DID PAUL QUOTE VERSES OUT OF CONTEXT IN 2 CORINTHIANS 6:14–7:1?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“I would like to hear your thoughts on a passage of Scripture. As you know, in the church today it is the norm to take Scripture out of context and apply it wherever you wish to make your point. In 2 Corinthians 6:16–7:1 it almost seems that Paul is doing this very thing. We know that the passages he is quoting are about Israel and yet in 7:1 he says that they are our promises as well. I know that there is an explanation to this that I am missing. I would appreciate your help, Brother.”
Yes, Brother, the verses that Paul quoted in that passage were originally to and about Israel. Yet, the Holy Spirit through Paul selected them to apply to us. When you take the time to study those Old Testament references and then recognize the extensive spiritual troubles in the Corinthian assembly, you see why these verses from Israel’s program were used in the second epistle to apply to the Corinthians (and to us). I believe that the following study is the “explanation that you are missing.” 🙂
There are various parallels between Israel and the Church the Body of Christ. While these groups should certainly never be confused with each other (different gospels, different apostles, different operating systems, different hopes, et cetera), there are similarities between these two agencies of believers. Whether the nation Israel or the Church the Body of Christ, Jesus Christ is the Saviour of both, the Son of God in both, and the resurrected Lord in both. Another similarity is that Satan uses false religion to seduce members of the Body of Christ today just as he did with the nation Israel in time past (or will do with Israel yet future). Whether in prophecy or mystery, Satan’s policy of evil is designed to distract God’s people from God’s current program. As long as Satan can entice God’s people to think about something else, they will be ignorant of God’s will for them and His Word to them. If Satan can pollute God’s people with garbage teaching, they cannot be productive vessels of His grace.
THE CORINTHIANS AND DOCTRINAL ERROR
Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that Satan was using a lot of erroneous doctrine to distract the Corinthian believers. (The same is true today with believers!) We will briefly look at some examples of how Satan was actively opposing and greatly upsetting God’s purpose and plan for the Corinthians.
Firstly, according to the first three chapters of the first epistle to Corinth, human philosophy was being used as a means to try to discover Father God’s will. Paul had to correct such thinking in those passages, warning the Corinthians that they were polluting themselves with doctrine that would amount to nothing at the Judgment Seat of Christ. They needed God’s wisdom instead of human wisdom (note particularly 1 Corinthians 2:1-16). In light of eternity, they needed the Scriptures, especially Paul’s writings, instead of the writings of the Greek poets, the speeches of the Greek orators, and so on.
Secondly, chapters 8, 10, and 11 of First Corinthians are the Holy Spirit’s reminder to the Corinthians that they should not participate in heathen religion. The Holy Spirit reminded them in chapter 10 to not repeat Israel’s mistakes and go the way of apostasy. Paul retold how Israel started off right by coming out of Egypt in faith but then they abandoned God’s Word to them (Law of Moses) and participated in idol worship. Satan was using a similar tactic to defile of the Corinthians, except he was drawing the Corinthians away from Paul. False apostles had come to Corinth and encouraged these believers to defile their Christian lives with doctrinal error. This “fellowship with devils” and “table of devils” is frequently referenced throughout chapters 10 and 11 of First Corinthians. The Holy Spirit screamed against such madness!
Thirdly, in chapter 15 of First Corinthians, we learn that some of these believers had begun to deny Christ’s bodily resurrection (verse 12). After Paul had come and preached to them, someone teaching pagan philosophy misled the Corinthians to reject the doctrine of bodily resurrection. That entire chapter was aimed at correcting their error and defending the veracity of the doctrine of bodily resurrection.
Lastly, by the time Paul and Timothy wrote Second Corinthians, about a year after the first epistle, the saints there had reformed in some areas but still had other major problems. The Corinthians only acknowledged Paul and Timothy “in part” (2 Corinthians 1:14). Some Corinthians refused to submit to Paul’s apostleship (does that sound familiar?). A portion of those believers accepted him as a legitimate apostle of Jesus Christ but the rest rejected him (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:10-12; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33). Throughout chapters 10 through 13 of his second epistle to Corinth, Paul answered his detractors and defended his apostleship. As mentioned earlier, false teachers had infiltrated Corinth and had made these believers turn away from Paul. Again, as Satan turned Israel away from God’s spokesman to them, Moses (1 Corinthians chapter 10), Satan turned the Corinthians away from God’s spokesman to them, Paul. Another passage in 2 Corinthians that identifies their spiritual wickedness involves your question. It is Second Corinthians chapter 6 which lists verses that God told Israel so that they would remain pure doctrinally (or to encourage them to return to pure Bible doctrine when they abandoned it).
With the above as background, now we can look at your question. It becomes very clear why Paul wrote what he did and quoted what he did in that passage.
2 CORINTHIANS 6:14–7:1 AND ITS OLD TESTAMENT PARALLELS
We will read 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1: “[6:14] Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? [6:15] And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? [6:16] And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [6:17] Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, [6:18] And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. [7:1] Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
By the way, as you are probably aware, verse 14 is often used to teach that Christians are not to marry lost people. However, Paul’s comments about marriage are in First Corinthians chapter 7—verse 39 of that chapter says Christians should marry only Christians. In verse 14 of 2 Corinthians chapter 6, the passage currently under discussion, being “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” is a reference to associating with idol worship and false religion (remember our earlier comments). The next several verses amplify this enjoining to avoid doctrinal error.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” The Old Testament book of Amos sheds light on this expression. Just as the fifth course of judgment was about to come upon Judah, God sent prophets to warn the Jews of His impending wrath. For centuries, they had committed spiritual adultery. They had worshipped and served other gods long enough. Now there was divine chastisement on the way! To highlight their spiritual error and cause them to think of that error, God asked them in Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” The Jews were not worshiping JEHOVAH God. They were not walking with Him. Instead they were fellowshipping with false religion and pagan idols. They were walking in foolishness and vanity. The Jews were “unequally yoked” to Satan’s lie program, false religion. Similarly, the Corinthians, as Paul will proceed to demonstrate, were “unequally yoked together” with devil worship.
There are five rhetorical questions in verses 14-16 of 2 Corinthians chapter 6, queries that Paul asked to prompt the Corinthians to think about what they were doing. “Does it make sense for that which is right (you) to fellowship with that which is wrong (heathen worship)? Does it make sense for spiritual light (you) to mix with spiritual darkness (false religion)? Does it make sense for Jesus Christ (you) to be harmonious with Belial (Satan)? Does it make sense for Christians (you) to have a part with non-Christians (lost people)? Does it make sense for the temple of God (you) to agree with idols (devil worship)?” (The answer to all five questions is, “NO!”)
From verses 16-18, Paul quotes several Old Testament verses to strengthen his argument (the previous five questions). We Christians are the temple of the living God—or temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 2:22; 2 Timothy 1:14). Therefore, we should have nothing to do with dead idols. As we stated in our opening remarks, Satan uses false religion to trick us just as he utilized false religion to confuse Israel. In fact, if you study the dozens upon dozens of verses that delineate that false religion that misled Israel, you will see that the same religious system is all around us in the form of Roman Catholicism. That false religion that damned Israel featured the wafers/cakes, the goddess called “the queen of heaven,” the priests called “father,” the images and idols, incense, candles, the bowing to and kissing of statues, golden cups of wine, vestments/clothing/robes, purple and scarlet colors, et cetera.
We want to briefly analyze the three Old Testament quotes about which you are asking:
- 2 Corinthians 6:16: “…as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This would be a loose quotation of Exodus 29:45, Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 31:33, Jeremiah 32:38, Ezekiel 11:20, Ezekiel 36:28, Ezekiel 37:26, Zechariah 8:8, and Zechariah 13:9. You should check these verses in your Bible. Some of these references are actually going to be fulfilled one day after our Dispensation of Grace is over, when God redeems Israel and lives in and with her in the Millennial Kingdom (as He lives in us Christians now in this the Dispensation of Grace). Since some of the Corinthians were Jews (Acts 18:1-11), they would have been familiar with these Old Testament prophecies. God can only live in us practically if we are submissive to His Word and will. If we are distracted by error, we cannot know His Word and will.
- 2 Corinthians 6:17: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” This is quoting Isaiah 52:11, which admonishes Israel to be spiritually pure so she can be ready to accept her Messiah and enter His earthly kingdom (the Millennium). She needs to turn away from her pagan ways and turn to JEHOVAH God. If we want to fully experience the eternal life that God gave us in Jesus Christ, we need to get rid of that which will smother that life. We need to abandon false apostles, false prophets, cults, et cetera, and we need to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ’s heavenly ministry found in Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon.
- 2 Corinthians 6:18: “And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Taken loosely from Jeremiah 31:1, which in its context is a description of Israel’s New Covenant and her redemption from Satan worship and spiritual bondage. We are God’s children by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26-28). But, if we want to enjoy that spiritual relationship to the fullest extent, we need to understand and believe His Word to us. We need to turn from our idols (denominationalism, philosophy, et cetera) and turn to God’s Word through Paul. That way, we can cooperate with Father God in accomplishing His will (just as sons or daughters would assist their biological father).
When the above points are all taken into consideration, you can appreciate why Paul opened chapter 7 with, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” God did not want Israel polluted with false teaching and He does not want us polluted with false teaching. He is our God. We have His indwelling Holy Spirit in us. Does it make sense for us to ignore His Word through Paul and act as though the Lord Jesus Christ according to “the revelation of the mystery,” is not our God? (No.) Does it make sense for us to ignore our God’s instructions and do whatever we want in religion? (No.) Does it make sense for us to partake in a false religious system when God repeatedly told Israel not to do it? (No.) (In fact, whether the false religion of Israel’s time or the false religion of our time, they are equally repulsive to God because they are all the work of Satan.) Does it make sense for us as sons and daughters of God to behave like we are not His sons and daughters? (No.) Since all of these questions are answered in the negative, we should (therefore, consequently) “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
The “filthiness of the spirit” refers to spiritual sins (false religion, human “goodness,” rites, rituals, ceremonies, statues/images, et cetera). The “filthiness of the flesh” refers to the loose living of the world (stealing, pride, killing, adultery, fornication, drunkenness, illegal drugs, lying, et cetera). False religion is associated with the sins of the spirit and the sins of the flesh, so our behavior should be cleansed of both. We should revere the God of the Bible, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. We should have respect for Him. Israel did not, and so, she went the way of idolatry.
The way we worship God is by studying, believing, and maturing in sound Bible doctrine, rightly divided Bible study, teaching that purifies us from Satan’s polluted teaching (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:11-32; Ephesians 5:1-27; Colossians 3:1–4:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12; 2 Timothy 2:14-26; et al.). Israel has to wait until our program finishes to see the fulfillment of those verses quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, but those verses are true of us now. We members of the Body of Christ are God’s people now. We have His indwelling Holy Spirit now. He has received us now. We have fellowship with Him now. He is our Father now. We are His children now. The same salvation from and forgiveness of sins that we enjoy now in the Body of Christ, redeemed Israel must wait until Jesus Christ’s Second Coming to get it (cf. Acts 3:19-21 and Romans 5:11).
In summation, Paul quoting some verses from Israel’s program and applying them to us is acceptable because of the similar contexts. The verses he quoted are transdispensational. In other words, no matter the dispensation, God always wants His people to be doctrinally pure. Regardless of the dispensation or age, Satan’s policy of evil always counterfeits God’s purpose, plan, and Word. Whether Adam and Abel, or Noah, or Abraham and Moses, or Israel’s believing remnant in the Four Gospels and Hebrews through Revelation, or us in the Church the Body of Christ, the Devil is always trying to sidetrack. God’s people need to always guard against doctrinal error… especially against non-rightly-divided Bible!
In 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1, Paul quoted those Old Testament verses to remind the Corinthians (and all members of the Body of Christ) that we have the same relationship with God that Israel once enjoyed (and will yet enjoy). Israel was in ruins every which way after she failed to maintain sound Bible doctrine. She did not faithfully memorize, believe, and obey the divine doctrine given her. She threw those precious words of God away to hold to idolatry, that which was profitless, worthless, useless. When we look at the Church the Body of Christ during these last 2,000 years of church history, we can see how it too continues to ruin itself. The Body of Christ has not been faithful to God’s Word to it (Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon). We need not wonder why or blame God for the abounding confusion and division. As someone once said, the remedy is to go back to Paul’s epistles and apostleship… or we will continue into further apostasy and unbelief!
(* For more information about this topic of “Be Ye Separate” as it relates to us, you may refer to our Bible study here. There, you will learn how we as Grace Believers should separate ourselves from denominationalism and all the other errors in “Christendom.”)