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The So-Called So-Called Brother
1 Corinthians 5:11
by Bob Wilkin
But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any
so-called brother if he should be 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. (NASV)
But now I am writing to you that you must not associate
with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually
immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer,
a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
But now I have written to you
not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is
sexually immoral, or covetous, or an
idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not
even to eat with such a person. (NKJV)
The Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints
asserts that no true believer can fall into
serious sin--at least not for more than a very short time. Thus
when such interpreters come to a
passage which talks about someone who is persisting in serious
sin--for example, someone who is
an immoral person--they must conclude that he or she is unsaved,
regardless of solid evidence in
the text to the contrary.
In the passage under study there are three compelling reasons
to conclude that surely some, and quite possibly all, of the
sinful people in view are genuine
The Meaning of Tis Adelphos Onomazomenos
The expression "so-called"
in English conveys the strong suggestion that the person so
designated does not really deserve
that description (Oxford American Dictionary, p. 658). To
identify someone as a so-called expert
is to question their expertise. Likewise to label someone as a
so-called brother or as a so-called
Christian is to cast doubt on their salvation.
The Greek in this passage has no words which mean
so-called. The key word is onomazomenos. It is a
participle whose root is the word name (Gk.
onoma). In English we have the derived word
onomatopoeia which means the formation or use
of words which sound like the action which they describe (e.g.,
buzz, plop, sizzle). The full
expression tis adelphos onomazomenos means "[anyone]
who bears the name of
brother" (NIDNTT, p. 655).
Of course, one might wonder why Paul didn't just say "I
have written to you not to keep company with any brother . .
." Why did he say anyone
While we can't know for sure, it seems probable that Paul was
pointing out that
it is quite a privilege and a high calling to bear the name
brother or Christian. We are to be light
bearers and to live up to our name.
On the other hand, it is also possible that Paul simply meant
that believers should not fellowship with anyone known to be
unrepentantly sinful who bears the
name brother--whether rightly or wrongly. Any person who is
identified as a believer and who
walks in such a sinful manner is bringing disgrace to the
Christian faith and deserves the
discipline which Paul commands.
However, even under this understanding Paul is clearly
not saying that such a person could not be a Christian.
Indeed, he would be saying just the opposite:
that true believers can fall into serious sin.
Those Inside, Not Those Outside
In v 12 Paul went
on to say that we are to judge those inside, not those outside.
The church is surely in view: we
are to judge those inside the church, not those outside the
While unbelievers may have
attended some of the meetings at the church at Corinth, it is
unlikely that they would have been
considered members of that assembly. For to be members people
would have had to have
confessed their faith in Christ alone as their Savior.
Of course, it is conceivable that someone
could come to a church and profess to be trusting in Christ alone
and yet be lying. Or someone
could be confused about the Gospel and think he was saved when in
reality he wasn't trusting in
However, whether those in question are understood to be
exclusively Christians or
not, they surely include Christians. Paul is saying that we are
to judge those inside the church
and not fellowship with anyone in the church who is found to be
walking in open defiance of
Carnal Christians in the Corinthian Church
Finally, and this clinches the fact that the
expression anyone bearing the name brother at least
includes genuine believers, Paul made it
clear in 1 Cor 3:1-3, 5:1-5, 6:15-20, and 11:23-34 that there
were many believers in Corinth who
were indeed practicing immorality, drunkenness, and
covetousness--the very sins mentioned in 1
Cor 5:11. Yet he calls them babes in Christ (3:3) and ones whose
bodies are temples of the Holy
Spirit (6:19). (In addition, in 11:30 Paul says that because of
their sinful abuses of the Lord's
Supper some of them were now asleep, an expression exclusively
reserved in the NT for the
death of genuine believers.) This proves that the sinful brothers
of 1 Cor 5:11 who were to be
avoided at the very least included some genuine believers at
It is a shame that some translate the words in question in 1
Cor 5:11 as "any so-called
brother" or "anyone who calls himself a brother."
The text is referring to one
"who bears the name brother" (NKJV).
Carnality is a sad possibility for believers.
That is why we need church discipline. First Corinthians 5:11 is
strong teaching on church
The so-called so-called brothers of 1 Cor 5:11 are quite
probably all true believers. At
the very least they include some genuine Christians. We need to
watch out for such people and
withdraw from them. They are hazardous to our spiritual health
and to the reputation and purity
of the church.
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