The Misused Passages: 1 Corinthians 2:9, Eye Hath Not Seen, Nor Ear Heard

This will be the first of an ongoing series on the blog dealing with biblical texts that I repeatedly hear ripped out of context and misused. I have previously dealt with Jesus’ words, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged‘ (though I had not conceived of a series at that point).

In this installment we consider 1 Corinthians 2:9:

  • But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

Some years ago this verse, by itself, was our theme verse for a semester at chapel at a school I attended. And it was used, as it is typically used, to encourage Christians that they cannot imagine the things that God has prepared for them in heaven. Perhaps you’ve used it that way. So, what’s the problem?

Perhaps it is the ripping of this verse out of context that has led to the recent slough of bestselling books dealing with the afterlife. People are just dying, yes that’s a pun, to know what heaven is like. They want to know if the family pet will be there. They want to know what giant pearls look like. They want to know that everything really will be alright in the end. And so you get small children going to heaven and coming back to tell the story. You get ‘Close Encounters of the God Kind.’ You get guys with no interest in the Bible coming into my workplace telling me that he died and rose from the dead and wants to tell me what Jesus is really like.

The problem is that 1 Corinthians 2:9 should never be quoted without including 1 Corinthians 2:10. This is the reason the ESV actually inserts a hyphen at the end of 2:9:

  • But, as it is written,’What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined,what God has prepared for those who love him’ —

So what does verse 10 say?

  • 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

The glories of heaven will be just that – glorious. Human imagination could not truly conceive of the majesty of life in the immediate presence of God. But, this reality, and many of its actual elements, have be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through Scripture.

Do you remember the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16? The Rich Man heads to Hades and gets to have a conversation with Abraham. He asks to be sent back to the earth so that he can declare the truth of the afterlife to his family. If someone rose from the dead to tell them, surely then they would believe! Abraham’s reply, told by Jesus himself in Luke 16:29, is:

  • But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. We need to fix our minds on things above. And God has given us one means of doing so – his own revelation – the Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

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11 thoughts on “The Misused Passages: 1 Corinthians 2:9, Eye Hath Not Seen, Nor Ear Heard

  1. And One did raise from the dead, and they didn’t believe Him either. 🙂
    Good post. I’ve never heard the verse used that way. But then again, I only vaguely remember hearing the verse used at all for some reason.

    • Hey Timothy,
      I didn’t list nearly half the times I have heard this passage used out of context. Do you have any particular texts you’d like me to try to deal with?

      • Just the usual ones. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, including, win the state football championship, etc. is one of my biggies. John 3:16, and it’s abuse.

        If I think of more, will let you know. Going to my Dad’s Baptist church tomorrow for worship, will probably pick up a dozen or so while there. 🙂

      • Wow, you’re on a roll today! You’re absolutely right about Phil. 4:13 and John 3:16. I’m also thinking about the ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name’ passage and the ‘I become all things to all men’ text.

  2. There are 3 fundamental rules of Bible study. (1)The rule of context – scripture must be read and interpreted in the context of where the Spirit of God has placed it. (2) The rule of content – what is being said, when was it said, by whom was it said, to whom was it said and what is the primary purpose for it being said. (3) The rule of consequence – so what? What lesson is there for me to learn, what sin for me to avoid, what blessing for me to embrace? If we follow these basic rules we will avoid the pitfall of misinterpretation.

  3. I agree 1 Cor 2:9 has been misused, and I have been guilty of it myself. In the NIV this passage is footnoted to IS 64:4, which, oddly enough, seems to be a different thought: “Since ancient times no one has heard, nor ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” The KJV of IS 64:4 is closer to 1 Cor. 2:9, but still seems to be a different thought to a degree.

  4. So what’s your point? What IS the problem? It is NOT misusing the verse to use that verse by itself to help people understand how amazing Heaven will be and that it is beyond anything we have ever SEEN, HEARD, or can even IMAGINE!! The next verse is NOT saying that the spirit has revealed all these wonderful things to us so that now we CAN see and imagine!! It is simply saying that BECAUSE we CANNOT see or imagine these things, the mere REALITY and FACT of Heaven being more wonderful than we can imagine has been revealed to us by the spirit, otherwise we wouldn’t KNOW it was beyond anything we can imagine because we’ve never SEEN IT. So what’s your point with this? What are you saying? I will CONTINUE to teach that Heaven is beyond anything we can imagine and I KNOW THIS because this FACT has been revealed to us by the spirit!!

    • I think the author missed the main point and therefore, has faied to convince you of the danger of this misquotation. The thing which has been revealed to us is Christ Himself. No-one had conceived of His plan of salvation, the wisdom of Gods grace and mercy through the sacrifice of His Son was not fully understood… look at verse 8. if they had “seen or heard or known” they would not have crucified The Lord of Glory. This is very important that we understand the emphasis on Jesus being botht this wonderful inconceivable treasure and also The Wisdom of God.

  5. I think the author missed the main point and therefore, has faied to convince you of the danger of this misquotation. The thing which has been revealed to us is Christ Himself. No-one had conceived of His plan of salvation, the wisdom of Gods grace and mercy through the sacrifice of His Son was not fully understood… look at verse 8. if they had “seen or heard or known” they would not have crucified The Lord of Glory. This is very important that we understand the emphasis on Jesus being botht this wonderful inconceivable treasure and also The Wisdom of God.

  6. The story of the rich man is a story taken out of context as well. It is not a true story. For a man in Hades to see and recognize Abraham and talk with him would by necessity require him to have supernatural abilities. First and foremost, eye sight…I could go on 🙂

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