Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξήγησις from ἐξηγεῖσθαι 'to lead out') is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text.
Today I want to look at a passage from 1 Corinthians and carefully examine what Paul is talking about when it comes to immorality and judgment, specifically what a Christians responsibility is when it comes to judgment. This will be somewhat lengthy compared to my other post's but I hope you will join me on this exegetical journey. We will begin by looking at two translations of the passage before us.
New American Standard
1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people ; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler -not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders ? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES .
Common English Bible
1 Everyone has heard that there is sexual immorality among you. This is a type of immorality that isn't even heard of among the Gentiles—a man is having sex with his father's wife! 2 And you're proud of yourselves instead of being so upset that the one who did this thing is expelled from your community. 3 Though I'm absent physically, I'm present in the spirit and I've already judged the man who did this as if I were present. 4 When you meet together in the name of our Lord Jesus, I'll be present in spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus. 5 At that time we need to hand this man over to Satan to destroy his human weakness so that his spirit might be saved on the day of the Lord. 6 Your bragging isn't good! Don't you know that a tiny grain of yeast makes a whole batch of dough rise? 7 Clean out the old yeast so you can be a new batch of dough, given that you're supposed to be unleavened bread. Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed, 8 so let's celebrate the feast with the unleavened bread of honesty and truth, not with old yeast or with the yeast of evil and wickedness. 9 I wrote to you in my earlier letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 But I wasn't talking about the sexually immoral people in the outside world by any means—or the greedy, or the swindlers, or people who worship false gods—otherwise, you would have to leave the world entirely! 11 But now I'm writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls themselves "brother" or "sister" who is sexually immoral, greedy, someone who worships false gods, an abusive person, a drunk, or a swindler. Don't even eat with anyone like this. 12 What do I care about judging outsiders? Isn't it your job to judge insiders? 13 God will judge outsiders. Expel the evil one from among you!
As has become the norm, I was engaged in an online conversation with a fellow Christian on the role of judgment in the Christian life. I will state, without waiver, that I do not believe we as Christians have any right to judge others. I believe that judgment belongs to God and God alone. I come to this belief based up what I have read and learned from the bible but if I have to give one verse that informs this belief I rest it on the following passage: John 8: 1 - 11 NIV. I did say that if they could show me where in the scripture we have authority to judge others then I would be willing to consider the passage and their stance. So I have and this post is my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 5 based upon my research, which included looking at the Greek New Testament, 3 translations of this passage and The Interpreter's Bible. If I learned nothing else from Campbell Divinity School it was the importance to read the scripture thoughtfully and use the best scholarly tools available to me when attempting to interpret scripture. And yes, it is an attempt for any of us to interpret scripture and no Christian should take it lightly. Whatever we glean from Scripture has the power to uplift others or destroy others.
The Essentials (In my opinion)
Chapter 5 is only a small section of a letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. Chapters and verses are a later addition to the bible. I mean really, how many of us write letters then divide them by chapter and verses. In the online discussion the person wrote 1 Corinthians 5: 11 as justification for judging others. I am looking at this chapter in its entirety because the context is important when trying to discern what any given verse is saying. And if I wanted to write a book then I would look at the entire book of 1 Corinthians, but then I would totally lose every reader of my blog. So, I chose the middle ground; more than one verse and less than the entire book.
What is Paul talking about?
At a minimum Immorality. To be a bit for definitive, Sexual Immorality. And to be exact, a man having sex with his step-mother. Which in some circles can still be considered incest even though the man is with his step-mother as opposed to his biological mother. Paul is also talking to a church and about The Church. (This will be important to remember as you continue to read)
What does Paul say and NOT say about judgment?
Without apology he says that he has already judge this man and his immorality, vs. 3. While his does direct the church to remove this man from their fellowship, vs. 5, 7, 11 and 13. This is more of a direct order that Paul is giving to them, in relation to what should be done with the man. Paul, judges this man and only goes so far as to ask the questions, "Do you not judge those who are within the church?", vs. 12b
Merriam - Webster defines a question as: an interrogative expression often used to test knowledge; a subject or aspect in dispute or open for discussion
and a Directive as: serving or intended to guide, govern, or influence
and Judging as: to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises.
Paul has formed an opinion on this man and a very strong one. He is adamant that the man must be removed from the fellowship of the church. Paul then give the directive to the church to remove this man from among them and closes with a question. Paul gives no directive to the church to judge this man, he only questions them about judgment. Questions can be very ambiguous. They are not clear like directives are. So while we know without a doubt that Paul judged, at least in the case of this man he does not clearly say we are within our rights to judge. The question posits to some degree that we can but not without absoluter certainty.
What about this immorality issue?
I will speak briefly on this as this is the crux of chapter 5 but not the focus of these exegesis. Depending on the translation you read you will find either, immorality, sexual immorality or fornication. The last is primarily found in the King James Bible. Using the earliest and most reliable sources/papyri the correct translation is immorality and we can safely say Paul is speaking of sexual immorality as we find him using it in other parts of the letter to the Church in Corinth. Some people will use the passage as a basis to condemn homosexuality. Using the most earliest documents that we have for scripture the Greek does not expand upon the greek word translated as sexual immorality. When it comes to the act of interpreting scripture Christians must be careful of eisegesis.
Eisegesis (from Greek εἰς "into" as opposed to exegesis from ἐξηγεῖσθαι "to lead out") is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that it introduces one's own presuppositions, agendas, and/or biases into and onto the text.
When we eisegete a scripture text rather than exegete we will ultimate either add something to the text that was not originally there or remove/ignore what is in the text. To do either is to go down a slippery slope in which the gospel becomes perverted and looks nothing like God intended it. My preference, when reading scripture, is when something is not clear or not expounded upon is to sit with the ambiguity and trust God.
After reading a text that's what I ask myself. Literally, so what? It's not to dismiss scripture but to begin the task of determining what relevance the passage has on my Christian walk and my relationship with God. So what does 1 Corinthians 5 say to me? Sexually Immorality was a serious offense in Paul's mind within the church. It is with me too. Here the immorality surrounds a man's relationship with his step-mother, ie. incest. I have a problem with this too. I think Jesus would as well. Beyond that I will not speculate what else could be considered sexual immorality.
Paul does judge this man and Paul calls the church out and demands they remove this man from their fellowship. Here is where things get sticking for me and personal experience is involved. See, at face value, we can deduce that Paul condones the church judging and removing someone from the fellowship of the church. I will concede this, even with my own feelings about judgment. I once was in a church where the church was called together to vote on whether a couple could remain in fellowship with the church or if they should leave. Long story short, I voted for them to be removed from the fellowship of the church. AND I regret it too this day. While this couple was not guilty of any immorality that Paul speaks of they were guilty of greed. (Which is included in this passage. Go back and read it. vs. 11)
I regret it because of the following:
Matthew 7:1 - in my vote to remove this couple from fellowship I had already judged them and when I stand before God I will have to answer for that. Even as a minister I can not avoid it.
Matthew 6:14 - If you by some remote chance read my blog, Joyce and Harold Keith, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me and the decision I made over a decade ago.
At the end of the day I will always do these 2 things
1 - Follow Jesus rather than Paul
1 - Follow Jesus rather than Paul
2 - Love and forgive others rather than judge them.
With a world that increasingly judges others and with holds forgiveness, Christians more than ever need to be that light on the hill. A light of love and forgiveness.