Notes on 2 Corinthians 5:1-3

2 Corinthians 5:1‑3  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 10
This leads the apostle to open out the power of life we have in Christ, and its results. “For we know that if our earthly tabernacle-house be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, everlasting in the heavens. For also in this we groan, longing to clothe ourselves with our dwelling which is from heaven, if indeed1 also when clothed2 we shall not be found naked.” (Vers. 1-3.)
What calm and confident knowledge the apostle here predicates of Christians as such! And what a contrast with the dark uncertainty of unbelief, or with its impious audacity! The eternal things are none the less sure in hope because they are not seen. For we know that, if death destroy the earthly tent we live in, we have a building of God. The body in its present state he compares to a tabernacle to be taken down, in its future to a building from God as the source, and to a house not made with hands, and hence everlasting in the heavens, its suited and purposed sphere forever. As we already heard, God who raised up the Lord Jesus shall also raise up by Him those also who sleep, and then present us all together faultless before the throne of His glory: here details are entered into with clearness and discrimination. It is one of the few passages which treat of the intermediate state, as well as of the resurrection or change of the body for glory, and therefore of the deepest interest to the faithful personally and relatively. And in a few brief and plain words adequate light is given, without the smallest indulgence of irreverent curiosity, for all that concerns the family of God after death as well as the change at Christ's coming. One cannot conceive a communication more worthy of God, or more characteristic of His word generally, while it bears the deep impress of His blessed servant who was inspired to give it.
Of course theology is here little more than a Babel of discordant tongues; and even the more pious and learned seem unable to answer with precision what is meant by the building we have of God. Some will have it that this house not made with hands is heaven itself, but how then could it be said to be “in the heavens?” How could we be in this case said to be clothed with our house or “dwelling which is from heaven?” The house and heaven itself are carefully distinguished. Others again, with less error but with an imperfect view of the passage as a whole, think only of the resurrection body. But it does not follow that the passage throws no light on the state of the soul between death and the resurrection, or that it treats solely of what is to happen after Christ's second coming.
The lowest and most mischievous of these interpretations is that of Olshausen and others who admire petty philosophizing,3 and contend that the house entered at death is an ethereal corporeity adapted to the heavenly condition of the soul, either intermediate between death and the resurrection, or (as bolder spirits say) to the exclusion of the body which is not to be resuscitated and changed. The intermediate and glorified vehicle of the soul is directly at issue with the plain and decisive language of this very passage. The house is described not only as in the heavens, but as “everlasting.” Scripture shuts out therefore all notion of a temporary body, for the soul in heaven before the resurrection of the body we now have. And a man must be a skeptical Sadducee who denies that He who raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies by (or, by reason of) His Spirit that dwelleth in us. (Rom. 8:1111But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:11).) There is intermediate blessedness for the believer apart from his body with Christ on high; but the resurrection from the dead awaits His coming.
2. Whatever the reasoning to show that, as the soul now dwells in the body, heaven will be its house after death, it is inconsistent with the thoughts and language of the context.
3. Again, the effort to press that the discipline given here of the house agrees with that of heaven elsewhere is vain, if it were only because the state on which the soul enters after death is so far from “everlasting,” the change we await is at Christ's coming. The body is not in heaven now, nor is it said to be brought down to us from heaven; but Christ is there and is coming thence when we shall have in power and actuality what we have now in faith.
4. And this is the true force of ἔχομεν, not in the least as conveying that the house is one on which we enter immediately after death, but its certainty to faith. That it is synchronous with death is mere assumption, and would involve the idea, not of heaven, but of a new vehicle for the soul which we have already seen to be wholly inconsistent with this passage and all truth. Hence it is not said that when our tent-house, or the body is dissolved, but if it should be. This leaves it equally open when, as now, the building from God is entered, and only declares the certainty that such a house of permanence we have. The present in Greek, as in other languages and our own, is frequently used (when required) to express, not merely actual time, but a truth apart from time in its abstract character or certainty. This must be, from what we have observed, its force here. To give it the meaning of actual fact now going on introduces nothing but confusion and error. What the apostle expresses is certainty of possession. He speaks of incomparably better habitations supposing the dissolution of the present, but the time and way of entering on it had to be learned from other scriptures. He does speak of being absent from the body and present with the Lord a little farther on, but neither of being in a new body while absent from the body, nor of heaven being like a body meanwhile, which seems if possible, more absurd, as both thoughts are alike baseless. Matt. 22:3232I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 22:32) speaks only of the resurrection. Luke 20:3838For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him. (Luke 20:38) adds that the souls of the deceased live to God, though away from men, before they rise. Nor is there any doubt, if we believe Luke 16; 22 Cor. 5; and Phil. 1, that it is far better with the departed saints, and that they are in paradise, the brightest part of heaven, with Christ. (Cf. Heb. 12:2828Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: (Hebrews 12:28).)
If death come, the resurrection body, already fully described in 1 Cor. 15, is sure in all its contrast with tent or any other building of time or of this creation, crumbling to ruin as it is. And the blessedness of what we thus have in hope is such that only the more do “we groan in this, longing to have put on our house which is from heaven, if indeed also when clothed we shall not be found naked.” (Vers. 2, 8.) That is, the brightness of the life he now had in Christ was so hindered by the body as it is that he could but groan in his ardent desires after the glorified condition with which Christ will invest him. It is the groaning not of a disappointed sinner nor of an undelivered saint, but of those who, assured of life and victory in Christ, feel the wretched contrast of the present with the glory in prospect. Only he adds the cautious proviso, that is, supposing we are really Christ's. The anxiety expressed more plainly at the close of 1 Cor. 9 is not quite gone from the beginning of 2 Cor. 5.
Hence, one must reject every attempt to tamper with the conditional rendering of verse 8. The ordinary text εἴ γε (or εἴγε) has excellent support, not only in the vast majority of the manuscripts, but in the antiquity and goodness of some, as the Sinaitic, Resaript of Paris, and others; and this is adhered to by most critics. But Lachmann and Tregelles prefer crimp with the Vatican, Cambridge, and a few other authorities. But the alleged distinction (of Hermann's notes on Tiger) is unfounded in the New Testament, as elsewhere also. It has been even remarked by one of remarkable penetration that the converse is true, and that the true difference is: εἴπερ puts the case that a thing is; εἴγε the possibility that it is not. Εἴ γε, says Lightfoot, leaves a loophole for doubt; εἴπερ is, if anything, more directly affirmative than εἴ γε. Assuredly this seems rather confirmed by their distinctive origin, for as περ is intensive, γε is restrictive. But the usage appears to indicate that the context must be taken into consideration in order to decide the true bearing. So Meyer and Ellicott confess that it is the sentence, and not the particle, which determines the rectitude of the assumption. It is utterly false that, either in or out of the New Testament, εἴγε as a matter of course means “since” any more than εἴπερ always expresses doubt.
The various reading ἐνδυσάμενοι, “unclothed,” in the Clermont, Augian, and Bcemerian manuscripts, &a., accepted by many fathers, and even by a few critics, is a mere effort to get rid of difficulty. The sense may be plainer, but it is worthless. The true reading ἐνδυσάμενοι, is most pertinent and forcible, unless indeed we translate εἴγε “since,” which reduces the clause to a platitude: “since when clothed we shall not be found naked,” or “seeing that we shall verily be found clothed, not naked,” which is a poor tautology unworthy of scripture, and as far from Pauline as possible. Translate it, “if at least, even when clothed, we shall be found not naked,” and the propriety is as great as its strength. For the solemn fact is, that there is a resurrection of unjust no less than just. All therefore are to be clothed. An hour is coming when all that are in the tombs shall hear the voice of the Son, and shall go forth, those that have practiced good to a resurrection of life, and those that have done evil to a resurrection of judgment. The resurrection of the body for all will be the clothing of all, though not of all at the same time nor with like result, but with the most marked contrasts and unchanging issues. For when the wicked are raised, they may and shall be clothed indeed, but shall be found naked. They have not the wedding robe, they have no righteousness before God, they rejected, despised, or did without Christ; they have nothing but sins, and cannot escape everlasting judgment. Whilst in the body here, they might pass muster; when clothed with the resurrection body (for all must rise), those who here lived and died without Christ will be found naked. The apostle therefore solemnly warns, in this passage of the richest comfort for the true, that some might prove false. The everlasting and heavenly glory will be for us at the resurrection, if at least when clothed we shall be found not naked: a seeming paradox, but not more startling than true. Blessed they, and they only, who now have and have put on Christ.
The words “clothed” or “unclothed” refer to the being in or out of the body; “naked” to being destitute of Christ. This distinction was overlooked by Calvin, as it has been by others since. They conceive that the idea was to restrict the clothing to the righteous; and hence that the wicked are, stript of their bodies, to appear naked before God; whereas believers, clothed with Christ's righteousness, are to be invested with a glorious nature of immortality. Had it been observed that “not naked” alone refers to the putting on Christ now with its everlasting consequences, the confusion would have been avoided. The apostle speaks of the common portion we have in Christ (in presence of death, as by-and-by of the judgment-seat), of the triumph assured in His life who died but is risen and alive again for evermore; but this in no way hinders a passing and grave caution to such as might boast of gifts without grace or conscience.
Other speculations, each as of Grains, are hardly worth a notice; and that of Meyer followed by Alford ("if, as is certain, we in fact shall be found clothed, not naked") demands no more words, having been disposed of already. Nor need we discuss at greater length Hodge's attempt from the same rendering to sustain his notion that the apostle here refers not to the risen body but to a mansion in heaven. The simple but profound truth of God delivers from every mist of error.