1 Cor 3:16 and 6:19-20: Dealing with Misconceptions

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The verses above seen from the title of this post have been in my opinion dealt beyond their proper meaning by people misquoting verses to support their pet peeves which I find rather annoying.

One of the problems with reading the bible is that people tend to be reading them in bits and pieces which the numbering of chapter and verse seem to influence. For the purpose of citation they are helpful, but for the use of reading passages as a whole they become somewhat deadly.

I study theology and one of the things that gets drummed in us is that context matters. Reading a verse without interpreting it in the confines of the context will land the interpreter in all sorts of trouble and funny ideas come into place.

Part of the reason for me to write this is to somewhat respond to those who teach that tattoos are forbidden for Christians. The two verses above are supplementary verses to make the argument against the practice substantive. Please note that I’m not advocating tattoos (although I do have tattoos on my body and I love them), but the thing I’m largely responding to is the rather lame argument that people generally make to their arguments and reasons.


1 Cor 3:16

The verse states that “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” Now people quote this and say, “See, it says our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” I would’t disagree with them. But taken in the context of where this particular verse is placed there is a misconception to their argument. Earlier on before Paul mentioned v.3:16, there was a mention on how some believers were bickering one another on who they were following. They were creating dissensions in terms of siding the best teachers as it seems to be stated (3:3-4).

So, taking that into consideration 1 Cor 3:16 gives a rather different rendering to the argument that our individual bodies are the temple of God. Paul uses this statement to tell the Corinth believers that they were as a community of believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit. As the argument goes, those who create this dissension (choosing sides) of tearing down the unity of the community of believers are actually working to tear down what God has worked for, that is to bring unity. 

So, taking this verse into this context, it’s not talking about individuals being the temple of the Holy Spirit but the community of believers in their unity as the temple that God had established.

Context matters. So my advise to those who pull this verse out as their weapon should think twice. Are they reading too much into just one verse? It seems so to me.


1 Cor 6:19-20

Now this particular verse does speak more inline with individuals being the temple of the Holy Spirit. The context of the use of this verse comes where Paul was making an argument with those who were practicing sexual immorality where one commits sin with a prostitute. The argument that Paul presents is that sex is not just an act one does for feeding the sexual appetite but it is something different. Sex is something sacred and when one enters into it the two persons become one flesh.

Paul was exhorting believers of the implication of their practice and used verse 19-20 as a statement to give perspective of the implication they were involving themselves in the practice.

So, taking this verse into context, it had more to do with the implication of sexual immorality. Not so much with everything else. The call to honor our bodies can be read with much greater degree of implications though. But why for goodness sake must it be tattoos? What about excessive eating which is a common practice among native people in Malaysia or Malaysians for that matter? Some studies have even showed that Malaysians are among those who have one of the most percentage of people who are obese. Why not honor God by eating moderately? Why has no preacher talked about this issue which is so prevalent that it becomes nothing of importance?



I hope some reasonable way of reading these passages would come out of this for those who took the time reading. One thing that you will notice is that context matters and it will determine how one particular verse is used. The sickness of many Christians who profess to be bible loving Christians is that no one gives a damn about reading passages as a whole. You don’t go reading a novel and read one line and that one line would be substantive to tell the whole story. So again on a final note, context demands that we read a verse not to get out of line in the way we interpret them. Context controls our interpretation of a verse. Context matters. And let me repeat again in bold letters CONTEXT MATTERS. 

2 thoughts on “1 Cor 3:16 and 6:19-20: Dealing with Misconceptions

  1. In general terms you offer sage advice. However, in the particular you may just be falling victim of your own argument. Looking at the writings of Paul, it is helpful to be understanding of what we can glean from history (in addition to The Bible) as to the nature of the man and what motivated him. His background together with his knowledge of the Sermon on the Mount and his relationship with Jesus, influenced his writings. So we would do well not only to be careful in avoiding building dogma based on selective text-bolting, but to understand more about the time, the people and their circumstances.

  2. Point well taken. I’m not offering to be a dogma trotting fellow anyway, just trying to read the bible as careful as possible. Anyway thanks for the concern and comment.

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