According to Geza Vermes there was a difference between “entering the Covenant and entering the Community” at Qumran (The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English: Revised Edition, 34). If I understand him correctly, once one has gone through the long process of being accepted into the community they are then allowed to participate in Council of the Community. In 1QS there is a long list of things that can get people expelled from the group (VII.1-25 as translated by Vermes, pp. 107-108). The list includes the following infractions and the length of punishment:

(1) Lie about matters of property = one year

(2) Answer a companion with obstinacy or impatience = one year

(3) Utter the Most Venerable Name (i.e. violated the seventh commandment) = permanent explusion (“he shall be dismissed and shall return to the Council of the Community no more”)

(4) Speak in anger against a Priest = one year if intentionally; six months if not

(5) Deliberate lie = six months

(6) Insult a companion = one year

(7) Deceive a companion = six months

(8) Failed to care for a companion = three months

(9) Unjust malice or revenge =six months to a year

(10) Speak foolishly (?) = three months

(11) Interrupt a companion while speaking = ten days

(12) Fall asleep during an assembly = thirty days

(13) Left the assembly more than three times without reason during one gathering = ten days

(14) Depart while everyone is “standing” (for prayer?) = thirty days

(15) Go naked before companions “without having been obligated to do so” (?) = six months

(16) Spit during assembly = thirty days

(17) Dress poorly enough that when hand is removed from garment nakedness is seen = thirty days

(18) “Guffawed foolishly” or “burst into foolish horselaughter” (Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edwrd Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, p. 127) = thirty days

(19) Draw left hand out to gesture during conversation (Ibid) = ten days

(20) Slander companion = one year

(21) Slander the congregation = permanent explusion

(22) Murmur against the authority of the Community = permanent explusion

(23) Murmur against a companion unjustly = six months

(24) “Should a man return whose spirit has so trembled before the authority of the Community that he has betrayed the truth and walked in the stubbornness of heart” =  two years

(25a) If this happens to someone who has been part of the Community for ten years = permanent explusion

(25b) If anyone shares the community goods with this person = permanent explusion

Wow! When I read this I first thought, “The Apostle Paul was soft on the Corinthians! A man is sleeping with his father’s wife and he decides to ‘hand him over to Satan’ (1 Cor. 5.5). Yet he put up with everything else.”

When we consider the rules for participating in the Council of the Qumran Community it seems to shed a different light on the Pauline churches. Even if we see Jesus’ words regarding excommunication as reflecting the practices of those particular gospel communities it seems that the Christian church was much, much more gracious.

I have heard people chastise Paul for kicking the man out of the assembly for his sexual immorality or for commanding the church to disassociate with one who claims to be there own yet who is sexually immoral. For Paul there was never permanent expulsion (that I can recall). Even the man in 1 Cor. 5.5 is welcome back once he stops violating his father’s wife! 

This sheds some interesting light on what made the Christian sect different than the Qumran sect.