Sunday Morning Greek Blog

September 5, 2011

Body, Love, and the Temple of God: A Summary of Unity in 1 Corinthians

Filed under: 1 Corinthians,Biblical Studies,Ecclesiology,Ephesians,Greek — Scott Stocking @ 9:43 pm

One of the major themes of 1 Corinthians is unity. From the opening chapter, Paul drives home the point that there should be no divisions in the body of Christ (1 Cor 1:10ff). In chapter 3, Paul draws on the imagery of the Temple to make his point about unity. As we will see, this isn’t the only time he uses this imagery, but there are some important points to make here.

1 Corinthians 3:16–17

I want to start with 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 today, because it is a passage often misunderstood and misapplied in very damaging ways. The passage reads as follows:

UBS4 Greek text: οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ναὸς θεοῦ ἐστε καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν; εἴ τις τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φθείρει, φθερεῖ τοῦτον ὁ θεός· ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς.

Transliteration: Ouk oidate hoti vaos theou este kai to pneuma tou theou oikei en hymin? Ei tis ton naon tou theou phtheirei, phtherei touton ho theos; ho gar vaos tou theou hagios estin, hoitines este hymeis.

Pronunciation: \oohk OI-dah-teh HOT-tee nah-OSS theh-OOH ess-teh keye taw PNOOH-mah tooh the-OOH oil-KAY en hoo-MIN? EI tihs tawn na-AWN tooh the-OOH PHTHAY-ray, PHTHEH-ray TOOH-ton haw theh-OSS; haw gar nah-AWSS tooh theh-OOH HAH-ghee-oss ess-tin, HOI-tee-nehs ess-teh hooh-MAYSS\

My translation (I use “y’all” to distinguish “you” plural in the Greek, since the English word “you” may either be singular or plural): Don’t y’all know that y’all are the temple of God and the Spirit of God is dwelling in y’all? If someone destoys the temple of God, God will destroy that person. For the temple of God is holy, which y’all yourselves are.

This passage is very close to Ephesians 2:21–22: “In [Christ], the whole building is joined together and rises into a holy temple in the Lord, and in [Christ] y’all are being built together in the Spirit into a dwelling of God.”

The first thing to notice about the 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 passage is that it is stated in the second person plural. Many well-intentioned Christ-followers through the years have seen in this passage a condemnation of suicide, such that a doctrine has developed among some sects that suicide is an unforgivable sin that damns the victim to an eternity in hell. But a doctrine of suicide is not even remotely close to Paul’s thinking when he writes this passage. Quite frankly, anyone who tries to purport the idea that this passage has to do with suicide is bordering on abuse, especially if that person pontificates that misinterpretation to a grieving family that has experienced a suicide.

1 Corinthians 6:19–20

The context of 1 Corinthians is that of unity. When Paul says that all of us who are Christ-followers are collectively the temple of God, he is referring to the body of Christ. In 6:19–20, Paul says essentially the same thing: “Or don’t y’all know that y’all’s body [singular] is a temple [singular] of the Holy Spirit who is in y’all, whom y’all have received from God, and that y’all are not your own? Y’all were bought with a price; therefore y’all glorify God with y’all’s body [singular].”

1 Corinthians 10–12

But Paul is not finished talking about the body in 1 Corinthians. Paul later speaks of the body in his discussion of the Lord’s Table, or communion. But even then, the context is unity and not causing a fellow Christ-follower to stumble: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17).

In the very next chapter, Paul again raises the issue of the body with respect to communion: “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (1 Corinthians 11:27–29).

I believe in both chapters 10 and 11 there is a twofold understanding of the “body.” In one respect, it refers to the physical body of Christ as the sacrificial lamb, thus the additional reference to his blood. But Paul also says “we…are one body,” that is, the body of Christ. What is at issue in chapters 10 and 11 is that some of the Christ-followers are causing others to stumble and perhaps even fall away from the faith because of their actions. In chapter 10, some believers are eating meat knowingly offered to idols, then turning around and participating in the Lord’s Table. Paul rightly calls them out on their duplicity: you can’t have it both ways; you have to make a choice.

In chapter 11, some of the wealthier believers are making gluttons of themselves at the agape feast at which the Lord’s Table was offered. The offenders are told to eat at home so everyone else has a chance to eat together. The “unworthy manner” (an adverb, not an adjective in Greek) is not that they’ve sinned and aren’t worthy of the bread and the cup (again, an abusive interpretation of the passage), but it is the failure to uphold Christian unity and the pride of the proud that causes the weak to stumble (see also 1 Corinthians 9:1–12).

Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 12, where he further details the function of the body, not anatomically or physiologically, but spiritually. Each of has a role to play. Some roles receive much attention, and other roles are more behind the scenes. Not everyone has the same role, and we shouldn’t judge those who don’t necessarily fit our idea of what the other’s role should be. Each person is uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit, and together, the body of Christ produces a beautiful melody.


I think this unity can happen regardless of the size of a local congregation. The body of Christ worldwide, of course, is blessed with every spiritual gift, but not everyone has every spiritual gift. Large congregations are microcosms of the body of Christ as a whole. Small congregations are gifted proportionally to the size of the congregation. Corporately, the small congregation may not manifest every spiritual gift among its members, but it does manifest what the Spirit has determined it needs to glorify God in their midst if the Christ-followers there are obedient to their respective callings.

Paul boils down all this talk of unity into what is arguably the greatest chapter in all of Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13, the Love chapter. You can have all the academic degrees that fit on a sheepskin, but if you don’t have love, they don’t mean squat. You can know all there is know about any and all subjects, but if you don’t have love, it doesn’t mean squat. I’m glad I’m part of a family of Christ-followers that knows how to love and is teaching me how to love as well. Maybe that’s the learning outcome God has for me! I hope it’s the learning outcome he has for all of you.

We are the temple. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling in and among us to unite us to the Savior. We are the body of Christ, and as Thomas Campbell put it in his primary proposition in Declaration and Address, the body of Christ is “essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.”


Scott Stocking

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