What Did Paul Mean by Being "Absent in the Body" in 2 Corinthians 5 verse 8?

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What Did Paul Mean by Being "Absent in the Body" in 2 Corinthians 5 verse 8?

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What Did Paul Mean by Being "Absent in the Body" in 2 Corinthians 5 verse 8?

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Whenever we analyze Scripture in an attempt to ascertain its meaning, it is important that we follow a specific set of rules for interpretation. These rules of interpretation are referred to as hermeneutics, and they are essentially an agreed-upon set of guidelines that help us to interpret Scripture accurately and consistently.

Hermeneutics includes analysis of the following (as well as a lot more I don’t have space to cover):

Definitions
Context
Historical context
Usage
Scriptural precedent

As a result when you examine a specific scripture, such as 2 Corinthians 5:8 2 Corinthians 5:8We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
American King James Version×
, it is impossible to accurately interpret the meaning without properly analyzing the scriptural context of the passage itself, as well as that passage within the context of the entire book of 2 Corinthians.

Second Corinthians 5:1-10 states:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.   For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,   if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.   Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.   So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.   For we walk by faith, not by sight.   We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.   Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.   For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things  done  in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (emphasis added).

First, it’s important to recognize that the chapter and verse divisions that we see in our Bibles today were originally established by Robert Estienne in the 16th century. They were not a part of the original epistle sent to the Corinthian church. Therefore, the breaks we see in 2 Corinthians don’t necessarily represent the original author’s paragraph breaks.

If we examine the overall context, the passage that starts chapter 5 refers back to the concepts that are outlined in chapter 4.

Taking a quick look at the underlying concepts in the latter half of 2 Corinthians 4, we can see that Paul is discussing the idea of the temporal nature of this life. He explains that the difficulties and struggles of this life, therefore, are also temporary, and that there is a hope found in the promise of the resurrection (as stated in 2 Corinthians 4:14 2 Corinthians 4:14Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.
American King James Version×
). “We can take heart as Christians, because He who raised Jesus Christ, will also raise us up by Jesus, and will present us to Him” (2 Corinthians 4:14 2 Corinthians 4:14Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.
American King James Version×
). Paul goes on, to paraphrase, that it is important that as the outward man diminishes (perishes little by little each day) the inward man must be renewed (the transformation of our lives through Christ Jesus). As a result, our focus should be on the things not seen—the spiritual things—not on the physical things which we can see.

And that leads into the concepts outlined in 2 Corinthians 5.

The apostle Paul was a tentmaker by trade and understood tents. Tents by nature are temporary dwellings, not meant to be a permanent structure that is to be set up forever and ever. They serve their temporary purpose, and then they are taken down.

When this “earthly tent” is destroyed—when the physical life we have is over—we have a building from God: a house not made with hands, but instead eternal in the heavens. Paul references the resurrection and the transformation to Spirit he discusses in other letters he wrote: 1 Corinthians 15:50-55 1 Corinthians 15:50-55 50 Now this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?
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and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
American King James Version×
.

He then begins to discuss the groaning and yearning that we have for this permanent home in the Kingdom of God. We are burdened in this life, and we groan at its difficulties and struggles. We don’t desire to have our life taken from us, but instead desire to be clothed in life, to obtain eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

However, in order for that to happen, whether we die or are transformed at Christ’s return, we must be separated from this physical life, this tent. While we are in this physical life, we are absent from the Lord, from the eternal life in His Kingdom that he has promised. We are able to remain confident in this promise of eternal life, because it is given by God (Hebrews 6:17-20 Hebrews 6:17-20 17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show to the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us: 19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil; 20 Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
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).

This hope of the resurrection anchors us.

Paul goes on to say that as a result of all of this, we can be well pleased in death. We don’t have to look at death as something to fear, or something that is devastating. Instead we can be well pleased to be absent from this earthly tent, and in the next instant of our consciousness be present with the Lord after the resurrection. Because we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, either in this life (1 Peter 4:17 1 Peter 4:17For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
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) or after the resurrection (Revelation 20:11-13 Revelation 20:11-13 11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
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), it is important to live a life that is well pleasing to him.

We can take the writings of the apostle Paul in this particular passage of 2 Corinthians 5, and take heart in the words he conveys. They are hopeful and a promise that we can be certain our Great God will keep.