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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.


  1. Timothy says:

    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.

    • Heath says:

      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?

      • Timothy says:

        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. 🙂

        • Heath says:

          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. David Brown says:

    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. enforcer mj says:

    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!!

    • Anonymous says:

      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.

      • Daniel says:

        Yes, Christ in us is the mystery that has been revealed to us through faith in him. He sent his Holy Spirit to live in us. God’s revealed Word, now in our minds and written on our hearts by God, is now seen, heard and experienced through the good news of the gospel. We are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and we serve God in a new way, not under the Old Law of Moses, but under the New Covenant of grace in Christ Jesus, who fulfilled all of the requirements of the Law, once and for all, by dying on the cross for us.
        Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham, that God would bless his descendants forever. We are Abraham’s descendants by faith in the Son of the Promise, Jesus Christ. So yes, eyes have now seen and heard what God had planned.
        Heaven is going to be incomparably great, much better than we can think or imagine. That is one thing we can be sure of, no matter what people believe about that prophetic verse.

    • jl lin says:

      Honestly I must agree with enforcer mj; and yes, I support context. Holy Spirit gives true interpretation of Word, in the whole, but that does not omit or change the applications either. We cannot fathom the wonders and mind and full works of God. We cannot even fathom infinity. I can’t even fathom what a billion dollars would look like stacked up in a room. He is the Creator, and I am His creation. What hubris to think any of us could know the full mysteries and mind of God except a bit of what He has revealed in Scripture and Spirit. What the original author here has written changes nothing about using this Scripture to state what really should be the obvious to any true regenerate child of Christ. Even our most creative and magnificent imaginations of God and what He does, has done, and will do are so weak, they can barely make the foggiest of images and experiences/senses. Yet we imagine, as well as we can, knowing the great limitations, and smile b/c the Word and Spirit has revealed to us the absolute goodness of God. We can trust in that goodness and KNOW it is beyond what we can even begin to fathom. So, yes, we can firmly use this verse with the original one is question as well: “1 What, then, are we to say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 ****He who did not spare even his own Son, but gave him up on behalf of us all — is it possible that, having given us his Son, he would not give us everything else too? –Romans 8: 31-32, CJB Shall we go into how Paul calls us joint-heirs with Jesus.

  5. Anonymous says:

    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. Dave says:

    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 🙂

  7. Dwayne says:

    If God has revealed to us IN SPIRIT what heaven is like; then how is it that people are describing very PHYSICAL AND WORLDLY THINGS such as carnival rides? It’s my understanding that when we do go HOME, we will no longer be concerned about or even long for the things of this world. -Angel of Light? Deception? Come back?

  8. I'm a manifestation of that which created me says:

    Why do you choose to anthropomorphize God? Did not Jesus say at the well God is Spirit? If God is Spirit if God is omnipotent omniscient and omnipresent how can Perfection see anything other than itself? How can anything be chosen totally literally don’t even Jesus said I will not speak to you lest it being parable. How can we be so large? Are you not put a wave in the ocean that is God? Did you not believe Jesus do you not do what he’s told you to do? Did he not tell you not to worship Him? Did he not tell you these things I do you shall do anymore is it not written Ye r all gods? Are you aware of allegory? Parable? Do you in any way shape or form believe in evil or a devil that is outside of you? Do you actually believe that you are created in the image and likeness? And if you do believe that did you please God was a human or human-like? Having the feelings and emotions that you have? Do you believe that there actually was a tree of Good and Evil and if so why can’t we find one in someone’s backyard? Or is this an allegory? Brother or sister do you know your own history do you know the history of the quote on quote Church? Do you believe that God punishes? Do you believe God has an opposite? Do you know God if so where do you find God? Do you believe in the word the actual word god? That’s not God’s name I am is God’s name I am that I am. Do you go around saying I am sick I am stupid I am not good enough I am not worthy I am a miserable sinner? Do you know what the word send means where it came from its root its basis? A Greek archery term it means to miss the bullseye. Are you not a disciple? As a disciple does that mean student? And is a student learning principle that’s what we’re talking about principal law. As a student did you get any wrong answers ever? Did you ever fail a test in school? Does that just not mean that you have been not applying the principal correctly? And that you need to adjust? Do you need to have the appearance of negative nasty thoughts feelings emotions happen to you to tell you you’re on the error track? Did the disciples go out and practice principle the word practice is key here? And did not Jesus teach them hey you didn’t quite apply this right the way the law states? And is not the word Lord synonymous with the word law? Jeremiah 6:16 thus says the Lord put the word law in there for a second. Stand in the way walk the ancient path and there you will find rest for your souls. What did the people of Judah say we will not walk in it. Isn’t that what we’re all doing waiting for someone waiting for Jesus my brother to come back to show us? It’s already been shown it’s already been dictated that’s already been written what are we doing? Jesus says don’t praise me so we praise him Jesus says the father and I are one and Jesus said you and I are one in the same and you and I are one the Christ is in you the same as the Christ is in me. Oh but we don’t believe that or worms of the Dust were miserable sinners is that right? No entiendo

  9. Netlace says:

    “But as it is written” is to me a different thing altogether…..Isaiah 64:4 For from of old men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen a God besides thee, who worketh for him that waiteth for him.

  10. Jimmy Coleman says:

    eye has not seen, ear has not heard, but God revealed them to us. the first verse 9 is a quote– at the time it was first written it was future tense. But now it is present tense and has been revealed to us. Us maybe the Paul and friends.

  11. william adofo says:

    Fear God, eschew evil, live by what God says. In Christ, we all have access to the mind and wisdom of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. Human interpretation of scripture is often devoid of God’s leading, which means it draws heavily on conjecture and leads to unnecessary argumentation. So, is your interpretation led by the Holy Spirit or by you?

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