The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan on 1 Corinthians 5

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 25, 2010


Text in red, if any, represent my additions to the text. More notes on 1 Corinthians by Fr. Callan and others can be found here.

A Summary of 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

So absorbed were the Corinthians in their party strifes that the internal perfection of Christian life and the observance of ecclesiastical discipline seem to have become to them things of secondary consideration and importance. A scandalous case of incest had occurred among them, and they were so indifferent about it as to allow the offender to remain undisturbed in the Church. For this the Apostle severely rebukes them. The danger of tolerating one scandal is that it may corrupt the whole Christian community and lead the faithful away from Christ. In a previous Epistle, now lost, the Apostle had warned the Corinthians to fly the company of fornicators; but here he explains that he meant they must avoid the company of those sinners that are members of the Church. God will judge those who are outside the jurisdiction of the Church.

1. It is absolutely heard, that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as the like is not among the heathens; that one should have his father’s wife.

It is absolutely heard, etc. Better, “Impurity is actually reported (to exist) among you, and such impurity,” etc. The word πορνεία (porneia, literally, fornication) is used here in a wide sense, as also in 7:2, to designate unlawful sexual intercourse.

Such fornication, etc. The offender was either living in concubinage with his stepmother, or more probably had actually attempted marriage with her, and this, as may be argued from 2 Cor. 7:12, while his father was still living. Such a crime was forbidden not only by Mosaic legislation (Lev. 18:8; Deut.
22:30), but also by Greek and Roman law, as we learn from Cicero: Nubit genero Socrus. mulieris scelus incredibile, et praeter hanc unam in omni vita inauditum [The mother-in-law marries the son-in-law, no one looking favorably on the deed, no one approving it, all foreboding a dismal end to it.] (Pro Cluentio v. 6). If the marriage had actually taken place, it seems the Roman authorities had not learned of it; or, if they had, did not care to interfere with Jewish and Christian marriage laws. It was not Rome’s policy to meddle in the particular customs of her colonists (cf. Acts 18:12).

The name of the man is not mentioned, evidently because known to all. The stepmother was probably a Gentile, and hence St. Paul had no jurisdiction over her. See on 2 Cor. 2:5; 7:11, 12.

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

The Greek Fathers think the incestuous man was one of the worldly-wise teachers whom the Corinthians had esteemed above St. Paul. At any rate, the Apostle now shames the factionists for their inconsistency in glorying of the eloquence and knowledge of their leaders, while at the same time allowing such a scandal to go unpunished among them.

3. I indeed, absent in body, but present in spirit, have already judged, as though I were present, him that hath so done,

Although the Apostle was absent in body, being at Ephesus, he was present in spirit with the faithful at Corinth ; and he had already judged, i.e., he had already decided to deliver to Satan, etc. ‘verse 5) him that hath so done, etc., i.e., the incestuous man.

Many interpreters think I have already judged means that the Apostle, though absent in body, had actually pronounced sentence against the offender and left its execution to the Corinthians.

4. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, you being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus;

In the name of, etc. These words are to be connected with the preceding clause, “I have already judged.” Hence the meaning is: “I have already decided in the name and with the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ to deliver such a one to Satan, you being gathered together in council, I being with you spiritually, and Christ being present with His power” (Matt 18:20). The Apostle will preside in spirit over the assembly, and will pronounce
sentence, by virtue of the power and authority he has received from Jesus Christ.

5. To deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To deliver such a one to Satan, etc., i.e., to expel the incestuous man from the Church, thus cutting him off from all participation in the Sacraments and other spiritual benefits, and leaving him a prey to the attacks and temptations of the devil (Estius). In this view the words, for the destruction of the flesh, mean the mortification and destruction of concupiscence or carnal desires, which is necessary for amendment of life. But according to the Greek and Latin Fathers generally the phrase “to deliver,” etc., means to hand over to the possession of the devil, so that the evil one might harass and torture the body with sickness and disease, as in the case of Job. That the Apostles had the power of inflicting such punishments seems evident also from St. Peter’s action against Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11), and St. Paul’s against Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:11). Cf. 1 Tim 1:20.

For the destruction, etc. The purpose the Apostle would have in view when delivering the offender over to Satan was that his flesh, i.e., his inordinate carnal appetite, might be destroyed so as to save his soul. There is no question of procuring the death of the man.

From 2 Cor 2:6 it is argued that the Corinthians did try the incestuous man, and condemned him; but that he repented and was afterwards pardoned both by them and by St. Paul (2 Cor 2:10).

6. Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump?

The Apostle now tells the Corinthians that their glorying in their party leaders is doubly out of place and unbecoming, since they have retained among them such a scandal as the incestuous man. So strong is the force of bad example that the presence of one sinner or serious public transgression is enough to corrupt the whole community, just as a little leaven communicates its influence to a whole mass of dough.

The Apostle uses leaven in its evil signification (Gal 5:9), while our Lord employed the term to express both good and evil influences (Matt 13:33; Luke 13:21 ; Matt 16:6; Mark 8:15).

7. Purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new paste, as you are
unleavened. For Christ our pasch is sacrificed.

Continuing the similitude of the preceding verse St. Paul here counsels the Corinthians to rid themselves and their community of all sin and sinners, like the incestuous man, as the Jews before the celebration of the Paschal feast were accustomed to cleanse their houses of all leavened bread (Exod 12:18; 13:7; Matt 26:17).

As you are unleavened, i.e., as you, by reason of your vocation and condition as Christians, are pure and holy (1:2), you should cleanse your community from all sin and sinners, so that your Church may shine anew by the splendor of its virtues.

For Christ our pasch is sacrificed, better, “hath been sacrificed” (εθυθη). The Jews were obliged to clear their houses of all leaven each year for the annual celebration of the Paschal lamb; but Christians should put away the leaven of sin forever, since Christ, their Paschal Victim, “by one oblation hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Heb 10:14). “Christ was the Passover, (a) because He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Apoc 13:8), of which the Paschal lamb was a type (John 19:36); (b) because His blood, sprinkled on the soul, delivers us from the destroying angel; (c) because we feed on His flesh and blood (John 6:51-57), and are thereby nourished for our escape from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. This is why we are to purge out the old leaven, because Christ, the Paschal Lamb, has been slain, and we are bidden to keep perpetual feast on Him” (Lias).

This and the following verse afford a pretty good proof that the present letter was written at Paschal time, or perhaps during the Paschal week.

8. Therefore let us feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

As Christians keep a continual Paschal feast they should eschew the old leaven, i.e., their former habits of sin and th.e company of sinful men.

Malice means simply sin; wickedness is sin accompanied by hypocrisy or guile (Theod.).

The unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, i.e., the practice of virtue and the company of virtuous men.

9. I wrote to you in an epistle, not to keep company with fornicators.

In verses 9-13 the Apostle explains a precept he had given the Corinthians in a previous letter regarding the avoidance of the society of sinners. They misunderstood him then to speak of all sinners, whereas he meant only those who were Christians. He had no jurisdiction over pagans.

I wrote to you, etc. (‘Eya^a fyuv) . St. Chrysostom and some others think the Apostle is referring here simply to what he has said in the preceding verses 1-8. It is difficult, however, to see how from the preceding verses there could arise the misunderstanding which St. Paul now proceeds to explain. With the majority of commentators it is better, therefore, to hold that there is question here of a letter sent to Corinth which has not come down to us.

Not to keep company, etc., i.e., not to keep the society of fornicators, i.e., of those who were given to sins of impurity of whatever kind. Corinth was a large and most corrupt city, and the temptations to immorality were very numerous and very strong.

10. I mean not with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or the extortioners, or the servers of idols; otherwise you must needs go out of this world.

This verse should be separated from the preceding by a comma only.

I mean not, etc. Better, “not meaning,” etc., i.e.; I wrote you to avoid the society of impure people, not meaning, of course, the impure of this world, i.e., of the pagan world, in which there were also covetous, extortioners, and servers of idols. If it were required to avoid the company of all these, one would have to leave the present world altogether, so numerous are such sinners in it.

This (Vulg., hoc) before world in the last line of this verse should be omitted.

11. But now I have written to you, not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or a server of idols, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such a one, not so much as to eat.

The real meaning of the Apostle’s letter was that the faithful should shun the society of any Christian who was publicly known to be impure, covetous, etc., in order that such a sinner, being abandoned by all, might be brought to a better life, or at least might not be able to spread the contagion of his sin to other souls.

A brother, i.e., a Christian.

A fornicator (πόρνος = pornos), i.e., one who is named, or publicly known to be a fornicator.

Covetous, i.e., one who unjustly takes his neighbor’s goods.

A server of idols, i.e., a Christian who takes part in the worship of false gods. Some of the converts, who before had been Molaters, doubtless found it hard to break completely with all of their old practices, and so mixed up idol worship with Christian devotions.

An extortioner was one who took the goods of others by violence. With such as all these the faithful were not so much as to eat at the same table.

12. For what have I to do to judge them that are without? Do not you judge them that are within?

The Apostle now explains that his authority extends only to those who, through Baptism, have been made members of the Christian community, the Church.

Them that are without, i.e., those outside the jurisdiction of the Church. The Jews were accustomed to speak of all those who did not pertain to the chosen people as “those without” (τους εξω), and the Apostle is here making use of the same expression to designate those outside the Church.

Do not you, etc. Better, “Is it not those within that you judge?” The Corinthians ought not to wonder at the Apostle’s practice of judging only Christians, since that is their own practice.

13. For them that are without, God will judge. Put away the evil one from among yourselves.

If Christians are not to sit in judgment on pagans, it does not follow that the latter will escape being judged; for God will judge them.

Put away the evil one, etc. This refers to the incestuous man. The formula here used by the Apostle is taken from the words of Moses decreeing death against certain classes of sinners (Deut 17:7; 19:19; 22:24; 24:7 ff.). Excommunication is a kind of punishment that resembles spiritual death.

From what is said in this chapter it is clear that the Church is made up of good and bad members, and that she has the power to judge and condemn the latter.

The nam eos (“for them”) of the Vulgate would better be eos autem (“but them”) (Cornely).


3 Responses to “Father Callan on 1 Corinthians 5”

  1. […] Father Callan on 1 Corinthians 5. […]

  2. […] Father Callan on 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.  This post is actually on all of chapter 5 but commentary on the verses of the day  are easily found. […]

  3. […] Father Callan on 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.  This post is actually on all of chapter 5 but commentary on the verses of the day  are easily found. […]

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