Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Temple of God

A quick observation from the Gospel Doctrine lesson on the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89):

The manual makes the common (Mormon) mistake of equating 1 Cor. 3:16-17 and 1 Cor. 6:19-20 in order to discuss how our bodies are "temples of God": "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Cor. 3:16-17). This set of verses has absolutely nothing to do with our individual physical bodies. Nothing at all. The first clue is that "ye" in vs. 16 is plural in Greek. This is a reference to the Church as a whole. Paul has been condemning the divisions within the Church. Unity is his message. Paul attempts to unify the divided Corinthians with the message of Christ's atonement. They are God's field (vs. 5-9).[1] This draws on the metaphor of Israel as God's vineyard (e.g. Isaiah 5:1-7). The imagery of the Corinthians as "God's field" then shifts to "God's building" (vs. 9). Paul fulfills the role as a "master builder," laying the foundation of Jesus Christ. Those who build upon it with "gold, silver, and precious stones" (which were used to build the temple; see 1 Chronicles 22:14, 16; 29:2) will be rewarded. Those whose works do not withstand the fiery cleansing (which is similar to Malachi 4:1-2) will "suffer loss" (or "punishment"), but will be saved "yet so as by fire" (vs. 15).[2]

"...But I hope you comprehend, this body is a temple
and you don't got no recommend."
This brings us to vs. 15-16. Given the fact that the Corinthian Church has been compared to a field and a building, it makes no sense whatsoever to assume that Paul has suddenly shifted from a collective address to one about individuals (let alone the physical bodies of the individuals). Paul is describing the Corinthian Church as the place where God's Spirit dwells. They are the recipients of the Spirit and its gifts. They are to be a spiritual people. Paul in similar fashion compared the Ephesian Church to the "household of God" (Eph. 2:20), "an holy temple in the Lord" (vs. 21), "an habitation of God through the Spirit" (vs. 22). Even Peter declares the saints to be built up unto a "spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:5).

This understanding, in my view, makes the connection to 1 Cor. 6:19-20 much deeper and more significant by bringing a communal context to our actions:

Previously, Paul had used the "temple" (naos) metaphor of the Corinthians as a body corporate (3:16-17); now he uses it of the Corinthian bodies individually. What is true of the Corinthians together is true of them individually also: their bodies are holy because they have become places where the Holy Spirit is present. But some of the Corinthians act as if this is not so, and in doing so they are polluting and destroying the whole. So, says Paul, [1 Cor. 6:19b-20]. This is the language of remind them to who they belong and therefore who they really are...And since God has bought them at the cost of his Son in death, they are under obligation to render God his due: [6:20b]. Here is the basis for a sexual morality (and therefore a social morality) which neither denigrates the body nor exalts the body as the only worthwhile thing but in which bodily relations are ordered toward their true end: the glory of the God who raised Christ bodily and will raise our bodies also "by his power."[3]

Reading the entire context does wonders. "Stick with the manual" does not.[4]

1. Slightly off topic: I think it is worth pointing out that Paul describes himself and Apollos as "one" (Greek hen) in vs. 8. The very same description is given by Christ in reference to Him and His Father (see John 10:30).

2. John T. Townsend compares this verse (along with 1 Corinthians 5:5) to Rosh ha-Shanah 16b-17a bar, which followed the Shammaite train of thought. The "in between" (i.e. those who are not "wholly good nor wholly bad") will "go down to Gehinnom, 'chirp' (cf. Isa. 29:4) and arise" (Townsend, "1 Corinthians 3:15 and the School of Shammai," Harvard Theological Review 61:3, July 1968: 501). The biblical support for this interpretation was Zechariah 13:9. Townsend says, "A Shammaitic interpretation of 1 Cor. 3:15 implies a belief on the part of Paul that at the end of the age there would be a final opportunity for some to be saved even from the fires of Gehinnom" (pg. 503). Drawing on this background, Townsend finds that 1 Cor. 15:29 has "usually been understood to refer to some form of vicarious baptismal rite intended to benefit somehow those who have died. Such a rite would be meaningless if a man's fate had been fully determined in his lifetime; and in view of this difficulty some commentators have asserted that, although the Apostle tolerated the rite, he did not approve of it. Such a suggestion, however, appears somewhat forced, and a better explanation is that Paul had no reason to condemn the rite because he believed that the final opportunity for salvation would not precede the end of the age" (pg. 503). This is enlightening, particularly with the doctrine recorded in D&C 76 regarding the terrestrial and telestial inhabitants.

3. Stephen C. Barton, "1 Corinthians," in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, eds. James D.G. Dunn, John W. Rogerson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003), 1327. See also Ibid., 1318-1320; NET Commentary, pgs. 2230-2233. 

4. See Daniel Peterson's humorous stories about Church curriculum at Mormon Stories.

1 comment:

  1. We just had the next lesson, the one on the best books. I wasn't teaching, but I did help steer the lesson away from a teaching Sunday School perspective into something closer to the original notion of spiritual truth encompassing all fields of knowledge. The "vocational intellectuals" in the classroom took it and ran with it. I was very happy to see others enthused for the bigger vision that the original revelations encourage.