The Body, God's Temple

A model of Herod's Temple at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Photo by Berthold Werner [Public Domain]

“...your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God...You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body”- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV
This verse is commonly used to support the idea of healthy living. While making an effort to live a healthy lifestyle is important and glorifying to God, this passage is not concerned with health. To say this verse teaches healthy living would be an incorrect application. This is a good example of a verse being “taken out of context”. The full context here reads:
“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Cor 6:18-20
So then, what is this verse teaching? What does it mean when it says “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”? Reading the full passage and the preceding verses the message is clearly about sexual purity. Paul is telling the Corinthian believers not to have sexual relations with prostitutes (1 Cor 6:15-16). Sexual immorality was rampant in Corinth meaning he could be referring to two kinds (if not both) of prostitutes, common “street” prostitutes or temple prostitutes. This is very important to understand regarding the meaning “temple of the Holy Spirit”.
Ruins of Aphrodite's Temple in Corinth
In those days, a temple was thought to be a sacred space where a divine being dwelled. Israel had its temple in Jerusalem where they worshipped Yahweh. Corinth had a temple dedicated to worship of Aphrodite where prostitutes were employed and considered to be serving the deity through their sex acts. Many other temples existed throughout the lands for various supposed deities. In this sacred space, everything was to be venerated to the deity it was honoring. The temple is where the god would dwell, so nothing impure could enter that would defile the temple.
Paul uses the metaphor of a Christian’s body being a temple of the Holy Spirit with this in mind. His metaphor illustrates the relationship of a believer to God. In the same way that a god would dwell in a temple, so the Holy Spirit indwells the body. Therefore, a Christian’s body is considered a sacred space- one that cannot have anything unclean enter it and defile it.

Corinthian believers were engaging in sexual immorality. Using the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, Paul states that when a man and woman have sexual relations they unite into one flesh. By engaging in sexual immorality with prostitutes, Christian Corinthians were in a sense becoming “one flesh” with these prostitutes. The sexual immorality they were committing was in effect bringing something unclean and defiling the sacred space- in this case their own bodies. It is very possible that many believers who were engaging in sexual immorality in Corinth were also visiting temple prostitutes. In that case, their illicit sex was not only impure in the action itself- it was as if an idol to another god was being set up in a temple; the believers bodies were being used in acts of worship to false gods.
Absolutely we should be healthy and take care of our bodies. However, the thrust of this passage is not about being healthy. Rather, its an admonition to keep one’s body pure, both spiritually and physically. Christ died not only for the soul, but for one’s body. The soul and the body are important to God. Do not put evil into your body- that is incompatible with the Christian life- it would be as atrocious as bringing something that defiles the temple.

On a side note....
Paul uses a similar argument using this metaphor  in 2 Corinthians 6:16
In Ephesians 2:21 and earlier in 1 Corinthians (3:16-3:17), Paul uses the metaphor to explain how all Christians should be unified in their worship of God, regardless of their background.


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