We were going to discuss the matter of what happened to “some” in the church at Ephesus, who had cast away a good conscience, and who as a result, and that, too, as the just judgment of God suffered shipwreck in the faith!
What happened to these “some” in the church, among whom are particularly Hymeneus and Alexander, must serve to underscore for Timothy the urgency of this matter, that no other doctrine be taught than what had been given them by Paul, the apostle. This underscores the majesty of the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.
Writes Paul concerning Hymeneus and Alexander, “whom I have delivered unto Satan, in order that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
When I read this sentence I shudder; it is truly a terrible reality which is here uttered by Paul. It sobers one to think that one would be “delivered” to Satan.” None can sin in God’s church with impunity. God is not mocked. One puts off the shoes from his feet here; the ground is truly holy and the place is terrible; it is the house of God!
Just who this Hymeneus and Alexander were we do not know. That Hymeneus is mentioned twice by Paul in the New Testament Scriptures, and both times is mentioned first, seems to point to the fact that he was the leader. He and Alexander are, according to the text, guilty of blasphemy. In II Tim. 2:18 Hymeneus is mentioned together with Philetus. Here the sin of Hymeneus is that he teaches that “the resurrection is already past”! That was a casting away of a good conscience and of the truth in Jesus! And the result is that his teaching did eat like a cancer in the church. It would be like a little leaven which leaveneth the entire lump. Instead of a godly walk, in hope of a blessed resurrection, men would be induced to walk according to the slogan, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (I Cor. 15:32). Instead of a godly walk of thankfulness of Christian deliverance men would walk according to the idle dream of Epicureanism.
Now it had not gone well with this Hymeneus and Alexander, and with “some” others in the church. They had not heeded the work of Paul to walk as children of light, and to reprove the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11). Not heeding the warnings of putting off the old man and putting on the new man, they had not walked as children of the light. Instead they cast away a good conscience! The wrath of God, which comes upon the children of disobedience, came upon them. They suffered shipwreck in the faith. This was not only true of Hymeneus and Alexander, but this is also true of “some” others in the congregation at Ephesus!
The term to “cast away” is a very strong one. It means to deliberately reject and cast off. Thus the Israelite who did his neighbor wrong thrust off Moses, saying, who made thee a ruler and a judge over us. Acts 7:27. And in Romans 11:1, 2 the question is asked: Hath Godcast away his people? And in Acts 13:46 Paul says to the Jews: “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from your, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” From these passages it is evident that the term in our text “cast away” is a very strong term indicating a deliberate act. The text employs the aorist tense. It refers to the definite act of putting away a good conscience and the faith. And in that very act they suffered “shipwreck” as to the faith.
Now the idea of “suffering shipwreck” is certainly that of irreparable loss— not arriving at the destination, the harbor to which sail was originally set. The anchor, safe and sure within the holy place, does not hold. They are driftwood under the wrath of God. The assurance of the forgiveness of sins is gone. Faith is interrupted. There is nothing left. The thing that they lost in the “shipwreck” is faith. They lost it in the objective sense of the truth of the gospel. That Christ was delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification they no longer hold and believe. And the result is that when they try to find some stability they are simply cast from one error and demoniacal lie to the other. Never finding rest for their souls, they go from bad to worse.
Such was the lot of “some” in Ephesus.
But this was in a marked degree the case with the two mentioned men, Hymeneus and Alexander!
These latter two Paul had “given over to Satan in order that they might learn not to blaspheme.”
The question is: what does Paul have in mind when he says that he has given these over to Satan>
In the main there are two different interpretations of this matter.
On the one hand there is the interpretation which holds that the apostle is here speaking an extraordinary chastisement; a miraculous subjection to the power of Satan, such as involved special evils, and which could only be effected by apostolic authority, and, therefore, peculiar only to the age of the apostles. This is the view held by the Romish Church from earliest times, and it was much used to enhance the terrors of the priestly excommunication, and to justify the deliverance of ecclesiastical offenders into the hands of the civil authorities for punishment. Such an exegete as Meyer advocates this view of this passage, of course, without falling into the error of the Romanists. He takes the stand that Paul is here speaking of special authority which is his by virtue of his apostolic office to deliver an erring and recalcitrant sinner over to the power and torment of Satan. Writes he: “[it is] the characteristic designation of the higher grade of excommunication with which there is essentially joined the ordaining in the power of the apostolic office that Satan should plague the person delivered over to him with corporal inflictions.”
On the other hand there is the opposite view of Calvin, Beza, Turretin and others who hold that the formula “to deliver a person to Satan” is only a more solemn mode of stating the fact of excommunication as expressed by our Lord in Matthew 18:17 where we read: “and if he heed not the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen and a publican.”
Such are, in the main, the two interpretations of this passage under consideration.
What are we to say about them?
Dr. Kling in the Lange Series holds to the position that Paul is here speaking in the formula “delivered over to Satan” concerning the special apostolic deliverance to Satan. He reasons as follows:
1. Taking his starting point in I Cor. 5:5 he reasons that on the one hand Paul is speaking of excommunication from the church. The “giving over to Satan” refers to the “removal from among you” of the incestuous person (I Cor. 5:2) and also to the “putting away the wicked one from among your own selves” (I Cor. 5:13). Hence, so Dr. Kling, it must refer to the category of excommunication when Pau.1 speaks about delivering over to Satan.
2. On the other hand what Paul has in mind in “giving over to Satan” is more than regular excommunication as exercised by the church. Meyer gives the following reasons for this view:
a. The peculiar phrase itself. It is affirmed that the formula “Deliver over to Satan” cannot refer to the common and regular excommunication as performed by the church according to Matthew 18.
b. That the phrase “for the destruction of the flesh” in I Cor. 5:5 must refer to some affliction, sickness which was afflicted by Satan, so that through the sickness such an one would have the “flesh” destroyed, that is, the fleshly lusts.
c. And that Satan would then, in spite of his own evil designs, need to be a willing tool to terrorize his victim, that God’s design of Messianic salvation be his ultimate portion.
Those who hold such a position on the matter in I Cor. 5:5also hold that Paul is speaking in I Tim. 1:20 of such an apostolic and special form of excommunication. For it cannot be denied that Paul had apostolic authority. For such penal power reference is then made to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1) and the case of Elymas (Acts 13:9ff.). Here, so it is reasoned, we do not have simply excommunication, but the intensified form reserved for Paul in the power of Christ.
There is much in this presentation which sounds correct and true. It is, of course, not to be denied that Paul had power of excommunication. All the elements mentioned above are correct. However, to make this also a bodily affliction is not necessarily true in light of the text in I Cor. 5:5, nor in I Tim. 1:20. It should not be forgotten that even what is called the “less severe form of excommunication” performed by the congregation is really not less severe. When a man is “accounted to be a heathen and publican” by the church, what is “bound upon earth is bound in heaven”! The key-power of Paul is no different in its meaning and intention than that performed by the church through her regular offices. In either case a man is put outside of the kingdom of heaven and is thereby placed in the realm of the dominion of Satan. Compare Col. 1:13. A man who is excommunicated goes from the church to where the gates of hell prevail upon him. Let that not be forgotten! And therefore it is rather dangerous to speak of a severe excommunication in distinction from a milder form of it. Excommunication is i>ex-communication. It is putting outside of the kingdom of God and of Christ upon God’s command and injunction.
Since the text does not necessarily imply bodily afflictions but simply be given over to Satan’s terrorizing, accusing of those who have “cast away” faith and a good conscience, I rather believe that Paul states here the awful implication of “excommunication”!
For let it not be overlooked that Paul speaks here of the purpose of this excommunication. It is that “they learn not to blaspheme.” Their evil “flesh” must be destroyed. They must learn to humble themselves before God. Whether Hymeneus and Alexander actually learned this we are not told. We do know fromII Cor. 2:5 that the incestuous person spoken of in I Cor. 5did repent with a godly repentance not to be repented of. But here we are left in the dark. However this may be, fact is that such is the intent of “excommunication.” It is the last remedy. It is very severe; it is exceedingly painful and humiliating.
However, these men blasphemed Christ, the gospel and all the truth in Jesus. We are told that they preached a “different doctrine.” They did not desire the doctrine of free and sovereign grace. That Christ came into the world to save sinners they would not believe or teach. They lie about the Cross of Christ and scoff at it. And that they will learn not to do, either in heartfelt repentance or in their going down under the wrath of God.
If Paul has given such over to Satan how much more must Timothy, command certain in the congregation not to teach a different doctrine.
Mockers and scoffers take notice! See what happened to these two men. A similar fate will befall you, should you not beware.
Our God is a consuming fire!