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

love-the-sinner

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.

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!

 

Top Five 2 Corinthians Commentaries

Introduction. Commentaries on Second Corinthians necessarily must deal with the relationship of the letter to First Corinthians, both in terms of the chronology implied by the letter and the somewhat difficult problem of sources. It is possible, for example, to read the books as containing two or three different letters, Bornkamm saw as many as eight smaller letters in the book! The reasons for this are obvious to the reader of the book, it has a somewhat choppy outline and there are several abrupt changes. If there are interpolations in the book commentators then must ask if came from Paul or another early Christian writer. Paul does mention a “severe letter” and there are several implied visits to Corinth (by Paul, Titus or others). Commentaries can be overly distracted by these issues and do not manage to get to the text of 2 Corinthians.

Another problem all 2 Corinthians commentaries must deal with is the opponents implied by the letter. Who are the “super-apostles” described in chapter 11? Are these the Twelve? Does Paul have in mind non-Christian teachers who are claiming apostolic authority? If so, how are they related to Jerusalem and / or the Judaizers mentioned in Galatians?

Murray Harris, 2 Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005). Harris’s commentary is another excellent contribution in the New International Greek Text series by an expert on the second letter to the Corinthians. He also contributed the commentary on 2 Corinthians for the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 1976). He has a lengthy introduction dealing with the problem of the sources, concluding that “here are fewer difficulties with the hypothesis of the letter’s integrity” than with any of the suggested theories he surveys (p. 51). The introduction also deals at length with the “painful visit” and Paul’s travel plans. Harris also has a lengthy piece on the opponents of Paul in the letter, surveying all the major suggestions and offer what is (to me) a judicious understanding. He states in summary, “although claiming to be Christian, were in reality ‘Judaizers’” (p. 85). I would recommend this 125 page introduction to anyone wishing to study either of the Corinthian letters. The body of the commentary is a detailed exegesis of the Greek text of the letter, treating lexical and syntactical details. I particularly appreciate his tendency to lay out three or four options before setting on his own. Eerdmans published Harris’s “Expanded Paraphrase” of 2 Corinthians, which is simply the text of the letter.

Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (WBC; Waco: Word, 1986). This is something of a classic commentary on the letter and one of the better WBC volumes. Word commentaries excel in giving bibliographies at the beginning of sections, Martin’s commentary provides complete bibliographies on exegetical problems (literature on composition issues other than commentaries, for example, or the section on Paul’s vision in 12:1-10). These are complete through the early 1980s and include German and French articles as well as English. The actual commentary follows the format of the series, giving a bibliography for the section followed by textual notes, form/structure, and then the actual commentary. Martin’s brief “explanations” after the commentary draw out implications of the text for a larger Pauline theology.

Colin Kruse, 2 Corinthians (Tyndale, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1987). I have not included any from the Tyndale series yet, but this slender volume by Kruse is worth reading. Kruse replaced the commentary by R.V. G. Tasker in the Tyndale series (1963), both are handy although exceptionally short compared to Harris. Kruse does a nice job dealing with the composition questions in just a few pages. His comments are on the English text although they reflect the Greek as much as possible. This is a excellent choice for the busy pastor who wants a brief overview of the main problems of a text for preparing a sermon.

David Garland, 2 Corinthians (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999). Garland’s introduction to the letter argues for the unity of 2 Corinthians, although the details of that argument is the commentary itself. He finds a great deal more unity in the letter, and shows that the letter is better understood as we have it in the canonical form. The body of the commentary deals with the Greek via the English text (all Greek is transliterated). He does an exceptional job comparing Paul’s rhetorical style with Greco-Roman orators. Garland’s commentary is in dialogue with major commentaries, but the text is readable and useful for pastor or layman.

Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians (AB; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984). This is the only commentary on my list that takes a multiple source seriously, suggesting five separate letters as sources for the compilation of 2 Corinthians, although two of his five sources are now lost, a first letter to Corinth prior to the canonical book and the “tearful letter” (letter C). Chapters 1-9 and 10-13 are two separate letters. Furnish also suggests Galatians and chapters 10-13 are composed and sent about the same time, helping to show that the opponents in 10-13 are the Judaizers of Galatians. But these matters should not distract from the value of the commentary, some of Furnish’s “expanded comments” are excellent and shed a great deal of light on the text. Like all Anchor volumes, Greek appears only in transliteration in a “notes” section.

Conclusion.  I was going to only include four commentaries in this list, possibly because I included two by Harris and mentioned both Tyndale commentaries in passing, but thought better of breaking my own rules.   Second Corinthians is perhaps the one Pauline book where I have spent the least time.  I usually deal with “The Corinthian Correspondence ” rather that the second book by itself.  What ought I be reading on this very important book?  What commentaries need to be added to this list?

 

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

Matthew        Mark        Luke        John        Acts
Romans        1 Corinthians         2 Corinthians
Galatians         Ephesians        Philippians        Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians        Pastoral Epistles         Philemon
Hebrews        James         1 Peter         2 Peter & Jude 
Letters of John         Revelation

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

Top Five 1 Corinthians Commentaries

Introduction.  Commentaries on Corinthians are necessarily different than Romans commentaries because the letters to the Corinthians deal with specific social and ethical problems in Paul’s churches. Because of this there is less rumination on theological issues than the social background which resulted in problems reflected in the letters. In order to really get at the heart of these letters, there is a need to understand the problems of Christianity in a Greco-Roman context. For this reason, I favor commentaries on Corinthians which attempt to explain the cultural and social factors behind the ethical and moral problems in the books.

Another complication for studying the Corinthian letters is the relationship of Acts to the letters, as well as the implication of at least four letters from Paul and several visits. Chronological issues can be distracting (and to some readers, superfluous), but it is important that a commentary sort out those problems so that the text can be read properly.

Anthony C. Thiselton, 1 Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000). Like most of the NIGTC series, Thiselton’s commentary is magisterial. At over 1400 pages, the commentary contains highly detailed exegesis and theological interest. Thiselton also includes what he calls a “posthistory reception” of the text (Wirkungsgeschichte). Here he draws on the apostolic fathers, patristic, medieval, Reformation, and modern eras and briefly summarizes how each age has read the text of 1 Corinthians. These are interesting, although they go beyond what is typically included in a commentary (although Bruner does this in his Matthew and John commentaries). Eerdmans did publish another version of this commentary, A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary. For most pastors, the shorter commentary will be sufficient.

Gordon Fee, 1 Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996). Fee’s commentary replaced the NICNT volume on 1 Corinthians by F. W. Grosheide (1953). If I recall correctly, this was the first of the NICNT replacements, and is a considerable “upgrade” to the older commentary; mine is unfortunately in the older format (short and fat), making it very difficult to read! Fee’s commentary is a good example of why long series update their volumes from time to time. Grosheide was a fine commentary, but much has been said on 1 Corinthians since then, especially with respect to the impact of cultural and sociological studies. The text of the commentary is focused on the English text, but the footnotes contain the details of Fee’s Greek exegesis for those interested. There are some oddities in Fee’s observations, especially his contention that the difficult command in 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation into the text.

David Garland, 1 Corinthians (BENTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2005). Garland’s commentary begins by setting the letter in the context of Roman Corinth. This is a brief but very readable introduction to the social / cultural issues lurking in the background of the letters. The format of the commentary follows the pattern of others in the series, Greek is include in the commentary but always transliterated, textual notes are placed the “additional notes.” Garland’s commentary seems more in tune with the Hebrew Bible and other Second Temple Period literature than Greek and Roman sources, providing a helpful correction to other commentaries in this list.

Ben Witherington, III, Conflict and Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995). Like Witherington’s other commentaries in this Socio-Rhetorical series, there is a wealth of background material here which will enhance one’s reading of 1 and 2 Corinthians. In this series I particularly appreciate the excursuses, labeled “A Closer Look At.” His five pages on glossolia in Corinth are excellent, likewise his section on Rules for Meals. The introduction to the books isone of the best I have read. Since these books are letters, Witherington attempts to develop Paul’s rhetoric, employing technical language of the Greco-Roman orator. This is not overly burdensome but may confuse readers not familiar with terms like Probatio.

Bruce Winter, After Paul Left Corinth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001). This is not exactly a commentary, but it is one of the most helpful books I have ever read on the social and political situation of Corinth in the middle of the first century. Winter is a historian who asks the simple question, what happened in the church at Corinth after Paul’s 18 months there? His answer is that the members of the church were swayed by the social and ethical world of Roman Corinth, as well as enormous political pressures on members of the congregation to participate in civic duties. There is a wealth of background material in this book which everyone trying to deal with the problems of the Corinthian church must take into account.

Conclusion.  Those are my five, and I know I have left some important ones out.  Let me know 1 Corinthians commentaries you have used, what else is helpful for studying these important books?

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

Matthew        Mark        Luke        John        Acts
Romans        1 Corinthians         2 Corinthians
Galatians         Ephesians        Philippians        Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians        Pastoral Epistles         Philemon
Hebrews        James         1 Peter         2 Peter & Jude 
Letters of John         Revelation

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries