God dwells among his separated people

Paul’s admonition is for believers to cleanse themselves from everything that can defile body and spirit.

Today we will be looking at the topic of holiness or separation from uncleanness, and how Paul reminded the early believers how they were not to join in any effort or activity where the Name or character of God would be maligned or disdained. In doing so, God promised to dwell among his own sons and daughters.

  • 2 Corinthians 7:1 – Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.

Paul’s admonition here is for believers to cleanse themselves from everything that can defile body and spirit. This, he says, is working toward complete holiness; that is, with holiness as the fulfillment or the end goal of this cleansing.

However, the motivation for this goal comes from some promises he has just mentioned. Since this is the first verse of chapter seven in our Bibles, this must mean he mentioned some promises at the end of chapter six. What promises is he referring to?

  • 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 – And what agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said: I will dwell and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.  Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says Yahweh; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you. And I will be a Father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me, says Yahweh Almighty.

These are, indeed, amazing promises:

  • that God would dwell among them
  • that he would be their God, and they his people
  • that he would welcome them
  • that he would be a Father to them, and they would be as sons and daughters

But all of these wonderful promises are contingent on this cleansing of defilement of body and spirit, involving a setting apart of some sort. Let’s review the passage in full to see the context:

  • 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 – Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What agreement has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? What agreement has a temple of God with idols? For you are a temple of the living God. Even as God said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “‘Come out from among them, and be separate,’ says Yahweh. ‘Touch no unclean thing. I will receive you. I will be to you a Father. You will be to me sons and daughters,’ says Yahweh Almighty.”

So we can see the promises that God would dwell among them and they would be sons and daughters hinges on the condition that they separate themselves from all uncleanness of the idolatry of those who do not believe.

I know this passage has classically been used for the purpose of warning believers to not marry non-believers, and while that is certainly a valid recommendation, that is not the context of this passage; marriage is nowhere in Paul’s sights here.

The real message is that separation from non-believers is required in any type of joint-effort where a compromise of God’s principles would become involved. Believers are not to join in any effort or activity where the Name or character of God would be maligned or disdained.

Two of the primary challenges believers faced in Paul’s day included the practice of eating food in a temple of a local deity, and by eating food purchased in the marketplace that had been previously offered to an idol. In that time, a fellowship meal in an idol’s temple was the ancient approximation of what we might today consider going out to eat in a restaurant. It was also a challenge for Jews to purchase meat in the market, not knowing if the food had already been in an idol’s temple prior to being offered for sale in the local market. These were such serious issues that Paul devotes a whole chapter (chapter 8) in his first letter to the Corinthians to these practices.

Paul devotes so much focus on these topics because it was a primary social practice that was a restriction for the new believers in Messiah, as well. Avoiding idolatrous food was one of the main points that had come out of the first Jerusalem Council decision. You may recall how in Acts 15, a convening of various sects of Messiah believers was called to establish consistency on how the Torah was to be applied among the believing congregations. And out of that discussion and debate came the following summarized conclusions:

  • Acts 15:20 – Instead, we should write and tell them [that is, new believers in Messiah] to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals, and from blood.

This instruction from the Jerusalem Council highlights how Torah was still the guiding principle of the early believing communities. All of these restrictions that were reported out to the fledgling congregations of Messiah are based in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

  • Leviticus 19:4 – Do not turn to idols or make cast images of gods for yourselves; I am Yahweh your God.
  • Deuteronomy 6:14 – Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you…
  • Leviticus 18:26 – But you are to keep my statutes and ordinances. You must not commit any of these detestable [sexually immoral] acts ​– ​not the native or the alien who resides among you.
  • Leviticus 17:12 – Therefore I say to the Israelites: None of you and no alien who resides among you may eat blood.

The council had rightfully deferred to God’s Word to establish fellowship guidelines of the mixed congregations who had participants from varied traditions and backgrounds. These were necessary as part of the practices to allow for shared meals; they had to all be on the same page as far as acceptable meats and personal sanctification in relationships.

So, while the conclusions of the council were designed to allow for fellowship and create unity among believers, it also delineated the separation that was necessary for the promises of God to be fulfilled among them. They would need to be diligent in separating themselves from the accepted social norms in order to be united together in solidarity as God’s people.

In a moment, we will return to the instruction of Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians explaining the importance of why believers should not be unequally yoked with non-believers. In doing so, I am hopeful we can learn some principles for application within our own lives and social situations in our current generation.


As Paul writes to the congregation in Corinth, he apparently feels compelled to provide a stark contrast between believers and non-believers as a way of shaking them out of a sense of complacency that they may have lapsed into regarding idolatry. Of course, ancient Greece was awash with all forms of varied idolatry, testified to this day by the literature of the time and the surviving architecture. To remind the believers of the severity of this command against idolatry, Paul, as he is known to do, quotes from several selections of Torah, or God’s instruction, to make his point:

2 Corinthians 6:16 – And what agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said: I will dwell and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.

  • Leviticus 26:11-12 – I will live among you, and I will not despise you. I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people.
  • Ezekiel 37:27 – I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

2 Corinthians 6:17 – Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says Yahweh; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you.

  • Leviticus 7:21 – If you touch anything that is unclean (whether it is human defilement or an unclean animal or any other unclean, detestable thing) and then eat meat from a peace offering presented to Yahweh, you will be cut off from the community.
  • Isaiah 52:10-11 – Yahweh has displayed his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.  Leave, leave, go out from there! Do not touch anything unclean; go out from her, purify yourselves, you who carry the vessels of Yahweh.

2 Corinthians 6:18 – And I will be a Father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me, says Yahweh Almighty.

  • Isaiah 43:5-6 – “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west.  “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up! ‘ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back! ‘ Bring my sons from far away, and my daughters from the ends of the earth
  • Hosea 1:10 – Yet the number of the Israelites will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted. And in the place where they were told: You are not my people, they will be called: Sons of the living God.

Paul pulls together principles rooted in the holiness of God. Avoiding ceremonial uncleanness is the model, the example, of how believers were to ensure they were continuing to pattern their lives after Messiah within their assemblies, and to demonstrate how they had become God’s sons and daughters. If they did so, God would be among them and he would regather them to himself.

Uncleanness practices outlined in Torah went beyond just what types of animals one was permitted to eat to other sanitary practices among the people of God, from bodily fluids to accidentally touching dead bodies. But the overarching principle of all of these commands was the same: separating oneself from these things was an act of holiness, which by its very definition means to be set apart.

Paul is using that same established Torah logic among the believers in Corinth to remind them of their unique position among their generation, and that they should not forfeit their standing with God on the accepted conventions and customs of the day. According to Yeshua’s admonition of Matthew 5:8, believers were to have a pure and blameless heart at all times.

  • Matthew 5:8 – Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Separation from all unclean practices was necessary to achieve this.

You may have noticed that none of the passages that Paul references in his instruction are direct quotes, but they have a common theme of the restoration of God’s people to himself. Isaiah 43 and Hosea 1 are great and pivotal prophecies describing the long-awaited migration of God’s people returning back to Jerusalem from among the nations.

As such, we can gain an even greater understanding of the separateness that Paul is speaking to. As these believers had been scattered throughout the nations in the past, they had become susceptible to the idolatrous practices of their various cultures. Paul is using these passages as a way of weaning them off of their cultural traditions and practices that were hindering their walk with Yahweh through their new-found faith in Messiah Yeshua. He is using these texts to remind them of their true purpose as God’s people, and God’s care and concern for them as his own children. If they were to forsake their idolatry, God would indeed live among them and be a Father to them.

But if this is how Paul is applying these texts, then we can also begin to see how these wonderful prophetic indicators were not necessarily meant to be about a literal migration back to Israel, but a spiritual one. God was indeed calling his people back to himself from among the nations, but they were not necessarily returning to physical Jerusalem, but instead to the prophetic Zion, the New Jerusalem.

If this was the principle in Paul’s day, then how much more does that same principle apply in our day? How can we apply this same principle of separation? What types of accepted conventions in social discourse today compromise the principles of God and his character according to his Word, his Torah? What activities demean and denigrate God’s glory, yet are considered “ok” by the rest of our society?

These are questions that we need to be able to answer within the context of our own social environments wherever we are. When we can take a serious look at how we are potentially compromising our faith within our social arenas, we can then open the door to further obedience to God’s Word.

With our eyes open and our hearts guided by the eternal Torah of God, we can begin to understand the types of things we are to avoid being “yoked” together (i.e., going along with) non-believers for the sake of fellowship. We cannot be united with non-believers in those things because they compromise God’s integrity and honor, and violate the sanctity not only of his Word, but of our united fellowship together as God’s people.

Paul’s admonition is that when we do actively separate ourselves, when we cleanse ourselves from these things, then we are truly behaving like God’s sons and daughters, and only then will he be present among us. This is the fulfillment of those ancient promises that generations have looked forward to. When we take decisive actions to maintain our holiness out of godly respect and honoring of him, we demonstrate the validity of God’s Word and the kingdom of God becomes visible to others in our actions.


If you enjoy these daily articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

No longer common or unclean

What did Peter really learn from his vision in Acts 10?

Core of the Bible podcast #81 – No longer common or unclean

What did Peter really learn from his vision in Acts 10?

Today we will be looking at the topic of vigilance, and how, when we receive instruction from God, we must be faithful in keeping it at all costs and without hesitation. Along the way, we will investigate the meaning of what was considered a common thing, and what was considered unclean. These designations were critical to the Hebraic understanding of how they were expected to interact with others in the world.

Acts 10:10-14 – [Peter] became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing something, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” “No, Lord!” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”

This story of Peter’s vision is typically used as a way of teaching that God was declaring all foods “clean” or acceptable to eat. However, looking more closely at the context and outcome, we can learn more about its true meaning, along with some aspects of vigilance in our walk with God.

During Peter’s vision, when he heard a voice commanding him to kill and eat any of the animals in the vision, Peter immediately responded with: “No, Lord!” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”

The response from the voice was: “What God has cleansed, do not call common.” After three repeated occurrences, the sheet and the animals were taken back up into heaven.

Now, what’s interesting to note here is that in the original text, two different Greek words are used to describe the status of the animals. Peter says that he never had eaten anything common (koinou) nor had he eaten anything ritually unclean (akatharton). Now there is wisdom in understanding the difference between that which is common and that which is unclean, so let’s take a look at how these topics were covered throughout the Tanakh, or Old Testament.

Leviticus 10:10-11 – “You must distinguish between the holy and the common, and the clean and the unclean, and teach the Israelites all the statutes that Yahweh has given to them through Moses.”

Here we find the importance in distinguishing between four Hebrew words describing four different conditions: qodesh (holy), chol (common), tame (unclean), and tahor (clean or pure).

So is this designation of holy/common, clean/unclean just a repetition of the same two qualities or is it describing four different categories? Let’s look at some other example verses to see if we can gain clarity.

Before there were ever any official commandments at Sinai, we see that there was a recognition of clean (tahor) and unclean (tame) animals:

Genesis 7:1-2 – “Then Yahweh said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate…'”

So the first mention of tahor/clean is in regard to animals, distinguishing those that are clean from those that are not tahor.

We next move to the wilderness after Israel came out of Egypt and learn the distinctions that were set down within the written Torah conveyed to them in the desert.

Leviticus 11:46-47 – This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.

So, clean/tahor and unclean/tame animals are here defined in God’s Torah.

Now as we look to define that which is holy versus that which is common, we can look at some passages from the writings of the Prophets, starting with Ezekiel. In Ezekiel’s vision of the temple and its surroundings, he conveys how some areas of the temple complex were distinguished from others.

Ezekiel 42:20 – He measured the temple complex on all four sides. It had a wall all around it … to separate the holy [qodesh] from the common [chol].

Here there is no mention of clean and unclean, just how a wall separated the holy and common areas. The one area of the temple complex was holy, restricted only to priests and God’s people, and the other area was common, available to anyone else. A similar example of this is brought out in the land allotments that Ezekiel conveyed from his vision.

Ezekiel 48:13-15 – And alongside the territory of the priests, the Levites shall have an allotment …They shall not sell or exchange any of it. They shall not alienate this choice portion of the land, for it is holy to Yahweh. “The remainder … shall be for common use for the city, for dwellings and for open country. In the midst of it shall be the city…

Here, part of the land is holy or qodesh for specific use by the priests, and the other part for use by the rest of the city is common or chol.

So from these passages, we can learn that the distinction between holy and common appears to be one of purpose: that which is holy is set apart for a specific use by priests or God’s people only and that which is common is for everyday use by anyone. By contrast, that which is clean or unclean appears to be inherent in the thing itself, for example, those animals which were approved for eating versus those which were not approved for eating, likely due to the risk of contracting illness or disease.

Now here is a really interesting contrast brought out in the book of Haggai when he was asking the priests to give a ruling in a matter of holiness versus uncleanness, a contrast spanning both groups:

Haggai 2:12-14 – “If a man is carrying consecrated [holy/qodesh] meat in the fold of his garment, and it touches bread, stew, wine, oil, or any other food, does [that food] become holy? ” The priests answered, “No.”  Then Haggai asked, “If someone unclean [tame] by contact with a corpse touches any of these, does it become defiled? ” The priests answered, “It becomes defiled.”  Then Haggai replied, “So is this people, and so is this nation before me — this is Yahweh’s declaration. And so is every work of their hands; even what they offer there is defiled.”

Haggai is here using this example to show the priests how they were not accomplishing their God-given purpose of being a light of holiness to the world; instead, they had become so corrupt they had become unclean and were defiling everything they touched.

So here we have a cross comparison of these two categories: holy-common and clean-unclean. When we sift through all of this information, we can begin to see how this description helps us understand the categories a little better. From Haggai’s example, it is determined that something that is holy can’t make something holy just by contacting it; like Ezekiel, he is confirming the holiness is in the purpose of the thing, not its physical qualities. By contrast, something that is unclean CAN defile something else; once the unclean thing touches something, it also becomes unclean.

So how does all this apply to Peter’s vision and our discussion at hand? Well, we need to remember through this discussion that common means “for common use, that which is not set apart as holy.” And in Peter’s vision, God claims to have cleansed that which is considered common (i.e., the non-Jews who seek after him).

In a moment, we will explore this cleansing process as it was understood by the traditional Jews of the day, and why it is so significant to this discussion.


In Yeshua’s and Peter’s day, something that may have been considered “common” was a term that had come into use within the lexicon of the Pharisees and their fastidious over-compensation in matters that were not clearly marked out in Torah.

For example, in Mark 7, some of these practices are described:

Mark 7:1-3 – The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around [Yeshua]. They observed that some of his disciples were eating bread with common — that is, unwashed — hands [right here we have the distinction clarified for us within the narrative: common=unwashed]. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, keeping the tradition of the elders [Note: this is not a Torah instruction, but a tradition of the elders].

So, with the koinos meaning of common defined as “unwashed” for us here in Mark, we can then see how this applies in the vision that Peter had in Acts 10.

Acts 10:15 – Again, a second time, the voice said to him, “What God has cleansed, do not call common.”

This shows that God had cleansed that which, through their tradition, was considered common or unwashed. In that time, non-Jews were looked upon as common, like dirty hands that needed to be washed. The traditional Jewish thinking was that they were to be avoided because through contact with their unwashed condition they thought they would become contaminated, as well. However, we know from the passage in Haggai that holiness has to do with purpose and has nothing whatsoever to do with physical contact. Besides, Peter’s vision said that God had cleansed those “dirty hands” when they came to him in faith, and they were therefore no longer to be considered separate from the believing congregation.

This is the exact meaning that Peter pulled from the vision when he met with Cornelius and his group.

Acts 10:28 – Peter said to them, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner [again, this is based on tradition, not Torah], but God has shown me that I must not call any PERSON common or unclean.”

Peter had taken away from the vision, not that all FOODS were now clean, but that all MEN who earnestly were striving after God were to be considered on an even par with the Jewish believers.

Acts 10:34-35 – Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the PERSON who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Peter had taken the real meaning of the vision to mean that God was breaking down the barriers between men of different nations, and that the door of faith in Messiah would be opened to all who were willing to come. This was even confirmed to be the correct interpretation as the foreign men were visibly affected by receiving the Spirit of God (10:44-45).

It is impressive to see how Peter had maintained his ritual purity throughout his life. He claims to have strictly followed the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 without fail. In his day and age, there were many opportunities to eat the wrong foods, due to the foods that were sold in the common marketplaces. Peter demonstrates that he was always vigilant to ensure he never violated the commands of God by eating foods outside of the restrictions of Torah. This, in itself, should be an indication that the vision was not about clean and unclean foods, but about something else, something God was beginning to do among all nations.

Additionally, Peter intimated that he had not only kept the dietary commands of the Torah, but of the religious tradition, as well. This would imply he also did not associate with non-Jews, since they were considered koinos or common by Jewish tradition. We know this is the case because the apostle Paul had to confront Peter when he had held to this traditional Jewish thinking among the believers in Antioch.

Galatians 2:11-13 – “But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”

While there are no time markers in the text, it would make sense that this argument between Paul and Peter occurred prior to Peter’s vision, and that after that vision, he was well-grounded in the in the understanding of the purpose of the Kingdom, and how God would not show favoritism to anyone but was accepting all who would come to him through faith in Messiah. But regardless of the timing of this event, as the growing Messianic movement spread, it was inevitable that non-Jews would be mixing with Jewish believers and there would need to be a recognition of equality among all people.

The apostle Paul confirms this also in several of his epistles, how God was growing the Kingdom with many different nationalities and statuses within the strata of society:

Romans 10:11-13 – “For the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on him will not be put to shame, since there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord of all richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved.”

Galatians 3:28 – “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.”

Colossians 3:11 – “In Messiah there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Messiah is all and in all.”

Ultimately, vigilance in our walk before God comes in many forms, whether our own personal commitment to holiness, or our obedience to the things that God may reveal to us along the way. Peter exemplifies for us a measure of personal vigilance that we can learn from and follow in our own lives. He held tightly to the understanding of Judaism and maintained those traditions faithfully, believing that he was honoring God in doing so. Yet, when God revealed something radical within his current worldview, he was still willing to follow this new understanding wholeheartedly and unreservedly.

When we receive instruction from God, whether through his word or through personal insight, we also must be faithful in keeping it at all costs and without hesitation.


If you enjoy these daily articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com

The holiness of God’s people, then and now

God’s standards of holiness don’t change.

Leviticus 20:26 – You must be holy because I, Yahweh, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.

This admonition to holiness is set amidst the context of the practices of the nations of Canaan that Israel was displacing.

Leviticus 20:23 – “You must not follow the statutes of the nations I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and I abhorred them.

In the context of Leviticus 20, the “things” the nations were guilty of were the contaminations of idolatry (which included spiritism and child sacrifice), sexual immorality, and eating of unclean foods. Avoiding all of “these things” is what would set ancient Israel apart from the other nations; this is what would make them “holy.” This setting apart is the holiness that distinguished Israel as God’s people.

In consistent fashion, the holy Spirit of God led the first recorded council in Jerusalem to similar conclusions. As those among the nations were coming to faith in Messiah along with the scattered Jews and God-fearers in the synagogues, there were idolatrous practices being introduced into the community of believers, such as food offered to idols and cultural promiscuity. Paul and the other apostles deal with some of these issues in their epistles to various groups of believers. But the council, through the guidance of the holy Spirit, had issued a decisive template for the believing congregations to follow that was worded very similarly to the injunction of Moses to the ancient Israelites in remaining holy.

Acts 15:28-29 – “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision ​– ​and ours ​– ​not to place further burdens on you beyond these requirements: “that you abstain from idolatrous offerings, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. Farewell.”

As can be seen by these comparative texts, avoidance of practices associated with idolatry, sexual immorality and unclean foods have always been the earmarks of God’s people that set them apart from the other nations. Therefore, I believe these distinctions should in like fashion remain as the defining characteristics that demonstrate the holiness or set-apartness of God’s people even today.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The promises of holiness require active separation from unrighteous practices

Believers are not to join in any effort or activity where the Name or character of God would be maligned or disdained.

Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.

2 Corinthians 7:1

Paul’s admonition here is for cleansing our ourselves from everything that can defile our body and spirit. This, he says, is working toward complete holiness; that is, with holiness as the fulfillment, the end goal, of this cleansing.

However, the motivation for this goal comes from some promises he has just mentioned. Since this is the first verse in chapter 7 in our Bibles, this must mean he mentioned some promises at the end of chapter 6. What promises is he referring to?

Well, the direct answer comes when we review verses 17 and 18: “I will receive you,” and “I will be your father and you will be unto me for sons and daughters.”

These are, indeed, amazing promises. But these promises are contingent on this cleansing, a setting apart of some sort. Let’s review the passage in full to see the context:

Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What agreement has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? What agreement has a temple of God with idols? For you are a temple of the living God. Even as God said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “‘Come out from among them, and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘Touch no unclean thing. I will receive you. I will be to you a Father. You will be to me sons and daughters,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

I know this passage has classically been used for the purpose of warning believers not to marry non-believers, and while that is certainly a commendable ideal, that is not the context of this passage; marriage is no where in Paul’s sights here.

The real message is that separation from non-believers is required in any type of joint-effort where a compromise of God’s principles would become involved. Believers are not to join in any effort or activity where the Name or character of God would be maligned or disdained.

As an example, in Paul’s day, it was customary to invite friends to go out to dinner, so to speak, in a temple of a local deity. A fellowship meal in an idol’s temple was the equivalent of going out to eat in a restaurant today. It was also an accepted practice to purchase meat in the local market that had first been offered to an idol. These were such serious issues that Paul devotes a whole chapter (chapter 8) in his first letter to the Corinthians to these practices.

It is also mentioned as a primary restriction required of new believers from the Jerusalem Council decision:

Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals, and from blood.

Acts 15:20

To remind the believers of the severity of this command, Paul, as he is known to do, quotes from several selections of torah, or God’s instruction, to make his point:

  • Leviticus 7:21 – If you touch anything that is unclean (whether it is human defilement or an unclean animal or any other unclean, detestable thing) and then eat meat from a peace offering presented to the LORD, you will be cut off from the community.”
  • Leviticus 11:8 – You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses. They are ceremonially unclean for you.
  • Leviticus 26:11-12 – I will live among you, and I will not despise you. I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people.
  • Ezekiel 37:27 – I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

He pulls together principles rooted in the holiness of God; avoiding ceremonial uncleanness is the model, the example, of how believers were to ensure they were continuing to pattern their lives in the assemblies of Messiah. If they did so, God would be among them.

Uncleanness went beyond just animals to other sanitary practices among the people of God, from bodily fluids to accidentally touching dead bodies. But the principle was the same: separating oneself from these things was an act of holiness, which by its very definition means to be set apart.

Paul is using that same established torah logic among the believers in Corinth to remind them of their unique position among their generation, and that they should not forfeit their standing with God on the accepted conventions and customs of the day. According to Yeshua’s admonition of Matthew 5:8, believers were to have a pure and blameless heart at all times. Separation from unclean practices was necessary to achieve this.

How can we apply this same principle in our day? What types of accepted conventions in social discourse today compromise the principles of God and his character? What activities demean and denigrate God’s glory, yet are considered “ok” by the rest of our society?

These are the things we are to avoid being “yoked” together (i.e., going along with) non-believers for the sake of fellowship. We cannot be united with them in those things because they compromise God’s integrity and honor.

However, Paul’s admonition is that when we do actively separate ourselves, when we cleanse ourselves from these things, then we are truly behaving like God’s sons and daughters, and only then will he will be present among us. This is the fulfillment of the promises when we take decisive actions to maintain our holiness out of godly respect and honoring of him.