5-19 Delivering Unto Satan

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”.

Popular Interpretation

It is argued that when a believer falls from grace, he is taken over again by Satan.


1. The purpose of this delivering was in order “that the spirit may be saved”. If Satan is intent on making people sin and alienated from God, why should what he does to them result in them being saved? It is by the experiences of life that God controls, that we are spiritually developed (Heb.12: 5-11).

2. How could the church at Corinth deliver the fallen brother to Satan if no one knows where to locate him?

3. “Destruction” can also imply “punishment” (e.g. 2 Thess.1: 9). Are we to think that God would work in cooperation with an angel who is rebelling against Him?

4. Notice that Satan is not described as eagerly entering the man, as we would expect if Satan is constantly trying to influence all men to sin and to turn believers away from God. The church (v. 4) is told to deliver the man to Satan.

Suggested Explanations

1. One of the big “Satans” - adversaries - to the early church was the Roman authority of the time, who, as the first century progressed, became increasingly opposed to Christianity. The Greek phrase “to deliver” is used elsewhere, very often in a legal sense, of delivering someone to a civil authority, e.g. :-

- Someone can “deliver thee to the judge” (Matt. 5: 25).

- “They will deliver you up to the councils” (Matt. 10:17).

- The Jews “shall deliver (Jesus) to the Gentiles” (Matt. 20:19)

- “The Jews will...deliver (Paul) into the hands of the Gentiles” (Acts 21:11).

- “Yet was I delivered prisoner” (Acts 28:17).

So is Paul advising them to hand over the sinful brother to the Roman authorities for punishment? The sin he had committed was incest, and this was punishable under the Roman law. Remember that “destruction” also implies “punishment”. Leander Keck demonstrates that the behaviour of the incestuous man was "contrary to both Jewish and Roman law", rendering him liable to punishment by those authorities (1).

2. “Satan” here may simply refer to the man’s evil desires. He had given way to them in committing the sin of incest, and Paul is perhaps suggesting that if the church separates from the man and leaves him to live a fleshly life for a time, maybe eventually he will come round to repentance so that ultimately his spirit would be saved at the judgment. This is exactly what happened to the prodigal son (Luke 15); living a life away from his spiritual family and totally following Satan - his evil desires - resulted in him eventually repenting. Jeremiah 2:19 sums this up: “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter” (that they had done).

3. “The flesh” does not necessarily mean “the body”. It may also refer to a way of life controlled by our evil desires, i.e. Satan. Believers “are not in the flesh, but in the spirit” (Rom. 8: 9). This does not mean that they are without physical bodies, but that they are not living a fleshly life. Before conversion “we were in the flesh” (Rom. 7: 5). Galatians 5: 19 mentions sexual perversion, which the offender at Corinth was guilty of, as a “work of the flesh”. 1 John 3: 5 (cp. v. 8), defines sins as the “works of the devil”, thus equating the flesh and the devil. Thus 1 Corinthians 5: 5 could read, “Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of Satan/the devil” , so that we have Satan destroying Satan. It is impossible to understand this if we hold to the popular belief regarding Satan. But if the first Satan is understood as the Roman authority and the second one as the flesh, or sinful expressions of our evil desires, then there is no problem.

4. We have seen in our notes on Luke 10:18 that Satan is sometimes used in the context of reminding us that physical illness is ultimately a result of our sin. It may be that the spirit- gifted apostles in the first century had the power of afflicting sinful believers with physical illness or death - e.g. Peter could order Ananias and Sapphira’s death (Acts 5); some at Corinth were physically “weak and sickly” as a punishment for abusing the communion service (1 Cor.11:30); Jesus could threaten the false teachers within the church at Thyatira with instant death unless they repented (Rev. 2: 22-23) and James 5:14-16 implies that serious illness of some members of the church was due to their sins, and would be lifted if there was repentance. If the sickness mentioned here was an ordinary illness, it does not follow that if a Christian repents of sin he will automatically be healed, e.g. Job was afflicted with illness as a trial from God, not because he sinned. It was for the help and healing of repentant believers who had been smitten in this way, that “the gift of healing” was probably mainly used in the early church (1 Cor.12: 9). Thus Paul’s delivering the incestuous brother to Satan and also delivering “Hymaenaeus and Alexander...unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim.1:20), may have involved him smiting them with physical sickness due to their following of Satan - their evil desires.

Some time later Paul noted how Alexander still “greatly withstood our words” (2 Tim. 4: 14-15). The extent of his withstanding Paul’s preaching is made apparent if we understand that Alexander had been struck ill by Paul before he wrote the first letter to Timothy, but had still refused to learn his lesson by the time Paul wrote to Timothy again. Again - notice that Satan would try and teach Alexander “not to blaspheme” (1 Tim.1:20). If Satan is an evil person who is a liar and blasphemer of God’s Word, how can he teach a man not to blaspheme God?

(5) The same verb for 'delivering over' occurs in the LXX of Job 2:6, where God 'hands over' Job to Satan, with the comment [in LXX]: "you are to protect his psyche, his spirit". The connection between the passages would suggest to me that Job was in need of spiritual improvement, even though he was imputed as being righteous (Job 1:1). Whatever, the point surely is that God handed a person over to an adversary, for that person's spiritual salvation. The orthodox idea of God and Satan being pitted in conflict just doesn't cut it here. Biblically, God is portrayed as in charge of any 'Satan' / adversary, and using 'satans' at His will for the spiritual improvement of people, rather than their destruction. The story of Job is a classic example. Are we to really understand that there is a personal being called Satan who's disobedient to God, out of His control, and bent on leading people to their spiritual destruction? No way, Jose. Not yet, Josette. 1 Cor. 5:5 and the the record of Job teach the very dead opposite. And by all means bring on board here 2 Tim. 2:26, which speaks of people being caught in the Devil's trap at God's will / desire (2).


(1) Leander Keck, Paul And His Letters (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988) p. 106.

(2) This is the translation offered by H.A. Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge: C.U.P., 2006) p. 119.

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