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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


In this chapter, the Apostle severely rebukes the Corinthians for permitting a man, notoriously guilty of incest with his own stepmother, to continue a member of their body (verse 1). And from this he takes occasion to humble their pride (1:2). He directs them to separate this sinner from the communion of the faithful, by inflicting on him the sentence of excommunication (3, 4, 5). He, next, censures their foolish boasting as unseasonable, and, by an allegorical allusion to the feast of unleavened bread among the Jews, he points out the duty obligatory on all Christians, during the entire course of their lives, of separating themselves from everything unclean, and from whatever might corrupt the sanctity of life, which they professed (6, 7, 8). He refers to a caution which he had already given them to avoid all intercourse with men guilty of gross crimes (9), and he describes the class of men to whom he referred; they are, not the Gentiles—for, to avoid them they should leave the world—but scandalous Christians, whom he wishes to subject to a sort of minor excommunication (10, 11). He says he has no jurisdiction over unbelievers, and he directs the Corinthians to cut off the incestuous man, by a sentence of excommunication.


1. It is not without cause I have given you the option of receiving from me mild or severe treatment; for, there is known among you, as a matter of public notoriety, a case of fornication, and such fornication as the heathens themselves are strangers to; viz., the case of a son living in a criminal state with his own stepmother, while his father is still alive.—(2 Cor. 8:12).

2. And, notwithstanding your knowledge of this crying scandal, you are puffed up with pride, and engaged in foolish contentions, when you should be buried in mourning and humiliation, and should have adopted measures for expelling from among you the man who is guilty of such gross misconduct.

3. For my part, although absent in body, still present with you in my affection and solicitude for you, I have decreed, as if I were present.

4. In virtue of the power and authority of our Lord: Jesus Christ (you being assembled together, while my spirit shall also join in your act, aided by the power given me by our Lord Jesus Christ.)

5. To deliver over to Satan such a person, that is, the man who has acted thus, for the destruction of his carnal desires, that having become repentant, owing to this salutary chastisement, his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.

6. Your vain boasting is very unreasonable. Are you not aware, that a little leaven ferments and corrupts the entire mass? (You should, therefore, beware lest the contagious example of this wicked man should corrupt the entire assembly of the faithful.)

7. Put away, then, the old leaven; dissociate yourselves from this scandalous sinner, that you may become a new mass, and may be holy and pure, free from all leaven of sin, as you ought to be; for, Christ our pasch, is immolated.

8. Let us, therefore, celebrate our long Christian pasch, which continues during our entire lives, not with the leavened bread of the old man of sin, nor with the leavened bread of wicked and sinful actions, but with the unleavened bread of pure morals, and of true sanctity, free from affectation or hypocrisy.

9. In a preceding Epistle, I instructed you not to keep company with fornicators.

10. When I thus wrote to you I did not refer to the lewd, dissolute men, who are of this world, that is to say, who are not of the household of the faith; nor to the avaricious, who unjustly acquire or fradulently retain the property of others; nor to extortioners, who publicly plunder and rob their neighbour; nor to the servers of idols; for, if you are obliged to avoid all these, you should leave the world altogether, owing to the universal corruption which prevails.

11. But now, what I really meant in writing to you is, that you should not hold intercourse with a person calling himself a Christian brother, if guilty of the above-named crimes; or if, in addition to them, he be a railer, who gives loose rein to a bad tongue, and utters imprecations; or, if he indulge too freely in intoxicating drinks, with such a person you should not so much as take food.

12. This line of conduct I prescribe to you with reference to those inside the Church; because, as pastor of the Church, what jurisdiction have I over those outside its pale? Do not you yourselves, or those who preside over you, judge those only, who are within the Church?

13. However, those who are outside its pale shall not escape judgment; for, these God himself will judge. Remove from among you this wicked sinner, by the sentence of excommunication.


1. “It is absolutely heard,” &c., i.e., it is a subject of general notoriety, “that there is fornication among you.” The word “fornication,” πορνεια, generally denotes illicit Intercourse of all kinds; here, it denotes a case of incest. “And such fornication as the like is not among the heathens.” In the common Greek, as it is not so much as named among, &c. The word “named” is wanting in the chief MSS. and many versions.

QUERITUR.—How can the Apostle say such a crime was unknown among the Gentiles, since in Leviticus (18:8), among the crimes of the Gentiles—whom the Lord is about to exterminate—is mentioned that of uncovering the nakedness of a father’s wife?

RESP.—Moses, in the book of Leviticus, refers to the wife of a deceased father; or, at least, to the wile repudiated by a living father; whereas, here, there is question of criminal intercourse with the wife of a living father, and where no such repudiation took place. This is clear from 2 Epistle, 7, where the Apostle refers to him, “who suffered the injury,” who can be no other than the father whose wife lived in criminal intercourse with her stepson. Moreover, it may be said that the Apostle speaks of the Gentiles known in his own days, who were generally governed by the laws of Rome, framed to promote public honesty and decency.—(Estius in hunc locum).

2. They were inflated with pride, and engaged in contentions, instead of being buried in the deepest sorrow, and of adopting measures for the removal of this scandalous man from all intercourse with the faithful, by inflicting on him the sentence of excommunication.

3, 4. “I indeed absent in body.” In the Greek it is: for I indeed as absent, in body (as is wanting in the chief MSS. and versions). As if he said, you may indeed not be as fully alive as you ought to be to this scandal; but, for my part, I have judged or pronounced in the name, and by the authority, of our Lord Jesus Christ, such a person to be deserving of being delivered over to Satan, &c. The words, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” may be also joined with the following: “you being gathered together, in the name of our Lord Jesus,” &c. Or, they may be referred to the execution of the sentence (verse 5), “to deliver up to Satan in the name of our Lord Jesus,” &c., “with the power of our Lord Jesus,” to which is added in the common Greek, “Christ;” but, it is wanting in the chief MSS. and versions.

5. “Such a one,” is a mere repetition of the phrase (verse 3), “him that hath done so,” verse 3. The punishment of which the Apostle judges the incestuous Corinthian deserving, is evidently the dreadful sentence of excommunication. The Apostle himself does not inflict the sentence on him; he only directs the Corinthian pastors to do so. “The delivering over to Satan,” is effected by expulsion from the church; for, outside the Church is the kingdom of Satan, in which “he worketh on the children of unbelief.”—(Eph. 2.) “For the destruction of the flesh.” These words are generally understood, by the Greek Fathers and Interpreters, to refer to his being corporally possessed and tormented by the devil, an effect of excommunication not uncommon in this early age of wonders. It is more probable, however, that they refer to the corporal afflictions he would have to endure, in consequence of being deprived of all intercourse with the faithful. This would be the occasion of his entering into himself, and of becoming, by the mortification of his passions, repentant for the crime which drew upon him such heavy chastisements. “In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the common Greek text, it simply is, “in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Some of the chief MSS. and versions support the Vulgate. In the Codex Vaticanus, it is, “in the day of the Lord,” εν τῆ ἡμερα τοῦ κυριοῦ.

We have here an early instance of the exercise of the power residing in the pastors of the Church, to inflict the sentence of excommunication. St. Paul pronounces the incestuous man deserving of excommunication, by the authority of Christ; and he wishes that it should be inflicted upon him in a full assembly of the faithful, at which his spirit would preside, aided by the authority of Christ (verse 4). Hence, it should be executed by somebody representing the Apostle; and hence, the authority does not reside in the body of the faithful.

It may be asked, where were the monitions and inquiry which should precede the excommunication?

RESP.—The notoriety of his guilt—“it is absolutely heard” (5:1)—precluded the necessity of investigation. And it is not unlikely that he was admonished more than once by the heads of the Church of Corinth. Besides, he had the admonition of the Apostolic canon, “not to keep company with fornicators” (verse 9), which, though referring to crimes of lesser magnitude than this, still served as a monition, a fortiori, for greater crimes, deserving of heavier punishment.

6. The vain boasting referred to here is understood by some of their glorying in the incestuous man, as an eloquent preacher. This, however, is very improbable; for, it is by no means likely, that they would glory in any man, no matter how eloquent, guilty of such grievous crimes. It is, therefore, to be understood of their boasting in general of the eloquence of their different teachers. “Corrupteth the whole lump.” (In Greek, ὅλον το φυραμα ζυμοι, leaveneth the entire lump).

7. “Purge out the old leaven.” In the common Greek text we have, “Purge out, therefore, the old,” &c. “Therefore” is wanting in the chief MSS. and versions. “For, Christ, our pasch, is sacrificed.” Hence, we should be without the leaven, or the corrupting impurity of sin, since our pasch is immolated, as the Jews were without leaven during the seven days that their paschal solemnity continued.

8. In order to understand the meaning of the allegorical allusion which the Apostle makes in these two verses, and the force of the exhortation founded thereon, it is to be borne in mind, that the Jews, in remembrance of their deliverance from the Egyptian bondage, and of the immolation of the paschal lamb, owing to the sprinkling of whose blood on their doorposts, the exterminating angel recognised the dwellings of the Hebrews, and, passing by, slew the first-born of the Egyptians, celebrated, during each successive year, the pasch or feast of unleavened bread. This festival lasted for seven days; the paschal lamb was immolated; and no leaven was to be found in their houses; they should put it away during the festival days. These were intended as so many figures of the things that were to happen in the New Law. “All these things happened to them in figure,” (10:11). The paschal lamb was a figure of Christ. The sprinkling of the blood, which saved the Hebrews, was a figure of the more precious blood, which saved the world. The putting away of leaven, for the seven days of the festival, among the Jews, was a figure of the exemption from the corruption and leaven of sin which should characterize all Christians. St. Paul, in this passage, argues from the type or figure to the thing typified, thus: “As the Jews were obliged, during the seven days of their pasch, to put away all leaven, so should we, during our entire lives, during which Christ, our paschal lamb, is slain, prefigured by the seven days among the Jews, be exempt from all kinds of sin, which exemption from sin was signified by the unleavened bread among the Jews.” We should, therefore, celebrate our Christian festival, our long pasch, not “with the old leaven,” that is, the leaven of our former sinful lives; nor, with the leaven of sin and corruption (“the leaven of malice” refers to sin in general; “of wickedness,” to sins of fraud and hypocrisy), “but with the unleavened bread of sincerity;” i.e., of purity, opposed to “malice,” and of “truth,” opposed to “wickedness,” i.e., to fraud and deceit. “The unleavened bread;” the word “bread” is not in the original, which simply is, εν αζυμοις, in the Asymous; or “unleavened” “bread” is understood.

9. What “Epistle” does he refer to? Some say he refers to this chapter, in which he denounces the incestuous man; others, more probably, refer it to a former Epistle written by him, but now lost; nor is there any inconvenience in this, since it is not so much by inspired writings, as by oral tradition, God wished to have his truth transmitted to us.

10. “I mean not with the fornicators,” &c. The Greek is, Οῦ παντως το͂ις πορνοις, not altogether with the fornicators, &c. In the common Greek text, “και,” is prefixed “and not altogether,” but it is wanting in the chief MSS. and versions. “Covetous” may also mean sordid misers, who close their hearts against the miseries of the poor. “Nor with the covetous.” The words, “of this world,” are to be added to each word of this verse. The Apostle gives no positive injunction here regarding the avoidance of Pagan sinners. The gospel is sufficiently express in forbidding all intercourse with them, whenever they are a source of danger to us, as frequently happens, either with regard to faith or morals.

11. “But now I have written to you.” The world “now” does not refer to time; it is only resumptive of the subject (as in Paraphrase). “Server of idols,” must refer to the Christian who partakes of meats offered to idols, to the scandal of his brethren, or with an erroneous conscience on his part, imagining that he joined in idol worship, “Drunkard.” This does not necessarily imply habitual indulgence in drink to the extent of causing a deprivation of reason. This sin is ordinarily committed by excessive indulgence in strong drinks. Væ illis qui potentes sunt ad bibendum vinum, et viri fortes ad miscendam ebrietatem.—(Isaias, chap. 5) Væ illis qui conimorantur in vino, et student in calicibus epotandis.—(Prov. 23). The construction of the words of this verse is rendered differently in several versions. In some, as in our Vulgate, the phrase “is named,” is joined with “brother;” according to which the words mean (as in Paraphrase), “if any person who bears the name of brother be guilty of these crimes,” &c. The construction may be also arranged that the words, “is named,” would refer not to the word “brother,” but to the following, thus: “If any brother be named a fornicator, or covetous,” &c., that is to say, if he be so publicly guilty of these crimes as to go by the name of fornicator, or covetous, or drunkard, &c., do not take food with him. This latter construction is preferred by Œcumenius, by St. Augustine (against Parmenianus), by St. Ambrose (de Pœnitentia), and by many other Fathers; and it has great probability; for, the Apostle would hardly exclude from the society of the faithful a man privately guilty of these crimes. It is only the man who is publicly and scandalously guilty of them, so as to go by the name of “fornicator, drunkard,” &c., that he wishes to subject to a kind of minor excommunication. “With such a one not so much as to eat,” which is a lesser punishment than “the delivering of him over to Satan” (verse 5). The words mean that they should avoid all familiar intercourse and intimacy with such a person, which is clearly conveyed by saying, they should avoid sitting at the same table with him.

12. “For what have I to do to judge them that are,” &c. (In the common Greek, to judge them “also,” who), &c. “Also” is cancelled by critics, on the authority of the chief MSS. and versions. He says he has no jurisdiction over those who are outside the Church. What business is it of mine to exercise jurisdiction over those who are outside the Church? “Do not you judge,” &c. He proves from the mode of acting followed by those who preside in their Church, that he has no power over Pagans; they confine their judgment to such as are inside, thereby acknowledging that their jurisdiction does not extend to such as are without.

13. “God will judge.” In the common Greek, judgeth. The future, κρινεῖ, is preferable. “Put away the evil one,” viz.: the incestuous man, by a sentence of excommunication. The common Greek text has, και εξαρατε, “therefore, put away,” but (και) is cancelled by critics on the authority of the chief MSS.

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