Q.

I have a question about 1 Corinthians 5:1. Was this prohibition based on the Old Testament law? If so, I thought we are not under the law’s prohibitions.

A.
The passage in your question reads, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife.” The apostle Paul was writing to the carnal Corinthian church about the tolerance of evil within her constituency. In this particular matter he was putting his finger upon a situation in which a man was having sexual relations with “his father’s wife,” which meant the immoral man’s stepmother. Most Bible scholars believe that the woman was an unbeliever.

In dealing with this sin, which was incest, Paul had to be appealing to Old Testament prohibition as a basis against this type of union. Deuteronomy 22:30 warns, “A man shall not take his father’s wife.” Leviticus 18:6–8 also notes this sin. But observe also that the apostle Paul emphasized that even the ungodly, sex-crazed Gentiles had the decency to skirt this practice of incest: it was “not even named among the Gentiles.” Even Roman law forbade the practice, and Cicero, the great orator and political leader of ancient Rome said of it, “Incredible wickedness, such I never heard of in all my life besides.”

This man’s sin, by the way, was not a onetime incident. The word “has” in verse 1 suggests a long-term relationship. Regarding the matter of the law that you asked about, we are not under the sacrifices, ceremonies, washings, holy days, observances, conditions, and liturgies that the law prescribed. However, the principles of the law with reference to morality and worship are yet real. That Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross took away the law system’s detail doesn’t mean, for example, that we throw away the Ten Commandments. We are not saved by keeping them, but they are a God-given standard for us, and we find reference to them in the New Testament and our present dispensation (Matthew 6:24; Ephesians 4:28, 29; Ephesians 6:1; and Romans 13:8–10). God’s moral laws transcend time and are absolute.

Also, we see much worship in the law. The book of Leviticus, one of the books of the Law, is a book of worship. Though we do not worship today having to use these rituals and places (John 4:21–24), we still worship, and we can see truth pointing to Christ by the instruction that the Old Testament books containing the law give us.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (November 1999).
© 1999 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.