Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


1 Corinthians 5:1

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

There is fornication among you - The word πορνεια, which we translate fornication in this place, must be understood in its utmost latitude of meaning, as implying all kinds of impurity; for, that the Corinthians were notoriously guilty of every species of irregularity and debauch, we have already seen; and it is not likely that in speaking on this subject, in reference to a people so very notorious, he would refer to only one species of impurity, and that not the most flagitious.

That one should have his father's wife - Commentators and critics have found great difficulties in this statement. One part of the case is sufficiently clear, that a man who professed Christianity had illegal connections with his father's wife; but the principal question is, was his father alive or dead? Most think that the father was alive, and imagine that to this the apostle refers, 2 Corinthians 7:12, where, speaking of the person who did the wrong, he introduces also him who had suffered the wrong; which must mean the father and the father then alive. After all that has been said on this subject, I think it most natural to conclude that the person in question had married the wife of his deceased father, not his own mother, but stepmother, then a widow.

This was a crime which the text says was not so much as named among the Gentiles; the apostle must only mean that it was not accredited by them, for it certainly did often occur: but by their best writers who notice it, it was branded as superlatively infamous. Cicero styles it, scelus incredibile et inauditum, an incredible and unheard of wickedness; but it was heard of and practised; and there are several stories of this kind in heathen authors, but they reprobate not commend it. The word ονομαζεται, named, is wanting in almost every MS. and version of importance, and certainly makes no part of the text. The words should be read, and such fornication as is not amongst the Gentiles, i.e., not allowed. Some think that this woman might have been a proselyte to the Jewish religion from heathenism; and the rabbins taught that proselytism annulled all former relationship, and that a woman was at liberty in such a case to depart from an unbelieving husband, and to marry even with a believing son, i.e., of her husband by some former wife.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

It is reported - Greek It is heard. There is a rumor. That rumor had been brought to Paul, probably by the members of the family of Chloe, 1 Corinthians 1:11.

Commonly - Ὅλως HolōsEverywhere. It is a matter of common fame. It is so public that it cannot be concealed; and so certain that it cannot be denied. This was all offence, he informs us, which even the pagan would not justify or tolerate; and, therefore, the report had spread not only in the churches, but even among the pagan, to the great scandal of religion - When a report obtains such a circulation, it is certainly time to investigate it, and to correct the evil.

That there is fornication - See the note at Acts 15:20. The word is here used to denote incest, because the apostle immediately explains the nature of the offence.

And such fornication … - An offence that is not tolerated or known among the pagan. This greatly aggravated the offence, that in a Christian church a crime should be tolerated among its members which even gross pagans would regard with abhorrence. That this offence was regarded with abhorrence by even the pagans has been abundantly proved by quotations from classic writers. See Wetstein, Bloomfield, and Whitby. Cicero says of the offence, expressly, that “it was an incredible and unheard of crime.” Pro Cluen. 5. 6 - When Paul says that it was not “so much as named among the Gentiles,” he doubtless uses the word ( ὀνομάζεται onomazetai) in the sense of “named with approbation, tolerated,” or “allowed.” The crime was known in a few instances, but chiefly of those who were princes and rulers; but it was no where regarded with approbation, but was always treated as abominable wickedness. All that the connection requires us to understand by the word “named” here is, that it was not tolerated or allowed; it was treated with abhorrence, and it was therefore, more scandalous that it was allowed in a Christian church - Whitby supposes that this offence that was tolerated in the church at Corinth gave rise to the scandals that were circulated among the pagan respecting the early Christians, that they allowed of licentious contact among the members of their churches. This reproach was circulated extensively among the pagan, and the primitive Christians were at much pains to refute it.

That one should have - Probably as his wife; or it may mean simply that he had criminal contact with her. Perhaps some man had parted with his wife, on some account, and his son had married her, or maintained her for criminal contact. It is evident from 2 Corinthians 7:12, that the person who had suffered the wrong, as well as he who had done it, was still alive - Whether this was marriage or concubinage, has been disputed by commentators, and it is not possible, perhaps, to determine. See the subject discussed in Bloomfield.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The apostle notices a flagrant abuse, winked at by the Corinthians. Party spirit, and a false notion of Christian liberty, seem to have saved the offender from censure. Grievous indeed is it that crimes should sometimes be committed by professors of the gospel, of which even heathens would be ashamed. Spiritual pride and false doctrines tend to bring in, and to spread such scandals. How dreadful the effects of sin! The devil reigns where Christ does not. And a man is in his kingdom, and under his power, when not in Christ. The bad example of a man of influence is very mischievous; it spreads far and wide. Corrupt principles and examples, if not corrected, would hurt the whole church. Believers must have new hearts, and lead new lives. Their common conversation and religious deeds must be holy. So far is the sacrifice of Christ our Passover for us, from rendering personal and public holiness unnecessary, that it furnishes powerful reasons and motives for it. Without holiness we can neither live by faith in him, nor join in his ordinances with comfort and profit.
Ellen G. White
The Acts of the Apostles, 303-4

The apostle made no mention of the false teachers who were seeking to destroy the fruit of his labor. Because of the darkness and division in the church, he wisely forbore to irritate them by such references, for fear of turning some entirely from the truth. He called attention to his own work among them as that of “a wise masterbuilder,” who had laid the foundation upon which others had built. But he did not thereby exalt himself; for he declared, “We are laborers together with God.” He claimed no wisdom of his own, but acknowledged that divine power alone had enabled him to present the truth in a manner pleasing to God. United with Christ, the greatest of all teachers, Paul had been enabled to communicate lessons of divine wisdom, which met the necessities of all classes, and which were to apply at all times, in all places, and under all conditions. AA 303.1

Among the more serious of the evils that had developed among the Corinthian believers, was that of a return to many of the debasing customs of heathenism. One former convert had so far backslidden that his licentious course was a violation of even the low standard of morality held by the Gentile world. The apostle pleaded with the church to put away from among them “that wicked person.” “Know ye not,” he admonished them, “that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.” AA 303.2

Another grave evil that had arisen in the church was that of brethren going to law against one another. Abundant provision had been made for the settlement of difficulties among believers. Christ Himself had given plain instruction as to how such matters were to be adjusted. “If thy brother shall trespass against thee,” the Saviour had counseled, “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 18:15-18. AA 304.1

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