On the ‘new creation’ of 2 Corinthians 5:17

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2 Corinthians 5:17 mentions a “new creation”, or “new creature” as some translations have it. Apparently, some have thought that passage to mean that the people whom the apostle Paul wrote to, were “all done and ready”, without anything to worry about. Is that correct?

Here is a part of what Paul (and Timothy) wrote to the saints in Corinth and Achaia:

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (NASB77)

The question is, what did Paul really mean? As we consider 2 Corinthians 5:17, it is worth noting that he mentioned this with “new creation” or “new man”, even in other letters. Here is an example:

Galatians 6:15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (NKJV)

In that passage, Paul used the same Greek words for “new creation” as in 2 Corinthians 5:17, kainos and ktisis. Sometimes he used other, similar expressions such as “new man”, Colossians 3:10.

Colossians 3:9 […] since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him (NKJV)

The saints were to mortify the “old man”, by the help of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:12 Therefore, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13 For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (AKJV)

Colossians 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: 6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience (AKJV)

Those scriptures make it clear that the apostle Paul’s words which are recorded in 2 Corinthians 5:17, did not mean that saints would have been a fully finished new creation. Spiritually, they were not full-grown yet. And, they still had mortal, fleshly bodies, and they had their failings. Consider even 1 John 1:8, “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”, and Romans 6:12, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts”.

The two creations. The two Adams.

2 Corinthians 5:17 talks about two creations, not only one. The way the RSV renders that verse, perhaps makes this a bit clearer.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. (RSV)

On the one hand, there was the “old” – the first Adam, the fleshly man. And then, on the other hand, there was the “new”, the “second Adam”. It is, of course, Jesus who is the “second Adam”. He was the first human to become a “new creation” of the kind that we are talking about here. (This refers to Jesus after his resurrection to a new life, spirit life.) And then: The saints were to become like Jesus. The apostle wrote about this, in another letter to the saints in Corinth.

1 Corinthians 15:45 So it is written: The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth and made of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 Like the man made of dust, so are those who are made of dust; like the heavenly man, so are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the man made of dust, we will also bear the image of the heavenly man. (HCSB)

The people whom Paul was addressing, had been baptised and had thus in symbol buried the “old man” of flesh (see Romans 6:4). In that way, it could be said that the “old man” had “passed away” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17 in the RSV, quoted above). And, when they then received the Holy Spirit, they became a “new creation”. But again, this did not mean that they were a “finished product”, while they had bodies of flesh. And, let us assume that even when they were made immortal, they did not become “mature children of God”, all at once.

Warnings given to the saints.

Here is an example:

Hebrews 6:4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. 7 For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. (NKJV)

Please note the severe warning in the above-quoted passage in that letter to the Jewish saints. The New Testament contains several similar passages.

In short: If the saints did not hold on to their salvation, they could lose it.

The context in 2 Corinthians 5.

It is good to check and consider the context of each passage. This is so, even though it may not always be easy to see the connection between the different parts of Paul’s long and complicated reasonings. Here is a bit more of what he wrote to the saints in Corinth and Achaia.

2 Corinthians 5:15 and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 16 Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (NASB77, highlighting added)

If one considers that passage and this whole matter in more depth, one will notice that Paul repeatedly wrote about a need for a true change, from the way things had been in the past. The saints were not “all done and ready”.

Things to keep in mind.

The people whom Paul wrote to, certainly were a “new creation”, but again, they were still mortals with bodies of flesh, and they still had their failings. And, they could not take their salvation for granted. They had to hold on to it, and live in a manner that was pleasing to God.

Paul and Simon Peter and other New Testament writers admonished the believers to live righteous lives. Here are some examples of this.

Romans 6:3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. […] 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. […] 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (NKJV)

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (NKJV)

Galatians 5:24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (NKJV)

Ephesians 4: […] 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (NKJV)

Colossians 3:8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him (NKJV)

1 Peter 4: […] 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. (NKJV)

It is true that those things were written to and regarding the saints, in the first century. But certainly, there is much to learn in that, even for us today.

A side-note: Some of those passages mention the matter of righteousness. The article rga083.htm contains a study on that subject, including what new-covenantal righteousness is and consists of.

1 John 3:9.

The way many bible-versions render 1 John 3:9, might cause a casual reader to think that the saints “could not” sin.

1 John 3:9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (NASB77)

But, other parts of that letter make it clear that the apostle John did not mean that they “were not able to sin”. We read:

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (AKJV)

So, since those verses, along with many others in the New Testament, make it clear that the saints could still err and sin (and sometimes did), then what does the word “cannot” in 1 John 3:9 mean or refer to? Perhaps it should in this case be understood the way it is used when one says, “Hey, you cannot do that!” It appears that the meaning is, “and he may not sin”. (Compare this with the passages that were quoted under the preceding heading.)

On the concepts ‘regeneration’ and ‘being born again’.

The English word “regeneration” – the same as “being born again” – comes from the Latin verb genero which means “to beget”, “to engender”, “to produce”, “to create”.

Many bible-translators have copied things from the Latin text of the Catholic Vulgate version. And so, they have put into Titus 3:5 the latinism “regeneration”. But, “new birth” is a clearer translation.

Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. (NLT04, highlighting added)

What that translation renders as “new birth”, is in the Greek text palingenesia which indeed means “new birth”. And, it can be said that that is what happened, when the saints received the Holy Spirit. They became children of God. That certainly can be called “new birth”. (Later there was more, of course, when they became immortals.)

Even 1 Peter 1:3 refers to that matter. There, the Greek text has the verb anagennaô which means “to beget anew” (to cause to be born again).

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who begot us again according to his abundant mercy for a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 for an inheritance imperishable, and undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heavens for you (ACV, highlighting added)

Then there is the passage which records something Jesus said to Nicodemus. Here are two translations of it.

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (ASV, highlighting added)

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to thee, If any man is not begotten from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (ACV, highlighting added)

Here, the Greek text has gennêthê anôthen. (Gennêthê = gennaô, “to be begotten”, “to be born”. Anôthen = “from above”, and also “over again” or “afresh”.)

So, it can be said that the saints were “born anew”, or “begotten from above”. This happened when they received the Holy Spirit and became children of God. But of course, that did not mean that they were a “completed” creation. They did become children of God, but they still had mortal bodies. There was more to come. Paul wrote about this, in his letter to the saints in Corinth – “and just as we have borne the image of the man made of dust, we will also bear the image of the heavenly man” (1 Corinthians 15:49, HCSB). That referred to the time when they then became immortals. And, even when that happened, they were not “all done and ready” but were only like small children. Children must grow and mature.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters.

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm

What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → rga083.htm

On the word “saint” and what it means and refers to, in the Bible. → rga032.htm

On Titus 1:15 and the translation “unto the pure all things are pure”, and what that passage really means and refers to. → rea052.htm

Religion must not be skin-deep only. Believers must take the matters of faith seriously. → rba112.htm

On pride and humility in connection with religion. → rga102.htm

What does the word “faith” mean? What is true faith? → rba092.htm

A challenge to all believers, regarding something important. → rwa062.htm

What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → rba043.htm

On what the Bible says about the matter of resurrection. → rba082.htm

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