Biblical Studies

Separation Anxiety III (2 Cor 6.14)

This section can be separated into three smaller sections: 6.14a begins with a command to separate from the unbelievers. 6.14b–16a contains five rhetorical questions to reveal to the Corinthians why they should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Finally, in 6.16b Paul conflates two Old Testament texts as the ground for their separation: the Corinthians are the dwelling place of God.

14Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.

For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?

Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

15What accord has Christ with Belial?

Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

16What 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. 

Paul closes 6.11–13 with a command for the Corinthians to open their hearts to him and opens this section with the command not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers.” To be “unequally yoked” comes from Leviticus 19.19 and, primarily, Deuteronomy 22.10, where the “clean” ox and the “unclean” donkey were not to plow together. Paul’s intention may be for the Corinthians to not be in any kind of spiritual relationship with pagans (1 Cor 8.1–10; 10.14, 19–22).

Yet Craig Keener says the “warning against being ‘mismatched’ would at least include marital unions. . . . [because] Paul is thinking of the rivals; as Paul wishes to deliver them [the Corinthians] still virgin to Christ, Satan’s agents threaten to corrupt them with their deceptive gospel (2 Cor 11:2–4)” (194). While not all commentators agree on this point, the “idols” (v. 16) are the false teachers whom Paul refers to as “unbelievers.” These false teachers (or “apostles”) are not merely in competition with Paul but preach an entirely different gospel than he does.

Paul makes clear what is at stake if the Corinthians support his opponents. Much of the terminology used in this section is used to describe the necessity of breaking free from demon-dominated idolatry.1 Keener remarks, “It is not difficult to envision Paul’s conflict with his rivals here; if the Corinthians must be reconciled to Paul to be reconciled to God (5:20–6:13), they also must reject his rivals for their affection” (193). Although up to this point, Paul has not explicitly condemned the false apostles, “If Paul’s precautions, specifically the fortification of the Corinthians against the lies of this ‘present, evil age,’ are real, then so are the spokespersons for this age, whose influence Paul has been seeking to undermine (2 Cor 5:12) throughout the letter, even while they are scarcely mentioned.”2


The believers in Corinth must recognize the opponents as unbelievers and separate from them. If the Corinthians refuse to obey this command, they too will be considered “unbelievers.” The seriousness of the separation from Paul’s opponents is grounded in the five preceding rhetorical questions which each anticipate a negative answer. Paul reinforces the notion of being yoked together with the word “partnership” (seen also in 1.7; 8.4; 9.13) and continues to touch on this theme in his remaining four rhetorical questions (“fellowship” [6.14c], “accord” [6.15a], “portion/share” [6.15b], and “agreement” [6.16a]).

Next time I will cover Paul’s five rhetorical questions.

[1] Compare 2 Cor 6.14 // 1 Cor 10.16–21; 2 Cor 7.1 // 1 Cor 8.7.

[2] DeSilva, David A. “Recasting the Moment of Decision: 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 in its Literary Context,” 4–5.

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