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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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EXCOMMUNICATION . In the OT the sentence against those who refused to part with their ‘strange’ wives ( Ezra 10:8 ) ‘his substance shall be confiscated and he himself separated’ is the earliest instance of ecclesiastical excommunication. This was a milder form of the ancient Heb. chçrem , curse or ban , which in the case of man involved death ( Leviticus 27:29 ), and devotion or destruction in the case of property. The horror of this curse or chçrem hangs over the OT ( Malachi 4:6 , Zechariah 14:11 ). Anathema , the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] equivalent of chçrem ( e.g . in Deuteronomy 7:26 , Joshua 6:17 , Numbers 21:3 ), appears in 1 Corinthians 16:22 ‘If any love not the Lord, let him be anathema ’ (which refers, as does also Galatians 1:8 , to a permanent exclusion from the Church and doubtless from heaven), and in 1 Corinthians 12:3 ‘No one speaking in the Spirit of God says, Jesus is anathema,’ i.e . a chçrem or cursed thing under the ban of God. Here there may be a reference to a Jewish brocard which afterwards gave rise to the Jewish tradition that Jesus was excommunicated by the Jews. The forms said to be in vogue in His day were: (1) niddûi , a short sentence of thirty days; (2) chçrem , which involved loss of all religious privileges for a considerable time; (3) shammattâ , complete expulsion or aquae et ignis interdictio . This last form, however, lacks attestation.

References in the NT to some form of Jewish procedure are: John 9:22; John 12:42; John 16:2 , Luke 6:22 , Matthew 18:15-17 may be a reference to some Jewish procedure that was taken over by the Church. It mentions admonition: (1) in private, (2) in the presence of two or three witnesses, (3) in the presence of the Church. The sentence ‘let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican’ involved loss of social and spiritual privileges (cf. Titus 3:10 ). 1 Corinthians 5:4 shows a formal assembly met ‘in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ to deliver one guilty of incest unto Satan, for the destruction of the flesh. The purpose of the punishment, ‘that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord’ (v. 5) is remedial, and shows that the sentence is not a life one, as anathema seems to be (cf. 1 Timothy 1:20 , where Hymenæus and Alexander are delivered to Satan , that they may be taught not to blaspheme). The Gr. word exarate , ‘remove,’ used in 1 Corinthians 5:13 , suggests ara , which means both ‘ curse ’ and ‘prayer.’ In this case, at all events, the curse was intended to lead to penitence and prayer. 2 Corinthians 2:6-11 seems to refer to a different case. Here the censure or punishment was given by ‘the majority’ without Paul’s intervention, as in 1 Corinthians 5:4; the purpose of his writing here is ‘that your ( v.l . ‘our’) care for us ( v.l . ‘you’) might be made manifest in the sight of God’; but there he writes for the man’s sake; here the sinner is discussed with leniency, there the case is stated with due severity. If the case be a new one, it shows a growing independence of the Christian communities, and also that the Corinthians had received a salutary lesson. The phrase ‘lest an advantage should he gained over us by Satan’ ( 2 Corinthians 2:11 ) refers to the term of excommunication which St. Paul wished to end, lest the punishment should defeat its end and lead to ruin instead of recovery, and so Satan should hold what was only, metaphorically speaking, lent to him to hurt. In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 the Apostle orders an informal and less severe excommunication of those who obey not his word. Its purpose, too, is remedial: ‘that he may be ashamed.’ St. John ( 2 John 1:10 ) orders a similar form, and 3 John 1:9-10 describes the manner in which Diotrephes receives neither him nor the brethren, does not permit others to receive them, and casts them out of the Church the first instance of one party in the Christian Church excommunicating another for difference of doctrine. The loss of social and spiritual intercourse was intended to lead, in such cases, to recantation of opinions, as in others to repentance for sin.

F. R. Montgomery Hitchcock.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Excommunication'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​e/excommunication.html. 1909.
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