Theological Mistakes #8: Body as Temple

In previous posts I have been dealing with theological distortions that come from transliterating Bible words rather than translating them. I will return to these problems in future posts, but let me address another error that comes from 1 Corinthians 6:19. In the NIV (2011) the first part of this verse reads:

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you …”

Here is the same text in the earlier NIV edition (1984):

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you …”

Why the change from “body” to “bodies,” and “temple” to “temples”? I cannot answer for the NIV translation committee, but this is a shift with theological implications. Let me explain.

In Greek, the word for “your” (υμων, sorry, I don’t know how to get a rough breathing or circumflex in Unicode, transliteration is humōm). This is a plural rather than a singular “you,” a distinction we are no longer able to make in English. But the word for “temple” (ναός, naos) is singular as is the word for “body” (σώμα, sōma). My translation/paraphrase of this text would be:

“Don’t all of you know that the one body of which all of you are a part is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you all.”

The context in 1 Corinthians 6 is not about abuse or neglect of our personal bodies, it is about the pollution of the Body of Christ (the church) by the actions of individual members. Specifically, the Corinthian church was being defiled by members who were using the services of prostitutes. Paul’s point to them was that such actions did not just affect the individual, but brought moral filth into the body of Christ of which that person was a member.

Again, I’m not sure why the NIV 2011 changed this. It removed the ambiguity of the “your” in the NIV 1984, but mistranslated “bodies” and “temples.” This seems to me to be an accommodation for the individualistic Christianity that is the norm for many today. It loses the larger lesson of Paul, that Christians are part of a fellowship, and that their actions reflect upon and have influence upon the family of God. Don’t forget, Paul reminds us, the church was bought with a price, redeemed from the slavery of sin and lust.

So, if you are at the gym working out and someone proclaims “My body is a temple” (say this with a Schwarzenegger accent), smile to yourself a little. Taking care of our bodies through proper nutrition and exercise is wise stewardship of the gift that God has given us. Worshiping our bodies or seeing them as individual temples is a concept foreign from the Bible. I do believe that God’s Holy Spirit indwells each believer, but that is not the issue here. Our individual bodies are not intended to be temples. They are intended to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1)


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