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5-19 Delivering Unto Satan / We shall judge Angels (1 Cor. 6:3) / Advantage to Satan (2 Cor. 2:11)

1 Corinthians 5:5: “...To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”.

Popular Interpretation

It is argued that when a believer falls from grace, he is taken over again by Satan.


1. The purpose of this delivering was in order “that the spirit may be saved”. If Satan is intent on making people sin and alienated from God, why should what he does to them result in them being saved? It is by the experiences of life that God controls, that we are spiritually developed (Heb.12: 5-11).

2. How could the church at Corinth deliver the fallen brother to Satan if no one knows where to locate him?

3. “Destruction” can also imply “punishment” (e.g. 2 Thess.1: 9). Are we to think that God would work in cooperation with an angel who is rebelling against Him?

4. Notice that Satan is not described as eagerly entering the man, as we would expect if Satan is constantly trying to influence all men to sin and to turn believers away from God. The church (v. 4) is told to deliver the man to Satan.

Suggested Explanations

1. One of the big “Satans” - adversaries - to the early church was the Roman authority of the time, who, as the first century progressed, became increasingly opposed to Christianity. The Greek phrase “to deliver” is used elsewhere, very often in a legal sense, of delivering someone to a civil authority, e.g. :-

- Someone can “deliver thee to the judge” (Matt. 5: 25).

- “They will deliver you up to the councils” (Matt. 10:17).

- The Jews “shall deliver (Jesus) to the Gentiles” (Matt. 20:19)

- “The Jews will...deliver (Paul) into the hands of the Gentiles” (Acts 21:11).

- “Yet was I delivered prisoner” (Acts 28:17).

So is Paul advising them to hand over the sinful brother to the Roman authorities for punishment? The sin he had committed was incest, and this was punishable under the Roman law. Remember that “destruction” also implies “punishment”. Leander Keck demonstrates that the behaviour of the incestuous man was "contrary to both Jewish and Roman law", rendering him liable to punishment by those authorities (1).

2. “Satan” here may simply refer to the man’s evil desires. He had given way to them in committing the sin of incest, and Paul is perhaps suggesting that if the church separates from the man and leaves him to live a fleshly life for a time, maybe eventually he will come round to repentance so that ultimately his spirit would be saved at the judgment. This is exactly what happened to the prodigal son (Luke 15); living a life away from his spiritual family and totally following Satan - his evil desires - resulted in him eventually repenting. Jeremiah 2:19 sums this up: “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter” (that they had done).

3. “The flesh” does not necessarily mean “the body”. It may also refer to a way of life controlled by our evil desires, i.e. Satan. Believers “are not in the flesh, but in the spirit” (Rom. 8: 9). This does not mean that they are without physical bodies, but that they are not living a fleshly life. Before conversion “we were in the flesh” (Rom. 7: 5). Galatians 5: 19 mentions sexual perversion, which the offender at Corinth was guilty of, as a “work of the flesh”. 1 John 3: 5 (cp. v. 8), defines sins as the “works of the devil”, thus equating the flesh and the devil. Thus 1 Corinthians 5: 5 could read, “Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of Satan/the devil” , so that we have Satan destroying Satan. It is impossible to understand this if we hold to the popular belief regarding Satan. But if the first Satan is understood as the Roman authority and the second one as the flesh, or sinful expressions of our evil desires, then there is no problem.

4. We have seen in our notes on Luke 10:18 that Satan is sometimes used in the context of reminding us that physical illness is ultimately a result of our sin. It may be that the spirit- gifted apostles in the first century had the power of afflicting sinful believers with physical illness or death - e.g. Peter could order Ananias and Sapphira’s death (Acts 5); some at Corinth were physically “weak and sickly” as a punishment for abusing the communion service (1 Cor.11:30); Jesus could threaten the false teachers within the church at Thyatira with instant death unless they repented (Rev. 2: 22-23) and James 5:14-16 implies that serious illness of some members of the church was due to their sins, and would be lifted if there was repentance. If the sickness mentioned here was an ordinary illness, it does not follow that if a Christian repents of sin he will automatically be healed, e.g. Job was afflicted with illness as a trial from God, not because he sinned. It was for the help and healing of repentant believers who had been smitten in this way, that “the gift of healing” was probably mainly used in the early church (1 Cor.12: 9). Thus Paul’s delivering the incestuous brother to Satan and also delivering “Hymaenaeus and Alexander...unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim.1:20), may have involved him smiting them with physical sickness due to their following of Satan - their evil desires.

Some time later Paul noted how Alexander still “greatly withstood our words” (2 Tim. 4: 14-15). The extent of his withstanding Paul’s preaching is made apparent if we understand that Alexander had been struck ill by Paul before he wrote the first letter to Timothy, but had still refused to learn his lesson by the time Paul wrote to Timothy again. Again - notice that Satan would try and teach Alexander “not to blaspheme” (1 Tim.1:20). If Satan is an evil person who is a liar and blasphemer of God’s Word, how can he teach a man not to blaspheme God?

(5) The same verb for 'delivering over' occurs in the LXX of Job 2:6, where God 'hands over' Job to Satan, with the comment [in LXX]: "you are to protect his psyche, his spirit". The connection between the passages would suggest to me that Job was in need of spiritual improvement, even though he was imputed as being righteous (Job 1:1). Whatever, the point surely is that God handed a person over to an adversary, for that person's spiritual salvation. The orthodox idea of God and Satan being pitted in conflict just doesn't cut it here. Biblically, God is portrayed as in charge of any 'Satan' / adversary, and using 'satans' at His will for the spiritual improvement of people, rather than their destruction. The story of Job is a classic example. Are we to really understand that there is a personal being called Satan who's disobedient to God, out of His control, and bent on leading people to their spiritual destruction? No way, Jose. Not yet, Josette. 1 Cor. 5:5 and the the record of Job teach the very dead opposite. And by all means bring on board here 2 Tim. 2:26, which speaks of people being caught in the Devil's trap at God's will / desire (2).


(1) Leander Keck, Paul And His Letters (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988) p. 106.

(2) This is the translation offered by H.A. Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge: C.U.P., 2006) p. 119.

We shall judge Angels (1 Cor. 6:3)


“Dare any of you, having a matter against his neighbour, go to law before the unrighteous and not rather take it before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have to judge things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are of no account in the church” (1 Cor. 6:1-4).

Problem: This passage is taken as evidence that Angels can sin

  1. The Greek word here translated ‘Angel’ doesn’t necessarily refer to a supernatural being. As Angels share God’s nature they cannot die. Seeing that sin brings death, it follows therefore that they cannot sin. The original Greek and Hebrew words translated ‘angel’ mean ‘messenger’; the Angels are the messengers or servants of God, obedient to Him, therefore it is impossible to think of them as being sinful. The Greek word aggelos which is translated ‘angels’ is also translated ‘messengers’ when speaking of human beings - e.g. John the Baptist (Mt. 11:10) and his messengers (Lk. 7:24); the messengers of Jesus (Lk. 9:52) and the men who spied out Jericho (James 2:25). The 'angels of the churches' to whom the Lord Jesus wrote in Rev. 2 and 3 were presumably human beings too- for why would He need to communicate with supernatural beings through writing letters to them? The Greek word an-aggelo is frequently used in the New Testament regarding human beings 'messaging' or 'messengering' the news of the Gospel. I have given other reasons why Angels (in the sense of supernatural beings) don’t sin in The Real Devil Chapter 2-1.
  2. Likewise ‘to judge’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the person being judged is therefore sinful. The judges of Israel “judged Israel” in the sense of representing and leading them. The Hebrew word shaphat, translated “judge”, is also translated “to defend” and “to rule”. Those who are ‘judged’ are not necessarily sinful, and the word doesn’t at all have to carry the sense of ‘condemnation’ in a moral sense.
  3. The parallel seems quite clear between verses 2 and 3:

1 Cor. 6:2

1 Cor. 6:3

do you not know

do you not know



The saints


Shall judge

Shall judge

The world


“Angels” are parallel with “the world”- not with beings in Heaven or anywhere other than this earth. If we are going to judge the world, in the sense that we shall be king-priests reigning on earth (Rev. 5:10), one ruling over five cities etc. (Lk. 19:19), then we will likely do so by judging cases brought to us by representatives / messengers / ‘angels’. Paul foresaw that, and he asks us to live the Kingdom life now- because in the church at Corinth, nobody wanted to take moral responsibility, everyone was frightened to tell right from wrong, they had reduced the black and white of Divine morality to endless shades of grey. Just as many believers are doing today. Paul’s response to that is to remind that they shall judge the world in the Kingdom of God on earth, they will judge ‘angels’, messengers / representatives of whole towns… so they had better begin living the Kingdom life now, by judging a clear case of immorality which had arisen in their church. Paul has just given the gory details in chapter 5: “There is sexual immorality among you, and such immorality as is not even among the Gentiles, that one of you has taken to himself his father's wife. Instead of grieving, you have become arrogant. Remove the one who has done this deed from among you” (1 Cor. 5:1,2). My suggestion is that chapter 6 follows on from this context. Some within the church felt they had been abused by this person and so they had taken the matter to secular courts. Paul’s point is that the whole issue should be resolved within the church. But instead of using Biblical teaching about sexual ethics (1 Cor. 6:8-13), they were using human law courts. The theme of sexual misbehaviour thus continues, and suggests that chapters 5 and 6 refer to the same problem. By asking them to judge such cases now, Paul was asking them to live the Kingdom life now. They would 'judge angels' then, so, judge such cases now in this life. This is exactly the situation that Paul has in view within the Corinthian context when he wrote in 1 Cor. 4:8, prefacing the discussion of chapters 5 and 6, "How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you!" (NIV). He wished that they who would be the future kings of the earth would act as such rulers right now in this life.

Paul advises in the next verses that those "despised in the church" should be made the judges in the case of the immoral man against whom some had serious complaints. Only the wealthy could afford legal action, and so it was likely the socially superior members of the church who were involved- and Paul is saying that the Corinthian church should deal with the matter themselves, and appoint the socially lower believers, "the despised", as the judges. But neither side wanted that. It was a radical idea, consciously involving the inversion of all accepted social standards (1). And so Paul is reminding both the wealthy and the "despised" that those socially despised believers would one day judge "angels", the representatives of the nations, the upper classes and socially elite. And therefore neither side should feel awkward about that principle being practiced in this life.

4. "Know you not?" is a phrase often found in Paul's writings, and nearly every time we find it is followed by a repetition of a teaching to be found on the lips of the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, or at least, in other parts of the Bible text that was then extant. This, in passing, explains Paul's otherwise difficult comment in 1 Cor. 7:10,12 that at a certain point in his teaching about marital issues, he was speaking and not the Lord [Jesus]. He means that he is departing from his usual practice of reiterating the essence of the Lord's specific teachings, and giving a specific revelation he had himself received. And so "Know you not that we shall judge angels" must have some basis in the well known teachings of the Lord Jesus. And yet He teaches nothing about judging Angels in the sense of supernatural beings. What He does promise is that the faithful will sit on thrones "judging" (Mt. 19:28). Judging who? Supernatural beings? No. "Judging the twelve tribes of Israel". Israel were the elohim of God, just as the Angels were. In practice, that judgment of the twelve tribes will surely be achieved by judging messengers / representatives ['angels'] from them. I have demonstrated elsewhere that Paul alludes to the recorded words of the Lord Jesus at least once every three verses. And probably far more. He surely has in view here the promise about judging which is in Mt. 19:28. And this helps us see the "angels" as another form of describing human beings. He uses the exalted term 'angels' in order to encourage the lower, "despised" classes in the church at Corinth to rise up to the challenge of arbitrating between the upper class brethren who were at loggerheads, and in encouraging those latter brethren to accept that they should accept the judgment of such "despised" brethren.

5. If these 'angels' refer to cosmic beings who sinned at the time of the Garden of Eden, then are we to believe that they were preserved throughout human history to be judged by the Corinthians at the last day? According to popular thinking, they were 'judged' by being thrown out of Heaven to earth. If they are still awaiting judgment, then presumably they are kept incarcerated until then- and are therefore not active in the world.


(1) For more on this, see D.W. Engels, Roman Corinth: An Alternative Model for the Classical City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990) pp. 17-19.

"Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Cor. 2:11).

The other references to 'Satan' in 2 Corinthians clearly refer to the Jewish-Roman 'adversaries' to the Christian church (see commentary on 2 Cor. 11:14; 12:7). Yet elsewhere in the New Testament, 'satan' is also used to refer to the great adversary of every Christian- the mind of the flesh. The 'satan' Paul has in view here in 2 Cor. 2:11 can be understood in the same way.

Satan as the Mind of the Flesh
The context of 2 Cor. 2:11 is Paul's urging of the church in Corinth to accept back into membership the immoral brother whom he had earlier advised them to disfellowship in 1 Cor. 5. He urges them to forgive him and accept him, "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Cor. 2:11). What happens if a repentant brother is not forgiven and not re-integrated into the church? The individual is typically lost to the cause of Christ, and the church becomes lifted up with hypocrisy and arrogant attitudes which result in many of them likewise becoming lost to Christ. It is asking too much to believe that if we don't forgive someone, then some cosmic being replete with horns and tail somehow gets an advantage over us. The Greek word translated "devices" occurs almost exclusively in 2 Corinthians, and is translated "minds" or "thoughts" (2 Cor. 3:14; 4:4; 10:5; 11:3). This is a significant point. We are not ignorant of how the mind of the flesh works, the devices / thoughts of our satan / adversarial mind- we all have experience of what happens both to us and to others in such cases where an individual is refused fellowshipped. Congregations and communities are littered with the damaged baggage of refusing fellowship to those who ought to be given it. What stops all this is not any vigilance against an external cosmic being. What causes all these problems are internal attitudes of mind. And Paul's appeal is for us to know our own minds and beware of our own habits of reaction and thinking. The Greek behind "ignorant of his devices" is a word play based around the Greek word noema, 'to know'. "Ignorant" translates ag-noeo, 'not-knowing', and 'devices' translates noema, the noun of noeo. 'Don't be unmindful or his mind', 'don't be unknowing of his knowing' would be the idea. 'Know yourself' is in effect what Paul is saying.

Satan as Roman or Jewish Opposition
Paul had earlier appealed for the immoral brother to be 'delivered to Satan' (1 Cor. 5:5). The Greek for 'deliver' there is elsewhere translated 'to put in prison'. As in cases of serious sexual crime today, we may have to deliver the wrongdoer to the local authorities, even though they were clearly adversarial ['satans'] to the Christian cause; and if s/he is impenitent, to hope that by delivering them to the life of the flesh, or 'satan', that they will in due course come through that to repentance. It could be that this dual usage of the term 'satan' continues here in 2 Cor. 2:11. Refusing to forgive and rehabilitate such a person would give more strength to the mind of the flesh, but it would also possibly give advantage to the local 'satan' of the Roman or Jewish authorities. They might have used the fact that the church still considered the man at fault as an excuse to re-arrest him and to start persecuting the church. The Greek for "take advantage" can mean 'to rob' (1). The 'robbing' would have been of the man who had been 'turned over to Satan' in 1 Cor. 5. If he was not forgiven and welcomed, then the adversary would rob the community of him. If someone is excluded from the community of believers, then it's likely that they will wither and die spiritually. The 'satan' of 1 Pet. 5:8 sought to devour, to rob the flock- and that passage speaks without doubt of Roman-Jewish opposition to the Christian community (see commentary on 1 Pet. 5:8). The same idea is here in 2 Corinthians - the adversary / satan can rob the community of a member. Paul's concern was that the Corinthians' behaviour would lead to the ministry being 'blamed' (2 Cor. 6:3); he was very conscious that the ministry / service of Christ could be discredited in the eyes of the surrounding Roman-Jewish world, which is so often presented in the New Testament as the 'satan' of the early church.

(1) Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 4th Ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007) p. 667.