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“Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” THE TORAH AS A NORMATIVE AUTHORITY IN 1ST CORINTHIANS 5 (Part One)

January 9th, 2018 by Matt

This post is based on an essay I wrote for an undergraduate course on the history of religion I did a couple of years ago. I plan to expand upon it and publish it in the future. Feel free to add comments and thoughts on my admittedly controversial ideas.

Paul’s polemic against Judaizers in the Galatian correspondence, as well as his insistence in Romans that justification comes by faith (pistis) and not by works of the Torah, has led many interpreters to see Pauline ethics as thoroughly anti-nomian. In this and in future posts I  will challenge this thesis by documenting Paul’s appeal to both the Torah and common rabbinic Halakha in the fifth chapter of Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.[1]

In my first post, part 1, I will look at 1 Corinthians Chapter 5. I will argue that Paul, (a) frames the problem in terms of obedience to the Torah’s commands regarding prohibited sexual relations, (b) responds by invoking the standard Halakha punishment of extirpation, and (c) justifies this by appealing to the Torah’s command to punish such offences. Part 2 will offer a brief response to the objection that this is inconsistent with Paul’s position in Galatia.paul

  1. Paul’s Appeal to the Torah in 1st Corinthians 5

Paul’s appeal to the Torah’s normative authority over the Corinthian community is evidenced in at least three ways.

  1. Paul’s Problem: Disobedience to the Torah’s Commands regarding Porneia.

First, Paul addresses the problem of disobedience to some of the commandments in the Torah in 1 Corinthians 5:1-2.

“It is actually reported that there is immorality [porneia] among you, and immorality [porneia] of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.”[2]

The NASB uses the word “immorality” to translate the Greek word “porneia”. Ciampa and Rosner explain, “Porneia is a flexible term meaning prohibited sexual relationships”.[3] Paul uses the same term elsewhere in the Epistle to refer to sex with a prostitute (6:16-18) and extra marital sex (7:2). Matthew uses porneia to refer to adultery when narrating Jesus’ Halakha on divorce.[4] Jude uses the term to refer to homosexual rape of the messengers at Sodom.[5] Tomson argues that porneia is equivalent to the rabbinic term “uncovering the nakedness of”, a term used in the Torah to designate sexual relationships prohibited by the law.[6] For Paul in the passage at hand, failure to refrain from sexual relationships prohibited in the Torah appears to be the problem.

This is further reinforced by Paul’s description of the particular type of porneia being engaged in; Paul writes, “someone has his father’s wife.” [Hōste gynaika tina tou patros echein]

The language here is strongly reminiscent of the Septuagint (“LXX”) translation of the Torah, “A man shall not take his father’s wife” [Ou lempsetai anthropos ten gynaika tou patros autou (Deut 23:1 LXX)]. The book of Deuteronomy pronounced a curse on anyone who “sleeps with his father’s wife”.[7] “[S]leeping with one’s father’s wife” is listed as a capital offence in the book of Leviticus.[8]

The fact that porneia of this sort is both subjected to a curse and is a capital crime in the Torah is significant because, as we shall see, Paul both pronounces a curse on the man sleeping with his father’s wife (5:5) and appeals to the command to execute people who engage in certain forms of porneia (5:13). What is pertinent to note here is Paul’s concern is that someone in a Gentile congregation has disobeyed a commandment in the Torah prohibiting certain forms of sexual relationships.

The problem is not just that this has been done but, as Paul states, the church have not “mourned” over the fact someone has done this and have not expelled the person from their fellowship. (5:2) Paul sees these commands as authoritative over the conduct of the Corinthians.

Paul’s Verdict: Rabbinic Punishment for Consensual Incest.

Second, the course of action Paul takes is the course of action which, at least according to common Halakha of the time, the law commands to be taken. Paul responds in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5,

“For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present.  In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul, here, appears to be pronouncing a formal sentence in the name of the Lord Jesus when the assembly is present. The sentence is to “deliver” the person committing incest “over to satan” for “the destruction of the flesh”. The context suggests that this involves expulsion from congregation.

Previously Paul’s complaint (5:2) was that the congregation had not “removed the one who had done this deed” from their “midst” and he specified the penalty in terms of “not associating” with the person and “not eating with them”. (5:10-13) While many translations render this latter phrase as to “not even to eat with such a one” (5:13), Schwiebert points out, “the two commands are coordinate, that not eating with someone is parallel to, comparable to, and conceptually linked with not associating with someone”.[9] He explains that this is “ likely in view of the social significance of meals in the ancient world”. This is because,

“In first-century Mediterranean cultures, as in many non-Western cultures today, eating with someone is a form of social approval. For such cultures, the act of “eating with” (συνεσθίειν) does not so much symbolize as embody or enact common cause, kinship, acceptance, among other things. Refusing to eat with a certain person would embody the opposite: rejection or exclusion.”[10]

The “delivery over to satan”, therefore, in context refers to some form of expulsion and exclusion from the community. This seems odd given the language of “destruction of the flesh”. Tomson suggests this oddity is explained in terms of the Jewish practice of extirpation:

“It is interesting to compare Paul’s solemn judgement of with the category of punishment in ancient Jewish law called ‘death at the hands of Heaven’. In theory, as in biblical law, the principle cases of prohibited sexual relations were ultimatly punishable by execution. But in practice Jewish courts mostly delivered those convicted to ‘extirpation’  כָּרֵת; karet, explained as heavenly punishment in the form of an untimely death.”[11]

The karet or extirpation was a kind of punishment, often used in substitute for capital punishment.[12] The Torah required two or three witness to a crime before a death sentence could be handed down,[13] and the Rabbinic and Pharisaic requirements placed upon witnesses, such as requiring that the witnesses made repeated warnings to the offender and the offender persisted in the offence, meant capital punishment was difficult to administer in many cases. Further, both Jewish and Christian sources inform us that around 40 years before the destruction of the temple, the Roman authorities had monopolised the power to try capital cases.[14] In light of this, extirpation was, in practice, the normal punishment for capital offences.

Mario Philip notes that Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 5 has some parallels with ancient extirpation formulae; these often involved a formal curse, “curses where persons were devoted to the gods of the lower world. … These rites can be found in both Jewish and pagan texts, the only difference being that in Jewish setting Satan replaced the gods of the underworld”.[15] Philip cites a magical papyrus from the 4th century: “I say to demons of the dead, ‘this you are, if I will deliver to you him, how not he will do the deeds whether he receives.”[16]

Particularly striking are several texts that form part of the Dead sea scrolls:

“And the levites shall curse all the men of the lot of Behai. They shall begin to speak and shall say: ‘Accursed are you for all your wicked, blameworthy deeds. May God hand you over to terror by the hand of all those carrying out acts of vengeance. May he bring upon you destruction by the hand of all those who accomplish retributions. .. may he be cut off from the midst of all the sons of light because of his straying from following God on account of his idols and obstacle of his iniquity.”[17]


“All who enter the council of holiness of those walking in perfect behaviour as he commanded, anyone of them who breaks a word of the law of Moses impertinently or through carelessness will be banished from the Community council and shall not return again; none of the men of holiness should associate with his goods or his advice on any matter.”[18]

These examples illustrate a practice of issuing a “judgement under heaven”, where a person is formally cursed, handed over to God or Satan for punishment, and expelled from the community; the members refuse to associate with the offender any longer. The Mishna outlines “Thirty-six transgressions subject to extirpation are in the Torah”; tellingly, the second on the list is “He who has sexual relations with…his father’s wife”.[19]

Tomson concludes, “Paul is not arguing for capital punishment but for something like the lesser punishment of ‘extirpation’, and his verdict evidently relates to Pharisaic-Rabbinic criminal law”.[20] What Paul means is the man is expelled and that “heaven leaves the execution of extirpation to Satan”.[21]

Paul, therefore, cites disobedience to the Torah’s laws about prohibited sexual practices as being the problem and himself pronounces the sentence, which Jewish law required for such offences, in response to the problem.

Paul’s Justification of the Verdict: An Appeal to the Torah

Paul justifies the sentence by explicit appeal to the Torah. In 1 Corinthians 5:10-13 he writes:

“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within I But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” [Emphasis original]

Paul is using the word “judge” (krinein) here in the sense of passing a sentence or rendering a verdict. The passage continues on from Paul’s announcement only a few verses earlier, he had pronounced a formal sentence (kekrika) in the name of the Lord. And in the very next verse (6:1) Paul uses the word “judge” (krinien) in the context of a law suit before a Roman or ecclesiastical tribunal. Consequently, in v 12-13 Paul’s argument is about jurisdiction; he has a right to judge those within the church community but not those outside. To substantiate this he cites the phrase “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”

The phrase, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves”, comes from the LXX translation of Deuteronomy. In the LXX version the phrase occurs eight times in Deuteronomy in verses: 13:5, 17:7, 19:19, 21:20, 22:21, 21:22, 21:23 and 24:7. In each instance its use specifies the court’s right or duty to hand down a capital sentence for a particular crime; its use is often contextually linked with judicial procedure. Paul, in v 13, gives an almost verbatim citation of this phrase. Ciampa and Rosner note “the texts are identical, apart from the verb, changing from a singular future indicative to a plural aorist imperative presumably to suit the epistolary context”.[22]  That Paul cites this passage, having just handed down a sentence of “death at the hands of heaven”, to defend his right to judge those inside the church, and does so just before he proceeds to instruct the Corinthians to try their own disputes rather than go to Roman tribunals, can hardly be coincidental.

Equally hard to dismiss as coincidental is the influence of these same passages from the LXX upon Paul’s vice list in v 10-11. Paul mentions several classes of offenders that the church are: not to associate with or not eat with, offenders to whom the punishment of extirpation can be applied, those who are “immoral” (porneia), “covetous and swindlers”, “idolaters”  or who are “a reviler”, a “drunkard”. These are the same offenses that are condemned in Deuteronomy verses: 13:5, 17:7, 19:19, 21:20, 22:21, 21:22, 21:23 and 24:7 for which Moses’ command to Israel to “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” occurs. The table below illustrates:

1 Corinthians 5

“do not associate with”, “do not eat”

Deuteronomy (LXX): “remove the wicked man from among yourselves”
Prohibited sexual relations (Porneia) (11) Promiscuity, adultery (22:21-22,30)
Revilers (slanderer) (11) Malicious, false testimony (19:16-19)
Drunkards (11) Rebellious drunken son (21:18-21)
Idolaters (11) Idolatry (13:1-5, 17:2-7)
Covetous, swindlers (11) Kidnapping and selling into slavery (24:7)

The parallel between the first four offences in the table above is relatively obvious. Less obvious is the parallel between the last ones. Paul’s reference to “covetous and swindlers” does not appear to be a reference to “kidnapping and selling into slavery”. However, this lack of apparent match is deceptive. The categories of “covetous” and “swindler” are linked as a single category in v 11[23] but here  Paul  conjoins two words, “pleonektēs” (rendered “greedy” in the NASB) and “harpax” (rendered “swindler” in the NASB). The word “pleonektēs” refers to the attempt to seek unlawful gain, and the word “harpax”, carries the connotation of taking by force.[24] Now, obviously, kidnapping someone and selling them into slavery would be an extreme, though paradigmatic, example of taking something forcibly that did not belong to the taker; in fact, the language of the LXX bears this out. The LXX condemns kidnapping and enslaving as forms of theft; it literally refers to the enslaver as a “thief” who “steals a soul”. So, in fact, the categories of “covetous” and “swindler” does parallel the LXX category of a person who kidnaps and enslaves.[25]

The offences Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 5 match those warranting a capital sentence in Deuteronomy. This, again, is unlikely to be coincidental. Peter Zaas states there is usually very little overlap between any two vice lists in the Pauline corpus, nor is there any between Paul’s vice lists and any extant piece of ancient literature.[26] Yet in this case we have an overlap of every category; moreover, a very similar vice list is repeated again by Paul in 6:9-10.[27]

Paul justifies his right to judge those in the church who engage in incest (porneia), and the duty of the congregation to not associate with people from within the church who do so by appeal to the Torah. The Torah authorised Israel to set up courts and pass sentences of death upon members of their community for certain offences. In practice, particularly after Rome monopolised the right to administer capital crimes, this was substituted with the punishment of karet and extirpation, where the offender was expelled and “execution at the hands of heaven was” invoked. Paul was invoking this practice in Corinth; the porneia engaged in was of a type that carried a capital sentence; hence, the congregation of God’s people had the right to impose this penalty upon the transgressor.

[1] By “Pauls First Epistle to the Corinthians” I mean the Epistle designated 1 Corinthians in the New Testament Canon. Paul had written an earlier letter to the Corinthian church which is lost to history. Paul explicitly mentions this letter in 1 Corinthians 5:9.

[2] Unless otherwise stated, all scripture citations are from the New American Standard Version (NASB).

[3] Roy E Ciampa and Brian S Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2010) 199.


[4] Matthew 19:9. Here I assume that Jesus is defending the divorce Halakah of the Shammite school against no fault divorce proposals of the Hillelite school. For a defence of this claim see David Instone Brewer Divorce and Re-Marriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).

[5] Jude 7.

[6] Peter J Tomson Paul and the Jewish Law (Jewish Traditions in Early Christian Literature) (Minneapolis: Brill Academic Pub, 1991).

[7] “‘Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’.” (Deuteronomy 27:23) The NASB renders “mother in law” where the LXX has the more literal “father’s wife”.

[8] Leviticus 18:8 “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.” Leviticus 20:11” If there is a man who lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.”

[9] Jonathan Schwiebert “Table fellowship and the Translation of 1 Corinthians 5:11″ Journal of Biblical Literature 127:1 (2008) 162.

[10] Ibid. 162-163.

[11] Tomson Paul and the Jewish Law 101-102.

[12] Numerous scholars have argued, cogently in my opinion, that the capital sentences in the Torah specify the maximum sentence. Further that textual indications within the law itself, and also evidence from Cuneiform law of the same genre, suggests that in practice capital punishment was frequently substituted for a lesser punishment in lieu of execution. See Raymond Westbrook, “The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law,” in A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, Vol. 1, ed. Raymond Westbrook (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003), 71-78. Finkelstein, “The Ox that Gored,” 35. Joe M Sprinkle, “The Interpretation of Exodus 21:22-25 Lex Talionis and Abortion,” Westminster Theological Journal 55.2 (1993) 233-53. Walter Kaiser, “God’s Promise Plan and his Gracious Law,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 35:3 (1992): 293. I summarise some of this evidence in my article, Matthew Flannagan “Feticide, the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint” Westminster Theological Journal 74:1 (2012) 59-85.

[13] Deuteronomy 17:6.

[14] Tomson documents a Jewish tradition that “40 years before the temple the power to judge capital cases was taken from Israel”. Peter J Tomson Paul and the Jewish Law 102. The Gospels also mention this; after the Sanhedrin find Jesus guilty of blasphemy instead of carrying out any punishment themselves they take him to Pilate to have him executed, this is because the Jewish authorities lacked the power to put anyone to death. See, for example, John 18: 29-31.

[15] Mario Philip “Delivery into the Hands of Satan—A Church in Apostasy and not Knowing it: An Exegetical Analysis of 1 Corinthians 5:5” Evangelical Review of Theology 39:1 (2015) 54.

[16] Idem.

[17] Ibid. 54-55.

[18] Ibid. 55.

[19] Idem.

[20] Tomson, 103.

[21] Idem.

[22] Ciampa and Rosner “The First Letter to the Corinthians” 220.

[23] Note the use of the conjunctive between the various vices and the conjunction of “covetous” and “swindler” into the same category; Paul writes, “I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters.”

[24]  Daniel Berchie “The Meaning of Harpax in 1 Cor 5:10” Ilorin Journal of Religious Studies 2: 2 (2012) 1-14.

[25] This also makes sense out of the differences between the otherwise very similar lists in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. Chapter 5 lists: “sexually immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler”, Chapter 6 lists: “neither fornicators (porneia), idolaters, nor adulterers, nor[effeminate, nor homosexuals, (arsenkoites, literally, men who go to bed with men) nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” The difference is that chapter six adds effeminate and arsenkoites, which appears to be an allusion to the LXX condemnation of same sex behaviour in Leviticus 18 and 20, both of which are categories of prohibited sexual relationships, and hence, a form of porneia. Similarly, chapter 6 adds the category of “thieves”, which as we have seen is synonymous with a person who is “covetous” or a “swindler” in chapter 5. The vice lists, therefore, become essentially the same; both cite a list of offences designated as potentially capital offences in the LXX.

[26] Peter S Zaas “Catalogues and Context: 1 Corinthians 5 and 6” New Testament Studies 34 (1988) 623.

[27] 1 Cor 6:9-10 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”

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6 responses so far ↓

  • I find this convincing without part 2. Comments.

    I would say: Jude uses the term to refer to attempted homosexual rape of the messengers at Sodom.

    Note 17: Accursed are you for all your wicked, blameworthy deeds. May God hand you over to terror by the hand of ah those carrying out acts of vengeance.

    Should that read “all”?

    Lastly, I think Paul appeals to the Torah in chapter 7. He tells a women who separates from her husband not to remarry. I think that is to allow reconciliation as the Torah states that a woman cannot return to her first husband after she has been with a second. If this is the correct understanding it would be another example of appealing to the Torah in the same letter.

  • Thanks Bethyada, the citation has been fixed.

  • Your post / paper raises a number of issues, and I will post a number of comments here to provide feedback.

    First, your paper deals with the word porneia and what it means. This is not critical for your post but nevertheless let me suggest some issues with yours and David Instone-Brewer’s approach to the word treating it generically as ‘sexual immorality’ and as therefore including adultery and homosexual conduct.

    The root meaning is easy enough to define: it means prostitution. The root of the word comes from sell, and it means, paradigmatically, a woman selling sexual access to her body for sexual gratification to men who are strangers. Such a woman is an unmarried woman because prostitution, for the female prostitute, is fundamentally incompatible with the institution of marriage. If she were married, her husband would immediately divorce her.

    The trouble comes when we debate how the word is used in an extended sense. And that depends on who is using it. In the Greek-Roman world, porneia includes the male prostitute as much as the female prostitute, both forms of prostitution being relatively common, and likewise, the in Greek-Roman world, adultery means a man’s unfaithfulness to his wife as much as a wife’s unfaithfulness to her husband, with the norm of monogamy and with polygamy being illegal. It is therefore natural for Greek writers to extend the term porneia from prostitution to sexual immorality generally.

    However, Jesus and Paul were not Greeks, and they and their use of the term, and its Hebrew version zanah, have a quite different background. Prostitution (zanah/porneia) meant quite specifically and literally the unmarried woman prostitute and her activity. Male prostitution was something else again, virtually unheard of in Jewish society, and the male prostitute was called a dog rather than zanah.

    With polygamy legal and polyandry illegal, adultery meant specifically the unfaithfulness of a wife to her husband. The man having another woman wasn’t adultery unless the woman concerned was another man’s wife.

    The terms zanah and porneia, when used by Jewish / Hebrew writers, was extended from prostitution to include any sexual activity of or with the unmarried woman. The prostitute is the unmarried woman who sells sexual access to her body to strangers for cash. The term was extended to include the unmarried woman who has sexual relations with an unknown man, whether she was supposed to be a virgin (as in Deut 22:20-21), or a widow (as was Tamar, Gen 38:24).

    So, when used by Hebrew/Jewish writers, the term zanah/porneia, meant either a) prostitution (unmarried female prostitute) or, by extension, b) illicit sexual relations by or with an unmarried woman.

    This means that the sexual sin of a woman was categorised according to her marital status: if she was married, her sexual sin is adultery (it is wrong because it is unfaithfulness to her husband), or if she is unmarried it is ‘prostitution’ (wrong because the unmarried woman ought not be sexually active, as an actual prostitute, or one like a prostitute).

    The sins of homosexuality are separate. If the homosexual activity is prostitution it might be included in the term zanah/pormeia, but generally it is referred to as the profession of the ‘dog.’ Other homosexual conduct is not zanah/porneia it is an abomination, depravity or perversion.

    This is supported by the way that Hebrew writers and Jesus use the terms in distinction in the New Testament. I have written (am writing) a more extensive discussion on this with a full usage study as part of my critique of David Instone-Brewer’s theory, already this explanation is quite involved!

    So, when you refer to porneia as being flexible you are right, but how that flexibility is being used requires more care. In 1 Cor 7:2 it refers to prostitution, one of the problems Paul has been dealing with up to that point (and at that point it refers to the sex-starved married man resorting to the use of pagan temple prostitutes). Does that make it ‘extramarital sex’? yes, but it does not mean that the term includes ‘adultery’ in the traditional Jewish sense of a man having sexual relations with another man’s wife — the pagan temple prostitute was not a married woman. This is particularly important for the case you give where you say Matthew uses it to mean adultery as grounds for divorce: it is not sensible for Jesus or Matthew to use porneia if what was meant was a wife’s unfaithfulness to her husband: there is another word for that misconduct: adultery, which would have been used if that was what was meant. The context requires that Jesus is referring to a pre-marital sin that resulted in a defect in the joining together process (as in Deut 22:20-21), otherwise Jesus just destroyed his argument that there is no valid divorce to end the obligations of a valid legal marriage.

    The idiom of ‘uncovering the nakedness of’ always has a target, the person whose nakedness must not be uncovered. The problem is not uncovering nakedness, the problem is whose nakedness is being uncovered. So it is incorrect to assume or go along with the idea that ‘uncovering nakedness’ is the same as porneia when used by Jewish/Hebrew writers. No cases of ‘uncovering the nakedness of his ____’ are described as zanah!

    The problem in this case is that the woman was the wife of the man’s father. If the father was still alive it would be adultery against the father, but this is described as porneia, which generally means the sexual misconduct of or with the unmarried woman. So in this case it is suggested that the father has died and that the father’s wife is a widow. (The law against having sexual relations with one’s father’s wife would be redundant if he was still alive, given the prohibition on adultery.)

  • Second, your paper deals with the application of the law of Moses prescribing the death penalty for the one who had sexual relations with his father’s wife.

    You have laid out a good case showing:
    1. that there is a substitution going on in Christian legal theory: what the law of Moses prescribed the death penalty for, Paul prescribed excommunication, and
    2. In doing this Paul was not being innovative.

    It is here where some more development is required. There are a range of alternative explanations for this and you have not discussed what they are and which one or ones you prefer.

    One approach is to say that all cases of the death penalty, other than murder, are permitted to be substituted, because only for murder is payment of financial compensation disallowed (Num 35:31). This would work here, since the offence was not murder.

    Another approach is the decline and de facto abolition of the death penalty. You have discussed the abolition of the death penalty in Jewish law solely in terms of the Roman power and the Roman restriction on Jewish power to impose the death penalty. However, there is another angle on this: Perhaps the Jews and their jurisprudence came to a position in favour of clemency even for murderers, and Jesus and the New Testament writers embraced this tradition too. The Jews did this by jacking up the burden of proof to impossible levels *for the purpose of de facto abolishing the death penalty*. Jesus then argued from this clemency for murderers to clemency for those guilty of lesser offences such as insult in Mat 5:21-26. He did this by mocking the Jewish legal system for permitting defamation suits for money damages (collected by the coercive procedures he listed), and by pointing out that the Romans would even crucify those who did not murder but merely insulted Roman officials, or those like him who insulted well-connected Jewish hangers on (after crucifixion, one’s body would be in danger of being thrown into the burning garbage dump outside the city, gehenna, a fate Jesus was rescued from by Joseph of Arimathea, Mat 27:57-59).

    But there is another explanation that I prefer that you don’t seem to have considered or developed at all. The Christian legal tradition systematically threw out the coercive remedial law and replaced it with gentle remedies instead. The Jewish legal tradition threw out the death penalty, but retained coercive civil litigation debt recovery procedures that Jesus rejected as out of place in the age to come (Luke 12:54-59). Jesus rejected even the means of obtaining such remedies by forbidding the oath (Mat 5:33-37). And Jesus forbade resort to litigation itself (Mat 7:1), as did Paul in 1 Cor 5-6. You are right that Paul gives an argument about jurisdiction: Paul prohibits resort to the invalid and unjust jurisdiction of the worldly courts, and says the only valid jurisdiction is the Christian church (as of course Jesus did as well). And its most severe remedy is excommunication (Mat 18:15-20).

    What Moses commanded the death penalty for, in Christian law our remedy is excommunication. Again, we should develop this.

    How can Christian law interpret the law of Moses in this way?

    There are two answers to this:
    1. Jesus did not come to relax the standards of the law, he came to increase them to the standard of perfection (Mat 5:17-20, 48).
    2. Jesus came to fulfil the law of Moses eschatologically in the kingdom of heaven (Mat 5:17-20).

    So, unless we can link the shift from the death penalty to excommunication to the eschatological consummation, we have failed the standard Jesus set. This is where we need to link eschatology to the matters of law and public policy and politics (and where the Reformed tradition fails so badly on both points).

    The law of Moses established a judicial system that included eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life, in particular, the death penalty for murder. The nature of these laws are remedial and retributory. It is this aspect of the law that Jesus most forcefully said were to be fulfilled with a new legal standard of clemency in the Sermon on the Mount. He rejected and repudiated eye for eye (Mat 5:38-42). But according to his own standard, this is not possible unless eye for eye is fulfilled at the passing of heaven and earth (Mat 5:17-20). So we need to ask when eye for eye was fulfilled and when heaven and earth passed away. *This* is the proper answer for how the death penalty is properly substituted with excommunication.

    Jesus provides the answer: at the fall of Jerusalem, in the First Century, eye for eye was fulfilled against Jerusalem, for her guilt for shedding the blood of the prophets (Mat 23:29-39). Heaven and earth pass away with the passing of the Jewish judicial system at the fall of the temple (Mat 24:1-35). As Moses said, in Israel’s last days, God would avenge the blood of his servants and atone for his land and his people, by shedding the blood of those who had shed blood (Deut 32:43).

    This means that the civil law of Moses must be understood typologically. The law of Moses, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life, is typological. Excommunication of sinners is antitypical. The political and ethnic people of Israel are typological of the Christian church. Cutting off a man from Israel by the death penalty is typical of cutting of a man from the church by excommunication, the antitypical fulfillment.

    Again, the Reformed tradition fails so badly here politically, legally and eschatologically. The Reformed tradition has the death penalty still active and lawful, but to be imposed by the civil magistrate, upon sufficient evidence by sworn testimony. This is in total violation of Jesus new law, given in fulfillment of the law of Moses. Jesus abolished death! (2 Tim 1:10) The ministry of death was the law of Moses, and it was destroyed (2 Cor 3:7). And it has heaven and earth not having passed away at the fall of Jerusalem in violation of Jesus’ express prophecy and promise (Mat 24:1-35). And as Paul promised, the last enemy to be destroyed is death itself, and death is destroyed when Jesus destroyed ‘every rule, every authority and power’ of his enemies (1 Cor 15:24-28). The sting of sin is death, and death is overcome when the power of sin, which is the Law of Moses, is fulfilled (1 Cor 15:54-57). And Paul said, in the 50s, that some of his original audience would survive and not die before that happened (1 Cor 15:51-52).

    The early Christian tradition, legally and politically, was much closer to Jesus’ teachings than the Reformed tradition. It eschewed the death penalty, litigation in worldly coercive courts, and the oath. Their eschatology didn’t really explain this change well but the application and the practice they honoured and maintained. You would do well to develop your analysis to harmoise with this legal and political tradition, as well as the legal writings of Paul.

  • In response to your use of the reference to exporneuo in Jude to ‘homosexual rape’: perhaps that is not what is referred to by Jude.

    The context is that the angels did not stay in their own domain, but abandoned their proper dwelling. This seems to be a reference to the sons of God taking the daughters of men as wives (Gen 6:1-4). Jude says that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns prostituted themselves and ‘in the same way [as the angels] pursued other flesh.’ The pursuit of other flesh seems to mean the converse of what the angels did. The angels pursued human flesh, and the humans in Sodom pursued angel flesh. This makes the two events ‘in the same way.’ But whether the reference to exporneuo is to this is not clear: the text says ‘and’ rather than ‘for’ or ‘by’ so it could be referring to some other sin.

    The other sin could be the sin demonstrated when Lot and his daughters left Sodom, and his daughters had sexual relations with him. As these daughters were unmarried, this is an example of porneia, according to my analysis of the term. The suggestion is that this conduct is something of a sign of the sin of Sodom, which was separate from the attempted sin against the visiting angels.

  • Another significant point is you do not discuss how Paul a) uses passive language for punishment, ‘handing this man over’ to Satan and b) refers to this passive punishment as restorative and corrective rather than retributive or destructive.

    The imposed punishment concept in Christian law is repudiated, as seen most clearly in 1 John 4:18. The imposition of harm is specifically prohibited by Paul as a remedy for sin (including non-payment of debt) in Romans 13:8-10 — the debt of love owed by the creditor to the defaulting debtor was always owed, and defined to mean do no harm, therefore doing harm is not an available remedy for non-payment of debts, or for any other wrong. Instead of punishment, in the sense of imposing a harm to teach a lesson or to balance the scales of justice, the focus is on the natural and organic harms that flow from the sin itself. This is something Greg Boyd has developed quite well, but I can’t see any hint of discussion of this where it appears in this passage. This matches very closely to the material you cite and develop in your post, but you have not made the link showing that the Christian remedial law development was in line with this organic sin-harm concept.

    It is helpful on this point to invoke some modern economic analysis concepts: there are two types of cost: historical cost and opportunity cost. Historical cost is what was paid (or agreed to be paid) to get something. It is a transaction that actually happened. It can prove and measure marginal cost or marginal utility. The transaction could happen voluntarily, which is the normal situation, or it could happen by force to make someone pay for something they did. So, for example, seizing property to impose a damages compensation order is an historical cost. But with Christian law, this option is removed, leaving opportunity cost as the sole relevant cost concept. The opportunity cost of non-payment of debt, for example, is loss of access to credit in the future. The opportunity cost of being ostracised is the gains that can be made from future market interactions with members of the community. Excommunication, therefore, is the Christian version of non-coercive opportunity cost based motivation theory and remedial law practice. This contrasts nicely with the death penalty, which is an imposed cost concept and practice.

    The restorative and corrective aspect is also important. Jesus in Mat 18:15-20 sets out a judicial system and a procedural civil litigation process that is seeks restoration of the sinner to fellowship, but resorts to excommunication as the severest remedy. In the same way Paul here sets out a judgement of excommunication with a stated purpose to restore the man to fellowship. And he orders the forgiveness of the man in 2 Cor 2:6-11. Obviously there is no restoration in the death penalty. The only effect of the death penalty is deterrence: ‘All Israel shall hear and fear’ (Deut 21:21). Yet it is fear based compliance that John teaches is no more in Christian legal theory (1 John 4:18).