The words "is to be" are not in 2 Cor 5:8, they are merely imposed on the text by those with a pretext.
Possibly the most misquoted verse in the New Testament
Below this entry I’ve posted a previous short study of mine from 2015, but I wanted to add more detail as to the context in which we find the verse.
A radio ministry I follow has been going through 2 Corinthians and the teacher is passing from chapter 4 into chapter 5. Another radio ministry I follow was recently through that section of scripture. Both misquoted a well-known verse, but they are not alone. I hear the verse misquoted and taken out of context probably more than any verse in the New Testament.
Some dynamic equivalence Bible translations suffer from biases on the part of the translators. Instead of a direct translation (formal or static), the writers impose thoughts on the verse which they believe are inferred. Well, if you believe some verse already teaches something before you get to it, it very well could influence how you expand the meaning. But enough on Bible translations, the problem with the verse I’m addressing is that even while most translations don’t impose certain words on it, it is almost always quoted with these words by individual Christians imposing their own inference.
We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. - 2 Cor 5:8 [NKJV]
I am convinced that one of the least studied and most misunderstood doctrines in Christianity is the doctrine of death and related topics (the curse, resurrection, etc.). It’s also one of the most important. So much of proper Bible interpretation hinges on an understanding of death.
I previously covered death with an overview which can be read HERE. But in this short note, I’d like to single out the oft-misquoted verse above, 2 Cor 5:8.
You will almost universally hear this verse quoted this way, “Absent from the body IS TO BE present with the Lord.” You may have already quoted it to yourself that way (I quoted it that way for years)... but such a verse does not exist.
For you Greek geeks, here it is in the Greek (from the Textus Receptus and Westcott and Hort):
θαρρουμεν δε και ευδοκουμεν μαλλον (mâllon) εκδημησαι εκ του σωματος και ενδημησαι προςτον κυριον (TR)
θαρρουμεν δε και ευδοκουμεν μαλλον (mâllon) εκδημησαι εκ του σωματος και ενδημησαι προςτον κυριον (WH)
mâllon = Strong’s #3123 = much more, rather, to a greater degree (Compare Rom 5:15, “For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.”)
Yes, the Greek is identical. I just wanted to deal with that issue as it is important to some.
As these notes are designed to be short, I will just pick one passage from 2 Cor 4 for our context:
“‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you*.”
*Something else to ponder, how could they all be presented with Paul at the same time if they all died at different times?
Resurrection is clearly the context of 2 Cor 5:1-8 as well. The great hope since Adam has been resurrection. The great hope of Christ was resurrection. The great hope of Romans is resurrection. The great hope of 1 Cor 15 is resurrection. And the great hope of 2 Cor 5 is resurrection.
Paul speaks of a perishing house or tent (a temporal body) that groans for a new building (resurrection body). We do not yearn to be “unclothed” (v.4 without a body), but rather to be in our new body.
2 Cor 5:4 states in whole, “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.” Paul does not want to be unclothed (without a tent), but clothed in a new tent.
So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory."
In resurrection and not before. As noted in my study on death, the curse is death and decay. These are what Adam is cursed with (passed on to all men including to us), and what Christ reversed.
So Paul speaks of the hope of resurrection in 2 Cor 4 and continues to 2 Cor 5. He states to those of us who are stuck between grasping on to this life (fearing death) while groaning for a new, sinless body that when we understand the glories of the new body, fear of death dissipates. Paul states that he will be pleased RATHER to be absent from this current earthly flesh and present with the Lord, in resurrection, in his new tent, in his new flesh. Fear of death fading.
Before you read 2 Cor 5:1-8, note what immediately precedes it:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Yes, they were suffering in this body, facing death, but that is merely “light affliction” in light of resurrection, “knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.” Knowing that truth is what helps us loosen our grip on this earthly life.
We are confident, I say, and pleased rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. [Darby]
We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. [NIV]
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. [KJV]
Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then* we will be at home with the Lord. [NLT]
*Note from our study, that the “then” of immortality is the “when” of resurrection (1 Cor 15).
We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. [NASB]
There may be one translation out there that has incorporated “IS TO BE” because of its ubiquitous use, but from the Greek manuscripts to the ancient translations to modern dynamic equivalence, you will not find those words. Absent from the body is only be present with the Lord in resurrection. That is the what the whole of scripture teaches.
“Prefer to be,” not “is to be.”
“I prefer to be absent from work and to be at the Phillies game” does not mean “Absent from work IS TO BE at the Phillies game?” No. Must I leave work before I go to the Phillies game? Of course. But I can leave work at any time and not show up at the Phillies game for hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia...
Chapter Headings for 2 Cor 5:
And when he [More] proveth that the saints be in heaven in glory with Christ already, saying, "If God be their God, they be in heaven, for he is not the God of the dead;" there he stealeth away Christ's argument, wherewith he proveth the resurrection: that Abraham and all saints should rise again, and not that their souls were in heaven; which doctrine was not yet in the world. And with that doctrine he taketh away the resurrection quite, and maketh Christ's argument of none effect. -William Tyndale
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Cor 5:8 - KJV)
Here is how this verse is often quoted, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” and “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Both are very incorrect renderings of the verse and ignore the context of the passage (2 Cor 1-8). The verse is often used as a standalone verse to try and confirm a doctrine foreign to scripture, that is, the doctrine of “bodiless souls.”
The context of the passage is resurrection. Paul is groaning for his new body. The doctrine of resurrection was laid out carefully by Paul in 1 Cor 15. There, he writes that we do not conquer death or the grave until our resurrection. We are not born immortal, we must become immortal (“[God]... alone is immortal” - 1 Tim 6). And that immortality (eternal life) is realized in resurrection.
For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor 15:52-54 - NKJV) “Then” and not before.
So, with 1 Cor 15 in mind, let’s again look at 2 Cor 5. Paul starts out by noting that we are in bodies of death and we groan for new bodies,
“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven...” (vs. 1-2)
Paul is groaning to be “clothed” (not be be “naked,” v.3). He is desiring a “house which is from heaven.” This heavenly house is contrasted with an “earthly” house. This is exactly what Paul teaches in the great resurrection chapter of 1 Cor 15. The victory Christ secured for us in his death, burial (no decay) and resurrection is not realized until our resurrection. It is THEN (and only then) that we can say, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades [grave], where is your victory?”
So where is our eternal life upon our death?
“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Col 3:3-4)
Remember, You don’t HAVE a soul, you ARE a soul.
To teach some sort of immortal, bodiless soul, demotes the resurrection (his and ours) to almost a footnote, as Tyndale argued. Both Peter and Paul start their public ministries emphasizing the Savior’s lack of decay in the tomb (Acts 2:27,31; 13:35-37). Why? Because the resurrection of Christ was the undoing of the curse of Adam. Adam brought death and decay upon creation. Christ (the last Adam, 1 Cor 15:45) rescues us from the curse of death and decay. That is the victory of resurrection!
I won’t go through all of 1 Cor 15 here, but you must read that chapter and understand it before approaching 2 Cor 5. In context, 2 Cor 5 is clearly about our resurrection bodies. “For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life” (2 Cor 5:4). Mortality swallowed up of life occurs in resurrection. We groan, not to have no house, but to be in our heavenly house, clothed in our “celestial body” (1 Cor 15).
2 Cor 5:6, “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord ...” So, while we are in these bodies of death (Rom 7:24), we are “absent from the Lord,” we long to have a body “like his body” (Phil 3:21), which only happens at our resurrection or at his appearing.
- “Absent from the Lord” (v.6) = being in your earthly body;
- “Present with the Lord” (v.8) = being with him, in glory, in your new body.
So, finally, let’s read the misquoted verse and consider its context, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Note the text reads “rather to be.” It does not say “absent from the body IS TO BE present with the Lord.” It’s a final comparative, not a standalone statement. The context is the groaning to be clothed upon with our new house. The text expressly rejects a desire to be “unclothed” (having no body).
- Absent from the Lord = Being in our terrestrial bodies = the old house
- Present with the Lord = Being in our celestial bodies = the new house
Final note on the Greek text; the word “rather” is a translation of the Greek word “μαλλον” which is roughly pronounced “mâllon.” Strong’s concordance tells us this suggests “to a greater degree.”
We live for God. We cherish the gift of life, but in light of resurrection life in the new house, we desire to be in that new body to a greater degree. Paul doesn’t groan for death, he groans for his new body. Imagine preaching that we should groan for death!
Absent from the terrestrial, earthly body either means to be in the grave or to be in your celestial, heavenly body. Read 1 Cor 15 and then 2 Cor 5, learn to groan in this body and learn to desire to be in a new, heavenly, sinless body “like unto His glorious body.” I promise you, the death, burial (lack of decay) and resurrection of Our Lord will take on new significance. It becomes EVERYTHING!
The conquering of the grave by the Lord Jesus Christ will move to center of your spiritual life and the hope of getting your new body in your resurrection will make you groan for that day even more! Resurrection Sunday (Easter) will take on new significance!
- Adam (first Adam) = sin = curse = death and decay
- Jesus (last Adam) = payment for sin = undoing of curse = resurrection from death and decay
If you don’t know the guarantee of this hope of a new body, CLICK HERE