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I Am Not a Temple of the Holy Spirit

       I am not a temple of the Holy Spirit?
       I am a part of that one temple.  But, not one of millions of little temples.
       That needs a little more explanation.  Or, of course, you could just proclaim me a heretic and start looking for firewood.  Okay, so, while somebody gathers some branches and kindling, bear with me and read the rest of this post. 

The Bride
       First, let me begin with a seemingly unrelated statement: Christ is not a polygamist.  The statement seems at once both obvious and superfluous.  Like saying “Pastor Joe is not a maple tree.”  Something that’s true, but hardly a startling insight – unless Pastor Joe has not moved for some time and you see squirrels running up and down him.
       But the point is more subtle, and far more important.
       The church, as you know, is the “bride of Christ.”  Numerous references to that effect are sprinkled through the New Testament: John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27, 30-32; Revelation 19:7; 8; 21:2; 9; 22:17.  It is also found in the Old Testament in relation to the people of God in passages such as Isaiah 49:18, 54:5, 61:10, 62:4-5, and Jeremiah 2:2. The image is well known and, to this point, I cannot imagine you’ve read anything you didn’t already know. 
       So, we are the bride of Christ.  Indeed, the entire universal church in all places and all times altogether is the bride of Christ.  None of us imagines that we, alone and by ourselves, are a bride of Christ.  To make sure our language is clear, we would want to say to a church, “You all are the bride of  Christ, start acting like  it.”  We would be less likely (I hope) to say, “Every one of you is a bride of Christ, start acting like it.”  This would leave people with the impression that Christ has countless thousands (millions) of brides.
       Bride of Christ is a collective metaphor for the people of God. Many people.  One bride. So, as in the statement above, “You all are the bride of Christ, start acting like it,” it urges individual obedience while presuming the Christian life in the context of community.  The subtle but critical inference is that we are encouraged to envision the Christian life communally.

The Temple
       “You are the temple of the Holy Spirit.”
       Like the allusion to being a bride, the temple analogy is also well known and widely used.  The problem is that, because of the difficulties raised by the complex grammar and translation challenges of a single verse, 1 Corinthians 6:19, many Christians have been conditioned to hear this as, “You are all temples of the Holy Spirit.”  Individually, by myself, I am a temple of the Holy Spirit.  One temple among many other temples.
       This, however, is almost certainly not what Paul intends us to hear in that passage.  Let me explain this in three steps: the importance of a single temple; other temple allusions in the New Testament; the actual language of 1 Corinthians 6:19.

The One Temple 
       In De Specialibus Legibus, Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, writes, “Because there is one God, there is also only one temple.” (1.67)  This single-temple Judaism was dramatically different than the religions surrounding Israel.  Although the Old Testament repeatedly demonstrates that God could be worshipped at numerous places (the insistence on one temple was not rooted in some idea that Yahweh was incapable of receiving worship from multiple places), the coming of the one Tabernacle and, later, the one Jerusalem Temple prohibited the building or use of any other temples. 
       It is beyond what can be covered in one post to discuss the many references in the Old Testament that presume and require the use of one and only one temple.  It is certainly true some rival temples were constructed.  Considering the practice of all the cultures surrounding Israel, this is to be expected.  But, as the Jews violently demonstrated in destroying the Samaritan’s temple on Mount Gerizim in 129 BC, the One-ness of God must be reflected in the fact that there was to be one and only one temple.

Temple Imagery in the New Testament 
       Language that draws analogies between the church and the temple can be found many places in the New Testament.  For example: we are the temple of God (2 Corinthians 6:16), the church is joined together to be a holy temple (Ephesians 2:21), the believers are living stones joined together to make a spiritual house through which God is worshipped (1 Peter 2:4-5).  And, of course, there is the earlier reference in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 where Paul uses the image of the temple to warn the Corinthians not to foster divisions in the church.
       In all of these passages, the language points to many people being made into a single temple.  The idea of a single temple would be the natural presumption of Paul or any other Jew.  In Romans 12, Christians are urged to present their bodies (plural) and a living sacrifice (singular).  Many bodies.  One sacrifice.  Many Christians.  One temple.  Just as there is only one bride.  The language is straightforward and consistent.  With the exception, that is, of 1 Corinthians 6:19.

1 Corinthians 6:19 
       The actual language in 6:19 is somewhat awkward.  I will use the southern “you all” to make it clear when you is plural instead of singular.  So, the verse reads: Do you all not know that your all’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit – in you all.  It is awkward enough that some ancient manuscripts, including the fifth century Codex Alexandrinus, make the word body plural: Do you all not know that your all’s bodies are…  Those who can might want to look at this in the Greek (commentaries may not be as helpful here as just digging directly into the text).  

       The important thing, however, relates to the word temple.  While the translation “your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit” is certainly possible, it suggests each person is a separate temple.  The translation “your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit” could be read either way (many temples or all the bodies as a single temple).  The second reading is closer to Paul’s intention.  Although, read to people in isolation, the verse could point to many temples or one temple.  What Paul means, if we wanted to simply paraphrase it, is: Don’t have sex with a prostitute!  What’s wrong with you people?  Don’t you know that your bodies are part of God’s temple?  How could you join God’s temple in sexual union with a prostitute!?”

Why This Matters 
       Why does any of this matter?  Well, if the question is whether or not to have sex with a hooker, it doesn’t.  Don’t.  That would dishonor God and profane the sacred.
       But, since this phrase, temple of the Holy Spirit, is so frequently quoted by preachers and youth ministers and teachers and Bible study leaders, the image of a single temple (made up of all Christians) or countless individual temples does matter.  The way people hear this verse either reinforces a very individualistic view of the Christian life or it reinforces the importance of the community of believers.  Like the word “bride,” it either points to the whole church or it just points to me (and lots of other me’s).
       I cannot be the Bride of Christ by myself.  I cannot be the Body of Christ by myself.  I am a part of both, but not alone.  Both push me toward the church (the gathering, the community).  I cannot live out either image in pristine isolation.
       In the same way, God has only one temple.  One God = one temple.  Philo got that right.  I am not the temple of the Holy Spirit.  I am a part of the temple of the Holy Spirit.  He certainly indwells me.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit is simply not a Christian. (Romans 8:9)  But, when David pleads, “Do not take your Holy Spirit from me,” (Psalm 51:11) he was not picturing himself as a temple.  The doctrine of the presence of the Spirit within each Christian is true.  It is simply not true that this makes each of us a separate temple.
       This also reinforces the obvious (though sometimes denied) truth that a major function of the church as church is worship.  When we gather as church we gather as “a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God.” (1 Peter 2:2)  The temple is where priests offer sacrifices.  No one questions that is the language of worship.  That is what the church does as church.
       There is only one God and He is worshipped in one and only one temple.  The church is not simply a weekly school of Christ, an gathering for mutual edification, or an optional choice if a Christian can find one in driving distance and they are not too tired to go.  In joining with other believers, whether in a large and dynamic mega-church or in a few believers gathering quietly in a home, we become part of a temple – a body – one and only one bride.
       After all, Christ is not a polygamist.
       And I am not a temple of the Holy Spirit.
          One Lord.  One Bride.  One Temple.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen! Well said - so many get this wrong!