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  • ADAM CLARKE'S BIBLE COMMENTARY -
    1 CORINTHIANS 5

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    CHAPTER V.

    Account of the incestuous person, or of him who had married his father's wife, 1. The apostle reproves the Corinthians for their carelessness in this matter, and orders them to excommunicate the transgressor, 2-5. They are reprehended for their glorying, while such scandals were among them, 6. They must purge out the old leaven, that they may properly celebrate the Christian passover, 7-9. They must not associate with any who, professing the Christian religion, were guilty of any scandalous vice, and must put away from them every evil person, 10-13.

    NOTES ON CHAP. V.

    Verse 1. "There is fornication among you" - The word porneia, which we translate fornication in this place, must be understood in its utmost latitude of meaning, as implying all kinds of impurity; for, that the Corinthians were notoriously guilty of every species of irregularity and debauch, we have already seen; and it is not likely that in speaking on this subject, in reference to a people so very notorious, he would refer to only one species of impurity, and that not the most flagitious.

    "That one should have his father's wife." - Commentators and critics have found great difficulties in this statement. One part of the case is sufficiently clear, that a man who professed Christianity had illegal connections with his father's wife; but the principal question is, was his father alive or dead? Most think that the father was alive, and imagine that to this the apostle refers, 2 Corinthians vii. 12, where, speaking of the person who did the wrong, he introduces also him who had suffered the wrong; which must mean the father and the father then alive. After all that has been said on this subject, I think it most natural to conclude that the person in question had married the wife of his deceased father, not his own mother, but stepmother, then a widow.

    This was a crime which the text says was not so much as named among the Gentiles; the apostle must only mean that it was not accredited by them, for it certainly did often occur: but by their best writers who notice it, it was branded as superlatively infamous. Cicero styles it, scelus incredibile et inauditum, an incredible and unheard of wickedness; but it was heard of and practised; and there are several stories of this kind in heathen authors, but they reprobate not commend it. The word onomazetai, named, is wanting in almost every MS. and version of importance, and certainly makes no part of the text. The words should be read, and such fornication as is not amongst the Gentiles, i.e., not allowed.

    Some think that this woman might have been a proselyte to the Jewish religion from heathenism; and the rabbins taught that proselytism annulled all former relationship, and that a woman was at liberty in such a case to depart from an unbelieving husband, and to marry even with a believing son, i.e., of her husband by some former wife.

    Verse 2. "Ye are puffed up" - Ye are full of strife and contention relative to your parties and favourite teachers, and neglect the discipline of the Church. Had you considered the greatness of this crime, ye would have rather mourned, and have put away this flagrant transgressor from among you.

    "Taken away from among you." - ina exarqh ek mesou umwn. This is supposed by some to refer to the punishment of death, by others to excommunication. The Christian Church was at this time too young to have those forms of excommunication which were practised in succeeding centuries. Probably no more is meant than a simple disowning of the person, accompanied with the refusal to admit him to the sacred ordinances, or to have any intercourse or connection with him.

    Verse 3. "Absent in body, but present in spirit" - Perhaps St. Paul refers to the gift of the discernment of spirits, which it is very likely the apostles in general possessed on extraordinary occasions. He had already seen this matter so clearly, that he had determined on that sort of punishment which should be inflicted for this crime.

    Verse 4. "In the name of our Lord Jesus" - Who is the head of the Church; and under whose authority every act is to be performed.

    "And my spirit" - My apostolical authority derived from him; with the power, sun dunamei, with the miraculous energy of the Lord Jesus, which is to inflict the punishment that you pronounce:-

    Verse 5. "To deliver such a one unto Satan" - There is no evidence that delivering to Satan was any form of excommunication known either among the Jews or the Christians. Lightfoot, Selden, and Schoettgen, who have searched all the Jewish records, have found nothing that answers to this: it was a species of punishment administered in extraordinary cases, in which the body and the mind of an incorrigible transgressor were delivered by the authority of God into the power of Satan, to be tortured with diseases and terrors as a warning to all; but while the body and mind were thus tormented, the immortal spirit was under the influence of the Divine mercy; and the affliction, in all probability, was in general only for a season; though sometimes it was evidently unto death, as the destruction of the flesh seems to imply. But the soul found mercy at the hand of God; for such a most extraordinary interference of God's power and justice, and of Satan's influence, could not fail to bring the person to a state of the deepest humiliation and contrition; and thus, while the flesh was destroyed, the spirit was saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. No such power as this remains in the Church of God; none such should be assumed; the pretensions to it are as wicked as they are vain. It was the same power by which Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead, and Elymas the sorcerer struck blind. Apostles alone were intrusted with it.

    Verse 6. "Your glorying is not good." - You are triumphing in your superior knowledge, and busily employed in setting up and supporting your respective teachers, while the Church is left under the most scandalous corruptions-corruptions which threaten its very existence if not purged away.

    "Know ye not" - With all your boasted wisdom, do you not know and acknowledge the truth of a common maxim, a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? If this leaven-the incestuous person, be permitted to remain among you; if his conduct be not exposed by the most formidable censure; the flood-gates of impurity will be opened on the Church, and the whole state of Christianity ruined in Corinth.

    Verse 7. "Purge out therefore the old leaven" - As it is the custom of the Jews previously to the passover to search their houses in the most diligent manner for the old leaven, and throw it out, sweeping every part clean; so act with this incestuous person. I have already shown with what care the Jews purged their houses from all leaven previously to the passover; see the note on Exodus xii. 8-19, and on the term passover, and Christ as represented by this ancient Jewish sacrifice; see on Exod. xii. 27, and my Discourse on the Nature and Design of the Eucharist.

    Verse 8. "Therefore let us keep the feast" - It is very likely that the time of the passover was now approaching, when the Church of Christ would be called to extraordinary acts of devotion, in commemorating the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ; and of this circumstance the apostle takes advantage in his exhortation to the Corinthians. See the Introduction, sect. xii.

    "Not with old leaven" - Under the Christian dispensation we must be saved equally from Judaism, heathenism, and from sin of every kind; malice and wickedness must be destroyed; and sincerity and truth, inward purity and outward holiness, take their place.

    The apostle refers here not more to wicked principles than to wicked men; let us keep the feast, not with the old leaven- the impure principles which actuated you while in your heathen state; neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, kakiav kai ponhriav, wickedness, radical depravity, producing unrighteousness in the life; nor with the persons who are thus influenced, and thus act; but with the unleavened bread, all en azumoiv, but with upright and godly men, who have sincerity, eilikrineia, such purity of affections and conduct, that even the light of God shining upon them discovers no flaw, and truth-who have received the testimony of God, and who are inwardly as well as outwardly what they profess to be.

    The word ponhriav, which we translate wickedness, is so very like to porneiav, fornication, that some very ancient MSS. have the latter reading instead of the former; which, indeed, seems most natural in this place; as kakiav, which we translate malice, includes every thing that is implied in ponhriav, wickedness whereas porneiav, as being the subject in question, see 1 Cor. v. 1, would come more pointedly in here: Not with wickedness and fornication, or rather, not with wicked men and fornicators: but I do not contend for this reading.

    Verse 9. "I wrote unto you in an epistle" - The wisest and best skilled in Biblical criticism agree that the apostle does not refer to any other epistle than this; and that he speaks here of some general directions which he had given in the foregoing part of it; but which he had now in some measure changed and greatly strengthened, as we see from ver. 11. The words egraya en th epistolh may be translated, I HAD written to you in THIS EPISTLE; for there are many instances in the New Testament where the aorist, which is here used, and which is a sort of indefinite tense, is used for the perfect and the plusquam-perfect. Dr. Whitby produces several proofs of this, and contends that the conclusion drawn by some, viz. that it refers to some epistle that is lost, is not legitimately drawn from any premises which either this text or antiquity affords. The principal evidence against this is 2 Cor. vii. 8, where en th epistolh, the same words as above, appear to refer to this first epistle.

    Possibly the apostle may refer to an epistle which he had written though not sent; for, on receiving farther information from Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, relative to the state of the Corinthian Church, he suppressed that, and wrote this, in which he considers the subject much more at large. See Dr. Lightfoot.

    "Not to company with fornicators" - With which, as we have already seen, Corinth abounded. It was not only the grand sin, but staple, of the place.

    Verse 10. "For then must ye needs go out of the world." - What an awful picture of the general corruption of manners does this exhibit! The Christians at Corinth could not transact the ordinary affairs of life with any others than with fornicators, covetous persons, extortioners, railers, drunkards, and idolaters, because there were none others in the place! How necessary was Christianity in that city!

    Verse 11. "But now I have written" - I not only write this, but I add more: if any one who is called a brother, i.e. professes the Christian religion, be a fornicator, covetous, idolater, railer, drunkard, or extortioner, not even to eat with such-have no communion with such a one, in things either sacred or civil. You may transact your worldly concerns with a person that knows not God, and makes no profession of Christianity, whatever his moral character may be; but ye must not even thus far acknowledge a man professing Christianity, who is scandalous in his conduct. Let him have this extra mark of your abhorrence of all sin; and let the world see that the Church of God does not tolerate iniquity.

    Verse 12. "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without?" - The term without, touv exw, signifies those who were not members of the Church, and in this sense its correspondent term: ynwxyjh hachitsonim, those that are without, is generally understood in the Jewish writers, where it frequently occurs. The word kai also, which greatly disturbs the sense here, is wanting in ABCFG, and several others, with the Syriac, Coptic, Slavonic, Vulgate, and the Itala; together with several of the fathers. The sentence, I think, with the omission of kai also, should stand thus: Does it belong to me to pass sentence on those which are without- which are not members of the Church? By no means (ouci.) Pass ye sentence on them which are within-which are members of the Church: those which are without-which are not members of the Church, God will pass sentence on, in that way in which he generally deals with the heathen world. But put ye away the evil from among yourselves. This is most evidently the apostle's meaning, and renders all comments unnecessary. In the last clause there appears to be an allusion to Deut. xvii. 7, where the like directions are given to the congregation of Israel, relative to a person found guilty of idolatry: Thou shalt put away the evil from among you-where the version of the Septuagint is almost the same as that of the apostle: kai exareiv ton ponhron ex umwn autwn.

    THERE are several important subjects in this chapter which intimately concern the Christian Church in general.

    1. If evil be tolerated in religious societies, the work of God cannot prosper there. If one scandal appear, it should be the cause of general humiliation and mourning to the followers of God where it occurs; because the soul of a brother is on the road to perdition, the cause of God so far betrayed and injured, and Christ recrucified in the house of his friends.

    Pity should fill every heart towards the transgressor, and prayer for the backslider occupy all the members of the Church.

    2. Discipline must be exercised in the Christian Church; without this it will soon differ but little from the wilderness of this world. But what judgment, prudence, piety, and caution, are requisite in the execution of this most important branch of a minister's duty! He may be too easy and tender, and permit the gangrene to remain till the flock be infected with it.

    Or he may be rigid and severe, and destroy parts that are vital while only professing to take away what is vitiated. A backslider is one who once knew less or more of the salvation of God. Hear what God says concerning such: Turn, ye backsliders, for I am married unto you. See how unwilling He is to give them up! He suffers long, and is kind: do thou likewise; and when thou art obliged to cut off the offender from the Church of Christ, follow him still with thy best advice and heartiest prayers.

    3. A soul cut off from the flock of God is in an awful state! his outward defense is departed from him; and being no longer accountable to any for his conduct, he generally plunges into unprecedented depths of iniquity; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. Reader, art thou without the pale of God's Church? remember it is here written, them that are WITHOUT God judgeth, ver. 13.

    4. Christians who wish to retain the spirituality of their religion should be very careful how they mingle with the world. He who is pleased with the company of ungodly men, no matter howsoever witty or learned, is either himself one with them, or is drinking into their spirit. It is impossible to associate with such by choice without receiving a portion of their contagion. A man may be amused or delighted with such people, but he will return even from the festival of wit with a lean soul. Howsoever contiguous they may be, yet the Church and the world are separated by an impassable gulf.

    5. If all the fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, extortioners, and covetous persons which bear the Christian name, were to be publicly excommunicated from the Christian Church, how many, and how awful would the examples be! If however the discipline of the visible Church be so lax that such characters are tolerated in it, they should consider that this is no passport to heaven. In the sight of God they are not members of his Church; their citizenship is not in heaven, and therefore they have no right to expect the heavenly inheritance. It is not under names, creeds, or professions, that men shall be saved at the last day; those alone who were holy, who were here conformed to the image of Christ, shall inherit the kingdom of God. Those who expect it in any other way, or on any other account, will be sadly deceived.

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