QUESTIONS & RESPONSES
On November 6, 2014, we received the following comment and inquiry:
“I'm researching the subject of disfellowshiping. How should I understand 1 Corinthians 5:5 which says "you must hand such a man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord"?
To the author, thank you for your email. This is an important verse and we are very happy to respond.
First, let’s look at the scripture in context. Paul wrote:
“Actually sexual immorality is reported among you, and such immorality as is not even found among the nations—of a man living with his father’s wife. And are you proud of it? Should you not rather mourn, so that the man who committed this deed should be taken away from your midst? Although absent in body, I am present in spirit, and I have already judged the man who has done this, as if I were actually with you. When you are gathered together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and knowing that I am with you in spirit along with the power of our Lord Jesus, you must hand such a man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
– 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (Revised New World Translation)
Paul had apparently heard of one particular situation involving a man in the congregation who was having sexual relations with either his mother or his step mother. Paul was outraged that no one in the congregation seemed to mind that such a man remained in their midst. In essence, Paul said he didn’t have to have personal knowledge of all the facts, he knew this was wrong without even being there.
We can understand Paul’s disgust. There are certain sins that can be mitigated or excused based on the circumstances and mental disposition of the sinner. Some sins are committed out of weakness or ignorance. But there are other sins that are more than just wrong. They are criminal and inexcusable, such as child abuse, domestic violence, and, in this case, incest. Sins such as these require a more firm response.
In this case, Paul said to ‘hand the man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.’ What did he mean? Looking at other translations of verse 5 are helpful. For example:
“You are to deliver this man over to Satan for physical discipline [to destroy carnal lusts which prompted him to incest], that [his] spirit may [yet] be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
(The Amplified Bible)
“And cast out this man from the fellowship of the church and into Satan’s hands, to punish him, in the hope that his soul will be saved when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.”
(The Living Bible)
This carries the idea that certain sinners should be removed from the loving and protective association of the congregation. They should not be able to take advantage of congregational confidentiality, but should instead be allowed to suffer the punishment, indignation or discipline that the world at large would dole out for such conduct. The sinner needs to suffer the consequences in hopes that he or she might be shocked their senses.
We interpret this to mean that there are some sins that cannot and should not be handled by the congregation. There are some occasions when a sinner simply must be removed from the congregation to show that the behavior is not condoned. This could include sins that rise to the level of crimes against innocent persons, such as child abuse and domestic violence. Any person hearing about such conduct would know, without being privy to the underlying facts, that such behavior should not be tolerated in a Christian congregation. In these cases, such persons should be handed over to the governmental authorities for civil punishment so that the congregation is not aiding and abetting, or becoming a ‘sharer’ in the sin.
This is a drastic measure, but with regard to certain sins, this would be the proper response. And this is what we believe Paul was referring to.
On November 2, 2014, we received the following comment and inquiry:
“I am sure you are aware of the beautiful compassion and mercy that Jesus revealed to us at John Chapter 8:1-11. What is your opinion, if you have one, why the Governing Body removed these versus from the current New World Translation? I always thought that these verses were an excellent example of how we should treat our fellow brothers and sisters, as well as other humans that we share this planet with. Thank you, and may God continue to bless your ministry. With Christian love, your brother.”
To the author, thank you for your email and brotherly love. The verses you refer to are the account of the woman caught in adultery where Jesus is said to have made the famous statement “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” According to the footnote in the Revised New World Translation at John 7:53-8:11, those verses were omitted because “a number of ancient and authoritative manuscripts omit them.” But, of course, this language correspondingly means that a number of ancient and authoritative manuscripts do contain those verses, and the Watchtower committee who created this revised translation decided to follow in the footsteps of those who omitted the verses.
It is interesting that the Watchtower committee who created the older version of the New World Translation reached a different conclusion, and decided to include those verses in the footnote, whereas the new Watchtower committee omitted them completely. This is not unusual for the Watchtower organization. They have a long public history of flip flopping on doctrines and policies, sometimes going back and forth on the same issue many times, as many long time Jehovah’s Witnesses well know.
As you said, the omitted verses are a beautiful compassionate account of Jesus’ mercy and a wonderful lesson in forgiveness for all. Who is not touched by the tenderness of the account and the stark contrast between the way a son of God responds to the sins of others and the way selfish intolerant hypocritical people respond. So whether this account is true or spurious, the lesson is of great value.
We are inclined to believe the account really occurred, even if it was not contained in some ancient manuscripts, because of its bold and unexpected wisdom, its profound insight, and its consistency with everything else Jesus taught. Recall that John wrote that the vast majority of the things Jesus said and did are not contained in writings of the day.
“There are also, in fact, many other things that Jesus did, which if ever they were written in full detail, I suppose the world itself could not contain the scrolls written.”
– John 21:25
So the fact that some ancient manuscripts do not contain accounts that other manuscripts contain is not an automatic disqualifier of the accounts. The way we see it, because practically every Christian is familiar with this particular account, the outright omission of these verses from the Revised New World Translation may move many people to choose another Bible translation for their personal study. We have made that decision for ourselves and only use the New World Translation, revised or older version, for the purposes of our ministry to Jehovah’s Witnesses. In our personal study, we use various other translations so that we can get as broad an understanding of the scriptures as possible, and so that our understanding is not colored and dominated by the sectarian decisions of one group.
So, brother, even though the account is omitted from the Revised New World Translation, it is readily available in many other Bible translations such as the New International Version, the Modern English Version, the Revised Standard Version, the Good News Translation, the King James Version and many others. In truth, the lesson of the account is not lost to those who keep their minds open to the teachings of Jesus wherever they may be found, and who take his advice to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. (Matthew 7:7-8) When we understand the character of Jesus, it is not difficult to know what is true.
“I am the fine shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me, . . . My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
— John 10:14, 27