I recently wrote a post about how one of the most quoted Bible verses, Jeremiah 29:11, is regularly misapplied by Christians. The main point of my article is that we misapply this passage – and many passages of Scripture – because we approach it with an individualistic lens rather than an ancient, collective lens. The former is more in tune with a modern, western perspective; the latter is more in line with the Bible.
One detail that helped me to see this more collective perspective within Scripture is by realizing that, 9 out 10 times, the word you in the Bible is plural, not singular. We just don’t easily catch this in our English translations.
And this is why I would make the case found in the title of this post: “No, Your Body Is Not a Temple of the Holy Spirit.”
In the well-known verse of 1 Cor 6:19, we read:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
It seems easy enough to conclude that, yes, our individual bodies are each temples of the Holy Spirit. However, I believe to suggest such is to misread what Paul has actually said in his letter to the church of Corinth. As authors Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien clarify in their book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes:
We typically understand the singulars and plurals in this verse backwards. In the original Greek, the you is plural and temple is singular. (emphasis theirs)
What should we conclude, then, about this temple God is building in which the Spirit will dwell? As Richards and O’Brien go on to state:
Paul is saying, “All of you together are a singular temple for the Holy Spirit.” God doesn’t have millions of little temples scattered around. Together we make the dwelling for the Spirit.
For the Jews – of whom Paul was one and most early Christians were as well – there was one and only one temple. This is the place where God’s glory, or Spirit, would dwell. However, once Jesus, the Messiah, came along, he took the liberty to apply temple imagery to himself and himself alone (John 2:20). God was now dwelling in a new temple, his Son. Following Christ’s resurrection and ascension, Paul and the New Testament writers began to apply this temple imagery to the people of the Messiah, the church.
Again, Paul wants the Christians in Corinth to understand this: All of you together are a singular temple for the Holy Spirit. There’s a very similar thrust just a few chapters earlier in 1 Cor 3:16-17.
The idea of one collective temple is underlined as well in other New Testament passages outside of 1 Corinthians:
In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph 2:21-22)
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)
There is one body, one house, one temple rather than millions of bodies, houses and temples.
Going back to Paul’s Corinthian letter, we must remember that he is speaking to a church, a people. His letter is not written to an individual (again, that’s how most of Scripture is set). So, even as he addresses sexual immorality in chapter 6, he looks to address a group of Christians, exhorting them to not be joined to a prostitute but to Christ. And that makes logical sense, knowing they, together, are one temple for God’s Spirit.
So, at least in accordance with the oft-quoted 1 Cor 6:19 passage, it’s not really correct to say my body and your body are individual temples of the Spirit of God. Rather, the gathered people of God – the ekklesia-church of Jesus – makes up one temple for the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Cor 6:19; Eph 2:21-22; 1 Pet 2:4-5).
Knowing this, let us continue to see this collective temple “built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
So Scott, even though I believe your interpretation of scripture is correct, I’m not sure what your point is. Should we live differently if we visualize our bodies as part of a single, big temple, rather than little individual temples? What is the life application of your article?
Alan, thanks for the comment. I think, first of all, putting this interpretive change on people’s radars will help us better ask questions and seek what this means. Also, as I ended my article, I would say: Knowing this, let us continue to see this collective temple “built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
I imagine the same questions we ourselves individually now need to be asked corporately.
Kinda like how, when we realize Jer 29:11 is not an individual promise, but a collective promise, we start asking what it means for God to know the plans for his collective people, how he may prosper and give a future to his collective people (of course, not in the “American dream” sense).
So, how might we be built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit?
You nailed it! (1Co 15:50) Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Our human bodies, being dead in sin, still await redemption.
That will be interesting. Let me know any feedback from the students.
Why either/or? Why can’t it be both/and? Aren’t you being equally reductionistic when you reduce everything in the Bible to collective blessings? Maybe a little too skewed on the New Perspecitve continuum?
Hey Carl –
The NPP may have more of a focus toward the collective than a typical evangelical perspective. But I’m not sure it is privy to the NPP.
I’m good with ultimately concluding both. But in reading the text of the NT as a whole as it is given, I think it pushes toward God building one new temple dwelt by his presence/glory, which is the Spirit.
Very thought-provoking title, but possibly a little misleading. The answer to plural or singular is YES according the the Greek. You (singular according to 1 Cor 6:19) are the temple of the HS and you (plural according to 1 Cor. 3:16) are the temple. I think one great point you are stressing is not letting our “singular western thought” overtake our reading of Scripture. Really like how the NLT puts it in 3:16: “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God..” Thank you for the reminders!