In 1 Cor. 5:9-11, we find Paul saying, “I wrote unto you in my epistle to have no company with fornicators;  not at all meaning with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world:  but as it is, I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat.” The construction of the sentence, as well as the context, seems to indicate that “keeping company” and “to eat” are practically synonymous. That is, they involve the kind of intimate relationship and approval of actions as is suggested by Proverbs 29:3, which says, “But he that keepeth company with harlots wasteth his substance.” It seems evident that if a person simply ate with publicans and sinners (including harlots) as Jesus did, that would not involve “keeping company” with them, even though the hateful, jealous Jews might have so interpreted it. This may be why Charles Hodge says in his Commentary on 1 Corinthians, pages 112-113, “With such an one no not to eat. This does not refer to the Lord’s supper, which is never designated as a meal. The meaning is, that we are not to recognize such a man in any way as a Christian, even by eating with him. It is not the act of eating with such persons that is forbidden. Our Lord ate with publicans and sinners, but he did not thereby recognize them as his followers. So we may eat with such persons as are here described, provided we do not thereby recognize their Christian character.”

It is one thing to know what the scriptures say. It is another thing to make a practical application of that scripture. Before we present some problems that have come to our attention in trying to make a practical application of these verses and other related ones, let us note some other scriptures that touch the same theme.

In Matthew 18:15-17, we find, “And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.  But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established.  And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican.” Much of the discussion we have heard regarding this verse is regarding the propriety of criticizing our brother who is teaching false doctrine without going to him first. That is a legitimate discussion. We are not concerned with that at this time, but primarily with what is involved with “letting him be unto thee as the heathen (AV) and the publican.”

In 2 Thes. 3:14-15, a little more light is cast on the principles by which we should act as Paul says, “And if any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle, note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed. And yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

There are two primary ideas in these passages we want to examine. First, what is involved in the expression, “keep company,” or “have no company with.” Second, how is the admonition not to eat with the person who is not in fellowship with faithful brethren to be applied.

We checked through all the writings of the so called “Church Fathers” but find little of any value in this matter, for although almost all Bible students from the days of  the Apostles until now seem to recognize that church discipline is important, and that Christians are not to have fellowship with ungodly people, many of those from the 3rd century  through the Reformation movement were so bound up with the concepts of the authority of the bishops and what evolved into the Roman hierarchy that their comments are of very little value. However, we shall note a few comments of some scholars.

In Vincent’s Word studies, page 249, he says concerning 1 Cor. 5:9, “To company (sunanamignusthai): Only here and 2 Thessalonians 3:14. The translation company is inadequate, but cannot perhaps be bettered. The word is compounded of sun together, ajna up and down among, and, mignumi to mingle. It denotes, therefore, not only close, but habitual, intercourse.” Surely the kind of casual relationship of merely sitting at the same table with a son or a father who is out of fellowship, and eating is not in the same category as “keeping company and eating” in close, deliberate and habitual fellowship with a fornicator, drunkard or idolater with whom you have no legitimate reason to associate unless it is in a deliberate effort to convict him that Christ’s way is better.

Calvin, on page 1386 of  his Institutes of Christian Religion says, in his comments on 2 Thess. 3:15 where Paul has said, “Count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother,” “If this humanity be not observed in private as well as public, the danger is, that our discipline shall degenerate into destruction.”

Now, let us present some problems that have come to our attention, to which we shall try to give an answer, trying to apply the principles we have discovered. First, Mr. Brown, Jones or Smith has been disfellowshipped for some scriptural reason. His wife is a faithful member of the congregation. The scriptures teach that with such a one you are not to keep company nor eat. How is the wife supposed to act in this situation?

The second problem is similar. Mr. John Doe has a son who has been disfellowshipped. His son lives in the same house with him. How is brother Doe, who is a faithful Christian to apply the scripture that says not to “company with such a one, no not to eat?”

Perhaps the comments of brother Guy N. Woods in his Questions and Answers Vol II, page 33-34 may be of some value. He says, “It seems clear that Paul was not alluding to a relationship involving husband and wife in the passage cited. The laws of God are never in conflict; all truth is harmonious with itself, and the principles under which God ordains we are to live are never contradictory. Wives have duties to heir husbands-whether they are Christians are not-and these duties harmonize with their obligations as Christians, as well. Marriage relationships were designed of God to take precedence over all other relationships; any situation later arising must be understood in the light of this fact. The Christian wife should therefore continue to live with her husband and use her influence to bring him to repentance. 1 Peter 3:1, though not directly applicable to this matter, nonetheless indicates the principle involved.” That scripture says, “In like manner, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, even if any obey not the word, they may without the word be gained by the behaviour of their wives.”

Trying to put all these thoughts in perspective, we have come to the following conclusions at this time. If we learn more, we may come to different conclusions later. First, when the elders have properly examined the situation and have properly stated that the congregation is not in fellowship with a certain person, all members of that congregation should respect that conclusion and act in harmony with it. Even the wife of the person, or the father of the person should indicate by their words and actions that they do not “keep company” with those whose lives are not in harmony with God’s will and are not in fellowship with Him. As I understand it, this involves any sort of words or actions that indicate that they approve of such actions. I do not think that Jesus “kept company” with harlots or other kinds of habitual sinners, although they “drew near unto him to hear him” (Lk15:1) and he ate with them (Mt.9:10). This eating was not the kind that involved “keeping company and eating” that is forbidden in 1 Cor. 5:9. Surely it does not take a Greek scholar, or a theologian to conclude that if we follow the example of Jesus we are not thereby transgressing the law of God! It is my judgment that both the comments of brother Guy N. Woods and those of Charles Hodge quoted above apply in this situation.

It seems apparent that Paul in 1 Cor. 5:9 recognizes that when a person “has company” with the ungodly in the world, he merely engages in whatever civil or social activities he must engage in, since they are in the world and he has to have some kind of relationship with them. That relationship is not to be such that he indicates approval of their actions and style of living. When he says about a brother that is a fornicator, covetous, an adulterer, idolater, etc., that we are not to keep company with him, not even to eat with him, he is emphasizing that same truth even more emphatically. That is, you would have to go out of the world if you did not have some sort of relationship with them, but when “keeping company” or eating with them would indicate approval of their wicked ways, you must not do it.

As I understand the situation, for a wife to eat with the husband from whom the church has withdrawn would no more indicate that she had fellowship in his wickedness  or approved of it than if a lying thief came to her door begging for food and she gave him some of her dinner would indicate that she approved of his lying thievery. The same thing would be true for a father who eats with his son, yet follows the admonition of Paul in 2 Thess. 3:14-15. He may admonish him as a brother, but not count him as an enemy. My judgment is that he can do this without “having company” with him in the sense that the Bible forbids. As Solomon implied in Proverbs 29:3, it is improper to “keep company” with harlots, but the kind of company to which he refers involves “wasting his substance with them,” not merely the kind of casual relationship that would occur just by eating at the same table with them.

Let me urge you, however, that if it would hurt your conscience to even sit in a restaurant with a brother from whom a church has withdrawn because you think that would be displeasing to God and you think that you would be “having company” with and eating with him, contrary to God’s will, for the sake of your soul, do not sit there and eat in the same room with him. If you violate your conscience by eating meat offered to idols, or by eating meat in the same room with an erring brother, you sin against God. However, do not try to bind on others your conclusion about the impropriety of eating meat, or you may find yourself in the position of the Pharisees who condemned Christ because of what they, in their blindness and prejudice, conceived of “keeping company and eating” with publicans and sinners, including harlots.

T. Pierce Brown

1068 Mitchell Ave.


(615) 528-3600



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