by Robert Brow  (www.brow.on.ca)    Aurora, Ontario         May 2008

 The context is a problem in the Corinthian congregation. A man is
 having an affair with his father's wife (1 Corinthians 5:1). When they
 come to church gatherings arm in arm, no one seems to know what to do.
 There is Christian forgiveness, but can such behavior be tolerated?

 Paul explains that this kind of incest is punishable by the laws of
 the city. The man must be reported to the magistrates who will deal
 with the case. The expression "handing over to Satan does not imply
 that Roman justice is satanic. Paul wrote that "those authorities that
 exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1). He also said that
 "the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of
 God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:4). But from the
 point of view of the offending man in question he moves from the
 forgiveness and love of the church community to the ruthless treatment
 of criminals by Roman law.

 By our standards Corinth was a very immoral city, but it did have laws
 against incest with parents, rape, and the sexual abuse of children.
 Similarly we have severe penalties for rape and sex with minors. Where
 such behavior appears in a church congregation the police must be
 called in to deal with the offender.

 Paul goes on to list other kinds of criminals in a church congregation
 who need to be handed over for the courts to deal with (1 Corinthians
 5:11). We are all greedy to some extent but those who embezzle church
 funds, and those who defraud widows and other members cannot be
 tolerated. Athens was full of idols (Acts 17:16), and Corinth had
 temples where food was offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-10) but
 there was a particular form of idolatry which was illegal. This might
 include setting up a statue of oneself for others to worship. Revilers
 (1 Corinthians 5:11) were abusive persons who mocked God and persons
 in authority. They would quickly destroy a congregation if their loud
 mouth was not curbed by the police. Drunkenness in a public place is
 also a crime in our modern world. And robbers include petty thieves
 and pickpockets.

 This list reminds us that we do not condone criminal activity in our

Robert Brow
e-mail : browr@brow.on.ca
web site : www.brow.on.ca

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