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1 Corinthians 5:1-5

1. It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

1. Omnino auditur in vobus scortatio, et talis scortatio, quae ne interGentes quidem nominatur, ut quis as uxorem patris habeat.

2. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

2. Et vos inflati estis, ac non magis luxistis, ut e medio vestri removeretur, qui facinus hoc admisit.

3. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

3. Ego quidem certe tanquam absens corpore, praesens autem spiritu, jam iudicavi tanquam praesens, qui hoc ita designavit,

4. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power our Lord Jesus Christ,

4. In nomine Domini nostri Iesu Christi, congregatis vobis et spiritu meo, cum potentia Domini nostri of Iesu Christi, eiusmodi inquam hominem.

5. To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

5. Tradere Satanae in exitium carnis, ut spiritus salvus fiat in die Domini Iesu.


1. It is generally reported that there is among you. Those contentions having originated, as has been observed, in presumption and excessive confidence, he most appropriately proceeds to make mention of their diseases, the knowledge of which should have the effect of humbling them. First of all, he shows them what enormous wickedness it is to allow one of their society to have an illicit connection with his mother-in-law. It is not certain, whether he had seduced her from his father as a prostitute, or whether he kept her under pretense of marriage. This, however, does not much affect, the subject in hand; for, as in the former case, there would have been an abominable and execrable whoredom, so the latter would have involved an incestuous connection, abhorrent to all propriety and natural decency. Now, that he may not seem to charge them on doubtful suspicions, he says, that the case which he brings forward is well known and in general circulation. For it is in this sense that I take the particle ὅλως (generally) as intimating that it was no vague rumor, but a matter well known, and published everywhere so as to cause great scandal.

From his saying that such a kind of whoredom was not named even among the Gentiles, some are of opinion, that he refers to the incest of Reuben, (Genesis 35:22,) who, in like manner, had an incestuous connection with his mother-in-law. They are accordingly of opinion, that Paul did not make mention of Israel, because a disgraceful instance of this kind had occurred among them, as if the annals of the Gentiles did not record many incestuous connections of that kind! This, then, is an idea that is quite foreign to Paul’s intention; for in making mention of the Gentiles rather than of the Jews, he designed rather to heighten the aggravation of the crime. “You,” says he, “permit, as though it were a lawful thing, an enormity, which would not be tolerated even among the Gentiles — nay more, has always been regarded by them with horror, and looked upon as a prodigy of crime.” When, therefore, he affirms that it was not named among the Gentiles, he does not mean by this, that no such thing had ever existed among them, or was not recorded in their annals, for even tragedies have been founded upon it; 270270     Calvin probably had in his eye, among other instances, the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles — Ed. but that it was held in detestation by the Gentiles, as a shameful and abominable monstrosity, for it is a beastly lust, which destroys even natural modesty. Should any one ask, “Is it just to reproach all with the sin of one individual?” I answer, that the Corinthians are accused, not because one of their number has sinned, but because, as is stated afterwards, they encouraged by connivance a crime that was deserving of the severest punishment.

2. And ye are puffed upAre ye not ashamed,” says he, “to glory in what affords so much occasion for humiliation?” He had observed previously, that even the highest excellence gives no just ground of glorying, inasmuch as mankind have nothing of their own, and it is only through the grace of God that they possess any excellence. (1 Corinthians 4:7.) Now, however, he attacks them from another quarter. “You are,” says he, “covered with disgrace: what ground have you, then, for pride or haughtiness? For there is an amazing blindness in glorying in the midst of disgrace, in spite, as it were of angels and men.”

When he says, and have not rather mourned, he argues by way of contrast; for where there is grief there is no more glorying. It may be asked: “Why ought they to have mourned over another man’s sin?” I answer, for two reasons: first, in consequence of the communion that exists among the members of the Church, it was becoming that all should feel hurt at so deadly a fall on the part of one of their number; and secondly, when such an enormity is perpetrated in a particular Church, the perpetrator of it is all offender in such a way, that the whole society is in a manner polluted. For as God humbles the father of a family in the disgrace of his wife, or of his children, and a whole kindred in the disgrace of one of their number, so every Church ought to consider, that it contracts a stain of disgrace whenever any base crime is perpetrated in it. Nay, farther, we see how the anger of God was kindled against the whole nation of Israel on account of the sacrilege of one individual — Achan. (Joshua 7:1.) It was not as though God had been so cruel as to take vengeance on the innocent for another man’s crime; but, as in every instance in which anything of this nature has occurred among a people, there is already some token of his anger, so by correcting a community for the fault of one individual, he distinctly intimates that the whole body is infected and polluted with the contagion of the offense. Hence we readily infer, that it is the duty of every Church to mourn over the faults of individual members, as domestic calamities belonging to the entire body. And assuredly a pious and dutiful correction takes its rise in our being inflamed with holy zeal through displeasure at the offense; for otherwise severity will be felt to be bitter. 271271     “Et ne profitera pas;” — “And will do no good.”

That he might be taken away from among you. He now brings out more distinctly what he finds fault with in the Corinthians — remissness, inasmuch as they connived at such an abomination. Hence, too, it appears that Churches are furnished with this power 272272     “Et authorite;” — “And authority.” — that, whatever fault there is within them, they can correct or remove it by strictness of discipline, and that those are inexcusable that are not on the alert to have filth cleared away. For Paul here condemns the Corinthians. Why? Because they had been remiss in the punishment of one individual. Now he would have accused them unjustly, if they had not had this power. Hence the power of excommunication is established from this passage. On the other hand, as Churches have this mode of punishment put into their hands, those commit sin, 273273     “Offensent Dieu;” — “Offend God.” as Paul shows here, that do not make use of it, when it is required; for otherwise he would act unfairly to the Corinthians in charging them with this fault.

3. I truly, etc. As the Corinthians were wanting in their duty, having condemned their negligence, he now shows what ought to be done. In order that this stain may be removed, they must cast out this incestuous person from the society of the faithful. He prescribes, then, as a remedy for the disease, excommunication, which they had sinfully delayed so long. When he says, that he had, while absent in body, already determined this, he severely reproves in this way the remissness of the Corinthians, for there is here all implied contrast. It is as though he had said: “You who are present ought before this time to have applied a remedy to this disease, having it every day before your eyes, and yet you do nothing; 274274     “Vous dissimulez;” — “You connive.” while for my part I cannot, even though absent, endure it.” Lest any one should allege that he acted rashly in forming a judgment when at so great a distance, he declares himself to be present in spirit, meaning by this, that the line of duty was as plain to him as if he were present, and saw the thing with his eyes. Now it is of importance to observe what he teaches as to the mode of excommunication.

4. When you are gathered together and my spirit — that is, when ye are gathered together with me, but in spirit, for they could not meet together as to bodily presence. He declares, however, that it would be all one as though he were personally present. It is to be carefully observed, that Paul, though an Apostle, does not himself, as an individual, excommunicate according to his own pleasure, but consults with the Church, that the matter may be transacted by common authority. He, it is true, takes the lead, and shows the way, but, in taking others as his associates, he intimates with sufficient plainness, that this authority does not belong to any one individual. As, however, a multitude never accomplishes anything with moderation or seriousness, if not governed by counsel, there was appointed in the ancient Church a Presbytery, 275275     “Qu’on appeloit le Presbytere;” — “What they called a Presbytery.” that is, an assembly of elders, who, by the consent of all, had the power of first judging in the case. From them the matter was brought before the people, but it was as a thing already judged of. 276276     “Puis apres la chose estoit renuoyee au peuple par eux, avec un advertissement touteffois de ce qui leur en sembloit;” — “The matter was afterwards brought by them before the people, with an intimation, however, of their views respecting it.” See Calvin’s Institutes, volume 3, pp. 233-5. — Ed. Whatever the matter may be, it is quite contrary to the appointment of Christ and his Apostles — to the order of the Church, and even to equity itself, that this right should be put into the hands of any one man, of excommunicating at his pleasure any that he may choose. Let us take notice, then, that in excommunicating this limitation be observed — that this part of discipline be exercised by the common counsel of the elders, and with the consent of the people, and that this is a remedy in opposition to tyranny. For nothing is more at variance with the discipline of Christ than tyranny, for which you open a wide door, if you give one man the entire power.

In the name of our Lord For it is not enough that we assemble, if it be not in the name of Christ; for even the wicked assemble together for impious and nefarious conspiracies. Now in order that an assembly may be held in Christ’s name, two things are requisite: first, that we begin by calling upon his name; and secondly, that nothing is attempted but in conformity with his word. Then only do men make an auspicious commencement of anything that they take in hand to do, when they with their heart call upon the Lord that they may be governed by his Spirit, and that their plans may, by his grace, be directed to a happy issue; and farther, when they ask at his mouth, as the Prophet speaks, (Isaiah 30:2,) that is to say, when, after consulting his oracles, they surrender themselves and all their designs to his will in unreserved obedience. If this is becoming even in the least of our actions, how much less ought it to be omitted in important and serious matters, and least of all, when we have to do with God’s business rather than our own? For example, excommunication is an ordinance of God, and not of men; on any occasion, therefore, on which we are to make use of it, where shall we begin if not with God. 277277     “Le nom de Dieu;” — “The name of God.” In short, when Paul exhorts the Corinthians to assemble in the name of Christ, he does not simply require them to make use of Christ’s name, or to confess him with the mouth, (for the wicked themselves can do that,) but to seek him truly and with the heart, and farther, he intimates by this the seriousness and importance of the action.

He adds, with the power of our Lord, for if the promise is true,

As often as two or three are gathered together in my name,
I am in the midst of them, (Matthew 18:20,)

it follows, that whatever is done in such an assembly is a work of Christ. Hence we infer, of what importance excommunication, rightly administered, is in the sight of God, inasmuch as it rests upon the power of God. For that saying, too, must be accomplished,

Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. (Matthew 18:18.)

As, however, this statement ought to fill despisers 278278     “Contempteurs de Dieu;” — “Despisers of God.” with no ordinary alarm, so faithful pastors, as well as the Churches generally, are by this admonished in what a devout spirit 279279     “En quelle crainte et obeissance: — “With what fear and obedience.” they should go to work in a matter of such importance. For it is certain that the power of Christ is not tied to the inclination or opinions of mankind, but is associated with his eternal truth.

5. To deliver to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. As the Apostles had been furnished with this power among others, that they could deliver over to Satan wicked and obstinate persons, and made use of him as a scourge to correct them, Chrysostom, and those that follow him, view these words of Paul as referring to a chastisement of that kind, agreeably to the exposition that is usually given of another passage, in reference to Alexander and Hymeneus, (1 Timothy 1:20.) To deliver over to Satan, they think, means nothing but the infliction of a severe punishment upon the body. But when I examine the whole context more narrowly, and at the same time compare it with what is stated in the Second Epistle, I give up that interpretation, as forced and at variance with Paul’s meaning, and understand it simply of excommunication. For delivering over to Satan is an appropriate expression for denoting excommunication; for as Christ reigns in the Church, so Satan reigns out of the Church, as Augustine, too, has remarked, 280280     “L’a tres-bien note;” — “Has very well remarked.” in his sixty-eighth sermon on the words of the Apostle, where he explains this passage. 281281     “The reader will find the same sentiment quoted in the Institutes, volume 3. — Ed. As, then, we are received into the communion of the Church, and remain in it on this condition, that we are under the protection and guardianship of Christ, I say, that he who is cast out of the Church is in a manner delivered over to the power of Satan, for he becomes an alien, and is cast out of Christ’s kingdom.

The clause that follows, for the destruction of the flesh, is made use of for the purpose of softening; for Paul’s meaning is not that the person who is chastised is given over to Satan to be utterly ruined, or so as to be given up to the devil in perpetual bondage, but that it is a temporary condemnation, and not only so, but of such a nature as will be salutary. For as the salvation equally with the condemnation of the spirit is eternal, he takes the condemnation of the flesh as meaning temporal condemnation. “We will condemn him in this world for a time, that the Lord may preserve him in his kingdom.” This furnishes an answer to the objection, by which some endeavor to set aside this exposition, for as the sentence of excommunication is directed rather against the soul than against the outward man, they inquire how it can be called the destruction of the flesh My answer, then, is, (as I have already in part stated,) that the destruction of the flesh is opposed to the salvation of the spirit, simply because the former is temporal and the latter is eternal. In this sense the Apostle in Hebrews 5:7, uses the expression the days of Christs flesh, to mean the course of his mortal life. Now the Church in chastising offenders with severity, spares them not in this world, in order that God may spare them. 282282     “Mais c’est afin que Dieu leur espargne;” — “But it is in order that God may spare them.” Should any one wish to have anything farther in reference to the rite of excommunication, its causes, necessity, purposes, and limitation, let him consult my Institutes. 283283     See Institutes, volume 3.

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