Word Magazine February 1986 Page 17-18



A Reflection on 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1

By The Rev. Dr. Stanley S. Harakas

What is the central message of the Bible regarding our relationship with those who are members of the Church and those who are not? The answer may be surprising to many of us . . . even disconcerting! There is no question that Christians are to love every person who comes across their path. The Gospel story of the Good Samaritan makes that quite clear. But to be open to the humanity of others does not necessarily mean that our lives should be identified with every group, every mentality, every life style.

St. Paul provides every Christian with guidelines about this in the passage we are going to look at in this column: 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1.


The setting is the early Christian Church in the City of Corinth. There were Corinthian Christians who were forsaking their relationship with fellow Christians and associating with non-believers, with persons involved in sinful activities, even with enemies of the Christian Faith.

It is to this situation that this passage speaks. In the verses immediately preceding, St. Paul calls these wayward Christians to understand the tremendous difference between those two ways of life: Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

On the one hand are righteousness, light, Christ, and the believer. On the other hand are iniquity (sin), darkness, Belial (the devil) and unbelievers. St. Paul is helping his Corinthian readers understand that there is something fundamentally different about a Christian, which creates a line of separation between the kind of life which he or she lives and the kind of life the un­believer lives.

Some New Testament scholars think that this passage was not really written in this place, and that it is a portion of the lost letter referred to by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, where he said “I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with immoral men” (1 Corinthians 5:9). Whatever the case, it is not about casual or ordinary behavior that he is speaking (See Romans 12:18).

What St. Paul is talking about is behavior which would be at variance with Christian teaching, and which would compromise the Christian’s identity as one who had “put on Christ” (Romans 13:14, Gala­tians 3:27). Clearly, associating with people who were immoral and who did unethical things would be wrong for the Christian, according to St. Paul. So would associating with pagan religious practices which would compromise one’s standing as a Christian.

St. Paul is “consciousness raising” here. His message to you and me is that we need to always be aware of who we are: members of God’s household, “new creations” in Christ, members of God’s own people, His Church.


St. Paul has in mind Christian people who were somehow involving themselves in practices associated with pagan worship:

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God.

Pagan temples has restaurants connected to them. These eating places served the meats which were offered to the pagan gods on the altars of the temple. Pagans would invite people to these temple restaurants, just as easily as you might invite a friend to have lunch with you at a fine restaurant today. “I invite you to dine with me at the table of our Lord Serapis,” might be the form of an invitation. St. Paul is saying that by accepting that invitation, the Corinthian Christian might be compromising his or her identity as a Christian.

For Christians today, the translation is easy. The moral equivalents of those pagan temples are all around us. What business do Christians have patronizing movies which show pornographic films? What agreement is there between those who have received the Spirit of God and the taking of illicit narcotics and drugs? How can we maintain our identity as Christians and go to plays where God is blasphemed? The examples, unfortunately, in our modern secular culture, are legion. St. Paul is telling us here that our behavior has to be in harmony with our identity as Christians.


St. Paul used the idea of Christians as the temple in his first letter to the Corinthians. It is a powerful statement: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?. . . For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). St. Paul may have been thinking of the Old Testament King Manasseh who defiled the Temple of Jerusalem by bringing an idol into it (2 Kings 21:1-9; Septuigint 4 Kings 21:1-9) when he phrased this teaching in this way. Here, however, he develops the idea in a positive way.

Apparently from memory, St. Paul recollects a whole collection of Old Testament sayings which he compiles into a series of observations about Christians being the temple of God, and what that means. It seems that he is referring to the basic ideas, but not precisely quoting, passages such as Leviticus 26:11,12; Isaiah 52:11; Ezekiel 20:34, 37:27, 2 Samuel 7:14.

Verses 16b, 17 and 18 give us the implications of the truth that Christians are “the temple of the living God.” It means three things. First, we are “God’s people” and God “lives in (us)” and “moves among (us).” Secondly, it means that there is a separation from those who live in ways which are in direct contradiction to the goodness and purity of God. We are to “touch nothing unclean.” Thirdly, if we act in that way, we will strengthen the bond between ourselves and God. In that case, God says “I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters.”


Another word for this separation from sinful and evil behavior and circumstances and environment and company is “holiness.” The conclusion, then, calls us to repentance for our failures in this matter in the past: “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit.” No matter what we have done in the past, if we are willing to correct the situation, to start anew, and to struggle to “separate ourselves” from evil and sin, God is ready to receive our repentance, and reestablish us as full members of His household.

Lastly, our goal and our task is summarized in St. Paul’s words “make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” The Greek is “epitelountes aghiosyne,” meaning literally, “accomplishing and fulfilling holiness.” It means “doing what we are.” St. Paul is saying, “You are a child of God who has been redeemed by Christ so that you are now a member of the Lord’s Kingdom and are no longer under the dominion of sin and evil. You are the temple of the living God.” As a result, he is saying, “Act like it.” Manifest the truth that you are God’s temple. Fulfill the reality that you belong to God by the way you live your life.

In short, this passage of the Bible says to you: “Don’t associate with things and events and people that are opposed to what you are. Rather, do what you are!”