In 2 Corinthians 6:17, is it referring to the "unclean [thing]" or "unclean [person]"? Did Paul say what he meant and mean what he said?:

New American Standard Bible "Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you.

Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] διὸ ἐξέλθατε ἐκ μέσου αὐτῶν, καὶ ἀφορίσθητε, λέγει Κύριος, καὶ ἀκαθάρτου μὴ ἅπτεσθε· κἀγὼ εἰσδέξομαι ὑμᾶς·

The grammar suggests anything unclean, human or not but the context suggests that Paul is using this passage to refuse association ("be separate", "don't touch", etc.) with unholy people.

It appears that Paul is citing it authoritatively to describe the proper relationship (or rather, non-relationship) that a Christian should have with non-believers. This seems odd to me on several levels but right now I'm focused on the implications for how to handle prophecy and how citing this might have been overkill for what Paul wanted to forbid. Might this have given rise to his need to clarify:

1Co 5:9 I wrote to you in my letter to stop associating with people who are sexually immoral— 1Co 5:10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, greedy, robbers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 1Co 5:11 But now I am writing to you to stop associating with any so-called brother if he is sexually immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunk, or a robber. You must even stop eating with someone like that. 1Co 5:12 After all, is it my business to judge outsiders? You are to judge those who are in the community, aren't you? 1Co 5:13 God will judge outsiders. "Expel that wicked man."

Paul seems to think that the prophecy from Isaiah is limited in scope to "bad believers" rather than unbelievers. But is it?

The nature of my question is puzzlement that Paul would appeal to a prophecy about national deliverance and not taking souvenirs in a possibly inappropriate and demonstrably confusing way. I'm trying to understand if there is a more precise way of looking at this.

  • 4
    Is there any particular reason you're asking about this verse from 2 Cor 6:17, rather than its source in Isaiah 52:11? Are you asking about the 2 Cor author's appropriation of the verse, or its original author's intention?
    – Steve can help
    Dec 14, 2016 at 8:18

3 Answers 3


The verse is referring to anything and anyone unclean. From looking at the KJV with Strong's numbers (Using E-Sword), there is not a Greek word present for "thing". The translators added that in to clarify what they thought the author meant. The verse pretty much is saying "Do not touch the unclean". It is the same with its source in Isaiah 52:11. So it could be either or both the unclean person and thing.

Here is what the KJV (with Strong's numbers) says:

WhereforeG1352 come outG1831 fromG1537 amongG3319 them,G846 andG2532 be ye separate,G873 saithG3004 the Lord,G2962 andG2532 touchG680 notG3361 the uncleanG169 thing; and IG2504 will receiveG1523 you,G5209

I bolded the part of the text in question. If you are not familiar with E-Sword's style with Strong's numbers, then you need to know that the Greek number for a Greek word follows the word. It follows this style: "English wordGreek number for Greek word".

All that to say, you will notice that there is no associated Greek word next to "thing", so it is as I said in the first paragraph - it is more general than most English translations let on. Also, even if you read the KJV without Strong's numbers, the text that is in italics are not in the original Greek text, which goes along with what I have been saying. In addition, since it is used in Luke 4:33 to refer to an unclean demon, Paul's use may encompass that.

Essentially Paul's message is that a person should avoid whatever is unclean.

  • For a tenth grader your answer and appreciation of the issue is a very good. E-Sword is a good resource. You might also want to check out the Blue Letter Bible blueletterbible.org or Bible Hub biblehub.com/interlinear or a source that offers an Interlinear resource. Dec 16, 2016 at 15:55
  • 1
    A clearly written answer but lacks an understanding of how Greek works: it can express "thing-ness" without a word meaning "thing", which is what the neuter gender does here.
    – Dɑvïd
    Dec 16, 2016 at 16:08
  • @Dɑvïd Can you suggest a good grade level resource to begin a study of the Greek? Dec 16, 2016 at 16:45
  • @RevelationLad The best collection of resources I know comes from the NTGateway. I can't vouch for them, but the Bill Mounce and Jim West options are probably best (the latter requiring a legacy font). I think this has come up more than once in the chatroom though. HTH.
    – Dɑvïd
    Dec 16, 2016 at 16:56
  • 1
    @AChildofGod–Again, ἀκαθάρτου can be a declension of any of the three genders. It’s just a fact. For example, see Perseus.
    – user862
    Dec 17, 2016 at 20:12

I don't see the confusion in the text. It is perfectly clear what the apostle was trying to do: he intentionally quoted the prophet Isaiah -- almost word for word.

Since the old and new testaments resonate in perfect harmony, and that there are no contradictions in God's word, the text simply means we should not touch anything which is unclean. The word unclean means everything the word of God says unclean is. Everything the old testament says is unclean is in that one word used by the apostle Paul, be it an unclean animal (animals we shouldn't eat), a woman purifying herself after birth, a woman in her periodic outflow of blood, etc. All such things are considered unclean by the word of God.

Let's just stick to the Bible and quit trying to find reasons for not obeying the word.

  • 1
    Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. Your response does not address the question. Read the accepted answer, and the comments that follow.
    – enegue
    Oct 13, 2017 at 12:52

First of all point of the verse that is "anything unclean" includes persons, though a better translation may be NASB that reads "Do not touch what is unclean". Secondly, the application of Isaiah verse is not done as a prophecy-fulfillment but as general principle and command which forbids association or touching of any impure things. All the applications of Old Testament verses in the New Testament have been basically done in a midrash interpretation (from Heb. darash, to inquire, to seek, or to draw out), which would include metaphors, similes, and analogies, allusions.

In such interpretation it is not odd to apply the original verse or a snippet even to a very different context and meaning. This example of Paul's usage of the Isaiah verse is not at all problematic or overkill. He alluded to a command and principle to make a point; though the language is indeed exaggerating appearing to be hyperbole. The point is clear, he instructs the Church to make zero association with sinners. Concerning discipline Paul was very strict, as he warned: If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized (1Cor.14:38) concerning his rules on orderly and organized assembly. Paul wants believers to treat sinners as leprosy patients as a general rule of-course. Nothing unique or strange in such instructions.

Compare this strong language for disassociation with heretics:

(Jude 1:18-23 NET) 18 For they said to you, “In the end time there will come scoffers, propelled by their own ungodly desires.” 19 These people are divisive, worldly, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 maintain yourselves in the love of God, while anticipating the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that brings eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who waver; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; have mercy on others, coupled with a fear of God, hating even the clothes stained by the flesh.

  • Are you sure you didn't misunderstand what he was saying, as the Corinthians did? Please read it again.
    – user10231
    Dec 17, 2016 at 23:06
  • @WoundedEgo unless u specifically points out whats exactly strange here to be noticed, I cannot notice it. U need to be very clear- meanwhile Im expecting my 100points for the best answer.
    – Michael16
    Dec 18, 2016 at 6:36
  • (-1) You wrote: "The point is clear, he instructs the Church to make zero association with sinners." The point of my post (which I would improve on except it is a popular post as is (go figure)) is that his "post" is making an assertion, poorly and misleadingly conceived that clearly resulted in confusion in his hearers. You sir are likewise confused. See the 2 Cor quote.
    – user10231
    Dec 18, 2016 at 9:25
  • @WoundedEgo how can you be anymore confused when you refuse to even explain your question apart from what is available in your Q. I dont think the Q or the passage is a matter of confusion. Baseless down vote.
    – Michael16
    Dec 18, 2016 at 11:39
  • While baseless downvotes are a thing around here, I do have my reasons. Yes, you read the passage as written but my concern is that it appears Paul didn't write what he meant, appealed to a prophecy that didn't say what he wanted to say and created confusion in Corinth. He may even have influenced Peter and James! (See Galatians 1).
    – user10231
    Dec 18, 2016 at 12:03

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