{2}          Handing Over to Satan (1Co 5:5)

1 Corinthians 5:5
Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.


·         What does “handing over to Satan” really mean?

·         Why would Paul want anyone to be handed over to Satan?

·         Though the man committed a grievous sin, is there no room for discipline and forgiveness within the Christian community?


·         Chapter 5 deals with the specific problem of the sexually immoral life being led by one of the members (a man has his father’s wife). The larger problem is an attitude about physical life among the Corinthian Christians which allows them not merely to be tolerant of the immoral behaviour of a brother, but to exhibit a certain pride or arrogance about the matter.


·         “A man has his father’s wife” (see Lev 18:8): The verb “has” is in the present infinitive form, indicating that the situation is not a single occurrence, but a continuing immoral affair. It is not defined as “incest”, so the woman is likely his stepmother. It is “of a kind that does not occur even among pagans” probably means that even Roman law forbade such a practice. It was clearly damaging to the moral fibre of the entire congregation, as well as the witness of the church in the pagan world.

·         The attitude of the congregation is that “you are proud” (5:2). What is the reason for this arrogance? Many of the problems which Paul addresses in his letters seem to be based on a religious mindset which devalued physical life and emphasized spiritual liberation. This view developed out of Greek thoughts (derived from dualism and later appeared in Gnosticism). The perversion was that since the physical realm is of no importance, it does not really matter what was being done with our bodies. The arrogant pride regarding sexual immorality in their midst indicates that they may have seen this matter as the very proof of their being spiritual.

·         Some form of excommunication is intended (5:2,7,13 quoting Dt 17:7). It involves the exclusion of the stubborn sinner from the church family. The nature of the removal is expressed in “hand this man over to Satan”. Its purpose is twofold: (1) that his “flesh” would be destroyed and (2) that his “spirit” would be saved (5:5).

·         Jewish practice of excommunication, imposed particularly for breaking marriage laws: In banning an offender, it was believed that separation from the people of God, and therefore from God’s special care, would lead to premature death.

·         “Hand this man over to Satan”: For Paul, Satan was the leader of “rulers and powers of this dark world” (Eph 6:12). While the church was the arena of Christ’s presence and continuing work, the world outside the church was still dominated by Satan. To be excommunicated was therefore to be transferred out of the kingdom of God’s son into Satan’s dominion of darkness.

·         “For the destruction of the flesh” (see footnote of NIV): Possible meanings: (1) abandonment of the man’s physical existence to the powers of destruction, (2) premature death, in keeping with Jewish ideas, (3) physical sufferings. But all these cannot lead directly to the stated purpose of excommunication which is salvation.

·         For Paul, “flesh” represents the total being (including human spirit) in its opposition to God and “spirit” represents the total being (including the physical body) as redeemed by God (Ro 7:14). The NIV rendering of “so that the sinful nature may be destroyed” is likely more accurate.

·         The meaning of the verse is thus: The immoral man was to be excommunicated from the church family. When excluded from the church, might he not come to his senses like the Prodigal Son? Might he not come to the recognition that his immorality would only lead to death and thus repent and terminate his “fleshy” orientation? This would explain why the destruction of the flesh is followed by the salvation of the spirit.

·         Calvin describes the threefold purpose of excommunication: (1) that God may not be insulted by the name of Christians being given to those who lead shameful lives, (2) that the good may not be corrupted by constant communication with the wicked, (3) that the sinner may be ashamed (2Th 3:14-15), and begin to repent of his sin. Punishment has never been the object when excommunication is rightly understood.


·         The church must discipline flagrant sin among its members. Such sins, left unchecked, can polarize and paralyze a church.

·         Putting someone out of the church should be a last resort in disciplinary action. It should not be done out of vengeance, but out of love, just as parents punish children to correct and restore them. The church’s role should be to help, not hurt, offenders, motivating them to repent of their sins and to return to the fellowship of the church.