Re: 1 Cor 5:5 (long)

From: Trevor M Peterson (
Date: Sat Nov 21 1998 - 14:49:58 EST

On Fri, 20 Nov 1998 20:23:41 -0800 clayton stirling bartholomew
<> writes:


>cannot accept
>SARX in this passage as being limited to the physical body. I don't
>think Paul
>would link the destruction of the physical body with hINATO PNEUMA
>would conclude that rendering the word SARX as BODY in this passage
>further comment is not doing justice to Paul's intended thought.

I had a chance to study this verse in depth for a course in 1
Corinthians, and I actually did come up with the primary meaning of
physical death. Part of this comes from the fact that OLEQROS seems to
translate better as „ruinš than as indicating total destruction.
Unfortunately, it is used on only a few occasions in the NT, but a study
of its occurrences in the LXX and in Classical literature presents a
fairly consistent picture. LSJ lists the following meanings: „ruin,
destruction, death, plague, destruction of property; that which causes
destruction, pest, plague; seductionš; but it should be apparent that the
simple English term „ruinš would suffice in place of any of these. In
the LXX, three primary meanings emerge: ruin (Prov 1:26-27; 21:7; Obad
1:13; Jer 51:55; Ezek 6:14; 14:16; 4 Macc 10:15), death (Jdt 11:15; Wis
1:12,14; 18:13; Sir 39:30; 2 Macc 13:6; 3 Macc 6:30,34), and destruction
(1 Kgs 13:34; Hos 9:6; Jer 48:3,8,32; 2 Macc 6:12). Of these, „ruinš
again seems to carry the overriding force, and that meaning is also
supported in the limited NT usage. In 1 Thess 5:3, it is used of the
judgment that will come upon those who are unaware in the Day of the
Lord. Likewise, 2 Thess 5:9 speaks of the eternal OLEQROS that shall be
inflicted upon those who do not know God at the return of Christ.
Finally, in 1 Tim 6:9 it describes the judgment that will come upon those
who make earthly wealth their goal. It becomes evident, therefore, that
this term overwhelmingly indicates a physical judgment of some sort, even
without any type of qualifier. It does not have to mean total and
immediate destruction, which is why „ruinš may be a better term. It can
indicate a process of destruction or a lesser degree, by all means
severe, but stopping short of ultimate death or annihilation. Since it
can refer both to people and to inanimate objects, „deathš is only
appropriate as a particular application of the term in certain situations
where the context makes the outcome clear. Ultimately, then, the
particular force will be determined by the sense of SARX as used here.

Now, it is beyond question that in NT usage SARX can and often does refer
to sinful tendencies within man, but the question to be answered is
whether we can exclusively assign to it that force here. Throughout the
LXX, three basic categories can be established: references to actual
flesh, references to the physical body, and references to physical
beings. Only in 4 Macc 7:18 does it seem to carry the moral force found
in the NT, but even there it speaks of „the passions of the flesh,š which
can simply call attention to the physical desires found in man. In the
NT, all occurrences can be grouped within the same three categories, thus
indicating that the physical element is always implicit, even when the
focus is primarily moral. I'm not trying to set up a Gnostic dichotomy
between the body as inherently evil and the spirit as inherently good,
but Paul does suggest in Rom 8:22-23 that our bodies still await
redemption from the effects of the fall--a redemption that will not take
place until the bodily resurrection. It is therefore understandable that
he would connect man‚s internal tendencies toward sin with the SARX, but
this in no way divorces the term from its basic, physical meaning. To
force such a distinction is to press the application too far.

It is therefore possible to conclude that with this phrase Paul explains
the result of the disciplinary action to be a gradual physical
destruction, potentially but not necessarily to the point of death,
inflicted upon the offender. Because OLEQROS does not have to indicate
total death or annihilation, Fee‚s objection that death could never
effect the purpose of salvation or that a death sentence seems
inappropriate for church discipline is without force. He also argues
that „nowhere else does Paul express death in terms of ődestruction of
the flesh,‚š but this is to be expected due to the infrequency of the
term OLEQROS in the NT. It would also be possible to raise the same
objection against his own position--that Paul nowhere intimates that the
destruction of our sinful tendencies is to be ultimately accomplished
within this life. If it seems unlikely that Paul would contrast the body
with the spirit in this way, the answer is no further than 2 Corinthians
4 and 5, where he clearly sets up a dichotomy between the outer man which
is decaying and passing away and the inner man which is being conformed
to Christ.

At least that's what I concluded a year or two ago, but I'm certainly
open to critique. I do agree, though, that it's somewhat presumptious to
translate it as body, even though that seems to be the force here.

Trevor Peterson
Bible/Theology Department
Washington Bible College
Lanham, MD

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