An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 9)

M.A. Rudge

God’s Holy Sanctuary: The Assembly and its sanctity (5:1-6:11)

In chapter 5, verses 6-8, the apostle uses the symbol of leaven to illustrate the condition of the assembly at Corinth. He makes an important application from the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to underline the need for urgent and decisive action so that the assembly is preserved practically, in keeping with true assembly position. "Purge out therefore the old leaven that ye may be a new lump, (according) as ye are unleavened." Leaven, or yeast, is always a symbol of evil in Scripture (Lev. 2:11; 6:17; Amos 4:4,5; Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:21) and in its verbal form means "to cause to ferment". It is "sour dough, in a high state of fermentation" and even in a most basic sense, it is strikingly descriptive and a suitable figure to describe sourness, an inflated sense of self importance, puffed up with pride, human glorying and the spreading influence of moral and spiritual corruption [as here], emotional stirrings and a state of fleshly excitement. Leaven is used as a figure to represent evil doctrine and its corrupting influence, ritualism, materialism, intellectualism, hypocrisy, sensuality, cunning and compromise (Matt. 13:33; 16:6,12; Luke 13:21). By way of contrast to the addition of leaven, which makes bread palatable, "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" would be insipid and considered heavy, stodgy and unpalatable. Unleavened bread signifies holiness of life, the absence of all that is represented by leaven, in its extensive symbolic meaning.

"Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven...; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (v. 8). The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were inseparable (Mark 14:1; Luke 22:1) in the same way that redemption and holiness of life are inseparable. The fact that "Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us," is the basis for the exhortation which follows, "therefore let us keep the feast...." The new life must be kept free from everything which is inconsistent with the death of Christ. The idea in keeping the feast is "to keep festival, to celebrate the feast." It is a joyous matter, something to celebrate. It keeps alive in our soul experience, the truth that we have been set free from the bondage of sin and that we have the power, to live in the enjoyment of what answers to feeding upon Christ and which produces Christ-likeness, "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

It is instructive that the link between the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is followed by a reference to "old leaven" and "unleavened bread," where both terms are defined in two other pairs of words, "malice and wickedness" and "sincerity and truth" (v. 8). This draws a contrast between the "old" life, what we were formerly, and the holiness which is characteristic of the new life. "Malice" is usually associated with malignity, ill-feeling towards others and the desire to harm or injure (cp. 1 Cor. 14:20). "Wickedness" is depravity, e.g. "the wicked one." Malice is more the evil habit of mind, wickedness is the active outcome of the same. "Sincerity" refers to the need for consistency with our conscience and convictions, "truth" refers to the need to be consistent with reality and the word of God. It is important to notice that "sincerity" is not used without a qualifying word. Sincerity alone is insufficient. "Then I saw that Sincerity, though she be so sweet and helpful a companion, yet is no guide, nor can of herself assure the safety of pilgrims" (John Bunyan).

In verses 9-13, the apostle clarifies the instruction he had given earlier, "not to keep company with fornicators" and extends his teaching to include other types of person who are in the world, "the covetous, or extortioners...." Paul would not have in mind, anything other than normal civilities in our dealings with such people but he recognizes that believers would meet up with them in the ordinary course of daily life and that to avoid them entirely would mean that "ye must needs go out of the world." He now gives instruction concerning the action to be taken where "any that is called a brother," is characterized by the same sins and adds "a railer" and "a drunkard" to the persons named in the previous verse. Not "to keep company" (v. 11), means not to "mix with," and "with such an one no not to eat," means not to "share a social meal with." The same words, "have no company with" are used in 2 Thess. 3:14, and while excommunicated persons are not in view on that occasion, both passages make it clear that the individuals concerned must be made to feel that their conduct cannot be condoned and has in view their being brought to repentance and their restoration.

The words "fornication," porneia, "fornicators," occur five times in this chapter (v. 1 twice, 9, 10, 11). It is important to consider the sense in which this word is used both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, especially where it occurs five times in the gospel records, and is used by the Lord Himself on four occasions (Matt. 5:32; 15: 19; 19:9; Mark 7:21) and once by His enemies, "We be not born of fornication" (Jn. 8:41).

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word zanah, is translated "fornication" on five occasions (2 Chron. 21:11; Isa. 23:17; 26:29; Ezek. 16:15, 26). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, it occurs approximately 85 times, where it is translated variously as "to go a whoring," "to be a harlot," "serve other gods." W.E. Vine makes the point that this is the regular term denoting prostitution throughout the history of Hebrew, with special nuances coming out of the religious experience of ancient Israel. The word occurs approximately 90 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is used for the first time in Gen. 34:31, "Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?" While the term means "to commit fornication," whether by male or female, it is to be noted that it is almost never used to describe sexual misconduct on the part of the male in the Old Testament. Part of the reason lies in the differing attitude in ancient Israel concerning the sexual activity of men and women. The main reason, however, is the fact that this term is used most frequently to describe "spiritual prostitution" in which Israel turned from God to strange gods (e.g. Deut. 31:16). This was especially true when Israel went after the Canaanite gods for the worship of these pagan deities involved actual prostitution with cult prostitutes connected with Canaanite shrines...the use of the phrase, "go a whoring after" gods implies an individual’s involvement with cult prostitutes (Ex. 34: 15,16).

Fornication in the sense of prostitution/whoredom, was one of several practices which were tolerated or allowed, even regulated for, in the Old Testament. Whilst fornication or whoredom, was regarded with repugnance by any godly person and warned against (Prov. 5:3-20), the measure in which it was accepted is seen in the approach of "two women, that were harlots" to king Solomon and their asking him to settle their dispute (1 Kings 3:16-28). Other comparable practices which were regulated, were polygamy (Gen. 29:21-28; 1 Sam. 1:2; 2 Sam. 3:2-5; Deut. 21:15-17), concubinage (Gen. 25:6; Deut. 21:10-14), and divorce (Deut. 22:19,29; 24: 1-4. Also Lev. 21:7,14; 22:13; Num. 30:9; Isa. 50: 1; Jer. 3:1, 8-10; Ezek. 44:22).

Divorce is distinguished by the fact that (i) it was never envisaged in the original legislation governing the marriage relationship (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4; Rom. 7:1-4; 1 Cor. 7:39; (ii) it is said to be something which God hates (Malachi 2:16); (iii) in two instances where legislation covering divorce is dealt with, it was forbidden, "he may not put her away all his days." (Deut. 22:19, 29); (iv) its the one instance where a man could write "a bill of divorcement" it was because after he had "taken a wife and married her", he "found some uncleanness (something shameful) in her," which had not been disclosed during the betrothal period. It was not because of adultery which was punishable by death and it did not apply to an established marriage. This passage identifies the situation where divorce was permissible under the law of Moses, which the Lord Jesus referred to in Matt 5:31,32; 19:8,9, where it is described, contrary to the normal usage of the word in the Old Testament as "fornication" (Gk porneia).

Immorality during the betrothal period appears to have been, understandably, a rare event. Where this occurred, the course to be taken did not institute divorce, "it was intended to regulate the irregular." The provisions made, afforded a measure of protection for both the man and the woman, the writing of a bill of divorcement acted as a restraint upon hasty, angry action and would discourage, rather than encourage divorce proceedings. Only the man could institute legal proceedings. In one other situation, where premarital faithfulness was questioned and the woman was found guilty, it is exceptionally equated with harlotry and was punishable by death, "He...found her not a maid...stone her with stones that she die, because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house..." (Deut. 22:20, 21). The whole import of the provisions made under the law of Moses (Deut. 22:13-30; 24:1-4) with the reference to the premarital situation, underlined the sanctity of premarital purity and regulated the post-marital situation, where this was called in question or was irregular.

One final point in dealing with this subject in the Old Testament, is that adultery is distinguished by the fact that it was specifically forbidden in the ten commandments (Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18), as a sin with a married person, "another man’s wife’’ and was punishable by death (Lev. 20:10). It was for this reason that witnesses were required for its having taken place, before the parties concerned were put to death by stoning. Obviously, adultery was given 3 different treatments to other irregular practices which were legislated for and was not a ground for divorce in the Old Testament.