"To deliver such an one unto Satan"

Updated: Sep 4, 2019

Question or Topic

What did the Apostle Paul mean when he told the Corinthians: "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"?


I Corinthians 5:5


This chapter contains a very unusual description of a specific case involving a brother who had sinned. The ecclesia was being scolded by Paul for their reluctance in addressing the issue.

It is difficult to believe that there could have been any question concerning the obvious wrong in the man's actions. His offense is described as "such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife" (v.1).

Respect of Persons?

When we take a good look at our own struggles with moral issues today, we may be able to identify with the Corinthian dilemma. We have seen many situations where respect of persons has distorted the judgment of brethren. Questions of right or wrong that should have been relatively easy to determine, are sometimes complicated by the personalities or the relationships of the offending party.


If we were to place ourselves into the Corinthian situation, how would we react if a well known visiting brother had attempted to exhort us on our handling of an internal matter? Would we consider it to be meddling? Think about the last few situations where our own Ecclesia has been called on to deal with one of these issues. How did we react to those who expressed concern. Were our judgments based on the impact on the personalities involved, or on bible truth? Did we shoot the messenger or respond to the message?

The Question at Hand

Returning to our question, the Corinthian Ecclesia was instructed to "deliver" the erring brother to "Satan for the destruction of the flesh". This seems like a very strange word of advice. Before we can begin to understand this instruction, we must attempt to identify the "Satan" in the case.


The word in the Strong's concordance in this case is Satanas {sat-an-as'}, or "accuser". The New American Standard concordance uses the word "adversary" in its definition. Who or what was the adversary or accuser in the first century period?

There are two reasonable possibilities. The first being the man's father, or a close relative, who certainly would have been an offended party in the matter. An example of this is found under the Law, where one who was a near kin to a victim would become the "avenger of blood", an adversary with an emotional involvement would be a serious pursuer of the guilty party.

The other likely adversary or accuser would have been the Roman authorities, who may have sought to prosecute him as a violator of an existing law.

From a scriptural prospective, we know that the latter, that is the authorities, are referred to as an adversary to the brethren. One example of this is found in the epistles of Peter: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8).

The Powers That Be

The powers that be (the authorities) are not intended to be an adversary to those who live in accordance with the laws of God. Generally, the authorities are ordained by God as shown in the following reference:

Romans 13:1-4

  1. Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

  2. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

  3. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

  4. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

It is possible that the Corinthians were being instructed to turn the erring brother over to the authorities, who would administer their judgment on him in accordance with their laws. The punishment that would be related to this crime would have been difficult for the flesh to bear, but it was hoped that a lesson would be learned, and that "the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."

There may also be a connection between the concept of delivering to Satan and the final stage of the three step process described in Matthew 18:17 – "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." It is possible that the process that we call "disfellowship" is (under certain conditions) a necessary discipline that is the best method left in the hope of eventually restoring a brother to his first love.

The Spirit Saved?

We are told in I Corinthians 11 that "when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." This may be what is implied in the expression about the spirit being saved in the day of the Lord.

Another way of saying the same thing is found in Hebrews 12: "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."

Even such a man as this, who had committed fornication with his father's wife was not a lost cause. Drastic measures may be required but they would be carried out with hope. God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9).

Repentance Achieved?

We are not provided with any real detail concerning the result of Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians. However, there is a hint in his second letter that would suggest that they did respond to the rebuke, and that they did deliver the erring brother to the adversary. It would appear that their action had achieved its purpose. We are told: "Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" (II Corinthians 2:6-7).


We are often reluctant to apply the necessary discipline to our own children because we confuse our emotional attachment with love. This difficulty occurs also in the Ecclesia, when someone we love has stumbled. The examples that we have considered demonstrate that there is a time when the best thing that we can do for our children, and also for our erring brethren, may be to require them to face the consequences of their actions.