13 1 Corinthians 5:6-13 Leaven in the dough

by | Aug 7, 2019 | 01 Podcasts, Corinthians

Continuing his discussion of the man having an affair with his stepmother, Paul uses a common biblical analogy that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.  What exactly is he telling us about the church?


1 Corinthians 4 concludes the first major section of the book.  While Paul has moved on to a new topic, he’s still responding to the issues from the verbal report he received.

Paul’s responding to reports that one of Corinthians is blatantly and defiantly living in sexual immorality. 

In 1Corinthians 4:5:1-5, Paul made two points:

  1. Paul wants the church to make clear that this man’s behavior is incompatible with a claim to faith. 
  2. Paul wants them to take this action because it has the potential to redeem this man.

In 1Corinthians 5:6-13, Paul addresses the church’s attitude toward this situation. 


5:6Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. – 1Corinthians 5:6-8

  • The “you” in 1Corinthians 5:6-8 is the church community, not the individual in question.
  • The church is proud of their sophisticated and tolerant attitude toward this man having an affair with his stepmother.
  • Paul says they should be mourning the sin, not boasting about their acceptance of it.


  • Leaven is an agent that produces fermentation (like yeast, baking soda or baking powder) which causes the dough to rise.
  • Each time you make leavened dough, you hold back a piece to put into your next batch of dough and thereby pass the leaven on.
  • Unleavened bread is an essential part of celebrating Passover.
  • The metaphor is the pervasive influence of something that seems to be small and insignificant. 
  • Just like 1 drop of food coloring turns the entire batch of frosting white, a small seemingly inconsequential thing affects the whole.

The Metaphor of leaven

Option 1 – The lump is like the Corinthian church and the leaven is like the sinner.  This view is commonly taught but I think there’s a better option.

  • For this to be Paul’s point, he would have to view the Corinthian church as decent and moral except for this one sinner.  Yet Paul has said mostly negative things about the situation in the church in this letter.
  • We know from Paul’s other letters (e.g. Romans & Galatians) that Paul believes all of us are sinners. This openly defiant sinner can’t infect the rest of us, because we’re already infected. 

Option 2 – Like leaven infects the entire batch of dough, their acceptance of and casual attitude toward sin indicates a rebellious heart. This is the option that persuades me.

  • In the immediate context, Paul has just rebuked them for their boasting acceptance of this situation.
  • The picture is a little bit of rebellion makes the whole person a rebel.  You can’t pick and choose which of God’s instructions you’ll obey.
  • To live life ignoring God’s view of sin and evil is to be a rebel sinner

Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. – 1Corinthians 5:7

  • At Passover, the Jews were commanded to remove all the old leavened bread from their houses. 
  • The symbolism is starting over, and not carrying any of the old batch into the new batch. 
  • Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover.  The Passover was a shadow or a type of the deliverance to come and Jesus fulfilled that shadow. 

Paul uses 3 images that work together:

  1. The cleaning out of the leaven symbolizing leaving behind sin and the entire old way of life.
  2. The blood of the lamb making us acceptable to God symbolizing God’s making the way to forgive, accept and redeem His people.
  3. The new batch of dough symbolizing new life in Christ.

Believers will still struggle with sin, but we won’t take sin for granted anymore. Paul wants to see this change of attitude in Corinth. 

Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. – 1Corinthians 5:8

  • We should not live in our old pagan lifestyle of evil, malice and wickedness (with the old leaven). 
  • We should seek to live as our new unleavened selves single-mindedly seeking after what God says is true.

5:9I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler–not even to eat with such a one. 12For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. – 1Corinthians 5:9-13

See: How many letters did Paul write to the Corinthians?

  • Paul wrote a letter previous to this one which we don’t have. 
  • Paul told them not to associate with immoral people and they took him to mean they should withdraw from the world. Paul says that is not what he meant.
  • Rather his point was: Don’t let someone who doesn’t live consistently with the truth of the gospel fool himself into thinking he is a believer. 
  • The list in 1Corinthians 5:11 tells us Paul’s concerned with a wide range of behavior.
  • Paul is not describing the person who fell into one of the sins on this list and is grieved over it. 
  • Paul is describing the person who embraces and boasts in these sins and has no intention of repenting from them.


  • Paul says in 5:10, “I didn’t mean this. I meant that.” As Bible students, we should seek to discover the message the author intended.
  • Paul is NOT concerned with creating the institution of a church such that he is willing to sacrifice individuals to maintain the purity of the organization.
  • Every local church faces the temptation to become an institution that exists for the sake of the organization itself. 
  • Church should be an extended family, more than an organization.

For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.

Next: 14 1Corinthians 6:1-8 Taking legal action

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Series: 1 Corinthians: Pride & Prejudice in the church

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