What "filthiness of the flesh and spirit" is Paul talking about in 2 Cor 7:1?

Firstly, he is talking about himself and his co-workers in the most of chapter 6:

We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain ... Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged (2 Cor. 6:1-13)

then, kind of all of the sudden, he gives them a command:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Cor. 6:14)

and then, having supported this command with a quote from the Scriptures, he says:

Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1).

What "filthiness of the flesh and spirit" is Paul talking about here and how exactly does he want Corinthian believes to cleanse themselves from it?

2 Answers 2


Many of the Corinthian believers had been converted to Christ from paganism and idol worship. Clearly, much of the "worship" going on in pagan temples in Paul's day involved sacrifices--not to mute idols but to demons (1 Cor 10:20). Paul pointed out to his converts a blatant contradiction:

"You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" (vss.21,22).

Murray J. Harris has suggested the following:

"Paul is probably implying that the Corinthians had become defiled, perhaps by occasionally sharing meals at idol-shrines or by continuing to attend festivals or ceremonies in pagan temples (cf. 1 Cor. 8:10; 10:14-22), or even by maintaining their membership in some local pagan cult. If they made a clean break (cf. katharisomen, aorist [tense]) with pagan life in any and every form, they would be bringing their holiness nearer completion by this proof of their reverence for God" ("2 Corinthians" in Romans-Galatians, Vol.10 of 12, of * *. Gaebelein & Douglas, eds. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978, pp.360-361).

If some of the Corinthian believers were still "dabbling" in some aspects of a pagan lifestyle, Paul had the responsibility as their spiritual father to remind them of the dangers of slipping back into worldliness. Perhaps they were continuing to nurture their friendships with unbelievers, thus compromising their newfound faith in Jesus.

Not that the Corinthians had to separate themselves from the people in the world, but they did need to "keep their distance" from the immoral behavior of their pagan friends. As James put it, we need to keep ourselves

". . . unstained from the world" (1:27).

James uses the stained metaphor, and Paul uses the filthiness/defilement metaphor. Both apostles are saying Christians need to guard against being contaminated by the sin in the world. Interestingly, some of the healings Jesus performed on people in His day involved ridding people of demons, also called "unclean spirits" (according to the NASB in Mt 12:43; Mk 1:23; 3:30; 7:25; 9:17ff.; Lk 8:29; 9:42; 11:24; 13:11; the NIV refers to them as "evil spirits"). So now we have three similar words related to pollution or contamination of flesh and spirit: stains, filthiness, and uncleanness.

Furthermore, the unequal yoke Paul talked about in 6:14 was one such compromise in which some of the Corinthians were involved. This yoke could have involved forming business partnerships with unbelievers, which is applicable to Christians of all ages and cultures to this very day. The yoke could also be what is facetiously called a "missionary marriage" between a Christian and a non-Christian, in which the Christian, before the wedding, hopes to be a missionary to the non-Christian and lead him or her to Christ after they exchange wedding vows. This "plan" seldom goes as planned.

Paul goes to great lengths to explain that the value system of pagan culture and the value system of Christianity are like oil and water: they do not mix.

The word Paul uses as a contrast to filth and defilement is holiness. Evidently, Christians are capable of

"perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (7:1b).

Sanctification, or the process through which we as Christians become increasingly holy and Christ-like, is a lifelong process of transformation. Perfecting holiness is not "sinless perfection"; rather, it is a spiritual maturity that makes us "above reproach," as we increasingly become able through practice to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:14).

In conclusion, while some of the Corinthians had to deal with sordid pasts involving demonic influence, sexual immorality, drunkenness, and other sins, as "new creations in Christ," these old things God had graciously forgiven. He had wiped the slate clean, and the Corinthians were now to be characterized by a new way of life, free from the domination of habitual sin.

In our post-modern world, we may have difficulty identifying with the notion of idolatry, at least as it was practiced in Paul's day. We are safe to assume, however, that while we may not bow down to idols of wood and stone and metal, we do have our post-modern idols, which are too numerous to mention. (A short list would have to include materialism, financial security, a comfortable life, and worldly success.)

The challenge for us today, as it was in Paul's day, is to keep our spirit going and growing in the direction of holiness, with a healthy fear of and reverence for the Lord, who Himself is holiness personified.

  • This is a decent answer, but the reason for my downvote is the shift from discussing the Corinthian believers to talking about 'us' which *prescribes*/imposes your perspective on the reader. Also, no work is shown for explaining how James' letter is related to Paul's. Using other texts than the one being discussed and presuming that they agree is an assumption. Not all of your readers are Christians.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 13, 2014 at 22:31
  • 1
    @Daи: No offense taken. Ya does what ya has to does; I know I do. Don Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 0:03

Good question! I believe the answer, as it often does, and as you also indicated, lies in the context of the verse.

The context
Having talked about his ministry as an ambassador of Christ in the end of ch5, Paul moves on in ch6 to talking about the contrast between his ministry and what the world view as greatness (2Cor 6:3-10). He then encourages the Corinthians to be as "open" and "unrestricted" with Paul as he is with them, saying, "You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections". In v14-18, Paul shows them how their affections, which tie them to the world, restrict them in a way they should not be restricted, and, as you mention, he cites scriptures to prove it.

Then Paul says in 7:1, "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."

What are the promises?
The only promises mentioned previously to which Paul could be referring, are in the scriptures he cites:
-"I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (v16)
-"I will receive you" (v17)
-"I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (v18).
These are the promises to which Paul is referring in 7:1

What is filthiness of the flesh and spirit?
Filthiness of the flesh and spirit is contrasted against the last part of the verse, "holiness in the fear of God". Thus filthiness is the opposite of holiness (meaning "set apart"). The last half of ch6 spoke about holiness, and how believers should be set apart from the world and not "unequally yoked". This filthiness is, as Paul puts it in v16, "the agreement of the temple of God with idols" - certainly something deserving the term "filthiness". The filthiness is "of the flesh and spirit", in that it is both physical and spiritual: Physically it may be viewed as the "agreement of a believer with an unbeliever", and spiritually it may be viewed as "the fellowship of light with darkness".

How do we cleanse ourselves? According to 7:1, fear of God is a key - not only a healthy respect for God and His word, but a genuine fear of the consequences of sin (not that God will punish us, but that our relationship with God will suffer, and God may discipline us). Our love for and fear of God and our desire for holiness should motivate us to be holy (i.e. separate) from the defilement of the world. This is simply a daily choice we are told to make - just as Paul explains how he did it.

This does not mean that we do not evangelize to wicked men. This does not mean that we become monastics. This does not mean that we try to escape the world. It simply means that we do what we can (within Biblical bounds) to limit the negative influence the world may have on us - just as Israel did in the Old Testament contexts of the quotes given in the last three verses of the chapter. This may mean not marrying an unbeliever, or not entering a partnership where one might be forced to compromise Biblical values and ideals.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.