The Body as a Temple

By: hawkgrrrl
November 19, 2013

No need to go to the temple. Your body is one!

In 1 Corinthians 6:19, it says:  “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”  As some Mormon youth teachers used to like to say to encourage chastity:  “Your body is a temple, and he doesn’t have a recommend!” or as I saw on a tee shirt:  “Your body is a temple, not a visitor center.”  This scripture is often trotted out in opposition to tattoos or piercings, likening those actions to vandalism of the exterior temple walls.  It’s also used to support the Word of Wisdom, and this interpretation isn’t unique to Mormonism.  Other faiths use it to enforce modesty, anti-smoking and temperance.

But what if this scripture is not referring to our individual bodies, but the body of saints?  Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians 12: 12-14:

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. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one abody, whether we be Jews or bGentiles, whether we be cbond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many.

In this passage, “body” clearly refers to the group of worshipers,  not to an individual person, and talks about the benefit of having various individuals each with unique spiritual gifts and playing different roles within the church.  What follows is a caution not to cast off any members of the church for being unique or seemingly lesser, but to remember that the body of saints need each other, not despite their differences but because of them.  Continuing in 1 Corinthians 6: 25-27:

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same acare one for another.  And whether one member asuffer, all the members bsufferwith it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.  Now ye are the body of aChrist, and bmembers in particular.

And you may also be dumb as a rock, just like bad spellers who make fake motivational posters.

This also casts the oft-neglected second half of 1 Corinthians 19: 6 in a new light:  “ye are not your own.”  I recently read a great book (recommended to me by a commenter) called Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien.  In the book, the authors talk at length about how our Western values are inconsistent with the values of the culture of those who wrote the Bible.  Just coming back to the US from Singapore, this really resonated for me.  One of the Western values that commonly causes cultural disconnect is individuality.  Eastern cultures, including the ancient culture of the Bible, are based on communitarian or group values.

Roles and obligations rankle our ruggedly individual values as Americans.  We don’t want to kiss the ring or take care of our aged and infirm until all our own personal needs are met.  And we lack familiarity with want which makes it even harder to see the need for group reliance.  The entire American dream is built on the idea of an individual immigrant leaving their group obligations behind in their native country, coming to make a better life in a land of milk & honey where they are free from oppression, free to be individuals, free to pursue their own happiness – individually.

We conform to American ideals by expressing our individuality.

Time and again, living in Asia, I struggled with this concept that people did not see themselves primarily as individuals, peers and equal contributors regardless of titles, willing participants in decision making when decisions would affect them.  As one example, according to my local colleagues, Singapore considered staging an “Occupy” protest while I was there (which seemed a bit hypocritical given that it’s an incredibly wealthy country with no natural resources whose wealth was built almost entirely on financial services).  The protest received the required government approval to proceed, but as it turned out, nobody showed up.  Nobody wanted to go unless it was in a large enough group that they wouldn’t stand out or be noticed.  And thus a protest died.

Mormonism is sometimes referred to as an American religion, and even as we strive to become a global church, we often attract those rugged individuals who are willing to break family ties to join because they see this group as the path to more success and happiness for them.  So we are attracting individuals who embrace our Western values, even if they come from an Eastern culture.  Our stories of pioneers are likewise fairly individualistic, pushing back against the political oppression the saints faced, even leaving the US to do so, although it is also a very communitarian story:  trying to live a united order, creating social obligations within dynastic families through plural marriage, and pursuing self-governance (replicating systems that when run by non-Mormons were oppressive).  Even our scriptures extol the virtues of the American experiment, further tying Mormonism to American values.  As a result, we have an even stronger tendency to conflate American values with God’s values or the “correct” values, despite inconsistencies with non-LDS scripture and known history.  The author of the book theorizes that God has neither Western nor Eastern values, but works within whatever society framework exists.  So the book is not trying to favor either Western or Eastern values, just to help readers of the Bible see their own assumptions and consider alternate readings.

Assumptions: Prepare to die.

Which brings us back to the alternate reading of the body as a temple.  The word “ye” is clearly plural, and yet we still default to thinking of a group of individuals rather than the community as an entity in and of itself.  If we think of the “body” as the community of believers, the meaning of the verse changes radically.  The community is the temple.  The community is where the Spirit of God dwells.  Rather than being about individuals and their bodies, it is about the fact that no one is an island, that we all need each other for the Spirit to come dwell.  I am reminded of this scripture that is reiterated in the Doctrine & Covenants:

Matthew 18: 20.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

D&C 6: 32.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, as I said unto my disciples, where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them—even so am I in the midst of you.

So if we re-read this scripture in light of this understanding, it is really an admonishment that we drive the spirit away when we don’t value the diversity of the individuals in the group or when we want to chase some members out of the body.  The author of the book adds:

“It has become increasingly popular in recent years for believers to call themselves Christ-followers instead of Christians. . . . they don’t want to be associated with the negative, nominal and cultural connotations of the word Christian.  Associating with Christ but not his church is a distinction Jesus would never have made.”

Is this prayer a vain repetition?

Of course, this is something many of us have felt and blogged about:  a desire to distance ourselves from the other Mormons or Christians whose culture or values we don’t like.  A recent documentary called “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” addresses the image problem Christianity is facing right not.  Of course, as much as some people want to distance themselves from traditional Christians, there are plenty of traditional Christians who want to distance themselves from the progressives or liberals they see as threatening the very fabric and traditions that hold the church together.  Considering this scripture in light of “body” referring to those who collectively worship, we should find ways to stick together, to invite the spirit into our diverse group of people who are all seeking in our own ways to follow the teachings of Christ.

We are told to be wise as serpents in detecting enemies, but harmless as doves in our behavior.  We are told we are being sent as sheep among wolves, but not instructed to turn on the so-called wolves in the process.  We are taught in the parable of the wheat and tares that we can’t know who the wheat are and who the tares are until they are fully mature and it’s time for the final judgment.  We run the risk in both directions of not treating the body (of saints) as a temple (wherein the spirit can dwell) when we are spending too much time judging our fellow worshipers as being too sheep-like or too wolf-like.  Instead, if we think of ourselves collectively as a body (with all parts being necessary), as part of a temple entity rather than individual temples, maybe we get a better glimpse of what Christianity is supposed to be.

  • How do we avoid judging people who are judgmental?  What if they are judging us first?
  • What are the limits of a big tent church?  How big is too big?  Where would you put the boundaries?  Any who believe?  Any who desire to believe?  Take everyone at face value?
  • Can the group get too big to accommodate the spirit?  What if the “body” includes a Martin Harris who needs to withdraw?
  • Should we be concerned that we are mostly attracting converts whose cultural values don’t challenge American values too much?  As we go into untapped areas of the globe like India and China, do we need to dial down our cultural assumptions?


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16 Responses to The Body as a Temple

  1. Mormon Heretic on November 19, 2013 at 6:50 AM

    I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Your body is a temple. My body is a playground.”

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  2. Lonicera on November 19, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    The injunction not to judge other saints does go both ways. I read a variety of progressive Mormon blogs and notice a lot of ridicule outrage directed at conservative Mormons. It would appear progressives can be just as narrow minded as conservatives–just oriented in a different direction. It would be refreshing to see real tolerance on both sides.

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  3. Mike S on November 19, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    I see lots of people in my line of work who uncover various parts of their body (surgeon). Many of them have tattoos, and they nearly always have a story about what a particular tattoo means to them. They remember a sibling who died too early, or a special memory, or something. They are symbols of something in their life. I also live in Salt Lake City, and regularly see the symbols all over the Salt Lake Temple, which are also designed to bring things to remembrance. So, if our bodies are supposed to be temples, shouldn’t we all be getting tattoos? I’m not quite sure how the current inverse interpretation came about.

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  4. Mike S on November 19, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    Also, there is an inherent asymmetry in acceptance. For example, someone that believes that multiple churches are good and valid paths back to God can easily accept someone who feels that their path lies in the LDS Church. But for someone who thinks that “only” the LDS Church is correct, it is hard to completely accept someone else’s path as valid.

    This goes on many levels.

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  5. Jared on November 19, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    Another post with scriptures being employed–marvelous.

    As I read the post I got to thinking about the answer the Savior gave to his disciples who assumed being “blind” meant someone had sinned.

    I also took note of Mike S comment “that only LDS church is correct” and that leads church members to assume someone else’s path isn’t valid.

    1 AND as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
    2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
    3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

    (New Testament | John 9:1 – 3)

    I’ll throw this scripture into the mix. Are some of the people we encounter called to be “bind” so they can manifest the works of God?

    The idea of spirits coming into this world with “gifts” that run the continuum from illness/handicaps to those who make unusual contributions because of their genius is part of LDS teachings.

    It would be a boring world if everyone were too much alike.

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  6. Brian on November 19, 2013 at 6:49 PM

    I really believe that if we turned all members upside down so that the contents of their minds and hearts emptied out, we would be amazed at how big the church’s tent actually is already. Unfortunately, it is so only because everyone keeps their mouths shut as to what is inside.

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  7. hawkgrrrl on November 19, 2013 at 10:19 PM

    Brian, that’s a great point. I always find that when I think I have little in common with another member, all it takes is a one on one conversation and some listening, and I find that there’s a good deal of common ground, even if there are some definite differences too.

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  8. Master Blaster on November 19, 2013 at 11:00 PM

    I can buy into the idea that the scripture refers to the body of the saints collectively, but not at the exclusion of the individual’s body being a temple. How we treat our bodies and how we use our bodies to treat others is at the very root and the basis of our character. The body of the church is really just the character of individuals collectivized.

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  9. Jeff Spector on November 20, 2013 at 7:05 AM

    “It would be a boring world if everyone were too much alike.”

    Hence, Utah.

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  10. Jeff Spector on November 20, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    Seriously, though. We are given agency to allow us to choose for ourselves. This principle is true whether a member of the LDS Church or not. However, just because we make a choice does not mean that God endorses it, no matter what new and improved social or cultural norm we are following.

    We, as individuals, need to be charitable to others no matter what. We will all account for our choices sooner or later.

    Regardless of what is said over whatever pulpit by whomever, we are ultimately accountable before God, not man.

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  11. Jared on November 20, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    The Savior through scripture explains what we need to know about the issues raised in this post. Church is a group activity but salvation is done individually. The following scripture explains this.

    …the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.

    (Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 9:41)

    For those interested in the “gate” referred to in the above verse, the following verse explains it.

    17 Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

    (Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 31:17)

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  12. Nate on November 20, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    Good post Hawkgrrrl. I would just note that I think in some places, Paul does refer to the individual body as a temple, like in Cor. 6: 18-19, where it says “flee fornication…a sin against his own body…your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost…which is in you…”

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  13. annegb5298 on November 20, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    I wish I’d thought of my body as a temple all those years I was eating whatever I wanted and not exercising, etc., etc., I might like it more now. I do believe that in some scientific but magical sounding way, God/Holy Ghost does reside in us, or is physically connected to us. I think it has to do with light impulses. And maybe math and music.

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  14. nuovoiconoclast on November 21, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    I would have to have someone competent in the original Greek go over it with me, but assuming a moderately competent translation, in context, it’s tough to see Paul’s comments in I Cor 6:19 as referring to the individual’s body, rather than to the body of the church. His remarks up to that point deal with fornication, and specifically hearken back (vv. 16-17) to Gen. 2:24 (“and the two shall be one flesh”), comparing being one with the harlot to being one in spirit with the Lord. It seems to me that he’s making an entirely different kind of analogy in I Cor 12, in comparing each of us as members of the Body of Christ (i.e., the Church) to the parts of the body working in harmony.

    In short, I guess, I’d favor the more traditional interpretation of those scriptural passages vis-a-vis one another.

    That said, it in no way invalidates the point you’re trying to make. The passage in Chapter 12 may be “sufficient for your needs,” so to speak, in that while we usually interpret it as meaning something like (to oversimplify) that we all have different callings and talents and the choir director is as important as the ward librarian is as important as the Primary president, we could also interpret it as meaning that we all bring something different and valuable to the table just in who and what we are – culturally, personally, or however.

    I know, for example, that my own status as a recent convert from Catholicism helped me as a young missionary in Italy; I had insights and a perspective that my Utah-born-and-bred comps didn’t have. (To say the least.) My own relationships with people who might hang around the edges of the LDS tent, wondering if it’s big enough for them, have been very fruitful and have enhanced my own undeerstanding of the Gospel in practical terms a great deal. By that I mean, “Love your neighbor. THAT neighbor. That one right there, that smells of smoke, and pulled you aside before sacrament meeting to tell you he just got a DUI and to ask you to help get his family squared away since he’s going to lose his license and possibly do time. Love THAT neighbor, the 16-year-old whose skirts are a little too short but who has been a mother not only to her little brother but also to her increasingly irresponsible addict father since her mom got tired of it and took off. THAT neighbor, who occasionally tells an off-color joke at Elder’s Quorum activities and once said, ‘You’re not gay until you sleep with a man, right?’ Or that other neighbor who once bore testimony of his struggles and triumphs with same-sex attraction and in return was shunned, not helped, by his singles ward…”

    Lots of neighbors out there and suddenly they’re not so abstract. And, “the body is one, and hath many members,” and who are we to say unto the hand, “I have no need of thee”?

    Anyway, sorry. I got a little wound up.

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  15. Heber13 on November 22, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    I think nate (#12) and Master Blaster (#8) make good points.

    “And” is better than either/or.

    The scripture has good meaning for both the body of Christ, AND our own bodies.

    Hence the value of scripture, there are multiple views that help us learn wisdom, and the OP is a good reminder not to limit it to one interpretation only.

    Perhaps it is my western cultural upbringing, but I like to liken the scriptures to me, because it can have value to me that way. It seems to be the way I think.

    And in that, I have learned as I get older, that because it is good for me and my way, does not mean that is how it must be for all. There are multiple paths to God. It seems even more obvious in today’s shrinking globe, that what works for one group does not mean other ways are inferior.

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  16. New Iconoclast on November 25, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    In #14 above, what I meant to say in the first para is that “it’s tough [for me] to see Paul’s comments in I Cor 6:19 as referring to anything but the individual’s body, rather than to the body of the church.”

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