Church discipline?

by André Piet
April 30th, 2012

In the series of studies that I'm giving about the first letter to the Corinthians, I had arrived, last week, at the fifth chapter. This is a chapter that has the reputation of dealing with "church discipline." This is not correct, for the ecclesia in Corinth was not a church in the modern sense of the word: an organization with a board, statutes and a membership lists, etc. The word "discipline" does not even occur in this letter.

Let me summarize in six points what I have presented in this study, last week:

1. who is no good or evil?

1 Corinthians 5 is not about who is "not good", but about "the wicked one" (5:13). Not someone with certain vices (who would not qualify for this?) But someone who is causing harm to the faith community. The word for "wicked" in 1Cor.5:13 concerns, in Rev.16:2, a "malignant ulcer".

2. misstep of lifestyle?

1 Corinthians 5 is not about someone who has committed a misstep, but someone effecting evil. 5:3 uses a timeless verb form. With regard to someone who "is overtaken in a misstep", we are instructed to be merciful, in the realization that we, ourselves, too, might make a misstep when tempted (Gal.6:1).

3. remove or be taken away?

Many translations, incorrectly, translate 1Cor.5:2 into the active form: "remove from your midst." But Paul uses a passive form and writes: "might be taken away from among you." That's a big difference!

Imagine: in Corinth, it was widely talked about, how one of the attendees of the ecclesia indulged in excessive fornication. But instead of being sad about this reputation to the outside world, they became puffed up, one against another. Paul says in 5:2 (paraphrased): if you were sad about this scandalous reputation, then this man would have been taken away from among you. He would not be able to cope with being wicked in the midst of you. In other words, this particular man, having an affair with the wife of his father (5:1), was only a symptom of the problem. The crux of the matter was the attitude of the Corinthians, themselves.

4. excommunicating or letting go of?

1 Corinthians 5 is not about excommunicating or erasing a name from the list of members, because the latter they did not even have. Paul counsels the Corinthians to copy him (although he, physically, is not present with them) has given this man up to Satan (5:5). As "a wicked one" he was, in practice, an accomplice of Satan (= opponent) and Paul's judgment is: give him over to this, let him go. When someone, willingly and knowingly remains in a wicked way, then there is nothing left, but to give him over and to let him go, in the hope that by this loss and shame he will become wise. All this, always with an eye to the preservation of him.

5. associate or commingle?

Many translations talk about not "to associate" with "the wicked ones" in the ecclesia. But Paul uses a word that literally means "to commingle" (blend in with him). The same word he used in 2Thes.3:14. From verse 15, it is evident that it is not about breaking a relationship with him. Not to commingle means to keep a certain distance, making a difference, distinguishing yourself.

6. leaven or feast?

The heart of the problem in 1 Corinth 5 is that the boasting of the Corinthians was not good (5:6). They gloried in the flesh: the wisdom of the world and influence and prestige in the world were ranked high among them (1Cor.1 :27-31). Such a mind set attracts people who live "in accord with the flesh". Paul compares the boasting of the Corinthians with the workings of yeast: it causes dough to rise, but it is only bluff and mere air. Leaven also symbolizes decay and that the old has passed by. It's interesting to note that the word "yeast" is derived from "yesterday," i.e., dough from the previous day. Paul says, "you are unleavened" (5:7) – a new creation! (2Cor.5:16.17); not anymore a people of yesterday, but of the future. Know your identity and celebrate the feast of being unleavened, in "sincerity and truth"!


Translation: Peter Feddema

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