1 Cor. 5:4-5 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
These verses may inspire strange pictures of the “one” mentioned being wrapped in a box and bow and presented to Satan personally. What is really going on here? Contextual study, with the help of Witherington’s Corinthians commentary (158), provides some likely answers.
- What is it is to “delivered unto Satan”? A few have suggested execution is in mind, but that would hardly make sense if the point was to save this unrepentant person. The more likely meaning is an expulsion from the church — and here, not to Satan personally, but to the world, and the realm where Satan is the “god of the world”. (See similar use in 1 Tim. 5:15, where “Satan” can hardly be supposed to mean Satan personally.)
- What then is the “flesh”? If this is not execution, then “flesh” must be understood another way — in fact, a way it is used elsewhere in Paul as well as in other Jewish literature, to refer to the weakness and sinfulness of humanity. (As in 1 Peter 2:4, For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. )
- Then what is the process in view? The purpose is much the same as it might be to let a drunkard drink himself into insensibility, which in an honor-shame society would have been a much more effective tactic than it would be under a modern, individualistic, “I’m proud of myself and don’t care what anyone else says” paradigm.
Note that this man’s sin is “such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.” (5:1) This is not something like alcohol where he will be able to find drinking buddies or social support; his acts would be a disgrace to the whole of society, even non-believers. It is Paul’s hope that the man, expelled from his social network in the church, will be shamed and left with no recourse but to repent, since no other group will accept his behavior either.