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1 Corinthians 5:1-13 – Immorality as a Threat to the Body


The report of a man living with his stepmother leads Paul to insist that the Corinthians exclude from their fellowship any who persist in such practices as sexual immorality and greed.


Greco-Roman moral philosophy of Paul's time, as well as Jewish law in Leviticus, prohibited sexual relationships between family members, such as mothers-in-law and sons-in-law. A report reaches Paul that such a relationship is ongoing in Corinth and that the Corinthian church is complacent about it, perhaps even "arrogant" (1 Corinthians 5:2). The Corinthians have confused the freedom that they have in Christ with an ethic that has no boundaries.

In response to this situation, Paul directs the church to gather and, aware of Paul's apostolic authority and in the presence of "the power of our Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:4), they are to "hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 5:5). The sentence is notoriously difficult to understand. What does it mean to hand someone over to Satan? What will happen to the man? Are there no instructions concerning the woman because she was not Christian?

"Flesh" does not mean "body" or "sexuality" in Paul's letters. In Romans 7 and 8, being in the flesh is contrasted with being in "the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:2). "Flesh" refers to the "before" half of a before-and-after picture of one's connection to new life in Christ. To hand someone over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, then, is akin to the directive in Colossians to "Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)" (Colossians 3:5).

For Paul, the danger is that behavior that characterizes the old life of sin (sexual relations with one's mother-in-law) has been confused with the freedom from sin that Christ offers. Recalling the Exodus, when the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt and when the urgency of their flight from Egypt required unleavened bread (see Exodus 12:39), Paul says, "Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Sexual Immorality Defiles the Church

5It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgement 4in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing.* When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5you are to 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.*

Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. 8Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Sexual Immorality Must Be Judged

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— 10not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. 11But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister* who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. 12For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13God will judge those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you.’

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