Biblical Studies

Separation Anxiety IV (2 Cor 6.15-16)

A. We Are the Temple of God (6:14–18)

1. God’s Commands and Promises (6:14–16)

a. The Command to Separate (v. 14–16a)

i. Unbelievers (v. 14)

ii. 5 Rhetorical Questions (vv. 15-16a)

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?

b. The Promise of Fellowship (v. 16b)

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.

ii. 5 Rhetorical Questions (vv. 15-16a)

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]).

  1. Those blinded by the god of this world (4:4) are slaves “to impurity and to lawlessness” (Rom 6:19), but those who accept Christ (2 Cor 4:6), as Mark Seifrid says, “are righteousness” (5:21). God’s righteousness is wholly separate from sin and death (Rom 6:21-23; 2 Cor 5:21), and those who are in Christ and who are becoming the righteousness of God (5:21; 6:7b) are not to partner with the world which is passing away (5:17b).
  2. In his next question, Paul moves to “creational language”: light and darkness. Here Paul intends a life of obedience to the God who shines light into dark hearts (2 Cor 4:6; cf. Jn 1:5; 3:19; 12:46). The Corinthians cannot walk with God in fellowship (2 Cor 6:16c) while walking with Satan (11:2–3). Darkness is associated with Satan, the god of this age (4:4) and the ultimate source of unbelief (11:14; 12:7). Darkness was the blinded realm they were in prior to their knowledge of God’s glory in Christ (4:4; cf. Col 1:12–13), a realm of which they are no longer ignorant (2 Cor 2:11). A realm with a false light born by Paul’s rivals.
  3. Paul then moves to his third question with a focus on two sources of headship: Christ reigns over all (1 Cor 15:25–27) while Belial/Beliar is the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4; cf. Eph 2:2). The term “Belial” is not used as a personal name anywhere in the Old Testament “although it personified the forces of evil and chaos.” The term occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but it “is widely used as another personal name for Satan in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient writings.”
    Paul viewed Satan’s work through his personal opponents as one of treachery and worthlessness (2 Cor 11.13-15). “The conflict between Christ and Belial (6:15) appears in the conflict between Christ’s ambassadors (4:5–6; 5:20) and servants of Satan (11:14–15).” In hopes that the repentant majority (2:6) would not experience separation anxiety from their fellow “members,” Paul casts a dark shadow on his opponents by referring to them, their works, and their followers as being from Belial, the ultimate opponent of God.
    This brings into view those who live under the headship of Christ and Belial: believers and unbelievers (6:15b). Paul has the purity of the church in view here, for “in most of its OT attestations, bêliyya‘al functions as an emotive term to describe individuals or groups who commit the most heinous crimes against the Israelite religious or social order, as well as their acts.” Believers and unbelievers “belong to different spiritual spheres,” and Paul’s concern is to warn the Corinthians that to be associated with his unbelieving opponents is to be associated with Satan, the blinding god of this age, and vile worthlessness.
  4. In the Old Testament, no Israelite was to sell the “portion” of land God had given him (Lev 25:23). There were harsh consequences as a result of neglecting the land (Lev 26:35). The Holy Spirit cannot be bought with money nor by those with wicked intent (Acts 8:19–20, see “μερίς” in v. 21). For the Corinthians to give their life and loyalty over to the “worthless” false teachers by allowing them into the lives of God’s temple-family dwelling is for them to share some of their inherited “portion” (μερίς) with the “unbelievers,” the false apostles Paul later speaks of as “disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” just as Satan “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:13–15).
  5. Paul’s final rhetorical question in 6:16a ends with the dwelling place of the one deserving worship (“God”) and of those which do not (“idols”). Paul uses idolatrous terminology to show the dire consequences of the Corinthians separation from him to his opponents. Keener adds, “If the analogy with idolatry that dominates this section sounds too harsh to us to apply to Paul’s rivals, it is no harsher than ‘ministers of Satan’ in the passage where he becomes most explicit against his opponents (11:14–15).” They are to have nothing to do with idols precisely because they are “the temple of the living God” (6:16b) and not of dead idols (Ps 115:4–8).

The fact that the reference to the temple is the climax of Paul’s string of contrasts and the only one that has its own explicit support prior to this sentence (2 Cor 6:16a) highlights its significance. The Corinthians are the temple “of the living God” which is paralleled to the earlier mention of their having the Spirit “of the living God” (3:3), the guarantee (1:22; 5:5) of God’s promises in Christ (1:20). Under the new covenant believers have the Spirit of the living God in them, thus becoming the location where God dwells (2 Kgs 8:10–11; cf. Jn 1:14; 2:21–22).

Identifying the Corinthian believers with God’s temple consequently contains a warning of divine destruction against all who destroy God’s people, since the Corinthians, as God’s temple, are “holy” (1 Cor. 3.16-17; 2 Cor 7.1). If they fail to separate themselves from the false teachers, Paul will come to them in his third visit and cleanse God’s temple from all impurities (13:2). Paul’s command is an application of Scripture’s teaching and expectation of the way new covenant believers are to live (3:3, 6; cf. Jer 31:31). The words “as God said” (2 Cor 6:16c) remind the Corinthians “that the ultimate author of biblical revelation is God.”

b. The Promise of Fellowship (v. 16b)

“Paul now reinforces the theological assertion of 6:16b with a string of OT passages centering on the themes of God’s presence among his people and the consequent need for sanctification.” In this string is a conflation of texts from Leviticus 26:11–12, Ezekiel 37:27, Isaiah 52:11, Ezekiel 11:17, 2 Samuel 7:14, and Isaiah 46:6, respectively, which give the Corinthians six reasons why they are to separate from the “unbelievers.” Not only is Paul telling them to separate from the false teachers, but God himself is telling them to separate!

Paul alludes to and combines Leviticus 26:11–12 and Ezekiel 37:27, two contexts where a variation of “I will be your God, and you shall be my people” occurs. In Leviticus 26:11–12, covenant blessings are given to the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt. Now that God is in covenant with his people, he promises them that he will be in their presence (in the tabernacle) if they obey him. Verses 14–39 relay what would happen to Israel if they disobeyed God, with exile from their land being the worst consequence of all (v. 34). Verse 41 says that if they humble their “uncircumcised heart[s]” God will remember his covenant with their forefathers and will eventually bring them back as his people.

In Ezekiel 37:26, God gives the promise of an “everlasting covenant” (cf. Jer. 32:40; 50:5) to Israel when his “servant David” is “king over them” (v. 24). This promise of a new covenant was brought about by the need for a second exodus where God would finally fulfill His purpose of living among His people. In 2 Corinthians 3:3–6, Paul declares that the Corinthians are under the new covenant, which is “permanent” (or “everlasting,” cf. Jer. 32:40; Ezek. 37:26) in glory (2 Cor 3:11) and causes them to be transformed into the “same image” (3:18).

The Corinthians are new covenant believers, and God’s presence in them is the guarantee (1:22) that they are his people who will be resurrected (5:4–5) and who will enter into the consummated new creation (5:17). It is because the Corinthians are God’s people, temple, and place of dwelling that they should separate from the unbelievers. They were betrothed to one husband, Christ, and are to be presented as a pure virgin to him (11:2).


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