Sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 and ESV Study Notes

Sexual Immorality Defiles the Church

5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.[a]
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens wwethe whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[b] whom you are to judge? 13 God judges[c] those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Lawsuits Against Believers

6 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers![d]

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[e] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[f] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Flee Sexual Immorality

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined[g] to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin[h] a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.


  1. 1 Corinthians 5:5 Some manuscripts add Jesus
  2. 1 Corinthians 5:12 Greek those inside
  3. 1 Corinthians 5:13 Or will judge
  4. 1 Corinthians 6:8 Or brothers and sisters
  5. 1 Corinthians 6:9 Or wrongdoers
  6. 1 Corinthians 6:9 The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts
  7. 1 Corinthians 6:16 Or who holds fast (compare Genesis 2:24 and Deuteronomy 10:20); also verse 17
  8. 1 Corinthians 6:18 Or Every sin

ESV Study Bible notes:

5:1-6:20 A Report of Sexual Immorality and Legal Wrangling. Paul has heard not only of disunity in the Corinthian church but also of a bizarre case of sexual misconduct (5:1-13), of believers taking other believers before pagan courts (6:1-11), and of sexual immorality with prostitutes (6:12-20). In answer to these problems, Paul instructs the Corinthians on the meaning of Christian holiness and the significance of the final day.

5:1-13 Incest, Arrogance and the Need for Discipline. Paul first tells the Corinthians that God has set certain boundaries to mark out his people as his own. The Corinthians need to maintain these boundaries by disciplining a man in their church involved in incest.

5:1 has his father’s wife. Not his biological mother but his stepmother; otherwise Paul would have explicitly said so. Leviticus 18:18 specifically forbids sexual relations between a man and his “father’s wife.” God’s people are to be distinguished from surrounding nations by following God’s law rather than the customs of those nations (Lev. 18:1-5). Ironically, the Corinthian Christians were more tolerant of flagrant sin than were the pagans among whom they lived.

5:2 arrogant. See v. 6. The arrogance may arise from the Corinthians’ mistaken “knowledge” that they are somehow free of normal moral constraints (6:12; 8:1; 10:23). If so, they may have thought of this freedom as an implication of grace (Rom. 3:8; 6:1, 15; Jude 4). It is also possible that Paul simply thinks of their characteristic arrogance ( 1 Cor. 3:21; 4:6, 8, 18-19) as doubly inappropriate in light of the shocking sin in their midst.

5:3-4 my spirit is present. A difficult phrase that probably means that the disciplinary power of the Holy Spirit, which Paul knew to be present in his own ministry (see note on 4:19), would also be manifested in their meeting, because of the Corinthian church’s connection with Paul.

5:5 Deliver this man to Satan probably refers to removing him from the church, since those outside of the church are in Satan’s realm (Luke 4:5-6; Eph. 2:2; 1 John 5:19). destruction of the flesh. Although it is certainly not always the case (cf. John 9:1-3), personal sin sometimes has grave physical consequences (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:29-30). spirit may be saved. The purpose of the discipline was not to punish the man for punishment’s sake but to effect his restoration to the church and eventual salvation (see 1 Tim. 1:20).

5:6-7 leaven. Not yeast (which was uncommon in the ancient world) but fermented dough, a little of which would be left from the previous week to be added to a new lump of dough. By analogy, when publicly known sin in the church is not subjected to church discipline, it will silently spread its destructive consequences throughout the whole fellowship.

5:9 my letter. An otherwise unknown letter to the Corinthians, written prior to 1 Corinthians.

5:11 not to associate. See 2 Thess. 3:6, 14. One purpose here, as in 2 Thessalonians, is redemptive with respect to the person committing the sin (1 Cor. 5:5: 2 Thess. 3:14-15). But another purpose is to avoid giving the appearance of approving sinful conduct, lest reproach be brought on the church and the gospel.

5:13 “Purge . . . from among you.As the newly constituted people of God (10:32), the Corinthians are to follow God’s instructions to Israel for preserving its holiness when flagrant, unrepented-of sin is in its midst (Deut. 13:5; 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21-22, 24; 24:7). In this case, they are to do so by excommunicating the man committing incest.

6:1-11 Trivial Cases before Unrighteous Judges. Some of the Corinthians have wronged each other in various ways, including fraud. Instead of addressing these problems within the church, however, they have taken each other before the local magistrates. The wrongs themselves, and this way of handling them, are both shameful for Christians.

6:1 a grievance against another. Although some have argued that Paul is prohibiting Christians from ever going to court against another Christian, Paul seems in these verses only to be addressing disputes related to property or money (cf. “Why not rather be defrauded?” v. 7), rather than criminal cases, which fall under the jurisdiction of the state. (see Rom. 13:1-5 where Paul shows that God has established civil government for the protection and good of all people.) It is doubtful, therefore, that Paul’s intention is that this specific example should be applied in every situation, since not every situation today matches the circumstances of this specific case in Corinth, where the two parties are in the same local church (“among you,” 1 Cor. 6:5), and where the dispute is specifically related to property or money (“Why not be defrauded?” v. 7). Whatever the circumstances, it is clear from Scripture that disputes between believers need to be handled with the utmost care (vv. 1-8): in a wise and godly manner before the watching world; wherever possible under the disciplinary authority of the church; and with the counsel of spiritually mature Christians who have no stake in the matter and who can give objective, biblical advice. (See further Matt. 18:15-20 regarding the steps that Christians need to take when one believer sins against another believer, and the authoritative role of the church in such cases.) the unrighteous. Paul probably is referring to magistrates who are both unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:4, 6) and who are at times unjust in their judgments.

6:2-3 saints will judge the world . . . angels. See Dan. 7:22; Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30; Rev. 3:21. The people of God will participate with Christ in the final day of judgment.

6:5 shame. Plagued by arrogance (3:21; 4:6, 8, 18-19), the Corinthians should have been ashamed of their behavior (15:34; see also 14:35; Ps. 35:26; Phil. 3:19), for they were not even wise enough to settle a dispute between those in their own congregation. Although they thought themselves to be wise (1 Cor. 3:18; 4:10; 2 Cor. 11:19), their actions belied this self-estimation, resulting in their shame (cf. 1 Cor. 1:27).

6:7-8 suffer wrong . . . wrong. These terms translate the Greek verb adikeō. Paul used the adjectival form of this verb, adikos, in v. 1 to describe the “unrighteous” magistrates that the Corinthians are using to adjudicate their cases. This implies that the Corinthians are acting like unbelievers rather than like the “saints” (the “sanctified” or “holy” people) that God has called them to be (1:2, 30; 3:17). See also notes on 3:1-3 and 5:1. defraud. This word (Gk. apostereō) would be particularly appropriate for unethical business practices among wealthy people. See James 5:4, where it is used this way. Although not many of the Corinthians were “powerful” or of “noble birth” (1 Cor. 1:26), some were wealthy enough to “humiliate those who have nothing” at the Lord’s Supper (11:22).

6:9-10 Paul’s use of the word unrighteous (Gk. adikos again; see note on vv. 7-8) implies that those whose behavior is indistinguishable from the unbelieving world may not be among the “saints” (v. 1) at all. See also 2 Cor. 13:5. men who practice homosexuality. The Greek words malakos and arsenokoitēs refer specifically to male homosexuals (see ESV footnote), but in Rom. 1:26-27 Paul also refers to female homosexuals, and to homosexual desires or “passions.” Both passages (as well as Lev. 18:22; 20:13; and 1 Tim. 1:10) refer to homosexuality in general.

6:11 washed. This refers to the spiritual cleansing from the guilt and dominating power of sin that occurs at regeneration (see Titus 3:5) and that is symbolized in the “washing” of baptism (Acts 22:16). sanctified. This is a similar concept, in this instance meaning that an initial break with the love of sin, and with the power and practice of sin, occurs at regeneration (see Acts 20:32; Rom. 6:11; 2 Cor. 5:17). However, in another sense “sanctification” is also an ongoing process in the Christian life (Rom. 6:19; Phil. 3:13-14; Heb. 12:1, 14; see also note of 1 Cor. 1:2). justified. The Greek term is dikaioō and is the positive counterpart to the terms “unrighteous,” “suffer wrong,” and “wrong” in 6:1, 7-8, and 9 (see notes on those verses). Here Paul uses dikaioō not in its ethical sense (“be seen to be righteous”) but in its judicial sense “declare righteous”). God has already declared the Corinthian Christians to be “righteous” (see Rom. 5:1; 8:1, 33). God was able to do this because the “righteousness” that belongs to Christ, due to his perfect life, has become “our . . . righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30; see also 2 Cor. 5:21). Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 6:1-11 is that the Corinthians need to live in a way that is consistent with this verdict and status.

6:12-20 Sexual Immorality and the Body’s Resurrection. Some of the Corinthian Christians were using prostitutes, theorizing that bodily appetites were matters of indifference for Christians just as they apparently were for everyone else. Paul reminds them that the bodies of Christians are one with the resurrected Christ and, in risen form, the Christian’s body will be eternal. What they do with them now, therefore, is important.

6:12-13 “All things are lawful. The quotation marks around this phrase, both here and in 10:23, have been supplied to indicate that it is probably a commonly used slogan among the Corinthians. “Food . . . for the stomach. Probably another Corinthian slogan. The Corinthians have adopted from the culture around them the idea that the body is permitted to have everything that it craves. Paul knows that human desires are tainted with sin, which uses these desires to master the person for its own evil purposes (Rom. 6:6, 12, 16-22; 7:7-25).

6:14 Jesus’ resurrection was only the first step in the general resurrection of God’s people that will occur on the last day (15:20). Jesus’s body and the believer’s body, therefore, are eternal (15:42-49), for God will also raise us up; the eternal nature of the believer’s body should affect his or her present behavior. See 15:30-34.

6:15 bodies . . . members of Christ. Already in 1:13 Paul has hinted that the church is Christ’s body and that divisions in the church are incompatible with this truth. See also 12:12, 27; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:13-16; 5:23; Col. 1:18.

6:16-18 Unity with Christ is incompatible with all sin (Rom. 6:6) but particularly with sexual sin. Because sexual union has a spiritual component, sexual activity outside marriage is a unique sin both against Christ (1 Cor. 6:15) and one’s own body (v. 18; see Prov. 6:26, 32). Within marriage, sexual union is not only allowed but has positive spiritual significance (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:22-33). Flee. Paul also tells the Corinthians to “flee from idolatry” in 1 Cor. 10:14. Idolatry and sexual immorality were closely connected in Israel’s history (Ex. 32:6; Num. 25:1-2) as well as in Paul’s thinking about the problems in Corinth (1 Cor. 10:7-8).

6:19 temple of the Holy Spirit within you. The Spirit of the Lord lives within individual Christians (v. 17), making each Christian’s body a temple just as the church, corporately conceived, is also a temple where God’s Spirit dwells (3:16). You are not your own. As with other gifts from God (4:2, 7), Christians are to exercise responsible stewardship over their bodies.

6:20 bought with a price. The image is borrowed from the slave market (7:23; see also Rom. 6:17-18), Christ’s blood being the purchase price (Eph. 1:7; see also 1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5:9).

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