In 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul asked, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” The implications of a Christian’s body being a temple of the Holy Spirit are deep and profound. However, this sentiment is also often misapplied. What does it mean for your body to be a temple of the Holy Spirit? Does it mean you need to exercise and eat right? Does it mean you shouldn’t get tattoos or piercings? Let’s re-examine this passage in context.
How It’s Often Used
Like most misapplied proof-texts, this passage is often used inconsistently. For instance, I’ve heard Christians say it is wrong for someone to get tattoos or piercings because their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. These folks reason that a Christian should not “deface” the temple of God.
However, the same reasoning never seems to be applied to something more traditional, like a woman having earrings. If it’s wrong to put a hole in your nose, why is it not wrong to pierce your earlobes? If it’s wrong to decorate your skin with ink, then why is it not wrong to decorate yourself by hanging jewelry from your earlobes?
Another popular application is to preach that being healthy (eating good foods, exercising, taking vitamins, etc.) is a proper application of 1 Corinthians 6:19, because healthy people are taking care of the temple of God. Inversely, they reason that overeating and/or leading a sedentary lifestyle is abusing the temple of God and is a violation of 1 Corinthians 6:19. Of course, those who use this passage in this way tend to make allowances for the unhealthy habits in which they themselves indulge, but not the unhealthy habits of others.
The Verse in Context
As always, the proper way to understand a particular verse will always be dependent on the context. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is not talking about piercings, tattoos, junk food, or exercise. Paul is talking about sexual sin and how sexual sin defiles our bodies.
In fact, Paul is explicit that sexual sin is in a category of its own. He writes, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Sex unites the bodies of two individuals; which does not mean they are married, it means their bodies are united. When bodies are united in a sinful way, it is a sin against their bodies.
Paul taught that the bodies of Christians are holy spaces; places where heaven and earth are united because of the work of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit. Like the ground on which Moses stood before the burning bush or the space inside the Holy of Holies, your body is a holy space. To use that holy space for the purpose of sexual immorality would be like making a sacrifice to an idol in the temple (something that was wrong anywhere but was specifically a sin against the temple when it was done in the temple).
When we grasp this profound reality about our own sanctified bodies, it is a humbling moment. It makes us appreciate the fact that our bodies are something special. The Spirit of God quite literally dwells within these bodies and we are sacred space, filled with the invisible presence of God. As such, every Christian should learn “how to control his own body in holiness and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4) because our bodies are sacred.
As with any passage of Scripture, we should be careful to not go beyond the author’s intended application. Paul specifically said sexual sin defiles the body in a unique way, so to raise other behaviors to the same level is to ignore Paul’s point about the seriousness and uniqueness of sexual sin.
Furthermore, it is particularly egregious to apply this passage to things that are not even inherently sinful. Eating, resting, and even putting a hole or ink in your skin is not inherently sinful. Therefore, claiming these things defile the temple of God is going far beyond the point Paul was making.
Furthermore, the inconsistent ways we apply our reasoning and logic on this issue have become judgmental in ways that violate passages like (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 14:3-4; James 4:12). It would be one thing to apply this passage to other behaviors that are inherently sinful, but it is another thing altogether to apply it to behaviors which may be unwise or culturally unusual but not inherently sinful.
Not How the Bible Works
All that being said, we shouldn’t require a Bible verse for everything, nor should we try to find a Bible verse that answers every question. I don’t need a Bible verse to tell me to look both ways before crossing the street. Common sense should tell me it’s foolish to cross the street without looking. To try to rip a verse out of context to prove it’s a sin to cross without looking cheapens Scripture and insults the intelligence of its readers (in multiple ways).
We have enough health information at our fingertips that you should know what kinds of food are healthy and what kinds of food are not. You should know the benefits of exercise, as well as the consequences of leading a sedentary lifestyle. If you choose to get a nose ring or get a tattoo, you should understand the benefits and consequences of your decision. It shouldn’t take a Bible verse to convince you to make healthy choices.
Additionally, because we have a lot of freedom to figure out how to live our lives in ways that glorify God, there are going to be people who make different decisions than you. They are going to decide to get a tasteful tattoo, pierce their nose, or eat a reasonable amount of pepperoni pizza. You’re just going to have to be okay with that, and they are going to have to be okay with the decisions you make as well.
I love you and God loves you,