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What Does It Mean To ‘Hand Someone Over To Satan’? |Q&A


Question:

What is the meaning of the verses 1 Corinthians 5:5 and 1 Timothy 1:19-20?

I do not understand why 1 Corinthians 5:5 speaks of saving the spirit but not the soul. Should it not be the soul that needs to be saved?

Answer:

The two verses are similar but treat different situations. In 1 Corinthians 5:5, a man in the Corinthian assembly has engaged in immoral behavior and is to be disciplined. In 1 Timothy 1:20 the two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, have taken up a doctrine that was seriously wrong and which led them to blaspheme. The second case is actually much more serious. This is probably why the apostle personally “hands over to Satan” the two men. This appears to be an apostolic action. It is likely that Hymenaeus here is the same man mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:17. He is said to have “swerved from the truth” and that his word would have the character of spreading evil like “gangrene.” So, he seems to be on a persistent path of error.

In 1 Corinthians 5:5, on the other hand, the apostle says “you are to deliver such a man to Satan.” It was the responsibility of the local assembly to judge the immoral behavior of the man. The purpose of the discipline was that he might suffer the “destruction of the flesh.” The “flesh” is the evil nature within all of us (See Rom. 7).1 Of course, this could not happen completely unless he physically died. But, through discipline he would hopefully learn to judge the flesh and learn to treat it as dead (Rom. 6:11). In doing this, he would preserve himself (save his “spirit”) in the day of the Lord. In other words, he would show that in fact he was “saved” and worthy to stand before the Lord.

The question that would naturally arise here is: What exactly does it mean to “hand over to Satan?”2 It  helps to remember that there are only two domains of influence in the world. The “kingdoms of this world” are given to Satan. See Luke 4:5–6 and 2 Corinthians 4:4. The other domain is the kingdom of God. See John 18:36 and also Revelation 11:15. These verses show that outside the domain of the Church3 (Assembly) is Satan’s domain. It is also important to remember that the “Assembly” is a called out company. See “Which Term: Church or Assembly?” Believers are separate from the world. Consequently, to be excluded from the Christian company is to be put into Satan’s domain—quite literally “handed over to Satan.” Thus, the work of Satan to degrade the testimony is halted and his only recourse is the persecution of the individual, like to fill him with remorse. This work, however it is carried out, has the purpose of God in it to bring the individual to repentance. God always overcomes evil.

That the discipline of the assembly had a good result is shown by 2 Corinthians 2:6–8. The man’s repentance led to restoration to fellowship. The difficult task of discipline also had a beneficial effect on the whole assembly described in 2 Corinthians 7:8–12. It is important to notice that the difficulties faced by Timothy and in Corinth lead to important instruction for us. In the case of Hymenaeus he becomes a solemn warning and in the case of the unnamed man in Corinth a happy encouragement.

As to the question, “why the spirit but not the soul”? I think it is because “saving the soul” refers to saving the person and the apostle is allowing that in this case the person was already saved. Regardless of the course of trial and discipline that a true child of God may endure, he is most assuredly secure in the hand of the Lord (Jn. 10:28–29).

It is also helpful to remember that there are at least three uses of the word “salvation” in Scripture. We are (1) saved from guilt and penalty of sin (“believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”—Acts 16:31), (2) saved from the power of sin in our lives (“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”—Phil. 2:12), and (3) saved from the presence of sin when we are with the Lord (“For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”—Rom. 13:11).

Resources


Endnotes

1.  This is a large topic. The references in the Resources section would be helpful in exploring this subject.

2.  There may be various acceptable interpretations of this phrase. I offer one here. However, the reader may offer alternate suggestions in the discussion area at the end of this post. (Remember the comment guidelines.)

3.  I have conflated the kingdom of God with the Church to avoid a long digression. I trust the main point will be clear in spite of this. See F. W. Grant, The Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Roy Touzeau

Roy Touzeau is a regular teacher at Grace and Truth Gathering in Portland, Oregon where he has been faithfully attending since 1981. He was instrumental in founding Principles in Focus, an annual biblically focused retreat for young people. Roy and his wife Pamela have been married for forty-nine years and enjoy visiting their children and grandchildren and studying God’s creation using Roy’s eight-inch telescope.

One Comment

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    Aaron Vienot

    A quick question. Some commentators claim that in 1 Timothy 1:19-20, when Paul “handed over to Satan…Hymenaeus and Alexander,” it was a special apostolic discipline of which we are told little or nothing else. Another view is that Paul, using his apostolic authority, was able to individually put these men outside of Christian fellowship, whereas this normally required the united action of a local assembly (church), as in 1 Corinthians 5:5 & 13.

    In reading the post, it’s unclear to me which view is being endorsed. Further thoughts?

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