Difficult Passages Series — 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20

 1.     Why is this passage listed among difficult passages?

 Both of these passages have one troubling phrase in common.  What does “handed over to Satan” mean?

 2.     How do we deal with the difficulties in this passage?

  “That some form of excommunication is intended is clear not only from 1 Co 5:2, but from the Passover analogy in 1 Co 5:6-8 (“Get rid of the old yeast”) and the citation of Dt 17:7 (“Expel the wicked man from among you” – 1 Co 5:13). The nature of the removal is expressed in the ambiguous phrase “hand this man over to Satan.” Its purpose is twofold: (1) that his “sinful nature” or “flesh” would be destroyed and (2) that his “spirit” would be saved (1 Co 5:5).”

(from Hard Sayings of the Bible, Copyright © 1996 by Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.)

This answer assumes that Paul is here using the Greek word for flesh in the metaphorical way as he often does.  I agree with that assumption.  Some commentators (Barclay for example) have disputed this, opening the way to the suggestion that the meaning is that the church is praying for bodily suffering.   To me this reflects a non-Hebraic dualism between body and spirit.  It would also put the church in a very untenable position of praying for harm.

 “It seems best to find an explanation within the larger background of apocalyptic Jewish thought which Paul shared. According to that thought, Satan was understood as the “prince of this world” (see Jn 12:31), as the “prince of darkness” with sovereignty over “this present evil age” and the realm of death. According to the Gospels, Jesus’ teachings and deeds are the reign of God breaking into the realm of Satan’s dominion (see Lk 11:14-22). For Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection were the decisive events: the evil powers had been robbed of their control (Col 2:15); the “end of the ages” had broken into this present evil age (1 Co 10:11 RSV); the “new creation” had dawned (2 Co 5:17); Christians were people who had been delivered “from the dominion of darkness” and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col 1:13).”

 “Within this larger understanding of Paul’s view the expression “hand him over to Satan” must be interpreted. The new creation had begun, but had not yet been consummated; the dominion of evil had been invaded, but had not yet ended; the new age had superimposed itself on this present evil age, but had not yet replaced it. Thus the church was the arena of Christ’s presence and continuing work; it was the community of God’s Spirit. To be excommunicated was therefore to be transferred out of the kingdom of God’s Son into the dominion of darkness (a reversal of Col 1:13!). Such a transaction is aptly described as a “handing over to Satan,” that is, into the world, the sphere of his continuing domain.”

(from Hard Sayings of the Bible, Copyright © 1996 by Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.)

 3.     What are the key truths or inspirational messages of this passage?

 What is to be the clear purpose of church discipline?

I Cor. 5:5 clearly states that the overall purpose is so that the person may eventually be saved.

 How does one get in the position of shipwrecking their faith as Hymenaeus and Alexander did and how do we avoid this kind of fall?

 We can infer from the verses immediately previous that these two had neglected the instruction of the apostles, let their faith slip away, and failed to listen to their consciences.   In fact, this could be looked at as a three step downward progression. 

 As a remedy, we are reminded of the Proverb, “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life” (Pr 4:13 NIV).   We hold on to faith by worship, study of the Word and the encouragement of others, especially by their testimonies.   We maintain a good conscience by the practice of confession of sin, maintaining the spirit Jesus blessed when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3); and by expressing our love to God through obedience (1 Jn. 5:3).

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