Biblical Studies Paul

Separation Anxiety V (2 Cor 6.17-18)

Paul has given the Corinthians commands to separate from the false teachers and reminds them that they are the place where God’s presence dwells. Because of this, they should follow God’s commands to separate from the unclean false teachers and and their followers. By doing so they will be welcomed by their Father as they are re-reconciled to his ambassador, Paul.

Detailed Outline

A. We Are the Temple of God (6:14–18)

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

2. Our Welcoming Father (6:17–18)

a. Leave (v. 17a-c)

17  Therefore go out from their midst,

and be separate from them, says the Lord,

and touch no unclean thing;

b. Welcome Home (v. 17d–18)

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.”

B. Bringing Holiness to Completion (7:1)

2. Our Welcoming Father (6:17–18)

a. Leave (v. 17a-c)

The Corinthians are God’s people (6:16). They are being transformed into his righteous image day by day (3:18; 5:21). Those who do not live for Christ “who for their sake died and was raised” (5:15) will be part of the old creation and will pass away (5:17). Because they are God’s own, they should separate from the unclean unbelievers (6:14a), “deceitful workmen” who teach a false gospel (11:13–15; cf. Gal 1:9).

In the first three lines of 2 Cor 6:17 Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:11. In Isaiah 52:7-10, God reigns as King from Zion and exhorts his people to leave Babylon and not touch any unclean thing. “Presumably, the sense is that a grand return to Zion, the city of the holy king, requires that anyone returning be pure.”[1] The “sprinkling” that occurs in v. 15 “will effect a purification that will enable not only exiled Jews but also ‘many nations’ to approach the holy king and be part of the holy community.”[2]

Because of the death of God’s Servant (53:4) which brings peace between the believer and God (53:5; cf. Rom 5:1; 2 Cor 5:18), the Corinthians have been sanctified (1 Cor 1:2) and are called to remain pure. In this second exodus, it is “precisely because that work has been accomplished for [the Corinthians, that] they therefore are to so act and do.”[3] Because God revealed his holy arm for all to see his salvific work (Isa 52:10), the priests are to bring the Lord’s vessels out of Babylon.

All of the Corinthians, likened to priests (cf. 1 Pet 2:5, 9 from Exod 19:5–6), are to separate from what is unclean. The unbelievers are not outside of God’s people; they are threatening the very life of his people from within. The Corinthians must not remain where they are, but they must actually do something. “In the new covenant, works are a God-elicited and necessary part of the life of the converted person, a constant theme in the New Testament.”[4]

Here the Corinthians are to “go out from their midst” (2 Cor 6:17a). “The city is naturally associated with its people” (Rev 18:4), and the people here are the false teachers (and perhaps, any who remain associated to them, [“from among them” in Exod 7:5; Ps 136:11]).[5] Yet, at one time, such were the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:11a) associated with “Babylon,” but they have been sanctified (1 Cor 6:11b). The imperative to separate is limited and defined by the larger context of God’s welcoming his people, despite their rebellions and ill-chosen actions.[6]

b. Welcome Home (v. 17d–18)

What is this larger context? If the Corinthians will obey this command, God will welcome them, be a father to them, and they will be his sons and daughters (2 Cor 6:17d–18). In Isaiah 52 God calls his people out of Babylon as a result of his “second exodus” redemptive act (Isa 43:18–19). As a result of their obedience, God promises to gather Israel back and bless them (Ezek 11:17; cf. 20:34, 41). Likewise, just as the Corinthians should separate because of their redemption out from Babylon’s sin and death, the result will be the God will welcome them as a father welcomes his children.

Besides the brief mention of Ezekiel 11:17, Paul conflates 2 Samuel 7:14 and Isaiah 43:6 here in 2 Corinthians 6:18. “During his public accession to the throne, the king underwent an enthronement ceremony in which he was designated as God’s son” (2 Sam 7:14a; Ps 2:7). In 89:27 the king cries a declaration that God is his Father, and he is promised an eternal throne (89:27, 36). Jesus, descending from King David, was declared to be the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:3-4), and those in him are “sons of God” (8:14). Believers in Christ, the Davidic king who simultaneously shared in God’s kingship and Spirit and uniquely represented God’s people,[7] can cry a declaration that God is their Father (8:15; cf. 2 Cor 1:20).

Isaiah 43.6 expresses the second exodus in terms of God bringing back his sons and daughters. This promise is seen also in 60:4, which includes “in its context the promise that Israel will again worship at a restored temple” (Isa. 60:7, 13).[8] By using “sons and daughters,” Paul shows that God’s presence is not found in a mere temple, but in a family.[9]

Why should the Corinthians not be unequally yoked and separate from the false apostles? Because God is their Father and has redeemed them and reconciled them to himself; they are new creations in Christ. Who are God’s sons and daughters? The Corinthians who separate from the false teachers. They must detach themselves from the false teachers while anticipating God’s final promises of a continued relationship and of the final redemption of this world.

The Corinthians are able to be separate only by the power of the One who announced these Old Testament commands, “the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:18c). This is the only time the phrase “the Lord Almighty” is used in Paul’s writings. It comes from 2 Sam 7:8 and 27 [LXX] and “stresses the invincible power that belongs to God.”[10] The Lord, as the loving Father, is almighty enough to give His children the ability they need to separate from unclean. He keeps his promises (2 Cor 1.20), and they must walk by faith in obedience to him (5.7).

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