no provisos. He fully expects them to confirm that judgment and to seal it with immediate and decisive action when they next assemble. Procrastination is inexcusable.

d. (:4)  Power of Authority Delegated from the Head of the Church

In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled,

and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus

Gordon Fee: Part of the problem, after all, is a crisis of authority in the church. Paul is hereby speaking a prophetic judgment on the perpetrator of this deed; but his authority is not his own. Rather, as in his most recent (preserved) letter (2 Thess. 3:6), he speaks “by the authority of our Lord Jesus” (Moffatt). . .  To do something in someone’s name is to act with that person’s authority, which is precisely the point of Paul’s concern here.

e.  (:5)  Severity of the Judgment – this is serious business —

I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan

for the destruction of his flesh

John MacArthur: “Deliver” is a strong term, used of judicial sentencing.  This is equal to excommunicating the professed believer.  It amounts to putting that person out of the blessing of Christian worship and fellowship by thrusting him into Satan’s realm, the world system. . .  The unrepentant person may suffer greatly under God’s judgment, but will not be an evil influence in the church; and he will more likely be saved under that judgment than if tolerated and accepted in the church.

Paul Garland: “Handing over” concerns a formal judgment of putting the man outside the community. As Robertson and Plummer write, “The offender is sent back to his domain.” A person who sins in this way needs to be placed among those who belong to the realm of darkness, even if he himself will ultimately be restored. His behavior is not fitting for “the kingdom of God” (4:20), and so he can have nothing to do with the Lord’s people while he maintains his evil position. It was noted in discussion of the opening ten verses of this epistle just how vital to Paul’s thinking is his view of the lordship of Christ. This man was not obeying the Lord Jesus Christ, and so, until he repents, he must live in the world where another lord holds sway.

destruction of his flesh” — [One possible view] — Fleshly actions would be those which are not God-serving but self-serving, and ultimately done in service of Satan. If we understand “flesh” in this way, then Paul—saying that his purpose is the salvation of this man’s spirit—may be intending that this “handing over” is so that the ways of the flesh will be destroyed. That is, he believes that immersion once again in the world, rather than remaining in the Christian community, will indeed lead to repentance. Repentance will then be seen in a changed life in which the flesh, that is, the behavior and life of darkness, is destroyed.

Robert Gundry: Though Paul has used “fleshy” and “fleshly” figuratively for human weakness (3:1, 3), elsewhere in 1 Corinthians “flesh” has to do with physicality (1:26, 29; 6:16; 7:28; 10:18; 15:39, 50; see also 10:10 for physical destruction); and the present contrast with “spirit” favors a reference to physicality here too. (“The spirit” can hardly refer to the Holy Spirit, for it would make theological nonsense to say he “will be saved.”) So “the flesh” refers to the incestuous man’s physical flesh, which will decay away, leaving only his bones; and “the spirit” refers to his human spirit, which will be saved “in the Day of the Lord”—that is, when Jesus returns as Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15–5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2) — by being given a new body in resurrection (see especially 6:13–14; 15:35–57; 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:4). “For the destruction of the flesh” then refers to a premature death, much as Paul will later say that some have fallen ill and even died for having desecrated the Lord’s Supper (11:29–30).

Mark Taylor: South observes that the most widespread critical understanding of this passage is what he calls the “curse/death” interpretation, meaning that “Paul is enjoining the pronouncement of a curse on the offender in question with the expectation that he will die as a result.”  The evidence for this view, as summarized by South, includes:

(1)  alleged parallels with Greek and Jewish curse formulae that Paul drew on and used in the context of church discipline;

(2)  examples of the curse/death phenomenon in the New Testament itself, such as the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1–11, and, more significantly, Paul’s reference to the death of some Corinthians due to their behavior at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:30);

(3)  the force of the meaning of the Greek term translated “destruction”; a very strong word used in the LXX to denote utter ruin, and

(4)  the use of curses in connection with the death penalty in the Old Testament.

Anthony Thiselton: Many interpret the destruction of the fleshly (Greek sarx) to denote physical illness and death. But if it denotes death, how does this sentence aim at the offender’s final salvation? This would assume that Paul refers to some postmortal period for repentance. In Rom. 8:5-9 and in numerous other passages Paul uses sarx (“flesh”) to denote not physical being but a mode of life lived in pursuit of its own ends, in an attitude of self-sufficiency, without reliance upon God (cf. Rom. 8:5-9). Paul envisages that the offender, bereft of the approval and support of the community, will find his self-sufficiency and self-reliance eroded until he comes to reach a change of heart.

f.  (:5b)  Goal of the Judgment – tough love

so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”


A.  (:6) Need for Corrective Instruction

  1. Attitude of Sinful Pride

Your boasting is not good

  1. Neglect of Obvious Principles – Sin Spreads Quickly

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?”

Remember the sad example of Achan – Joshua 7-8

Gordon Fee: Their major problem lay with their not taking this matter seriously, neither the evil itself nor their danger of being thoroughly contaminated by it.

David Garland: Leaven, to be distinguished from yeast, was made by keeping back a piece of the previous week’s dough, storing it in suitable conditions, and adding juices to promote the process of fermentation, much like sourdough (Mitton 1972–73). This moldy dough could go bad and become a contaminant, which explains why it was a fitting symbol for the infectious power of evil. This image was widely understood (cf. Matt. 16:6; Gal. 5:9). Plutarch (Quaestiones romanae et graecae 289F) wrote that leaven “is itself also the product of corruption, and produces corruption in the dough with which it is mixed; . . . and altogether the process of leavening seems to be one of putrefaction; at any rate if it goes too far, it completely sours and spoils the dough” (see also Pliny the Elder, Naturalis historia [Natural History] 18.26). A piece of bad leaven will pass on the taint to the next batch and so on. The only way to break the chain of baking bacteria-laden bread was to ditch the whole batch and start afresh. Applied to this case, the metaphor conveys that this man’s sin brings greater harm than simply being a bad example for others or generating bad publicity; it likens his sin to a toxin that will infect and ruin the whole community.

B.  (:7) Separation From Sin Should Characterize the Church

Clean 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.”

Adewuya: Paul presents the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread as a type pointing to Christ and fulfilled in him. Thus, Paul can say that Christ has been sacrificed as our Passover lamb. Christ is the fulfillment of the old order. The moral cleansing signified by the annual cleansing of the household of old leaven is already eternally accomplished by Christ. Therefore, Paul can assure his readers that they already are unleavened dough.

C.  (:8) Sincerity and Truth Should Characterize our Life and Worship

Therefore 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.”

Ray Stedman: Judgment permits the celebration of Christian deliverance and liberty.

JamesBoyer: Here Paul draws a lesson from the Feast of Unleavened Bread which followed the observance of Passover.  For seven days after Passover the Jews ate no leavened bread.  Their law required that they remove all leaven from the household. . .  As it was unthinkable for a Jew to keep Passover without observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so it is unthinkable for a Christian to claim Christ as his Saviour from sin and to go on living in sin.

Robert Gundry: In this context purity means sexual morality, and truth means correspondence in conduct to the way God looks at us in Christ, that is, as morally clean.

David Prior: One persistent, flagrant sinner who remains accepted without discipline within the Christian fellowship taints the whole body. Just as the Jews had to celebrate their deliverance from bondage with no leaven, so Christians must continually celebrate their deliverance from sin without any compromise with the very things from which they have been set free. Otherwise, the whole worship and community life of the Christian church becomes a charade, full of insincerity and falsehood.

Paul Gardner: Just as the Passover festival had to be celebrated in an appropriate way that reflected properly what God had done through the sacrifice for and redemption of his people, so it should be for the church. Their lifelong celebration should be as a holy people, separated from the nations, not contaminated with the old leaven of immorality and the ways of their former existence but having all that “cleared out” (v. 7; ἐκκαθαίρω). . .

In summary, Paul’s call is to a holy life in which God’s people celebrate his goodness and their calling as people who are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2). The transformation is so radical that it is likened to the new start experienced by the Israelites at the exodus and remembered in the Passover sacrifice and celebration. There can be no going back to the past, no compromising with the past life, no tolerating evil in the midst of the community. There must also be an active commitment to godly, sincere, and truthful living since the redemption that led to their belonging to this covenant community came at great cost. “For Christ our Passover lamb was sacrificed.”


Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”

A.  (:9) Earlier Reminder of Clear Injunction

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people

B.  (:10-13a)  Simple Clarification

  1. (:10)  What Paul did not mean = not talking about unbelievers (Outsiders)

I 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.”

David Prior: Paul is talking about five areas of behaviour – sex, money, possessions, drink and the tongue – in which consistent transgression of Christian standards calls for discipline. It is obvious that the Christian church today is under a powerful obligation to be utterly distinctive in sexual behaviour.

  1. (:11)  What Paul actually did mean = Talking about professed believers (Insiders)

But 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.”

Gordon Fee: Paul is not advocating that only the sinless can be members of the Christian community; rather, he is concerned about those who persist in the very activities from which they have been freed through the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb (v. 7). Followers of the crucified Messiah (1:18) belong to the new era; their lives have been invaded by the Holy Spirit. They are therefore to “celebrate the Feast,” that is, to live out on a continuing basis the ethics of the new people of God. They are to look like their Lord in their behavior, for which purpose the example of the apostle has been given to them (4:16–17). Because in Christ all things are new by the Spirit (2 Cor. 5:14–17), those who belong to Christ must put off their former way of life (Col. 3:5–11). Those who persist in that former way of life, not meaning those who simply struggle with former sins, essentially do not belong to this new community. By their own actions they have opted out; the community must distance itself from such people for its own sake.

Ray Stedman: There you have the world characterized for you:

  • The sins of the body (immorality),
  • The sins of the mind or heart (the attitudes, greedy and grasping), and
  • The sins of the spirit (idolatry, another god.)

The offense against yourself, the offense against your neighbor, and the offense against God himself — those are the characteristics of the world.

David Garland: Each of the 6 categories referenced is addressed in 1 Corinthians:

(1)  Sexual immorality (5:1; also 6:9, 13-18; 7:1-6)

(2)  Greed (6:1-11)

(3)  Swindling (robbers; 6:1-11)

(4)  Idolatry (chs. 8;10)

(5)  Verbal abuse (slanderers; 1:18 – 4:21)

(6)  Drunkenness (11:21)

Craig Blomberg: To drive home this point, Paul generalizes and lists several serious sins in addition to sexual immorality (vv. 10–11). “The greedy and swindlers” should be taken together to refer to those who were seizing “someone else’s property by force,” perhaps anticipating the problem of 6:1–11. “Idolaters” is Paul’s general term for all who worship false gods. “Slanderer” should be translated “reviler” and may refer particularly to those who oppose and mock God’s duly ordained authorities. “Drunkard,” like the other terms in these lists, implies one whose lifestyle is consistently characterized by such behavior. Not only must the Corinthians remove from their fellowship people who repeatedly refuse to repent of their sins, they must not even associate with them in intimate social gatherings outside the church, such as table fellowship.

  1. (:12-13a)  Different Judges for Different Folks

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? 

Do you not judge those who are within the church? 

But those who are outside, God judges.”

C.  (:13b) Reiteration of Clear Injunction = Enforce Church Discipline

Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”

Adewuya: Echoing the language of Deuteronomy 17:7, Paul urges them to root out the wrongdoer from their community (v. 13). The responsible exercise of this discipline sometimes calls for the exclusion of an errant member from the fellowship, and it is precisely that sort of situation that the Corinthians are facing now. Paul’s words in this chapter may sound harsh, coming as they do from the author of the hymn to love in chapter 13. What has become of the love which keeps no score of wrongs? Yet the contemporary church urgently needs a reminder that discipline is an essential ingredient of love. Perhaps the reason that the modern church does not exercise discipline is due in part to its failure to see sin as a great threat to its spiritual health, or in part because people consider excommunication as too harsh and an unloving act.