Paul states clearly the sin in the church at Corinth is so bad even the Romans would consider it wrong. Why is the immoral man committing a sin like this? Most scholars thinks money is the main issue. Perhaps the wife was from a wealthy and prestigious family and she is trying to divorce his father. The younger man is attempting to keep any money or property in the family as long as possible.
A second more remote possibility is the man is exercising his freedom in Christ. It appears some early Christians believed they were free from the Law, so in order to demonstrate that freedom, they “sinned that grace may abound.” It is possible the young man was trying to demonstrate his freedom from the Law by breaking a very strong taboo and engaging in an ongoing affair with this step-mother.
So why has the man not been arrested and charged with the crime everyone seems to know about? The problem may be that in order to prosecute, the husband would have to sue for divorce. If this was an arranged marriage between wealthy families, there would have been complications in setting the marriage aside.
Bruce Winter points out only the husband has the right to prosecute in this case, although there is a sixty-day period for him to do this, after which someone else could potentially bring charges. Perhaps the exclusive period has not expired when Paul is writing, or maybe there is no one that is “wronged” by the relationship and it is being passed over because of the man’s position and power.
Additionally, if the husband was not a believer the church didn’t have any sway with him to get him to press charges and exile his son. Because the penalty included loss of property, perhaps the man was not willing to prosecute and possibly forfeit some of his own property.
If this suggestion is correct, then there are two strands of culture that the church is struggling with here, the sexual sin and the favoring of the rich in the courts. Paul wants to deal with the sinful man within the church itself. This has the potential to create an unfortunate principle that Christians who have grave sins ought to be tried in an church-court and not by the government, making it possible for some crimes to be covered up by the church. This was not Paul’s intent at all! Ironically he is not trying to cover up the sin but deal with it in a public and open way.
How does this idea of dealing with sin “in house” work in a contemporary context? I am not advocating ecclesiastical courts, and people who have broken the Law should not find refuge in the church. How do we draw some connections between the first and twenty-first century with respect to church discipline?