Re: 2 Cor. 6:16

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Thu Mar 26 1998 - 02:44:37 EST

B-greekers all:

At 18:37 98/03/24 -0600, Justin Johnson wrote concerning 2 Corinthians
6:16. Here are a couple of comments re this verse.


Justin said:

>What's puzzling to me is that Paul uses the prestent tense when refering to
>the temple of the living God.


>I have noticed though that most translations do not translate the word
>ESMEN. They more of less ignore the word.

Justin, your comment puzzles me. So much so that I looked up thirteen
translations of this verse. I find that three of them (AV, Living Bible,
NKJV) read "you are", and ten of them (NASB, RSV, Phillips, TEV, JB, NEB,
Lattimore, NIV, NRSV, REB) say "we are". This divergence reflects a
difference in the underlying text used (several manuscripts have hUMEIS
ESTE). But no translation ignores ESMEN. Indeed I cannot see how the verse
could make sense with the word ignored. Justin, am I missing the point you
are making?

Now, concerning the present tense, and


For me, the most significant feature of this verse lies in the question of
number. "We are" (or "You are", if the other mss are followed) is plural;
NAOS is singular. A thought similar to this verse, with second person "you
are" (where the text is not in doubt) occurs in 1 Corinthians 3:16, and
somewhat similarly again in 1 Corinthians 6:19. For years I have heard this
"you are God's temple and God's Spirit dwells in you" expounded to have
Paul teaching that each individual Christian (or Christian's body, 1 Cor
6:19) is a temple of God. All sorts of theological and exhortatory
conclusions are then drawn from this, especially as to how we should look
after our body, as God's temple.

Indeed, I was teaching this understanding of the text myself on one
occasion when, after the meeting, my son, GNT in hand, drew my attention to
the significance of the number in the Greek. "You" is plural, "temple" is

My exegesis was wrong, a compound of the number ambiguity of English "you"
and my carelessness in not taking adequate note of the plural/singular in

Paul's teaching takes off from Stephen's insight in Acts 7:48, "The Most
High does not dwell in houses made with human hands." "You [plural]" Paul
teaches (1 Cor 3:9), "are God's building [singular]." Then a few verses
later comes this further clarification: not just any "building", but "you
[plural] are God's temple" (verse 9). This is immediately followed by "If
anyone destroys God's temple ..." (verse 10). This is not a reference to
someone destroying a Christian's body. Rather, it is to the "you [plural}"
which is God's temple, God's dwellingplace; that is, the Christian
community as a whole. It is the unity of the church which is under threat
in verse 10, as the total context of this passage in 1 Corinthians 1-4
makes clear. The church as a whole ("you [plural]", addressed to
Christians) is the temple of God.

Ephesians 2:19-22 expands upon this concept. All Christians are being built
together into the Lord's holy temple. Hebrews 3:5-6 reflects the same
concept. 1 Peter 2:5 develops it a little further: individual Christians
are each "living stones" in this "spiritual house", this temple of God.

This is the NT background against which we read our verse, 2 Corinthians
2:16. "We" (that is, all Christians: the church) "are the temple of the
living God." We are this temple of God corporately, not as individuals. And
ESMEN, "are", is present tense because this is what we ARE, as the church,
right now. The point of this verse in its context is, As the temple of God,
in whom he dwells, we are to have no fellowship with wickedness, with
darkness, with idols.



Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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