New Testament Words and Verses
The First First Corinthians, I Corinthians 5:9-13, Two
The final point of my previous essay on these verses was that Paul’s advice to the Corinthians in his “First First” letter regarding what to do with an immoral person is ambiguous. To many people such a statement will sound unnecessarily churlish and contentious. Obviously, the argument runs, when Paul tells the Corinthians ἐξάρατε the man (I Cor. 5:13), he is telling them to excommunicate him or toss him from their midst. Paul has just finished telling them not to “mingle” (συναναμίγνυσθαι) with such a person. What ELSE could ἐξάρατε mean than show him the door/excommunicate him?
Until you begin to look at the word. It is a NT hapax, generally rendered “remove,” but when we run into a hapax in the NT we ought first to look at the LXX to see how the Jewish community which created the Bible of the early Christians (the OT, that is) used the term, if they used it. And, we find, quite surprisingly, that the verb ἐξαίρω appears a few dozen times in the LXX. Wow.
But the problem that arises is that when you start reading the passages in which it appears, it almost uniformly means something much stronger than “toss out” or “remove” or “cast out.” Its LXX meaning is generally “to destroy” or “to eliminate.” My point in the rest of the essay will be to illustrate a few of these LXX passages so that we can see how the verb functions.
Before going there, one should observe that had Paul wanted to make himself clear and not open to ambiguity on the verb in verse 13, he could have used ἐκβάλλω. Indeed, ἐκβάλλω is the go-to verb in the Gospel of John for putting someone out of the synagogue, an exactly parallel process to what might be contemplated here. Well, it’s slightly more complicated than that. In John 9, where the man born blind who decides to follow Jesus is eventually tossed from the synagogue by the Jewish elders, the adjective used to describe that process is the very rare ἀποσυνάγωγος, literally, “from the synagogue” (John 9:22). But when Jesus discusses what happened to the guy a few verses later, he resorts to the expected ἐκβάλλω in John 9:35. The argument can be made, and it is probably true, that Paul was unacquainted with the specialized Johannine vocabulary when he wrote, but the unambiguous verb was available to him. But Paul chooses not to use it. He chooses the much more “loaded” verb ἐξαίρω.
ἐξαίρω in the LXX
This will not be a complete survey of the appearance of ἐξαίρω in the LXX but if you wanted to do it, you can start with Muraoka’s online dictionary of the LXX and then look up all the appearances in Hatch and Redpath’s LXX Concordance. Muraoka tells us that ἐξαίρω has several meanings in the LXX, including “to lift off” something or to “raise” something, but by far its most frequent meaning is “to remove, get rid of, efface, obliterate.” The first reference given is to Amos 9:8, and there is no question that it means “destroy”:
ἰδοὺ οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ ἐξαρῶ
αὐτὴν ἀπὸ προσώπου τῆςγῆς πλὴν ὅτι οὐκ εἰς τέλος ἐξαρῶ τὸν οἶκον Ιακωβ λέγει κύριος. . .
“‘Behold, the eyes of the lord God are on the kingdom of sinners and I will destroy it (ἐξαίρω) from the face of the earth, but I will not ever destroy (ἐξαίρω) the house of Jacob,’ says the Lord.”
Then, Micah 5:10-11 speaks of God’s coming judgment:
καὶ ἔσται ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ λέγει κύριος ἐξολεθρεύσω τοὺς ἵππους σου ἐκ μέσου σου καὶ ἀπολῶ τὰ ἅρματά σου, καὶ ἐξολεθρεύσω τὰς πόλεις τῆς γῆς σου καὶ ἐξαρῶ πάντα τὰ ὀχυρώματά σου.
“‘And it shall be in that day,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will destroy/exterminate your horses from your midst and destroy your carriages, and I will utterly destroy the cities of your land and I will destroy (ἐξαίρω) all your fortresses.”
The pairing of ἐξαίρω with ἐξολεθρεύσω (1st person singular future) is utterly potent. Absolute destruction is in view.
I guess I am running out of space in this essay too quickly, but ἐξαίρω appears rather frequently in the LXX. What is interesting is that even the passage cited by the online Bible Hub dictionary on ἐξαίρω to support a meaning of “cast out” doesn’t really say that. They make reference to its use in Deut. 19:19. That text discusses the need for multiple witnesses in the case of a serious or capital trial. if the court finds that a person has brought a charge of impiety (ἀσέβεια, 19:16) against another person and has not proven his case, then (19:19),
καὶ ποιήσετε αὐτῷ ὃν τρόπον ἐπονηρεύσατο ποιῆσαι κατὰ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐξαρεῗς τὸν πονηρὸν ἐξὑμῶν αὐτῶν
“you shall do to him according to the evil he planned to do against his brother and you shall eliminate (the verb is ἐξαίρω) the evil from your midst.”
But if we looked more closely at the penalty for ἀσέβεια in Deuteronomy alone, we find that it always is a capital offense (9:4, the impiety of the nations leads to their destruction; same in 9:5; same in 18:22, though this speaks of a false prophet).
Though space doesn’t permit a full examination of the scope of ἐξαίρω in the LXX, at least ten other appearances that I checked brought the same dismal result: it is used in the sense of exterminating or killing people.
Thus, when Paul used the term ἐξαίρω in I Corinthians 5:13, if his congregation was at all biblically savvy, and that is a big “if,” then they would have possibly heard that word ambiguously. On the one hand it might suggest a process of excommunication, but more likely it suggests killing. The only problem is that this result isn’t consistent with the spirit of 5:9-12. But it may create enough ambiguity so that when the congregation was confronted with the situation in I Corinthians 5, they “froze” and decided to punt it over to Paul. Then, Paul responded, and my essays on that subject will show that rather than clarifying things, Paul may have added to the confusion.
I Cor. 5:1, 5
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