A Report of Immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-5)

Paul has a kind of zero-tolerance policy for divisions in the church, the issue covered in the first four chapters 1 Corinthians. In chapters 5-6 he deals with a series of related issues which cannot be tolerated. Sexual immorality may have been part of civic banquets at temples, gluttony and drunkenness lead to lawsuits harsh words, etc.

The main problem, however is the same as the divisions within the church. The Corinthians are still thinking like pagan Romans, not like Christians. Garland points out the connection between arrogance at the end of chapter 4 and the “puffed up” in 5:2. Paul wonders how the church can consider itself as spiritual if they tolerate this kind of sin in their congregation.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul affirms a similar zero-tolerance policy on immorality in the church. For Paul, there is no reason for a person who is openly committing immorality to continue to fellowship with the believers in Corinth. More than this, the church continues to boast about their own spirituality even though the immoral man is a part of their church.

This case of immorality in the church is a very serious: Paul invokes the authority of Jesus Christ (both the name and power) as well as his own authority (twice), and he describes the sin as like leaven, growing throughout the entire loaf. The danger is so great, Paul commands the Corinthians six times in this one chapter to expel the sinful man from their church!

ShamedThe sin celebrated by the Corinthian church was shocking (5: 1-2). This behavior is a sexual sin and is a punishable offense by Roman law. But as Bruce Winter points out Roman laws were not administered with impartiality. Those who were rich and powerful were able to avoid penalty. This is an on-going affair that is known to both the church and the community of Corinth. It does not appear from the grammar that the father is dead, nor that the father or the step-mother are Christians. Paul’s concern is only with the young man, who is presumably a Christian.

The Romans would have ignored at an older woman having an extra-marital affair with a younger man. Despite it being against the law, in some circles it was expected and a husband pressed charges against his wife would be considered strange. But a relationship with one’s stepmother was illegal in both Roman law and Judaism (Lev 18:7-8, 20:11; Deut 22:30). In the Mishnah, there is a list several categories of sexual offense that merit stoning: He who has sexual relations with (1) his mother, (2) with the wife of his father, (3) with his daughter-in-law, (4) with a male, and (5) with a cow; and the woman who brings an ox on top of herself.

The Institutes of Gaius date to the mid second century, about 100 years after Paul writes. In 1.63 Gaius states “Moreover, I cannot marry my former mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, or my step-daughter or step-mother. We make use of the word ‘former,’ because if the marriage by which affinity of this kind was established is still in existence, there is another reason why I cannot marry her, for a woman cannot marry two men, nor can a man have two wives.” The particular combination of things in this situation was an adultery and incest, there would likely have been no mercy under the law, both the man and woman would have faced exiled and forfeit of all property.

Paul’s zero-tolerance policy for immorality is an important principle for modern church discipline, although in modern American context most people who are caught in a sin like this will simply move on to another church before it comes to the point of expulsion. Paul’s concern is the on-going health of the church, a sin like this will have a grave effect on the spiritual life of a congregation. There is simply no room for toleration in this case!


5 thoughts on “A Report of Immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-5)

  1. When Paul talks about the sexual immorality within the church, he doesn’t hold back. He is very explicit in speech. Paul tells them that immoral conduct will no longer be accepted. Those who chose to follow the sinful ways should not be accepted into the church. I don’t think Paul is saying that the Christians should not associate with the sinner, rather that if Christians are the ones doing the sinful act, it should not be accepted. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 5:6 “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch as you really are”. I would definitely agree that in modern America church those who are caught in such sin tend to move on and try to hide what they done under the rug. Paul makes it clear that such sin should not be excused and should have great consequences. Longenecker also seems to agree with Paul regarding the sin of sexual immorality. “For Paul, one’s sexuality is bound up with one’s spirituality, rather than being separated from it” (TTP 122).

  2. In the church nowadays is very common to see what I define as “monkey members”. I called it “Monkey members” because it reminds me of a monkey jumping from tree to tree to find the “best spot” to rest, but when there is nothing to take in that tree anymore, he/she will continue to jump to other trees. That’s how I see these members who sin and act immoral inside of the church. Many of them don’t have the courage to assume their mistakes, instead they keep “moving on” until they find “church” that is convenient to serve despite their sins.

    I could not agree more with Paul’s zero-tolerance to immorality. Like it was said from Asu, it is not that we should not be associated to the sinner, but that we should check ourselves to become like them, vessels of sin.

  3. It makes a lot of sense to me that Paul would be perturbed about the inappropriate sexual relations occurring in Corinth, not only among the pagans but also within the church body there. Longenecker and Still remind us that Paul stresses only having sexual relations within a husband and wife marriage, (TTP, 123). In 1 Cor. 7, Paul is predominantly concerned with telling them about proper sexual relations, and admonishing the converts in Corinth for acting as if they can do whatever they want with their bodies. He needed to address those issues because many believers in Corinth were confused, or else continuing to follow pagan customs. They needed to realize how they were living was not moral, according to the desires and will of the Lord. Paul had a right to address these matters, since he was trying to represent the guidelines for Christian living that had been revealed to him.

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