Drive Out the Sinner! (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)

Paul’s solution is simple: expel/purge the sinful man from the congregation (5:4-5). As far as Paul is concerned, the man already stands condemned. Don Garland points out the perfect tense verb (κέκρικα) implies Paul has already made a judgment and his decision still stands when they read this letter. (Garland, 1 Corinthians, 157). Does the verb imply Paul already told them to expel the man and they were resisting this decision?

Love the SinnerPaul alludes to Deut 22:24 in his command to “purge the man from your midst.” Purge (Heb. בער, LXX ἐξαίρω) refers to driving something away, usually some sort of evil or sin (Deut, 9x, Isa 30:22, drive the idols away). Exod 22:4 uses the Hebrew word for driving someone’s animal from your vineyard, in 2 Chron 19:3 it refers to getting rid of idols before seeking God. Paul has in mind here something like “exclude the man from the church.”

This is an example of church discipline, since the church is to gather to expel the young man from the church. But the way Paul describes this discipline is shocking: “hand the man over to Satan.” Since is the prince of this world, to hand someone over to Satan means “outside of the church.” Does this simply mean “kick him out of the church” or is Paul “revoking his salvation. The purpose cannot be a loss of salvation since the point of handing him over to Satan is remedial, that his soul / spirit might be saved on the day of the Lord.

But Paul uses Passover language in this chapter. If someone was kicked out of the house during the first Passover, they would not be “under the blood of the Lamb” and therefore in danger from the Destroyer. If the immoral man is kicked out of the church (a family), he will be in the world without the protection of the blood of the Lamb, Jesus.

By becoming a Christian the young man already was on the “fringes of society as a religious misfit” (Garland, 1 Corinthians). If he were then expelled from the Christian community, it might be problematic to go back to the pagan world he rejected. “expelled Christians in this era could find themselves in social limbo—neither fish nor fowl.”

The goal of this action is “the destruction of his flesh.” The Pauline use of σάρξ (sarx) is quite regular, normally meaning the sinful nature, although it is possible to use the word for physical body. It is possible Paul has in mind physical death. The immoral man will have some sort of physical problem leading to his death. Garland examines the argument this refers to death, although he ultimately rejects it. There is some precedence for a sinner “being struck dead.” Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1–11). Later in the letter some members of the congregation have died because of their abuse of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30).

The noun ὄλεθρος does refer to physical death in the LXX (Exod 12:23; Josh 3:10; 7:25; Jer. 2:30) and the I Cor 10:10 Paul uses the related word ὀλοθρευτής, the Destroyer, a destroying angel who renders God’s judgment in the wilderness. More importantly is the use of the word in Exod 12:23, the angel who destroyed the Egyptians at the first Passover


Perhaps Paul is talking about some sort of penance for his sin. The individual will be handed over to Satan for physical torment that will perhaps result in his repentance and a rejection of the particular offense. This remedial punishment may have in mind Job 2, where God hands Job over to Satan for a period of time.

Whatever the phrase means, the point is the same: the man committing this sin must be expelled from the congregation by the whole congregation, for the good of the congregation.

Here is the real problem: is this a principle for dealing with church discipline, and if so, how do we apply that principle to contemporary church practice? This does not seem like a “love the sinner, hate the sin” situation. The sin Paul is dealing with is extreme and will destabilize the Christian community to the extent the sinner must be expelled.

10 thoughts on “Drive Out the Sinner! (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)

  1. I wonder if the father’s wife has some responsibility here. John Hurd (The origin of 1 Corinthians p 137) suggests that exclusion from the Eucharist would produce sickness and death of the man in question. Also that his baptism in itself was sufficient to his eventual salvation.

    It seems clear that this sin is to be judged by the congregation. It is not a case of ‘go and do thou likewise’ because that is an individual instruction. Possibly the expulsion will result in shame which will lead to a change in behaviour of the individuals. It does appear that this might have been the outcome 2 Cor 2:6-7). In a modern situation, there not being a single assembly, such discipline is not likely to be either well executed or well received.


  2. I believe that there is defiantly a need for church discipline, but not every situation should be dealt with the expulsion of a person from the church body. I agree with Paul’s actions to remove this person from the church because one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch. As you stated above, “Perhaps Paul is talking about some sort of penance for his sin. The individual will be handed over to Satan for physical torment that will perhaps result in his repentance and a rejection of the particular offense.” It was obvious to Paul that this person needed reprimanding of the actions he was taking, and a simple request to stop would not be accepted. Verse 5 of 1 Cor. 5 says, “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” By this statement, I feel that Paul is not trying to punish him unjustly, but rather to let this man feel the consequences of his actions so that he can see what is wrong with the way he is behaving. Longenecker in his book TTP gives two implications of what Paul may be looking for when telling the Corinthians to expel this person. “First, it may result in the repentance of the sinner. Second, it will stop the contagion of sin from spreading further within Corinthian communities” (Longenecker, 122). Paul doesn’t want whatever sin this person is committing to go any further within the church. As a contemporary church We should always be looking to will of God and the desire to further His kingdom. When thinking like this, we should try and help the sinner past the sin they deal with, but if the sin draws too much attention away from the focus of God’s work, then we should take action as Paul did, and ask the person to leave.


  3. Sin can spread like a wildfire. If one person is sinning and “getting away with it” or only being slightly punished or reprimanded then more people who are dealing with the same sin will either think it is okay to do and follow in the first sinners footsteps or they will sneak around and be very careful not to get caught but even if they do they will only get a slap on the wrist. I think that this is the type of thing that was going on in Corinth at this time. This man’s sin that he was committing was setting a terrible example for the other members of the congregation so “extreme” action needed to be taken to hopefully turn the man away from his sin and back to God and also to show the consequences of sin to the rest of the congregation. Longenecker says that casting out the sinner from the congregation could serve two purposes, “it may result in the repentance of the sinner” and “it will stop the contagion of sin from spreading further within Corinthian Christian communities.” This does seem like an extreme punishment and it should definitely not be looked upon as the one way to deal with sin. This decision by Paul fit the sin and what the congregation needed to get rid of the sin from among them.


  4. I have seen and experienced this kind of discipline myself. On the surface it may seem harsh, but in the instances where it is used, it is often the only thing that will set off the necessary wake-up call that sparks repentance in the rebellious individual. Also, for the rest of the congregation, it was a poor example. Not expelling this young man, as Paul had stated needed to be done, it was setting a precedent that other immoral behavior could also be tolerated, because “Paul didn’t really mean that.” The presence of this kind of sin also speaks to the spiritual health of the congregation in Corinth. That they would have no kicked him out themselves is tell-tale. Something was very wrong in that body, which is why Paul deals with them as he does in both of the letters. He is calling them into behavior that is consistent with the Gospel, and part of that behavior is proper church discipline, not a discipline that is spiteful, but rather a corrective sort that allows for the possibility of growth.


  5. I don’t believe that this is a way to deal with it all the times. That was a specific problem that based on what Paul was saying, it could be so deep in the congregation that the only way out was to actually expel that man from the church. There are many ways to deal with a problem inside of the church, Paul was not an insensitive or non sense man. The church had many problems besides that one, still Paul was not all about expelling every single one who sinned.

    One single statement makes me think that the sin was occurring inside of the church, but the church was being convenient with that.
    When Paul says “A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud!”, it shows that the problem was not being handled as it should be.

    If that is correct, then the action of Paul to expel the man from the church was completely right. The sin could spread among the members and become “natural” to them to the point where it would be normal to do it, if there members doing it already. Nowadays that concept should be the same. In the book TTP, it is said that the action of Paul could be interpreted in two ways:

    One is that the man would cast out of there, but in the future the man could be redeemed (“…so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”).
    Two, that the action was required so the sin would not spread among the church and create roots that would be hard to get rid of later.

    Independent of the interpretation, the result should be the same. Get rid of the sin/sinner before it can contagious to others. In actual days, the principle should also be the same. Unfortunately we live in an era of the church where being like the world is acceptable, and with that the sin and practices from the world become natural inside of the church.


  6. The man here was clearly in the wrong. This was a sin that though he claimed to be a Christian he was living in a way that not even the pagans live (1 Cor 5:1). Paul’s concern was that this sin would infiltrate the church. Since the church is one body the whole body is impacted by the parts of the body (1 Cor 12:26). This man was claiming to be part of the body of Christ and still living in a way that went against the instruction that they had received. The church needed to expel this man since he was a danger to the congregation. Longenecker points out that the view may have been that since they were saved they could do whatever they wanted to since they are not under law (122). Paul however has expressed that this behavior is unacceptable. While Paul does speak very strongly on how the church is to deal with this issue, He also notes that it would be unreasonable to disassociate themselves with those in the world that do these things since they are not the church (1 Cor 5:11-13). Paul is still wants them to love those in the world. I think that church discipline would look very different in the church today. If a person were to be expelled from one church there are 10 other churches that would know nothing about the incident. That being said, I think it is important for churches to walk beside their brothers and sisters in Christ and encourage them to live the life God has for them as well as call them out on the sins that they are engaging in. I think there is a difference between a struggle that someone has and an outward lifestyle of sin. We must remember that after the process of discipline must come forgiveness as Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. We must be careful not to apply the same process of judgement to those in the world as it will hinder our ministry to them.


  7. Unfortunately, this world has a lot of sin in it, and even those of us within the body of Christ slip up and make mistakes, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes on accident. Long talks about how Paul had an emphasis on excluding those who were corrupting the Corinthian congregation, or who were at fault. I think there are a lot of Christians who try to be nice to everyone, and ignore their sinful living. Also, those Christians are the ones who think it is extreme to exclude members from coming together with us, since they seem to feel we should be accepting of everyone. However, because of the different sinful behaviors being practiced, especially sexual ones, there were many divisions growing in the church. In the textbook, I saw part of 1 Cor. 1:10 being used to prove that point that Paul wanted them to be otherwise inclined, “there be no divisions among you,” (TTB, 118). It is sad that Paul had to address so many issues in Corinth, yet I think everyone can say they understood what is moral and righteous living thanks to the admonishments given by Paul to the Corinthians.


  8. Not going to lie, this practice would be extremely difficult to integrate into the church today. It seems to have been institutionalized to the point that the goal is not to offend anyone. The Gospel is offensive, get over it! Some people will accept, some won’t. For the people who do accept, there needs to be a much more disciplined body. The church has become more complacent than ever, and the congregation seems to disregard church punishment. “It is not the pastors business to get into my personal life” says the modern church goer. Like you mentioned, it was an extreme sin that permeated the Corinthian church. Not using hierarchy of sin language is difficult here, but if the sin is destructive to the point of sowing discord or destroying the testimony of the church, it seems completely valid to excommunicate someone until they repent. The church is supposed to embody the Kingdom of God, and Paul “speaks the sins (including especially sexual sins) that exclude people from the kingdom of God” (TTP, p. 121) It is time to make valid our testimony and participate in the Kingdom of God.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.