This involves varying degrees of exclusion from the community of the faithful because of error in doctrine or lapse in morals. The term excommunicatus first appears in ecclesiastical documents in the fourth century. Discipline in the primitive church followed the Jewish model; cf. the threefold warning recommended for an offending brother in Matthew 18:15-17 (privately, before two or three witnesses, before the whole assembly), which conforms to Jewish practice.
The origin of excommunication in Christian terms is normally traced to the saying of Jesus about “binding and loosing” in Matthew 16:19 (to Peter) and 18:18 (to the disciples; cf. John 20:23). Even if such legislation were relevant at the time when the Evangelists wrote, there is no need to regard it as post- Easter invention. Paul advocates degrees of sanction to deal with offenders in the church, ranging from social deprivation (2 Thess. 3:10,14f.) to full exclusion from the community (1 Cor. 5:13; cf. v. 5 and 2 Cor. 2:5-11). The punishment in this case was the responsibility of the whole assembly (1 Cor. 5:4) and intended for the good of both the offender and the church (vv. 5- 7; cf. 1 Tim. 1:19f.). With the growth of the church, the problem of the authority to excommunicate also arose (cf. 3 John 9f.).
In the primitive Christian community, excommunication as such (“hand over to Satan,” 1 Cor. 5:5) implied complete isolation from the faithful. By the fifteenth century, a distinction had been introduced between excommunicates who were to be shunned for gross error (the vitandi) and those to be tolerated (the tolerati, who were rigidly excluded only from the sacraments). This distinction still operates in the Roman Catholic Church. In modern Protestant circles, despite the Anglican canons, formal excommunication is rarely imposed.
See also Anathema, Discipline, and Heresy.
EXCOMMUNICATION. The temporary or permanent exclusion of a church member from fellowship with the church.
Under the Old Covenant excommunication was represented by the ban (חֵ֫רֶם, H3051) placed on those who violated the Mosaic law, and as a result placed themselves outside the covenant relationship (e.g.
In the NT there are references to Jewish discipline in relation to the synagogue (
In the teaching of Christ.
The Lord clearly recognized the place of church discipline. He gave His apostles, and through them the Church, the power to bind and loose (
In the apostolic era.
Being deprived of Christian fellowship the offender loses any false sense of security he might otherwise enjoy by being allowed to remain in fellowship with the church. He must be brought to see the heinousness of the sin he has committed, and at the same time the world in general must be made aware that blatant sin cannot be tolerated within the Christian Church. Opinions vary as to the meaning of the Pauline phrase “the destruction of the flesh” (
Mention is made of action taken by a majority vote of church members, which resulted apparently in a change of heart on the part of the offender. The apostle asks that the church shall now regard the matter as closed and restore the disciplined member to full fellowship (
It seems that in the Early Church excommunication was exercised on both moral and doctrinal grounds. In the church at Corinth (
The purpose behind the exercise of church discipline is both to safeguard the purity of the church itself and to bring home to the offender his need of repentance. Those who are called upon to enforce such discipline must always be aware of their responsibility to restore the guilty party if and when he truly repents.
It is not absolutely clear from the NT what precise form excommunication took in every case. It would seem, however, that by the time the
Whereas the exercise of church discipline is open to abuse (cf.
J. Bannerman, The Church of Christ (1869), II, 186-200; D. D. Bannerman, The Scripture Doctrine of the Church (1887), 144-146, 176-188, 201-203; A. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, ii 183, 184 (1891); SHERK 236 (1909).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Arts. in HDB, DB, Jew Eric, DCG; Martensen,, III, 330 ff; Nowack, Benzinger, Heb Archaeol.; Commentary in the place cited.