The Church as God’s Temple 2: A Consecrated Dwelling

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

(14) Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (15) What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
     and I will be their God,
     and they shall be my people.
(17) Therefore go out from their midst,
     and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
     then I will welcome you,
(18) and I will be a father to you,
     and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

In the prior chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul ascends to the heights of theology to proclaim the towering truth of Christ’s new creation wrought by the reconciling of sinners to God through the gracious imputation of Christ’s righteousness (cf. 2 Cor 5:17-21).  As is typical for Paul, a doctrinal address leads naturally to a practical address; so in 6:1, Paul says, “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”  He then quickly turns to a parenthetical excursus about the intense hardships of his ministry, but in 6:14 he returns to his exhortation of the Corinthian church: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”  Alfred Plummer traces the origin of the yoke imagery to Deuteronomy 22:10, which prohibits the teaming of animals of different species to pull the plow; thus he says, “Heathen belong to one species, Christians to quite another, and it is against nature that Christians should be yokefellows with them.  They will not walk as Christians do, and Christians must not walk in their ways.”[1]  Commentators agree that this “yoke” relationship is not limited only to marriage (the most natural and most frequently presumed application among Christians) but to various other intimate or binding arrangements with nonbelievers as well.[2]

Paul then names several pairs of opposites to illustrate the radical dichotomy between Christians and pagans.  By way of analogy, “believer” is to “unbeliever” as “righteousness” is to “lawlessness,” “light” is to “darkness,” “Christ” is to “Belial,” and “the temple of God” is to “idols” (2 Cor 6:14-16).  This last comparison is placed at the end specifically so that Paul may elaborate upon it, which is itself a strong case for seeing the antithesis between God’s temple and idols as particularly important among the lot.  As Plummer explains, “The history of Israel had shown with terrible distinctness that God allowed no agreement between His house and idols.…  The absolute incongruity is between God’s sanctuary, in which not even an image of Himself might be put up, and images of false gods.”[3]  Hodge rightly recognizes the additional significance of idolatry as a recurring point of concern for Paul in the Corinthian letters, as the church wrestled with the ethical implications of their participation in pagan idol feasts and festivals.[4]

At this juncture, Paul makes plain the basis for his prohibition and for the church’s essential incompatibility with the pagans: “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16).  The church is not only at odds with the heathen because of the new creation worked in her by God; the church is at odds with the heathen because of God’s very presence dwelling in and among her.  After stating thus, Paul offers proof of the church’s status as God’s temple by combining a number of Old Testament passages:[5]

I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
rrrrand I will be their God,
rrrrand they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
rrrrand be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
rrrrthen I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
rrrrand you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty (2 Cor 6:16b-18).

Beale draws out the significance of the fact that Paul treats the church as fulfilling this Old Testament temple prophecy; this means that “Paul is not merely making an analogy between a temple idea and that of Christians, but that Christians are the beginning fulfillment of the actual prophecy of the end-time temple.”[6]  Paul’s teaching of the church as God’s temple is not an illustration; it is a reality!  Indeed, this is the only way it could hold such immediate and radical ramifications.  Even within his Old Testament quotation, we see once again that Paul’s theology drives him directly to call out its demands upon the life of the church: “Therefore go out from their midst…” (2 Cor 6:17).  Yet even this he follows to its conclusion—that is, to the blessings of sonship and fellowship given to the obedient (2 Cor 6:18).

Paul could scarcely be clearer about the necessary connection of orthodoxy to orthopraxy than he is in the closing remarks to his temple discourse: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body [sarx] and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).  Herman Ridderbos observes the connection between the ethical cleansing here endorsed by Paul and the ritualistic cleansing necessary for temple worship and participation in the old covenant.[7]  Commentators hold various views on Paul’s meaning by “flesh and spirit” in this particular instance, since the two are typically cast in opposition to one another in the Pauline epistles.  In light of the preceding phrase’s emphasis on totality (“every defilement”), we favor Plummer’s interpretation of “flesh and spirit” in this verse as a merism signifying the whole person;[8] however, interpretations such as Hodge’s which see more significance in the two terms individually are by no means unacceptable.[9]

Regardless, Paul’s primary meaning in the passage is clear as day: “The presence of God requires the purity of his people.”[10]


[1] Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians (ed. S. R. Driver, A. Plummer, and C.A. Briggs; ICC; Edinburgh, England: T. & T. Clark, 1915), 206.

[2] Says Ladd, “This must refer to relationships with idolatrous pagans of such a sort that it compromised one’s Christian testimony.”  George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 540.

[3] Plummer, Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, 208.

[4] Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians, 542.

[5] For a listing of the potential OT texts from which the quotation could be compiled, see Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 254-255.  Regarding the general practice of NT writers “[quoting] the Scriptures as saying what is nowhere found in so many words, but what nevertheless the Scriptures clearly teach,” see Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians, 549.

[6] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 254.  Emphasis original.

[7] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (trans. Richard John De Witt; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 262.

[8] Plummer, Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, 204-205.

[9] Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians, 550.

[10] C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (ed. Henry Chadwick; BNTC; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1973), 200.

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One thought on “The Church as God’s Temple 2: A Consecrated Dwelling

  1. Pingback: The Church as God’s Temple 3: One Holy Catholic Dwelling | Calling Out Your Name

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