The First Epistle to the Corinthians
3- Limiting the deviation in the Church by isolating the wicked (chapter 5)
In this respect, St. Paul condemns the congregation for their neglect and non-confrontation of the evil that crept into the Church, while they were divided to parties contending with each other on which party is more qualified to lead the Church. What was the problem? A young man from the Church has sexual relation with his father’s wife… St. Paul considers this sin worst than what is considered adultery by the Gentiles. He says to them: Despite this you are puffed up, criticizing those who taught you, whereas you ought to mourn for this until “he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you” (5:2). Although, I am physically away from you, but present in spirit, I have already judged “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (5:3-5). This means: he should be disciplined and separated from the Church for a certain time, to suffer in the body to wake him up from his unconsciousness. He should be confronted with his wrong deed, to incite him to repent, to be saved from eternal perdition in the last day. St. Paul is saying that because ignoring this man’s sin or trivializing it, will let sin grow and spread. He will continue to lust, and others will dare more to sin without being confronted by the Church, like a small yeast that ferments the whole dough (5:6). And just as in the Passover (Jesus Christ being our new Passover, who was slain for our salvation) “purge out the old leaven (yeast)”, which is a symbol for the old nature, malice and wickedness, to become “a new lump” of unleavened bread. “Let us keep the feast … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (5: 7, 8).
In reference to this issue, St. Paul points to what he wrote to them previously (most likely, in an earlier brief letter), not to mingle with adulterers. He clarifies to them that he did not mean it in general, i.e. the adulterers of the whole world, and similarly the greedy, the idolaters, or the swindlers, which would mean they would have to “go out of the world”, but he meant only those who are members of the Church, “anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral … not even to eat with such a person”. We are not responsible to judge those who are outside the Church, for it is God who judges them. Therefore, “put away from yourselves the evil person”(1) (5:9-13).
4- On seeking judgment from unbelievers (chapter 6)
This is another problem with the Corinthian Church in which St. Paul states his opinion. He expresses his astonishment that a believer who has a dispute against another believer dares to be tried in front of the ungodly (idolaters) and not to the saints (believers). He offers his proof by saying, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (6:2) (Either the righteousness of the believers will judge the wrongdoings of the worldly people, or reference is to what the Lord has said to his disciples that, in His second coming, they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel, Mt 19:28). If the world will be judged by you (the saints), how much more you should judge, and bring justice here and now (in these “smallest matters”). The simplest of the believers can be the judges in your trials. Has the Church no more judges to judge among the believers? And what are these disputes among you? Here, you believers are doing wrong and cheating, whereas you ought to bear suffering, accept wrong and be cheated, rather than becoming of the unrighteous people “who will not inherit the kingdom of God.” “Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites …will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but were sanctified, but were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (6: 9-11).
Concerning conduct and behavior, St. Paul announces that he follows this law, “All things are lawful for me, but all thing are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (6:12). Every thing is permissible to me in principle as long as it does not contradict with the principles of faith, and does not have mastery over me. Albeit, there are known facts, “Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (6:13), and “your bodies are members of the body of Christ” (6:15), as they are also “a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you” (6:19). Paul continues his condemnation of the sin of sexual immorality that was prevalent in Corinth saying: it is not proper for the divine body and the members of Christ and the temples of the Holy Spirit to be subjected to adultery, “Do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? … But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (6:16, 17). Adultery is a direct sin against the body (6:18), therefore, flee from adultery; for you are not for yourselves “you were bought at a price; Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit …” (6:20).
5- On Marriage and Celibacy (Chapter 7)
St. Paul continues to answer the inquiries of the Church in Corinth, where there were diverse opinions. The Greek tradition did not care for the body as it will perish and consequently there was no objection to immerse it in lusts to the point that fornication became a part of the pagan worship. As a reaction to this, there was a trend among those who accepted Christianity to despise the body with its lusts and desires including even marital relations. Moreover, many families included a husband and a wife, one a believer and the other a nonbeliever. What is the solution? Will all these family relations fall and the social relations get disrupted because of the new faith?
To understand the instructions of St. Paul concerning this issue, we will jump to the last part of this chapter where he says “the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none …” (1Cor. 7:29-31). So, there is a feeling that dominates St. Paul that the second coming of Christ is soon. He starts this epistle (1:7) expecting the revelation of Christ and he ends the epistle with the common greeting in the first Church, “Maranatha” (16:22) which means: “O Lord, come” or “The Lord is near”. Accordingly, he invokes the people not to be preoccupied with marriage, buying and selling, owning, or enjoying the world. Likewise, he comforts those who are suffering that everything is coming soon to the end.
At the beginning of chapter 7, St. Paul writes “Concerning the things of which you wrote to me”. It is obvious, that the Church members wrote to him concerning a number of issues related to the relations between men and women. He gave them the following opinions:
(To be continued)
(1) St. Paul explains in his 2nd epistle to the Corinthians, that this separation would be temporary, as it is not a goal in itself, but a mean to lead the young man who has sinned to come back to the Church “This punishment which was inflected by the majority is sufficient for such a man ... you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.” And as we have chastised, let us forgive, “lest Satan should take advantage of us” (2Cor. 2:5–11).