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

Paul’s solution is simple to the problem the young man having an incestuous affair with his step mother: 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 Deuteronomy 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 (it is used in Deuteronomy nine times and in Isa 30:22 for “driving away” idols). Exodus 22:4 uses the same Hebrew word for driving someone’s animal from your vineyard and in 2 Chronicles 19:3 it refers to getting rid of idols before seeking God. Paul has the same idea in mind here: “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 might be saved on the day of the Lord.

But Paul also 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 impossible for him to return to the pagan world he rejected. As Garland puts it, “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 and usually means the sinful nature, although it is possible to use the word for physical body. It is possible Paul has in mind physical death, that the immoral man would suffer from a physical illness leading to his death. Garland examines this argument and ultimately rejects it. But 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 1 Corinthians Paul says 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 Septuagint (Exod 12:23; Josh 3:10; 7:25; Jer 2:30). In 1 Corinthians 10:10 Paul uses a 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 Exodus 12:23, the angel who destroyed the Egyptians at the first Passover. It would not be surprising for a Second Temple period Jewish thinker like Paul to see the man as sent into a demon-haunted world where he will suffer terrible things.


Others think Paul is talking about some sort of penance for his sin. The individual will be handed over to Satan for physical torment that will 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 (although I would disagree Job must suffer some some kind of purgatory like suffering because of his sin).

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.

9 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. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. We are often taught that judgment should be reserved for God since He is the ultimate judge (Rom 2:1-3). But Paul makes a very interesting statement in 1 Cor 5:3: “For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this”. Although this seems to be a contradiction, it is not. In Romans, Paul says that those who are judging are committing the same sin or have committed it before. Here, he is saying that the sin is so great that even pagans are pointing it out, but the believers are not saying anything. His reproach, however, is truly coming from an eternal perspective. Paul asks that he be “handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor 5:5a). Paul wants the flesh to die so the spirit will grow. He explains that the purpose is so that “his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5b). He is not asking people to just judge the man because if pagans were judging the man, the Christians were most likely judging him in their hearts. Verse 2 possibly refers to them not saying anything to the “sinful” man or giving judgment out of love. In not speaking up against it, they are silently agreeing with this act and being “proud” instead of “mourning” (1 Cor 5:2).
    Paul asks that the judgment be public within the church and have the purpose of saving the soul of the person. He believed that if Christians seek judgment in the court, they would be compromising the missionary witness of the Christian communities (Longenecker & Todd, 2014, p. 121).
    Sometimes, we try to make this type of judgment and instead shun people out of churches and hurt that so much that they want nothing to do with Christ. People need to be corrected, and if it is a moral issue where pastors tell their sheep to have sex with them because that will make them holier, then this needs to be dealt with in court because they are leading people astray. This is also a person who has the word, knows better, and is taking advantage of people who they need to be taking care of. When it comes to a young lady who got pregnant, they should not be shunned but supported. Their souls are more important in the long run since it will become public anyway.
    When it comes to supporting wealthy people versus poor people, the church supports a very obvious side. Wealthy people are considered the “fat sheep” since they often give more to the church. They are also able to afford more and have more power. The church does not want to go against them in case they stop giving or because they may have the power to cover up their sins. A poor Christian would not have a lot of money to deal with disputes in a court so are more often dealing with disputes within the church. Poor people are also more likely to get pregnant and get an abortion due to lack of sexual education, lack of finances for birth-control, and the cost of bringing up a child versus having an abortion. These problems may not be present in the rich world. Their reasoning would be different. Paul was a unique man because he was not afraid of anyone except God. He did not care about who was in power or who could hurt him, (Acts 18:9).

  6. A matter that affected Paul’s time in Corinth was establishing discipline amongst their people. Longenecker asserts that the goal of calling out and excluding the young man was for him to repent for his sins, and to stop the spread of sin in Corinth (Longenecker, p. 122). In essence, Paul is making an example of this individual so that the people in Corinth knew the expectations of being in the presence of the Lord. At the same time, it is transparent Paul is making sure that this part of his ministry is not defined by the digression of this individual. However, as stated in 1 Corinthians 5: 4-5, the person is to be handed over to Satan so that he can be saved with the return of the Lord (NIV). In other words, Paul wants the person to use this experience as motivation to understand where his true foundation lies. By using extreme punishment, Paul is making sure that every person in Corinth recognizes the path not to follow. This connects to the contemporary practices of the Church, because of the lack of accountability amongst groups of believers. Ultimately, Paul’s extreme punishment is a model that is problematic but useful when rooting out significant problems in the Church.

    • I really like how you said that in doing this, Paul is making sure that the church knows not to follow the same path as this man. I think that in that especially for those who lived during that time, it would be very important that Paul made them understand what exactly was wrong and what was right, so that he could “stop the contagion of sin from spreading further within” the community (Longenecker, 122).
      For the Corinthian church, many of the people were Gentiles. Not only that, but Longenecker tells us because of the location of Corinth, the “pagan environment clearly dominated” the culture (Longenecker, 110). The Corinthian church would have been exposed to the ways of the “pagans”, and many of them probably even grew up doing those same things. Because of this, I think that Paul needed to make the difference of wrong and right abundantly clear, and he needed to make sure they knew that there would be significant consequences to sinning. They needed to realize that to follow Christ meant that they couldn’t follow the ways of the world, and I think that Paul used the punishment of this man to reinforce this idea.
      For us, this principle is hard to understand and figure out how to put into practice in our contemporary churches. I would like to think that we know the difference between right and wrong and that we are not tempted to the extent that the Corinthians would have been, but in reality, I think that we are just as tempted. We are surrounded by people and media who bombard us with sinful ideas and try to make us believe that they are not sins. So, I believe that we should do the same thing that Paul did, if the person was in a position where they could destabilize our church.

  7. Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinner, Christ died for us.” I really found this post interesting. The teachings from the world is that if someone makes a mistake forgive him, and forget it. The reality is that if someone does something so evil that Paul needs to say this man is already judge they will do evil again. But what is intriguing to me is that Paul says “So when you are assembled…” Paul I think states this so that if one person were to “judge” this man there might be a bias, or self-perspective from a single person. If the assembly of the church were to judge this man together, with the presence of God it could be viewed as God working through the congregation to make this decision. To me the key phrase in these verses is not “So when you are assembled, and I am with you in spirit…” but “and the power of our Lord Jesus is present” To me if the presence of the Holy Spirit really is there and Father really does condemn this man than it is so. I do agree with Natalie’s post above, that Paul needed to get rid of the “grey” area in sinning. So he used a relevant example to give them with consequences to of disobeying God. That goes along with what the blog post mentioned about 1 Corinthians 11:30 regarding people died because of their sin against God. Every sin we have committed and will commit whether or not we know it or not has consequences. Now it may not be seen as in the old testament that if you were born blind, one of your parents committed a sin. But maybe as hurting someone, the sin becoming a habitual sin or you might get a negative view point from other Christians. But something that always will stick with me is the parable about the lost son. This sticks out to me for some reason, the son comes and and says this, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son” Luke 21, and the father later replies with this, ” ‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and now found’. So they began to celebrate” I remember this because when someone is not a Christian they are not ‘alive but dead’ and when someone wonders from a family or a righteous life they are not ‘found but lost’. This comes to mind for me when discussing sin and judgement from God and people.

Leave a Reply