“Your body is a temple of God”–part one

At times Christians say that we should take care of our bodies because they are God’s temples. Now, I am entirely in favor of maintaining our health. That is good stewardship of part of God’s creation. (See note #1, below.) But describing our bodies as God’s temples is a mistake—one which muddles what the apostle Paul wrote. It combines two or more references into a single thought that Paul did not intend.

Paul used the word “temple” in seven places among his epistles (counting multiple uses in the same sentence as one place). Only once does he refer to the actual building in Jerusalem (I Corinthians 9:13). Another time he refers to pagan temples (I Corinthians 8:10). In the remaining five places, Paul uses the word “temple” figuratively to speak about something else. These instances are worth analyzing one by one.

I Corinthians 3:16-17: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For the temple is holy, and you are that temple.” In every case, the word “you” in these verses is plural. If your Bible does not point that out in a footnote, and if you are unable to read the New Testament in Greek, then check out a King James translation. The translators used “ye”—the plural for you at that time. (See note #2, below.) The Christian Church, together, is one temple. Moreover, Paul is writing about Christian unity in this chapter, not about physical health.

I Corinthians 6:19-20: “Or 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.” This verse comes closer to saying that each of us is a temple of God, but Paul specifies in this case “a temple of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit of God does dwell within a Christian, granting saving faith and perseverance and guiding the Christian in doing good works. The topic of this part of Paul’s letter, though is sexual morality. He stresses that visiting a prostitute is a sin against God, especially against God the Holy Spirit. In ancient Greece, as in Canaan, prostitution was part of the pagan religion. Visiting a prostitute was an act of pagan worship. Therefore, it was wrong for a Christian to visit a prostitute. By extension, a preacher might use these two verses to talk about diet and exercise or other bodily matters, but that preaching goes beyond what Paul intended in these verses.

II Corinthians 6:16: “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’” Once again, the temple of God is the Christian Church. The pronoun is plural—we, not thou—but the temple is one temple. Together, we are all the temple of God.

Ephesians 2:19-22: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Here Paul expands a simple figure of speech into an entire parable or allegory. Unmistakably, though, he is telling many Christians that together they are one temple.

II Thessalonians 2:3-4: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that Day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” Some people treat the temple in this verse as a physical structure. (See note #3, below.). When we apply Paul’s thoughts about the temple of God in his letters to the Corinthians and Ephesians, we see that the man of lawlessness (the antichrist) will be found among God’s people, not actively opposed to the visible Church. Hitler and Stalin were not fulfillments of Paul’s prophecy, nor would Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton qualify as the man of lawlessness. That false leader will draw God’s flock astray by false teaching inside the Church—taking his seat in the temple of God.

Having established the teaching that the temple of God, according to Paul, is the whole Christian Church, I will next explain what it means for the Church to be the temple of God. J.

  1. Stewardship is a technical term describing the way Christians take care of God’s property. It sometimes becomes confused with fundraising for the church, but stewardship involves far more. Adam and Eve were placed in charge of the planet. Their descendants are still in charge of taking care of the planet. Stewardship means meeting our worldly responsibilities—paying our taxes, for example. It includes caring for our families. Yes, taking care of our own health is also part of faithful stewardship. We can do far more to serve God and help our neighbors when we are healthy than when we are sick or out of shape.
  2. English has changed since the time the Bible was first translated into English and Shakespeare wrote his plays and sonnets. Like many other languages, English had one word for addressing a single person (thee and thou) and another for addressing more than one person (ye and you). That has probably fallen out of use because of the egalitarian nature of American and British society in modern times. You see, in English of that time, as in other languages, people would use the plural pronoun to speak to royalty or to other people of importance. I suspect the origin of that custom is the Holy Trinity. When God spoke to himself, he used the plural (“Let us make man in our image,” for example.), and some ancient rulers may have started imitating the Lord to emphasize their own importance and authority. That last part is mere speculation, but the elimination of “thee and thou” means that we use the same pronoun no matter who we are addressing and how important that person is.
  3. Of course some Christians believe that this verse must be read literally and will be fulfilled literally. They anticipate that the Day of the Lord cannot arrive until a third temple has been built in Jerusalem for the man of lawlessness to defile. These becomes part of an elaborate narrative based on a few verses of Scripture taken out of context—but that can be the topic of another post.

Is Donald Trump the Antichrist?

One day last week one of my coworkers asked me if it is possible that Donald Trump is the Antichrist. Her question was no idle jest. She knows that I have theological training, and she is concerned seeing Trump attracting such great fervor in so many people. She wanted seriously to know if there is any danger that the man, Donald Trump, who could become President of the United States next January may be the Antichrist.

I gave her a short answer, but I will expand here upon what I told her. To know whether or not Donald Trump is the Antichrist, we must compare Trump to the description of the Antichrist in the New Testament. Jesus, for example, calls the Antichrist “the abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15). Paul calls him “the man of lawlessness… who opposed and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the Temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (II Thessalonians 2:3-4). John wrote, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that Antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us…” (I John 2: 18-19), and, “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (I John 4:3). In the book of Revelation John describes the Antichrist as a beast that rises out of the sea, is given power by the dragon (Satan), is worshiped by the world, makes war on the saints, and speaks blasphemies against God and against all who dwell with God in heaven (Revelation 13:1-10).

Although it is tempting to try to match these descriptions of the Antichrist to Donald Trump, a bit more research makes the connection unlikely. The “abomination of desolation” is more than a powerful insult; it is a technical phrase from the book of Daniel that refers to false religion being imported into God’s Temple. Some of the kings of Judah brought false gods into the Temple, with the final result of the Babylon siege to Jerusalem which brought about the destruction of the first Temple. Antiochus IV, who called himself Epiphanes (implying that he was a god in human form), placed his statue in the Temple in Jerusalem; but Antiochus himself was humbled and destroyed, and the Temple was cleansed and rededicated. The trial and condemnation of Jesus in the Temple might be considered abomination of desolation; other crimes were committed in the Temple in the following years, and that Temple was destroyed by the Romans forty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Since that time the Temple has not been rebuilt. Some Christians believe that the Antichrist cannot do all that is said of him until another Temple has been built. They overlook the fact that Paul—who said that the Antichrist would take his seat in the Temple of God—also wrote, “Do you not know that you (plural) are God’s Temple (singular) and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16), and , “we are the Temple of the living God” II Corinthians 6:16), and also, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy Temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21).

The Temple, then, is the entire body of believers in Jesus Christ, the Holy Christian Church. In this Temple the Antichrist will arise and claim authority. (“They went out from us, but they were not of us.”) In this Temple the Antichrist will claim the authority that belongs only to God, demanding the worship of all people and making war on the true believers in Christ. After all, in Greek, the prefix “anti-“ means not just “opposed to” but also “in the place of.” The Antichrist is a phony Christ, a replacement Christ, one who tries to remove Jesus from the lives of Christians and tries to take the place of Jesus in their lives.

Even as John wrote, there were many antichrists. Since that time many more have arisen, deceiving people by the dozens and sometimes by the hundreds. Jim Jones and David Koresh are antichrists of recent memory. The Antichrist, Paul’s man of lawlessness and the beast of Revelation, will deceive people by the millions. That spirit of deceit, rising from within the Church but denying Christ, was in the world when John wrote and is still in the world today.

Donald Trump claims no special authority from the Church. He might appear to want to be worshiped—his opponents might even say that he thinks that he is God—but his focus is on political power, not on spiritual power. He seeks to live in the White House; he would not say, as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

I can think of reasons not to vote for Donald Trump, but fear that he will become the Antichrist is not among those reasons. Should he prevail in the Republican primaries and then be elected President in November, it will mean changes and adjustments for some people—probably for a lot of people—but it won’t be the end of the world. That end is coming, but not because of Donald Trump. J.