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Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in


by Christopher David Briggs

(Biblical references from King James Bible and New International 1984)

1 Cor 6,19 - Your Body Is Not the Holy Spirit’s
This little essay will make some people very angry. You may be one of them. Its
title challenges the sacred belief of many an English speaking Christian, and I
can see many of these already reaching for their Bibles in protest.

So before you all hit me over the head with your Bibles, my title is deliberately
provocative. Furthermore, it deliberately states that 1 Cor 6,19 Do you not know
that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have
received from God? You are not your own – is something completely different
to what is readily apparent to most who read this passage! That is because what
is most readily apparent to most people is actually not its meaning.

As my reader, you are right to be sceptical. Just understand that that is the case I
intend to prove to you. If you read my argument, you will see that I am not
trying to deny Biblical truth. On the contrary, I am trying to highlight it.

I shall do so firstly by showing that 1 Cor 6,19 cannot mean what most people
think it means by pointing out certain peculiarities of English grammar. It is
because of these, indeed, that this text has been misunderstood and been able to
be misunderstood. Lest I be accused merely of splitting hairs with the meanings
of words, I shall then show that one’s physical body cannot be the temple of the
Holy Spirit from the context of the Epistle and other similar writings of St. Paul.
Finally I shall appeal to other translations that underline and confirm the point I
am making.

It’s All About You

The reason you might think that your body – that is your physical body – might
be the temple of the Holy Spirit, is after all because of the pronoun “you”, and
especially “your” in the passage from 1 Cor 6, 19 Do you not know that your
body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from
God. How can I therefore claim to you that no, your body is not the Holy
Spirit’s Temple?

It is all to do with who “you” is. If they have any knowledge whatsoever about
the older “thou” forms, many people just see these archaic pronouns merely as
earlier forms of “you”. To put that the other way round, to most people “you” is
but the more modern form of “thou”. Yet if you take out an older Bible , you
will see that “thou”, “thee”, thy”, and “thine” co-exist together with “ye”, “you”,

“your”, and “yours”. Rather than being a new word for “thou”, “you” had (and
still has) its own meaning, and when “thou” went out of use “you” had to double
as the word both for “thou” and “you”. The two meanings are most definitely
not synonymous.

If you take a look at this 1 Cor 6, 19 in the King James Bible, you will see that
Saint Paul does not say that thy body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. In the King
James (with the “thous” and “thees”), you will see that Paul says that your body
is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is an important clue, since “thy” and “your”
were not synonymous.

In literary Middle English (the language of the King James Bible), “thou” (and
its related pronouns “thee, thy” and “thine”) could only be used in the singular
address. “You” could only be used for the plural address. Had you been able to
find anywhere in the King James’ Bible that thy body is a temple of the Holy
Spirit, then you would be correct in interpreting St. Paul’s words as relating to
your physical body – but instead you see that in the King James’ you get your
body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Because the distinction between singular and plural address is now blurred in
English, this may well sound like splitting hairs in the lingo. Yet consider that
we do not think “I” and “we” to be synonymous. For example, if I were to tell
you the following, “we went to the party, even though I had thought about
staying at home”, you would understand this differently to “I went to the party,
even though we had thought about staying at home” – you would understand
both sentences differently. Yet if you were to say as a “you said that” phrase
later, “you said that you went to the party, even though you had thought about
staying at home”, this can be understood only by the addressed person and
yourself because in this case only you and he already know who the “you” refers
to (either the original speaker, or the group). The modern “you” is redundant and
you have to assume the meaning if you do not already know it.

There are many cases where, just as we alternate between “I” and “we” even as
we speak, the biblical text alternates between “thou” (you singular) and “ye/you”
(you plural). They are never synonymous, and a modern reader may often read a
“you” as being plural when it is actually singular, or vice versa – as is the case
of the temple of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul is therefore not talking about your
physical body; he means your collective body, the Church.

To sum up the grammar: if Paul addresses us (and he is doing of course) as the

Church, and says “your bodies”, we understand this as Paul telling us about our
bodies; if Paul, on the other hand, speaking of an individual says “thy body”,
though we are all reading the passage together and being addressed at the same

time, we understand this as Paul telling us about our individual bodies. The last
use is the same type of address used in the Ten Commandments, which although
spoken to everyone are meant to be understood individually, as in “Honour thy
father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD
thy God giveth thee”.

Yet in 1 Cor 6, 19, the Apostle says neither “thy body” nor “your bodies”; he
says “your body” speaking to us about our body, so I as one of the addressed
understand him to mean not my body – but ours. This is why it really is not
splitting hairs to note that Paul does not say “thy body”, but rather “your body”.

The Context of the Text

That the above is so, can easily be seen from reading a little more from the same
Epistle. We see that this “body” thing is an important subject for Paul. He writes
1 Cor 10, 17 For we [being] many are one bread, [and] one body: for we are
all partakers of that one bread. Furthermore, we see that he writes, 1 Cor
12,13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether [we be]
Jews or Gentiles, whether [we be] bond or free; and have been all made to
drink into one Spirit.

Just by turning the “you” (Second Person) into “we” (First Person) - something
that still inflects the number distinction, we are able to see that the body Paul is
writing about is the Body of Christ, or Holy Church. The context of the “you” is
clear in 1 Cor 12 v 27, when after speaking of spiritual gifts given to the various
members of Christ’s Body, Paul says “Now you are the body of Christ, and
each one of you is a part of it.”

In Corinthians Paul tells us about the Body of Christ’s differing functions, or

members. Each one of us is a part of it. Each of us is a member of Christ’s Body.
Paul describes our body’s complexity, and he likens one to being a hand and
another to being a foot.

This is therefore the explanation for 1 Cor 6,15, where he writes – this time
using “your bodies” (meaning our bodies) - Know ye not that your bodies are
the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make [them]
the members of an harlot? God forbid. So in this case, you would be right to
understand Paul’s teaching as referring to the responsibility you have for your
body. Yet your body is not the temple of the Holy Spirit.

There are so many references in Paul’s writing to our collective body of the
Church that there really is no question in this matter. In addition to the passages
already cited in 1 Corinthians, the context in which this verse from 1 Cor 6,19 is

set, you will find that Paul is generally quite obsessed with this concept of a
collective body:-


For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one
body, being many, are one body: so also [is] Christ.
1 Cor 12,27 {SPECIFIC GIFTS}
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

Rom 12,5 So we, [being] many, are one body in Christ, and every one members
one of another.

Eph 1,22-23 And hath put all [things] under his feet, and gave him [to be] the
head over all [things] to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him
that filleth all in all.

Eph 2,16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross,
having slain the enmity thereby:

Eph 3,6 That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and
partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

Eph 4,4 [There is] one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of
your calling

For those who yet can doubt that it is this body that truly is the temple of the
Holy Spirit, Paul says very clearly, Col 1,18 And he is the head of the body, the
church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all [things] he
might have the preeminence. There are indeed more references, but I think these
are sufficient for the average reader to see the point that I am trying to make.

Teaching Unchanged
Some people to whom I have previously tried explaining this have got not a little
angry. You may still make an argument for avoiding sexual immorality; nothing
I have made a case for here weakens Paul’s teaching with respect to that.

Furthermore, I do not deny that it is possible to make the case for, and a good
case for considering your (physical) body as God’s temple, even from other
passages of Scripture. However, you cannot take Paul’s words here in
Corinthians to back that up. Trying to say, as I have once heard, that even if it
were true that “you” were plural, the singular meaning is just as valid (we can
interpret Paul to mean the singular), is plain wrong. You thus put words into the
Apostle’s mouth.

Mainly an English Speaking Problem
As should hopefully now be clear, the misunderstanding about who is bought
with a price, and whose body we are talking about in “Do you not know that
your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received
from God” is a result of our language having lost the grammatical distinction it
once made between the singular and plural address.

Paul’s teaching – relating to avoiding sexual immorality in this case, and

speaking of spiritual gifts in the Church elsewhere – is not affected by
understanding “your body” as the collective body, which undeniably is the
meaning anyway. However, the teaching of certain television preachers and of
popular charismatic elements certainly is. There are those for whom the notion
of their (physical) body being the temple of the Holy Spirit, is not only a dogma
– but a premise for other things in which they believe and for which they argue
in their preaching. Perhaps that is why I have received negative reactions when I
have attempted to point out where I stand on this issue.

Consequently there is a relatively new false teaching that has become current: to
wit the false notion that one’s physical body be the temple of the Holy Spirit
(which is something completely different from treating your body as though it
were God’s temple in order to honour Him as we can perhaps understand 1 Cor
6,13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it
and them. Now the body [is] not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord
for the body.). This false teaching has arisen from the English language, and is
from my experience very prevalent in the aforementioned circles.

Strangely enough, this same teaching is also found here in Norway. I can only
deduce that it nevertheless has come from English speaking environments,
through “Ungdom i oppdrag” where young people from other lands can come
and learn to evangelize, and through the contacts free churches and the
charismatic circles here have with pastors from English speaking countries -
many of whom come over here to preach. In this way the false teaching that
one’s body be the temple of the Holy Spirit has managed to get a foothold here
as well.

Other Translations
It should really be enough to read what St. Paul writes in context to understand
that it is our body the Church that is the Holy Spirit’s Temple. Yet for those of
us who live in Norway, we have the benefit of being able to understand a
language that still distinguishes between singular and plural address. We can see

from (most) Norwegian translations the meaning that would have been clear to
the speaker of Middle English.

There is an exception. For some reason the 1978 Bokmål translation renders this
1 Cor 6,19 as “your bodies” (which would change the meaning). However, both
the older translations and the newer, render it as “your body” (a collective body).
Nynorsk has always done so.

I cannot speak Greek, but I am informed by those who can that the Greek
likewise confirms that the meaning of 1 Cor 6, 19 is that for which I have
presented my case in this essay. Certainly the Latin Vulgate does, and the
understanding of 1 Cor 6,19 as being the Body of Christ, or the Church is also
the understanding of history and the Church Fathers. I regret that I do not have
the references for that, but I would not write this if I were not sure that it was

I have, therefore, been somewhat disingenuous in the title of my essay. If I had
written “Your Body Is the Temple of the Holy Spirit”, it would have been
correct in the traditional sense that strictly speaking, the pronoun “yours” still
conveys – “you” in Modern English means, as everybody knows, both singular
and the plural address. Yet I doubt that many people would have understood this
sentence in that traditional way.

When I read the Bible, I do mainly use an English translation. Because I am

conscious of the “you” problem, I always have my King James at hand. While I
like to read the New International Version 1984, there are many times where I
will check the “you” in the King James and find that it was not the “you” that I
thought it was!
Sometimes the New International Version will point out the problem. An
example here is Lk 22,31-32 "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you* as
[* The Greek is plural.] 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith
may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." This is
a very good example of how English is somewhat handicapped by its dual
purpose “you” – especially considering how we alternate still between “I” and
“we” (if I am Peter, Jesus has said that Satan demanded us but that He has
prayed for me). Though we cannot do much about this, we should be aware of
this problem.

We should be aware of the problem because sometimes we are unable to see that
what we are reading may have a different meaning to that we understand. What
for example is your understanding of the phrase from the psalms “put not your

trust in princes”? Do you understand this exhortation as for you or for everyone?
Saying that “you” means both does not really work because at the time this
psalm was written, there were not two meanings but only one. Whilst the above
example is admittedly not so important, there are many other examples where it
is important because the meaning is totally changed if you understand the “you”
you are reading, wrongly.

This passage from Corinthians is just one such example. I hope that I have been
able to bring some clarity to it for, as we say in our Communion service, though
we are many, we are One Body, because we all share in One Bread. We are
therefore the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Christopher David Briggs