Q&A Forum: 1 Corinthians 5:5

“Can you give any help on 1 Corinthians 5:5 and what it means to be delivered to Satan, what is the destruction of the flesh, and what is meant by the spirit being saved?”

This verse is probably one of the more difficult ones in the NT. We’ll take each of the statements one at a time to flesh out an answer.

First, “delivered to Satan.” In order for one to be delivered to Satan, one must first be delivered into a sphere of Satanic control. The realm where Satan has authority is the world (1Jo 5:19 ESV). A realm where the Holy Spirit has sway is the local church (1Co 3:16). Paul defines these places as “within” and “without” (1Co 5:12). His purpose in 1 Corinthians 5 is to tell the local church that they need to meet together to remove the sinning individual from their fellowship and into the realm of Satan as God’s judgment.

However, the idea of being “delivered to Satan” seems to be a step beyond excommunication and requires apostolic authority. The fact that Paul’s spirit would be with both the Corinthian church and with the power of the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrates that they were acting as an apostolic delegate when they gathered together for this purpose. The only other reference to this is when two false teachers are “delivered to Satan” by the apostle without mention of a local church in 1 Timothy 1:20.

Second, the purpose of delivering unto Satan was for the “destruction of the flesh.” Corinth was a local church full of the flesh (“carnal” – see 1Co 3:1,3). This individual in the local church was so full of the flesh, being so little controlled by the Spirit of God, that the flesh needed to be destroyed. This would be accomplished through excommunication for his moral sin and being “delivered unto Satan.” Paul desired that through being delivered to Satan, whatever appealed to this believer about this sin would be destroyed. One cannot be dogmatic, but this may have involved physical suffering. In other contexts and purposes, notice how Satan was used by God when granted authority to afflict Paul (2Co 12:7) and Job (Job 1-2).

Third, the purpose of “being delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” is so “that the spirit may be saved.” Our spirit is the means whereby we are God-conscious (1Co 2:10-14). Salvation then is the preservation from extreme disappointment after reward for service is justly meted out. The time of this salvation of the spirit may be either “the day of the Lord Jesus” or “the day of the Lord,” depending on manuscript differences. If the “day of the Lord Jesus” is authentic, it would mean deliverance from the disappointment at the Judgment Seat of Christ because of having done so little for Christ. If the proper reading is “day of the Lord,” it should be understood as deliverance from disappointment of portraying so little of the glory of our Lord in the manifestation of the sons of God at the end of the tribulation period.

The finer points of interpreting this verse may vary, yet the point of the verse must not be lost. Both excommunication and the apostolic deliverance to Satan have the ultimate purpose of restoration of the believer and a better standing after death or the Lord’s coming.