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?
19–20 With yet another “Or do you not know that?” Paul gives theological justification for the prohibition of v. 18a and theological explanation of v. 18bc. At the same time the content of this question serves to reinforce and elaborate the theology of the body expressed in vv. 13–17. With the use of two images (temple and purchase of slaves = the Spirit and the cross) he reasserts that the body in its present existence belongs to God. Thus the body is included in the full redemptive work of Christ—crucifixion, resurrection, and the present work of the Spirit. All of which leads to the final inferential imperative: They must therefore glorify God in their bodies, which of course in this context means no sexual immorality.
The tie to what has immediately preceded is achieved with the conjunction “or” (again omitted from the NIV). “The one who sins sexually sins against his own body,” he has just affirmed, by which he means his own body as it is “for the Lord.” “Or do you not know that your body65 is a temple of the Holy Spirit,67 who is in you, whom you have received from God, and that you are not your own?” As in this translation, the final clause should be included in the question. The two parts complement each other. The body is the present habitation of God’s Spirit, which means by implication that one belongs to the God whose Spirit dwells within. At the same time the second part results in a shift of metaphors, so that God’s proper ownership of the body is affirmed in terms of their being “bought at a price.” The emphasis, therefore, is especially on the body as “for the Lord” in the sense of being God’s rightful possession, which is evidenced both through the indwelling Spirit and the redemptive work of Christ. This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the pneumatics’ view that the body is destined for destruction and therefore has no present or eternal significance.
In referring to the body as the temple of the Spirit, Paul has taken the imagery that properly belongs to the church as a whole (cf. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21–22) and applied it to the individual believer. On the imagery itself, see on 3:16. The use of the possessives reflects something of the difference. The church through the Spirit is God’s temple in Corinth, in contrast to all the pagan temples and shrines. Through the phenomenon of the indwelling Spirit, Paul now images the body as the Spirit’s temple, emphasizing that it is the “place” of the Spirit’s dwelling in the individual believers’ lives. In the same way that the temple in Jerusalem “housed” the presence of the living God, so the Spirit of God is “housed” in the believer’s body. This is imagery pure and simple, in which the significance of the body for the present is being affirmed; it is not intended to be a statement of Christian anthropology, as though the body were the mere external casing of the spirit or Spirit.
The Spirit’s indwelling is the presupposition of the imagery, reinforced here by the two modifiers, “who is in you” and “whom you have received71 from God.” What Paul seems to be doing is taking over their own theological starting point, namely that they are “spiritual” because they have the Spirit, and redirecting it to include the sanctity of the body. The reality of the indwelling Spirit is now turned against them. They thought the presence of the Spirit meant a negation of the body; Paul argues the exact opposite: The presence of the Spirit in their present bodily existence is God’s affirmation of the body.
Paul moves easily from the fact that the Spirit is “from God” to his final point: Do you not know that the presence of God’s Spirit in you means that “you are not you own,” that is, that your bodies are not your own to do with as you wish in the matter of sexuality? This is the final punctuation of the original affirmation that the “body is for the Lord.” As evidence for this final assertion, Paul shifts metaphors once more, this time to the slave market, imagery to which he will return in the concrete situation of the slave in 7:22. That passage makes it clear that the imagery here is that of slavery; the verb “bought” with its accompanying genitive of quantity, “at a price,” places it squarely in the slave market. In contrast to the use of this metaphor elsewhere in the NT, where redemption for freedom is in view (e.g., Gal. 3:13; 4:5; Rev. 5:9; 14:3), this passage images their new position as “slaves” of God, bought with a price to do his will. Although some have argued otherwise,76 the related usage in Galatians and especially the liturgical passage in Rev. 5:9 indicate that Paul has the cross in view, whereby at the “cost” of his life (“by your blood,” Rev. 5:9) Christ purchased us for God. His point here is that even the body is included in that purchase. Thus at the end of the argument he joins the cross to the resurrection, along with the present gift of the Spirit, as evidence that the “body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
The final imperative flows directly out of the argument from the two preceding images. The body is the shrine of the indwelling Spirit and is therefore not one’s own but God’s, who purchased it through the work of the cross. “Therefore honor78 God with your body.” At the same time, it serves to bring the entire argument to its conclusion. This is the positive side of the imperative of v. 18a: “Flee from sexual immorality.” Because the body is God’s, one must not use it in illicit intercourse; instead, one must make it a chaste temple whereby to honor God.
The later addition of “and in your spirit, which are God’s” may have been the result of early Christian liturgy, as Lightfoot (p. 218) suggests. Unfortunately, it also became Scripture to generations of Christians and had the net result of deflecting Paul’s point toward the position of the Corinthian pneumatics. Not that the addition is untrue; rather, it completely misses the concern of the present argument, which stands over against the Corinthian view that the body counts for nothing and therefore it does not matter what one does with it. To the contrary, Paul argues throughout, the body is included in the redemptive work of God and therefore may not be involved in sexual immorality.
Two points from this passage need to be emphasized in the contemporary church. First, in most Western cultures, where sexual mores have blatantly moved toward pagan standards, the doctrine of the sanctity of the body needs to be heard anew within the church. Sexual immorality is still sin, even though it has been justified under every conceivable rationalization. Those who take Scripture seriously are not prudes or legalists at this point; rather, they recognize that God has purchased us for higher things. Our bodies belong to God through the redemption of the cross; and they are destined for resurrection. Part of the reason why Christians flee sexual immorality is that their bodies are for the Lord, who is to be honored in the deeds of the body as well as in all other behavior and attitudes.
Second, this passage needs to be heard again and again over against every encroachment of Hellenistic dualism that would negate the body in favor of the soul. God made us whole people; and in Christ he has redeemed us wholly. In the Christian view there is no dichotomy between body and spirit that either indulges the body because it is irrelevant or punishes it so as to purify the spirit. This pagan view of physical existence finds its way into Christian theology in a number of subtle ways, including the penchant on the part of some to “save souls” while caring little for people’s material needs. The Christian creed, based on NT revelation, is not the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body. That creed does not lead to crass materialism; rather, it affirms a holistic view of redemption that is predicated in part on the doctrine of creation—both the physical and spiritual orders are good because God created them—and in part on the doctrine of redemption, including the consummation—the whole fallen order, including the body, has been redeemed in Christ and awaits its final redemption.
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.
19. Know ye not that your body. He makes use of two additional arguments, in order to deter us from this filthiness. First, That our bodies are temples of the Spirit; and, secondly, that the Lord has bought us to himself as his property. There is an emphasis implied in the term temple; for as the Spirit of God cannot take up his abode in a place that is profane, we do not give him a habitation otherwise than by consecrating ourselves to him as temples. It is a great honour that God confers upon us when he desires to dwell in us. (Psalm 132:14.) Hence we ought so much the more to fear, lest he should depart from us, offended by our sacrilegious actings.
And ye are not your own. Here we have a second argument—that we are not at our own disposal, that we should live according to our own pleasure. He proves this from the fact that the Lord has purchased us for himself, by paying the price of our redemption. There is a similar statement in Rom. 14:9. To this end Christ died and rose again, that he might be Lord of the living and the dead. Now the word rendered price may be taken in two ways; either simply, as we commonly say of anything that it has cost a price, when we mean that it has not been got for nothing; or, as used instead of the adverb τιμίως, at a dear rate, as we are accustomed to say of things that have cost us much. This latter view pleases me better. In the same way Peter says, Ye are redeemed, not with gold and silver; but with the precious blood of the Lamb, without spot. (1 Peter 1:18, 19.) The sum is this, that redemption must hold us bound, and with a bridle of obedience restrain the lasciviousness of our flesh.
19. What? know ye not? &c.—Proof that “he that fornicates sinneth against his own body” (1 Co 6:18).
your body—not “bodies.” As in 1 Co 3:17, he represented the whole company of believers (souls and bodies), that is, the Church, as “the temple of God,” the Spirit; so here, the body of each individual of the Church is viewed as the ideal “temple of the Holy Ghost.” So Jn 17:23, which proves that not only the Church, but also each member of it, is “the temple of the Holy Ghost.” Still though many the several members form one temple, the whole collectively being that which each is in miniature individually. Just as the Jews had one temple only, so in the fullest sense all Christian churches and individual believers form one temple only. Thus “your [plural] body” is distinguished here from “his own [particular or individual] body” (1 Co 6:18). In sinning against the latter, the fornicator sins against “your (ideal) body,” that of “Christ,” whose “members your bodies” are (1 Co 6:15). In this consists the sin of fornication, that it is a sacrilegious desecration of God’s temple to profane uses. The unseen, but much more efficient, Spirit of God in the spiritual temple now takes the place of the visible Shekinah in the old material temple. The whole man is the temple; the soul is the inmost shrine; the understanding and heart, the holy place; and the body, the porch and exterior of the edifice. Chastity is the guardian of the temple to prevent anything unclean entering which might provoke the indwelling God to abandon it as defiled [Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women]. None but God can claim a temple; here the Holy Ghost is assigned one; therefore the Holy Ghost is God.
not your own—The fornicator treats his body as if it were “his own,” to give to a harlot if he pleases (1 Co 6:18; compare 1 Co 6:20). But we have no right to alienate our body which is the Lord’s. In ancient servitude the person of the servant was wholly the property of the master, not his own. Purchase was one of the ways of acquiring a slave. Man has sold himself to sin (1 Ki 21:20; Ro 7:14). Christ buys him to Himself, to serve Him (Ro 6:16–22).
Ver. 19.—That your body is the temple (or rather, a sanctuary) of the Holy Ghost. He has already said that the Church is a shrine or sanctuary of the Holy Ghost (ch. 3:16); but here for the first time expression is given to one of the deepest and newest truths of Christianity (comp. 2 Cor. 6:16). Three great epochs are marked by the use of the word “temple.” In the Old Testament it means the material temple, the sign of a localized worship and a separated people; in the Gospels, our Lord uses it of his own mortal body; in the Epistles it is used (as here) of the body of every baptized Christian sanctified by the indwelling Spirit of God. Ye are not your own. We cannot, therefore, use our bodies as though they were absolutely under our own control. They belong to God, and, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8).
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).
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.
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.
6:19 Again Paul reminds the Corinthians that theirs was a holy and dignified calling. Had they forgotten that their bodies were a temple of the Holy Spirit? That is the solemn truth of Scripture, that every believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God. How could we ever think of taking a body in which the Holy Spirit dwells and using it for vile purposes? Not only is our body the shrine of the Holy Spirit, but in addition, we are not our own. It is not for us to take our bodies and use them the way we desire. In the final analysis, they do not belong to us; they belong to the Lord.
6:18–20. Paul draws his final application, commanding everyone in the church to flee sexual immorality because every sin that a believer does is outside the body. The believer who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Sexual immorality goes contrary to the very nature and purpose of the human body. While other sins also affect the body, sexual immorality does so in a unique way because its cravings originate entirely from within. It forces the fulfillment of personal lust, the height of self-violation of the physical body which, Paul says, is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The believers were bought at a price, an expression that brings to mind the act of redemption and the outcome of the change of ownership. Therefore the Corinthian believers are commanded to glorify God in their physical body and in their spirit, which are God’s.
6:19 The temple (3:16, 17) was the congregation of believers. The temple was recognized as the sacred dwelling place of God. The Shekinah glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34) and the temple (1 Kin. 8:10, 11). Now, the glory of God in the person of the Holy Spirit dwells within every believer (John 14:16, 17) and thus inhabits the entire church. The OT priests took great pains to maintain a pure sanctuary for God’s presence. Every Christian ought also to care diligently for his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, in order to honor God and the church.
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