Absent from the Body, Present with the Lord?

“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home [endēmeō 1736] in the body, we are absent [ekdēmeō 1553] from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent [ekdēmeō 1553] from the body, and to be present [endēmeō 1736] with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present [endēmeō 1736] or absent [ekdēmeō 1553], we may be accepted of him.” (2Co 5:6-9).

First, we should concede that this passage isn’t about what happens when we die but what happens when we’re resurrected. The statement “that mortality might be swallowed up of life” (v. 4), corresponds to what Paul had already taught the Corinthians in his first letter, “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” (1Co 15:54). Also, there’s nothing in this passage about an intermittent state where disembodied beings go prior to resurrection and nothing about heaven. But since it’s being approached with the assumption that disembodied beings go to heaven after death, then translations are biased to read that way. But Paul was simply comparing our current bodily state with that of our future bodily state.

This passage is being used to teach that we’re presently living inside our bodies like living in a tent or a house, but at death we’ll be living outside our bodies. Likewise, that our bodies are like clothing we’re wearing, but at death we’ll be unclothed when we leave our bodies. However, these were simply figures of speech—a tent as opposed to a house, and naked or unclothed as opposed to clothed upon. In context, “For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (4:18), our current temporary state is like a tent while our future eternal state is like a house. Also, “being clothed we shall not be found naked” (v. 3), alludes back to “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked” (Gen 3:10). The message is that we don’t want to be found naked when the Lord returns. This has nothing to do with our bodies covering us like clothing.

The Greek words endēmeō and ekdēmeō aren’t prepositions denoting location of either inside or outside the body because if we adopt those meanings and apply them consistently across the passage, it results in nonsense. The same word endēmeō in “at home in the body” is used in “present with the Lord,” and ekdēmeō in “absent from the body” is used in “absent from the Lord.” Thus, inside or outside our bodies correlates with inside or outside the Lord. Therefore, if Paul was saying we’re living inside our bodies, then he was also saying that after leaving our bodies we’ll be living inside the Lord’s body! Furthermore, it’s obvious that the parallel statements “at home in the body” and “present with the Lord” had to be mistranslated to avoid absurdity because “at home in the body” and “at home in the Lord,” or “present with the body” and “present with the Lord” don’t work.

Endēmeō and ekdēmeō are verbs denoting action with no English equivalents with which to be translated. Their root dēmos means “people.” They carry the idea of residing with or away from people. In this temporary state of our body, we’re residing with people away from the Lord, but when He returns our bodies will be in a permanent state residing with Him. The conclusion is “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present [endēmeō 1736] or absent [ekdēmeō 1553], we may be accepted of him” (v. 9). It’s all about being accepted by Him in this life and in the next.

Sandwiched between all of these endēmeō and ekdēmeō parallel statements, Paul interjected “For we walk by faith [pistis 4102], not by sight [eidos 1491]” (v. 7). It’s being taught that he was saying we walk by what we believe and not by what we see. However, the Greek nouns are mistranslated—pistis means “faithfulness” or “loyalty” while eidos means “appearance” or “form.” He meant that we walk by faithfulness to the Lord and not by appearance to people which also agrees with what he said just a few verses later, “them which glory in appearance, and not in heart” (5:12), as also to the Romans, “of the heart, in the spirit [breath], and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom 2:29). His point is that although we’re residing with people away from the Lord, and we’re being seen by them daily, we’re not walking in such a way to be seen by them. Jesus Christ taught against this, “that they may have glory of men,” “that they may be seen of men,” “that they may appear unto men” (Mat 6:2,5,16).

The bottom line is that this passage doesn’t teach disembodiment to live in heaven. Jesus Christ lives in heaven but not disembodied! This passage is about how we live right now in our current bodily state in preparation for the judgment, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2Co 5:10). It’s to live in the presence of the Lord in a permanent bodily state.