Context Matters: Your Body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit

If we learn to read the Bible for what it is—and not as a collection of independently assembled proverbial sayings—we’ll discover that some of our most familiar passages don’t actually mean what we’ve always assumed.

If this verse prohibits alcohol, tobacco, or piercings, then how much more does it also prohibit caffeine, chocolate cake, bacon grease, late nights, failure to bathe, steel factory employment, vasectomies, and drivers’ licenses? Each of these things either 1) introduces harmful substances to the body, 2) puts the body at significant risk of harm, or 3) makes permanent bodily changes for reasons other than preserving health.

 

Perhaps you’ve been told that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). And perhaps this declaration came in the wake of an argument against drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, piercing a part of your body, or getting a tattoo. This go-to verse has kept countless multitudes in reverent submission to a variety of cultural expectations. At least until many of those submissive masses come of age. When many inevitably rebel against the behavioral expectations set for them, are they rebelling against the word of God?

Context matters. If we learn to read the Bible for what it is—and not as a collection of independently assembled proverbial sayings—we’ll discover that some of our most familiar passages don’t actually mean what we’ve always assumed.

The Verse

It appears rather straightforward. I’ll even go as far as to quote two verses:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19-20)

Easy, right? If you profess to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, your body has become a temple for his Spirit. Therefore, it is not appropriate for you to put harmful substances (alcohol, tobacco) into it, or to mutilate your body with excessive piercings. Glorifying God in your body requires you to abstain from such harmful behaviors.

Consistency

Let’s just make sure to follow that line of thinking all the way into the station. If this verse prohibits alcohol, tobacco, or piercings, then how much more does it also prohibit caffeine, chocolate cake, bacon grease, late nights, failure to bathe, steel factory employment, vasectomies, and drivers’ licenses? Each of these things either 1) introduces harmful substances to the body, 2) puts the body at significant risk of harm, or 3) makes permanent bodily changes for reasons other than preserving health.

Charles Spurgeon understood the absurdity of this logic. The story is told1 of the time he met Dwight L. Moody. Upon being greeted by the Prince of Preachers chomping on a flaming stogie, Moody exclaims, “How could you, a man of God, smoke that cigar?” Spurgeon advances on Moody with pointing finger aimed at the latter’s seriously overweight gut: “The same way that you, a man of God, can be that fat.”

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