Backsliding? Or...

But what about “believers” who practice sin: the “handing over” to Satan.

The previous chapter detailed the punishment meted out to believers who engage deliberately in repeated sin (namely, sickness and death). The purpose of this chapter is to examine another form of punishment for that sin: the “handing over” to Satan.

As we’ll see, both these punitive measures may result in the death of the believer; conversely, both may result in the sinning believer repenting and being restored.

There is no valid distinction in their scope, purpose or severity; the only distinction is how each is initiated.

[Note: “believers” above is placed in quotes deliberately; within the context of this chapter, he/she may be true or may be false. All that may be said at the start is that the person being referred to considers himself/herself a believer, and may even be regarded as a believer by others.

The Lord’s own warning is always relevant:

Mat 7.20
So then, you will know them by their fruits.

As we'll see below, the man of 1 Cor 5 will be shown to be most likely true while Hymenaeus was shown to be false (the only two examples of this principle found in the Scriptures).]

 


The “handing over” generally in the Scriptures.

Repeated sin against the LORD comes with a terrible price; there are literally hundreds of examples of continued sin by OT Israel, along with their repeated punishments. We find early in the Scriptures that the LORD observed this and acted accordingly. The following is found in the last address of Moses to the Jews before his death:

Deu 29.4
Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.

So, what was this? It was the truth that the LORD withheld from a disobedient national Israel the understanding they needed to keep His law, with the obvious result that they would be held even more culpable to their national sin.

This principle is expressed many times by the prophet Isaiah. The LORD’s truth would be spoken to them, but they would not be able to understand any of it and as a result descend even more deeply into the abyss of sin, guilt and judgment:

Isa 6.9-10
He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.’
“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”

Isa 28.11-13
Indeed, He will speak to this people
Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue,
He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,”
And, “Here is repose,” but they would not listen.
So the word of the Lord to them will be,
“Order on order, order on order,
Line on line, line on line,
A little here, a little there,”
That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive.

Isa 29.9-10
Be delayed and wait,
Blind yourselves and be blind;
They become drunk, but not with wine,
They stagger, but not with strong drink.
For the Lord has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep,
He has shut your eyes, the prophets;
And He has covered your heads, the seers.

Isa 44.18
They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend.

The Lord Christ structured His preaching and teaching on this principle. The best example of this, and His explanation of it, is found here after He presented the parable of the Sowers/Soils:

Mat 13.10-14a
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled …

It is at this point the Lord Christ quotes from the text of Isaiah chapter 6 above. The Lord’s answer to the disciples’ question indicates clearly that He made a distinction in privilege between them and the Jews in general: He chose them to receive the truth, but to a national, disobedient Israel He expressed the truth in a form which they could not—indeed, would not—understand!

National Israel was exposed to the truth that would save them, but they were justly afflicted with a spiritual blindness and deafness which prevented them from understanding and repenting. The national Israel of the Lord’s day had been “handed over” to their sin and began to reap its terrible fruit. Their national privilege of seeing their Messiah would be counterbalanced only by the depth of their national deadness of spirit.

The Apostle Paul taught the same truth as it applies to obstinate sinners generally:

Rom 1.24,26,28
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper …

We are now ready to examine  and understand the “handing over to Satan” mentioned by the Apostle Paul.

 


The “Handing over to Satan”.

The Apostle Paul is the only NT writer who spoke of this measure in this way. (1 Cor 5.3-5 and 1 Tim 1.18-20)

I’ve observed among Christians generally one of two typical responses to these texts:

  • Avoiding them and treating them as if they didn’t exist.
  • Noting them but relegating them to the ambiguous, catch-all bucket of “I don’t really know what Paul was talking about and don’t really care to know. The whole thing sounds spooky and ‘out there’ and is probably not something for us today anyway.”

As the discussion below will detail, the Apostle Paul expressed in a terse, descriptive phrase the same truth as Isaiah and the Lord Christ. He also teaches us how such an action is initiated.

Let’s unfold it point by point. We’ll begin by listing the two examples:

1 Cor 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.

1 Tim 1.18-20
This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.

 

The “handing over”: the verbs used.

In the three passages in Romans chapter 1 (vv. 24,26,28), and in 1 Cor 5.5 and 1 Tim 1.20, the same verb, παραδίδωμι, is used.

παραδίδωμι [G3860: to give into the hands (of another); to give over into (one's) power or use]

The man of 1 Cor 5, and Hymenaeus and Alexander were “given over” to the power or authority of something else. From the perspective of initial effect (only!), there is no difference between these two texts and the three texts of Romans chapter 1.

As we’ll see below, the fact that the same verb was used will be very important as we develop an understanding of this punitive measure.

 

The “handing over”: difference between the “handing over to Satan” and the “handing over to sin” in Romans chapter 1.

While the same verb is used in the five texts, there are two vital differences:

  1. The initiation of the “handing over”: In Romans chapter 1 vv. 24, 26, and 28, it is the LORD who does so, but in the two examples above, it is a true Christian who does so and not the LORD!
  2. The result of the “handing over”: while the purpose of all five passages is punitive, there is a dramatic difference in result. In Romans chapter 1, the result is guaranteed to be greater culpability and judgment, followed inexorably by condemnation. In the pair of examples above (the “handing over to Satan”), the result may be restoration or it may bring increased judgment upon the sinner.

 

The “handing over”: why?

The measure is a punitive action necessitated by the grievous and continued sin of a professing believer. Continued sin by a believer is a very serious matter demanding very serious consequences by the assembly in which the sinning believer is a part.

In the context of the sin of the man in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, the Apostle said this:

1 Cor 5.11-13
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 the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

The translation of “so-called” in v. 11 requires some attention. The verb used there is ὀνομάζω: [G3687: to name, to make mention of the name]; it is a present, passive participle. This is an important detail because the Apostle sets the context in which this “handing over” is to take place: it is a measure to be taken by a local assembly upon that sinning member of the assembly who professes the Lord Christ but nevertheless is in continued sin.

[The “one named a brother” (the more literal meaning here) may or may not be a true believer; it really does not matter to the gravity of the text. What does matter is that he was a member of the local assembly and subject to their oversight and judgment. Likewise, it is also irrelevant that, at least initially, that the Corinthian assembly was careless in permitting the man’s sin to continue as it did until the intervention by the Apostle. As the second epistle to the Corinthians shows, they did properly deal with the man and, by the LORD’s mercy, he repented and was restored. (2 Cor 2.5-8)]

This is especially pertinent with what the Apostle Paul teaches in the rest of the paragraph: “what have I to do with judging outsiders“?

What did he mean?

The principle to which the Apostle appeals is that the assembly is to watch over itself; in contrast, the activities of the world, particularly its sin, is not a direct concern of the assembly.

[This principle should have a profound effect on the practice of “social justice” and “political activism” within a truly Christian context.

True Christians are not called to be political activists! They are called to bring the gospel to the nations!

Those “Christians” who engage primarily in political activism and social justice in place of the gospel are not serving the LORD. In fact, if they are true Christians, they are in direct disobedience to the commission commanded by the Lord Christ many centuries ago. (Mat 28.18-20)

(And, no, I’m not suggesting that Christians decouple from any and all political activity. Rather, American Christians ought to be model citizens, exercising their right to vote, praying for our leaders according to the principles listed in 1 Tim 2.1-2 and living an exemplary life. For some, this might even mean running for and serving in public office. But it does not include any attempts at “reforming” government according to Christian ideals—as if the problems of the nation could be solved by strictly political means. (They can't! Any "Christian" who thinks otherwise is self-deceived!)

America will be restored only when it citizens bow their hearts to the Lord Christ, repent of their individual and national sins and confess the Lord Christ as Lord!

The solution to the sins of a nation (of the world!) do not lie in political reform—they lie in the gospel of the Lord Christ and the “birth from above” of its citizens.]

The one “named a brother” here was an active member of the Corinthian assembly. Whether he was a true or merely a professing believer is not relevant: he was part of the assembly and therefore was under the corporate authority of that assembly. The Corinthians were expected to act to remove the continued sin from their midst, which meant that the man was to be rejected and separated from them.

The case with Hymenaeus and Alexander is similar, though without mention of association with an assembly. In fact, Hymenaeus is mentioned twice in similar contexts:

1 Tim 1.19-20
… keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.

2 Tim 2.16-18
But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.

It appears likely that the Apostle did not mention an assembly in the context with Hymenaeus and Alexander because they, then later with Philetus, were itinerant “teachers” spreading doctrinal error. (They may have been Paul’s coworkers at one point or in a specific locale.)

At least with Hymenaeus and Alexander, the Apostle found it necessary that he himself “hand them over to Satan” since they were not members of a local assembly but men with whom the Apostle was very familiar and therefore it became his responsibility to act.

 

The “handing over”: what to expect as a result?

Above, I mentioned that a distinction between the LORD’s “handing over to sin” and the “handling over to Satan” is in their results: the former always yields judgment to condemnation while the latter may bring repentance and restoration or it may bring further judgment for that sin. In the former, there is no opportunity for repentance; in the latter, repentance may or may not occur.

In the case of the man in 1 Cor 5, there is an interesting detail that we shouldn’t miss, namely the “involvement” of the assembly during the period of the man’s sinful behavior. The following text appears to be the context of the man of 1 Cor 5; the Apostle tells us that they were “innocent” of the matter:

2 Cor 7.11-12
For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.

[The assembly was completely “in the dark” concerning the man’s incestuous relationship with his “father’s wife”. So, on the one hand, at least they didn’t share in his culpability; on the other hand, it is nonetheless troubling that they were ignorant of the matter.

One of the purposes of a well-functioning assembly is that the members encourage, admonish, etc., one another to keep each other from sin. (1 The 5.14-21) Clearly, there was a massive failure here by the assembly, though to their credit, once informed they reacted appropriately.]

There was a “happy ending”, though; the man appeared to repent after being expelled from the assembly. Note how the Apostle recalls the event:

2 Cor 2.5-8
But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.

We need to focus on one matter specifically in the case of the man of 1 Cor 5.5: what Paul meant when he said

“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.”

It is extremely unlikely that the Apostle was referring to the physical death of the man as a punitive measure; there is a much better understanding of the matter.

The Apostle mentions “flesh” and “spirit” together in the same verse in 12 places: Rom 7.14; 8.4,5,6,9,13; 1 Cor 3.1; Gal 3.3; 4.29; 5.16,17; 6.8. In each case, Paul is not referring to the physical body; rather, he clearly refers to the “fleshly nature of sin” inherited from Adam. His use of these terms is metaphysical, abstract.

A key text to consider is this one:

Rom 8.13
for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

So, in 1 Cor 5.5, the meaning is most likely this:

“to deliver such a one to Satan that he may ‘put to death the deeds of the body’, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

The Apostle’s goal was the man’s repentance concerning his sin and his eventual restoration, in order that he might be spared the consequences of his sin in the day of judgment.

[cf., The Day of the Lord on this site.]

And, as it worked out, this story had a “happy ending”.

However, the account of Hymenaeus did not end so well. (We don’t know what happened to Alexander.) By the time that the Apostle wrote his second epistle to Timothy it is evident that Hymenaeus had not only not been restored, he had become more entrenched in his sin:

2 Tim 2.16-18
But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.

The verb used in the phrase “gone astray from the truth“ (ἀστοχέω, G795; to deviate from) is an aorist active indicative. Paul told us clearly that Hymenaeus had departed from the faith and showed no signs that he’d be returning.

From that point forward Hymenaeus was regarded as being in the camp of the “false teacher” and should be, therefore, regarded as a false believer. He will be judged “guilty” on the Last Day.

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