In Paul's letter to Timothy, Paul mentions that Alexander and Hymenaeus were handed over to Satan to 'be taught not to blaspheme'. What is an overview on how churches have interpreted handing people over to Satan? 1 Timothy 1:18-20:

18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.


2 Answers 2


In general the phrase "Deliver this man to Satan" seems to imply some form of excommunication or another. The severity of excommunication varies widely among religions. In some religions, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, excommunication carries with it a complete severance from the group. In others, like the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, it merely means that an excommunicant may still attend church but may not partake of the Eucharist.


"Deliver this man to Satan" (v. 5). I have translated the Greek aorist infinitive paradonai (paradounai, "to deliver") as an imperative. Handing someone over to Satan is akin to the prescription Jesus gave His disciples: treat an unrepentant sinner as a pagan or a tax collector (Matt 18:17). The command to deliver someone to Satan has a parallel in another epistle where Paul writes about some people shipwrecking their faith. "Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme" (1 Tim 1:20, NIV).

Paul's command to hand over a person to Satan is the act of excommunication and is equivalent to purging the evil from the church (cf. v. 13). Believers are safe in the hand of God from which no one, not even Satan, can snatch them (John 10:28-29). But if a sinner is delivered to the prince of this world, he faces destruction. He no longer enjoys the protection that a caring Christian community provides. John C. Hurd puts it graphically: "The Church [is] an island of life in Christ surrounded by a sea of death ruled by Satan."[16]

When adrift and deprived of spiritual support, the possibility is not remote that the outcast will come to his senses and subsequently repent. Here are two examples from the OT and the NT, respectively, of individuals who repented and returned to fellowship. Gomer, who as Hosea's sexually immoral wife personifies Israel, exclaims, "I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now" (Hos 2:7, NIV). And the prodigal son repented by confessing that he had sinned against God and against his father. Of his own volition, the son went to his parental home. This Jewish son came to his senses when he worked seven days a week herding pigs for a Gentile and was physically starving. He had broken God's commands, but confessed his sin before God. In the words of the father, the wayward son was dead; but when he returned home, he was alive again (Luke 15:24, 32).

In the Rule of St. Benedict are a few chapters that deal with the subject of correction, (in particular chapters 23 - 30). This rule is still followed by thousands of Catholic Benedictine monks. In fact the Rule of St. Benedict is read aloud each day in their monasteries so that no one may claim ignorance of the Holy Rule.

Although modern interpretations may exist for the Holy Rule, it is clear that for St. Benedict a monk (nun) that is guilty of serious faults must do serious penance. "Such a one is delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord."

The main point is that the monk must do all his work and take his meals in solitude until he has amended his life and truly repented of his sins, in particular the fault that caused the abbot to take these measures. He is also not permitted to be in choir until the abbot gives leave to do so.

St. Benedict of Nursia is commemorated as a saint in the Catholic Church on March 21, the Eastern Orthodox Churches on March 14 and in the Anglican Communion on July 11!

Chapter 25

Of more serious faults

That brother who is found guilty of a more serious fault shall be excluded both from the table and from the oratory. None of the brethren shall associate with him or speak to him. Let him be alone at the work enjoined him, and continue in the sorrow of his penance, remembering that dreadful sentence of the Apostle: "Such a one is delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." He shall take his food alone in the measure and at the time that the Abbot shall think best for him. He is not to receive a blessing from those who pass by him, neither is his food to receive the usual blessing.

For the Eastern Orthodox Churches, excommunication is actually quite rare:

In the Eastern Orthodox churches, excommunication is the exclusion of a member from the Eucharist. It is not expulsion from the churches. This can happen for such reasons as not having confessed within that year; excommunication can also be imposed as part of a penitential period. It is generally done with the goal of restoring the member to full communion. Before an excommunication of significant duration is imposed, the bishop is usually consulted. The Orthodox churches do have a means of expulsion, by pronouncing anathema, but this is reserved only for acts of serious and unrepentant heresy. As an example of this, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, in its eleventh capitula, declared: "If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinarius Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their heretical books, and also all other heretics who have already been condemned and anathematized by the holy, catholic and apostolic church and by the four holy synods which have already been mentioned, and also all those who have thought or now think in the same way as the aforesaid heretics and who persist in their error even to death: let him be anathema."

The Jehovah's Witnesses have a version of excommunication as follows:

Yes, disfellowshipping or shunning incorrigible sinners is a clear and explicit teaching in the Bible.

In fact, Jesus Christ established it as a requirement for the Christian congregation. Anyone who believes otherwise simply does not know the Bible nor Christ.

Jesus said: "If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector" (Mt. 18:17).

Smith's Bible Dictionary:

"Excommunication, as exercised by the Christian Church, is not merely founded on the natural right, possessed by all societies, nor merely on the example of the Jewish Church and nation. It was instituted by our Lord (Matt. xviii. 15, 18), and it was practiced and commanded by St. Paul (1 Tim. i. 20; 1 Cor. v. 11; Tit. iii.10).”

Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible says:

"Excommunication. The permanent or temporary exclusion of a church member from fellowship within the community. This practice, specifically mentioned in Matthew's Gospel (Mt.18:15-17) and the Corinthian correspondence (1 Cor.5:5; 2 Cor. 2:6), served 2 purposes. First, it protects the community from the harmful influence of the sinner (1 Cor.5:6-7). Second, it reminds the sinner of the sin (2 Cor.2:7) in the hope that repentance (7:9) and redemption occur...Although the term excommunication' does not appear in Scripture, the concept is clearly present. Matthew instructs the Church to treat unrepentant members likea Gentile and a tax collector' (Mt.18:17), and Paul wants the guilty party delivered "over to Satan" (1 Cor.5:5), i.e., delivered over to the realm of Satan, the world outside the Church. Church discipline, ending in excommunication, should only be used for serious matters such as blatant sexual sins (1 Cor.5:1), unrepentance (Mt.18:15-17), facetiousness (Tit.3:10-11), and the propagation of heresy (Rm.16:17). Sinners should be dealt with quickly and seriously for both the health of the community and the spiritual health of the offender."

The NASB Study Bible says in a footnote at 1 Cor. 5:11-13: “Calling oneself a Christian who continues to live an immoral life is reprehensible and degrading, and gives a false testimony to Christ. If the true Christian has intimate association with someone who does this, the non-Christian world may assume that the church approves such immoral, ungodly living and thus the name of Christ would be dishonored. Questions would arise concerning of the Christian’s own testimony, …judge those who are within, The church is to exercise spiritual discipline over the professing believers in the church.”

Any Christian who got involved in immoral practices would be lovingly helped to change his way (Gal 6:1; Js. 5: 19,20). If he repents “it will be forgiven him” (Jas. 5:14-16; Acts 17:30; Pro. 28:13). If they are unrepentant the true Christian congregation would keep itself "without spot from the world" by “reproving before all onlookers” “stop mixing in company” with the individual by “removing the wicked man from among ourselves" (Jas. 1:27; 1 Tim. 5:20; 1 Cor. 5:11-13).

The true Christian religion would follow Christ’s lead and God's commands and remove willful sinners from their midst. Any religion which does not follow this mandate cannot be truly Christian. - Is Excommunication, or Disfellowshipping, a Teaching Found in the Bible?

So too the Amish practice shunninig that the wayward may come back:

When someone leaves the Amish they think they are heading down the wrong path and to serve as a warning to the members of the church and hoping that by doing this it will make those that have left reconsider their ways. They have a members meeting after church services where they excommunicate them by practicing 1 Corinthians 5:5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. The thought of being handed over to Satan is terrifying especially since we used to believe that if a person died before they were accepted back into the church there was no hope for them.

Any person that is excommunicated is shunned 1 Corinthians 5:11. We can still go see my parents, though they are happy to see us there is kind of a cloud of sorrow there as well. When my Grandma passed away we stayed at my parents house overnight. They gave us a bed, plenty of food, we visited, but we couldn't sit at the same table to eat, and we weren't allowed to help them work. They won't accept gifts from us, but birthdays and Christmas always brings packages in the mail from them. Our relationship has changed. We don't call and talk with each other every week like we used to, they don't come to visit us, but there is no doubt in my mind that they still love us. - Mine is a simple question. I realize tradition is a huge part of Amish life. But I cannot understand the shunning of one who has left the order.

  • Excellent answer nice breadth! I'm not sure if you've got your blockquotes in the right places though.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 2:44

How Have Churches Understood “Handing People over to Satan”?

Historically, the church understood Paul’s instruction in one of three ways. One it was a type of curse, a casting out, with repercussions (death) without really any hope of restoration. Two it was a form of exclusion for a believer with a hope of repentance. Three it was also a putting out or excluding, but with a key distinction from number two, in that the one who is cast out was a false believer or one unsaved.

Of the three, the Pauline instruction appears to match the third understanding most accurately. The reason for this will be shown next.


Tertullian (circa 200) was the toughest of the views. He believed the instruction to be a type of curse that would result in physical death. To be sure, this was what came to be exclusion or shunning, but to the extreme without hope of reconciliation. Tertullian doesn’t make a distinction that the one cast out was or was not a sheep, a part of the flock of Christ.

So, therefore, the incestuous fornicator, too, he delivered, not with a view to emendation [correcting], but with a view to perdition, to Satan, to whom he had already, by sinning above an heathen, gone over; that they [those who remain] might learn there must be no fornicating. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf04.iii.viii.xiii.html

For Tertullian, regardless of the state of the one who was cast out, whether a believer or not, once cast out, it was too bad.

who likewise, for the consecrating and purifying (of) that temple [old Testament example], wrote the law pertaining to the temple-keepers: “If any shall have marred the temple of God, him shall God mar; for the temple of God is holy, which (temple) are ye.” Come, now; who in the world has (ever) redintegrated [restored to wholeness] one who has been “marred” by God (that is, delivered to Satan with a view to destruction of the flesh), after subjoining for that reason, “Let none seduce himself;” that is, let none presume that one “marred” by God can possibly be redintegrated anew? http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf04.iii.viii.xvi.html

Archelaus (circa 275) believed it referred more to a culling of the false from the true, while his opponent believed it referred to the battle between the same object god, though with dual natures of good and bad.

Archelaus left an account of a conversation with Manes (Manichaeism, of whom Augustine was once a part, which maybe thus colors his perception) who believed in a type of dualism. This dualism meant that the good god and evil god were similar and equally powerful. For Manes, the idea of handing over a sheep (a believer) to Satan was perfectly okay. For Archelaus of monotheism, he thought it akin to blasphemy.

For on the supposition implied in your [Manes] similitude God thus handed over to Satan a soul that he might seize and ruin. But when did the shepherd ever do anything like that? Did not David deliver a sheep out of the mouth of a lion or of a bear? http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf06.vii.iii.xxiv.html

For Archelaus, the king will “will put forth every possible exertion until he conquers and brings his adversary into his power.” There was no dualism. The one cast out was simply a false brother whose fate was still unknown. Paul said, cast out the evil one from your midst.

By the time of Chrysostom (circa 400), the idea of “casting out” a sinner was still maintained, though not as with immediate physical death ala Tertullian, but the distinction of whether that person was a real believer or not was being blurred. The dualism concept, though rejected as regards God per se, found its way into the status of a believer as good and evil. Retain the good and bad believer.

Chrysostom, like others, also believed Paul’s instruction referred to exclusion from the group, but with that key distinction. For Chrysostom, the one sinning was still of “old leaven”. He was not really part of the Body, though he was attending as part of the Body of the church as if he belonged. As such, to leave him in some way as still part of your Body was to allow, nay invite, evil to spread within it. The sin left unpunished was to encourage others of the same ilk. Demons gather as birds of a feather. Chrysostom agreed with Paul. Cast it out. And further, the one cast out was not really a believer.

Chrysostom identifies the source of the confusion.

Then lest he [Paul] should be thought too authoritative and his speech sound rather self-willed, mark how he makes them also partners in the sentence. For having said, “I have judged,” he adds, “concerning him that hath so wrought this thing, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, ye being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan. Now what means, “In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ?” “According to God;” “not possessed with any human prejudice.” Some, however, read thus, “Him that hath so wrought this thing in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and putting a stop there or a break, then subjoin what follows, saying, “When you are gathered together and my spirit to deliver such an one unto Satan:” and they assert that the sense of this reading is as follows, “Him that hath done this thing in the Name of Christ,” saith St. Paul, “deliver ye unto Satan;” that is, “him that hath done insult unto the Name of Christ, him that, after he had become a believer and was called after that appellation, hath dared to do such things, deliver ye unto Satan.” But to me the former exposition (ἐκδοσις. It seems to mean “enunciation.”) appears the truer. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf112.iv.xvi.html

He then goes on to make his point about what happens if old leaven is retained in your church body.

[11.] But I have a strong conviction that the saying about the leaven refers also to the priests who suffer a vast deal of the old leaven to be within, not purging out from their borders, that is, out of the Church, the covetous, the extortioners, and whatsoever would exclude from the kingdom of Heaven. -ibid-

With that as background, we now move into the modern age.


I am not aware of any church that believes the verse relates to physical destruction ala Tertullian. That if one is cast out one dies shortly thereafter and shall never return. However, this line of thinking may in a way be a supporting plank used to justify the numerous Inquisitions and imposements, though in reverse. Death was a favor. Die and you may be saved. If you live, you continue to blaspheme and surely will go to hell. Of course, the distinction must be noted that those being killed were not considered as believers in the first place. It was, if this was the train of thought, the Pauline instruction completely misunderstood and misapplied.

Most churches today believe in the potential for repentance and restoration without the necessity of whips and worse. To the point regarding church, however, this view of shunning assumes the one cast out is yet a believer who might repent and return. The “casting out” may exist within the confines of or outside the walls of the church. After all, against Tertullian, how could one learn not to blaspheme if one was dead? Many churches (Protestant Churches) today view the verse in terms of shunning (aka a form of excommunication). These sinners are put out, though there may be hope of restoration.

At the same time, other churches like EO and RC will evidently (see other answer to OP) retain the sinner yet employ a sort of restriction of rights or requirement for certain deeds of penance. It is exclusion from their communion, rather than from their denominations. This appears the polar opposite of Chrysostom’s view. If his view is one of casting out the unbelieving sinner, this view is one of retaining the believing sinner, but with the subsequent problems alluded to of being shuffled around within the organization. The evil, the old leaven, is retained within that church body.


Oddly, as hinted at, the second understanding, including Manes though admittedly within the constructs of dualism, save Archelaus and Chrysostom who operate as we do (monotheism), all of them operate within the assumption that the “one turned over to Satan” was nonetheless still a believer in some sense. Archelaus and Chrysostom took a very conservative view as did Paul. It was the “brother so-called” who was cast out. It was the evil one cast out. Cut out the cancer, don’t shuffle it from part to part.

The assumption of cutting it out being simply that the sow had returned to its vomit; it needed to be out of the clean house and never to return until true repentance and conversion had occurred. The sow was like Judas who hung around, partook, but remained in a state of fallen sin. That son of perdition was killed, albeit by self-inflection. There was no “born-againness” in operation, no fruit of the Spirit in those false brothers. With this view, we can understand that Christ is in fact more powerful than all the fallen angels put together. He tells us that, except for Judas, He lost none and won’t lose any of us. The shepherd (Christ) in no way would reject a sheep (believer). He will reject a goat, a satan masquerading as a light, but not a sheep. And He will do so and instructs us likewise to do so, even if churches don’t while they have the chance.

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