Is your Body a Temple?

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 are often quoted to show that we should be respectful to our bodies and not “defile” them. But do we really understand these verses? Let’s take a closer look at them.

In the King James Version 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 reads as,

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”

And 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reads,

“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

A simple reading of these supports the idea that our bodies are temples of God, but if we look at the original Greek we can see an entirely different meaning.

In English when we are talking to someone we use the pronoun “you”. And if we are talking to more than one person we also use the pronoun “you”. English does not have a formal way to differentiate 2nd person singular from 2nd person plural. In other languages, there are two different words (for example, “usted” and “ustedes” in Spanish), or two different verb forms to differentiate singular from plural. Greek has different forms for singular and plural 2nd person.

When these verses are translated from Greek the difference between singular and plural pronouns, verbs, and nouns are lost. To clear this up here are the same verses again (using the NRSV translation), with pronouns, verbs, and nouns explicitly labeled as plural or singular.

Do you (plural) not know that you (p) are God’s temple (singular) and that God’s Spirit (s) dwells in you (p)? If anyone destroys God’s temple (s), God will destroy that person. For God’s temple (s) is holy, and you (p) are that temple (s).

And

Or do you (p) not know that your (p) body (s) is a temple (s) of the Holy Spirit (s) within you (p), which you (p) have from God, and that you (p) are not your (p) own? For you (p) were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your (p) body (s).

In these verses, Paul is addressing multiple people (plural “you”) and calls multiple people to altogether be a single temple. Also, multiple people have a single “body” which is a single “temple”. In this sense, he is not talking about everyone’s physical body, but Paul is talking about the “body” of the church. The point that Paul was making is that the body of the congregation is a “temple” of God and that the Holy Spirit dwells among the congregation, not within the physical bodies of the individual members.

Understanding these verses in this way changes how we interpret them and how we apply them to ourselves. This means that we are being exhorted to not defile the body of the church, not our own bodies. This means that the congregation of the church all together is the temple of God and not our individual bodies. The difference comes from the fundamental rules of English and how the original Greek is translated.

 

Siege

Reconstruction of the Roman siege and sacking of the Second Temple (Herod’s Temple) by Titus in Jerusalem, 70 AD. (the reconstruction by Peter Connolly).

15 COMMENTS

  1. I always believed that about I Corin. 3, due to the context. But made no such application to I Corin. 6 – instead making the personal application, again due to application.

  2. Heh. I’m reminded of a couple of lines of dialog from one of my favorite “noir” crime novels:

    “Hey, my body’s a temple, man!”
    “Maybe, but yours has been desecrated by vandals.”

    🙂

  3. Eph 2:
    19Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

    When Jesus said “I go to prepare a place for you” He meant the church, the new Temple of the Living God.

    1 Peter 2:
    5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

    Excellent post!

    • Or just “yall” but he wrote in Greek and we interpret in English. Paul wrote to the bishops in Corinth, Turkey, etc., often in response to their questions about this new faith and church. We apply those things to ourselves but we can’t forget his target audience.

      It would be nice to have access to ALL of the letters that Paul wrote, but we must content ourselves with these few.

  4. Scriptural clarification with proper context is even better than the assumed teaching. And while I may consider my body “a temple” (admittedly needing a little restoration here and there), The Body of Christ certainly needs more of Paul’s admonitions, not less. He could have blasted the Corinth Church for straying off the path he taught, but led off with grace and love, then offered how to return to the proverbial straight and narrow.

    Interesting how even in it’s infancy the Church did that, today it’s not so different…because…people. We are all flawed and have fallen short.

    Great Sermonette.

    • I have heard it said that, “if my body is a temple, it needs to be cleaned with Single Malt from time to time.” Paul never took things that far.

  5. Well, I pondered this for a while.
    And I then composed a thoughtful, well-reasoned comment citing historical references pertaining to religion in general, and the growth of the Roman Church, its influence in matters theological and secular. It touched on matters of translations, dogma, heresy and theocrasy.
    It was a short treatise that addressed Larry’s OP and acknowledged the various insightful replies above.
    As well, it included relevant insights by commentators including Durant, JG Frazer, HG Wells, Somerset Maugham, maybe a few others. I forget.

    Because it disappeared while I was editing. Poof!
    (Maybe for the best…)

    With that in mind, I will restrain the urge to edit this comment.

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