What did the Apostle Paul really mean when he said your body is a temple? Many Christians go around spouting this verse when they are judging a person for doing something that is not healthy in one way or another. They have equated this verse with healthy living and taking care of your body. However what did the Apostle Paul mean when he wrote that your body is a temple? Did it mean abstinence from anything bad for your physical health? Is it another commandment we are to follow to prove that we are living at a higher level of spirituality than those that that are not as health or “temple” conscious. Could it be that the Apostle Paul was not even thinking about things like drinking alcohol in moderation, or the effects of caffeine or any other mild stimulant like diet pills, even the natural ones. Is that honestly what the Apostle Paul was talking about or is that man taking a scripture out of context to suit their agenda or personal bias? Well let’s look at the scripture in context and let’s see what the issue was of the day and why Paul was reminding people that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Your Body Is A Temple Scripture
There are actually 3 main passages in the Bible that refer to the body being a temple. I will list all three for you here and then I will explain them below.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
16 Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Avoiding Sexual Sin
12 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. 13 You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. 14 And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.
15 Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
The Temple of the Living God
14 Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? 15 What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? 16 And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:
“I will live in them and walk among them.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.
17 Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD.
Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.
18 And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.”
A look at the 1 Corinthians 3 passage of being the temple of God
If you look closely at this passage you will see that the context of this whole passage and chapter in 1 Corinthians 3 is not talking about an individual body but the corporate body of Christ as in the local church. That the local church is the body of Christ and as such is the temple of God that is being built. The Apostle Paul was chastising the Corinthians for being divisive, envious and stirring strife. It had nothing to do with a person’s individual body or being health conscious but instead if anything is talking about being heart conscious. That strife, envy, and divisiveness are things that defile a local church. It defiles the temple of God. The only reason I included this passage in this discussion is because that scripture is quoted many times as a proof text that we are sinning if we are not taking care of our bodies in the manner someone else things we should be. In all honesty, when someone does that, I would call it divisive. It is not a major doctrine, but a minor one at best, and as such, splitting fellowship or removing yourself from someone you disagree with based on this is the definition of divisiveness.
The two passages that say your body is the temple of God
Both the passage in 1 Cor 6 and the one in 2 Cor 6 talk about your individual body being the temple of God. However in both of these passages that say your body is a temple, neither of them are talking about nutrition, alcohol, overeating, or staying outside in the cold too long for that matter. Both of these passages are talking about the sexual union between a man and a woman. In the first passage Paul is talking about someone having sex with a prostitute. Now in order to understand this passage better, you need to understand that prostitution in the 1st century in Corinth was not streetwalkers but instead were “sacred prostitutes” at the temple of Aphrodite. These were women that had been given over the the false goddess Aphrodite and in her service and Paul rightly believed that these women were demon possessed. Since the sex act involves a spiritual aspect where the two spirits along with the two bodies become one in sexual intercourse, Paul argues that you are joining Christ with the devil. I will show where he makes this argument in the next passage. However it is implied here when He says that when you join with a woman in the sexual act you become one with her. Thus you are joining Christ with the devil.
The second passage even makes this more clear. In 2 Corinthians he is not talking about temple prostitutes from the temple of Aphrodite, but is talking about the marriage union between a believer and a non believer. He is making the distinction that if you are married to an unbeliever, that you are joining God’s temple with idols. If a person is not a believer in Jesus Christ, then by definition they are an idol worshiper. They are putting something else, even themselves above God, thus falling into the definition of an idolater. In both of these passages, the reason we are to abstain from having sexual relations with prostitutes and unbelievers because when you engage in this behavior, you are in essence bringing Christ and Satan into a spiritual union. This definitely is a problem!
The Biblical definition the body and the temple
So as we can see, most modern interpretations and applications of this verse stray far off the mark. The proper way to define and apply this passage is this.
- Jesus lives inside of you. As such you are His temple. His Holy Spirit is an active spiritual part of your make up. Because of that you do not want to engage in any act that would unite the Holy Spirit with the demonic world. That would cause your temple to be defiled. So, engaging in sex with unbelievers or the demon possessed is wrong. It causes an unnatural and unholy union.
- Beyond sexual sins, there may be application to any other substance or act that would cause this same type of problem to occur. For instance, the use of mind altering drugs, or drinking to excess could open you up spiritually to causing some type of union between the Holy Spirit and a demonic force. Acts of witchcraft and occult practices could also cause this type of sin.
- Poor eating habits, the use of non mind altering drugs such as mild stimulants and diet pills, the lack of exercise, overworking, and just being plain stupid, although may have physical consequences to your bodies health, are not what these biblical passages are talking about. Those things do not cause an uniting of the Holy Spirit with Satan. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 15:11 New Living Translation (NLT) 11 It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”
So the next time somebody tries to put you under condemnation with the words “your body is a temple” remind them of the words of our Lord and take the time to share with them in a loving manner that they have gone beyond what the Bible says in applying this biblical passage.
Blessings to you!
Resource: Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.