1 Corinthians 5:1-13 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Concerning what sinful conduct does the apostle Paul confront the Corinthians in verse 1 (printed below?)

It is actually reported that there is fornication among you, and the kind of fornication that does not even exist among the Gentiles, namely, that someone has his father’s wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1)

In verse 1 the apostle Paul confronts these Corinthian Christians with the fact that he has received the report of immorality being practiced in their midst. Literally, he writes, “it is generally heard;” i.e., it is a matter of public knowledge, everyone is aware of the immoral conduct being practiced by one of the members of the church—the whole community knows about it. Indeed, here was a form of immoral conduct not even practiced among the Gentiles: a certain man “has his father’s wife” (i.e.; he was living in an adulterous relationship with his stepmother). Here was a scandalous blot on the reputation and the witness of Christ’s church, the church that is called to be holy like our Lord.

2. What has been the church’s attitude with regard to this conduct? What should have been their attitude? See verse 2 (printed below)

And you are arrogant! Should you not rather be grieved, so that he who has done this thing might be removed from your fellowship? (1 Corinthians 5:2)

Paul is not only shocked by the immoral conduct of this individual member of the church, he is also appalled by the attitude of the church itself: “you are arrogant!” (verse 2) By tolerating and thereby condoning this immoral conduct and lifestyle, the church was arrogantly holding the law of God in contempt. The apostle explains that the appropriate attitude of the church should have been that of grief: “Should you not rather be grieved…?” There should have been deep sorrow and mourning over the present state of affairs: a grieving that the holy communion of the saints was being violated; and that the honor of Christ was being scandalized; and that the whole purpose of God was being ignored and even defied. Note that Paul expects that the entire church should exhibit a spirit of grief; a spirit of grief that will lead to the necessary action, with the congregation supporting its leaders and expecting them to carry out their responsibility to maintain the purity of Christ’s church.

3. What action has the apostle taken with regard to this matter? What does he call upon the church to do? See verses 3-5 and 13b (printed below)

Though I am not present physically, yet being present by the Spirit, I have already judged him who has done this thing, just as though I were present with you. (4) When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, I exhort you, by the power of our Lord Jesus, (5) to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his sinful nature, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus…(13) God will judge those who are outside the church. Remove the wicked man from your fellowship. (1 Corinthians 5:3-5,13)

In verses 3-5 the apostle Paul indicates what action he has taken in this present matter—action that the Corinthian church is to carry out. Paul has passed judgment against the offender (there has been a judicial decision based upon the commandments of God). The apostle Paul must render this judgment because the church failed to do so; consequently, this case and the apostle’s judgment becomes a precedent and guideline for future cases. As an apostle of the Lord Jesus, Paul was granted a special ability to spiritually participate in the church’s assembly and render decisions that would set the precedent for the church in the future. This unique spiritual experience and ability granted by Christ to His apostles in this formative stage in the history of the church was no doubt similar in nature to the experience granted by the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel (note Ezekiel 8:1-3).

4. What is the purpose of this disciplinary action with regard to the offender himself? See verse 5 (printed above under question #3)

The offender was to be delivered to Satan. That is to say, the protective covering of God’s grace was removed from the man (this was done by removing his name from the covenant community of the church), allowing him to be exposed to the attacks of the devil in an unprotected state. Up to this point there has been no repentance in the man’s life, thus he is now being given over to the course of life he has adamantly chosen to pursue and is being allowed to face the consequences of his choice. The offender was being delivered unto Satan “for the destruction of his sinful nature:” the awful experience of being released to the clutches of the devil would hopefully have the beneficial effect of producing repentance in the offender. The purpose and the desired goal of this disciplinary action was the final salvation of the offender’s spirit or soul—the hope is that the state of experiencing the tyranny of the devil and being deprived of the blessed presence of the Lord would cause the offender to repent and return to the Lord asking His forgiveness and seeking reconciliation with Him. 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 indicates that in the case of this particular offender the goal of restoration was achieved.

5. Making reference to the unleavened bread of the Old Testament Passover, what command does Paul give the Corinthian church in verses 7-8 (printed below?) What is the meaning behind his symbolic language?

Get rid of the old leaven, so that you may be what you are—a new batch of unleavened dough. Since, indeed, our Passover lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed; (8) let us observe the Feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

In verses 7c-8 Paul connects this illustration of the unleavened dough to the Passover meal (at which time unleavened bread was eaten), and presents the spiritual significance of that Old Testament sacrament. Paul informs us that our Passover Lamb is Christ, and He has been sacrificed. Therefore, it is now time to partake of the Passover “meal”—that is to say, it is now time to hold spiritual communion with God (the Old Testament Passover meal was eaten immediately after the Passover lamb was slain, and the meal was a spiritual communion between the Lord and His people). How are we to partake of this spiritual “meal;” that is to say, how are we to hold communion with the Lord? We are not to partake of this communion with “the old leaven” (i.e.; there is no place in our new Christian lives for the continued practice of sin, note 1 Peter 4: 3). The only proper and possible way to partake in this sacred spiritual communion with God is with “the unleavened bread of sincerity (or, purity) and truth.” “The old leaven”—the attitude that tolerates sinful conduct and the presence of sin—must be discarded, so that we may become in everyday life what we have become by virtue of being united to Christ by faith; namely, holy unto God.