2 Corinthians 5:1-10


Note: The exegete must handle these verses with much care because much has been written on this text which is not according to Scripture and which only confuses people. In this section, unlike 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is not speaking about the resurrection and the change which our mortal body will undergo. Paul does use the word body (soma) in verses 6 and 8 and he does not mention the glorified body as he does in 1 Corinthians 15. The body is not mentioned in verses 1 and 5. AAT wrongly captions this section "We long for a heavenly body" and uses the word "body" four times in verses 1 to 5. Likewise TEV uses the word "body" in verses 1-5.

Paul, neither in this passage nor in 1 Corinthians 15, ever worries about the interval between this life and the one to come, the disembodied state. He never departs from the thought found in Philippians 1:23. "I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better."

Before studying this text, the exegete ought read 4:1 through 5:10 in one sweep. Twice Paul says: "We do not lose heart," in 4:1 and 16. They carry on their work of preaching the Gospel without losing heart. There are countless things in this life which tend to cause us to lose heart. But Paul keeps on saying: "We do not lose heart." Why does he not lose heart? Because he keeps his eyes on everlasting life. Because he lives by faith and not by sight. Because he does not live according to his feelings but according to the promises of God. Chapter 4:16-18 leads us right into the text for today. Today's text cannot be rightly understood unless one first reads chapter four. Note carefully that in chapter four Paul is not speaking about the resurrection of the body, but he is speaking about the glorious hope and comfort of everlasting life.

2 Corinthians 5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

"Now" is explanatory. It reaches back into chapter 4. "Know" denotes the knowledge of intuition as opposed to acquired knowledge. Therefore when Paul says "we know" he is speaking about his conviction. Paul is speaking in the first instance of himself and his co-workers. But what he says about pastors is applicable also to all Christians.

NASB: "The earthly tent which is our house." NKJV: "Our earthly house, this tent." TEV wrongly translates: "This tent we live in -- our body here on earth."

Lenski hits the nail right on the head in this pericope. He says:

Lenski: 'Our tent-house here on earth' is our earthly existence. Its opposite is a permanent, glorious, infinitely blessed existence in heaven. . . . 'The tent' does not mean 'the body' or 'bodily frame.' . . . It is not the physical body that is made with hands, but our life here on earth as we live it in our earthly existence.

We do not agree with Rienecker who says at this point: "The figure of a tent picturing the human body suggests impermanence and insecurity and is a common picture of earthly life and its setting in the body." Paul is not speaking about the human body here.

Kretzmann, too, misses the point when he says: "The apostle speaks of the bodies of the Christians as flimsy and unstable tents, sheltering the soul for a time."

The lexicons point out that katalou, when used of a tent, means "to take down." Paul uses the words "building" and "eternal house" to denote permanence as compared to the temporary nature of life in a tent.

"From God" denotes source.

The house, the dwelling, is described with four epithets: "of God," "not made with hands," "eternal," "in the heavens." These four in contrast to "earthly" which denotes the transient and temporary nature of this life.

The meaning of verse is: "When this transient life ends we have a permanent, God-given, eternal life in heaven." Paul looks beyond the afflictions and things of this life mentioned in 4:16-18. When Paul describes the life to come with "not made with hands" he is implying that we lived our lives here but did not live them perfectly. But eternal life is pure and holy, "not made with hands."

2 Corinthians 5:2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling,

"Meanwhile in this life," not "meanwhile in this body." "Clothed" means "to put on," not to put on life" as some have suggested.

Both verb and participle are in the present tense, denoting constant and continuing action. We are constantly doing two things in this life, groaning and desiring.

The expression "our heavenly dwelling" simply means "everlasting life." It does not denote the glorified body. The moment a Christian dies he puts on "the heavenly dwelling." He does not receive the glorified body until the moment of the general resurrection. He is not speaking of the resurrection here. AAT wrongly renders this verse: "In this body we sigh as we long to put on and live in the body we get from heaven." Furthermore, TEV renders the infinitive wrongly: "And now we sign, so great is our desire to have our home which is in heaven put on over us." The other English version correctly translate, as does NKJV: "For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven."

The thought here is the same as at Romans 8:22-23. Paul faces life honestly. He admits that he constantly groans. All men do. And Christians are not excluded. They must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom of God. But, at the same time, there is a constant longing for everlasting life. He desires the eternal glory which far outweighs the present affliction.

2 Corinthians 5:3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.

The explanations in Nestle's 26th version of the Greek text state that previous editions had endusamenoi. That reading would mean "being clothed." It seems that all our versions follow this reading. NASB: "Inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked."

Tasker: We conclude, then, that the probability is that Paul is here underlining his certainty that a heavenly shelter awaits him immediately after death.

Tasker speaks so cautiously because he too has difficulties with the metaphors here. But we think that he is right when he suggests that Paul is simply speaking about inheriting eternal life.

But Hughes is all confused when he comments: "The Apostle's language indicates that it is still his earnest desire to be alive at the time of Christ's return so that, without undergoing the interposition of death and the intermediate state, he may experience the instantaneous change, 1 Corinthians 15:51 ff, effected by the putting on of the abode from heaven over the earthly tent-dwelling." What hampers Hughes here is the idea that Paul is speaking about the body.

AAT also is wrong here: "Of course, if we put that on, we'll not be found without a body."

Paul is simply saying that when we enter everlasting life we shall not be naked. This is a sort of figure of speech called litotes. He is saying: "When we put that on we shall be fully clothed." It is the language of confident faith.

If we read ekdusamenoi, according to the 26thedition of Nestle, the meaning will be essentially the same: "If indeed we shall have put off (this earthly life) we shall not be found naked." The reading endusamenoi speaks of (enputting on everlasting life. The reading ekdusamenoi speaks of (ekputting off this life. There is no conflict between the two readings.

2 Corinthians 5:4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

To understand "tent" here of the physical body leads to some strange statements. For example Kretzmann: "His (Paul's) greatest wish was not to pass through death, but to participate in the wonderful change of the last day, by which his mortal body would be changed directly into the spiritual, heavenly body." Or Hughes: "The Apostle is saying, in other words, that if he is still alive at Christ's return then he will be found by Christ clothed with a body (this present body) and not in a disembodied state." AAT wrongly speaks here of "the body."

Lenski's explanation here is superb. He says essentially: This verse is an expansion of verse 2 which also uses the verb "groan". Here "we are burdened" is the burden of affliction and the results of sin. "Because" means "because." "We do not wish to put off" means "we do not wish to die." And "we wish to put on" means to experience everlasting life. Why do we wish to put on? In order that the mortal (life) might be swallowed up by the life, which has already been mentioned in verses 10 and 12 in the previous chapter.

Jesus is "the Life." Since conversion we have had "life." We shall fully experience it in everlasting life.

The heavy burden Paul has already discussed in 4:8-18. He speaks in particular of the grief and burdens which he experienced in his ministry but this can be applied to the life of every Christian.

Lenski: It is not a longing to escape, but a longing to attain. It is not cowardice, but glorious hope.

Paul is saying essentially the same thing which he says in Philippians 1:21-26. Though the Christian longs for everlasting life, he goes about his work cheerfully, bearing his burdens gladly.

2 Corinthians 5:5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

RSV: "He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee."

Tasker: The Spirit Himself creates the longings of which Paul gives expression.
Lenski says it is "that for us the Life is presently to swallow up all that is mortal." Hughes: "It is the ultimate investiture with the glorified body." TEV: "God is the one who has prepared us for this change," meaning evidently a change of body. However, these Notes  take the view that "this very purpose" means "the full experience of everlasting life."

How has God prepared us for this? By giving us His Holy Spirit, His advance payment, His pledge.

2 Corinthians 5:6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.

Paul is now speaking about the confident conduct of Christians in this life. NASB: "Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord."

Hughes: The good courage that animates the Apostle is as permanent and serene as the Spirit dwelling within.
Kretzmann: There is a yearning for home, a homesickness for heaven, which always characterizes the believers.
Tasker: This courage never fails the Christian, however great the dangers that confront him.

This verse touches on the great paradox in the life of the Christian. Though he is homesick, he is cheerful. Though he longs for heaven, he is content. How can that be? The next verse supplies the answer.

2 Corinthians 5:7 We live by faith, not by sight.

This is an explanation. Verse 7 explains verse 6. Paul tells us how we live and how we do not live. Our versions are all in agreement as to the understanding of this verse. AAT: "We live by trusting Him, without seeing Him."

Lenski: The thought evidently reverts to 4:18 'the things not seen.' We have only faith with regard to them now; they shall be actual objects of sight soon . . . For this life faith is everything . . . It deals with the unseen as if it were the seen.
Hughes: In this life it is faith that gives reality to things which are still hoped for and assurance concerning things which are not yet seen, Hebrews 11:1.

2 Corinthians 5:8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

NASB: "Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord -- for we walk by faith, not sight -- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."

"Away from the body" clearly denotes the separation of body and soul at death.

Note that again we have the through contained in Philippians 1:23. Who does Paul means by "we"? There is still a slight stress on Paul and his co-workers, verses 1-10, Paul is speaking about himself and all Christians.

Lenski: So ever faith longs for and prefers greatly 'to be at home with the Lord,' everlastingly at home.
Kretzmann: We shall be at home with the Lord, in whose presence there is fullness of joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures forevermore, Psalm 16:11.

2 Corinthians 5:9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

"We make it our aim to be pleasing Him." "Whether at home in the body or with the Lord or whether away from the body or from the Lord." Paul is not saying that it makes no difference where he is. He already stated in verse 8 that he prefers to be home with the Lord. The point of verse 9 is that the desire to please the Lord is as intense with the Lord or away from the Lord.

Kretzmann: It means the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling, with a singleness of heart which cannot be diverted from its purpose. See Romans 14:8.
Lenski: Our supreme concern is that the Lord be ever pleased with us. . . . Paul and his helpers are neither pleasing themselves nor men; ever only the Lord.

It should not be forgotten that Paul says this under the circumstance of the afflictions mentioned in 4:7-12.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

All our versions except AAT have "for." But it is not easy to explain. Verse 10 does not explain verse 9. Perhaps "for" here is exclamatory, something like "indeed" or "to be sure." But that may not be right. "Must appear" is an impersonal verb, denoting necessity, here the necessity of universal judgment. "All of us . . . must be publicly exposed."

"Christ" here refers to His divinity.

The thought is highly individual. "Each will take away the things done through his body, according to what he practiced."

Paul does not say that the believers' sins will be revealed. They are covered by the blood of Jesus. Bengel wrongly maintains here that even the believers' sins will be revealed. In its interpretation this verse should contradict nothing that is said in Matthew 25:31-46. The whole life of the believer will be accepted. The whole life of the unbeliever will be damned. If fears arise when this verse is read or studied, the individual should flee to verses such as Psalm 103:12; Micah 7:19; Isaiah 43:25; 1 John 1:9.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays after Pentecost,
Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 17-20

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index