What Is the Meaning of “Examine Yourselves” in 2 Corinthians 13:5? -- By: Perry C. Brown

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:614 (Apr 1997)
Article: What Is the Meaning of “Examine Yourselves” in 2 Corinthians 13:5?
Author: Perry C. Brown


What Is the Meaning of “Examine Yourselves” in 2 Corinthians 13:5?

Perry C. Brown

[Perry C. Brown is a Bible Teacher in Rowlett, Texas.]

In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul wrote, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” Was he questioning whether the Corinthians were Christians? Did he believe that some in the Corinthian congregation might not be regenerate? Did he consider that some might be in danger of losing their salvation? These questions point up the need to understand the verse correctly.

In addition the passage raises the practical question of whether a Christian should periodically examine whether he or she is truly saved. For example a boy known to this writer was baptized at nine years of age. Over a decade later, after hearing an evangelist preach from 2 Corinthians 13:5, the boy expressed doubts about his salvation as a child. He then told this writer he trusted Christ as his Savior for the first time after listening to the evangelist preach on 2 Corinthians 13:5. But did the evangelist use this passage the way the apostle Paul meant it?

Those who affirm the eternal security of the believer in Christ generally hold one of two popular interpretations of 2 Corinthians 13:5. The Reformed view assumes that Paul was addressing the possibility that some in the Corinthian church were not genuine believers—even though they claimed to be—and that Paul challenged them to test whether they had ever truly been born again. Therefore today those who profess Christ as Savior should examine themselves to be sure they really are Christians. MacArthur represents this view.

Doubts about one’s salvation are not wrong so long as they are not nursed and allowed to become an obsession. Scripture encourages self-examination. Doubts must be confronted and dealt with honestly and biblically. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul wrote, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” That admonition is largely ignored—and often explained away—in the contemporary church.1

Buswell also supports the Reformed view and applies this verse when the behavior of a professing believer does not evidence an obedient wa...

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