1 Corinthians 5:5 (NIV)

5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Here we have Paul referring to a man that was sleeping with 'his father's wife'. It seems from the way the phrase reads that Paul would see this man's flesh destroyed, if not directly by the members of the Corinthian church then indirectly, through the agency of Satan.

What is the meaning of the phrase 'destruction of the flesh'? If Paul is advocating killing him then what are the ramifications?

  • As an OT note; leveticus speaks to both the general (20:10) and specific (20:11) here Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 5:35

2 Answers 2


No. Paul was advocating kicking him out of the Church, not killing him.

The fact that it means to kick the person out of the Church is clarified in verse 12: (Emphasis added.)

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.

The way I understand it is this: The idea is to not turn a blind eye to sin, but to confront it and deal with it, particularly within the body of the Church. To turn a blind eye to sin does nothing but encourage it. To confront it and make it clear that it is not to be tolerated within the Church is better, because it forces the sinner to either acknowledge the sin and repent, or leave the Church, where they will not pollute it further.

A person cannot repent if they are put to death, so this clearly cannot be stating that we are to put the sinner to death.

There is a nice version of this verse here that clarifies the meaning of the original Greek word that is translated as "the flesh". Due to language difference and cultural differences, the original meaning often gets lost in translation.


Footnote below:

1 Corinthians 5:5 In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit.


We see in 1 Corinthians 5:5 that Paul calls for the sinner to be handed to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit can be saved. If Paul was proposing the literal implementation of Leviticus 20:11 then hw would certainly have been proposing a killing:

And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Against this is that Paul repeatedly throughout his epistles says that Christians are not under the (Jewish) law, so it would have seemed inconsistent for Paul to ask the Corinthians to follow Jewish law just when it suited him. If this exhortation does not seem to propose murder, it probably did mean expulsion from the church. A fuller explanation of the passage needs to show where Satan fits in, and how he would save the man's soul.

This passage uses the Greek word for 'Satan', not 'devil', so it is useful to look at pre-Christian Jewish or proto-Christian (pre-gospel) usage of the word Satan, and avoid reading into the passage any meaning that may have arisen in later times. While Christianity has come to equate Satan with the devil, rabbinic Judaism regards Satan as the loyal servant of God, tasked to test the righteousness of the faithful. Consistent with this view, in the first New Testament gospel to be written, Mark, Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness (Mark 1:13), but does not seek to do evil; when Jesus rebukes Peter and calls him Satan (Mark 8:33), he is speaking of Peter as offering temptation, but not as an evil person:

But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.

The Book of Job gives us a good portrayal of the kind of Satan that fits the passage in 1 Corinthians 5:5. It describes Satan as doing God's bidding, going to and fro on earth:

Job 1:6-7: Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.

God asks Satan whether he has considered Job, an upright man:

And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

Satan is sent to test Job, and causes great harm to his family, in an attempt to have Job curse God and thereby demonstrate his unrighteousness. When this fails, Satan causes physical damage to Job's flesh, which ultimately results in him (and the reader) realising his sin of pride and repenting.

This is what Paul seems to be talking about - let Satan test and punish the Corinthian sinners in the flesh and, by their repentance, save their souls. If Paul did not actually have the Book of Job in mind, then he should at least have been aware of the tradition of which the Book of Job forms a part.

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