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Published Date: April 30, 2015

Published Date: April 30, 2015

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The Significance of Paul’s Addition of “and daughters” in 2 Corinthians 6:18

“And I will be to you as a father, and you will be to me as sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” So writes Paul in 2 Cor 6:18, evidently quoting from 2 Sam 7:14. But the 2 Samuel passage lacks the words “and daughters.” Some scholars assume that Paul has merged the language of 2 Samuel with a quotation from another OT passage where sons and daughters are mentioned. Others argue that Paul has added the words not to echo an older text, but to affirm an insight of his own.1 Whether Paul has borrowed the phrase or created the phrase, the addition clarifies his understanding of God’s covenant people. And the clarification is significant: Paul included women.

The shape of a Pauline catena

The verse falls within the debated passage, 2 Cor 6:14–7:1. Some treat the passage as a non-Pauline interpolation,2 others as a Pauline interpolation drawn from another communication with the church at Corinth or elsewhere.3 Some read the passage as a tangential parenthetical statement, while others read it as an integral part of Paul’s argument regarding the implications of God’s covenant for the controversies in Corinth.

Whatever its role in the Corinthian correspondence, this passage, which deals with the contact between followers of Christ and unbelievers, includes a catena—a chain or series—of four quotations from the OT, imploring believers who comprise “the temple of the living God” to have nothing in common with unbelievers and their idolatrous ways. The four quotations are arranged chiastically.4 The first and the fourth citations (v. 16b and v. 18) remind believers that God is their God, their father, and that they are his people, his children. The first section (A, v. 16b) reads, “I will dwell among them and walk among [them] and I will be their God and they will be my people.” The last section (A’, v. 18) echoes, “And I will be to you as a father and you will be to me as sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” The middle citations (v. 17a and v. 17b) call on believers to avoid contaminating contact with the idolaters in whose midst they lived. Section two (B, v. 17a) says, “Therefore go out from the midst of them, and be separated, says the Lord.” And section three (B’, v. 17b) adds, “And quit touching the unclean, and I will welcome you in.”

The fourth and final citation in the catena (v. 18) includes the addition that commands our attention—“and daughters” (kai thugateras). The Septuagint passage from which Paul appears to be quoting, 2 Sam 7:14, says, “I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me.” But Paul writes, “And I will be to you as a father, and you will be to me as sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Although Paul was capable of quoting OT passages with little regard for the original context, there is a connection here. In 2 Samuel God promises David that he will have an heir who will build a house, a temple, for the Lord. And it is that very temple which supplies the controlling metaphor for Paul in this passage: “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16a).

Paul’s quotation in v. 18 includes several modifications and additions. Paul adds “and,” connecting this statement to the rest of the catena. “Him” and “he” become “you,” while “son” becomes the plural “sons.” With these alterations, Paul applies the statement not to David’s heir, but more broadly to God’s new covenant people. And Paul adds, “says the Lord Almighty” (legei kurios pantokratōr), confirming 2 Sam 7 as the context. In that chapter God is called the “Almighty” (pantokratōr) on three separate occasions (vv. 8, 25, 27). But the most fascinating addition to v. 18 is the words, “and daughters.”

The source of a Pauline addition

What is the source of these words? Is Paul quoting from another OT passage or adding his own words to clarify the OT passage he is quoting? Some texts (including NA28 and UBS5), some prominent study Bibles (such as The New Oxford Annotated Bible and The NIV Study Bible), and many commentaries (including Plummer, Bruce, and Martin) cite Isa 43:6 as the possible inspiration for the addition of “and daughters.” This verse from Isaiah reads, “bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” Scott Hafemann, for example, argues that Paul is deliberately combining the Messianic implications of 2 Sam 7 (“son”) with the restoration motif of Isa 43 (”sons”).5 But the contexts of Isa 43 and 2 Cor 6 have little in common. Isaiah 43 celebrates the role of the Servant in the ingathering of many nations who will acknowledge the Lord, quite the opposite of the separatist sentiments of 2 Cor 6. And the wording is different, with 2 Cor 6 joining sons and daughters without modification while Isa 43 distinguishes between them with separate possessive modifiers (“my sons” . . . “my daughters”). Therefore, although Isa 43 is certainly parallel to 2 Cor 6 insofar as it references both sons and daughters, both content and context militate against it as a direct source from which Paul has quoted.

Deuteronomy 32:19 may actually have a stronger claim to being the OT source of the Pauline addition.6 It reads: “The Lord saw it, and was jealous; he spurned his sons and daughters.” The context is a stern warning against idolatry: “They sacrificed to demons, not God, to deities they had never known” (32:17). A parallel warning occurs in 2 Cor 6:16—“What agreement has the temple of God with idols”—and Paul had called idols demons earlier in his Corinthian correspondence (1 Cor 10:20). The Deuteronomy passage matches better than Isa 43:6 in terms of context and wording, but there is nevertheless no compelling reason this passage would had to have been in Paul’s mind when he added “and daughters.”

Some have suggested that 2 Esdras 1:28-30 could have served as the inspiration for the phrase. That passage reads, “Thus says the Almighty Lord, ‘Have I not prayed you as a father his sons, as a mother her daughters, and a nurse her young babes, that you would be my people, and I should be your God; that you would be my children, and I should be your father?’”7 The text mentions sons and daughters and features the phrase, “says the Lord Almighty.” But the first two chapters of 2 Esdras appear only in Latin and may be of Christian origin as late as the third century AD. And again, the contexts are noticeably different. Second Esdras threatens to give God’s promises to another people if the covenant people do not cease their violence. There is no hint of the need for withdrawing from contact with other peoples as in 2 Cor 6. The text hardly qualifies as a source for Paul’s added words.

In spite of the common assumption that Paul must have been quoting the words “sons and daughters,” from Isa 43:6 or elsewhere, it is possible and even likely that the words come from the general terminology found throughout scripture and not from a single source.8 Paul could well have added these words on his own volition to clarify his understanding of the relationship between God and God’s covenant people.

Textual critics view the words “and daughters” as a Pauline addition to an OT quotation rather than as a quotation from another source. NA28 and its predecessors do not italicize “your daughters,” indicating the editors’ judgment that these words have not been quoted from the OT. All five editions of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament handle this OT citation in identical fashion, removing the quotation-indicating boldface type from kai thugateras. Both editions of Zondervan’s A Reader’s Greek New Testament follow suit, similarly removing boldface type from these words. In other words, our long-respected and most widely-used Greek Testaments understand kai thugateras as a Pauline composition added to the quotation and not a Pauline quotation from the OT.

Although most English translations provide no clue that anything has been “added” in 6:18, the translators of the New Jerusalem Bible reproduce the pattern of the three above-mentioned Greek Testaments by not treating “and daughters” as a quotation. Quoted words are italicized, but not “and daughters.” Thus the one translation that designates which parts of 6:18 are quoted by Paul and which parts are composed by Paul clearly includes “and daughters” among the composed material.

The significance of the Pauline addition

What then is the significance of this apparently deliberate addition for the interpretation of 2 Cor 6:18? The possibilities are historical, sociological, and ecclesiological. The historical explanation looks to Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian congregation. Ben Witherington believes the words reflect Paul’s “desire to be reconciled with both his male and female converts in Corinth.”9 William Baker suggests the possibility that “women, maybe more than men, have been attracted to Paul’s opponents in Corinth.”10 James Thompson wonders if it reflects the “special prominence of women in the Corinthian church.”11

But Witherington also allows for a more far-reaching sociological implication, namely that Paul “was more egalitarian than many think.” Many interpreters understand Paul’s addition as an affirmation of the equality of women with men. This egalitarian emphasis is highlighted in the commentaries of Lipscomb, Lenski, Kistemaker, Baker, Harris, and others.12 Listen to Lipscomb’s quaint quote: “It is characteristic of Christianity that it was the first system that ever recognized the dignity of women and raised them generally to the same moral and spiritual level with men.”13 Alfred Plummer saw in these words how “Christianity raised woman from the degradation into which she had been thrust, not only in heathen cities, like Corinth, but even among the Chosen people.”14

But there is more than social egalitarianism at work here, no matter how significant that may have been. These two little words—“and daughters”—tell us something about Paul’s view of the nature of the church; the verbal addition has a way of “including women in the messianic assembly in Corinth.”15 This ecclesiological approach is also prominent in the thinking of Colin Kruse, who speaks of the “immense privilege of belonging to God’s people.”16 Ralph Martin claims that “Paul ‘expands’ the scope of the community addressed to include women” because in Christ “all men and women participate in the community of God.”17

Closely connected to this ecclesiological significance is the theological significance of the wording of 2 Cor 6:18. C. K. Barrett hints at it: “It is significant that Paul, whose attitude toward women has often been misrepresented, should modify his Old Testament quotation so as to include God’s daughters as well as his sons.”18 Jean Héring adds a theological twist to his egalitarian interpretation: the words have been “added to the text . . . to stress the equality of the sexes in the eyes of God.”19 Ernest Best recognizes the theological weight of the addition in words as simple as they are profound: “God loves all, and so does Paul.”20 This interpretation best reflects the context of the verse, where the focus is clearly on God, the God who promises to be present (“I will live with them and walk among them”) and to be parent (“and I will be your father”).

Further implications of the Pauline addition

The implications of these two Greek words, often over-looked additions in 2 Cor 6:18, are far-reaching—historically, sociologically, ecclesiologically, and theologically. But the implications are also translational and liturgical and homiletical and conversational. It is precisely in these areas, in our communication to and with and about one another, that we need to be most attentive. Paul’s deliberate addition of “and daughters” is a model for Christian communication. He could have reasoned that “sons” was widely used for groups of both men and women21 or that “sons” suggests the concept of “heir” and “adoptees.” But in this important passage he reworks scripture itself to communicate inclusively.

We are not caving in to the culture when we translate adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” or anthrōpoi as “men and women.” We are not caving in to the culture when we refer to “people” instead of “men” or “humanity” instead of “man” in our lessons and sermons. We are not caving in to the culture when we eliminate the ubiquitous “he’s” and “him’s” from our conversation and replace them with “they’s” and “them’s.” We are following the practice of Paul who would not—at least in this instance—write “sons” without adding “and daughters.” Elsewhere, in Gal 3, Paul was careful to follow his great assertion that “you are all sons of God through faith” (v. 26) with a clarifying “neither male nor female” (v. 28). He was resolved to think and talk about gender in Christian ways, inclusive ways. And we too must talk as inclusively as we think.

The insight that women are included is as prophetic now as it was in the time of Paul. It challenges the patriarchal understanding we have regarding the standing of women among the covenant people of God. And it challenges us to reject the use of patriarchal, gender-exclusive language, not to be politically correct but to be pertinently covenantal and positively Christian, to think and talk about women in a way that honors them and the people of God and the person of God. Paul included women when he thought about the human race. He included women when he thought about the church. And he included women when he thought about God. Perhaps Best said it best when he described the import of the addition of “and daughters”: “God loves all, and so does Paul.”


  1. See for example James Burton Coffman, Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Abilene: ACU Press, 1974), 386-87.
  2. 2. See for example Rudolf Bultmann, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1985).
  3. See for example Ralph Martin, 2 Corinthians (WBC; Waco: Word, 1986), 192-94.
  4. 4. For another view of the structure of 2 Cor 6:16-18 see James M. Scott, “The Use of Scripture in 2 Corinthians 6.16c-18 and Paul’s Restoration Theology,” JSNT 56 (1994): 73-99.
  5. Scott J. Hafemann, 2 Corinthians (NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 283-86.
  6. 6. David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1999), 339-41.
  7. 7. The passage is fascinating in its own right. God is pictured metaphorically as both a father and a mother, and the image of a hen and her chicks is reminiscent of Jesus’s poignant statement in Matt 23:37 (par. Luke 13:34).
  8. Coffman, Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 386-87, goes so far as to call these words “a brand new revelation.”
  9. 9. Ben Witherington III, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 406.
  10. William R. Baker, 2 Corinthians (Joplin: College, 1999), 265-66.
  11. James Thompson, The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (Austin: Sweet, 1970), 98.
  12. 12. David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1976), 3:97; R. C. H Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1937), 1090; Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 233; Baker, 2 Corinthians, 265-66; Murray Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 510.
  13. Lipscomb, Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, 3:97.
  14. Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1915), 210.
  15. 15. Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 354.
  16. Colin Kruse, 2 Corinthians (Leicester: InterVarsity, 1987), 139.
  17. Ralph Martin, 2 Corinthians, 206-7.
  18. 18. C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 201.
  19. 19. Jean Héring, The 2nd Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (London: Epworth, 1967), 51.
  20. Ernest Best, Second Corinthians (Louisville: John Knox, 1987), 66.
  21. Contra Garland, 2 Corinthians, 339-41.