In the beginning

Column: Paul proposes alternative to O.T. vision

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor 6:19).

Remember hearing these words when you were growing up? Or perhaps you heard them in this translation: “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?”

St. Paul wrote these words as part of an exhortation against sexual immorality. They became a favorite of adults encouraging chastity among adolescents, to warn them about the perils of dating.

These words of St. Paul echo a verse in Sunday’s second reading: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” St. Paul draws upon the image of God’s temple in this case as well. Once again, he presents it in the form of a rhetorical question, not a simple statement: “Do you not know?”

On the other hand, the metaphor in this Sunday’s reading appears in a completely different context. Instead of describing the bodies of Christian believers, St. Paul is engaging in a discussion of the Christian community. He maintains that God’s presence in the community makes it a temple. Because it is a temple, the community, by definition, is holy.

We also find this metaphor of the Christian community as God’s temple in other places in the New Testament. Consider these examples: “Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:21-22).

“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5).

Most probably, St. Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians during the 50s. That means that the temple in Jerusalem was still standing, since it was not destroyed until the year 70. The existence of the Jerusalem temple imparts an added significance to the metaphor of the temple, which we should not overlook.

The Old Testament, especially in the writings of the Deuteronomic tradition, consistently focuses attention on the Jerusalem temple to the exclusion of all others. The Judahite kings wished to create a religious monopoly centered in Jerusalem, their political capital. Toward that end, they closed down temples in other cities. Instead, they promoted the one temple in Jerusalem. They believed that this policy would increase their political power and tighten their control over the country.

On the other hand, by describing the Christian community in Corinth as a temple, St. Paul was proposing an alternative to the Old Testament vision. God would dwell not only in Jerusalem, but also in Corinth. God would dwell not only in a building, but also among his people.

St. Paul’s metaphor opens us to the possibility of seeing God not confined to a single city, but pervading the entire world. God will be present wherever his people take him.

About the author

Fr. Mike Stubbs

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