The Body is a Temple of The Holy Spirit
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (6:19–20)
As Christians our bodies are not our own. Paul puts sting into this verse by framing it as a sarcastic question. They are the Lord’s, members of Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit, who has been given by God to indwell us. So Paul calls for sexual purity not only because of the way sexual sin affects the body, but because the body it affects is not even the believer’s own. Understanding the reality of the phrase the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God should give us as much commitment to purity as any knowledge of divine truth could.
To commit sexual sin in a church auditorium, disgusting as that would be, would be no worse than committing the sin anywhere else. Offense is made within God’s sanctuary wherever and whenever sexual immorality is committed by believers. Every act of fornication, every act of adultery by Christians, is committed in God’s sanctuary: their own bodies. “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). The fact that Christians are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit is indicated in passages such as John 7:38–39; 20:22; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:9; and 1 Corinthians 12:3. The fact that God sent the Holy Spirit is clear from John 14:16–17; 15:26; and Acts 2:17, 33, 38.
We no longer belong to ourselves because we have been bought with a price. We were not “redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from [our] futile way of life inherited from [our] forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).
Christians’ bodies are God’s temple, and a temple is for worship. Our bodies, therefore, have one supreme purpose: to glorify God. This is a call to live so as to bring honor to the person of God, who alone is worthy of our obedience and adoration.
A friend once took a visitor to a large Catholic cathedral in the east. The visitor wanted to pray at the station of his favorite saint. But upon arriving at that station, he was startled to find no candles lit, and a sign saying, “Do not worship here; closed for cleaning.” The Corinthians provided no divine focus, either, no place for seeking souls to worship, since they were unclean. That, Paul said, had to change.
18–19 Paul is now ready to sum up in a general way how a Christian should react with respect to sexual matters. Believers should “flee from [all forms of] sexual immorality.” This is a general and all-embracing statement. But what does Paul mean when he says (lit.), “Every sin [the Greek text does not have a word for the NIV’s “other”] whatever a person commits is outside the body”? We in the twenty-first century can think of many sins a person can commit against his or her own body—addiction to alcohol or drugs, gluttony, and suicide, to name a few. Among the possible understandings of this text, the one that seems to fit best is to see this statement as another maxim cited by the triumphalist Corinthians. In keeping with their other maxims as cited in 6:12–13, here certain Corinthians are suggesting that sin doesn’t matter since the body (which will be destroyed) doesn’t matter to God. Thus any activity that might directly affect one’s body is not to be considered sin: “Every (true) sin a person commits is not connected with the body.”
Paul’s response to this pagan viewpoint is, also once again, to stress that the body does matter and that sins of immorality are indeed against one’s body. This does not deny, of course, that there might be other sins against the body; Paul’s sole concern in this section is with porneia. In fact, as he goes on to say, the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (once again, introduced by a “do you not know,” v. 19). This, then, is a second significant reason why the body is important and why we are not free to do with our bodies as we please: Not only will God raise the human body someday, as he did the physical body of Christ, but he also comes to abide within us through his Spirit. Imagine that! God, through his Holy Spirit, inhabits our bodies! Do we need any further proof that the Lord places a high value on the human body?
20 As a final summary, Paul emphasizes, as he did in 6:11, that we as believers have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. His blood is the price paid for us (cf. Rev 5:9, which also uses agorazō, “to purchase,” GK 60). This means, of course, that we belong to him—body, soul, and spirit (see comments at v. 17 above). Because we belong to him, we must “glorify” (doxazō, GK 1519; NIV, “honor”) him with our bodies. To glorify God means to reflect by the way we live the glory of God. That is, when people see us, they should be able to see by our actions how glorious and majestic is our God, who has changed us from sinners into saints living holy lives before him. As far as Paul is concerned, no one doing so will commit sexual immorality. May God give us the strength to present this picture to church members today who are faced with a host of temptations via TV, movies, and the Internet to commit sexual immorality in thought, word, and deed.
6:19 / Paul turns more directly to religious imagery in the following lines. In this verse he reiterates the point he made earlier in 3:16, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s pronouns are plural, addressing the entire body of believers in Corinth. He does not single out only those who have been fornicating, for while those particular persons have acted inappropriately, they have acted in a manner that ultimately touches and shapes the life of the Christian community. Thus, the community is in need of instruction, for in different but complementary ways all have been involved in the degradation of the body of believers.
Moreover, Paul qualifies his reference to the Holy Spirit by adding the phrases who is in you, whom you have received from God. All the pronouns are plural, indicating that Paul directs his remarks to all the believers at once. With these brief lines Paul registers at least four crucial theological truths. First, the Spirit is present and active among the Corinthians, empowering them to live the life to which they have been called. Second, the Spirit comes to them from God, whose will is to be manifest in the life of the Spirit-filled community of the Corinthian believers. God’s authority, will, presence, and power form and should inform the shape of the temple of believers in Corinth. Third, the Holy Spirit was received by the Corinthians. They did not earn or produce the Spirit’s presence among them; God acted graciously in bestowing the Spirit on the Christian community in Corinth. Fourth, the Spirit dwells in the temple so that the Corinthians are bound into an intimate relationship to God through the presence of God’s Spirit. They are not independently blessed, but they live in relation to the life that God lives among them.
Paul’s final words in this verse, you are not your own, may form the final part of the question that began at the outset of the verse: Do you not know that … you are not your own? The sense is self-evident: the Corinthians are neither autonomous individuals nor an autonomous community of human beings. God founded, forms, and holds a claim on the lives of these and all other believers. No greater truth can be brought home to the church and its members in every generation. How often do discussions of personal and community affairs (freedoms? rights? responsibilities?) take their start and find their course from the reality that every aspect of the life of believers belongs to God? Nothing we have is ours to have and to do with as we please. All of life belongs to God, and it is ultimately God’s will and work that is to be accomplished in our lives and in our life together. The believer and the believers find identity, purpose, direction, and meaning from the foundational nature of the relationship that God has established in creating us and in reclaiming us in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.The habitation of the body by the Lord (19)
Paul’s fourth plea for Christ-centred purity is the habitation of our bodies by the Lord, by the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are not simply physical shells of remarkable composition: they are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Earlier Paul affirmed that the whole church of God at Corinth was God’s temple, with stern warnings against any who might destroy that temple. Now he uses the same metaphor to remind individual Christians at Corinth that God has given to each the gift of his indwelling Holy Spirit, whom you have from God. In the earlier passage the reference was simply to ‘God’s Spirit’. Here he feels compelled to emphasize the call to holiness, ‘your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit’ (19).
The redemption of the body by the Lord (19–20)
Paul’s final plea for purity is based on the cost of redeeming our bodies: You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. Before they began to experience the freedom for which Christ had set them free, the Corinthians were in the most servile bondage. They were slaves to themselves, their self-centred desires, self-indulgence and bodily passions. Then came a master with the resources to set them completely free. He paid the necessary ransom. They had been set free from the futility and servitude of their previous manner of life. Their bodies were no longer like chunks of flesh up for sale to the highest bidder in the slave-market, or available to a cult-prostitute for a fee.94 They had been bought with a price and they now belonged to a new master. His orders now mattered, not their own fancies or foibles. He now intended every physical faculty they had within them to express the glory of God. So far from despising their bodies, marked as they were by all the degradation and indiscipline of sin, he was committed to working out from within ‘the redemption of their bodies’. Flesh and blood, particularly such dissolute flesh and blood, could never inherit the kingdom of God;96 but the power of his redeeming love could—and would—complete what the Holy Spirit had already begun.
So we are urged to learn from the Spirit of God what it means to glorify God in our bodies: not to pander to them, make excuses for them, or be flippant about the many powerful temptations to abuse them. Paul forthrightly commands the Corinthians to flee two sins: immorality (6:18) and idolatry (10:14). Joseph had to run from the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife. Christians today do not have to be citizens of Corinth, or handsome visitors in the opulent courts of amoral Egyptian rulers, to discover the practical wisdom of running away from temptation when the odds are stacked too high against them.
This, however, is the negative (though necessary) aspect of Christ-centred purity. Paul’s last word on the subject is far more challenging and positive: glorify God in your body. Let Godet have the final comment on this call to purity: ‘Display positively in the use of our body the glory and especially the holiness of the heavenly Master who has taken possession of our person.’98 The poetic vision of the Psalmist is the perfect epilogue:
Thou didst form my inward parts,
thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.
Wonderful are thy works!
Thou knowest me right well;
my frame was not hidden from thee,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance;
in thy book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
6:19. For this reason, the apostle appealed once again to a teaching which he had already given the Corinthians. The Christian’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in believers, making their bodies a holy place for the dwelling of God’s special presence. That the Holy Spirit resides in believers points to the new nature of believers’ bodies. Believers’ bodies are sanctified and holy, being in union with Christ. When a person in Christ engages in sexual immorality, that immorality runs contrary to the new nature and new identity of his body. The Christian has been redeemed for good works (Eph. 2:10), so he ought to use his body for good deeds and righteousness, not for sin.
Paul also reminded the Corinthians that they did not have rights to their own bodies. They were not free to use their bodies any way they wished. He insisted that Christ bought them at a price—his own blood. As a slave was bought in the ancient world, Christ bought his followers, body and soul, through the price of his own death. Because they belong to him, believers do not have the right to rebel against him by using their bodies in ways the Lord has prohibited.
Further, because this purchase results in redemption and salvation, it ought to inspire grateful obedience, not rebellion. In this reminder, Paul chastised the Corinthians and pleaded with them to obey Christ eagerly and thankfully.
19. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? And you do not belong to yourselves.
- “Or do you not know?” The comparative conjunction or provides an additional reason for fleeing sexual immorality. For the last time in this chapter, Paul rhetorically asks the Corinthians whether they have definite knowledge (see vv. 2, 3, 9, 15, and 16). They again have to give an affirmative answer to this query. We assume that on an earlier occasion Paul had taught them about the purpose, use, and destiny of their physical bodies.
- “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” Paul reminds the Corinthians of the sacredness of their bodies. He notes that the Holy Spirit makes his abode within them, so that their body is his temple. He writes the two words body and temple in the singular to apply them to the individual believer. Further, through the word order in the Greek, he places emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Paul literally writes to the Corinthians, “Your body is a temple of the one within you, namely the Holy Spirit.” That is, the physical body of the Christian belongs to the Lord and serves as the residence of the Holy Spirit.
What an honor to have God’s Spirit dwelling within us! Note that Paul writes the word temple (see the commentary on 3:16). The Greek has two words that are translated “temple.” The first one is hieron, which refers to the general temple complex, as in the city of Jerusalem. The second is naos, which denotes the temple building with the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (see, e.g., Exod. 26:31–34; Heb. 9:1–5). Naos is used in the present verse. For the Jew, this was the place where God dwelled among his people until the destruction of the temple in a.d. 70. For the Christian, not a fixed geographic site but the body of the individual believer is the place where God’s Spirit is pleased to dwell. In the early church, Irenaeus called individual Christians “temples of God” and described them as “stones for the Father’s temple.” If, then, the Spirit of God dwells within us, we should avoid grieving him (Eph. 4:30) or extinguishing his fire (1 Thess. 5:19).
- “Whom you have from God.” In this brief segment of the verse, Paul teaches first that the individual believers possess and continue to possess the gift of the Holy Spirit. Next, he reveals that the Spirit’s origin is from God.
- “And you do not belong to yourselves.” We are not the owners of our own bodies, for God created us, Jesus redeemed us, and the Holy Spirit makes his abode within us. The triune God claims ownership, but he leaves us free to consecrate and yield our physical bodies to him. By contrast, those who commit fornication desecrate the temple of the Holy Spirit and cause untold spiritual and physical damage to themselves and others. For this reason, Paul exhorts us to flee sexual immorality (v. 18). Because God owns our body, we are its stewards and must give an account to him. Therefore, we ought to guard its sanctity and protect it from defilement and destruction. God’s temple is holy and precious.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (p. 152). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 312–313). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (pp. 133–134). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Prior, D. (1985). The message of 1 Corinthians: life in the local church (pp. 103–104). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, pp. 101–102). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 201–202). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.