With this foundational context in place, it’s now possible to let Paul speak for himself at length, as the modern observer is now situated at a meal (with symposium not far from the thoughts) with this particular Christian body and able to hear: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
When attempting to consider how this is to be interpreted first by its recipients, and then by the later church (throughout the centuries) that should make every effort to hear and understand as a first century listener so as to make proper application to practice in an attempt to live out what it would mean to be a Christian in their own situation (place and time), this cannot be read apart from a comprehension of the social forces that were at work and in place in that time.
Just as the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (initially a community meal to be sure that would eventually devolve to the symbols of bread and wine and the communion ceremony) would be a microcosm of all that was intended for the kingdom of the Creator God, so too would a celebratory meal and attendant symposium be a microcosm of the larger society in which such are taking place. Additionally, this section of the letter demands to be heard as a whole, without division or isolation of independent thoughts.
Because of the mention of not eating with such people and with the dis-association list given here that is repeated and expanded upon in the sixth chapter, it also demands to be heard in the context of a meal, thus reinforcing the insistence of this study. Finally, the letter demands to be heard in the context of what the meal says about the gathered body of believers, both to its participants and any observers. For purposes of this study, because of Paul’s mention of judging, the letter must be heard with a pronounced mindfulness of what Paul says about eating and drinking without careful regard for the body (of believers) and the eating and drinking of judgment that such would entail.
Yes, at the risk of redundancy, this letter must be considered in whole as the mounting argument that it is. One does violence to the text and to Paul’s thesis when statements are carelessly isolated and used as aphoristic-truth clubs with which to beat people over the head in an effort to reinforce previously arrived at conclusions that are based on subjective prejudices and biases. While one should recognize that Paul does indeed deal with a variety of problems, failing to see that there is a substantial progression that is based upon an underlying rhetorical movement with a particular point of reference, would be a wanton abuse of the Apostle’s work that might lead the reader into all sorts of erroneous conclusions while missing the larger point of the letter altogether. It is imperative to recognize that the substantial progression in the letter appears to be closely related to Paul’s concerns with “the body.”