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Paul Melton

1 Corinthians 5:11
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

The question under consideration:  Does the “any man that is called a brother” mentioned in 1 Cor.5:11 refer to any man who is actively professing to be a brother or does it also include brothers and sisters who have “quit the church”?

 A careful examination of the immediate context, the grammar of the text itself and the reason for the commandment reveals that the “brother” we are commanded not to mix with is an unrepentant brother who is attending church, and considered faithful by the congregation.


1) The entire context surrounding verse 11 is specifically referring to a fornicating brother who was AMONG them. 

1 Corinthians 5:1, 2, 13
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.
And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
13  But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

The brother under consideration in 1 Corinthians 5 was “among” them.

1 Corinthians 11:18
18  For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.

“Among you” implies someone in the gathering (congregation) of the faithful. 

1 Corinthians 5:6
6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

The leaven was IN the lump.  The fornicating brother (the leaven) was IN the lump (the church).

1 Corinthians 5:7
Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us:

The leaven had to be IN, before it could be purged OUT.

Some brethren isolate verses 9-11 from the rest of the chapter. They detach it from its surrounding context and contend that Paul is giving a more general command that refers to how we should treat all erring brothers, even those who have left the church completely.   However, a failure to consider any verse within its context is dangerous and can lead to baseless teachings and religious division.

1 Corinthians 5:9
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

The Corinthians had disregarded Paul’s instructions in a recent letter.  G.G. Findlay in the Expositor’s Greek Testament correctly links verses 9-11 to its context thusly,

These instructions they appear to have misunderstood, reading them as though Paul forbade Christians to have any dealings with immoral persons, and asking for further explanation. Not improbably, they were making their uncertainty on the general question an excuse for hesitation in this urgent and flagrant case. Accordingly the apostle, after giving sentence upon the πόρνος of 1 Corinthians 5:1 f., repeats with all possible distinctness his direction to excommunicate persons of openly immoral life from the Church.

In other words, in verses 9 through 11 Paul is not only repeating his directives given in verse 7 to purge out the leaven from the church,  but is explaining to Corinthians exactly HOW to go about purging it out.  By reminding them of his prior instructions, Paul explains that purging out the leaven is to be effected by “not keeping company” with them or eating with them.

Just as we do disservice to God’s word by isolating verses 9-11 from the preceding verses in the chapter, it is just as tragic to disconnect verse 11 from the three verses that follow it.

1 Corinthians 5:12
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

Verse 12 begins with the word “For” (Greek “gar”) which according to Strong’s Greek Lexicon signifies, “1063. a primary particle; properly, assigning a reason (used in argument, explanation or intensification; often with other particles).”

So verse 12 is explaining the REASON we are not to eat with the professing brother who is a fornicator: Because God judges those WITHOUT, but YE (faithful brethren in the church in Corinth) judge those within. In other words, the brethren under consideration in verse 11 are those who are within.

“Those within,” who he says we must judge, are brothers who are in the fellowship, in the church.  They are WITHIN. If they are WITHIN, that means they are AMONG US.  The Corinthians needed to judge these brethren.  Verse 3 says that Paul had already judged the fornicating brother who was among them. We are to pronounce judgment on all professing brethren who commit sins like those mentioned in verse 11. 

Thayer defines the word “judge” as “to determine, resolve, decree, to pronounce judgment, to subject to censure”.  The congregation subjects the brother to censure. 

The church is required to judge brethren who are WITHIN.  When a brother leaves the church of his own accord, he is no longer within.  He is without.  He is just like an unbeliever, except that “their latter end [of the wayward brother] is worse for him than the beginning” (2 Pet.2:20). He is outside of Christ, outside of the fellowship, separated from the body. He is in darkness, entangled again in the world (2 Peter 2:20-22).  He is eating his own vomit, wallowing in the mire of sin.

The adverb “without” according to Thayer means “without, out of doors”. Jesus used this same word in John 15:6 speaking of the branch that does not abide in the vine: “he is cast forth” (out).  Whether it be alien sinners or brothers who have left the church, they are all without.

We do not have to judge them. God will judge them. 

But those within, those who make up the lump, those brethren who are among us when we assemble, those are the ones we must judge.

1 Corinthians 5:13
13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

The problem was that this fornicating brother was still WITHIN the fellowship, and Paul commands, “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person”.   He was AMONG THEM.  He was “being called a brother,” he was attending church, eating the Lord’s supper. He wanted to be among the brethren. Paul wants the church to “take away the evil man out from among yourselves.” Once he is withdrawn from, he changes states, he moves from WITHIN, to WITHOUT.

In summary, the entire chapter is referring to a brother who was “among them.”  To separate verses 9-11 from the rest of the chapter and give them an extensive application to brethren within and without the church is to mishandle the word of truth.

Let us consider now the text itself.  Verse 11 is referring exclusively to someone sinning within the brotherhood which must be withdrawn from.


2) Secondly, in verse 11, the “man that is called a brother” (KJV) is so worded as to refer specifically to a man actively being called a brother by the church.

The verse does not say “a man that is brother”, but a “man that is called a brother”.  God does not insert words unnecessarily.  The word “called” or “named” specifies the sort of brother the church is commanded not to “mingle with”.

Several versions allege that the reference is to a man who considers himself part of the brotherhood.

  • “anyone who claims to be a brother” (NIV)
  • “anyone calling himself a brother” (Jubilee Bible)
  • “anyone who bears the name of brother” (ESV)
  • “anyone who claims to be a brother or sister” (Christian Standard Bible)
  • “anyone who calls himself a believer” (Good New Translation)
  • “anyone who claims to be a believer” (Holman Christian Standard)
  • “anyone who calls himself a Christian” (NET Bible)
  • “people who call themselves brothers or sisters” (GOD’S WORD Translation)
  • “anyone professing to be a brother” (Anderson New Testament)

Mike Willis explains, “The phrase ‘any man that is called a brother’ is so written to distinguish reality from profession. The man professes to be a Christian but lives an ungodly life” (Truth Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5:11).  Alford in this comments on 1 Corinthians 5:10 uses the phrase “professing Christians.”  John Calvin in commentary explains this phrase as meaning “all that wish to be reckoned brethren.”

The verb tense of the Greek word translated “called” in the KJV is the following:

Present Passive Participle

So the literal translation of the phrase is:  “anyone who is being called a brother.”

The present tense in the Greek depicts an “action in progress” (pg.43 Wayne Jackson Treasures from the Greek New Testament).  In other words, the man referred to was not called a brother at some time in the past, but is presently “being called” a brother by others in the congregation.

Bauer’s Lexicon (which is among the most highly respected dictionaries of Biblical Greek) comments, “The construction ὀνομαζόμενος is taken as a passive, “is named,” or “is called,” which suggests that “brother” is a name given this individual by others, specifically by other members of the Corinthian congregation” (BDAG, 714).

The present passive participle verb tense is reflected in the following translations and interlinears:

  • Young’s literal translation (YLT) “anyone being named a brother”
  • Greek Interlinear – The Emphatic Diaglott, “anyone, a brother being named
  • Biblios Greek Interlinear “anyone a brother being designated
  • Disciple’s Literal New Testament (DLNT) – “anyone being named a brother”
  • Berean Literal Bible “anyone being designated a brother”
  • TLV – “anyone who is being called a brother”

The reference is to someone who is accepted as part of the brotherhood, actively being called a brother by the faithful.  It is not one who “used to be a brother here,” but has renounced the church. 

Interestingly, the Wycliffe Bible translated in 1382 recognizes that the brother mentioned here was among the congregation: “He that is named a brother among you” (1 Co.5:11).

Greg Supina writes the following concerning the Greek phrase “anyone that is called a brother” in his article entitled “The Greek Article, Intermediate Greek Grammar”:

“First, we should realize that Paul is here speaking about one normally being named or called a brother by the people in the church. Paul is not speaking about one who calls himself a brother or a Christian. Remember, ὀνομαζόμενος is the present passive participle form of ὀνομάζω. Present participles bear a strong durative aspect, and the passive voice clearly indicates it is talking about how people in the church perceive the man, not about how the sinner perceives himself. So it is speaking about one who is known as a brother within the church . . . it is speaking about one whom we know and recognize as a real believer among us, one knowing the same real truths we are taught, and one with whom we regularly associate, as though he were a true brother with us in the true church.”

The manner in which the word “brother” is used in verse 11 is similar to our current usage of “brotherhood” (“a band of brothers” according to Thayer; 1 Peter 2:17; 5:9).  In general, we include as part of “our brotherhood” only those who are faithful members of the “one cup, no Sunday school” church of Christ.  By saying that they are not a part of our brotherhood, we are excluding them as brothers and sisters.  In the technical sense, they are brothers for they have been born again into Christ’s kingdom family (John 3:3-5).  One cannot be spiritually unborn. However, in another sense they are not brethren, for they are not a part of the brotherhood; they are not being named brethren. The fornicator in the Corinthian congregation was committing this deed, “while he was called a brother” (Bengel’s Gnomen, 1 Cor.5:3).  Once the church removed him, he was still a brother in the strict sense, but he was no longer “called a brother.” It is in this sense that the word “brother” is used in 1 Corinthians 5:11.   

The reference, therefore, is to one currently being named a brother by the church, not someone who is a child of God that has disowned the family and left to be a part of the sinful world.  The Corinthian congregation was criminally remiss “inasmuch as they cherished in the bosom of the church an openly wicked person” (Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). 


3) Thirdly, we know the brother in verse 11 is not referring to one who has left the church because of the nature of the six sins mentioned.

Why did the apostle mention these specific sins?  What is so special about these sins? The answer is that these are public sins that bring reproach upon the church, sins that even those who are unbelievers understand that a god-fearing man or woman should not be committing.  In Corinth, the fornicating brother was committing a sin that subjected the church to ridicule.

1 Corinthians 5:1
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

Albert Barnes explains: “When Paul says that it was not ‘so much as named among the Gentiles,’ he doubtless uses the word onomazetai in the sense of named with approbation, tolerated, or allowed.”  In other words it was regarded with abhorrence and was considered shameful by the Gentiles.

It was scandalous for the Corinth brethren to accept and tolerate this behavior in the church.  It is probable that the heathens in the community knew the church at Corinth was allowing licentious intercourse among the members of the church.

Even today it brings shame and reproach on the church when a brother goes out and drinks on Saturday night, and then attends church on Sunday morning, partakes of the Lords supper and is accepted by the brethren as if everything is fine.

People in the community will blaspheme (condemn) the church of Christ for flagrantly condoning drunkenness if we have an active member among us who is an alcoholic. No one will want to be a member of a church that accepts blatant immorality. The same thing is true for a fornicator, someone well-known for his covetousness or extortion, or an active idolater. 

1 Corinthians 10:21
21 “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.”  

The problem was partaking of both cups!  This man would have to be put out of the church if he refused to repent.

In contrast, a brother who has severed ties with the church, who no longer considers himself a brother and is no longer being named a brother by the congregation has become nothing more than a worldling.  Such a brother does not expose the church to the criticism of accepting perverse sin.  He has disassociated himself from the faithful and has completely disconnected himself from the church; therefore, no one will accuse the church of tolerating heinous wickedness. 

These specific sins are mentioned because they expose Christ’s church, which we preach as “holy and without blemish,” to defamation.  God’s church is defamed when she preaches holiness and uprightness while at the same harboring sin, consenting to it, and ignoring it. 

Those who have “quit the church” no longer consider themselves a part of the church and are not considered as being in Christ’s body. They are like a finger severed from the body. Hence, if such a one commits this sin, the church would never be accused of harboring sin in her midst.


Consider how ludicrous, unrealistic and unprofitable it would be to try to apply 1 Corinthians 5:11 to those who have “quit the church.”

Does the Lord want us to go out and investigate the lives of brethren who have left the church years ago to make sure they are not committing any of these sins before we can eat with them or mingle with them?  Absolutely not! These brethren are without. God will judge them. We only judge those who are within.

1 Corinthians 5:12, 13
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within?
13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

Consider the implications.  If “anyone named a brother” includes brethren who have left the church (that are without), this would also encompass all our brethren in the cups and Sunday school church of Christ.  If this were the case, a school teacher could not eat at a large social gathering with 250+ fellow teachers without investigating each and every person to make sure none of them are digressive members of the church in an unscriptural remarriage, etc… (In many communities, a great number of school teachers are members of the “cups and Sunday school” church of Christ). The reality is that eating in a gathering such as this would have absolutely no impact on the reputation of the church. No one would ever think Christians were accepting their wicked behavior.

The mention of these specific notorious sins corroborate that the brother mentioned is one who is attending church, professing Christianity, being named a brother. So the apostle is commanding that such a brother be withdrawn from to save the reputation of the church. 


4) The fourth reason we know the brother in verse 11 is not referring to a brother who has left the church is that the purpose of “not eating” and “not mingling with” is only effective if the brother is still attending church, and desires to be a part of it.

The “not eating” and “not mingling with” is only effective if the brother values being in Christ (highly treasures his membership in Christ’s body).  He realizes his connection to Christ is dependent upon his church membership. So he desires to be in the church, and worship in the corporate assembly.  He loves to mingle with the brethren and eat with them. Although he loves the church, he also loves a certain sin.  However the church’s holiness demands that SIN be put out of the church. [As a side note, notice the emphasis the apostle places on putting out the SIN from the church, rather than the individual committing the sin “there is fornication among you” (v.1) “put out the deed” (v.2). “Purge out the leaven” (v.7).  In order to maintain purity, the church must remove the sin, and the brother or sister who clings to that sin will consequently be put out with it.]

However, since we cannot put out the SIN without the SINNER, we put them both out. We follow 1 Corinthians 5:4, 5 and in a special assembly of the church, we withdraw from the fornicating brother.

1 Corinthians 5:4, 5
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
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.

We deliver “such an one” to Satan for the destruction of his flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (Notice the use of the same phrase “such a one” in verse 11).

1 Corinthians 5:11
11  But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

The use of “such an one” in both verses is further proof that verse 11 is discussing the same situation as verse 5 (i.e. one who is “among them”).

We put him out AND we cut off all association with him; we stop eating with him. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines “keep company” as “to mix up together.”

To continue to eat with him or mingle with him after the withdrawal ceremony has taken place would show that you condone his ungodly behavior and would impede his repentance.

[A consideration of certain passages in 2 Corinthians leads to the conclusion that the church in Corinth finally did withdraw from the sensuous offender, and that such brought him to repentance. This withdrawing of social interaction is called a punishment in 2 Corinthians 2:6.

2 Corinthians 2:6
6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man” (NKJV).

The brother who was put out of the church understood that he was being punished (disciplined) for his sin, and that the brethren desired his reconciliation.  Notice that we do not take it upon ourselves to punish a sinning brother individually. The punishment implemented is realized by the whole congregation in the fashion described in verses 4, 5 of 1 Corinthians 5.]

2 Thessalonians 3:6
6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

Again, the disorderly brethren he is referring to were not brethren who had left the church.  They were not deserters; they were soldiers of Christ who were “out of rank, out of one’s place, undisciplined, to behave disorderly, in the military sense, to break rank” (Vine’s Greek Dictionary). 

Breaking ranks refers to a soldier who steps out of military formation, a soldier with a rebellious, insubordinate attitude toward our Captain.  This is not a deserter, but rather one who steps out of line, rebelling against a higher rank.

2 Thessalonians 3:11
11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.

This verse makes it clear that the disorderly brethren “walk among you disorderly”. These brethren were walking among them.  They were WITHIN the church.

2 Thessalonians 3:14,15
14  And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
15  Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

One brother who was “disfellowshiped” by the cups and Sunday school church of Christ wrote,

I am marked by the church, and they don’t know how to act around me anymore…yet they knew me my entire life. Now they fear me. If they see me in the store, they try not to make eye contact, then turn the other way as fast as they can. There are no friendly greetings. No hint of even knowing each other . . . A stranger gets more respect than I do.

This man was not admonished as a brother, but was treated like an enemy. We must ensure that we do not treat the brother we have withdrawn from as an enemy, but exhort him with love to repent of his sin every time we see him.

Not eating with him and not mixing with him is a disciplinary measure to encourage his return.  Hopefully, he will look within and come to a sight and sense of his sin, be filled with shame for it, loath it, truly repent of it, and forsake it (2 Thess.3:14). He understands that he cannot be saved outside the church, and decides he would rather give up his sin than give up heaven, and so he chooses to come back.

In contrast, consider the case of a man who has left the church, and then sometime after his departure he starts to commit fornication. Eating with him at some big non-religious social gathering or engaging in limited association with him does not show that you or the church condones his behavior. 


Objection # 1 – If we eat with a brother who has “quit the church” we are having fellowship with him and Ephesians 5:11 commands us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them”. 

This reasoning confuses “eating” with “fellowship.”  This is an incorrect definition of fellowship.  Eating with someone does not indicate that you are “having fellowship” with that person in the Bible usage of the term.

Denominations equate eating with fellowship even to the point that they attach large dining rooms to their church houses which they identify as “fellowship halls.” 

However, sitting around eating and mingling socially with someone does not constitute fellowship.  Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners and was censured because of it by the Pharisees.

Mark 2:16
16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?

If eating with a person is fellowship, then Jesus and his disciples were having fellowship with sinners. Jesus and his disciples ATE with sinners, but did not have fellowship with them.  Therefore, EATING does not constitute fellowship.

1 Corinthians 10:27
27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

The preceding verse makes clear that eating with unbelievers is permissible.  It is a Christian liberty.

1 Corinthians 5:9, 10
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

We are allowed to associate with fornicators, covetous, extortioners of this world to a certain extent.  When we “keep company” with sinners (as Jesus and his disciples did) we are not having “fellowship” with them. If eating is fellowship, then eating with sinners would constitute fellowship with them.  We are commanded to have NO FELLOWSHIP with the empty works of darkness.

Ephesians 5:11
11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. 

Therefore this objection is invalid.  Since eating and keeping company is not fellowship, therefore Ephesians 5:11 does not apply.

Adam Clarke correctly explains “have no fellowship” in Ephesians 5:11 as meaning, “Have no religious connection whatever with heathens or their worship.”

Again, “eating” and “mingling” are forbidden in cases where the church removes a brother from among them. Social exclusion is an additional measure employed to “punish” a brother who is put out of the fellowship by the church. Likewise, it serves to encourage his repentance.

Objection # 2 – Eating with a brother who quits the church is a way for him to escape punishment. 

The cups and classes church of Christ in Collinsville, OK decided to withdraw from a member of the church named Marian Guinn in 1982 on the basis of sexual immorality. Once she was informed that the congregation was going to put her out of the fellowship, she replied that she formally withdrew her membership from the church. However, the church elders ignored her request and continued on with the withdrawal proceedings.  She sued the church claiming that by shunning her, it had defamed her, caused her severe emotional distress and invaded her privacy. She won the court case and was awarded $390,000.  

By removing herself from the church and emphatically asserting that she no longer desired to be part of the church, there was no need to “put her out,” since she was already out.

Since she removed herself from the church, does that indicate that it would be proper for the church to maintain a friendship with her?  Would it be appropriate for other church members to continue to eat with her or mingle with her?

Although she does not fall under the purview of 1 Corinthians 5:11, to eat with her and mingle with her socially would be a lack of good of judgment.

As with any type of social intermingling, God expects us to use prudence.  

Ephesians 5:11
11  Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”

For example, attending a LGBT rally, and eating with and mingling with these unbelievers would be unwise and sinful.  Primarily, since it is a public assembly in support of a sinful practice, it would be forbidden.

Psalm 1:1
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

In contrast, eating at a large family reunion, to which a relative who years ago was a former member of the church shows up in attendance, would in no way hinder your influence.  As a matter of fact, mostly likely it would present an opportunity for you to admonish him.

Whether it be associating with a former brother or with an alien sinner, each Christian must weigh each situation and consider its profitableness to himself and to those with whom he is mingling.  He must ask, “Will my association with them bring glory to God?”

1 Corinthians 10:31
31  Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God

A brother who has left the church no longer desires to be among us in the assembly or have close association with us, because we serve as a constantly reminder that he needs to repent.  Therefore, not eating with him or associating with him would not be a “punishment” for him, because he has no desire to be in the church (2 Co.2:6).  In most cases, the former brother who left of his own accord would esteem it more of a “punishment” to be around a faithful Christian who takes every opportunity to “expose” and “reprove” his unfruitful works. 

John 3:20
20  For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

Most likely, it would make the wayward brother feel uncomfortable to be around brethren whom he has rejected and turned his back on.  


 Disciplining a brother by engaging in social exclusion is only effective if the brother is in the church, is being rebellious, and still desires to remain a part of the church without relinquishing his sin.

Once a brother leaves the church, he is not under the jurisdiction of the church. We cannot apply disciplinary measures to one who has ceased attending church and does not consider himself a part of the church any longer. Discipline is for the unrepentant brother who is still among us, within the pale and fold of the church, who wants to stay among us, but who is shaming the church by his behavior. 

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The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”