NIV on “Temple” in 1 Corinthians

I have so thoroughly enjoyed teaching 1 Corinthians this semester.  It’s been a blast to participate in wonderful discussions with students keen to kick around every aspect of the text and its theological implications.

At point after point, Paul stresses the unity of the church and the corporate character of Christian discipleship.

His statement in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 stands over many of the topics he addresses.  Those that divide the church or exploit the weaknesses of others run the risk of judgment.  It’s a stark warning.

In light of its importance, it’s unfortunate that many English translations don’t do it justice.  It ends up being synonymous with 1 Corinthians 6:19, where Paul states that individual bodies are temples of God’s Spirit.

In 3:16-17, however, Paul is speaking of the corporate body, the church.  The three appearances of “you” are plural:

Do you not know that you (plural) are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells among you (plural)?  If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him.  For the temple of God is holy, and that is what you (plural) are.

The NASB and ESV note this in the margin, but the translations don’t capture Paul’s sense and leave the impression that it’s singular.

The updated NIV, however, nails it:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

One could quibble with the choices of “you yourselves,” “in your midst,” and “you together” (and I’m sure the translation committee considered several options), but they should be commended for rightly representing Paul’s corporate intention.

In light the prominence of this notion throughout the letter (and its importance for Paul’s thought in general), it’s crucial to get this right.  How much more so for those who read Scripture in a culture that can only imagine being Christian as an individual pursuit and that marginalizes the place of the church.

9 thoughts on “NIV on “Temple” in 1 Corinthians

  1. John Duffy

    I wasn’t aware there was an updated NIV. I really like the NIV for its literary felicity, but have been reading the ESV because of concerns I had heard about the accuracy of the NIV. Were these concerns largely addressed in the updated version?

    Totally off topic, but I’m enjoying your book about Ephesians. I am very convicted about your ongoing discussion in the book about cruciformity. As a middle school teacher, I’m truly stumped as to how to become a teacher along the pattern of cruciformity (as opposed to the authoritarian model that I’ve adopted over the years). How to show 12-13 year old public school students Christ while getting them to pass tests and quizzes? Any words of wisdom?

    1. timgombis

      I prefer the NASB over the ESV for a literal translation. The NIV represents a different translation philosophy (dynamic equivalency), and so I like it along with a more literal one. I often throw up my hands when I disagree with how they render something because there’s more interpretation going on with a dynamic equivalence translation, but it is certainly useful.

      Wow, that is certainly a challenge!! All I can say is that it is definitely possible, but will take loads of creativity in environments like that.

  2. Jaime

    There is so much being said about bodies in 1 Corinthians that it really is amazing sometimes to try to track all the ideas Paul was trying to bring into the discussion. Obviously the discussion of the congregation as the body which is the temple leads into the discussion of individual bodies also being temples, but then this whole discussion of bodies leads into the discussion of love, which is the main “service/worship” in the temple, and this leads into a discussion of the role of bodies in the Kingdom in its future tense. (Ch. 15). And since bodies are animated by something either soul or spirit, Paul also has a running sub-current of the difference between bodies animated by souls (animals in Jewish though) and bodies animated by Spirit (humans). Thus, in the Resurrection, Paul seems to be saying that we will be truly human, and yet participate in the divine because we will only be animated by a Spirit, and not by an animal(ish) soul.
    But the interconnectedness of all these thoughts is truly breathtaking. Paul was definitely a deep thinker, trying to engage this congregation in Corinth in some ideas that were quite different than what their culture (and ours) have to say about bodies and worship. I think Corinthians is one of the books that just don’t get treated very well in most sermons. It’s depth just begs for repeated discussion, evaluation, and self appraisal.

    To John:
    I’m in a similar situation. I’m a Middle School/High School teacher. I’m in that same struggle. Although I have found that when I try to love the students more than “impart knowledge and wisdom”, I seem to be able to speak into their lives more. I would recommend asking questions. Get them to answer their own questions about God and life and academics. You can guide their search for answers, but get them to think things through and do the work and they will value it more.
    Get a mentor. I don’t have one right now, but I know I need one. Find someone to walk with you, who knows about education and the heart of teenagers.
    Pray for wisdom. We all need more of it. In fact, I’m going to pray for you right now, and if you read this, PLEASE pray for me, too. 🙂

    1. timgombis

      True, Jaime, a similar interplay of bodies and the gathered body and Jesus’ own body as in Romans, all working to display the interconnectedness of the community and the unity of Christ and the church. I can’t wait to go through 1 Corinthians again!

      Good words for John, too. The challenge you both face and which he articulated (loving that age group while in an authority position as a teacher in a public school–YIKES!) is no small thing!! It’s draining and taxing, I’m sure and I don’t presume to know how to speak to it.

  3. John Duffy

    Thanks, Jaime. I just prayed for you.

    Being in a public school environment limits me fairly severely in terms of talking to students about God. Added to that is the fact that my job security rests increasingly on test scores, so the incentive structure of this worldly institution leads me to focus on their achievement as measured on a multiple choice test.

    That said, I still feel compelled by the love of Christ to strive to show them Jesus. This is what I ask God for every day: the wisdom to do this while enabling them to learn. 12-13 year old kids vary wildly in maturity which adds to the challenge.

      1. John Duffy

        7th grade U. S. History. Much grist for discussions about character and morality. I also point out that Jesus’ command about loving one’s enemies was a foundational conviction of the nonviolent resistance of the Civil Rights Movement, but that’s about it in terms of discussion of religious matters.

        Thanks for your beautiful prayer.

  4. Jaime

    Ooh, John. I have the benefit of being a teacher in a private, Christian school where I am both allowed and expected to speak into their lives about God. I have the greatest respect for public school teachers who are believers, especially as our society is turning more and more hostile to the idea of a divine King.
    Grace and Peace to you this day. May you be filled with the Wisdom of God, the Mind of Messiah. May your thoughts and actions be sanctified for the Kingdom, and may you find Grace in abundance for your work, being Salt and Light in the land. Thank you for your service to our children, and remember, do your work to please your King, not the test scores. Maybe, like Daniel, Mishael, Hannaniah, and Azariah, you will find favor in the sight of your supervisors as well.
    Grace and Peace.

  5. Andrew T.

    I completely agree that [1 Cor 3:16-17] is central to understanding much of what Paul spoke about. I also completely agree that English bibles do not do this verse justice – but I would suggest that the reason is that at the heart of these words is a Hebrew idiom; follow this thinking for a second (as we explore the same idea in the Old Covenant):

    Look at the Messianic prophecy that predicts this [Isa 8:14-15] “And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

    God’s (New Covenant) ‘temple’ is known prophetically (in the Old Covenant) as His ‘sanctuary’ – so read what He writes about his ‘sanctuary’.

    [Jer 17:11-13] (also Messianic) mentions the crucifixion saying “Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch, so is he who gets riches but not by justice; in the midst of his days they will leave him, and at his end he will be a fool.” (Sanctuary here is in vs. 12)

    Also Messianic is [Eze 27:26-28].

    From this, we see that the Sanctuary is both ‘the presence of God’ AND the assembly, the congregation and ekklesia, created in His image, because that’s where the presence of God resides (in both covenants), the Holy Spirit and one filled with the Holy Spirit) [Psa 114:2][Isa 8:14].

    That the Sanctuary of the Lord is also represented as His vineyard [Matt 20:1][Isa 5:7], means that to say “adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary” [Isa 63:18] or “You have defiled my sanctuary” [[Eze 5:11] is no different than saying “I shall tell you what I shall do to my vineyard. I shall remove its hedge and it shall be devoured; I shall break down its wall and it shall be trampled down.” [Isa 5:5].

    Thus Pentecost, the return of the sanctuary of the Lord, has special significance and is prophetic [Eze 11;16]. This is why if anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him – it is no different than “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you. [Gen 12:3] and is laid down as part of the Abrahamic covenant. Return of the Holy Spirit is the replanting of the vineyard, the building up of the Sanctuary.

    This is the Hebrew idiom that was clear to the ancient audience, not so clear to us. The New Covenant language could have been clearly if they had translated ναός (naos) as sanctuary rather than temple.

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